Telling the Story of Change
Life is a maze. We have no idea what’s around the corner and we often don’t know where we’re going. At least for most of us, where we are today is drastically different to what we expected 10 years ago or even 5 years ago. It’s what makes life challenging, but it’s also what makes it exciting and gives it mystery.
What we do know is that we’re all chasing something. It's what gets us up out of bed in the morning and what gives us our sense of purpose. As Dr Spencer Johnson puts it in his famous parable “Who Moved My Cheese?”, we’re all chasing our cheese. Being part of and helping deliver change is a great way of defining purpose regardless of what our individual mission may be, be that digital transformation, advocating environmental change, legislative change, the list goes on….
But at the same time, to a lesser or greater extent, we’re all afraid of change and unpredictability. And so the fact of life that makes it so exciting, arguably so liveable, is also what makes it very painful at times.
There’s a Dark Side of Change:
Uncertainty leads to Anxiety.
Fear of Failure - you become reactive letting things happen to you rather than taking control yourself.
Catastrophising - you start analysing the situation and the problem in minute detail by simulating different worst case scenarios, the next worse than the last.
Lonely - you feel alone, like you don’t have the strength to take it on by yourself.
So how do we keep the narrative positive? How do we focus on that encouraging sense of purpose rather than falling into that descending spiral of negativity?
The key here is the word ‘narrative’. When we all eventually leave this world, when our journey through the maze is complete, we all want to leave a legacy, to be able to tell a story of how our presence changed the world for the better. So to be great change leaders, we need to be great storytellers. If you look back through history, the best leaders, and the biggest advocates of change all have one thing in common - they are also the best storytellers. They have the uncanny ability to take the story that has been told so far and write the most compelling version of the next chapter that captivates us all.
This is the power of storytelling. It’s the ability to make each of us individually feel like we’re part of something greater than ourselves. It allows us to create connection in a completely unique way. The recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II is a great example of that. Regardless of your personal opinion on the monarchy and its enduring place in the world that we live in today, no one doubts the Queen’s story, her undeniable sense of duty, how she continuously and seamlessly adapted to the ever-changing world around her. Why? - because the exchange of stories gives the sense that we’re sharing a part of ourselves, something that is profoundly human and therefore creates a deeper level of connection.
And this is the crucial point to this article. I started writing this article with the intention of talking about the different personas Dr Spencer Johnson highlights in his book “Who Moved My Cheese?” and how they so accurately personify the behaviour towards change that I see on a daily basis. But in the end I realised that the true lesson was not about the detail within the story but about the method of storytelling itself. The reason his parable became so popular was not the theory of change itself, but because everyone can connect with the story he is telling and sees a part of themselves in the characters he describes.
When we tell a story we no longer focus on the change itself but instead connect with the narrative. The cloud of uncertainty lifts, and the fear of failure evaporates as you personally see a reflection of yourself in the next chapter of the story you are part of.