Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Value of Storytelling

One Saturday afternoon more than a couple of decades years ago I was at work writing software for a difficult project.  The software wasn't difficult, but the user certainly was.  I heard someone walk by and it was the VP of technology for the organization.  I asked him what he was doing there ... and he asked me what I was doing there.  So I told him all my woes about how unreasonable my user was being.  He responded with one simple line "non carborundum illegitimus."

My former VP's advice, roughly translated from Latin, means don't let the b*stards get you down.  Good advice to keep your opinions to yourself and get the job done.  His advice may not have changed the issue one iota, but it helped me to manage my own emotions around the situation.

I had completely forgotten the incident until this evening when one of my staff complained about to me about an unreasonable client. I decided to relate the story of my similar situation from the past.  The story may have been simple, but the message remains consistent and useful over time.

If I had just said "don't behave that way" I'm sure the impact wouldn't have been the same.  But a simple factual story resonates more effectively.  I'm not sure the advice was particularly brilliant, but the parallelism over the decades was strikingly interesting.

The value of storytelling as a management technique is in the power of conveying a simple and effective message without lecturing.  In this particular case, it is reassuring to know that no matter how much the technology changes over the decades the same fundamental issues remain.  Technology is easy, people are complicated.

I still don't know why the VP was in the office on a Saturday afternoon ...


No comments:

Post a Comment