I am pondering the power of the “story” that informs our lives and the lives of our businesses– I am working with distressed clients fearful of losing their businesses, fearful for their families’ well being, breathing a sort of dark, collective gloom. This is the “story” that is unraveling for us right now, the “reality” of the day, and it seems normal to accept it.
I’d say we must learn to access better “stories” about our lives..
Earlier in life, the quality and variety of stories available to us are tremendous: “I will change the word” “ I will find the love of my life,” “ I will be a writer,” “I will invent the time travel machine” etc— As time goes by, fewer and fewer stories seem to fit our experienced and much tried souls and bodies. “Now it’s too late to…Now, I’ll never be able to …This is how it is now…” Businesses reflect their owners’ and teams’ beliefs and end up with fewer possibilities, unable to embrace new “stories,” instead—re-living the pattern of old and battered metaphors.
After proper due diligence —a bleak situation, indeed– I started to re-write the “story” of a client’s business— “Once upon a time there was a business owner who reached the end of his rope. Cash flow was dismal, he could not pay rent, and his team lost all hope. He simply did not see how he would get up in the morning —every day–let alone run a business. The tiredness he felt was gray as the grave, and he was sinking deeper into it. One day a small thing happened that strangely started to change everything…”.
He stopped me briskly: “Yes, all right, that happens in fiction, but not in my life, not in real life—look around!!!” I had experience with the magic of the ‘story’, so I gently insisted: “What is the small thing that happened that changed everything? Tell me that story!“
His body relaxed slightly, and he said with visible trepidation: “All right—let me warn you—this is a story, I’ll tell you a story—it isn’t happening, ok?“ His team sat around him, as we heard the ‘story’, and they all added their piece– how they needed a certain amount of cash to start over, how the company will reach customers and make sure it’s a really fabulous experience for them, after all let’s dream a beautiful story if we are at it, how the responsibilities of the team were better defined— they all added knowledge they did not even know was useful in the bigger context of the company’s success. In the end we wrote down the “new story,” the turnaround story—
Of course “after the ecstasy, the laundry” as one of the great Buddhist teachers, Jack Kornfield, calls it —The work in this world has just begun once we have connected with the source all stories, the source of our strength and spirit. The focus, and attention to the task ahead had increased considerably and we have reached a certain critical mass in understanding failure, and in the desire to enact change. The most interesting thing was that accounting people understood how important it was to work directly with Sales, and Marketing and all of them got how important change was at the most profound level.
The turnaround does not always mean a happy ending in the way we want it, but when it happens, it’s brilliant. I see anger and frustration these days for losses, from people who have worked very hard and still, had no control over the end result. In these situations, especially, how can we access the best “story,” that frames how we move up from there on?
So many times, we ‘borrow’ other people’s stories, for better or for worse. What do we need as individuals to be able to access our greatest “stories”? What do we need as businesses to access and dream that marvelous love-story that any great business is? What is your experience, personally or collectively?
Where did your great “story” come from? Are you aware of your “story”?