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Curing story blindness: building essential story skills

Posted by  Mark Schenk —March 29, 2011
Filed in Business storytelling

For the past two years Shawn and I have deliberately ignored Dave Snowden’s regular pot-shots at our work and maintained the civility that we think is both appropriate and necessary when operating in such a complementary and emerging space. It hasn’t been easy to swallow at times.

In his most recent instalment Dave takes thestorytest to task. In some ways it’s flattering that he watches what we do so closely – he was one of the first half-dozen people in the world to take thestorytest. Being so fast out of the blocks, he encountered an initial glitch in the programming that reversed the scores. We apologise for this error which was corrected within hours of the site being launched. Thanks to Dave we identified it early.

But Dave’s main point isn’t with this glitch. In fact, his main point is a complete surprise. Before reading his blog post, I would have laughed at the suggestion that such a thought-leader in the field of story would describe helping people acquire the skill to identify a story as “a red herring.”

We strongly believe that it’s an essential skill to be able to distinguish between a story, an opinion and a factual report, and all the other things which are not stories. We work with business people facing real-life challenges and our job is to help them. You can’t tap into the natural power of stories if you don’t know what one is. We’ve tried to keep it practical and useful – coming up with the four key characteristics (time or place markers, characters and events) that differentiate a story from an opinion or factual account. Our emphasis is on useful and practical rather than theoretically precise.

In contrast, Dave’s description of story as being an “aesthetic experience, a means of recollection or persuasion as much or more than entertainment, a form of resonance with out past and future” falls into the category of ‘interesting but useless.’

We remain convinced that being able to identify a story is an important skill. Thestorytest is intended to help people develop that skill. Try it for yourself. Please let us know what you think.

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:

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