What I learned about stories on my holiday

11 Jan, 2011
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This year I spend New Year’s Eve at the beach near the small village of Marsa Alam in Egypt. The point of the holiday was to go scuba diving for a week on some of the best reefs in the world in the Red Sea. I’d already taken all the appurtenances I needed for scuba diving from a local shop but only after having them reviewed at
What I learned during this week is just how powerful stories are. And that they do not need to be big or elaborate. Let me explain.

My girlfriend had just gotten her scuba diving certification when it was slightly warmer in the Netherlands. But she had not seen more than 8 fish of 3 different species while getting the certification.
So it was quite a culture shock for her to be diving in the Red Sea, which has hundreds of different species and always tens of different types of fish to see at any given moment.
With this overload of information it was hard for her to learn any of the new fishes. Trying to point out a type of fish in the book and then underwater did not prove very effective.
That wasn’t until I realized how I remember the different types of fishes and that was through , sometimes extremely short, stories, usually about a fish behavior.
Some examples:
This is the story of how the male seahorse has a womb-like organ in which he carries the babies.
Butterfly fish
Most butterfly fishes mate for life and are almost always found in pairs.
Sergeant Major
Sergeant Majors are very territorial, especially when they have just deposited their eggs. Which can be seen a purple spots on rocks.
You will often find that a picture of a Sergeant Major is completely blurred and out of focus, because it decided to attack the camera at the last moment.
Goby Symbioses
There are actually 2 ways Gobies work together with other animals. The most common is that they clean other fish. They stay in an area called a cleaning station. Whenever a fish wants to be cleaned, it swims to a cleaning station and it will be cleaned by the Gobies and other cleaning fish. The most remarkable is that these fish would normally consider these fish prey. It is remarkable to see a goby swim not just in the mouth of a huge grouper, but also come out alive.
And the other great story about Gobies is their symbioses with a type of shrimp. The shrimps will burrow a hole in the sand and the Goby will keep watch. They communicate with their antenna and fins. Amazing to see when it happens.
When I started sharing these and other stories behind the fishes the underwater world suddenly came alive.
So how will that benefit you when you are at the office doing serious work? Stories matter; They allow you to connect with other people much better. Dry facts are a good way to communicate information, but stories will make people remember or act. Maybe even inspire.


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