Spinning Yarns

Once upon a time, we noticed a growing trend in management circles: More and more people began focusing on the importance of storytelling in organizations.

Next week, for instance, Hollywood executive Peter Guber will drop in to the Drucker Business Forum to talk about his new bookTell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story.

The idea that business success springs from telling “a purposeful story,” in Guber’s words, is rooted in the concept that humankind is built to respond favorably to a compelling yarn. Guber theorized in a recent New York Times article “that we respond to story—an aspiring executive’s self-description in a job interview, a digital entrepreneur’s pitch to a potential backer, a team owner’s plea for a city-financed stadium—because we can’t help it. Eons of genetic and cultural programming compel us toward a narrative form with beginnings, endings and moral lessons, whether or not those are in sync with the random ways of the universe.”

Others have picked up on the same concept. In their 2004 book, Storytelling in OrganizationsJohn Seely BrownStephen DenningKatalina Groh and Laurence Prusak explore how narrative can be used for transferring knowledge, nurturing community, stimulating innovation and preserving values.

[EXPAND More]Peter Drucker, meanwhile, also understood this. In writing about effective communications, for instance, he noted that “one has to talk to people in terms of their own experience. One has to use carpenter’s metaphors when talking to carpenters, the language of sailors when talking to sailors and so on.”

But in this case, Drucker didn’t just explain to others how to tell stories. He put the notion into practice. “What Drucker did . . . was to quantify the manager’s role, not in some learn-by-rote, restrictive way, but rather in a Churchillian neo-heroic way that would cause the manager to see himself (and later herself) as one who can accomplish things, and in doing so aspire to something greater,” John Baldoni declares in his book Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders. To help do this, Baldoni adds, Drucker “is forever sprinkling his texts with artful images and little stories.”

So, what’s your story? How do you use narratives to manage your organization more effectively?[/EXPAND]