Why a Truck Driver from Lancashire is More Interesting Than Me



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Mustafa Sultan
Mustafa Sultan
I have a friend of a friend who lives a pretty ordinary life.
But every time he comes over, I get really excited. I just sit there listening to him talk about his life — on the edge of my seat.
Last time he had me spilling my spinach fatayer over an online car auction he had bid on earlier in the day. It really was that interesting.
But then I thought: My life is just as interesting as this guy’s. My job is at least twice as interesting. But why am I not as interesting? Do some people just have the ‘gift of the gab’?

I’ve become obsessed with this idea of storytelling and narratives. Take the recent 10 Downing Street parties during lockdown scandal.
I have no idea what will happen to the PM. But fundamentally, I think, it will depend on if he can continue his narrative.
This narrative, or story the PM has created about himself, whatever you think it is, gives him armour.
I think a generous interpretation of this narrative is that he’s a bumbling, charming jokester. He’s a boarding school boy trying to run the country — but crucially, he is human and makes mistakes. Just like the average person he succumbs to his passions — whether that’s a party or an affair.
There’s a reason why former PM Gordon Brown calling someone a “bigoted woman” was a national scandal, whilst that would be considered a normal Tuesday afternoon for the current PM.
The “human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor” … we are adapted to physiologically interact with stories.
The Science of Storytelling, Will Storr
In our post-truth society, the narrative is hundreds of times more important that the facts around a situation.
What Makes a Good Story?
Maybe I’ve convinced you that narratives/stories are important. Maybe I haven’t. But I’ve definitely convinced myself.
The next question is then: How do I tell a good story?
Like any nerd, I’m always looking for formulas. Clear instructions on how to become a great storyteller.
It turns out that an idiot-proof formula actually exists…
The Hero's Journey
Every single story you’ve ever been told follows this structure (I’m sure there’s an exception — but it probably wasn’t very good). This includes films, books, games etc—
One day the hero had a problem. She struggled against the problem, ultimately overcoming it and changing something about herself in the process.
In a film, you can actually chart this against the run time. In a 100 minute film for example:
0–25 minutes: Setting the scene. At 25 minutes the hero will encounter her problem.
25–50 minutes: The hero will struggle against her problem, unsuccessfully. At 50 minutes she will have some kind of revelation which will ultimately help her solve her problem.
50–75 minutes: Armed with this new revelation (internal or external) she will battle against her problem, ultimately developing herself in the process.
75–100 minutes: Resolution
Adapted from Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
Next time you watch a Marvel film, try and chart it to the above. I promise you you won’t struggle (why do all Marvel films have the same plot?).
In Media Res
From podcasting, the biggest storytelling lesson I’ve learnt is starting in the middle (in media res).
It’s tempting I think, for type A, analytical types to start from the beginning. Tell their story chronologically. To communicate every little detail.
This is usually not very interesting. I find myself cutting the first 10 minutes of an interview, and jumping straight into the middle as much as possible.
Even if starting in the middle makes things confusing — I think people don’t mind some confusion. If anything it creates some intrigue. People can try and work things out. Or maybe you can explain it later on.
A 1h10 interview cut to 40 mins, in media res
A 1h10 interview cut to 40 mins, in media res
My Own Story
It was Dr Umang Patel who first encouraged me to think about my own narrative.
If I was telling my story, instead of starting with:
I was born in X, went to school in Y, did my A levels…
I think it would be much more interesting to start with:
You know I spent my whole life trying to get into Medicine, and have been trying to leave ever since.
(This is a narrative hook, conflict and in media res in one).
The Power of Stories
There’s a great oral tradition in all religions. Before the printing press and widespread literacy — teachings were passed down through stories.
One of the great examples of storytelling is the iPod. Whilst MP3 players were shouting about how many gigabytes of storage they had (wtf is a gigabyte anyway?) — Apple launched their iPod with “1000 songs in your pocket”.
This told a story about you as the the hero, finessing your way through life with any song at your fingertips.
The power of storytelling really hit me the other day. After I’d finished watching this vlog. It’s a day in the life video of a truck driver in Wigan. And it’s 1 hour and 30 minutes long.
For most of it, he’s sat in the cab talking about his day. Nothing much happens. He spends the day driving sand from a quarry in Wigan to a factory somewhere else. He makes this round trip 11 times.
After watching the whole thing, something clicked. I realised that storytelling is an art which is (almost) completely independent of real life. It doesn’t matter how interesting or boring your life is. There’s always a good story.
In a sadder way, the facts of the situation don’t really matter either. It doesn’t matter who broke the rules. It doesn’t matter if your product is better or worse than a competitor’s. It doesn’t matter who wronged who.
In the context of public opinion/behaviour, what matters is the story that’s told about it.
Other Interesting Things
👽 I’ve been binging these Rise of X documentaries on YouTube. The Travis Scott one was very good.
🧬 I wrote a summary of this New England Journal of Medicine paper published 4 days ago. They sequenced the genome of and diagnosed a seizing baby in 8 hours. For context, the first human genome took 13 years to sequence (and cost $1bn).
🤯 I listened to the Naval podcast again. I think this is the most valuable piece of content I’ve ever consumed.
🐦 I ran a poll on Twitter, and was surprised by the results (I thought it would heavily skew towards specialist).
With warmest wishes,
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Mustafa Sultan
Mustafa Sultan @mustafasultan

Thoughts on healthcare, human optimisation and productivity. A little taste of what I'm thinking and reading about.

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