The Power of Story

I believe in the power of story to create change within organisations.

To be human is to tell stories. Since the beginning of human civilization people sat down in a circle around a fire and told each other stories. And the stories they told defined who they were, their vision of the future, what they believed, what was right and what was wrong.

I recently led a storytelling workshop with international students in Germany. We explored the role of storytelling in peace building in countries experiencing conflict. It was remarkable to hear people from Syria, Bosnia, Nigeria and Iran describe the ancient storytelling tradition in their own culture and to hear how today’s generation around the world is using digital media to share their stories. The students created and shared their own compelling stories of peace and reconciliation, based on their personal experiences of conflict.

For many years I facilitated conflict resolution workshops in different countries as part of my personal commitment to creating a more peaceful and less violent world. However, five years ago I sat down and wrote my own personal story of being a 12-year-old boy, growing up in West Belfast in the 1970s trying to come to terms with the Troubles. Today that story of a child’s experience of the futility of war has probably influenced more people in more places than hundreds of my conflict resolution workshops. So now I am more convinced than ever of the power of story to make a difference. As a result of this experience I believe that storytelling is an essential tool for senior leaders in large organisations.

Recently in TOWARD we supported a global company, which had just completed a massive acquisition, to use storytelling as a way of embedding the desired culture and leadership behaviours across the newly enlarged organisation. It was exciting to hear their people create 10,000 stories across the globe to build a shared narrative of the company’s values and culture.

There’s a Native American saying that “It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story”. I believe we can create a web of stories within organisations that will embed values across teams and countries and drive culture change that builds a level of high performance that is sustainable. That’s the power of story.

Tony Macaulay