In a connected, fast-moving and automated environment, storytelling has grown from a complement to a leadership toolkit into an essential way of defining the value of our work. Every presentation, strategic plan, networking meeting and social media post is a story about a future that leaders are working to make real. Today, leadership is storytelling, and leaders are storytellers.
But storytelling refers to something more essential about the way we perceive the world. All of us are “telling stories” about ourselves and each other, all of the time. By becoming aware of those stories, we overcome our habitual biases to create more human connections. By changing those stories, we unlock new potential for the way we organize, lead and work. And by understanding the patterns in all of our stories, we learn how to engage the emotions and imagination of others, helping them see things differently — and act differently as a result.
The Internet has changed the way we all tell stories, in some obvious and not-so-obvious ways. In addition to creating new forms for storytelling — like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, podcasts and all the other media that have become a normal part of our lives — the Internet has created new narrative functions that we all use, often unconsciously, as we engage with the world.
Do you “scroll” through social media posts, or “swipe” through dating apps? Do you “share” things with your “audiences”? Can you tell the difference between the notifications that buzz on your phone?
These and other similar behaviors have fundamentally changed the way we relate to one another and the world.
Because our stories reflect our inner psychology of perception, cognition and sense-making, when we change, our stories do too. But because our stories are lodged in habit, memory and embedded neural networks, change in our inner stories tends to lag behind changes to our outer circumstance.
The Transformational Storytelling process is designed to generate change by “updating” our stories to our current realities.
Most business people would never identify themselves as a storyteller, because “storytelling” has the connotation of something made up or false. But the truth is that organizational boardrooms, workspaces and sales calls are the fertile terrain of narrative. Whenever we envision something that doesn’t yet exist and use the stories of our past — and ideal future — as a mechanism for explaining, analyzing and motivating influence, we are necessarily employing the tools of storytelling.
For both individuals and their organizations, the urgency to focus on their storytelling arises in particular at any moment of profound change. In these moments, what people face is not just a new way of working, but a new way of being — a new way of identifying one’s own sense of self in relationship to the changing organization. This deeply intimate need to “re-story” is particularly urgent at these moments in the life of an organization:
By this definition, an individual or organizational story is not a single entity, but their dynamic and deeply intimate process of change.
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