Mining stories

In the midst of a team meeting things become clear to me. We’re all flogging dead horses and it’s exhausting. No wonder. A dead horse is a dead horse: no matter how often you flog it, it will never move. I try to explain it to my team mates, but they keep pointing out how important it is to engage ‘the rest’ of the organization. Otherwise change will never happen.

Back home I keep seeing an image of a dead horse. It is a well-known pitfall. Everyone I know shares stories of how they’re really excited about new opportunities, but colleagues just don’t seem to get it. They only see objections, tried a similar thing years ago and it failed, don’t have the energy to change their routines, or are satisfied with the way things are. Change costs energy, not everyone has the energy to change at the same time.

I start digging through my old toys and find a playmobil horse. Images start to form in my mind. The sun is out. It’s a lovely afternoon so I take some toys, grab my camera and go outside. A small tree in a pot is a perfect decor for a funeral.

I send a link to the video to my team. “LOL.” “Spot on.” The next team meeting, instead of flogging dead horses, we’re looking for the ones alive and willing to move.

We’re telling each other stories every day. About the man you saw at the bus stop, about the telephone call from your sister, or about last night’s Dutch courage portrayed by your colleague. We read newspapers and books, read impossible stories to our children. Stories are abundant and therefore we almost seem to forget that sharing them is how we gain knowledge and insights.

We tend to associate storytelling with professionals. A novel writer who can touch us with a fictional story. An expert who speaks at TED and shares his idea with such perfection it immediately appeals to you. These associations are misleading. They prevent us to see everyday, less polished, stories that make us think and learn.

Make stories visible and shareable

I mine everyday stories and make them visible and shareable. People often approach me when they want to explain something to colleagues. Together we’ll reflect on and deconstruct the question. Is this what you really want to tell or should we dig deeper towards the core of the message? Do you want to tell a story or do you want to listen to other people’s stories within the organization? Perhaps you first need to dig for stories elsewhere to be able to shape your own story.

Once it is clear what you want to tell, we’ll carefully construct a story. Version one will likely be far from shareable, but version ten will be better than we hoped for.

Depending on its content and intended audience we’ll choose a form for your story. It can be a presentation, an article or a (animated) video. Whatever makes your story shareable.

And sometimes I’ll tell you it’s too soon to tell your story. Sometimes more introspection and research is needed before you can tell others about it.