August 12, 2009

Story sharing, if done right, results in chaos.

I had a wonderful, inspiring conversation today with Aspen Baker, who is doing brilliant and important work leading Exhale. Through story sharing, Aspen is changing the way America talks about women, men, and abortion. One of the things Aspen and I spoke about is the need for an organization, when embarking on story sharing activities, to be completely accepting of any resulting chaos.

Story sharing, if done correctly, results in chaos. If stories are elicited with authenticity and benevolence, chaos will ensue. Story begets story, which begets story, which eventually...begets chaos. In that you, the organizational leader, are surprised, delighted, and frightened by what you are hearing. That there is a natural outpouring of honesty, passion, and good intention. Only then, out of chaos, will clarity, innovation, and/or change emerge.

This is one of the reasons I prefer "story sharing" to "story telling" or (horrors!) "story collection". These terms are too transactional, implying a giver and a taker. Too many organizations and campaigns fail because they refuse to accept, or they are simply apathetic to, the stories that do not fit a predetermined goal. Chaos, and its resulting rewards, will occur only if you, as the leader, have refrained from communicating (in any way) that only certain stories are acceptable, welcome, and valued.

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