Making thinking visible: telling better stories of how organisations think

Mark Welker


Thinking is a powerful force. How we think leads to technological advancement, competitive advantage and new innovative ways of working through problems and developing solutions.

Similarly, telling stories of thinking can inspire our co-workers to follow our lead. More persuasive than information, stories about thinking can make us feel part of a larger company momentum, which motivates us to want to take part.

Most of all though, we need stories that feel like thinking.

Spend any time in a school classroom and you will see the makings of a story about thinking. In secondary schools, teachers draw out the internal machinations of thinking in order to shape, develop and direct positive habits in students.

There is a great need for better stories about company thinking.

You can see this thinking ‘visualised’ in group activities where ideas and opinions are communicated between students, as well as within assessments, such as the way students are part graded for showing a working out process.

When we walk into a classroom as adults we are reminded of what it feels like to be part of a larger thinking exercise. It’s a contagious atmosphere. Even today, when I return to any university campus for project work, I feel the pull of this thinking momentum as if dipping a toe back into a fast moving stream.

In a modern workplace, the same can be true.

There is a great need for better stories about company thinking. Stories to remind us as a collective what thinking feels like today and how it has shifted in practice, so that we may better adapt to company change, act out positive thinking routines, and communicate our perspective constructively to others.

I think therefore I am

When we tell stories about thinking, we are telling stories about humans. Hence, we can better express what thinking feels like by humanising the challenges companies face. Capturing a human perspective on a problem, challenge, or opportunity means to look at the impacts of thinking from a personal perspective.

Were a company to express a thinking challenge, it might be to better adapt to digital transformation. But to the manager or team member faced with that change, their perspective is far more grounded. Will my skills translate? What difference can I make?How will this change change the way I’m liked by my team?

Personal concerns and questions place company narratives into the context of narratives that humans find familiar, making it easier for others to reflect and imagine their own outcomes.

Thinking is changing

Thinking in a modern workplace is primarily concerned with developing an open mindset for change. Companies are experiencing rapid technological and cultural change. Roles that we hung our hats on for decades will likely no longer exist within five years. Skills are diversifying as workplace representation of gender and race is modernising.

With all this change, it can be daunting facing the unknown over and over in our careers. Constant organisational change can create a sense that we are not in control.

Encouraging thinking therefore is helping others acknowledge that change, while initially uncomfortable, can help us to grow and develop, and that empowering staff to challenge assumptions is a key part of that growth.

One of the ways leaders can do this is by presenting stories with a theme of change.

Most business challenges, whether undertaken for ourselves or clients, involve acknowledging a need for change. Rather than focus on outcomes (though they are an important element), stories that facilitate thinking should start by inviting audiences to assess the status quo.

In designing solutions, we often ask ourselves ‘What if we did nothing?’ Before Agile methodology was widely adopted, we understood that if we detailed every system requirement of a software solution we could be sure that we understood the full scope of our solution. As the global economy shifted towards online digital services, it became obvious that developing a solution that was expertly scoped but slow to develop was not as important as having a solution that was quick to market and had the ability to grow and respond to user input.

A story of Agile, is a story of challenging the status quo. There will be other Agiles (there probably already are a few), and the stories of these solutions will likely start with a question ‘what if we did nothing?’

Questions like this can be a potent source of thinking for our audience. They bring us on the journey of change by asking audiences to reflect on the validity of a previous assumption and see the process by which we imagine what comes next. They teach us how to engage problems and opportunities with a mindset for change.

This is a story that feels like thinking, because it applies thought to a given problem. Without an engaging subject, it is harder to see and grasp the application of thought and get behind it.

Bring the emotion

Video is particularly well equipped to bring such a story to life. Working in one medium, such as writing an article about thinking, allows the author to stack words horizontally to create a compelling sentence, and to stack sentences together to create great paragraphs, and then paragraphs to create pages…you can see where this is going.

Sometimes, you can create impact and emotion with a single line, but often it requires the chronological narrative stack to juxtapose enough ideas and angles to round out the emotional experience. To work, the narrative requires investment in the text in order to receive the emotional pay off.

In video, you can stack vertically and horizontally simultaneously. An opening 10s can stack narration, visuals, music and sound effects, achieving a more compressed juxtaposition. It’s this combination of elements that lays the quick groundwork for emotional narrative.

Video creates emotion in a short space because it harnesses a greater momentum for juxtaposition, and this unique quality makes the medium a vital ingredient in bringing thinking to life.

Intelligence is a muscle, not a bucket. We cannot simply top it up as much as we can develop a memory for it through routine and application.

In Australian primary schools, they call such a routine ‘think, pair, share’. If we are to encourage thinking as a culture in our companies we must develop better stories that replicate ‘think, pair, share’ at different levels and at scale. Stories that motivate our team to approach change with a greater sense of empowerment and purpose.



Mark Welker

Mark Welker is an award winning short fiction writer, filmmaker, day dreamer and company director at video agency Commoner.