Sunday, April 1, 2012

Storytelling

DSC09057People put meaning into narrative by telling stories.  Personality, expectation, causes, morals: it’s what makes history and drama compelling and instructive. When people give advice to friends, or present their opinions in business meetings, they tell stories.

And the best story usually decides.

I don’t know whether long-form stories are in vogue anymore: we used to mine books, movies, plays for their connections to larger personal and philosophic dilemmas.  Videos, tweets, TED and stacks ‘o stuff don’t give the same insights.  I watched The Descendants last night, four tangled dilemmas, developing and crossing one another.  George Clooney tried to stay sane through it all.  His character endures, but doesn’t change.  And he tells himself stories, looks for them from others, rationalize, compare, decide.

In general, I know what I’m doing.  But it’s been coming thick and fast lately and I needed to step out and get some perspective.  Management books and pundits are pretty superficial, a reassuring pat on the head. I needed to hear some stories.  I took a few hours to sit down for a quiet talk with a couple of peers, also running startups, and a few people whose experience I value.  They were fun conversations: everyone had good history and anecdotes, motivations and reflections to share.  There was wisdom on working with governance and suppliers, why to establish offices and how to phrase websites, approaches to angels and exits that were variously successful of discouraging.

There’s really nothing new, nor particularly deep in running a project or a company.  A lot of it, like the books say, is vision and commitment to core principles.  But learning strictly through errors of execution squanders scarce time and resources and erodes confidence.  That’s where I’m finding case examples more valuable than theory.

In physics we practice with problem sets; in art we perform critiques.  In business school we role play.  In life, we share stories.

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