Organizational storytelling
Preparations for the
April 12 2003 Smithsonian event

In preparing for the workshop, the six presenters met a number of times. This was part of the discussion that took place on March 7, 2003.

Seth: We need to get to the participantsí stories. Thatís how Jumpstart Storytelling is set up. You hear these stories that have been chosen by the group. You give each one 20 or 30 seconds of silence. You tell people to reflect on it. You let it move into them. Then you go to the next one. 

You donít respond to it. And then ideally, those become threads that you weave into the rest of the day, so that down the road those stories live on. 
Madelyn: We still need to have the right question to pose for the Jumpstart Storytelling, no?

Seth: Yes. Inherently itís empty in there. You have to be setting up for something. The question is: what are we setting up for? The spirit of this whole thing (responding to the listenerís stories) is to articulate the larger stream and to let the conference come alive inside that larger stream.
Madelyn: We can build that graphic through the day. I know the energy thatís contained in that graphic. Itís really BIG! And itís scary. It reminds me of that wonderful little story that Gertrud Mueller Nelson called To Dance with God. She brings her children to the ocean for the first time and they are overwhelmed by the ocean. They cling on her legs. Then finally they come out and they dig a hole in the sand and they put water from the ocean in there. Itís creating that sacred space that they can deal with. If we build this slowly through the day, by the end of the day, it will feel very natural. It will be part of this big picture. We have to think about how to do thatÖ

Seth: Iím almost thinking of those old overhead transparencies. We start off with something that shows the larger stream. It seems to be converging. We have all these vectors. We could identify what are the major vectors that are leading into this new way of looking at the world? Thatís one slide. Then thereís a slide after weíve heard a couple of stories. Then we could put all the participants and have their little things that would symbolize their contribution to the Smithsonian. Then as we go though ďthe nowĒ, we could label springboard storytelling, jumpstart, the kind of things that are happening in the moment. 
And then at the end of the day when we map out possible futures, we could just layer on top.
Madelyn: We can do it even more subtly than that and in a more sophisticated way. I donít know what that is yet.
Seth: This graphic comes from a classic from the philosophy on space and timeÖ.
Rob: It also ties in to the future search process, where you do the same thing.
Steve: One thing that slightly bothers me is that maybe they arenít all rockets shooting up into the sky. There will be some rockets falling back to earth. 
Seth: Weíll find a different image for that! (laughter
Madelyn: Thereís another image Ė a strange attractor. It is going round and round but it never touches.
Seth: Why donít we create this picture as a group. This is the straw man. Weíll take it apart, and maybe it will look totally different when weíre done. But it at least captures the seed of the ideaÖ. So whatís the story of the day?

Rob: Is there a logical progression from one of these modules to another? 
Alicia: Right! To me, the modules seem very much broken down into pieces. What I liked about Madelynís framework was that it felt more holistic. 
Rob: It felt more like a story. A logical progression of eventsÖ.
Madelyn: Why donít you read those to us?
Alicia: Culture, community building. creating identity and linkages. Then sustaining ritual and value transmission. Then creating vision for the 
future. Responding to self-selected changesÖ
Seth: Jumpstart storytelling will make visible the values of the group, because the stories are chosen by the group. Itís based on which stories resonate with the most peopleÖ. Itís like the nursing story from last yearís Smithsonian. Or the Golden Fleece story. Thatís a story that we should tell. I donít know which version. But we need to get it in there. To me itís one of the most powerful stories. Now that Iím building this website, I find that.Boston is using it. Amsterdam has requested it. Iím looking at whatís happening out there. Itís a powerful storyÖ. You know, we have the boat! Ö and the scarves! (laughter) 
Rob: Itís also about having a progression. It would be nice if this did somehow connect with a story that we could weave through the whole dayÖ 
Stories generate the culture. And telling the stories say what the culture is. It seems to me that a lot of whatís going on in management circles is an interest in culture. A great story around that is the GTE story in 1995. They needed a different culture. All of this is around this issue of culture formation and transition from one culture to another. Itís walking them through the story of the organization.
 Steve: The story we can tell isÖ our story. Take the movie, Adaptation. The movie is about the script writer who is given the impossible task of writing a movie about growing orchids in Florida. He ends up solving the problem by bringing his own story into it. Iím wondering whether we canít weave our story into this. Maybe we start out with the participantsí stories. But then we tell our story as a way of drawing on this larger stream of which we are a part. Maybe even share some of our agonies here. I mean, how could we communicate this? Weíre these six people. And youíre the participants, coming from all over, how could we do this? And so we thought about this, and we tried that, and what weíre going to do is, this! In this way, we bring everyone into our story. And maybe weave part of the values of the Golden Fleece group. Our visioning exercise. So they start to see our story as well as their own story. 
Madelyn: I think that will happen very naturally. 
Seth: I remember a menís gathering I went to. There was a kick-off with a fragment of a tale. The unfinished story stirred the group. People responded to the fragment. It can establish threads that weave throughout the day. And it works (laugher) 
Rob: It related to an overarching theme of fathers and sons.
Seth: We have the overarching theme, which is the blossoming of narrative as the legitimate toolset or process. Our story lies inside it. Maybe thereís a way that we could tell our story in pieces. Iím doing Jumpstart Storytelling. Maybe I could tell my story as 
part of setting that up. I might mention the Golden Fleece group, working with Steve. I leave some loose threads. I donít really have to follow them up. Then later, Steve tells his story. The stories hang together, but they are told at different points, like milestones during the day. Then when you start to see them as one story, you start to realize that this is not six unconnected individuals: this is something thatís happening as part of a larger pattern. These six individuals are now presenting a workshop at the Smithsonian that we are all attending. Why are we doing that? Because weíve been meeting together for more than a year. And weíre all involved in these other activities that you can be part of too. And now youíre story is part of this web of stories. And we donít know whoís going to be doing the next Smithsonian. It might be you. 
Madelyn: And letís pull some stories from last year. It would show that continuity. Those stories arenít lost.
Steve: We could have people who were here last year show how their work was affected by last yearís event!
Seth: And other Golden Fleece members could share their stories as part of the day. This would show that itís not just us!
Madelyn: We just have to watch the time! 

Rob: We could also tell the larger story, not just the Golden Fleece story, how this whole interest in storytelling has come about, and where itís going. So there was Golden Fleece that was bringing the people together. There was a springboard event, the original Smithsonian symposium. Then there was Paul giving us that initial process to help us form our initial identity and values. Then the values came in. 


Alicia: Itís nice to be able to keep the modules separate but in fact you canít. 
Rob: One flows into the next. 
Alicia: Itís about creating your identity and setting your values. 
Rob: Then youíre into the next stage of a communityís life which is sustaining or finding what weíre about, and applying that in the world. The next major milestone was Madelynís exercise and the visioning.
Madelyn: Thatís chronological. Itís a narrative.
Alicia: In some way, weíre going to be making a microcosm of that during the day, bringing people together, forming elements of a culture, identifying values.
Steve: But we also want to be linking this to the larger story, the larger movement. In the larger world, people were brought together. In the larger world, values got established, a vision. Iím talking here about IBM, about GE, and so on. Itís not just this tiny bunch of crazy people here in Washington. There were actually reverberations felt all around the world. (laughter)

Rob: What weíre saying is that weíve got three layers of story, going on simultaneously together and synchronized. 
One is the story of whatís happening today. 
Another is the story of whatís happening with Golden Fleece. 
And then thereís the story of the larger global movement. 
Steve: Sounds good. Hey! I want to attend this workshop! How do I register?  (laughter). And thereís also: our story  - the story of whatís happening to us as individuals.

Madelyn: Do you mean this to be chronological?
Rob: Yes. Weíve got:

     Bringing the people together 
     Establishing and embodying the values, with Living Stories.
     Vision of the future, metaphors for where weíre headed. 
      Helping the change along. 

Weíre expanding our impact, weíre becoming a benchmark for other groups on organizational storytelling.
Steve: Sparks are flying all over the country. San Diego. Boston. Amsterdam. (laughter)
Rob: Todayís event is another example of that.
Madelyn: And itís because they heard a springboard story about this unusual group called Golden Fleece.
Alicia: What about ritual?
Seth: Thatís what the Jumpstart Storytelling is about. But that shouldnít be the only experiential element. 
Rob: We need at least several. 
Seth: Jumpstart Storytelling is just the beginning. Itís just the foot in the door. Thereís a long way to go from there. 
Tel 301 371-7100 :; www.Pelerei.Com
Steve Denning
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Seth Kahan 
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Rob Creekmore
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To buy:
The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Steve Denning (October 2000) Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston, USA

          Paperback - 192 pages. ISBN: 0750673559 
To read 
of :
The Squirrel: The Seven Highest Value Forms of Organizational Storytelling
          by Steve Denning (work in progress) 
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