Bruce Greenhalgh, a colleague from the knowledge manage-ment work in 1996 and 1997 that founded Sparknow, tells the tale of his ‘aha’ moment about organizational storytelling.
'A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end'. Aristotle
photo | Nick in exsilio
First things first, this is a story about a storytelling course. This is today’s story so listen up!
Let me take you way back to mid-1997.
I joined Victoria Ward’s pre-Sparknow Nat West Markets knowledge management team (mislabelled ‘Knowledgeable Management’ in a bizarre lift lobby signage mistake, corrected quite quickly) in January 1997. It was a chance to put my recently acquired Ashridge MBA skills into action: so what was our mission/strategy/positioning /plan/tactics/mission on this ‘project’? My months flew by in a fever of activity, projects/pilots/communications – all fitted very well with my MBA mindset, life was good, and the latte flowed.
One day, at a weekly meeting, Victoria mentioned she had enrolled in the world’s first corporate storytelling course somewhere in East Sussex, via a rather small advert in the Guardian newspaper classified. OK, that’s good. Bad news was Victoria could not make the course, so who could go?
‘I can do it.’ I stepped forward, I love courses.
I printed out my AA.com route map (this was 1997) and set my brand new company silver Toyota Avensis on the route to the Emerson College School of Storytelling. Things were not quite as expected. Rather than the usual sea of Fords and Vauxhalls in the car park of the college I was faced with the remnants of a burnt out caravan, a white bicycle, and nothing else. Catering was somewhat sparse but hearty. Vegan food, all the herbal tea you could drink, but no bar, no mobile reception, no internet, no TV. I was in detox!
Funnily enough there was a guy from McKinsey there but no other corporates, and two nuns amongst the other participants. It felt like a different world.
Little did I know within the next few days I would laugh until I cried, and be joining in as we buried gifts to the storytelling gods in the back garden. This was no ordinary course.
The course kicked off led by a wonderful man, Ashley Ramsden. This was the first ever UK corporate storytelling course and we didn’t learn in the week to tell corporate stories – us handful of corporate types learned the basics of storytelling.
We did this by learning about story arcs, then choosing a story (in quite a solemn way I recall). I chose a Moroccan story ‘the forbidden door’ (main message: don’t open forbidden doors) and practiced and practiced telling the story over and over again, with Ashley’s and colleagues’ feedback and encouragement.
On the final evening we put on a performance of all the stories one after another. I’d never really liked presenting; this course brought me out of my shell and also gave me more understanding of the power of listening and of respecting any storyteller. There was a great communal feeling on that course, a feeling of all learning together and for me a first sense of the power of storytelling in large organizations.
Bruce also turns up in Sparknow’s history as The Eternal Optimist in Corporania.