The importance of stories

Stories and storytelling have played a major part in three of the books that I’ve read lately.

It’s interesting to see the ancient art of telling stories used in such different settings as change management and child therapy.

Nuts!, the success story of Southwest Airlines’, emphasizes the role of the charismatic CEO Herb Kelleher (who’s since retired). The authors defined his major role in the company as that of the Shaman (or medicine man). He’s been with the company since the beginning in 1973, and kept the companies spirit alive by living it himself, and by telling stories. At most major Southwest celebrations (of which there are many) Herb Kelleher might tell stories of old or recent peak experiences.

The springboard is the story of how Stephen Denning used storytelling to introduce knowledge management in the World Bank. Using stories he was able to capture peoples interest and hearts, and introduce organizational change on a scale unprecedented for that organization.

I’m currently reading a book called Playful approaches to serious problems, which is about narratice therapy for children and families. Narrative therapy focuses on stories. Every family with a problem creates a story around that problem. “6 year old Jonathan is always angry. The slightest problem makes him explode in rage. Every time he doesn’t get his way, he flies into tantrums, etc.” The therapy focuses on exchanging the story of the problem with a more positive story about the people involved, hence the term narrative therapy. It also uses a playful rather than a serious approach, which seems very appropraite for dealing with children. (And why on earth am I reading a book about child therapy? I’m curious to see if any of it can be transferred to adults. Imagine if we could tackle “grown-up” problems playfully in stead of seriously).

So Nuts! focuses on how Herb Kelleher keeps the spirit of Southwest Airlines alive. The Springboard is about how to change an organization. “Playful approaches…” is about child therapy. Yet they all use essentially the same tool: Stories.

That’s kinda interesting, don’t you think?

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