The death of storytelling? Overstated

Published by Tony Quinlan on

I know this was meant as a provocation, but I do get provoked quite easily, I’ll admit.

When I first started exploring and experimenting with using stories in organisations, I loved the idea of carefully-crafted, fully-formed stories. (I had, after all, come from public relations where the skill to craft a coherent, grammatically- and politically-correct story was a pre-requisite of any job.) The temptation was to look down on those who couldn’t come up with a story with a neat story or character arc, clear protagonists, other characters, etc.

The exceptions tended to be for the outputs of emotional audit exercises – stories created in tightened timescales by individuals to illuminate current patterns of belief. At that point, I valued more the content than the structure – how generous of me!

Since then, of course, I’ve moved increasingly away from the fixed idea of a story having to be so neatly defined. In fact, I distrust neat stories implicitly now, except in fiction. Too many organisations produce neat stories that are often, by virtue of their very neatness, not trustworthy.

And that’s just the first element of why stories and storytelling are not being killed – they shouldn’t be as neat and defined and structured as people like Ben think.

And if we decide that they don’t have to be so clean and careful, it becomes possible to have them in all sorts of ways. Because Twitter and Facebook and all the other internet tools that are derided for eroding our attention span are creating stories all the time. They’re just not on the page or on the screen – they’re creating patterns and narratives in our brains. The cumulative effect of all of, say, Ron Donaldson, Dana Leeson, Dave Snowden or David Quantick’s individual twitters create an overall story (with lots of mini-incidents) that is just as powerful a story, just not so succinctly told.

The point is that they are still stories – but in the mass, not in individual chunks. (There are, of course, exceptions: “machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time” being a personal favourite from Alan Moore.