Once upon a time… an event

Weaving stories into event design


I like stories. I like telling stories and I like listening to stories. I like the inspirational, igniting and informative power of stories.

So, today, I’d like to share some thoughts on organisational storytelling and the way I’m weaving it into an event I’m putting together.

Before I proceed though, a quick note: John Hagel suggests that stories and narratives are different (in focus and openness). However, since I’m accustomed to use those two terms interchangeably, I apologise in advance for continuing to do so in this post.

My first peek at storytelling was through the work of David Snowden and Stephen Denning.

Although both come from a knowledge management past, their perspective on storytelling is somewhat distinct.

David Snowden in his paper “Story Telling: and old skill in a new context” states that

“managed and purposeful story telling provides a powerful mechanism for the disclosure of intellectual or knowledge assets in companies, it can also provide a non-intrusive, organic means of producing sustainable cultural change; conveying brands and values; transferring complex tacit knowledge.”

Despite recognising a broader role for stories, Snowden’s work tends to prioritise the power of stories as a knowledge-gathering and culture-identifying mechanism.

On the other hand, Stephen Denning focuses on the use of stories as vehicles to convey important messages. In his book “The Springboard”, Denning introduces the springboard story as

“a story that enables a leap in understanding by the audience so as to grasp how an organization or community or complex system may change”.

Mostly during my time at the NHS Modernisation Agency, I became familiar with the work of the Sparknow team initiated by the incredibly intelligent Victoria Ward. More recently Paul Corney‘s experience has offered me a lot more evidence to support the impact of stories.

So, and picking from their work and the work of a few others, I see some clear benefits for storytelling in organisational contexts:

  • inherently non-adversarial and non-hierarchical (Denning)
  • for knowledge disclosure (Snowden, Corney)
  • share lessons (Corney)
  • to reveal what’s really happening in your organisation (Anecdote)
  • share and embed values (Anecdote)
  • creating meaning and understanding (Snowden)
  • good stories self propagate (Snowden, Corney)
  • stick in your mind much better than dot points and clever arguments (Anecdote, Denning)
  • bring strategies to life (Corney)
  • inspire us to take action (Anecdote, Denning)
  • help get buy in to new ways of working (Corney)
  • provide a new language for new forms of understanding (Snowden, Denning)
  • connect us to a purpose and improve our performance (Anecdote).

In a oldish post by Luis Suarez, I came across a lovely quote from Peter Guber‘s book “Tell to Win”:

“success is won by creating compelling stories that have the power to move“

I think this sentence encapsulates most of the items above. Stories have the power to emotionally move and engage. As a result, they have the power to make people move and the power to make people share their knowledge so that it can better move inside the organisation.

I so believe this!

And it’s exactly for that reason that I came up with the unique format of Social Now, an event about the social enterprise (culture + processes + tools) where stories are used to convey complex ideas, create a common language and help ideas stick in people’s minds.

Social Now Europe 2014

The backdrop for Social Now is Cablinc. Cablinc is a fictitious company “created” for Social Now. A manufacturing company which also carries project-based auditing and consulting assignments. With factories in 3 countries, a diverse workforce, it faces the same challenges most companies do.

Cablinc — the fictitious company that becomes the backdrop for all the narratives

During the event all 15-minute social tool demonstrations are effectively a narrative, a story of a day in the life of Cablinc using that tool to improve its processes and reduce inefficiencies. No slides are allowed. No sales pitches tolerated. Participants get a sense of what life could be at their own company. They become characters of their own story, absorbing ideas for better work processes, tool features and a new way of working.

Considering that stories are also great conveyors of values and culture, this format is also great to understand the DNA of “vendors” and “tools”, an important aspect to consider when choosing a tool as Bertrand Duperrin recently wrote.

Anne McLear’s personal blog
reveals episodes of life at Cablinc

To add an extra layer to the storytelling concepts behind Social Now, you can read about life at Cablinc in the personal blog House of Cables written by Anne McLear, Cablinc’s Head of Marketing and Internal Communications. Obviously a fictional blog, about a fictitious company. However, a blog which allows us to laugh, without guilt, of frailties at our own companies; find solace in knowing how nother professionals (struggle to) cope; get ideas to implement at our own workplace.

The Storify narratives (1 and 2) brilliantly put together by Paul Corney are equally another important piece in this mosaic.

Even the “promo”
is a (animated) story

Finally, the whole idea of linking stories with an event about the social enterprise comes from the fact that social tools are a great vehicle for propagating stories and creating an organisational narrative that preserves knowledge and nurtures a sense of shared identity.

In summary, weaving storytelling into Social Now helps:

  • vendors, by providing them with real-life business requirements they can hang their narratives to
  • participants, by generating a common language and encouraging them to “experience” other ways of working
  • all others, by giving them arguments to promote change and new ways of working at their own organisations.

The short video below shows what Stowe Boyd thinks about Social Now, having been last edition’s keynote speaker and an attentive participant throughout the whole event.

Stowe Boyd on
“Social Now”
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