Passport to the 21st Century
John Seely Brown, Steve Denning, 
Katalina Groh, Larry Prusak: 
Some of the world's leading thinkers
explore the role of storytelling in the world

 I Introduction to storytelling I John Seely Brown on science I Steve Denning on change I Katalina Groh on video
Larry Prusak on organization I Discussion I | Contact us | Bibliography on storytelling

Storytelling in Organizations: Larry Prusak
II.E. Stories as organizations signals 

    But stories about organizations are also about signals. An incredible amount of stories told about organizations can be classified as signal interpretation. Call it hermeneutics if you like fancy language. Reading the signs. If you go to a company as a consultant, and this is something interesting, as I was a consultant for many years, and consultants after a while hone their skills  through experience. You go into a company and you read all sorts of signs, like the architecture. Now that’s a very interesting sign to read. Maybe John or others will talk about this. The way desks are laid out. The configuration of offices. And everyone in a tacit way reads the signs. What sort of organization is this? 

  There’s a play called the Marat Sade* . And one of the actors playing Corday comes to Paris and asks, “What 

sort of a place is this?”  In the same way, people in organizations ask themselves: “What sort of a company is this?” Now maybe that’s unscientific and inaccurate. But I found that it was pretty accurate. People who do this speak to other people who work there. And they say, “Yes, that firm really is this way.” So I conclude that we weren’t all off-base when we were reading the signs. So again, those were stories about organizations. 


   Stories don’t have to be expressed in words to have a narrative thrust. There are other kinds of stories. Architecture can tell stories. I certainly believe that. The configuration of office space also tells stories. Something I have spoken about and others have too. If you go to Harvard Business School, a place that’s great fun to kick. (Laughter) I work there now and then. They’ve got some money. What a surprise! They have more money than God! (Laughter) They put up a new building, Shad Hall, for the faculty. And it’s very interesting. You go into Shad Hall, and there is absolutely no public space. Every person has a private office. There is absolutely no public place. If you have to meet people, you have to meet outside the building, because when you go in, it’s just offices and columns. And what happens is, occasionally the professors have meet with consultants, and so they forced the dean to put in a little coffee stand in the lobby. A tiny little place, because people had absolutely nowhere to go. There was no common space. Now that’s a tremendous message that Harvard is sending to anyone who comes into that building. A tremendous message. I mean, here they are, trying to teach teamwork in organizations. (Laughter) And there was no commonality. So architecture is a story also. 

   There are a number of people I know who are working on this whole subject. Buildings as signs and information about the organization. It’s a very interesting subject. 

Participant: I have a similar story in a design conference which will remain nameless. But these people are designers. The coffee pot was on one side, and the coffee cups were on the other side, a long way away. (Laughter) And it’s been repeated.

*Marat-Sade, a play by Peter Weiss. The Persecution and Assassination of Jean Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. (Marat was a revolutionary assassinated by Charlotte Corday in 1793.)
Books and videos on storytelling 
*** In Good Company : How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work
by Don Cohen, Laurence Prusak (February 2001) Harvard Business School Press
*** The Social Life of Information, by John Seely Brown, Paul Duguid
(February 2000) Harvard Business School Press
*** The Springboard : How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Stephen Denning (October 2000) Butterworth-Heinemann 
*** The Art of Possibility, a video with Ben and Ros Zander : Groh Publications (February 2001)
Copyright © 2001 Larry Prusak 
The views expressed on this website are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of any person or organization
Site optimized in 800x600: webmaster CR WEB CONSULTING
Best experienced with