My Photo

Sign Up for My Free Newsletter

  • Enter Your Email:

February 2012

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29      

« The problem with servant leadership | Main | Audio recordings of Smithsonian Symposium April 16 now available »

April 13, 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Svend-Erik Engh

thanks Steve for making me understand that we are still dealing with the same man that taught me so many things about how stories evolves in organizations. I was doubtful there at one point, now I am delighted and I have no problems being delighted.
Svend-Erik Engh, Denmark

Michael Margolis

Steve -

There's a great paradox at play.

The power and relevance of storytelling is only growing in today's evolving world, yet the organizational storytelling community is not exactly framing that conversation or pushing the envelope. How come? I've been thinking about this a lot.

You've been such a huge pioneer and wayfinder for the field, so I too am surprised to see you go down the path of "radical management". I'm sorry to be the contrarian, yet i think "radical management" is an old story concept. Why brand yourself as a "heretic"? The word "radical" suggests a judgment and rejectipn against the existing paradigm, and in my experience - you can't change anything you hate, despite the best of intentions. I think it sets you up for unnecessary adversity, and doesn't package your message in a manner that will be most easily accessible.

In a parallel vein, I think much of our field is still trying to over-rationalize and legitimize itself to fit into traditional org management/leadership buckets, which reflects more the old story as opposed to articulating and creating the new story.

We need to stop waiting around for permission. Just start living the new story and others will want to be a part of it - especially if that new story is life affirming and generative.

Much of the field inadvertently perpetuates the cliche perceptions of storytelling as either about fairy tales, better anecdotes, or performance storytelling. Or worse, as some scientifically and statistically legitimized management domain.

In response, I've made my mission to bring a bigger more expansive notion of storytelling into popular culture and business consciousness. Its all about connecting the dots and showing people how storytelling is increasingly a primary cultural value, where everybody is a storyteller.

We need to embody the message of storytelling - which is about calling us to something bigger even in the midst of the mundane.

Re-invention, innovation, culture change, social media, transmedia, branding...these are the places where storytelling shines brightest. Any place that's about shifting identities, changing relationships, and the greater search for meaning. We have to embody that message and rethink how we present the practice of storytelling.

I'll be discussing this all in more detail in my presentation on Saturday at GoldenFleece day.

Would love to engage you more deeply in this conversation. Hope you can join my session. Its been too long...

Cheers -

Michael Margolis

Steve Denning

Michael asks, why the term “radical management?” In my book, I am talking about a group of organizations that are being run in a way that is quite different from the way most large established organizations are being run today. As Mikkel Harbo, a manager at Systematic Software in Denmark, told me, “Once you introduce this, it affects everything in the organization—the way you plan, the way you manage, the way you work. Everything is different. It changes the game fundamentally.” So what am I going to call something that is very different? If there is a better term for it than "radical management", I would love to know what it is?

It also happens to be a way of running an organization in which storytelling plays an integral role. Which makes it of particular interest to the Smithsonian storytelling weekend.

Michael Margolis

Steve -

Not surprised that storytelling of course still plays an integral role at the heart of your work. As it should considering your trailblazing work.

And I don't disagree that there's a new way of doing business that is a fundamental shift and evolution, with huge implications.

My comments are about how we frame and message that story into acceptance. "Radical" is just that. A judgment. An affront. A thumbing one's nose at the establishment. However much you may feel that truth is on your side, nobody likes to be told that they are "wrong". Whenever we tell anyone they are wrong, the conversation is over before its even begun.

I wonder if asking people to accept "radical management" is a hard story for anyone to embrace or buy into, beyond those who already embrace that label (and are likely on the outside) not the inside place of leverage.

For years, my work and teaching focuses on taking anything new and different and translating it into mainstream reality.

The key from a story perspective is not to emphasize its "difference" but rather to make it familiar, and to show how it relates to what already exists...As in a natural evolution of the past, as opposed to a repudiation of the past.

As an outsider, innovator, maverick - we naturally over-identify with our difference and desire for individuation - yet if the goal is to move from the fringe into the mainstream, the key is to identify all that we share in common and to invite people into relationship with that.

It's impossible to say - what's the alternative title and branding for "radical management" without exploring the story of what you're really trying to say and invite people into.

Steve Denning

I think the issue is: is storytelling going to be forever a tiny fringe activity? Or is it going to be part of the mainstream?

Michael Margolis

Svend-Erik -

That's exactly the illusion that I'm eager to call out.

Life is storytelling, so we need to stop even questioning whether its a fringe activity. Of course, if we don't believe it, how can we expect anybody else to?

And if life is currently all about adaptation and re-invention, than storytelling is furthermore the foundational building blocks for re-making our world.

Today's culture of social media only deepens this meme. Everybody is a storyteller - this is a cultural value that is reshaping the world, especially any part of the world that engages heavily with technology.

With a camera, blog, facebook, twitter account, etc...we are all learning how to tell our story, and feeding the desire to find our identity, voice, expression, and connection with others.

In the words of Avatar - I see you. That's all any of us really want, and storytelling is the prima materia in that process.

Randal Hendee

From what I understand (and please correct me if I'm wrong), in addition to offering a critique of the dysfunctional workplace--dysfunctional workplace implying dysfunctional management--Steve's session promises to tell success stories of high-performing teams at work on make-or-break projects. If so, it doesn't seem fair to dismiss the term "radical" out of hand, as a guaranteed turnoff for CEOs. Legendarily successful business leaders do tend to be radicals, don't they? The "insanely great" Apple is a legend still in the making, with a legendary hero to boot (and a stock price, for now, above $240).

Radical" also means "root." Isn't that a concept even the most staid corporation tries to grapple with in its restructuring efforts? (As in "What are the roots of this enterprise?" and "What are the root causes of its stagnation and distress?") A friend who retired from P&G reports that in recent decades their management protocols and structure did change radically through a series of major restructurings. And he was thrilled to participate in the makeover, partly because the jobs he ended up with were fun and rewarding and required effective collaboration. So maybe radical isn't so bad.

I speak from the perspective of a retired high school teacher who lived with, and probably even contributed to, poor management on a number of levels. Functional leadership, the kind that inspires and achieves through teamwork and mutual benefit--that was always in short supply, and it rarely came from the top. Yes, when the boss feels she is under attack, she will bristle, and maybe even retaliate. That is part and parcel of the dysfunction. But any manager, in education or business, who fears the title "radical management"... Is that person likely to be helpful in alleviating the ills of the workplace and spurring needed, lasting change anyway? Maybe not.

I think that as a book title, it will appeal to those managers that might make a difference. My experience tells me there has to be a better way to run things. It was Eldridge Cleaver, unfortunately, who said, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." From the business-as-usual perspective, that statement might not make sense. But it reosonates with me. As a teacher, I always wanted to help improve the school, and especially the school climate, but I didn't have the tools or the knowhow to be an effective voice. This, to me, makes the topic worth studying, framed just this way. If radical management means teamwork, an engaged workplace, mutual respect betwen workers and bosses, bottom-up evaluation, privileging narrative over data, and yes, FUN, then I'm all for it!

Steve Denning

It would be nice to think that storytelling is central to everything, but sad to say, after ten years of effort, organizational storytelling has achieved the status of the firm's Ping Pong Club. Fun but not serious. And if it starts causing trouble, it should be closed down.

Will doing more of the same change that? I don't think so.

Is that a satisfactory state of affairs? For some, perhaps yes, being tolerated like the Ping Pong Club, but not being part of the mainstream. For me, no. I think we need to break through this ceiling and have storytelling assume its rightful and recognized central role.

How does one do that? By showing how storytelling addresses the central problems that management faces today--declining productivity, disgruntled employees, stunted innovation, frustrated customers and so on.

For some that may be boring. They may have thought that we were going to sit around and tell stories to each other, like meetings of the Ping Pong Club.

But no. It involves getting storytelling getting out of the Ping Pong Club mode and getting involved in the central issues of organizations face today.

Deborah Mills-Scofield

I think it's evolution at work - while many managers would say they believed in storytelling, it was mainly a form of broadcasting vs. engaging their people - storytelling in a radical management 'world' is co-creation - the manager can start and frame the story, but let everyone participate in creating the chapters

Michael Margolis

Bravo, Steve!

I definitely relate seeing storytelling get out of the self-imposed ghetto that many of us inadvertently perpetuate. The Ping Pong Club is our own creation.

If any of us feel on the outside or fringe, that is us being the victim of our own story. There is nobody to blame but ourselves. For too much of my life, I have relished in this glorious role and identity.

If we feel we've been labeled the trouble-maker, as you state in your last comment, why perpetuate that perception with labels that celebrate the role?

At a broader level - counter culture is dead, or rather counter-culture now has place in the mainstream. There is no dominant mono-cultured elite that control society's stories. Or at least that is now splintered, fragmented, and filled with vast openings for any of us.

Same applies to any organization, where there is no single dominant story from management. Everybody has the power to have their story and perception of management. This is the crux of most business challenges today. Too many competing storylines.

Now...If we have a story to tell, just tell it. There's a 1,001 tools to do so. If we want people to pay attention to that story, it better be worthy of attention - we need to respect our audience, and make it meaningful and interesting enough to their lives.

I've taken my lumps on many occasions, and learned the hard way: the responsibility of being seen and recognized is ours and ours alone. We have to model it for others to follow suit.

Respecting our audience...that's why I'm cautious of any "story frame" that begins with rejecting what is. However broken things may appear to be, you can't change anything you hate or reject. It will simply push and fight back. Simple law of physics, I think.

We're just setting the larger story arc up for adversarial conflict. Which makes for an epic and romantic tale...and lots of unnecessary pain and suffering.

People are already feeling the pain of disruption - selling more disruption is just plain scary and overwhelming. What we need to offer is safety and clarity - a path forward that creates more possibility not greater constraint or self-loathing.

If your story is big enough, true enough, real enough, relevant enough, relatable enough, important enough - it speaks for itself.

Paraphrasing street artist and philosopher De La Vega, "we have to start believing in ourselves and stop trying to convince others." Yet, its ultimately not about us.

If in telling my story, I am telling your story - we discover that we are the same, and there is no longer anything to sell, convince, or persuade.

Why does the storytelling community seem so afraid and doubtful of itself? And its power to re-story anything into reality?

Are we perhaps too comfortable and attached to our existing story of being the outsider and the heretic limited to eek out a humble living on the periphery?

Who wants to call the shadow into the circle...?

Steve Denning

Michael--I am in fact aiming to re-story the whole of traditional management in established organizations (i.e. most of the world) into a new story.

I am certainly hoping that the story is "big enough, true enough, real enough, relevant enough, relatable enough, important enough that it speaks for itself." It could hardly be bigger.

I am inviting all those who have courage, and belief in the worth of this cause, to join me in the endeavor.


Nice discussion on storytelling in business.

Michael Margolis

Steve -

We very much are aligned in that same mission and very big story!

I so deeply admire all your pioneering and bushwacking that shined a path open for so many others to walk through.

If its real change we want, it can't focus on a rejection and judgment of what's wrong about management. The deepest source of resistance for anyone is when change is seen as a repudiation of the past. I think it behooves us to embrace a different approach to the "new story" process.

I have a blog post you might find interesting called You Can't Change Anything You Hate

Would love to hear your thoughts...

Michael Margolis

Deborah - you've got some great points about the new participatory culture of management, and how this is changing the story process!

Steve - what would you say are the conditions that make it safe for a story to be heard and for it to flourish?

Meryl Runion

Michael, your insights are brilliant. We're moving beyond duality - jumping from one side of the opposites to another - defining ourselves by what we're not - talking about what we're doing as radical - and into seamless integration, oscillation and an expansion that elevates and integrates without negating.

I was thrilled reading your comments and your blog is my next stop.

I invite you to comment at my blog. We talk about a lot of topics I expect you could relate to, and I would be quite enlivened by the clarity you bring.

Steve Denning

I'm all for positive storytelling, having written five books on the subject.

I have found however, in this area, a certain difficulty in communicating what a more lively workplace would look and feel like and how we would get there. Over a period of two years, the reaction of managers to what I was saying: "Very interesting, but we're doing that already," when it was evident that this was not the case.

This has more or less forced me to become somewhat more incisive about the nature of the journey that we are on, where we are now and where we are heading, and what are the differences.

This increased incisiveness has resulted in improved understanding: now at least people get what I am talking about. They can see the differences from what is happening today and the discussion can move on to how could we get there.

To some, some of the language may sound adversarial and dualistic, particularly in the brief blurbs that I have written. I think you will find the eventual book, and the coming sessions, mainly positive stories about co-creating a new workplace.

Michael Margolis

Steve -

There's no question that you're motivations and intentions have always been in service the highest truth.

My own incisiveness is being directed towards the field and community of organizational storytellers. Ha! Can you tell?

There's a world being re-invented out there...and too many of us are lamenting that we haven't been invited to the party.

So we poo-poo the hipster kids and dismiss their habits as "cool fads", instead of joining in the conversation to explore how these new patterns are fundamentally changing how we connect and relate to each other.

Our community has soooo much to contribute to this conversation its ridiculous!

But it means we also have much learning to do. We all have to re-contextualize our work for new mediums and application. In so doing, we can bring storytelling into the mainstream of consciousness and understanding.

If we want to be seen as relevant, we need go to where the energy and relevance is highest. That's always the best ingredients for a good story.

Peter Fruhmann

All those involved in this - and especially Steve and Michael- thanks for this encouraging discussion. I recognize the quote of managers saying 'Very interesting, but we already did it', meaning they had a presentation training (sold to them as storytelling) to their sales force. I also sense a strong urge and willingness to share knowledge and experience. It's good to be able to watch this from a distance and it's also something I miss over here. Hope to be able to attend your next year'meeting.

Randal Hendee

I wasn't able to make it to the conference this year, but this is really interesting and helpful. Thanks.

Randal Hendee

My final two cents... Michael Margolis wrote, "If we want to be seen as relevant, we need go to where the energy and relevance is highest. That's always the best ingredients for a good story."

For me, the essence of story is conflict. As Janet Burroway succinctly puts it, "A story is a war." In applying story to any endeavor, it may not pay to ignore this principle. Therefore, I'm comfortable with the notion that re-storying traditional management has to start by acknowledging a problem.

Typically, a story takes off with the recognition of a problem coupled with a person's desire to do something about it. Opposition ensues. Complications arise. A story that lacks these elements isn't really a story. It might be a glowing vision of the future, but it might also lack the dynamism and uncertainty of compelling narrative.

Relevance is highest when a need or problem or lack is perceived. Energy is highest when someone strives to overcome the problem or fill the need. A college student says, I have these videos, now how can I share them with my friends? YouTube is invented and a legend is born.

Traditional management is fraught with negative incentives and self-defeating practices. Wouldn't it be cool if these could be transformed into affirmative protocols with superior results? How would that be done? A prospective narrative analysis of this enormous "What if?" would include an acknowledgment of both the initial problems and the likely forces of opposition to change. But embedded within this overarching narrative would be stories, both inspiring and practical, of what innovative organizations have already created for themselves and their various constituencies.

So none of this need dwell on the negative, nor would it rule out the inclusion of hot trends, new media, or visionary thinking. It's just that change in this arena will mean a series of tougher battles than the ones those college kids faced while sitting in their rooms at night, inventing a whole new culture.

Michael Margolis

Hi Randal -

No doubt, a story is dead on arrival unless it has creative tension, a reason for us to pay attention, and triggers our curiosity to want to find out what happens next.

We have to get invested in order to care. Yet to think that stories need to be about problems, conflicts, wars, and battles is outmoded in my opinion. And goes to the heart of the change, that so many of us claim we're trying to create. So why are we perpetuating the old story forms?

I'm reminded of psychologist Viktor Frankl and his work called logotherapy. As a holocaust survivor, Frankl became fascinated with why he and some of his peers made it through the horrors, while others around him gave up the will to live.

He came to the conclusion that life is defined by the search for meaning. We either find meaning through (1) our acts/deeds, (2) experiences of value (e.g. art, love, transactions), or (3) suffering.

When we feel the first two areas of our life are lacking or constrained or stymied...we're often really good at generating meaning out of the third area - suffering.

Its probably also why we all have our Reality TV guilty pleasures, whether its Jerry Springer or Jersey Shore. I'm partial to Undercover Boss and the Amazing Race. Oh the drama.

So why do we suffer so? Its the easiest form of the three meanings to perpetuate as a story.

The other two paths require us to take responsibility for our lives and not becoming victims of our story.

Limor Shiponi

Interesting read, thanks. What is most interesting about it is the struggle to define, to grasp an identity, to find the language, terminology maybe. The other interesting thing is the impact a real discussion has on it's participants. You have softened as I scrolled down. That's good.

There is a lot of confusion which is totally understandable but not yet kindly accepted even by story practitioners. This term 'story practitioners' points in that direction. So does 'Radical' or for the purpose of this discussion 'Purple' or 'Organizational' or any other adjective which tries to create a unique/branded/packaged/positioned/you get the point identity.

I know the frustration first hand and I can tell you it is the trouble of our own making. There is a solution though. Since this discussion has triggered my desire to write something longer about the subject, which will not happen right now, I'll just place a thought here:

If you meet me and want to know me, what will be your best chance to get an answer which will satisfy you? what will be my best chance to really present myself to you in a way that will satisfy your need to know me? is that different from my need?

Steve Denning

Audio recordings of Friday's Smithsonian symposium Storytelling to re-invent the workplace are available here

The final session about the future role of storytelling was particularly interesting and relates to the discussion here.

Some people saw storytelling as something to do in organizations but not to talk about it.

Some saw storytelling as an explicit leadership tool

Some saw storytelling as a way to transform the workplace into something more people friendly.

Paul Costello made the interesting suggestion that we need for an analytic framework to ensure that positive storytelling was encouraged and the de-humanizing storytelling was identified and discouraged.

More on this shortly.

Health News

This is a wonderful site. The things mentioned are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone.

writing jobs

for its analytic framework he did a good job well done!

The comments to this entry are closed.