Sunday, July 24, 2011
The Power of Story
I became part of a story once.
Twenty years ago, the company I worked for, and the industry I worked in, faced a monumental problem, one coming down the track like the proverbial freight train. Whatever company and industry credibility that existed was going to be vaporized.
A small group (“team” wasn’t the lingo back then) of us started working quietly and diligently with a couple of key executives. We knew what had to be done – embrace the coming chaos, take responsibility, and ultimately run the business very differently. My specific job – leading the communications group focused on the change, help design the strategy and write speeches to help pave the way. At least we hoped we were paving the way.
Presentations were made. Meetings were held. Consultants were consulted. We weren’t openly laughed at, but you could always see the facial expressions – people thought we were out of our minds. The problem as that no one else had a solution. And our little troop kept getting bucked upward. “Just wait until the CEO hears this! He’ll chew them up and spit them out!”
When we reached the CEO, he didn’t chew us up. He immediately grasped the problem and our solution. He fully embraced, and went further than we were suggesting.
The result changed the company and the industry. We embarked on a series of initiatives than confounded friends and foes alike. Real change happened. I had my hands full with communications and writing more and more speeches.
About a year later, I was in a meeting with several of our business executives. One had been talking with a counterpart at our biggest competitor, who’d followed us with their own initiatives. The executive said that both of them had agreed that “the damn speechwriters were running our companies.”
There was a silence, and several heads turned toward me. No one said a word (but all of these executives likely agreed with the statement). And then I said, “Actually, all the speechwriters are doing is writing the speeches the CEOs are asking for.”
This period in the company’s history lasted for about six years. It overlapped and even opened the doors for another fundamental change – the beginning of the worldwide web and electronic communications, and our little intrepid band got to be that story, too.
The power of story is enormous. In Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit, Luci Shaw talks about the importance of story in our lives, and considers the role it plays in the Bible. “The bible,” she writes, “doesn’t teach theology systematically. It tells stories. It chronicles human failures and triumphs; it voices human lament and celebration. God reveals himself through the stories and poetries developed by the human authors who wrote the books of the Bible.”
The writing and telling of stories become imperative for us, she says. “…I believe that my learning faith and writing about it are gifts from God and that they have value; therefore, I persist in telling stories…”
Stories have power and value, and not only in art. They can change and transform the work place as well.
And like Shaw, I persist in telling stories.
Over at The High Calling, we’re discussing Breath for the Bones. Today the focus is on chapters 3 and 4, on metaphor and story. Visit The High Calling to see links to other posts on the chapters.