The value of a good storyteller is difficult to quantify, but, in terms of organisational value, they are the lubricant that keeps the knowledge flowing.
I spent yesterday in the company of Dave Snowden, watching ‘Judgement Day’ (Llanelli v Newport as an opener, followed by the main act, Cardiff Blues v Ospreys) at the Millennium stadium. Dave kindly provided the ticket, which saw me, an Osprey’s fan, ensconced amongst Blues supporters (to make it worse I had an Everton fan behind me – those who know me will realise that, being a Liverpool supporter, listening to an Everton fan waxing lyrical about ‘Z’ Cars is torture). More on the rugby later.
Dave is a master storyteller. Whether talking about the time Steve Jobs threw a book at him or his first rugby match playing at number 7 (you’ll have to ask him about both), he is engaging and delivers the story with a wry wit that means that you take the story with you. He has a natural talent as a storyteller that is difficult to replicate. A number of years ago, Dave developed a model, a framework for storytelling, called the “ASHEN” model (Artefacts-Skills-Heuristics-Experience-Natural Talent). The problem for aspiring storytellers is the last part of Dave’s model, “natural talent”. For me, a good story is founded in the way that you tell ‘em. And my problem is that I have to work at storytelling, an effort that takes energy and impacts the delivery of the message. This brings me to another epiphany from my time at the rugby yesterday, it’s because of who I am.
Bear with me here and I’ll get to my point. My wife complains that I am driven by my work. She says this in a kind, loving way, but I know that deep down she believes that I am missing out on other, perhaps more important, things. Yesterday I asked Dave how he manages to find the time for walking, opera and rugby in amongst a work-life that puts mine in the shade. He told me, “I have three passions and I pursue each one relentlessly.” You see, I don’t and perhaps this is to my detriment. I feed my passion for my work relentlessly, but, I am sad to say, I realise that I have lost sight of other things that make me who I am.
Waiting for Dave at a coffee shop yesterday I found myself wandering through four years of notes on my iPhone. Three years ago I wrote a poem on a plane to Singapore and forgot about it. This isn’t an isolated incident. Six months ago I found a poem on my computer, hidden by my personal ‘folksonomy’, that I didn’t even remember writing – this, I know not to be a good sign. You see, I’m a poet (I will not torture you by putting an example here, but I’ve added one at the end of this blog, for those interested) – my father believed that poetry should have been the one true pursuit of my obsessions (my great grandfather having been an Eisteddfod winning poet). I was published in a few minor journals in the US, during the late 1990s, but I have done nothing since.
It is this mind of a poet that has hindered my storytelling at times. As a poet I tend to be cryptic and that type of approach doesn’t ease the communication flow, it disturbs it. As a poet, I want to tell a story, but I want to layer it in such a way that it can reveal hidden depths. This propensity for the the cryptic is a problem in the world of management science and one that I have to work hard to overcome – If I hadn’t I would have clogged up more than one or two organisational knowledge flows in my time! My poet’s mind often over thinks things (just ask my wife), which means that I can over complicate a simple story; again, something I have to work hard at to overcome (my brief time in academia helped this). I have had to learn to control the cryptic voice of the hidden poet, which, from my recent discoveries of ‘lost’ work, seems to mean that I abandoned it – an error I intend to rectify (though there are critics who might think it best for this passion to remain abandoned).
My message here? Value the natural storyteller in your organisation. Influence the storyteller and you influence the culture. Oh, and don’t forget the passions that make you who you are!
Back to the rugby… let’s just say that the Blues supporters were very quiet at the end
For those who do not wish to be tortured, stop reading now. For the rest of you… you were warned!
I pray thee, hear me, hasten me to die
Release this time for thought to catch wind and fly
Spear blind these fallowed eyes
Leave naught but darkness lapping shores of my sight
O’ merciful night hear this cry, let hate be thy guide!
Deafen Devil’s deceit that bleeds these tired ears
Strike me dumb, wrench out my tongue
Let silence like thunder roll.
Seal fast these trespassed lips, let her taste be gone.
I plead with thee, let there be no final temptation
For there is no more troubled a tide
Than love lying flat on the mind.