Stories, storytelling and narratives in organizations

Maanantai 28.4.2014 klo 15:30 - Mari Holopainen

Narrative approaches have experienced a rapid growth in management and organization studies and the power of stories is a popular theme in business summits and books. Storytelling is an ancient form of communication and cultural interaction. Stories can be touching and memorable. They are relevant for every organization since through storytelling we communicate and share our experiences with colleagues or customers. Stories speak out multiple meanings. They can be silenced or contested.

Stories are part of everyday life in organizations but can also be purposefully used. Garud, Gehman and Kumaraswamy (2011) published a study on corporate narratives that promote innovation in Organization Science. The authors apply an example of the 3M Company which consistently encouraged 'innovation spirit' as a duty and a privilege of its employees. Originally founded by five businessmen in Minnesota in 1902 the company grew into a multinational conglomerate through necessary steps of renewing itself and its offerings. The history and success stories of several innovations have been told also to new employees. Through storytelling the company built 'a tradition of innovation.’ The study highlights how stories can have multiple meanings for businesses.

Recent research on storytelling and narratives was discussed in a research seminar in April at University of Bath led by Professor Yiannis Gabriel. Professor Gabriel is one of the pioneers in organizational storytelling research and organizer of the seminar since 2001 http://www.organizational-storytelling.org.uk/. Professor Andrew Brown presented his study on the agreed and discrepant sensemaking of members of a project team in the gaming industry. The presentation of Professor Carl Rhodes focused on the gendered aspects of storytelling in the popular culture communicated in television, advertisements and the internet and how organizational life gets presented through fictional yet recognizable characters.

Organizational studies have examined aspects such as change, identity and strategy in terms of narratives and stories. The role of stories in sales interaction remains largely unexplored. Stories, storytelling and narratives form lenses we continue exploring in MANIA.

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