I had planned to blog a little more about #Beingthestory – the wonderful event staged by Jude Habib last week. I thought I would describe more of the astonishing stories I heard that day but instead I want to try and organise some thoughts.
Being told stories or telling stories often seems a little nebulous.
When faced with a choice of spending training budget people want to know what the “learning outcomes are”. Likewise with comms spending or even spending on organisation change people will often want to know specifically what they will get for their money. (Ironic in the latter case)
We have worked for years helping people tell their stories and helping them use story telling to achieve more. Obviously stories help them attract attention to what they do and build the case for their cause, but it goes further. So perhaps I should have a stab at outlining why it is worth spending organisational money on stories?
Stories are a work skill. We may need to win the argument that story telling is as valid a work skill as project managment – but it is. Perhaps if we have a training programme called “Princess and the Pea 2? – we could charge thousands for it. The work on 21st Century Public Servant includes storyteller as a quality to be identified and nurtured in public service. It’s worth investing in how you do it and how well you do it. Listening to others do it helps you develop that skill.
Stories encourage creativity. At least Einstein thought they did – he is quoted as saying
If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.
It helps you to see things from another perspective. If you want to improve what you do story telling can help. Perhaps the people you do it for can tell you what it means for them or what they experience. Perhaps you telling a story will jog your thinking away from process and back to what that process means. Listening to people tells stories from another world altogether helps freshen up our thinking. I also think it helps us find new analogies for our own work. (Think the wonderful TedxBrum or TED in general)
It can help you get to the nub of things. There were a lot of tears and smiles and laughter on Friday. Emma Lawton told us (beautifully I may say) of her experience of being diagnosed with Parkinsons aged 29. You’d think the nub of the story was just that, the shock of it and the battle with it. It was the opposite: how she shrugged it off, how she shifted gear in her life and moved on. How Parkinson’s had given her many of the best things in her world. We knew what mattered most by the tears of pride that welled up in her fathers eyes (and mine) as he listened to her tell that part of the story. Listening to how you feel as you hear a story helps you get to what matters. Once you know what matters it’s easier to decide what is the best thing to do next.
If you’re going to change you need to stop and listen first. So you may as well listen to stories – they’re a darn site more interesting than reports. (That doesn’t mean you don’t need numbers or other forms of structured thinking – but do stories)
“Empathy creates radical disruption”. This expression leaped of the stage at all of us when used by the astonishing team of Samiya and Naveed Parvez. They are using product design, medicine and 3D printing to create a service which means that disabled children can be measured for and receive their Orthotics (limb/muscle/torso supports) in just one week. They start with listening to the people they want to help. Everything they do flows from that. If conventions conflict with what makes sense, they ignore them, go round them, disregard them.
Stories help you appreciate you’re not alone. When people tell stories they often mention the mundane or are brave enough to talk about the things that professional language tends to exclude – like doubts and insecurities. Recognising them in each other can help boost confidence. Punk Pop Poet Brigitte Aphrodite helped us see that on Friday.
These are just a few thoughts. I think they need to be more concrete. Please feel free to make them even clearer for the people who write the cheques.
Other posts on #beingthestory.
Gemma Pettman: “If you believe in a story keep on telling it.”
Magdalen Sugden “Empathy and the power of stories”