No, this is not another post on the importance of stories that fit into people’s mental framework to get your message accross – but rather on the constricting effects that stories can have on our worldview and our ability to see differently.
This weekend I started reading the book Presence – co-authored by Peter Senge (MIT), Otto Scharmer (MIT), Joseph Jaworski (Generon Consulting), and Betsy Sue Flowers (U of TX) – a fascinating book on many levels.
One of the things that really struck a cord with me was how stories can have a very limiting effect on what we can see around us. Our mental frameworks – from who we are, to how we are supposed to interact with one another and nature, to what an economy is , a firm, a job – are all based on single stories or scenarios, acquired through education, culture, and various other sources, which we accept without thinking. Unless we can suspend those believes and evaluate alternative stories and scenarios, it is very hard to innovate, change, or see things differently. Having a group of people that share those same basic stories leads to groupthink – which as we have witnessed over and over again – can potentially lead to dangerous situations.
Examples given in the book are that of Brian Henry’s – an economist who came up with the law of increasing returns by challenging what an economy is – or that of the South African Government – which was successfully able to transition from apartheid to a multicultural democracy with little bloodshed, based on developing and evaluating collective alternative stories and scenarios about their future.
The book is illuminating in many other ways as well. As a trained engineer in systems dynamics it was not surprising to read about the need to understand the whole system or process – rather than it’s parts. What was a little bit more counter-intuitive is their recommendation to try to understand the system from within rather than from the outside.
Another, rather intriguing fact, that I picked up from the book is that we have three neural nets – one in the brain, one in the heart and one around our gut. So thinking from the heart and having a gut feeling are realities after all…