Useful Fiction is the deliberate blending of narrative and nonfiction in packages that range from books and short stories to bespoke illustrations, videos, and graphic novellas.
WHATEVER THE FORM,
THERE ARE THREE PRIMARY ATTRIBUTES
THAT MAKE “USEFUL FICTION”
First, it packages new information within the oldest, and most effective, technology of communication. The use of narrative dates back to humans’ earliest days around a fire in a cave (while Powerpoint is only 30 years old), so it is not surprising that our brains are literally wired to take in story. Studies from fields extending from cognitive science and psychology to national security research finding that such “synthetic experiences” are actually even more powerful influencers than even the most “canonical academic sources” on not just public understanding but policymaker actions.
It is particularly useful for complex or new concepts. Understanding a new trend or technology is tough enough. It is all the more difficult when it is something that the targeted audience has no deep background or current frame of reference for it. In such situations, we can be aided by guides in a sense, imagined characters who can lead us into simulated versions of our world. We can then “experience” what the research is actually telling us, as well as “feel” out its effects.
MEDIa ON USEFUL FICTION
- Useful Fiction’s work featured on NPR’s Morning Edition
- “Thinking The Unthinkable With Useful Fiction”
Article for the Canadian Army on the power and rules of Useful Fiction
Recorded on board the HMS Queen Elizabeth
(Enter Code: AFF20#POSTEVENT! to play)
- Interview with Unconventional Wisdom podcast about Useful Fiction.
- JANES: Fiction Intelligence (FICINT) with Peter W Singer
- Information Professionals Association Podcast on Useful Fiction
- Article in US Navy’s Proceedings magazine on the value of Useful Fiction for analysis, explanation and prediction
- Mitre report highlighting the value of FICINT
Secondly, creative content places information within a framework that is more likely to be acted upon. FICINT engages both the left and right sides of the brain, enhancing understanding and creating emotional connection. Put simply, effective narrative provokes an emotion and that emotion then provokes action. We are all heroes or victims in our own life stories, and the same plays out in the connections we make to the scenes and characters in synthetic environments. FICINT narratives allow us to leverage that all-too-human inclination to drive change, be it the fear of avoiding a depicted “nightmare scenario” or the desire to have real something experienced only in simulation.
Third, we connect through story, which makes the work more likely to be read and more likely to be shared than traditional forms. One of the biggest challenges for any project, especially those wrestling with future trends, is how much is competing for our attention today. People are more likely to read an engrossing story than a white paper and rarely recommend to others a good PowerPoint to read on vacation.