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?

Artikel i - storytelling for en ny generation af ledere.