Thursday, 2 April 2009

Are you a story teller or a story catcher?

The movement to teach people how to tell stories so they increase their armoury of techniques for influencing is a fine one. Part of me feels we all know how to tell stories, we do so at home, at dinner parties, to strangers on the train etc. Maybe we need to feel there is permission to do so in the workplace. Maybe some of us need the theory and structure to help us frame useful work-related stories. What we do know is that enabling the spread of good practice and large scale change is dependent on the concept of the story.

Part of me feels that story "telling" is not only just half of the technique, but also it panders to the predominant hierarchical, patriarchal "I'm in charge" thinking. For example, an executive who writes and delivers their "story" is doing so with an intent in mind. Yes, it moves the instruction and influencing process one step away from head and closer to heart, though is it enough?

I believe the courageous leaders will be those who grasp the importance of story catching. An inspirational book called "Story Catching" by Christina Baldwin is an excellent resource. I see story catching as about holding the conversations, reflecting on what has been said - and what hasn't been said, appreciating the value of social networks and relationships, and knowing that the creation of the story is the point at which meaning is developed. Stories are part of the way we identify ourselves with communities (other groups of similar people), they reflect who we really are and they are our legacy.

A story catcher is someone who participates in the conversation. They are someone who listens out for the story and listens to it. A story catcher is not as much concerned with imposing their story on others but in helping others develop their own stories and in bringing people together to create new stories. They may help capture it as it unfolds (writing learning learning journeys). This is not really the same as documenting and then sharing the documentation in the hope others are interested. It may partially be this, though I feel the intention is more to help others see the meaning in other people's stories.

All this sounds woolly, fluffy and complex. Yes, it is not as clean, cool and organised as disseminating a case study of good practice with the expectation others will enjoy it and then implement it. Mostly, being a story catcher is a messy business attached to the world of relationships and communities.

Teller or catcher? It's a both / and. If I had to vote I would say 30% of the impact is in knowing how to craft and tell a good story and 70% is about the ability to hold the space for conversation, to listen, to co-create stories, to find my meaning in others' stories - to be a catcher.

What do you feel about the difference between story telling and story capturing?

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