Sign up to get Steve Denning's FREE newsletter


You'll get tips, tricks and advance chapters from Steve's forthcoming book. Click here to sign-up for newsletter.

Storytelling In The News: #133

Investor's Business Daily on organizational storytelling

April 28, 2004

Investor’s Business Daily’s Ten Secrets to Success: Investor’s Business Daily has spent years analyzing leaders and successful people in all walks of life. Most have ten traits that, when combined can turn dreams into reality. Each day they highlight one. On April 27, 2004, they highlighted organizational storytelling under the heading, “Decide upon your true dreams and goals”.

The article, by Amy Alexander, is entitled Once Upon A Tomorrow

When they needed to brand a common goal onto the minds of many, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill and John Kennedy turned to storytelling. They didn’t tell fairy tales or fables. They painted a picture of tomorrow that their followers could make their own.

King shouted, “I have a dream,” and then spoke of all Americans working and playing together. Churchill described fighting on the beaches, landing fields, in streets and on hills, laying out what the troops would have to do to win World War II. Kennedy said, “This nation shall commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon.”

You don’t have to be a King or a Churchill or a Kennedy to tap into the power of storytelling. It’s an effective way to get goals to gel at any company, says Stephen Denning, an organizational storyteller.

Reach Within

“You might be bale to excite the mind with analysis, but when you are trying to move people and inspire people, you have to reach for the heart,’ he said.

Denning was one of several organizational storytelling experts who gather in Washington D.C. in April for a Smithsonian-sponsored seminar on how to use storytelling as a catalyst for change.

Denning was working as director of knowledge at World Bank when he discovered that if he tried to talk higher-ups into investing in knowledge sharing by throwing around facts and spreadsheets, people’s eyes glazed over. Yet when Denning began telling and retelling a simple story of how one doctor in a village in Zambia could treat malaria by going online to find answers, attitudes changed.

That story persuaded higher-ups to invest time and money in knowledge sharing, which resulted in the World Bank becoming the leader in knowledge management.

Using Imagination

Why does storytelling so well when it comes to creating a vision? Denning explains it in his forthcoming book, “Squirrel Inc.”

“The best way to get human beings to venture into future terrain is to make that terrain familiar and desirable by taking them there first in their imaginations through a story,” Denning wrote.

The simpler the story, the better, Denning says.

“Future narratives sketch a vision that points in a general direction but little else,” he said. “if these narratives are effective, it is because the listeners themselves put flesh on the skeleton. The listeners contribute the narrative detail.”

A brief evocative, general story makes it easier for listeners to adapt when the unexpected happens. “People can remold the narrative in their imaginations on the fly,” Denning said.

Shake things up

What would a better future look like for your organization? Don’t’ get too caught up in “what ifs” and “yeah, buts.” When you’re crafting your vision – your company’s story of tomorrow – it’s important to keep an open mind. “A vision doesn’t offer exclusionary moves,” Denning said. “It opens up the landscape of possibilities still to come.”

Learn more about leadership and business storytelling

Read The Leader's Guide to Storytelling.

Read the Introduction
Watch the video
& pick up these amazing gifts!

Join our on-line
discussion group:

the World
of Work"