the power of the tale

Before starting, the team members were invited to read a number of books and articles:

The fourth book on the reading list that Mike gave the team at the outset was The Power of the Tale. The authors demonstrate pretty convincingly how story telling in business can build honesty and trust, promote learning, develop new skills, break new ground (or paths) and create scenarios that you can use in planning for the future.

For me, story telling is essentially a sales technique. It’s a way of talking to, and winning over, the heart when the mind ain’t listening. It’s what Javier urged the team to do a lot more of, and something they focused on when creating an ‘elevator pitch’ and other justifications for their ideas. It’s also part of the process of convincing yourself so you can convince others. Put like that, it sounds a tad mechanical. But then, what aspect of a relationship isn’t, when you deconstruct it?

This business of story telling as a way of winning over others also reminds me of Georges Dumézil’s assertion in
Mitra-Varuna that sovereignty has two poles: the magician-king, who uses capture, bonds, knots, webs and nets, and the jurist-priest who governs by treaties, laws, pacts and contracts. The former, if I understand right, has more to do with feelings and intuition, the latter has more to do with analysis and logic. Officially, business is done on the basis of analysis and logic and run by jurist-priests; in practice, it is often run by magician-kings operating by capture and ensnarement. Story telling is a practice of ensnarement. And ensnarement and manipulation have managed to get themselves a bad name.

Julie Allan, one of the co-authors of The Power of the Tale is, I discover, currently working on, and researching, wisdom and its emergence in organisations. Interestingly, she quotes Walter Benjamin (who appears in
Drifting, Angst and Pan-ic) thus:
“Counsel woven into the fabric of real life is wisdom,” writes author Walter
Benjamin, reflecting on storytelling in Illuminations (1970). And
, “. . .
counsel is less an answer to a question than a proposal concerning the
continuation of a story which is just unfolding.”
‘Wisdom’ seems to me a bold word to use. Sitting on top of the Systems Thinking hierarchy of data, information, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, it’s a topic we’ve tended to leave to Solomon and the enlightened and I find it slightly shocking to see it discussed in day-to-day organisational terms.

Editing the English translation of Alain de Vulpian’s Towards the Third Modernity recently, I wanted to keep ‘informed’ as the translation of ‘avisé’. The author wanted ‘wise’ and we compromised on ‘wiser’ because ‘a wise organisation’ seemed to me such an improbable creature. So wisdom seems like a fascinating object of study.


Story telling - in business as elsewhere - can build honesty and trust, but it is a practice of ensnarement and manipulation (or vocipulation). Why doesn’t the word exist?


Systems Thinking Hierarchy: Kathy Sierra's Passionate blog

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