Telling a Story: The Pedagogics of Storytelling

When Maria Bolin started talking, she immediately got us spellbound. Using a low voice she told us the ancient story of Odysseus and the Horse of Troy. The conference room was hot, every chair occupied, but we listen carefully to her every word.

After ten minutes or so, Maria broke the spell by starting to talk about story-telling. Somewhat reluctantly we left the magic mode and listened to her telling us about the various archetypes for both stories and main characters. Her narrative also included examples from her own research. She retold one of the founding stories of the company where she worked, which made us understand some of its basic corporate values.

“When the first employee was hired, he came to the spartan office and realised that there was no desk for him. He asked one of the founders what to do and was told to bring a desk next day. He did so, but when he arrived the next day with the desk he was told it wasn’t needed any more. A customer had been signed and the employee was to go to there immediately to do the consulting job.”

Maria is a PhD student specialising in the use of story-telling in organisational change projects. We used to be colleagues when I worked at the Viktoria Institute. I have listened to her several times, and slowly it has dawned to me that the art of story-telling of course is best explained by examples.

Someone who has worked a lot with storytelling is Steve Denning. One kind of story that he has focused on is what he calls a springboard story. This is a story that enables a leap in understanding by the audience so as to grasp how an organization or community or complex system may change. I think I might add his books “The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations” and “Storytelling in Organizations” to my reading list…


Metaphor Favourites: The Girl and the Crow

A man sits at his table, reading the newspaper. He then sees a photo of a girl, desperately running with a wounded crow in her hands. The girl is tiny, her blond hair is flapping, her eyes bright, running on her thin legs for all she is worth. The crow is croaking black, clumsy and dying. Suddenly the man starts to shiver and shake in agony, since he realises that he is like the girl. In her he recognises his own frantic search for help, for someone who can take care of the dying hope that he carries. Looking for safety and warmth, for someone to tell him that everything will be alright. Running, although in his heart he knows it’s too late.

This is the story told by Mikael Wiehe in his song “Flickan och krĂ„kan” (The girl and the crow), and it’s one of my favourite metaphors for several reasons. First of all I see myself in both the man and the girl. I also carry hope that is sometimes fragile, and when I was a child I was often on animal rescue missions. The lyrics are also very beautifully composed, with strong, vivid words. The contrast between light and darkness, hope and fear, becomes very clear. I also like the combination of music, lyrics and a picture, because it illustrates how metaphors can take on different formats and involve various senses. The music if also very suggestive, with a beat that makes you feel every running step the girl takes. Mikael Wiehe is also famous for writing political songs, why the piece is also a good example of how to use metaphors for conveying important messages. Although the song ends sadly, for me it creates a spark, an urge to keep on running, looking for support and answers. I think that is also the purpose of the song, given the nature of the composer.

If you want to read about the making of the song and the lyrics, take a look at http://www.mikaelwiehe.se/komment_flickanokrakan.htm (in Swedish).

Right now I’m on a quest for learning more about metaphors, storytelling and the use of new information technology like blogging. As a part of that quest, I have created this blog as a means for reflection and communication.