Stories tell us who we are. They allow us to form values, organize meaning, and interpret the world. When shared, they transmit ideas, influence behavior, and inspire agency. They are the key to our understanding of society, democracy, and the world.
But what exactly is the power of a story? How do we measure it? Few stories achieve immediate, widespread impact. Most contribute to change incrementally—a gradual tipping of the scales through cumulative weight. Other stories reveal the subtle, transformative power of listening, engaging, bearing witness, and building bridges. With so many narratives, not all of which are true, why do some take root while others don’t?
Dave Isay is the founder of StoryCorps and the recipient of numerous broadcasting honors (six Peabody Awards and a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship). He’s also an accomplished author whose work includes Ties That Bind. Most recently, he is the executive producer for StoryCorps animated shorts and the half-hour animated special Listening Is an Act of Love.
Louie Psihoyos is widely regarded as one of the top photographers in the world. He was hired directly out of college to shoot for National Geographic and created images for the magazine for 18 years. He brought the Academy Award–winning documentary The Cove to Sundance in 2009 and continues to work to expose global environmental issues.
Jess Search is a producer and CEO of the BRITDOC Foundation. BRITDOC works to fund and promote social-justice films and journalism and also administers the PUMA Impact Award. Her recent Sundance films include Dirty Wars, Who is Dayani Cristal?, Pussy Riot—A Punk Prayer, and The Square. She is the cofounder of Shooting People, an innovative online filmmakers' community.
Darren Walker (moderator) is the president of the Ford Foundation. Prior to Ford, he held senior positions at the Rockefeller Foundation and the Abyssinian Development Corporation. His career in the social sector followed a decade in international law and finance. He is a member of several boards, including the Arcus Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Friends of the High Line, and the New York City Ballet.
Paul J. Zak is a scientist, entrepreneur, public speaker, and author of The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity. He is the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University. His current work focuses on the neuroscience of building high-performance organizations and the neurobiology of narrative.