When did you last listen to a Story?
I ask this of adults who come to my workshops, Story Cafes and training sessions. Many adults cannot remember listening to a story - told in the traditional oral way, storyteller to storylistener - although they will say "I read a book" or "I saw a film".
Yet, if they pause and recollect, they can bring to mind stories that were told to them 10, 20, 30 years ago. Such is the power of story to impart learning, values and knowledge.
Stories have a familiar pattern - a beginning which establishes Context, a middle (or muddle) that reveals the Conflict, and an ending which brings Resolution. Stories are our original way of learning about the world and passing on knowledge and values. They may also be used for spiritual and personal transformation (Sufi and Jewish Teaching Tales, for example).
Storytelling is a major part of many cultures even to this day, although we are only just rediscovering the power of stories in our Western culture. Tapping into the power of stories will enable you to impart and share knowledge more effectively than a bunch of data and stats. Says Annette Simmons (group process consultant and storyteller), "Information simply leaves us feeling incompetent and lost ... we need a story to help us make sense and to see where we fit in."
Simmons says that there are 6 types of stories, situational stories, which anyone but especially leaders can use. Leaders (from any chair, of course) inspire, direct, motivate, bind together, comfort, galvanise, correct, teach, empathise and engage through the use of stories.
Simmons six story types are: Who I Am, Why I Am Here (the story that we may be struggling to tell ourselves throughout our life to bring resolution to Meaning & Purpose), The Vision Story, Teaching Tale, Values in Action story, and "I Know What You're Thinking" (the empathy story).
You can read more about Simmons' take on stories in organisations in her seminal book "The Story Factor". For a survey of the effectiveness of story-based approaches in organisations, read Lori Silverstein's "Wake Me Up When the Data is Over". For an accessible yet thoroughly researched scientific exploration of why Story is the best, most effective and powerful approach to improving Learning in the boardroom as well as the classroom, read Kendall Haven's "Story Proof; The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story".
Stephen Denning said that stories "foster high-quality interactive human relationships." Something that any leader would be prudent to nurture in these days when we must squeeze blood out of a stone and yet aspire to our duty of Care.
But how can we introduce story-based approaches into our organisation? Should we employ the modern day equivalent of the Motley Fool, a Corporate Storyteller, or bring in a Fluffy Bunny perhaps to convince the sceptical and cynical that Knowledge Sharing is at its best, most action orientated and most memorable when it comes clothed in the cloak of Story?
I have identified four social roles around Story: Story Listener, Story Teller, Story Gatherer and Story Curator. Which are you?
Here are some ways in which Storied Approaches in Organisations might be introduced:
- Coaching & Mentoring Dialogues
- Narrative Strategy Methods
- Best Practice Reviews based on Stories
- Product Anecdotes
- Digital Stories
- Open Blogs, Wikis, Forums for Staff to share
- World Cafe Events
- Best Practice Reflection Groups using stories as the pivotal springboard for discussion
Are you introducing Stories into your organisation? What are the results? What help do you need?
Let's share some of the work that we are doing - or aspire to do - around Storytelling in Organisations.