Stories


It's startling to discover the complexity of things right out there in the open. Take conversation. It's an extremely powerful tool and there's a lot more to it than mere words. Look at a transcript of a scintillating conversation and it may feel like you're reading the ramblings of a couple of loonies. Conversation is a gestalt of words, body language, facial expressions, intonation, rhythm, pace, accent, and mood, the whole profoundly shaped by the context that surrounds it. Trying to interpret a conversation from reading the words is like trying to identify a person by seeing nothing but a shadow of her face.

Stories are another example. They're always an interplay between the teller and the listener. When a story is a grabber, it's because the listener is co-creating his version of the story in his head. Steve Denning's book, The Springboard, got me to grok this basic truth. When I realized that I hadn't known jack-shit about how stories worked their magic, I opened up to give-and-take instead of laying it on the listener. I try to always leave a place for the other person to fit into the picture. I'm cautious about using PowerPoint, concerned that my slides be jumping off points for imagination rather than dogmatic, bullet-pointed preaching.

Here, enjoy these two insighful paragraphs from John Seely Brown.

An interview with John Seely Brown

February 10, 2003

Why storytelling? Well, the simplest answer to your question is that stories talk to the gut, while information talks to the mind. You can't talk a person through a change in religion or a change in a basic mental model. There has to be an emotional component in what you are doing. That is to say, you use a connotative component (what the thing means) rather than a denotative component (what it represents). First, you grab them in the gut and then you start to construct (or re-construct) a mental model. If you try to do this in an intellectual or abstract way, you find that it's very hard, if not impossible, to talk somebody into changing their mental models. But if you can get to them emotionally, either through rhetoric or dramatic means (not overly dramatic!), then you can create some scaffolding that effectively allows them to construct a new model for themselves. You provide the scaffolding and they construct something new. It doesn't seem to work if you just try to tell them what to think. They have to internalize it. They have to own it. So the question is: what are the techniques for creating scaffolding that facilitate the rich internalization and re-conceptualization and re-contextualization of their own thinking relative to the experience that you're providing them? Put more simply: how do you get them to live the idea?
All this points to something very interesting about the energy of groups. As they come together, over and over again, different points of view collide. Through that iteration we're grinding new lenses. This is where innovation happens. Our practices are morphing; they're producing new sets of distinctions and new ways to understand the world. It's a place of iteration. There are negotiations about practices - creative abrasions within and between communities that are trying to share something or come together.

Posted by Jay Cross at April 11, 2004 09:42 PM | TrackBack
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