story

Building Bridges & Breaking Walls. One Story at a time.

August will be the curtain raiser month of sorts for me. I along with Stephen Berkeley will be working with interested and interesting participants at a one day Pre-Conference Workshop at the International Association of Facilitators‘ Asia Conference and exploring the power of stories in bridging the world.  The IAF Asia Conference 2017 is happening in Seoul in August 2017.   What better of a setting for a topic like  “Building Bridges and Breaking Walls. One Story at a time”! I think it fit to build context the IAF Asia Conference 2017 Seoul Pre Conference Workshop titled: “Building Bridges and Breaking Walls, One Story at a time” through a series of posts here.  This then becomes a space for conversation and dialogue on the power of stories.

IAF Asia Conference 2017 Seoul Pre Conference Workshop

IAF Asia Conference 2017 Seoul Pre Conference Workshop “Building Bridges and Breaking Walls, One Story at a time”

Stephen and I have been bouncing ideas off each other for a while now on a variety of topics. From Systems Thinking to organisational structures. The power of local communities.  Change processes in organisations. Process facilitation. And a variety of other topics. Even as the conversation evolved, we realised that we were very different individuals with a different take on most topics that we discussed. United only by a strong idea of staying engaged with pursuits that are meaningful.

Even as we discovered more of our worlds we saw how similar they were, despite having completely different contexts. Set in different times, time zones. As much as we had our differences, we were united in our openness to share and exchange stories from our respective worlds. Over time this became to be the fulcrum of our friendship. It was but obvious that the willingness to listen to and share each other’s stories bridged gaps.

One day as we sat on a rock after a small hike, a little idea came upon us.  We perhaps could work with larger groups to explore the power of telling and listening to each other’s stories too. Perhaps, we thought, that would bridge larger gaps in the world that surfaced in our conversations many times over. We ran a few experiments, ran the idea past friends and colleagues.  The idea seemed to have currency. It kept growing. We wondered why and came up with our own set of hypotheses.  The set is only growing.  Here are the five that I connect to the most.

a. There are too many wedges in the world we live in. Cultural. Political. Generational. Economic. The trouble is that those wedges are seeming to appear like irrevocable divides. Walls of steel, so to speak!

b. The world has newer tools and additional power to communicate in the modern times. Sadly these tools find increasing use in amplification of these divides.

c. Listening to each other’s stories helps understand points of views and helps explore our world views.  Examining these with an open mind brings greater awareness and possible shifts. Stories are integral to these shifts.

d. Shaping and shifting of the narratives and stories, both inside our minds and in the world around us will determine the shape of the world our kids will inherit

e. When whole systems engage in deep listening to each other new realities emerge for the whole system that can be infectious. Systemic change will bring about lasting impact for the system and its constituents.

For now :

Armed with the first-hand experience of leading change initiatives in large organisations and communities, we seek to further the conversation to see what more is possible. Would it be a new set of skills and abilities? Perhaps a deeper understanding of the process of change? Maybe a clearer way to harness what emerges from a story? We don’t know for sure what else the questions are. And thus begins this journey.

While it is a personal journey to take the ‘story of the story’ to newer areas, new bridges will perhaps get built. In the telling and retelling of the stories, new ways and connections have greater chances of emerging. All of us who jump into participate are going to be better off depending on how much we are willing to give and take.  Seoul in August ’17 will be the first pit stop. And we intend continuing the conversation, armed with whatever comes from the previous pit stops. This space will curate the journey and will continue to evolve.

This is work in progress. And this is far from complete. Wonder if we will all ever be. So, do jump into the conversation. Spread the word. Let’s see what stories emerge.

Tell Well!

The word ‘story’ means different things to people. Am sure an image pops up in your head as well, as soon as you hear ‘story’. In a kid’s world, no other word can bring a wide eyed stare of possibility as much as the word ‘story’ can!

Stories excite children, widens their eyes and brings about a smile, every time they hear the word. Sometimes, they are ready to be lulled into sleep, exchange their favourite toys and have the food that they detest, all in exchange for a good story. The power that stories carry in them, is massive.

Let me pause here and add, that stories have a rather telling effect in the business world too. The same, if not better, than the effect that it has on kids.

Good stories, craftily told, carry with them tenor of playfulness yet manage to stoke imagination and possibly see a future in the mind that isn’t ordinarily visible. Stories help see parallels. Extrapolate the present into the future. Visualise scenarios. Connect a set of disparate events on a timeline. Sometimes, they are wonderful capsules where bitter pills are packaged as interesting accounts.

If they are peeled one more layer and understood better, stories help in translating abstract numbers, concepts and even contexts into more digestible chunks. In that they have a very unique and powerful role.

If stories have such a place of pre-eminence in the business world, imagine the importance of the ability to tell a good story. I could go out on a limb and proclaim that amidst several aspects, the ability to tell a good story is perhaps the most underrated and valued amongst leaders.

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Good leaders instinctively understand this and cultivate great story-telling capabilities. Capabilities that inspire large teams and more many times are successful in engineering hard action today, based on the image a story of the future that the leader is able to paint.

All of us tell stories. To ourselves. To others. We may not see them as ‘stories’ per se. But all of us do! To be able to tell it well for a predefined effect and intended result gives it a very different dimension.

If you are an entrepreneur out there, your power to weave the future, emanates from your story! The Elevator pitch is a story. The pitch to investors, customers, potential employees, employees..well, the list is long indeed. That list can be a story in itself. Joseph Levitt told it like none else, when he said, “The universe is not made of atoms. Its made of tiny stories”

Anyone with an internet connection and a device can find thousands of websites reeling out a zillion ways to tell good stories. Here are three top elements that come to my mind, in all my ears of telling and listening to great stories and working with some of the coolest leaders who were giant story tellers.

1. Preparation is key! As simple as it sounds, sans preparation, even the greatest of stories flounder without good storytelling. Getting the story aligned to intended outcomes is key. Most importantly, constantly staying on the lookout for good stories is what will add to the stock that can be deployed at will.

2. Great story tellers always leave their audience curious to know more. They leave them energized, thoughtful or sometimes very reflective. To keep the stories short, simple and contextual works. A dose of humour, as and when appropriate, works.

3. The stories that go a far longer distance are those that are REAL, told in first person and told with a degree of ‘authenticity.

Story telling is not an optional extras. It sits the very centre of good leadership skills. Besides if you want to build a great cohesive team with a defining sustained culture, stories look no further than the story that’s currently playing loudly and the ones that you would like to hear. That’s a very different topic and a giant story by itself!

Polish your story! Yet again. It helps.

This was my contribution to Sheroes.in a while ago.

Running the learning function – #PhilipsHRTalks

Philips HR Talks is turning out to be a powerful medium for conversation, sharing and exchange of ideas. Put together by the wonderful combination of Yashwant Mahadik and Gautam Ghosh, this has indeed taken shape as a platform for sharing ideas, thoughts, experiences in Human Resources.

This is an evolving niche. and Yash sets the context for the Philips HR Talks here. #PhilipsHRTalks has acquired a niche of its own generating great interest in the HR community, students and academia in this geography.
When Gautam invited me over to share thoughts on Learning in the modern day context, I was only more than happy to participate. I chose to title the talk “Running the Learning Function”, keeping my own experience of running a marathon to give a narrative coherence.
Here is the full video.

It had to be straight forward and simple. At the same time, I endeavoured to bring to fore the challenges and dilemmas that accost every learning leader and aspects that perhaps will help in building a ‘learning organisation’ of sorts.
The aspects that I thought pertinent, include
1. The importance of keeping ‘learning’ simple and helping people ‘see through’
2. The need for chunking and keeping learning in small chunks
3. Elements of collaboration and its impact on learning
4. Building commitment and the aspects that aid in that journey
5. The need for building choice inherently in the system
6.  The seeking for creating meaning
7. The critical role of community!
As much as these are aspects of learning this indeed are the components of my story of running! I had great fun putting it together. Do give it a look. The warm and generous feedback has been beyond my expectations. Thats given a very happy ring to it.
Long after I completed the talk, a good friend and fellow runner passed this video to me. I wish I had seen it before. For these perhaps are the stages in running the learning function as well!

As always, would love to hear your views.

Story power !

Oxfam is betting on a new way.

Imagine having to sell second hand goods. Say, used furniture. Or other items of daily use. Like sunglasses. Or combs. Or radios. Whatever.

That effort is not going to fetch anything more than a small sum, unless ofcourse those belonged to a celebrity.

Ofcourse, the celebrity quotient is comes from the story that can be told.

“This hair strand is from Elvis Priestly”.

“This coffee cup was used by Sachin Tendulkar”.

Surely, the strand of hair is not worth so much if its not associated with Elvis. Nor the coffee cup with Tendulkar. These are stories that give life to random inanimate objects.

So here is Oxfam’s very interesting game plan.

Second hand goods gain a meaning when they come with a story. If there was a way of sharing a story about a second hand product with a prospective buyer, well, the chases are more for a purchase. (Every item on second hand sale will carry a story along with it and tagged to the item using a QR code. Any prospective purchaser would get to know of the story behind the item on sale. )

“Someone might donate a record and add that it was the song that they danced to at their wedding to its tag,” The chances of a purchase brightens with the story! (Not that it would result in a purchase everytime).

Stories have great power in them. Almost magical. Every individual carries his or her own stories and it becomes easy to relate to other stories that are told .

The humdrum of everyday corporate life makes it difficult for us to take the time to listen to stories or narrate our own. But when we do narrate or when we find a patient ear, what a difference it makes.

Methodologies like Appreciative Inquiry, inherently seek story telling and can create organisation wide energy. Every story holds significance and the very act of both telling and listening to a story can be sources of great energy.

Unfortunately, language creates its own complications and the word ‘story’ can sometimes lead to the narrative being thought of as a flippant waste of time. Call them what you will, stories have in them an inherent quality that brings alive people.

Grandma and her tales !

Personally, many of us would have grown up with stories. As children stories fascinate us. For many years, I grew up with stories that my grandmother used to tell me. Those gave a huge fillip to imagination and also, in retrospect, brought a contextual understanding of morals and values that was required in the family. The best thing about them, was I always used to look forward to hearing those ‘stories’!

In the corporate world the power of stories is often underrated. Grossly.

There are exceptions though. Coca-Cola is one that I know. Coca-Cola Conversations, the blog that Coca-Cola runs is a fine example of how corporate stories build or augment a brand. Infact, Coca-Cola has a historian and archivist with them : Phil Mooney.

Only, in the modern times, technology has given consumers the opportunity of contributing their own story to the brand. That is not only more interesting, it is as authentic as it can get.

Blogs, wikis, tweets all are available for imaginative use.

Within the organisation stories from the organisations past : accounts of successes / failures / decision points etc when told with a degree of authenticity and simplicity not only aid a great deal in building a culture, they are extremely non-invasive and interesting for employees.

So much for stories ! And by the way, they work. Very nicely !