Re: Storytelling LO1062

William Hillis (
Thu, 4 May 1995 09:20:49 -0800

Replying to LO1009 --

>Interesting amplification. IBM executives used this approach in their
>twice yearly strategic planning sessions. A key executive would be given a
>topic, and the effective ones would relate examples of what they had
>learned about the topic through their journey in search of organizational
>learning. They would drag the executives through the examples in hopes the
>the lessons they had learned would fit through the filters and models of
>the executive and stimulate the 'right' actions.
>Many executives only presented the politcally-correct stories and this got
>IBM in trouble. BUT without the PC filter, this method was very effective.
>That is, by rewarding the bearer of bad news, IBM could have avoided the
>PC barrier and had the best of both worlds.

I'm not familiar with IBM's planning method, Keith, but I'm curious: are
the executives doubling as planners, or is there a planning staff working
with the executives here? Who is "dragging the executives through the

If what the planner has learned about the topic runs counter to the
"politically correct" mental model of the executive, then trying to fit the
lessons to that mental model will be self-defeating. What Pierre Wack and
others have said is that in this case, the mental model, or managerial
microcosm, must be questioned and destroyed by the executives themselves,
with the assistance of the planners. In Wack's words, "unless the
corporate microcosm changes, managerial behavior will not change; the
internal compass must be recalibrated (from "Scenarios: Shooting the
Rapids," HBR).

This is how stories have been used by scenario planners at Shell, SRI, GBN
and elsewhere; planners identify a point in time in the distant future and
retell, in past tense, how the organization got to there from where they
are today. The purpose of alternative scenarios or stories is to present
the various ways in which the future may play out. The stories told both
challenge the politically correct worldview and build a bridge between the
executive's mind and reality.

I hope that I haven't run too far afield of the intent of your remarks,
Keith. BTW, I plan to introduce myself as soon as my good friends in the
State Legislature go home.

William Hillis email:
WSDOT Financial Planning Opinions expressed are my own.
tel: 360-(or 206-)705-7528 Play on the Information Highway.
fax: 360-(or 206-)705-6803 Don't play on the freeway.