The Importance of Story
If I were to say to you that the answer is 3, would you know what that means? If it were baseball it could be the third ball or the third strike – each leading to very different next steps. If it were Route 3 on the map, it would mean that you should be ready to turn left onto it. If it were in golf, then it might be the third putt for a double boogie or a 3 stroke birdy. If it were the number of zeroes to include on the check, then it might mean...
The context is critical to understanding a fact. This is one of the reasons why story is such a powerful agent when designing consulting events. I have to know the story of the client's desire before I can understand what might need to be done. You see, you can't tell a story without context. Once I hear the story, I can begin to see the possibilities for the consultation.
If you look at your own work, do you always understand the context? How do you seek out the story? I bet you recognize when you hear it. Your whole being begins to say, "Ah, now I see what might be happening, what might be needed." It's the story of the players, even when a player is inanimate like a regulation or an instruction or a room that is too small – or too big. It's the story that captures it.
Once I understood this aspect of a story, I began to see the advantage of actively employing story in my own work. Story is a way to understand an issue as I have said. Story is also a way to explain an issue. Story is a way to help others understand and buy into a solution. Does it fit the bigger story, giving it the right ending?
This last point – gaining buy in – reflects another reason why story is an important agent in any organizational work. When we hear a story, we are more likely to become engaged in listening. After all, a good story is a good story. And something else is happening. As you listen, you begin to weave the story into your own. You begin to relate to the players in the story – remembering a time when you, too, were in the same boat or whatever. The story becomes your own story. You remember it better. You open up to the ideas of the story because it is your own. And that's where buy in occurs. See what I mean by story being an agent.
Now that I have introduced you to two of the characteristics of story that make it a powerful agent, I hope you will consider how you might use it. For example, consider what it would be like to introduce team members to each other through their own stories. You would see some of the context from which that person has come to the team. You would begin to see things you recognize from your own life and find ways to relate to them as their story becomes interwoven into your own. And this is just one way of using story that employs only two of the characteristics of story. There is much more to learn about story.