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Storytelling

Storytelling is a very old technique, dating back throughout most of human history. The practice is embedded into our culture; it was the primary form of family entertainment before the television (which is a different medium for story telling), it is mastered by competent politicians and journalists, and it remains as one of the most effective ways to reach someone and move them with your message.

Stories can be used to shape vision, to pass on knowledge and wisdom, and to shape identity and organizational culture. Storytelling is regarded as one of the most effective and influential techniques, and has been documented extensively in numerous fields. Sole & Wilson (2002) identify the role of storytelling as follows:

Bali et al (2009) talk of the power of the narrative. The best narratives must have a beginning, middle, and an end. The more interesting and powerful, the more likely it is that they will be remembered. Steve Denning (2000) adds a number of other characteristics of a good story, including:

The narrative can make use of more or less any verbal or written form of communication, as well as images, video, etc.

Liebowitz (2009) refers to storytelling as the organization's oral histories. According to him, stories can capture knowledge and routines of the past, enabling workers in the present to adapt it to the new conditions.

Offering more specific guidelines for using stories is impossible, since they will each depend upon the context of the organization. However, management should be aware of their importance and influence, and of their potential as a change agent.

One example of the way storytelling is managed is offered by Jeff Hester (2011). He outlines an example of how storytelling is used successfully at Fluor. One of the formal techniques employed by management aims to collect stories from the employees through a form that respondents fill out. In it, they are asked to share their success stories, describing why they consider it a success and what value it generated (Hester 2011).

Stories can thus be organizational - capturing history, culture, wisdom, etc.- or they can be leadership tools. For the latter, it is used by the leader to achieve a desired effect. Sole & Wilson (2002) offer a few considerations for the use of storytelling in this way:

Callahan (2018) emphasizes that many times what organizations refer to as stories are really non-stories. For instance, a manager talking about the company’s position and vision is not a story, neither are opinions, statements, etc. A key skill is therefore the ability to spot and tell a true, effective story. According to Callahan, the impact of stories can be described as:


Alan Frost M.Sc., 2010 - Updated 2018
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