I’ve outlined the three levels narrative that we can consider within organisations: personal, co-created and organisational. They are three lenses on the world around us, each from a different perspective and serving a different purpose. Today, i want to consider how they flow, one to the other, each informing and shaping those around it, constantly iterating and evolving as our understanding develops.
These stories are Social Age stories: published then written, not bound in bookends and static on a shelf. They are co-created and dynamic, responsive and changeable. They reflect our understanding today, whilst today keeps changing.
Personal stories are our own stories of learning and change over time: a modern day diary, recording not wistful victorian love stories, but rather our reflections, challenges, determination and fear, as we feel it, first hand. It’s about setting down a marker today. And today. And today, as each today passes. It’s about putting lines in the sand and stakes in the ground: this is what i think is true today, and what i will question tomorrow.
Learning is not something done to us, but rather something we choose to take on: we hear or read or experience new things and go through a cognitive process of filtering, acceptance, rehearsal, testing and adoption. Or rejection. Some things that i believe to be true today i will reject tomorrow. Some things that i know, i am prepared to be proven true, but are currently in quarantine. Some things i know are not perfect, but they are the best framework that i have, so i continue to use them until a better alternative comes along.
This is how we survive: not in a state of perfect knowing, but through a series of conceptual frameworks and beliefs, wrapped up in a personal schema of how the world works and our place within it. A schema that is remarkably plastic: deformed and reshaped according to experience and need.
So experience, both formal learning and simply engagement in our life, informs our personal story: if we are wise, we find spaces to capture it, to record our thinking over time. We capture the story to see how much it changes.
As we come into our communities, we carry out sense making conversations: each of which is informed and shaped by our personal narrative. The things we believe to be true, the things we know, the experience we have, all shape the conversation. If we are stubborn, we argue: if we are wise, we debate and construct dialogues that allow us to explore and prototype, rehearse and learn. Then, either through the formal intervention of a storyteller, or through our collaborative storytelling efforts, we capture that co-created narrative. The story of what our community thinks, over time.
This is neither my view nor yours, but rather it’s ours. It’s not consensus, but rather debate and dialogue.
Personal narrative informs the co-created group narrative, and, in return, is shaped by the conversation. So in simultaneous birth we create a new personal narrative and a new co-created one, reflecting both sides of our evolved understanding.
This is true learning: not done to us, but done by us. Done with each other.
And, over it all, the organisational narrative: a meta narrative written out of our personal and co-created group stories. This is the hardest thing for an organisation to achieve: to relinquish enough control to permit us to truly shape the story.
In the old world, learning was crafted by the organisation and done to people: in the Social Age, learning is framed by the organisation, scaffolded, but done within community. Co-created stories that we adopt, adapt or accept, informing our personal story and contributing to the next co-created iteration.
In the old world, we wrote a course and recycled it for five years: in the Social Age, we scaffold a course and co-create the meaning, within that framework, but contextualised by the people enrolled, every time. So the story is refreshed anew every time. Iterating it’s way to relevance and remaining both contemporary and grounded in our everyday reality.
It’s a circular path: personal stories inform co-created dialogue. The dialogue informs the organisational story. If a Dynamic organisation listens, it creates new opportunity and learning, which in turn informs and forms the backdrop to the evolved personal narrative. And round we go.
Crucially, this happens anyway: even if the organisations is not socially enabled and permissive, people still form personal stories and co-create narratives. They just do so to protect themselves from the organisation, which isn’t listening, rather than to evolve the organisation. So the only true loser if we restrict or quash nascent social communities is the organisation itself.
In the Social Age, only the agile organisation can hope to survive, can hope to thrive. And to be agile, we need to be able to co-create meaning, to find the story, at every level. And we need to continue to evolve that story to be relevant to us in the moment. A flow of stories that never end.