“Without the stories we are nothing”.
I’ve always loved that phrase. It appears to have originated from the poetry of Leslie Marmon Silko, but regardless of its provenance. it captures something inherent in the human experience.
This week I happened to catch one of those programs where people bring some family heirloom to an appraiser who inspects and appraises it’s value. In this particular show, a young woman brought in a leather-bound, 1852 edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Glued inside the front cover was a handwritten note from Harriet Beecher Stowe to some young children telling them that she hoped they would learn from her story “to pity the poor and oppressed”. The woman’s ancestors included President Grover Cleveland, which is presumably how the letter came to be written to a young family (the letter was dated 1893 – many years after the publication of the book). The appraiser said the book could retail for between $3,000 – $5,000. The young woman seemed pleased by this information.
Here’s my reaction: the book should decline in value by about 80% if she lets it go because she owns the story. She is a direct ancestor of the children to whom the author wrote. Anyone can own a book, but few can own a story.
I often think companies underestimate the power of stories. A company is, after all, a group of human beings engaged in a creative endeavor. When you take employees, customers, competitors and all the other participants in a market and stir them up, you inevitably end up with stories of sacrifice, dishonesty, creativity, dullness, and everything in between.
The same is true for your team at work. When you tell each other the stories about sacrifice and creativity, you reinforce your mutual aspirations. When you tell stories about dishonesty and dullness, you remind each other where lax character and lack of purpose leads.
What stories make your team, your company, interesting? Make sure you are passing them along. Your products and your company will evolve over time, but the stories endure.