17 June 2006

Storytelling - ownership and meaning

Last week I went to the international conference of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in Vancouver. One of the recurring themes (fads, some might say) running through some of the presentations was that of story telling, or narrative.

The most important insight, for me, on this topic was not found at the conference, however. I found it on a card at Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology, in front of a display of Native American totem poles:

"Only those who know and have the right to the stories can tell the meaning of the totem poles."
This raises questions in my mind about story telling in an organisational context. Who owns the stories? What totems acknowledge that ownership? Who can tell the meaning of the stories?

The idea that different stories might be owned by different groups, that we might create artifacts to remind a community (or organisation) of different stories, and that ownership and meaning are somehow integral to each other, suggest a highly developed social and conceptual framework for narrative that both intrigued and delighted me. I wonder to what extent business communicators' relatively recent enthusiasm for storytelling rises to the sophistication of the communities that carved these poles.


Anonymous said...

It's an intriguing idea. Certainly each group within an organization tells the stories that make themselves the protagonist of the larger organization. Something like history being written by the victors. At the same time, I've noticed that the actual telling of the groups' stories is done much better by some than by others. I've researched some fundemental concepts of storytelling in an effort to build and relate the stories in a more compelling way. I summarized these principles on my blog at www.djhowatt.blogspot.com Let me know if you find those ideas helpful.


Anonymous said...

Oops. That would be at http://djhowatt.blogspot.com