#1 International Best Seller
#1 International Best Seller
As we listen to or read a story, it’s natural to free-associate and be reminded of things we have long ago forgotten. These can often act like lit fuses in our imagination. From this point of view, storytelling is the perfect knowledge-management catalyst, igniting associations with the things we know about a particular topic, which we may not even know we know. In this way, listening to stories can help us build a latticework of knowledge, connecting what we know with what we’re currently learning. The effect is multiplicative. So, pay attention to what emerges in your imagination as you listen and learn. These seemingly disparate bits of information are the building blocks for deepening future understanding.
Whether things go as planned or crash and burn, by viewing the experience through the lens of story you can learn to see each event in the light of what you might learn from it. Debriefing your successes in this manner will reveal areas where you could have done even better. There is always room for improvement. Seeing your failures in the light of learning can redeem even the most difficult and painful experience, allowing you to see all was not entirely lost if you can learn from it.
The art of developing or writing a story depends on our capacity to recognize the universal in the particular. Imagine being almost run over by an ambulance that came tearing down the country road. The ambulance could represent, in a sense, the double-edged sword of technology. How ironic it is that the very things that we depend on to save us may end up killing us. Can you see how this “point” goes even beyond the context of technology, to a farther-reaching point? This is an excellent example of the universal in the particular. Because the universal resides in the particular (holographically), your predicament is your material. If you can make your vision coherent enough, like the laser light used to create a hologram, you will discern the universal theme or themes in your particular experience, or that of someone whose story you are creating or telling.
Now, you may be the kind of leader who believes you don’t want to be too transparent with your team. People getting to know you personally may make it doubly tricky down the road if you have to make the tough decision to let someone go. If leaders are to earn the trust of those who are following them, our bias is they must be authentic. Authenticity comes from knowing yourself and your story. While it’s not necessary to wear your biography on your sleeve, by sharing facets of your life at the right times, you will be perceived as more accessible and caring by your staff, all of which lead to greater trust.
There are a host of ways you can go about this. One hospital CEO we knew of would weekly put out a note to the entire staff sharing what had occurred in the previous days with his family. If his daughter had fallen and broken her arm and ended up in the hospital’s ER, he’d share what the experience was like for him as a concerned dad. If his son kicked the winning goal in the previous weekend’s soccer match, he’d proudly recount his excitement. If his wife had brought in a record crop of tomatoes from her garden, he included a photo of a ripe tomato sliced up in their evening salad. Invariably, as he walked the halls of the hospital, people he didn’t even know by name would stop to congratulate him or express concern for something difficult that had just occurred. That opened the door for him to ask about how things were going for this employee. It also allowed him to forge a new relationship on a first-name basis. You can bet when the hospital faced difficult times, and he had to ask people to make an extra sacrifice for the good of the institution, they rallied around him because they felt he was like them.
Your organization’s history can be a source of inspiration and identity for every member of the team. Included in that is what we call your “Foundation Story.” It details how you got your start and the many challenges you had to overcome. These kinds of stories remind everyone what you stand for and give new employees a sense that they were there in the beginning.
There is one challenge with these kinds of historical tales, though. Companies change over time. Frequently the stories about the past no longer reflect the culture and values of the company today. Our friends who were part of the Disney organization in its early years in Orlando lament the changes they have seen since Walt passed out of the picture. It’s a different company today, and the lore of yesterday now seems quaint. At worst, it’s entirely out of step with the twenty-first-century conglomerate Disney has become.
Every organization must reckon with its evolution, preserving what is best about the past and jettisoning things not reflective of contemporary reality.