Wikipedia defines storytelling as "the conveying of events in words, and images, often by improvisation or embellishment."
Storytelling is a phenomenon that transcends cultural divides. In fact, "humans [inherently] think in narrative structures and most often remember facts in story form." Have you ever noticed how often and how naturally we use analogies and anecdotes to explain complex concepts? Or how people binge-watch their favorite TV shows?
The problem with the Wikipedia article is that it only describes what storytelling is and not what it does. Stories are used for a variety of purposes. They entertain. They inform. They create bonds. They can be applied for the purposes of good or evil, but they always have purpose and are most effective when carefully crafted to achieve that purpose.
Stories are incredibly powerful. Every startup that's been funded received funding because of stories. Funding is the result of the story the entrepreneurs tell (the one used to influence others) and the story the investors construct for themselves (the one that forms the basis of their belief). An investor who's willing to commit a lot of money at a high risk of loss believes a series of events that hasn't yet happened is going to happen, resulting in a happy ending.
Stories have remarkable effects on the course of world-history. In 2008, Barack Obama was elected as president of the United States based on a powerful story that millions of Americans believed in; the idea that the American dream still exists and that no matter who we are, we can achieve it. Neither the story, nor the success of the campaign, were accidental.
When we interact with others, all the complexities of transmitting information between humans emerge. We constantly need to influence others. We need to convince them to join our team, we need to convince them to use (and pay for) our products/services, we need to convince them to partner with us.
The best way to convince them? Telling them a compelling story; one they want to (and can credibly) believe in.
Compelling stories are intentional and carefully crafted. Think of storytelling as an art that;s enhanced by science. Art, or instinct, places constraints on a world of infinite dimension, making it conceptually manageable. Art "solves" the blank canvas. Once we have an idea of what we want to paint, we can leverage science to optimize the layout, colors, etc. for maximum effect.
When we take control of our story and design it to deliver information in a convincing and compelling way, we win the hearts and minds of our audience. It's a big step toward achieving our grand vision.
Of course, this doesn't mean telling a compelling story is easy or that success is guaranteed. It takes a lot of work. However, considering it's power, the most incredible thing about storytelling is that it's a learned skill. It's a supernatural power that doesn't emerge from supernatural circumstances like radioactive spiders.
If you want to accomplish great things, start by learning to craft and tell great stories.