Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Storytelling: first step or last step?

This is a blogpost I createdI want to raise a new issue: is storytelling the first step or the last step in the journey to revolutionize the world of work.

In Steve’s own journey, storytelling seems to have come first. Up till 1996, he was in the grip of traditional management. Then he discovered organizational storytelling and he pursued that through 2010. His new book is about radical management which means that managers have to start organizing things differently: new goals, new role for managers, new ways of coordinating, new values and finally, as a last step, communicating through stories.

My own journey is in some ways parallel. It also began with storytelling. Up till 2000, I was a traditional storyteller. From 2000 to 2010, I got involved in organizational storytelling, on some occasions together with Steve. This last year, I have come to deepen my work in interactive storytelling as the first step towards organizing things differently.

In Steve’s blog (I love the word revolution) he says: "the intellectual battle to have storytelling accepted in the world of work has been won. What was once seen as absurd is now viewed as obvious. Yet the grim humorless workplaces are still everywhere. That war has still to be fought. Thus I have come to see that storytelling by itself is not enough. In organizations today, we find a set of attitudes, practices and values that cripple the human spirit and hamstring creativity and innovation"

Steve’s argument is that storytelling is not enough to create the principles of customers driven and rapidly changing organizations the world needs today. There are other things you need to do first.

Is this so?

Could it be that storytelling, rather than being the last step and the last chapter in the revolution, should actually be the first step, as it was for Steve himself? Should storytelling really be the first chapter in the revolution, not the last?

The case for putting storytelling first
The seeds of the new organization lie in good communication. My own experience is that a good story told in the right way can create change companies in a positive way. That’s because storytelling creates life. And that’s what this revolution is all about: creating workplaces that are full of life.

Before radio, television, video, PC and SmartPhones, we were dependent on the narrated story, if we wanted to learn something. Narrators were often poor and uneducated, but through storytelling they were able to shape the lives of others in a positive way. These were not just simple tales that were told. They are stories of destiny that people could mirror themselves in, amusing anecdotes to loosen up tense situations, deep stories with gravity and force. All stories were told to delight listeners.

And delight was created not just because it was a great experience (a performance!), but because it was a chance to learn, to know more about life.

And it was always personal, because an oral narrative was and is a personal experience for each listener. The pictures, which are created, are the listeners' own.

And the relation between the teller and the listener could evolve as times changed and the listeners needed new stories. A communication designed to delight the listeners.


In the past, organizations talked at people, sending one-way messages. In future, communication needs to be primarily two way.

An oral story is exactly two way. You continually adjusts your story dymanic relative to your listeners, you imperceptibly influenced by their imaging, teller and listener creates a magical 'we'.

An interaction that companies will have to take into everything they do in the future.

This means that
Your company is included in an ethically, socially and environmentally sound interaction with the surrounding community
Your company enters into dialogue with customers
Your company is open about new products and that these be developed in collaboration with customers
Enterprise management creates actual stories that show the future possibilities and that management begins to live it, as the stories tell
Employees act in accordance with the values of the company and they tell stories when it happens - and that it is permissible to tell about the few times where values are being challenged
This is the germ of a new form of organization is first and foremost to the customers, the surroundings and the people best.

In short, we are going to change the organization by changing the way we communicate.

If that is so, shouldn’t storytelling be the first step, not the last?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Washington, D.C., 2006. Golden Fleece, a loose network of storytellers, consultants and businesspeople in Washington. A young consultant has signed up for my workshop to find stories that show the power of storytelling. My presentation at the Golden Fleece seminar is more or less the same as what's in this book. It's something completely new to the Americans. The content really makes them sit up and listen; the room is filled with energy, and new knowledge emerges.

After the workshop, the consultant is not satisfied. It turns out she wants to tell about her own experience with the power of storytelling, not other people's. I criticize her for not taking the opportunity at the workshop, while we were working with the stories. She smiles evasively. I tell her that this moment will never come again. Then she looks up at me with the most amazing eyes and asks if I would work with her stories now.

We run around a little, looking for a place where we can sit. We end up in some oversized armchairs in the middle of the lobby of the activity center where the seminar is being held. She tells me she's left the safe and secure world she knows. She was active in volunteer organizations, where, among other things, she saw Native Americans solving conflicts by telling stories. She saw how storytelling could be used to reach agreement on important issues. Now she will be working with some of the big players in the American corporate sector and is a bit nervous about it. She doesn't think her stories will hold up. I listen to one of the stories that she intends to present for these business leaders.

I stare at her, horrified. The woman sitting there is deadly boring, no sparkle in her eyes, and she's saying something that sounds most of all like homework. I interrupt her and tell her that I think it's one of the most boring things I've ever heard. She stops and looks at me, horrified. She thinks I mean the content of what she's saying. I wasn't thinking of the content at all; that will come later. No, I'm thinking of her face, her eyes and her body language, all of which very clearly indicate that it's not her personality that's there, only what's going on inside her head. She is pure will, nothing else, and that is deadly dull, let me tell you.

I tell her there are three things she has to remember when she tells a story:

1. Tell your story because you can't stop yourself. You are so filled up with what you want to say that you simply need to communicate it.

2. If you don't know what to say, then be quiet. Storytelling is not so much the words you say. It's more all the words you don't say. Some people call these "pauses." It is an unfortunate description, because what happens to the audience is not that they are put on hold: quite the contrary. It is during these short pauses that your audience is invited inside your story.

3. Feel your feet: if they are not planted firmly on the ground, I won't be able to feel your story. I will understand it, perhaps, but it's a poor effort if you just use a small part of your brain, and it's really also disparaging me as a listener if you only appeal to that ridiculously small part of me.

She tries to be the good student and does everything in her power to follow her teacher's advice. I'm still bored, so I stop her. I steer the conversation away from this task that she clearly has way too much respect for. At one point in the conversation, we laugh. Suddenly there's life in her eyes, and she feels great again. So I'm blunt: I tell her to take that energy she now has and put it into the story. She looks at me with surprise, but she's at least starting to understand. Then something happens. She does it, very slowly and quietly, tentatively. She sits with both feet solidly planted on the ground, throws her hair back and begins.

The change is amazing. The story flows, and there is now life in her eyes. I look in wonder at her hair: the light plays on it now, with a glow that definitely wasn't there before. Once we've cracked the code, the rest is easy.

I hear three of her stories and draw the following conclusions:

  • When you lay the foundations for a story, you must be as brief and clear as possible.

  • You must be one with your story.

  • Telling a story should first and foremost be a delightful thing to do.

1 N.F.S. Grundtvig, former of the Scandinavian Folk High School.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Engh Spring Tour

This is the places Storyteller and Business Narrator Svend-Erik Engh will visit on his tour.
If you want to hear about a method to change your communication and your organization (if you want to change your organization before you change your communication, it is OK with me), come and experience one of these presentations and workshops:

Svend-Erik Engh brings an almost unique level of enthusiasm and energy and warmth. He is a terrific performer.
Steve Denning, author of five bestselling books on Organizational Storytelling - a new book is released November ´10

10.03.10 noon
Ystad, Sweden - "Lite Mer" - Lunch with presentations on new ways of communicating - MAIL

10.03.16 3.30 pm - 5 pm
"Auditoriet i Lyngby", DTU Scion, workshops on change communication - LINK

10.04.08 3 pm - 5.30 pm
Villaen, Venlighedsvej 2, DTU Scion - go home - workshop. Tell me your story and get useful feed back - LINK

10.04.14 8.15 am - 9.30 am Rockefeller Center, New York City Motivate and communicate through story, limited to 25 part, with local Thaler Pekar - LINK

10.04.14 1 pm - 6 pm Rockefeller Center, New York City Storysharing, limited to 6 part., here you will experience storycoaching when it is best. Come with some raw material for a business narrative and you will leave with a diamond, with local Thaler Pekar - LINK

10.04.15 6.30 pm - 9.00 pm Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.: "The Basis of Organizational Storytelling", with local Thaler Pekar - LINK

Friday, January 22, 2010

What is it all about?

Basic rules of Business Narrative learned from the

Mutual responsibility in Oral Storytelling

These words are taken from / Learning Lab

When you listen to a story, you know that you´re having a constant influence on it. It may not be something you notice consciously, but just the feeling of eye contact, the direct and clear communication between two people is enough for you as listener to feel that you are important in determining the direction the story will take.

Each of the people listening to a story affects how the story develops.

It is a strong feeling to transform into the real world: You helped shape the story - now go out and shape reality.

You have to experience it to understand it completely, how the almost hypnotic state a story can put a person in can stimulate action.

Dario Fo, from Italy, the winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature and a wonderful storyteller: “The audience has always been my litmus paper, every second. Are you able to listen to them, does the audience conduct you like a conductor of a major orchestra?”

King and servant

As a storyteller, you interact with your audience.

You swift between the most powerful King (K) and the most humble Servant (S).

S: Before you start telling your story you have to consider: Are the listeners comfortable?

K: Your beginning is crucial. Go straight to the story.

S: In the silence you invite us into the world of your story.

K + S: Tell us your story both as a king and as the most humble servant.

It is a complementary movement between opposites.

K: When you finish your story, you are the king again. Did the story inspire action?

The key word is interaction.

Interacting means a different approach to a lot of things in your daily life, not just concerning


If you interact in your organization it means that

your company enters into an ethical, social and environmental interaction with the society of which it is a part

your company is in dialogue with your costumers and consumers

your company is open about new products before the new products are released

your leader offers concrete stories showing future opportunities and starts behaving according to these

you and your colleagues must act in accordance with the values that are accepted in the company

The organizational tree

There are basically four kinds of stories you tell in your organization

Metaphors – to make a clearer over all picture - the tree is a metaphor.

Sometimes a simple metaphor can make the most complicated situation easy to understand.

Future stories – to spark action and create a common goal - the canopy and the fruits on the tree:

Visions of what the immediate and long-term future will bring to the organization.

The Springboard Stories are told in a minimalistic way.

We stories - hto create delightment and pride - the trunk of the tree:

Stories that create identity. Values become alive in these stories.

Pattern of these stories:

Home – challenge – new home

I - stories - for a manager the I-stories create trust, for the employees telling I-stories means that somebody sees you – the roots of the tree:

Every person in the organization is important and every voice should be heard. Some of

these stories should stay hidden under the surface.

Often with details and some senses activated.

When you as a manager prepare a presentation for a group of employees, think of these three elements, connected to the I -, We – and Future - stories:

Have you created trust by telling a personal story? Nobody wants to be lead by 'another


Is there a element in your talk that involves a 'We'? Can you tell what the group have

done in a positive way? If not, can you use a negative story to establish a desire for


The last part of your presentation is crucial to the outcome of your encounter with your

audience – do you leave them with hope? Is the vision understandable for the group? Is

it desirable?


A vision for the organization in the future is that its members are independent individuals able

to make complex and far-reaching decisions. Networks form, bloom and are transformed into

new networks. One of the prerequisites for a lively and chaotic system such as this being able

to function is knowledge about and actual experience with stories that are told.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Svend-Erik Engh and Thaler Pekar at The Smithsonian institute

Workshop on Organizational Storytelling at The Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.

Thurs., April 15, 6:30 to 9 p.m.

Storytelling has become an essential skills for managers and organizational leaders because it aids in establishing trust, articulating values, sparking innovation, inspiring action, sharing knowledge, building community, and generating followers and new leaders in organizations. Many leaders, however, have no background in storytelling and are confounded by how and when to share stories. In this seminar two individuals who have worked extensively in the field of organizational storytelling teach participants the basics, including the elements of an organizational story, when and how stories can be most effectively used in organizations, how stories told within an organization differ from stories told outside an organization, and how a story should be crafted to achieve specific goals and objectives.

The seminar is led by Thaler Pekar, founder and principal of Thaler Pekar & Partners, a consulting firm specializing in persuasive communications, and Svend-Eric Engh, author of Tell a Story: Be Heard, Be Understood, Get Action (Fokus).


Monday, January 11, 2010


Some interesting points on the difference between storytelling (from top to bottom, predictable) and storysharing (in all levels, chaotic)-

Friday, January 08, 2010

What is the outcome of Narrative?

A very good friend of mine is the CEO of a little Green Tech Company in Hoersholm, Denmark. He overheard a conversation between me and a woman, that I don´t know so well. The topic of our conversation was my work with Business Narrative. And she asked me, what´s "in it for the organization"? I thought I gave her a very good explanation. But afterwards in the car my friend told me, that he was confused, because it wasn´t clear for him what benefits the company gained from my work.

We agreed on two things:
1. The people working in the company finds stories, that they can use in encounters with costumers and other stakeholders.
2. I give them techniques to become better in presenting the company and the values it represents.

It was great to hear my friend coaching me!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Who can tell stories?

I was asked by a norwegian reporter for the NRK, Saanerlivet, 19. sep. 2009, who can tell a story. And off course I gave the 100 $ answer: Everybody.
Later I say something a little bit more intelligent.
I say that the people who knows the answers, the people that are sure about things and the too self confident people are not likely to be good storytellers.
Contrary to this is the people who comes up to me and say that they will never learn how to tell stories - then I know I can work, I can find the the diamonds hidden.

Listen to the whole radio program (in norwegian and danish) here

How to prepare

I talked to one of my colleagues from USA and she is going to present Organizational Storytelling for a group of CEO´s on saturday. She told me about the importance of these people and how they all have a MBA.
I asked her to give them names, instead of the CEO of Boeing, Macdonald and other major company I asked her to call them Peter, Laurie, Margaret etc. My colleague laughed and that is a good sign. After a while I could hear in her voice that she was preparing for interaction between equals.
When you tell stories, you need to tune in to your audience.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


How do you tell a story, so everybody listen? I am listening to Mahatma Gandhi at Youtube and thinking about the words of Steve Denning from his latest book "The Secret Language of Leadership", where he states that Charisma is not just something that happens from one person to the people (the Charismatic person is filled with Charisma and the people are just waiting for the Charisma to be spread). In contrary Charisma is given to the person from the people, so it is an interaction between the person and the people, that creates the Charismatic person.

Monday, January 04, 2010

I -, We - and Future Stories

Every leader needs four kind of stories.

The Personal stories to create trust
The We stories to share delight
The Future stories to get a direction of the work
(these three kind of stories are descriptions from the reality!)

The metaphors for given a wider perspective
(these kind of stories is often fiction!)

Do you have any experiences with one of these stories?

Morning Exercise

When I start a workshop, I often start with morning exercise.
In a circle, max. 250 people, needs an equal number.

1. 2 and 2. Tell about this morning.
2. Get feed back from listener.
a. Clarest Picture in story
b. Say something about the way the story was told.

You can extrapolate the exercise, so you let participants turn around and then retell the story they just heard. Now with power, (some say lie, I never use that word!) and let the stories flow.
Same feed back + what was the story about?

End: Let the participants turn back to first partner and retell what they just heard, now like a tale. A king, a princess, a troll, a dragon - whatever make a good fairy tale.

I have used this exercise for years and it never fails.

Narrative in change leadership

When you as a leader want sustainable change, you need

- a personal story to gain trust
- a springboard story to make the change real for the audience
- to listen and spread the stories of the change already implemented in the organization

Artikel i - storytelling for en ny generation af ledere.