Bookcase: The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling

• By Stephen Denning
• Josey Bass
• RRP $31.77

There is noting quite so compelling, enervating or informative as cracking good yarn, well told. And even when the subject is business narrative, this conclusion holds true according to American writer and consultant Stephen Denning. His hypothesis is not one with which I feel inclined to disagree.
Denning first published The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling in 2005. This is revised and updated version. Indeed, much has changed in the world of management and leadership since he first penned this book. The explosion of social media and its offspring Facebook and YouTube have, for instance, transformed storytelling, particularly in branding and marketing, but elsewhere as well.
Denning is the world champion advocate of the power, effectiveness and contemporary relevance of leadership through storytelling. Business narrative, okay storytelling, is finally and increasingly recognised as core leadership competency. In reality it always has been, the difference is only that it is now “recognised” as such.
Of the growing number of books on the topic, including good home-crafted one by Auckland writer and speaker Wade Jackson, Denning’s are the most thoughtful and soundly based. He was converted to the concept by circumstance, conceding that the idea that storytelling might be powerful management and leadership tool was originally “counter-intuitive and contrary” to everything his earlier education and work-life experience had taught him.
Storytelling and leadership are, he writes, both “performance arts” which, therefore, involve as much doing as thinking. And while performers always know more than they can tell, his book is an attempt to convey as much of what works – and what doesn’t – at the “intersection of the two different worlds” of leadership and storytelling.
Any attempt to argue that storytelling is anything other than universally effective means of communicating, is pointless. What’s important about this book is, not just that it reinforces this truth but, that it simultaneously illustrates the critical connections between human communication process that began in caves, and the realities of world as different as the one unfolding today.
Denning calls stories trapdoors, escape hatches and portals through which “we can expand our lives and learn about other worlds. They offer guideposts to what is important in life. They generate meaning. They embody our views. They give us the clues from which we can discover what ultimately matters.”
This is thrashing good story. I rank this book nine out of 10 for real world relevance.

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