Kendall Haven on Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story

Socrates /

Posted on: May 6, 2022 / Last Modified: May 6, 2022

Dr. Kendall Haven is the only West Point graduate to ever become a professional storyteller. Haven holds a Doctorate in Oceanography and spent eight years as a Senior Research Scientist for the Department of Energy before finding his true passion for what he calls, a very different kind of “truth.” Kendall is the author of 34 books but the 2 most relevant to our conversation today are Story Proof: the Science behind the Startling Power of Story which pioneered and reported on some of the first neuroscientific studies of the Brain on Story. And was later followed by Story Smart: Using the Science of Story to Persuade, Inspire, Influence, and Teach. Finally, Kendall Haven has performed for audiences of over 5 million people for the past four decades and has been appointed as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Stanford University.

During our 2 1/2 hour conversation with Kendall Haven, we cover a variety of interesting topics such as why stories are like famous chess games; the problem with reading scientific reports; going to West Point, doing a Ph.D. in oceanography, and becoming a storyteller; how he discovered the power of story and a very different kind of truth; memory, information, and story; Story Proof and the science behind it; our most powerful tool and why we are Homo narrative; how information is story-processed before it gets to the conscious mind; the definition of story; whether storytelling has a bad reputation; why reframing the story, and not more information, is the way to change behavior; why change stories are about preservation; the need for ReWriting the Human Story; the danger that story can become a universal hammer for all nails.

My favorite quote that I will take away from this conversation with Kendall Haven is this:

Story is not theoretical anymore. It’s not hyperbole. Story is woven into our DNA. We are story. That’s now science.

As always you can listen to or download the audio file above or scroll down and watch the video interview in full. To show your support you can write a review on iTunesmake a direct donation, or become a patron on Patreon.

Who is Kendall Haven?

The only West Point graduate to ever become a professional storyteller, Kendall Haven also holds a Doctorate in Oceanography (Oregon State University) and spent eight years as a Senior Research Scientist for the Department of Energy before finding his true passion for storytelling and a very different kind of “truth.”

With 35 years of experience as a touring master storyteller, and after three decades leading the research effort for the National Storytelling Association and the International Storytelling Center, Haven has emerged as the nation’s leading, and an internationally recognized, Subject Matter Expert on the neuro- and cognitive-science of story, on story structure, and on story architectural design. This effort has culminated in his two seminal books that have revolutionized our understanding of the relationship between the human mind/brain and the elements of effective story structure: STORY PROOF: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story and STORY SMART: Using the Science of Story to Persuade, Inspire, Influence, and Teach. For this work, Haven has been appointed as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Stanford University for his neural and cognitive story research expertise. Haven has also been recruited by the Department of State’s U.S. Speaker’s Program as an expert on Storytelling and Neural Influence Messaging

Kendall Haven regularly serves as a story consultant to departments in various governmental science agencies from the Navy and Army Intelligence to EPA, to NASA, NOAA, and NPS (the National Park Service), and to organizations and corporations from The World Bank, Boeing, and ARAMCO to United Way America and the Climate Protection Campaign. He was also selected as the only storyteller to participate in the 2012-2014 Department of Defense (DARPA) Narrative Networks Research Program.

Haven was selected as a Featured Presenter at the 2013 and at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Fest, the first storyteller ever to be so invited. In addition, he has been a featured presenter and performer at over 150 Industry and Science conferences, corporate and professional conferences, Government Conferences, Education Conferences, School and Public Library Conferences, and Storytelling Conferences and Festivals; has performed for audiences of over 5.5 million in 44 states and four foreign countries, and has won numerous awards both for his story-writing and for his story-telling.

Haven has published five audiotapes, and 34 books including ten collections of original historically-themed stories, one children’s novel, one picture book, four classroom story/activity books, and six award-winning instructional books on the process and use of story. For the International Storytelling Center (ISC) and the National Storytelling Association (NSA) Haven led a series of multi-year studies into the effective use of storytelling and current storytelling Best Practices.

Kendall also wrote two scripts for an animated Education Channel program and created a three-hour high adventure radio drama style mini-series for National Public Radio on the effects of watching television that has won five major national awards. He created a book of 50 science stories, Marvels of Science, to make the history and process of science fascinating and compelling, and, more recently a book of forty stories illuminating the fascinating and little-known women’s share of American history, Amazing American Women. His most recent story releases include Close Encounters with Deadly Dangers: Stories of Major Natural Predators, That’s Weird! Awesome Science Mysteries, Voices of the American Revolution, Voices of the American Civil War, and Women on the Edge of Discovery.

Kendall Haven is the 2012 winner of the Leo Politi Golden Author Award, a nine-time winner of the Storytelling World Silver Award for best Story Anthology, 3-time 2009 Telly and Communicator Silver Award Winner, and has won the 1993 International Festival Association Silver Award for Best Educational Program at a major national festival, the 1992 Corporation for Public Broadcasting Silver Award for Best Children’s Public Radio Production, and the 1991 Award for Excellence in California Education. He has twice been designated an American Library Association “Notable Recording Artist,” and is the only storyteller in America with three entries in the American Library Association’s Best of the Best for Children.

Haven has used his writing talent to create stories for many non-profit organizations, including The American Cancer Society, International Storytelling Center, United Way America, the Institute for Mental Health Initiatives, the Climate Protection Campaign, several Crisis Centers, the Children’s Television Resource and Education Center, one regional hospital, and the Child Abuse Prevention Training Center of California.

Kendall Haven lives with his wife in the rolling Sonoma County grape vineyards in rural Northern California.

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