story

Story spotting: listening for stories in your organisation

Everyone is a storyteller. Because we are human. We tell our friends and families what happened at work. We tell our colleagues what happened on the way to work. We tell stories.

And we make sense through stories. We are hardwired for it.

But not everyone is a natural Storyteller.

Here are three resources that start to help identify and shape the stories you encounter in organisations.

Once. Then. Then. The story spine.

A couple of years ago, Pixar’s 22 rules for storytelling

The story spine, Kenn Adams’ definition has been used by Pixar and Disney.

 

The Moth’s 8 Tips

The Moth is a not-for-profit foundation committed to the development of art and craft of storytelling. Amongst their many resources for improving oral storytelling, including videos and podcasts, they have a simple list of 8 tips.  These include:

  • No essays
  • Start in the action
  • Have some stakes

Stakes are essential in live storytelling.  What do you stand to gain or lose? Why is what happens in the story important to you? If you can’t answer this, then think of a different story. A story without stakes is an essay and is best experienced on the page, not the stage.

Anecdote’s Spotting Oral Stories Infographic

The clever folk at Anecdote have created a useful guide to recognising stories within an organisation.

The following graphic has been created by http://www.anecdote.com

Spotting Oral Stories

 

Story matters. Choose wisely.

Stories are how we sense-make our world.

 

 

Story wars

Not everything is a story. But ‘story’ is the trend in terms of marketing and digital in particular.

In organisations, there are a few camps in the story wars.

On one side we have the social scientists. In this group we have the behaviourists, the ethnographers, the anthropologists, who consider stories as a way of sense making, and of helping people create meaning (at work and beyond). The humanists. In the workplace, these are the change agents, the organisational psychologists, the culture practitioners.

On the other side we have the marketers. In this group we have the branders, the advertisers, the sales pitch creators. This group understands that stories told well create desires that can be met by products. The sellers. In the workplace, this is the sales and marketing team.

And then we have the creatives. Here are the people who have looked at the craft of story. The writers, illustrators, the performers. The tellers. These practitioners are not limited to one part of an organisation. A leader can be a natural at story performance. A researcher may be adept at finding the story within the data.

Types of storytelling

Daniel Pink tried to bridge these worlds in his book To Sell Is Human. He equates the process of storytelling with the need to create currency for ideas and in terms ‘trade’: we all try to persuade, every day. There is such mixed practice around what stories are and how they are used that frustrations sometimes boil over, as in this slightly NSFW argument by designer Stefan Sagmeister at a conference earlier this year.

Trevor Young, AKA the PR Warrior provides a pragmatic definition of organisational storytelling, the sweet spot between all the definitions in a recent post on this topic.

smart organisations look to storytelling as a way to gain a competitive advantage and use stories to help differentiate their brand in the marketplace; to be successful, these stories – and the perpetuation of them in the community in which they operate – need an organisation’s employees and partners to become involved. Essentially, it becomes a cultural thing.

Many communicators are caught between these worlds, and in the skirmishes. The challenge is to remember that in organisations we communicate for a purpose. Communicators have to find a path between these different forms of sense-making. They have to wear all of the ‘story’ hats and understand the difference between story sharing as culture, storytelling as motivation, and story as information.

Everyone IS a storyteller, because we are human. It is impossible for us not to tell stories. But there is a difference in kind between sharing stories around the contemporary campfire –  the dinner table, the water cooler, and sharing them in a public space (whether that space is real or virtual).

 

Help employees tell their stories with simple tools

The Universe is made of stories, not of

Crowdsourcing is a growing feature of organisational communication; but it is not entirely new. In near-bygone times of the employee newsletter, stories sourced from the frontline were a staple form of content. People like to hear what people like them have done. In particular, people like to hear how people like them have solved a problem, achieved a goal or overcome a challenge. These stories are the lifeblood of organisational life.

As digital communication expands the ability to capture and share stories, it is important to give employees tools and resources to help make their sharing effective. In particular, understanding the basic nuts and bolts of what makes a story a story is a useful reminder.

The four Ps – people, place, plot and purpose

This short video from the clever folk at StillMotion provides a beautifully simple model for helping people shape their information in a way that tells a story.

 

Once…then…then…

There are many tools that help people listen for, capture and shape stories. Various sentence structures provide ways of outlining the context, the characters and the challenge. Perhaps the simplest of these is the Pixar model (adapted from a range of sources)

Once there was a ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

There is always more than one perspective

Organisations are microcosms of the rest of the world. In the world there are millions of stories that overlap, different experiences of the same event. Any story-work within organisations or communities needs to recognise this diversity of experience.  This TED talk from novelist Chimamanda Adichie is a compelling example of how multiple stories shape our existence.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word,that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.
– Chimamanda Adichie

The idea of managing multiple stories in the organisation is at the heart of my work on ‘strategic story worlds

Keep it human

There is an abundance of material on storytelling available on the web. It is important to come back to the basics before embarking on any formal storytelling activities.

We are human, we are already hardwired to use story as our means of making sense of the world. By being conscious of this as a start point, it is possible to ensure ‘storytelling’ in organisations is not a trend or just a process to be followed to get people ‘on the same page’ but is instead a fundamental part of the sense-making capability of an organisation and its people.