The malleable nature of stories

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The malleable nature of stories

One of the most powerful aspects of stories is their malleable nature. You can tell a story today and if the story is good enough, it will be told long after you created it.

Sometimes the story is so good, it will be told for generations to come. What is amazing about stories is that they will still keep the major lessons while mutating trough time.

Few communication vehicles are as flexible and resistant to time than stories. Fashion becomes “de-modé”. VHS tapes become obsolete and photographs fade. Good stories get retold, decade after decade with minor changes. Stories change to resonate with that decade’s tastes.

Two major elements are basic for a story. An internal core lesson and a group of volatile settings. The lesson tends to be of powerful philosophical nature related to human existence. Often, you can trace the lesson to thousands of years old proverbs.

Story settings are like an ice cream topping; they change according to the fashion of the moment. The story’s settings are the connectors. The glue that enables the audience to feel empathy with the story characters. They enable the easy digestion and comprehension of the human lesson.

Despite having a great lesson to share, story settings need to be updated to modern standards. If you frame your story in the medieval ages the audience will find it hard to follow.

Now, if the settings resonate with our life, maybe a young manager, ascending through the ranks of a technology company, it most probably will be easier for us to understand and apply the lesson.

Settings are like a parachute. The design will change to adjust it to different atmospheric conditions. Nevertheless, the payload will be the same each time.

This malleable condition in stories makes them very powerful in all set of contexts, especially in the corporate one. You can seed the organization with stories that illustrate the company’s values, mission, vision or strategy. If the stories are good enough, they organization will adopt them as theirs. They’ll change the wrapping, the characters, and the time frame, but the core lesson will remain.

I’ve sometimes heard the same story I’ve told in a company, told by two different teams. Each story is different from the other, but both containing the same key lesson for the teams.

Great storytelling takes time, but it’s definitely worth it. It creates key communication and experimental vehicles that will have long lasting effects in any organization.

Stories achieve what no rulebook or mission statement poster will ever achieve, immortality.

Image credits: Marie Aschehoug-Clauteax / Flickr

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