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« Narrative Thinking »



Leaders tell stories.

How do stories relate to leadership? Author Hilary McLellan says there are many ways: "Stories, including narratives, myths, and fables, constitute a uniquely powerful currency in human relationships. Stories speak to both parts of the human mind - its reason and emotion. Stories provide a tool for articulating and focusing vision. Stories provide a medium of communication, both internally within an organization and externally to customers, potential customers, business partners, business rivals, investors, and others. "

In « The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations », author Stephen Denning explains that « Analytical and Abstract thinking » are ideal for - "...reporting the regular, the expected, the normal, the ordinary, the unsurprising, the mundane, the things we often take so much for granted that we are hardly conscious that we know them at all. By contrast, narrative thinking, encapsulated in stories and storytelling, is ideally suited to discussing the exceptional. Narrative thrives on the disruptions from the ordinary, the unexpected, the conflicts, the deviations, the surprises, the unusual."

A story is a narrative that, in its broadest sense, tells or recounts something. Narrative meaning is created by establishing how that something is a part of a whole and usually that something is the cause of something else. It is most often combined with human behavior or events that affect human beings. The meaning of each event is produced by the part it plays in the whole episode. To say what something means is to say how it is related or connected to something else. To ask the meaning of an event is to ask how it contributed to the story in which it occurs.

Stories are about the connections or relations between events. Meaning is a social phenomenon that is not only produced by individuals but by groups, communities, societies and cultures who maintain - through language and agreed understandings - knowledge of the connections that give significance. « Narrative thinking » is about connections. It links individual human behavior and events into related aspects of an understandable whole. Stories show the significance that individuals and events have for one another. They fill our noospheres in the way that water fills the lives of fish. In a paraphrase of Teillard de Chardin's observation - stories are so all-pervasive that we practically cease to be aware of them and their impact. Stories work because we tend to believe them.

What stories are you telling yourself? Are they self-empowering or self-sabotaging.



There are many ways to communicate ideas and telling stories is the most effective. Hereunder, you'll find generally used terms that define various forms of story so that you can structure the stories you want to tell into powerful narratives people want to hear. Become increasingly more aware of the power of stories - those you are told, those you tell others and those yopu are telling yourself.

A Narrative: In the broadest sense, this describes anything told to others; more narrowly, it's something told or recounted in the form of a story or a tale.

A Story: The narrative telling or retelling of an event or happening, or a connected series of events or happenings, whether truth or fiction.

A Springboard story: A springboard story is a story that enables the audience to make a leap in understanding so as to grasp how an organization or community or complex system can change. A springboard story has an impact not so much through transferring large amounts of information, but through catalyzing a specific understanding. It enables listeners to visualize from a story in one context, what's involved in a large-scale transformation in an another context.

An Anti-story: Tells of a series of events in which there is no obvious plot or closure. Shakespeare expressed the anti-story viewpoint that life has no meaning in a drama that was full of meaning.

An Account: usually tells a reckoning of financial matters or transactions, but can also mean an explanation, a report; descriptive story.

A Tale: something told or related; relation or a recital of happenings; or a story or account of true, legendary, or fictitious events; narrative; or a literary composition in narrative form.

A Chronicle: a historical record or register of facts or events arranged in the order in which they happened.

A History: Several senses of history include: 1) an account of what has or might have happened, especially. In the form of a narrative, play, story, or tale; 2) what has happened in the life or development of a people, country, institution. 3) a systematic account of this, usually in chronological order with an analysis and explanation; 4) all recorded events of the past; 5) the branch of knowledge that deals systematically with the past; a recording, analyzing, correlating, and explaining of past events; 6) a known or recorded past.

A Report: Gives an account of, often at regular intervals; give information about (something seen, done).

News: Any new information about anything; information previously unknown; or reports, collectively, of recent happenings, especially. Those broadcast over radio or TV, printed in a newspaper.


Stories that are typically oral and time-limited include:

An Anecdote: originally, an anecdote was a little-known, entertaining facts of history or biography; now its often a short, even entertaining account of some happening, usually personal.

A Rumor: general talk not based on definite knowledge; mere gossip; hearsay; an unconfirmed report, story, or statement in general circulation.

Hearsay: something one has heard but does not know to be true.

Gossip: idle talk and rumors, especially about the private affairs of others, and usually recounted with a prejorative tone.

A Joke: anything said or done to arouse laughter; such as a funny anecdote with a punch line or an amusing trick played on someone.


Forms of story that are originally oral and to some extent enduring either through being told and retold, or by being written down, include:

A Fable: a fictitious story meant to teach a moral lesson: the characters are usually talking animals, such as fables written by Aesop (ancient Greece, 6th Century B.C.) or Jean de La Fontaine (French writer of fables, 1621-1695).

A Parable: short, simple story, usually of an occurrence of a familiar kind, from which a moral or religious lesson may be drawn.

A Myth: a traditional story of unknown authorship, ostensibly with a historical basis, but serving usually to explain some phenomenon of nature, the origin of man, or the customs, institutions, religious rites of a people: myths usually involve the exploits of gods and heroes.

A Legend: a story handed down for generations among a people and popularly believed to have a historical basis, although not verifiable.

Lore: a telling of common beliefs and wivestales relating to healing and curing, arts and crafts, planting and herbs and such.


Forms of story that are literary include:

The Short story: a fictitious literary composition in prose or poetry, shorter than a novel; narrative; tale.

The Novella: a relatively long fictional prose narrative with a more or less complex plot or pattern of events, about actions, feelings, motives, of a group of characters.

An Epic: a long narrative poem in a dignified style about the deeds of a traditional or historical hero or heroes; such as Homer's Iliad or the Odyssey, with certain formal characteristics (beginning in media resumes, catalog passages, invocations of the muse, etc.) (called classical epic) b) a poem like Milton's Paradise Lost, in which such characteristics are applied to later or different materials (called art epic or literary epic) c) a poem like Beowulf, considered as expressing the early ideals and traditions of a people or nation (called folk epic or national epic).

A Drama: a literary composition that tells a story, usually of human conflict, by means of dialogue and action, to be performed by actors; play; now often any play that is not a comedy.

A Tragedy: a serious play or drama that typically deals with the problems of a central character. Tragedies lead to an unhappy or disastrous endings that are brought on, as in ancient drama, by fate and a tragic flaw in character, or, as in modern drama, by a moral weakness, a psychological maladjustment or social pressures (often seen as requiring catharsis, and a tragic flaw.

A Comedy: originally, a drama or narrative with a happy ending or non-tragic theme, for example Dante's Divine Comedy; more recently, any of various types of play or motion picture with a more or less humorous treatment of characters and situation and a happy ending.

A High Comedy: comedy appealing to, and reflecting the life and problems of, the upper social classes, characterized by a witty, sardonic treatment.

A Low Comedy: a comedy that gets its effect mainly from action and situation, as burlesque, farce, slapstick, and horseplay, rather than from witty dialogue and characterization.

A Farce: an exaggerated comedy based on broadly humorous or highly unlikely situations.

A Parody: a literary or musical work imitating the characteristic style of some other work or of a writer or composer in a satirical or humorous way, usually by applying it to an inappropriate subject.

A Satire: a literary work in which vices, follies, stupidities or abuses, are held up to ridicule and contempt.

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