The Storytelling Covenant, Part 2

Theatre masks.
(Drawing by Ikiyuzlu)







[Scene: Audience member is at home chilling on the sofa with his laptop. He surfs to Enter Jason Dean.]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Skeptically) Why should I read your post?

JASON DEAN: (Enthusiastically): If you’re open-minded and read it from start to finish, I promise you’ll find it interesting. You may even find it informative. What do you do?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m a content marketer.

JASON DEAN: Great! You may even find this post useful and applicable to your professional practice.

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Business Storytelling: Towards Recognizing Other Types Of Stories

By J. Dean Spence

While in graduate school, as I conducted research on organizational storytelling, I came across the work of various luminaries on the subject. Luminaries like Paul Smith. Smith is a public speaker, business storytelling consultant, former Procter & Gamble executive, and regular contributor to such publications as The Wall Street Journal and Forbes.

I have read two useful books written by Smith: Lead with a Story and Sell with a Story. But I have a problem with Smith.

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Serving Up Effective Change Communication

By J. Dean Spence

Have you ever had a job interview that you wish you could do over? It has happened to me. Have you ever come out of an interview and for the next couple of days, or longer, replay it over and over in your mind? I have. “I should have known they were going to ask that.” “I wish I had spent more time thinking about _______ before the interview.”

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Strategic Communication And The Storytelling Covenant

By J. Dean Spence

Made between two people or parties, often with blood sacrifices or sacred meals, covenants were common in antiquity. The Hebrew Bible relates many stories of covenants between God and Israel. In fact, in The Complete Bible Handbook, John Bowker writes, “So important is the idea of covenant in the Bible that the two parts of the Christian Bible came to be called…the Old and the New Testament (testamentum being a Latin word for covenant).”

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Storytelling In Business: Channeling My Inner Frankenstein to Arrive At A Definition of “Storyteller”

By J. Dean Spence

One of my obsessions at graduate school was learning about organizational storytelling. The literature on this subject, and on storytelling in general, is both prescriptive and descriptive. The focus is on what stories are and what they can do. The focus is on what storytelling is and how it can be used.

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Storytelling In Business: More On Storytelling Surrogacy

By J. Dean Spence

Walter Fisher suggests that humans experience and articulate their existence through narration. “Homo narrans” is Fisher’s defining term for us as a species. Some even argue that the default mode of human thought may very well be narrative cognition.

While I was a graduate student, it occurred to me that humans do not only tell their own stories they tell stories about other things that cannot or do not, for whatever reason, tell their own stories. In short, humans are also storytelling surrogates. In this vein, I initially limited my thoughts to advertising creatives who create the story of a product and/or service. But perhaps there is more to storytelling surrogacy. It may be all around us. In our personal lives, we tell our friends the story of our pets, our favourite gadgets and more. There are also professional storytelling surrogates such as art critics, environmentalists, and archeologists.

For me, storytelling in a business context is a documentation—formal and informal—of an organization’s events (meaningful and insignificant) and existence. It is perhaps clear what I mean by “events”, but what of “existence”? I’m not a philosopher, so there is probably a better and more precise way to say this, but by existence I am referring to an organization’s intangibles (business model, reputation, image, mission, values etc.) and tangibles (a building’s architecture and interior design, the staff’s attire etc.).  As I have said elsewhere, storytelling is not just about words on a page and computer screen. But although the words intangible and tangible are mirror images of each other with opposite meanings, they have something in common. In this context neither tells a story directly. They “radiate” a story, requiring a sentient being to communicate it.

This is storytelling surrogacy.

The open-plan office space of Company X may suggest cross-functional collaboration and teamwork, but it is a person who interprets this “radiating” story that articulates it.

Events too likely require surrogate storytelling. A crisis cannot tell its own story. When an organization is embroiled in a crisis, it is the media, the public, and the organization’s crisis managers that tell the story so that everyone affected can make sense of the situation.

Ultimately, we may more precisely say that storytelling in a business context is a documentation of an organization’s essence. A business exists first as an idea in its founder or founders’ head, and then through the actions of its people, its events and by radiating itself, the story of its essence unfolds.