Recently, a story broke about The Paradise Papers, leaked financial records from Bermuda-based law firm, Appleby. The documents detail how the world’s richest companies and individuals shelter their money from taxes.

According to Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, more than $7.6 trillion is hidden in tax havens. That figure is so astronomical - almost too big to wrap your head around, right? How much is $7.6 trillion really? The human brain has difficulty translating the abstract concept of large numbers into concrete reality. When presented with a number like “$7.6 trillion” MRI scans reveal low brain activity.

Clients often come to us at UP, facing challenges around how to transform large or complex numbers into meaningful, memorable information. The key is visual storytelling. New research reveals that both hemispheres of the brain process numbers in visual centers; when a number is explained as a picture the listener’s brain is actively engaged.

Reveal, a podcast from the Center for Investigative Reporting, released an episode about The Paradise Papers that beautifully illustrates just how enormous these tax free sums are. Using a visual, they painted a very clear picture of just how much money these documents exposed. 

Try this exercise: let’s say someone is hiding $8 billion dollars. Notice your associations with that number. Now picture a $20 bill. Make it into a $100 bill. Then keep imaging it increases in value until it’s a million dollar bill. Now picture a swimming pool large enough to hold 1 million of those million dollar bills. Now picture eight of those swimming pools. That’s how much money that person is hiding.

In the business world, people often try to make numbers meaningful with charts and percentages, but brain scans reveal that these techniques aren't always enough to activate the visual centers of the brain. It’s storytelling that moves people to process the full implications of a number, often leading to emotional responses and decision making.

For more techniques about how to make numbers or complex information meaningful, contact Laura Ramadei at UP.