It’s that thing where you love a book so much it becomes your corporate “GPS.” Jim and I have a passion for telling a story, but we have been shaped and informed by giants in the world of business story telling such as Andy Goodman, Donald Miller, Anna Deavere Smith, and most notably, Peg Neuhauser. I’ve referenced Neuhauser before, but as we round out 2016, and view the blank slate of a New Year, I find myself returning to the dog-eared pages of her book to help us plan, to inform our messaging, and to better serve our clients.
She strikes a chord with me because she was light years ahead of the “story telling in business” movement and almost prophetic in her advocacy for using story to nurture an adaptive mindset (one of my other favorite things). She warned us in 1993 that one of the biggest hindrances to growth is our tendency to stop listening to our customers’ stories, suggesting that once we achieve a certain level of success, we tend to rest on our laurels, and our curiosity dissipates. And nothing could be worse for the future of an organization (in fact, she warns that if you have “relaxed into your success it’s time to worry”).
As we think about the next year, one of our goals for 2017 is to more intentionally nurture a company that is adaptive, with change being one of our norms. Neuhauser says that most organizations use story as a way to KEEP things from changing, pointing out that employees, and even clients, most often tell stories to show “the way things work around here” or to reinforce “the old way of doing things.”
Taking a page from Neuhauser’s approach, we encourage you to identify your direction for 2017, and then begin “mining” your organization for “old” stories that support your new goals. Adaptive (healthy) organizations have, at their core, change as one of their key values, cultural norms that support people to keep changing, to keep evolving, to generate ideas, to take risks. Does the “story bank” of your organization include narratives that depict heroes and heroines who successfully took risks, laid it on the line, or effected positive change? (And if it doesn’t, it’s time to find them.) Organizations that embody a growth mindset, adaptability, and innovation almost always have stories about change in their “sacred bundle” or story bank.
If you can’t immediately identify these types of stories, start where Neuhauser suggests: by asking questions. This is the perfect time to set your intentions for the New Year and to begin using stories to advance your New Year’s goals. Don’t be afraid to include controversy and MISTAKES in your story bank. When you are transparent about mistakes, and especially about what you learned from them, you turn a failure into an opportunity, and you model risk-taking and self-awareness, both of which are qualities necessary to leading an adaptive organization.
So grab a blank sheet of paper, and draft your goals for the New Year…and then start “mining the story bank” of your organization to find stories that advance those goals. And you might as well purchase Neuhauser’s book because it’s not available electronically and there are only a few copies left on Amazon. Anyway, if you need help with your story telling, we’re ready and eager to assist. And in the meantime, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and Happy Story Telling. – Jenny