Part I - Stories & Business
Part II - Stories & OD

Group Jazz Online Chat with Terrence Gargiulo - June 17-30

17-JUN-2002 11:27 Lisa Kimball, Group Jazz
Hi Terrence,  It's great to have you here!  

I'd love to hear some more about how you began your interest in storytelling ... Can you share some of your personal story?

1:5) 18-JUN-2002 00:24 Terrence Gargiulo
Hi All:  

I was caught up today in some major storytelling. This will segue nicely into Lisa's first question about how and why storytelling ever got a hold of me...  

My father is an opera and symphony conductor. Have you ever watched...or perhaps the proper question is... How many of us envy the incredible communicative power of a conductor. Abstract notes on a page brought to life by the interpretive and communicative power of a conductor working in "concert" no pun intended here with an orchestra. In the end there is this amazing tripartit network of communication when the audience becomes moved by the music.  

I was fascinated by my father's ability to communicate. He would start a rehearsal by saying, "Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen if I cannot communicate with this (and then he would lift his baton) we are both in please turn to... There would be times in a rehearsal when he would stop conducting all together. He had an uncanny ability to communicate just with his eyes.  

My mother has an equally powerful gift. As an opera singer she brought a text alive through her interpretation. I used to sit in church and marvel at her ability to get a bunch of young GI's (this was a church on a military base) to practice a hymn for 30 minutes and sign that hymn with the verve and spirit of a chorus of angels. She found a way to reach their hearts and souls and give them the confidence to bring the music alive. Truly magical...  

I saw and felt communication happening in a special way. I desired to know and understand how this mojo worked... 

The story continues and includes twists and turns...To shorten what could be a long answer I became a student of communication, and learning. Everything I did became an opportunity to explore this pervasive but elusive force.  

Indeed stories are yet another metaphor for understanding the black box of effective communicating, learning, and thinking.  

Hope that sets the stage...  

Oh yes, I am a little tardy in joining the group today due to working with some folks on my latest collaboration with my father a new opera and yes we were working through "story details!"

1:6) 18-JUN-2002 00:46 Terrence Gargiulo

The most revolutionary story I told was not told - it was encouraged, created, and disseminated by others. Be wary of socially engineering the perfect story to rock the world. Stories can and are used in this way but can easily backfire and worst yet; run the risk of becoming weapons even if the intention is noble. We cannot control every consequence or impact of a story told. We do not have to own or manufacture a story to channel the power of stories.  

The best stories are like a new sequence of neurons firing creating a unique pathway/insight -- the wonderful epiphanies and Ahas!  

It is far better to stimulate story sharing than to be a storyteller.

1:7) 18-JUN-2002 20:50 Janette Agg
Hi Terrence, I'm wondering about the use of stories to share team wisdom.  

By team wisdom, I mean the knowledge that members of a team possess about why things are done the way they are done, why particular choices are made, how to do things the right way, how to avoid mistakes, how to fix mistakes, what has been done before - many of the things that never get written down or formally passed on.  

How can stories be used for that kind of thing?  How do you ensure that they are collected, and once collected, they are passed on to the right people at the right time?  

In today's world it seems there is just so much information - in stories, in various forms of representation other than stories.  

Following on from your conductor metaphor, it would seem that work teams need such a person to not only choose the stories to be focused on by their team, but to direct the attention of team members to the right way to read and interpret the story.

1:8) 18-JUN-2002 23:30 Terrence Gargiulo
Janette thanks for joining us from Australia. Is there anyway you can virtually bring us the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef? Three years ago I spent 5 glorious days on a scuba diving "live aboard boat" diving the ribbon reef in Australia. I can still see and feel all of its sensations...  

You raise some excellent questions about how to leverage team wisdom/knowledge through storytelling:  

Remember stories are a way of understanding effective communication. Teams require processes that promote and reward knowledge sharing. Do not be concerned about trying to capture these stories into some sort of central repository. They will be dead upon arrival. Each company will have it's own project methodologies and life cycles. These will inevitably include formal forms and mechanisms for recording some of this information but 75% of it will be lost when anyone goes to revisit it. These tools are great place holders - triggers - reminders of who the potential knowledge keeper might be - who to ping and elicit a story from. The informal processes are the ones that generate significant knowledge sharing.  

The two biggest resources required are:  

1. Time
2. Recognition  


Is enough time being set aside for teams to formally and informally share their stories? Throughout the life cycle of a project but especially in the beginning, end, and between projects, there must be ample time for folks to share stories. Team members need to be trained on how to elicit stories and how to extract knowledge from them. These are essential skills if stories processes are to be used effectively.  

2. Recognition  

Team members need to be recognized for sharing knowledge and stories. Most organizations do not encourage folks to share information. We differentiate ourselves from one another in organizations by our knowledge and expertise. We have to change that culture. It takes very little to get folks excited about helping one another. 

1:10) 19-JUN-2002 05:48 Janette Agg
Great Barrier Reef photos

Thanks for your comments Terrence, but how do you preserve the wisdom of a team over time? What if the chief storyteller in a team departs, how do you avoid losing all their knowledge? IF you don't store stories in a repository, how can you keep a story alive despite changes in team personnel? I think of how traditional stories get passed down through generations, but we don't really have much of that happening even in families these days, let alone in corporations. How do you not only have the telling of a story once, but the repeated telling? Are there some things that just aren't suitable vehicles for storytelling?

1:12) 19-JUN-2002 12:25 Linda Smith
REALLY nice to think about storytelling in workplaces, and how to use that resource in making workplaces work better for all of us.  Thanks Terrance for your willingness to share wisdom!  

One of the big ideas I keep mulling over is what does it take to create an awareness of storytelling as a resource for work.... that awareness comes from ongoing experience with a web cast radio show that I co-host, in which we interview (help our guests tell stories) of how leadership emerges, and the new ways of leading in today's changing, knowledge-centered worksites.  It's pretty easy to get our guests to talk... and yet, they tend to pause when the word "storytelling" is used... or the question/request is "tell me a story"  Would you be willing to tell a story, share an anecdote about what set's the stage for creating value for storytelling?  Thanks!!

1:13) 19-JUN-2002 13:15 Terrence Gargiulo
Linda raises an important question...if stories are fundamental to how we communicate, and we tell them all the time why do we get blank stares and awkward pauses and silences when we ask some to, "tell a story."  

Here I think we can learn from our friend coyote. We need to be a bit of trickster. To work well with stories and to use them effectively we do not need to let people know they are telling stories or that we are try to elicit stories from them. Just allow it to become a natural rhythm to the conversation.  

Try this thought experiment...Craft a question - any interview like question - such as what is the most successful thing you have ever done? Does that question get a rich response from every person. Do you find that you have to ask follow-on questions? Do you have to find other ways to probe?  

Central to understanding how stories work is the concept of index. Each person indexes information in unique ways. To trigger a story you have to find the right trigger - and I rarely say - except to my fellow passionate story aficionados, "tell me a story."

1:14) 19-JUN-2002 13:30 Terrence Gargiulo
Janette I was so lost in marveling at the beautiful pictures you are sharing with us of the Great Barrier reef that I forgot to respond to your question...  

"What if the chief storyteller in a team departs, how do you avoid losing all their knowledge? IF you don't store stories in a repository, how can you keep a story alive despite changes in team personnel? "  

You touch upon a poignant and difficult issue. How do we keep the "important - wisdom/knowledge" stories alive? Assuming people communicate and interact with one another - the knowledge and wisdom of one person on a team leaving will not be completely lost. Stories are dynamic...they change...  

Other members on the team will remember bits and pieces - these will be used to synthesize new ideas, visions, and processes. This is why its so important to create opportunities for people to learn from each other. These can be incorporated into meeting agendas, project debriefs, trainings, celebrations, newsletters, brown bag lunches, etc... the actual processes will varying and can be adopted according to the organization, it's cultures, processes, and characteristics of its team members.  

Of course certain discrete pieces of information - best practices can be recorded and communicated to new team members through formal mechanisms.  

What ideas do you have about how to preserve this wisdom/ Can you offer some anecdotes?

1:15) 19-JUN-2002 18:01 Lisa Kimball, Group Jazz
I think the question of how to keep important wisdom stories alive in organizations is a great one.  Communities have a variety of ways to share stories from generation to generation.  What are some of the organizational rituals and customs that might serve a similar purpose?
1:16) 20-JUN-2002 00:42 Terrence Gargiulo
Let's look at Lisa's question in two ways:
  1. Philosophically
  2. Nuts & Bolts  

1. Philosophically  

Wisdom stories will flourish if an organization embraces diversity in the deepest meaning of the word. Organizations managed and CONTROLLED via fear and policy police will never benefit from wisdom stories even if they are tattooed onto every employee's forehead. Have you ever walked into a company and seen posters with wonderful "PC" saccharine phrases and deliciously delightful mission statements...  

tongue and cheek...  

"We are here for our customers, all our customers, only our customers, so help our bottom line"  

yet when you observe how people interact with customers and one another you observe an obvious and glaring in congruency between the words and employee actions? No rituals or customs are going to help wisdom stories flourish here. These tools will only benefit cultures where diversity is cultivated and people are encouraged to learn from one another. If employees creatively identify with their organization they will naturally become "keepers" and "disseminators" of wisdom stories. There is another important level of diversity to keep in mind here: each "story keeper" and "disseminator" will have a unique way of sharing stories. Subject for another thread - not everyone will tell a story as an "external communicator" others will internalize a story and tell it as much through his or her actions as words. I am a sucker for the old adage, "actions speaker louder than words!"  

2. Nuts & Bolts  

There are rituals and customs organizations can use to create opportunities for sharing wisdom stories...  

a. Annual events  

b. Design employee orientation processes that include story sharing processes (how time is structured for new employees to hear from experienced employees)  

c. Brown bag lunches  

d. Include story time as part of weekly/monthly/quarterly meetings  

e. Use stories in internal and external collateral materials  

f. Leverage asynchronous modes of communications email, intranets/chats etc...  

g. Weave stories into employee appraisal process  

h. Incorporate story sharing into training sessions  

i. Coach leaders on how to model story listening & telling behaviors  

j. Create special rooms, time, and places for storytelling (remember - from my previous comments its not necessary for us to use the word storytelling outside of our direct network of story aficionados in order for us to be using them)  

the list can go on and on - this is the easy part - the philosophy stuff is tough  

Lisa can you share with the group some of the ways you and your colleagues at Group Jazz have leveraged technology to do some of the things listed above?

1:22) 23-JUN-2002 21:50 Terrence Gargiulo
Chris I understood your desire to leverage the power of positive "big" stories to change corporations. I think IBM did a good job during the 90's in finding public (i.e. marketing messages) and private (communications within the company) stories to reenvision itself as a service company vs. a strictly product company. How about companies that make the extraordinary effort to align their public stories/images with their corporate policies and practices (e.g. Ben & Jerry, Body Shop, Tom's of Maine)  

There are also lots of examples of stories becoming tools of propaganda machines (i.e. the Cold War, WW2 rhetoric, etc...)  

I shy away from assuming anyone is capable of "constructing" a perfect story message to get people or organizations on tract. I prefer working iteratively and incrementally. This seems to be more in tune with the way things are and with they way things work. Powerful things happen in small steady creative efforts.

1:25) 24-JUN-2002 16:45 KT Hernandez
I'm wondering if the apparent disjoint between what Chris Macrae and Terrence Gargiulo considers to be effective stories for transformation might be this:  

Chris perceives stories as something to be told -- direct action that has direct reaction.
Terrence perceives stories as something shared -- indirect action that has indirect reaction.  

My experience with storytelling in an NLP context tends to agree with Terrence's take on it -- one size does not fit all, since the meaning of the communication is made inside another person's head, and may not resemble the content you intended to create.  The reason for this is that you can't know everything that might be rattling around inside of the black box of someone else's head, or how your story may interact with that unknown other content.  But you can know for sure that what you tell the other person IS going to interact with previously stored content to produce meaning.  The trick is to guess what major "filters" (content-changers) you will need to work around as you tell your story.  That's how NLP-ers do it, and it works most of the time...  

But here's a better way, I think.  Get THEM to tell THEMSELVES stories.  They know what they mean 100%.  You do that by asking leading questions like "if you came to work tomorrow and one thing was different that made things work better, what would that thing be?"  Guaranteed story launcher to elicit the identity of a specific needed change. You can even use this one again and again to help build an outline of a change process.  

Another item straight out of NLP that may help:
"Everybody already has all of the resources they need."  

In other words, change agents don't need to be sages that have all of the answers or tell all the stories, assuming that was even possible (like in Jan's story).  The answers to an individual's or organization's challenges already exist within that individual or organization; they only need to be fully elicited and properly aligned.  Therefore, change agents MUST be good questioners and GREAT listeners.  Change agents use their client's stories to leverage change.  

(Terrence, I hope I haven't stepped on your toes by pontificating; this just came clearly to mind and I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents.)

1:27) 25-JUN-2002 08:20 Stephen Denning
Carol asks: "Now, you tell me how I am going to explain to the CFO of a small company what this all has to do with making a living?"  

  You might want to start by pointing out key business purposes that storytelling can serve.
  Thus my book, The Springboard, was about how storytelling could address probably the #1 problem in business today, namely how to get an organization to transform itself, willingly, enthusiastically and quickly. It showed how a certain form of story can be very effective in tackling this central business challenge.
  I'm now working on another book showing how storytelling can address six other central business challenges facing organizations today, namely:
     How can you weave groups of different individuals together so that they worked as teams or communities?
     How can you induce people to share their knowledge when they suspected that the object of the exercise was to render them expendable?
     What can you do when a huge negative rumor got going?
     How can you preserve and enhance the good values of an organization and transfer them to new recruits?
     How can you get people to know the person you truly were and not just another suit?
     How can you lead people into the future so that they were keen to follow?
   These are issues that virtually every management is facing. Pretty much every textbook you've ever read says that the challenges are central to organizations today but when you try to find the section in the textbook where it explains how to deal with these challenges, you find it doesn't exist or is very sketchy and offers very little in the way of practical advice to deal with them.
   Storytelling/narrative is something practical that can not only help. It actually works.
   To which, your CFO might say: "show me!"
   In which case, you start from the most pressing problem that the organization currently has, whatever it happens to be, and tell or help tell the appropriate kind of story. One of the tricks in this field is knowing which kind of story best serves which purpose. The patterns are different and understanding the patterns will help you find the right story much faster.
   If on the other hand, your company doesn't have any of these problems, then your company must not only be unique - it must be making so much money, you have no need to worry.

Which takes me to another great story - again from the book above - Radio Trottoir.  

?In the mid-1980s, a group of academics met in London to discuss a phenomenon they had noticed in francophone Africa: ?Radio Trottoir?, or sidewalk radio. Radio Trottoir was something that had become increasingly important in politics and had been created out of two strong features of African society: a highly controlled press and a long tradition of storytelling. Because people could not get accurate news about political developments from the media, gossip took the place of published news. In order to make an item of gossip credible the speaker needed to trace the source of his information, which might be something like, ?My wife's cousin is the driver to the Minister of Finance and he heard that?? Sometimes the news on radio Trottoir was completely accurate; at other times it was rumor stimulated to achieve a particular purpose; at other times it was simply wrong. No one ever knew which was the case. However, equally, no one could afford to ignore the news on Radio Trottoir. The academics even reported that government officials had been known to circulate counter-rumors whenever some item on Radio Trottoir was giving them particular trouble.?
~ Allan, Fairtlough, and Heinzen, The Power of the Tale: Using Narratives for Organizational Success (page 5)  


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