If you are trying to create a specific future – a growing company, a healthy church, a community of people – then you assuredly face opposition. In their book Illuminate, Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez outline why change is so difficult and how story can you help move forward. It’s a beautiful insight on the story nature of people and of creative innovation.
Duarte describes how her company’s history is a series of innovations, each defined by a classic business S curve.
As I outline in another post, the S curve matches the creative process – in short, it’s a period of development, followed by a period of growth, followed by a period of plateau. The third period is later followed by a period of decline and death, which is why it’s both counter-intuitive and critical to begin the next thing just as the existing thing is peaking.
Duarte and Sanchez outline the cycle in a great chart:
Notice how important it is to do what Duarte called “(re)dream” just as the existing work is maturing.
Unfortunatey, although this vision is critical and Duarte’s staff should be grateful for her ability to see it, changing just as something is going well makes people crazy. Sanchez says:
Coming up with ideas is easy and getting others to embrace them is not. I’ve come to believe that knowing where to go is important, but explaining why and how to get there is even more important. Because change of any kind is frightening to most people, leaders have to narrate the journey from here to there and back again with clarity and conviction and, most of all, empathy.Patti Sanchez
The way to overcome the resistance to change is through storytelling.
Here’s a beautiful chart to describe it- this just pumps me up!
Notice how it begins with a dream on top of the mature cycle. There’s a woman on a ladder, holding a torch and looking ahead to what comes next. Presumably she is alone; her cohorts are happily enjoying the fruits of their previous labor.
This torchbearer’s vision invites her people to take a leap off of the perch into the abyss of the unknown.
At the bottom of the abyss they will encounter dragons and other big obstacles to slay. The people will fight and climb to get to the new perch on which the leader is sitting. Once there they will celebrate together.
This is a story structure – a leaving home, fighting dragons, and returning home wiser. It’s the Odyssey and the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Change happens along a story’s path. Sadly, when you’ve come (to a new) home, and you’re sitting on the perch looking at the sunset, what awaits you the next morning is another leap into the abyss.
Why, you ask?
Why keep jumping off into the unknown over and over again?
Because if you don’t, you will enter a long tail toward decline and death. There is no static life on top of the mature perch. This is a myth that people succumb to all of the time.
In the Scriptures, it’s the Transfiguration – the moment when Peter, James and John get a glimpse of the final perch, when all creativity is fulfilled, a new heaven and a new earth. Peter is so inspired by this vision that he says, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But Jesus declines, and leads them back down into the valley of suffering and pain, to fight and climb again.
If you possess a vision of the future, and don’t know how to get change resistant people to join, the answer is to use what Sanchez calls the “communicator’s toolkit”:
Speeches are the means of casting a vision – explaining where you need to go.
Story, as I describe, is the framework for helping people understand what his taking pace.
Symbols are images which provide context and meaning to the journey.
Ceremonies provide milestones along the way.
These are more than tools to be deployed for specific ends.
What they do is point to the essence of story as a means of understanding our very lives.