The philosopher Gregory Bateson used to tell a joke about a man who asked a computer, “Do you compute that you will ever think like a human being?” After assorted bleeps and blinks, the answer appeared: “That reminds me of a story.”
History, in its very spelling and pronunciation, makes paramount the word story. Peter Schwartz (1991), in his book The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World, reminds us that the US Constitution is, at its core, the formal story of the political utopia the founding fathers designed. The celebration of the National League for Nursing’s 125 years of existence highlighted stories from the beginning to the present time.
Let me remind you that some of the most serious information we can receive more than likely comes not in tables, numbers, pie charts, equations, algorithms, or graphs, but in stories. Stories help us look back and examine what “coulda, shoulda, or woulda” happened had the decision-makers been different or acted differently. As well, they prepare us for the future by giving us a chance to explore what can or ought to happen. They provide insights during our times of uncertainty, thereby mitigating our anxieties and providing a way to cope with complexities and frame our dreams, hopes, and risks. It is more important than ever to work on stories of civility, courage, celebration, character, and change.
Appreciative inquiry reminds us that asking questions is a fateful act. Asking questions is important to the uncovering of reality processes. In their book The Power of Appreciative Inquiry, Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom (2010) quote therapist Marilee Goldberg: “The moment of questioning is also the moment of choice, which usually holds the greatest leverage for effective action and positive change.”
What are the stories we want to create? What are the intended and unintended consequences of our decisions as an organization? What are the forces that could shape our future? What difference does difference make? What is in our control and what is not? Are we like Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso during the preseason football game between Miami and Baltimore this past August? Alonso launched a thousand memes by wandering over to the Ravens’ sideline after a third-down tackle. He only realized he was in the wrong place when Ravens coach John Harbaugh pointed him home. We ask: Is there a wrong side or a truth side anymore in our society?
Legacy building should occur by design and intention, not default. Organizational life is expressed as a narrative, a grand story coauthored by all its various stakeholders. Fear-based decision-making and name calling will not get us there.
Let’s give writer and theologian Frederick Buechner’s metaphor some thought as we move to write the next 125 years of the National League for Nursing history: “As we move through and around this world and as we act with kindness, or with indifference, or even hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble. The life that I touch will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. You can’t find a better way to quantify or qualify someone’s legacy. Just think of the web you have set a-tremble.”
We are all CEOs…chief experience officers. Our conversations, actions, and core values help to create our world. Let’s not let labels and boxes become attractive distractors and weapons of mass destruction of our collective ambition as an organization or a profession. What a tremendous web we have set a-tremble known as the National League for Nursing. To infinity and beyond!
Schwartz P. (1991). The art of the long view: Planning for the future in an uncertain world
. New York, NY: Doubleday Business.
Whitney D. K., & Trosten-Bloom A. (2010). The power of appreciative inquiry
(2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.