What is business narrative?

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —August 17, 2005
Filed in Business storytelling

The term ‘business narrative’ hasn’t really taken off, yet I’m finding more and more people in organisations are drawn to these techniques because traditional approaches have failed them. I would love to hear how other organisations are using business narrative and to aid us in finding one another I thought we could start using the following Technorati tag in our posts: business_narrative. Click here to find posts using the business_narrative tag.

But before everyone rushes out to describe how they are using storytelling at work, let me describe what I mean by business narrative. Business narrative is more about listening rather than telling. By this I mean BN is based on collecting anecdotes (hence the name of this company) from people about how they actually do work. Then we use these anecdotes to make sense of what is really going on in an organisation so a set of interventions might be designed. Storytelling, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with crafting persuasive stories to affect change in an organisation. Both are important and complimentary uses of narrative in organisations.

If you want to conduct a small business narrative project, here are the key steps:

– craft the questions you will use to elicit the anecdotes

– run anecdote circles (a bit like focus groups but without as much focus)

– extract the anecdotes from your transcriptions—yes, it’s best to record the sessions

– conduct a workshop and get key decision-makers, planners and clients immersed in the anecdotes. During the workshop extract the key themes and values from the narrative and design interventions.

As much as possible should be done by people in the organisation. Getting outsiders, like consultants, to do the work for you is a mistake because the business narrative process engages people in a change process and you want these people to be you, not outsiders. It’s worthless having an ‘expert’ analyse a situation and provide a report.

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About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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