Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Organizational storytellers are gathering again in Washington, DC this spring just in time for the cherry blossoms. This, their 9th year, promises a tour de force on the power of narrative to generate solutions for our troubled world.

For 2009 the theme is Storytelling and High-Performance Groups.  I spoke with Steve Denning, founder of the Smithsonian event, global thought-leader and author of four books on the subject. He said, "This year, the symposium will take place under the shadow of the ongoing economic crisis. High-performance groups are very relevant here, because we are going to have to grow our way out of the crisis. The symposium will help show how storytelling and high-performance groups have helped deal with crises in the past, as well as how they can help do so in future, by encouraging innovation and inspiring new ways of becoming hyper-productive."

Denning interviewed me in preparation for my presentation, showing how I use storytelling to guarantee buy-in for change efforts. We talked about storytelling, hot groups, the financial crisis, and this blog. You can listen to the interview on Denning's website here.

Thursday evening, April 16, the Smithsonian offers, The Basics of Organizational Storytelling, led by Danish author, Svend-Erik Engh (Tell a Story: Be Heard, Be Understood, Create Interaction, Fokus) and performance artist, Noa Baum. Baum, an Israeli, has toured internationally to acclaim with her exceptional performance, A Land Twice Promised, which tells the Israeli-Palestinian story through the voices of four women.

All day on Friday, April 17, there is a showcase of leading thinkers in the field, offered in bursts interspersed with special sessions where audience and presenters think together. Storytelling is fundamentally about meaning making and this event provides maximum impact for all who come.

This year's business celebrity presenters include: Tom Stewart, Chief Marketing & Knowledge Officer at Booz & Company and former editor of Harvard Business Review, and Peter Guber, former studio chief, Columbia Pictures, and CEO, Sony Pictures. Guber produced such films as Midnight Express, The Color Purple, Rain Man, and Batman, earning $3+ billion in revenue, and receiving numerous Academy Awards nominations.

Peter Gruber wrote in HR Magazine last September, "The ability to articulate your story or that of your company is crucial to almost every phase of enterprise management. It works all along the business food chain. A great salesperson knows how to tell a story in which the product is the hero. A successful line manager can rally the team to extraordinary efforts through a story that shows how short-term sacrifice leads to long-term success. An effective CEO uses an emotional narrative about the company's mission to attract investors and partners, to set lofty goals, and to inspire employees. Sometimes a well-crafted story can even transform a seemingly hopeless situation into an unexpected triumph."(emphasis mine) 

When you book travel to DC, make sure you stay through Saturday, because your don't want to miss Saturday, April 18, when GoldenFleece, the DC community of story practitioners, hosts the all-day session, Why Story Matters Now More Than Ever: Exploring Contemporary Challenges. This event, run by Madelyn Blair, story consultant, and Denise Lee, PWC, will bring together change leaders, executives, storytelling professionals, organizational development practitioners, students and researchers to conduct workshops and present findings.

And, of course, there are the evening dinners where people get together and everyone buzzes like bees in a hive.  You register for each event independently. Here are the links:
Thursday, April 16, Basics of Organizational Storytelling
Friday, April 17, Storytelling and High-Performance Teams
Saturday, April, 18, Why Story Matters Now More Than Ever: Exploring Contemporary Challenges

- Seth Kahan,