Saturday, May 9, 2015

How does Storytelling Promote Systems Thinking?

Storytelling is not necessarily the best path for explaining ST but may be a good way to promote it.  

Storytelling is an ancient method for communicating important information of all kinds and for promoting ideas. In the case of Systems Thinking (ST), how does storytelling, narratives enhance, enable, explain and promote Systems Thinking?

The narrative, story-telling - is a fundamental building block to a complete understanding of the complex interactions: That, in turn, leads one or a team to identify better ways to leverage a system toward a more desired state. Individual narratives are verbally and emotionally expressed "daydreams," and when done in a group setting, reveal common ground and also differences, differing mental models. When those mental models are released through narrative, the outpouring, the feedback can shape a common cloth, something we can all wrap ourselves around.

No narrative, no system. No branding, no narrative: "Branding" resonates negatively, but it's a well-established term across too many cultures to fiddle with alternatives. One just needs to think "out of the box" to understand it. The value of storytelling (narrative) to systems thinking (ST) is a possible promotional tool. That is to promote systems thinking by telling real stories that illustrate ST applications in actual or imaginary situations. If the system can't tell you how you are doing on purpose, then it is likely you have the wrong measures or method in place. Design your system against purpose, and then implement it and put measures in place to tell you how you are doing against that purpose Plan-Do-Check-Adjust. The measure will either tell you what you need to know or you need to adjust.

There is the interplay between broad-ranging story-arcs and individually gripping stories: Looking to the future, what is the "story-arc" for your organization? What is your current adventure? Who are you, in the story? Why do you care? What type of narrative conflict must you confront? Where are you? Where are you going? How do you get there? There are dangers of storytelling. Rewriting history is dangerous. Romanticizing the future can be, also. That said, storytelling is a powerful tool, and someone will use it to shape the way we think as teams of people. If the positive and hopeful stories are not told, the negative and dangerous ones will be. People are fundamentally driven to pursue what we love and avoid what we fear. Stories anchor our loves and fears.

Perhaps these stories pull at our emotions and heart strings because, deep down, most people long for that, was part of, the 'heroic journey.' Modern-day storytellers have the opportunity to advance agendas, concepts, and ideas. As humans develop from complete dependence to complete independence, we go through stages of ability. From a developmental perspective, the sense we convert into logic is closely related to what we can do and say. Storytelling is not necessarily the best path for explaining ST but may be a good way to promote it.  


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