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Storytelling and openness to change: Edward de Bono

Edward de Bono eloquently explains the difficulties that we encounter when we try to catalyze change and innovation:

“Perhaps the greatest dangers of those of arrogance, complacency and the ability to defend that arrogance and complacency. An acknowledgment of inadequacy is a prelude to change. A defense of arrogance is a denial of any need to change…. Every belief system sets up a framework of perception within which it cannot be attacked. The arrogance of logic means that if we have a logically impeccable argument then we must be right – “I am right – you are wrong”. Yet the value of any conclusion depends on both the validity of the logic and also the validity of the starting perceptions and values.” (de Bono, p 27)

The difficulty of reconsidering fundamental assumptions is aggravated by the adversarial nature of abstract argument. Thus, in Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff & Johnson pointed out how profoundly abstract argument is combative in its character. The expressions that are used are aggressive and violent in their connotations:

  • She attacked every weak point in my argument.
  • Your criticisms are right on target.
  • you use that strategy, you'll get wiped out.
  • He shot down all of my arguments.
  • Such an environment is inimical to innovation and change, because ideas come forward in a threatening adversarial manner. "I am right and you are wrong!" is the mindset that de Bono identifies.

    What if there was another way?

    “Imagine a world," said Lakoff and Johnson, "where no one wins or loses, where there is no sense of attacking or defending, no gaining or losing ground. Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance…”

    This is in effect the world of narrative intelligence.

    Narrative invites the reader inside the story as a collaborator so as "to embed a way of looking at the world in the listeners’ minds, and tighten its grip and deepen its roots and hence induce in their thinking a view of the organization and the world with new planes of order and opportunity. In the process, an understanding of the potential of the change idea – sharing knowledge – can erupt into the collective consciousness, producing a sudden coalescence of vision in the minds of listeners." (The Springboard)

    Narrative intelligence can provide a practical tool to achieve the world of non-aggression that the sages have always preached:

    Achieve success, but without vanity

    Achieve success, but without aggression:

    Achieve success, but without arrogance;

    Achieve success, but without gain;

    Achieve success, but without force.

    Lao Tzu

    To learn more about narrative intelligence, read The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative (Jossey-Bass, October 2007)


    Stephen Denning,The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative (Jossey-Bass, October 2007)

    Stephen Denning, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations. Boston, London, Butterworth Heinemann, October 2000, chapters 4-7, 11-12.

    Edward de Bono, I Am Right – You Are Wrong.

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