Several weeks ago, while preparing a presentation on the use of story in organisations. I came up with quite a long list of ways story is used, but it needed a framework. The following came to me in shower (where good ideas occasionally occur and where bad singing is commonplace). The three main dimensions of story in organisations I came up with were:
- We tell stories to make ourselves understood. Stories are powerful persuaders. Good teachers will always try to illustrate a learning point with an example or a story. We communicate strategy using story; stories help place facts in context and give them emotional impact.
- We listen to stories to understand others and to learn. Stories are an important way we remember and learn things and they often are the vehicle by which our various identities and memberships are illustrated. Much of an organisation's knowledge is contained in its stories. Story, in the form of anecdotes, are an essential part of finding out what is really going on.
- Our behavior creates and changes stories. This one came to me as an afterthought, but the more I think about it the more it seems appropraite at this level. As an example, the CEO can read out the organisation's (lengthy, important and well-written) sustainability strategy statement without any noticeable effect other than eyes glazing over. But a story gets created when he puts his hand on his heart and says "I don't want to be part of an organization that doesn't act sustainably, and I don't think you do either”. People will tell the story of the behaviour long after the words of the sustainability statement are forgotten.
There are many ways we could cut such a framework and I found this one useful for the presentation I gave. There are many other ways of looking at it and I would love to hear other views