Not just a number. Saying “We’re going to serve 25% more people” is fine, but it says nothing about how you’re going to reach that objective.
Not just a statement. Saying “We’re going to offer art education to every student in our neighborhood” is inspiring,” but without a vision of how to get there, it may remain empty words.
Telling the Where Are We Going Story (as Andy Goodman of the Goodman Center calls it) is a way to share your vision, inspire your people, and make them all the heroes of the story. It’s the only way of describing the future that helps create it, too.
Where Are We Going?
I can think of two different ways of telling the story of what will happen if your organization succeeds. One is what the world will look like at the end. The other is the travelogue of how you intend to get there.
Take the statement we made above: “We’re going to offer art education to every student in our neighborhood.”
Story #1: Five years from now, a mom walks into our center. By her side a small boy stands, fidgeting, not meeting our eyes. “My son draws all the time, and he’s good,” Mom says. “But no one ever taught him how to get better.”
“We will,” you say. “Sign up right here. Son, do you draw with pencils, crayons, or computers?”
Story #2: Tomorrow, we’re cleaning up that classroom. Next week, we’re hiring an art teacher. He gets a budget to go buy supplies. In the mean time, we’re going to put the word out with flyers, email, and social media, in English, Spanish, and Chinese, that we have an art program for children who live in this neighborhood.
This year, we’ll arrange with the museum for free field trips. We’ll take children’s artwork and tell their stories to local businesses and raise money for the program. We’ll expand. In five years, everybody will know about it, and we’ll have enough teachers, supplies, and space to serve everyone who wants it. (That’s where Story #1 begins!)
Businesses Use Storytelling Too
“We’ve never had a policy manual. The way we pass along our values is to sit around the campfire and share stories.”
That’s the CEO of a $1.3 billion company talking.
Elizabeth Weil, in Fast Company magazine, interviewed many business leaders about the power of storytelling. The Where We Are Going story is a basic tool of corporate leadership.
“Leadership is about change,” says Noel M. Tichy, a professor at the University of Michigan Business School and the coauthor of The Leadership Engine (HarperBusiness, 1997). “It’s about taking people from where they are now to where they need to be. The best way to get people to venture into unknown terrain is to make it desirable by taking them there in their imaginations.”
In other words, by telling them stories.