Recently, I attended NextMed Health 2023, a conference that shares the “now, near and next of healthcare”. Lots of new terms were introduced by people who are building the future of healthcare, but how do we incorporate those terms into everyone else’s story — where they are now? For those of us who can’t see the future of healthcare because we are drowning in challenges in the present (insert any healthcare problem here), what story do we need in order to move us all towards the future?
I learned early on in my life that stories have power. When I was 15, I entered a storytelling contest on a whim, thinking it was some marketing scheme to get new sign ups or maybe a free magazine subscription. Turns out, I won that story contest and it changed my life forever — resulting in a horse, a career in Hollywood and even a husband. Suffice to say, fairytales do happen and we should never underestimate the power of stories.
We know stories are powerful and transformative, yet how can we use stories to bridge the gap between where we are now and where we want to be going? In William Gibson’s words (which were quoted several times on the NextMed stage), “the future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed.” The most disruptive and life-changing technologies for healthcare already exist, but we continue to struggle with adopting and scaling them, unleashing their true potential so everyone can experience the future of healthcare now.
The future of healthcare is here for a select few. Yet, we can use stories as a vehicle to bring the future to everyone, transforming the “now, near, next” to “here, there, and everywhere”.
From Ineffable to Inevitable
As a narrative strategist, I help transform the ineffable into the inevitable. I work with groups to develop a new actionable story, providing a North Star as they navigate the unknown and build a desired future. If the future is a destination, then we need narrative strategy to get us there.
Here are the three major phases of narrative strategy that we can use to create a new story for the future of healthcare — one that is embraced by everyone.
Step 1: Story-listening
Everyone has their own story. We are all unique, living our own lives in our own way. With story-listening, we hold space for the stories people are in, listening to and bearing witness to their current realities. Navigating complexity and nuance are key here as we begin to understand everyone’s individual story, fully comprehending the context they are in.
Think of story-listening as the start of a road trip. You are currently at your starting location. Maybe you’re the driver. Maybe you’re the passenger. Maybe you don’t even have a car. Your perspective on where you are right now is unique to you. But if you want your friends to also come along this road trip, you need to know where they’re starting and recognize that their starting point is not identical to yours.
Step 2: Participatory Storytelling
Once we’ve fully witnessed the stories people are in, we start identifying the threads of similarity. What themes are common amongst all these individual stories? How can we recognize what is true for everyone? Working with the individuals, we weave these threads together, telling a collective story that has been crafted by the very people who are most affected by it.
Continuing with our road trip metaphor, once identifying where all your road trip pals are located, in order to get us all into the car and on the road to where we’re going we need directions. Like a GPS, participatory storytelling identifies your current location and gives you the directions to get to your destination. To get more technical, just as GPS uses your location data to give you a step by step guide, participatory storytelling identifies the shared data between all participants and synthesizes it into a way forward.
Step 3: Responsive Story-living
A well told story is irresistible. It immerses an individual completely in what’s happening in that very moment. As Veteran Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde puts it “There’s a way in which immersion is a very primal concept, something that happens to us regardless, even if a good storyteller is just telling you a story with his mouth. If that story is well told, you’re gone. You’re in it.” Story-living is when you are fully immersed in a story, and that story becomes your new reality. And while this new story has captivated us into new possibilities, it can’t remain static. It must be responsive to changes, updated when things are inevitably disrupted.
Once your road trip crew arrives at your target destination, this becomes your new location. You are no longer on the road, but are now at the desired spot you’ve been yearning for. Welcome, you are now story-living!
Ultimately, if we want to bring the future of healthcare to everyone, we must craft an irresistible story. An irresistible story that recognizes where we are now with our diverse experiences and shared desires, while guiding us to a story worth living.
Ari Mostov is a healthcare narrative strategist and principal of WellPlay. A Hollywood veteran, Ari brings her entertainment expertise to healthcare, creating a new narrative for health. Learn more at www.wellplay.world