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June 2002 Archives

June 19, 2002

Stories Accelerate Learning

Another positing from the online converation with Terrence L. Gargiulo and Making Stories A Practical Guide for Organizational Leaders and Human Resource Specialists.


Stories help learning when they stimulate and shape conversation. Stories that are part of a network conversational exchange really accelerate learning. Thus one on one storytelling has no where near the same impact as collective story-making. The latter brings a real sense of ownership and understanding. Some call this "the art of the strategic conversation".
The interest in business story-telling seems to coincide with an increase in uncertainty in the workplace. Similarly as we move to more networked org forms, we need to enrich the pipes (info flows) without overloading everyone with data.

The book Future Search has a wonderful story - timeline exercise in the beginning of the book. It builds a collective sense of where we have come from, our organization, and the world around us. Individuals post their events on the three timelines and three groups typically report back, with a story about the people in the room, and how the organization and world has changed and impacted on us collectively. This rapidly establishes a collective story about the past for any group.

Stories being posed for the future may entertain more debate. One of the reasons I became a passionate scenarist was seeing too many organizations fall over a single vision / story for the future. A story that is too structured limits learning. Successful strategies and stories are often the result of unintended consequences.

Today innovation rules - stories / rapid conversations and learning are an essential part of the prototyping process which leads to markets. Actually, stories don't accelerate learning, "insights" accelerate learning. However, stories may frame the connection that enable new insights.

For example there have been stories around TIVO, online music sharing, satellite, cable TV and perceptions of where they are going. Recently they were reframed --- File-Served TV --- a new vision & direction. Except I doubt this is the end of the story....... That in itself is both refective and iterative.

I'd be interested in the contrast between a world in which story-telling was between cave-dwellers and in today's - tomorrow's highly networked world. Are effective stories synthesized now rather than told? Similarly, is "chat" creating a new framework for the realtime story? What happens if a leader isn't in the "chat" group?

June 23, 2002

Team Brief

Another positing from the online converation with Terrence L. Gargiulo and Making Stories A Practical Guide for Organizational Leaders and Human Resource Specialists.

I think there is a great match between the two posts above and every marketers dream -- "the idea virus" --- Great ideas, like great stories are infectious. I'm not sure how easy they are to plant...... consciously. I think it is more insight that stimulates sharing... as they emerge it is better to nurture.
Sweatshops in Asia and Nike reflect a new generation of stories and concerns. However, if we look into our schools we see our children learning about the environment, sustainability, etc from an early age. Effective story-nurturing in organizations requires open rather than closed systems. Ie bring in the customers, suppliers, other stakeholders and then shake them all up.

Similarly, youth's interaction with chat, instant messaging (europe / japan) on phones create a new transparency and immediacy to their stories. Music, TV show's etc. What's "cool" - is part of the story telling ethic. Thus perhaps the org lesson is a requirement for more visual, more role-playing, more interactive and collaborative sessions. I'm still to see many organizations embrace new systems (like chat) or redesign environments to more effectively nurture corporate stories. Sometimes a simple change - I joined a coffee company. The head office was sterile, their reception area lacked any coffee paraphanellia. In the first week I installed a full expresso bar, and retrained the receptionists. Within two weeks no guest entered into our environment without the hospitality or conversations related to coffee.

In another organization --- a chicken processor. When a bird fell off the chain it was not always handled with care, hygiene, etc... It may have ended up on your plate. By changing the focus from processing to "creating great meals" we brought the experience and delight in the product to life. Plant management also improved.

In organizations I've found the most effective "plant method" is one that nurtures. The "Team Brief" supports by providing (typically monthly) the opportunity to begin a top - roll-out message to everyone in co within 24 hours. Organised around four areas, Performance, Plans, People & Policy, it is easily supplemented with stories, recognition, memorability. Feedback and questions are collected.

June 26, 2002

More on Stories Accelerating learning

It's not yet over. You can still get to the Group Jazz Chataqua...

How does the example of receiver based learning fit with our discussions so far? Example: In a skyscraper there are many xerox repairers busy fixing the copier on each of the different floors. They are linked together (open communication line) and constantly talking through the repairs they are completing. Most of the time the talk is just noise, yet the other repairers are also absorbing other problems and can offer suggestions / ask questions. This speeds learning across the system.

I've often wondered if this works at Old Navy stores? Does anyone know? They all wear the headsets, yet there doesn't seem to be much chatter going on. Yet here's a customer service / sales interfacing organization that should learn how to sell faster, train faster etc. It certainly has the opportunity to be more than a neat positioning trick. If so I'd expect more stores to be connected up.

June 27, 2002

Scenarios & Stories

Another positing from the online converation with Terrence L. Gargiulo and Making Stories A Practical Guide for Organizational Leaders and Human Resource Specialists.

I wonder... How many of you would jump on a 747 with a pilot that had never trained in a flight simulator? We know that pilots train in simulators on the ground to better prepare themselves for eventualities and challenges that many never happen. They also train for landings at airports that will appear on their schedules in the future. Unfortunately few teams have the opportunity provided by the flight simulator.

I tend to think of scenarios as a flight simulator for management. Framed well they are hypothesis of alternate environments in which our decisions may have to play out. They do not represent the future story of the company. By windtunnelling (or testing) current strategies against a range of alternate scenarios an organization improves its potential to minimize risk. Scenarios need to be customized to context if they are to be useful.

Scenarios as a form of story-telling work because they are framed around critical uncertainties (simplistic example - boom or bust economy). By building scenarios around uncertainty we are 1)opening and focusing minds on what is both important to the issue at hand and uncertain as to outcome. 2)critical uncertainties are more likely to take us to the edge of chaos where new ideas, solutions etc are most likely to emerge. 3)Scenarios must be plausible, therefore drilling down to changes in the sytemic underpinnings is important to building understanding and retaining credibilty. In this form they provide story telling and structure that not only helps to minimize risk about the decisions we must make today, but they are used to accelerate learning. When we accept that Planning is learning, (not extrapolation)then we also embrace that it may be the only way to sustainable competitive advantage.

As an organization (like the pilot) reacts to new inputs, better questions are what sustains success. The future is inherently unpredictable. Yet with very little effort we can bring in stories from the outside - so we think better inside the box. In a networked world --- connectivity is driving this. If you are a cellular carrier you better be thinking about swarms, if you are a health provider, genetic testing is already here. If you are a cotton producer, perhaps you should look at goat silk. From time to time an organization should look at everything, a "ruthless curiosity" is healthy. If stories and hypothesis get you to where you can really "listen" then success in the marketplace is much more viable. Scenarios are just one tool for getting us

I agree Stephen with your comment to find a star to peg future stories. I've always felt that the 1 to 2 word strategic intent was the right way to go. They work when stretch is involved. Effective leaders also cut the time for delivery. A yet they are also falible. Years ago Motorola - Wireless World (It led them to Irridium!)Motorola was so focused on their story they didn't pay attention to the Nokia's etc of the world. More recently Motorola has use "Intelligence Everywhere" For my two cents another example of introverted disaster. There is no benefit for "us" in this. Many of the early ad campaigns were close to I spy.

About June 2002

This page contains all entries posted to Unbound Spiral in June 2002. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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