Organizational Practitioners are Recognizing the Power of Story

If you haven’t been following the fast-emerging discourse around “organizational storytelling,” allow me to help you get caught up.

Here’s the idea: More and more organizational practitioners are recognizing the power of story to create culture; speed learning and change; archive knowledge; establish brand; and build shared meaning. (Gosh, there’s so much more to say here. If your attention is already piqued, check out resources like this one, this one, or one of my own articles here. Or just do your own Google search and be prepared to get lost in the heady fun for hours.

Funny thing is, pretty early in this conversation most people hit an immediate roadblock — not around best practices, but around something as basic as the very definition of organizational story.

That’s right. Many of the best thinkers in the story space are still deliberating over what a story is.

I’ll give you an example. Pause for a moment, look at the image below, and take note of any reaction you may have:

cokecolaSo my question for you is, is that a story?

Story purists say no, a logo or a brand is not a story. After all, the Coke logo above is lacking even the most basic story elements. Where’s the plot? The protagonist? The problem? The journey? Heck, it doesn’t even have a beginning, middle or end.

Right?

Granted, you probably wouldn’t shell out $10 to watch a corporate logo on a movie screen. But these objections miss an important point; one that has everything to do with the topics that concern us most here at Blueline Simulations, like learning and engagement. (We’ll get to that in a moment.)

Let’s stay with the Coke logo a little longer. When you reflected on that red, scripted icon, what did it trigger? Did you think about Mean Joe Green, or perhaps a multi-ethnic crowd singing in harmony on a hilltop? Did you have a memory of sharing Cokes with your kids as you strolled down a beach or paused in the shade at a Disney theme park? Or perhaps your reaction was negative: a perception you have of a monolithic corporation; or your distaste for their marketing efforts towards school-aged children. (Here’s what it evoked for me: the smells of cut grass and gasoline from a lawnmower; the feeling of sweat rolling down my neck; and the fizzy, carbonated feeling as it hits the back of my throat.)

Unless you moved through this little exercise quickly, the Coca-Cola brand triggered something for you — whether it was a feeling, a memory, a desire, or experience that was dormant in some remote network of synapses in your mind.

In other words, it triggered a story. And that story engaged you at a deeply personal level.

And so the question is not so much what is a story, but where is it; and the opportunity for learning practitioners is to ignite the rich well of stories that already exist tacitly in the minds of their learners, and unleash untold levels of participation and engagement.

There’s something important happening here for the practitioner of organizational change. Sure, I could present a PowerPoint slide with a series of bullet points telling why you should, say, build trust in a team. But somewhere in your experience is a painful story of what happens when that trust doesn’t exist. What if instead of clobbering you with bullet points I could somehow tap that latent source of emotion and conviction that already lives in your memory?

This is what we do at Blueline Simulations. We don’t market ourselves actively as a “story company.” (After all, there aren’t too many people asking for that. At least, not yet.) But the “co-creation of narrative” lives in everything we do… “ from simulations, to games, to our signature Blueline Blueprint learning visuals.

There’s a hallmark moment to every Blueline Simulation learning engagement. It almost never happens when we project a model up on the screen, or when the facilitator offers some brilliant word of wisdom. Instead, it is usually an invisible moment that happens silently in the mind of the learner, in which they have been invited to reach deep into their own wisdom and experience… and there they encounter a story that elicits powerful reaction and demands an actionable response. Like a silent explosion of some invisible supernova, we can’t always see it. But by designing our interventions to those moments of internal discovery (and not merely to the faithful reproduction of data via a series of PowerPoint bullet points), Blueline Simulations taps into a nearly inexhaustible source of engagement, participation… and action.

If you’ve never done so, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to click around the Blueline website. There is a rich portfolio of learning resources here awaiting your discovery. You’ll probably be impressed by the cutting edge technologies, the unconventional learning devices, and the sheer creativity of the offerings. But remember that those are merely triggers, and that the real deliverable of Blueline Simulations is something we can’t depict in a JPEG image on our website.

In parting, a few questions for you:

What kind of change do you seek to create in your organization?

What might happen if, instead of dictating that change through a series of imperatives, you extended an invitation and an opportunity for learners to connect to their own stories?

What is the new story of success and opportunity that you and your people might co-create together?

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