Stop Storytelling your Organisational Culture

by Augusto Cuginotti

Storytelling Obsession to Promote

Storytelling is more than telling stories to promote. Still, when we look at how organisations and entrepreneurs have been using it, it might as well be defined as an ‘art to tell stories to promote with embellishment’.

There is power in declaring your story and the future based on what you believe made you be where you are. So why not find the perfect personal or collective description of you, your company or your product?

But that is not the first – let alone the only – thing to do. If we don’t start looking around and listening before telling, we will drown in fantasy.

The obsession with telling (and promoting) generates narratives that are just deep fakes, strongly partial and void of the complexities of life.

Storytelling can be strongly monologic

Your communication agency or personal story coach will give you the techniques to tell a better story. And you do, looking at yourself and what will impress the audience.

In many ways, the focus on impressing your clientele and social media feed is flooding the world with the artificial. It is less about what you want to say and more about what you think others want to hear.

Not listening is generating stories that perpetuate fake news that impact the real world more than ever. All you need is something surprising, emotional or told a million times for it to be ‘good enough’ true. 1

Within businesses, unprincipled marketing has made fake the norm while creating a catchy story for a brand. When exposed, one brand that created a fictional artificial origin said, “although fictional, it is inspired by ‘true values'”. 2 Right.

Stories to Understand

We can work with stories to understand, to listen. To avoid our own monologic creation, we listen to multiple voices from society or an organisation.

When we want to influence complex environments, rather than using trends or decontextualised big data, we ask for experiences.

When we collect perceptions of reality from multiple eyes rather than creating an overarching story that will rule them all, we dance with diversity before we make choices.

Instead of storytelling, we want first to storylistening.

We explore what is before changing it simply because assuming we know what exactly we want to change is as delusional as thinking we can fix it.

Think about your company’s culture – you have a good idea of what you would like to see different, but can you identify what things have to be changed? If you do, you might as well fix them, but likely it’s a bit more complex than that.

It is widespread a call for change that does not investigate the present. And more often than not the change of clothes does not influence behaviour as you would have wanted.

Leave Story Creation for Later

That does not mean creating a collective story that represents a collective is not influential. When we do it, we can tap into being creative on areas that are invented anyway, so why not give us the best version of it?

It is an excellent form of organisation, identity and projection. Still, it can also be a glorified form of bureaucracy, especially when it happens too early, the power to condense and define acts as a drive to status quo.

So if general stories, full of signifiers and archetypes, are great for expressing the desired intent, direction or aim, it is not good to understand people in relationship.

The type of stories we want, which make society before they become a movie blockbuster, is multi-faceted and multi-voiced. The stories are many; they may be paradoxical and contradict each other often. And they are stories that we can read in a multitude of ways.

Storytelling is a form of organisation and can generate a needed standard reference. But culture or society is only partly made of shared past connections. Telling stories, on the other hand of past organisation, show the self-organising side of community, the emergence of relating to each other.

Storytelling and telling stories

Only the ones holding the organising power can do storytelling. In contrast, everybody can tell stories.

We need organisation and self-organisation to be surfaced if we want to tackle a complex issue.

In the end, if you want to organise or if you want to send a message, go ahead and tell, but if you decide to listen to understand, you might want to ask for stories rather than go out telling them.

You can get the underlining stories and the genuine things you want to influence and change by listening. So keep tuned for some accounts of working with stories in clients and the underlining narratives we have discovered.