Originally published in CLA 2.0: Transformative Research in Theory and Practice Edited by Sohail Inayatullah and Ivana Milojević, Tamkang University Press, Tamsui, Taiwan, 2015
The Importance of Story in Organizations and Society
The early 21st Century has been characterized as a time of great global change, reframing the way that we connect, create, and consume. This profound shift in human development is not only a catalyst for the destruction of our antiquated industrial systems, but is also facilitating the emergence of new models of transformation. Story has always been a critical element in mapping the human journey, whether as individuals who are seeking to establish identity and make sense of our lives, or as an entire civilization that is working to define culture, ideology and vision. However, only in recent years has the creation of robust stories been identified as a centerpiece within organizations, governments and social structures for building unique strategic designs, crafting dynamic and long-lasting vision, and intentionally constructing pathways for meaningful
change. Science has found that stories are one of the most effective forms of human communication, persuasion and translation of ideas into action. Stories evoke deep images and emotions, allowing people to psychologically identify and connect with a collective narrative. Furthermore, stories are naturally viral. Unlike any other means of transporting ideas and
information, stories can quickly spread, planting a guiding philosophy in the minds and hearts of every person within an organization. Stories create deep-seated meaning that we embrace and live. In essence, they are the gateway to our consciousness. In other words, story is the way we create ourselves.
Because of the deluge of data afforded us through the information age, it is becoming increasingly harder to find ourselves intimately connected to a deep, personal, and life-giving narrative. Beyond the hard data presented to us in processes, models and instructions, stories allow us to tap into authentic experiences that resonate with what makes us organic and human.
According to recent studies, there are several reasons why stories exhibit this power:
• Stories are an ancient and foundational form of communication. They form the basis of what we consider to be universal truth, and therefore help us to create meaning through long-held beliefs, archetypes and familial traditions.
• Stories are about the human alliance. Stories are a means to sharing like-minded passions, leading us to inhabit a world where others partner with us to achieve a particular mission or vision. Stories help us to reach a common goal.
• Stories are the way that the human mind works. They are maps of meaning, and help us to understand how the world works so that we can make decisions. Without stories, we struggle to find our identity as individuals or as a society.
• Stories create order. They have structure and bring order to chaos. They guide us from conflict to resolution, providing us with the ultimate safety net.
• Stories help us to create. The human brain does not process imagined experiences any different than those that are real. Therefore, the emotions engendered through stories are genuine, and have the ability to move us to action.
• Stories trigger creativity and change. They help us to discovery ourselves, see the world in a new way, and innovate for transformation.1
Stories are the personification of an organization. When processes and rules are the driving force, the organization takes on the metaphor of a machine, lifeless and inanimate. Humans are organic – we are living, breathing and often messy. We embody stories of triumph and success, shame and defeat, love and loss. When stories are front-and-center, the organization becomes a living entity made up of people rather than a machine filled with cogs and gears. We empathize with that which is alive, transferring experiences so that we can feel what others feel. In this way, stories help us to synchronize our activity, the closest thing to developing a “hive mind” within organizations.
Reframing CLA as Story: Narrative Transformation
The Components of Narrative Transformation
Causal Layered Analysis has a natural connection to the transformational potential of stories, providing a framework that can be adapted to fit with the various parts of a book or narrative. In this way, CLA can be used in conjunction with other tools and concepts to lead an organization through the identification of its current story, and then guide it through the development of an entirely new story and vision. We have labeled this process Narrative Transformation.
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Frank Spencer is the Founding Principal and Creative Director of The Futures School. He holds a Master of Arts in Strategic Foresight from Regent University. He has worked on Strategic Foresight projects for companies such as Kraft, Mars, Marriott, and The Walt Disney Company. Read more.
Yvette is a Principal and the Managing Director of The Futures School. Holding a bachelor’s in Finance and a MBA from the University of Florida, Yvette has over 15 years of corporate experience with multi-national firms such as Kimberly-Clark and The Walt Disney Company. Read more.
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