Why We Learn Best From Those We Look Up To

You’ve probably heard about the value of storytelling. It seems to be a hot topic and yet, it’s also one of the oldest ways humans have used to connect.

Storytelling serves a variety of functions ranging from keeping animals away (male voices carry in the night and keep nocturnal predators like lions, leopards, and hyenas away) to the passing on of valuable information.

During one of my many visits with the Hadza bushmen in Africa, I have observed a clear storytelling hierarchy: the most senior members of the clan do the most talking. This also appears to be the case in Native American storytelling tradition.

This observation under the stars, around the fire, had me noting that it seems We Learn Best From Those We Look Up To.

Having alpha or senior members of the clan share their experiences, strategies, and other knowledge through stories served our ancestors well. It allowed for the ‘less successful’ members of society to learn from the ‘more successful’ members.

Consider that ‘alpha’ is really about attraction. I’m not talking so much about aesthetics here but rather, magnetism and charisma.

I’ve observed with the Hadza, for instance, the rapt attention the young hunters pay when the older chief, who is known for his hunting prowess, shares his stories; they hang on every word. They look up to him, as he looked up to the alphas when he was a boy, and so on.

It seems that this behavior of learning from those we look up to has been repeated generation by generation over the last million or so years and has triggered an instinct to look for, observe, and listen to the more alpha members of the population.

Consider what we, as a society, pay someone for being the best in the world at getting a little white ball into 18 holes with the minimum number of strikes. It would take the average American 2000 years to earn what Tiger Woods earned in his peak earning year in 2007 when he earned over $100,000,000 dollars. It’s also worth noting that he earned over $100,000,000 in 2008 and again in 2009.

Why do we reward alphas so heavily? Because our instincts drive us to watch them; we can’t help it. And the advertisers and broadcasters know it.

If you look at our society today, alpha appears to mean ‘successful’ and can be measured on a variety of metrics including goals scored, runs batted in, company revenue, personal income, expensive cars and watches and hundreds of other equally empty criteria.

One thing our modern-day influencers and alphas have in common is they are good storytellers and they are vocal; they may not always have a lot to say but what they do have to say, they say well.

Why is this all so important?

Influence requires attention and in today’s world of distraction, giving a great presentation, with the storytelling traits we have discussed, makes it very difficult for people to ignore you. In other words, you’ll have what I call The Stage Effect and will be able to capture your audience’s attention at both a conscious and unconscious level, which creates a genuine opportunity to attract, engage, lead and/or influence them.

Consciously, people pay more attention to people with prominence. When someone performs well, we want to watch.

Unconsciously, people become more open to learning from someone that they regard as a leader or, of course, as an alpha member of society.

When you think about the skills you should be expanding and practicing, storytelling and the ability to clearly communicate your ideas should be at the top of your list.

Learn more about the power of storytelling and becoming an influential speaker using The Stage Effect.