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.


Unknown said...

Maybe this is why I absolutely love stories Glynn. They weave so much into the telling, and if there are childrens 'feely' pictures, so much the better! Stories anchor our lives I believe, thanks for an awesome post.

Maureen said...

Stories help us see ourselves and others, and how we are in relationship, more clearly. The wonderful thing is, the creation of stories is possible in paintings, photographs, ceramics, music, poems, in business, in nature, in whatever we do. They give us a way to connect and, as you note in your post, the connections become a web of touchpoints.

Michael Dodaro said...


After knowing you for only a couple of months, I'd wager that any story in which you have a part is going to end well. I suspect that the business transitions you have sketched in this post, of changes effected by your group, were possible because you saw possibilities in situations that others had missed and then supplied an impetus to bring out the best in the other players, regardless whether they were executives or coworkers.

A good story contains tension between the way things are and the way they ought to be. Sustaining the tension through a climactic encounter, several encounters, or reversals, makes a story compelling. Too many situations in life must be abandoned without resolution. Readers follow a story hoping for satisfaction of a sort that doesn't occur in their lives. The gospel narratives contain many stories that resolve issues for which most people crave resolution--those of the hopelessly infirm or powerless who want to be healed or liberated, whom Jesus heals and liberates and for whom he finally resolves the universal human dilemma of death in his own resurrection.

If a story is going to resolve, it is usually because somebody finds possibilities where others see only mediocrity, delusions, or inconvenient intrusions on their time and resources. This ability to persist in finding possibilities seems the essence of faith, and it is astonishing what it can accomplish.

Beth in NC said...

We can wrap our minds around stories and they help us remember.

I love that God chose stories to share His truth with us.

Bless you!

Anonymous said...

Story sharing is one of God's ways of relating with us the things that what He wants us to know. Story is based in the life that we see and understand. Words project pictures and colours and feelings. But, with God, the words are powerful beyond us. The words in the Bible are inspired by the God and are used by the Holy Spirit.

The mystery of the gift of relating that takes place between humans and God is so awesome to me. We see glimpses of the power and wonder. We can not put God into the words, but, God can be in them... and in the relating of them.

Laura said...

And, Glynn? You have some of the best stories. I love to "hear" you tell them. You know what? One reason I love them is because you live them as part of the Bigger Story. Your life tells such a good one.

Violet N. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Violet N. said...

Hearing you tell it, your story seems like such a 'meant to be' narrative. But I'll bet the living of it was far more harrowing. It takes a lot of faith to last out the middle of a story! I guess that is what also gives it meaning.

L.L. Barkat said...

I agree with Laura. You have some of the best stories. Or maybe you just tell them, while others forget that life is made more rich by storying. :)

Patricia said...

Amazing how you can write a story from a man's POV about something so huge with a million logistical details that lasted over 6 years but stay so focused, not break confidences, and bring your point home so succinctly. I would have been lost in the forest of I said, he said, she said, then I go blah, blah, blah. You have given me a new appreciation for how my husband's mind does think creatively in the analytical sense. He will truly appreciate this =)

Anonymous said...

Glynn -- I love how you are taking this book about art and creativity and looking through it to the workplace. I tell stories at my work too, only I tell them with numbers and charts. The power of stories is undeniable.