Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stone Fish - About the Importance of Storytelling

My son, Tim, is four years old. The daycare center where he spends his days are only a couple of minutes walk from where we live. (Tim, he wrote his own name here, says Hello! He is sitting beside me as I write this.)

Walking home is different, it often takes more than an hour. We go for walks, stop to play, investigate things... One day a couple of weeks ago we went past the sculptures you can see here, and Tim wanted to take a closer look:

As we got closer, I began asking Tim questions about the sculptures: "What does this one look like?"
"It's a bear holding a fish," Tim said. We often play little games together, rhyming games, we weave stories, play scenes from favorite movies, sing songs. Since Tim was interested in the sculptures I decided to take the opportunity:

"OK, what is this then?"
"Fish."
"And where are they?"
"The sea."
"OK, the sea, or maybe a river." I think I made a misstep there. Shouldn't have corrected him.

I then asked him about the other bears that you can see in the first picture. Tim said they were a mummy bear and two baby bears. I asked him what they were doing. Waiting for Daddy bear to catch fish for them, he said.

I then asked him what the bears had been doing before they came to the river to catch fish. Together we wove a story about a bear family that woke up from their long winter sleep. They were hungry and went to catch some fish.

We continued on our way, still talking about the bears. Right outside our home there is a small rocky hill with some trees. We went up to see if we could find anything interesting. If nothing else, we can get a good view of where we live from up there.


It didn't take Tim long to find something interesting. "Look, a fish," he said and pointed to this:


Yep, unmistakably fish shaped.

The point of the story is that the story Tim and I created together had primed us both to think about bears and fish. When Tim saw something even vaguely fish shaped, he recognized it.

Stories do the same thing for us in all walks of life: when we work, when we are with our families and friends, when we pursue our interests.

Stories create patterns in our minds. We then use pattern recognition to identify other things that fit the same pattern. We can use this to identify problems, and to figure out solutions. Patterns are also an excellent way of communicating with other people. If we can recognize and use the same patterns, we have a basis for understanding each other.

As a management consultant I am obviously interested in the power of patterns, for example: Systems Archetypes from Systems Thinking, or strategy patterns like the Chinese 36 Stratagems. Lean and TOC do of course also have patterns for identifying and solving problems.

One of the book ideas I have is a pattern book. It might not be the next one I write, but I will write it. Until then, I'll write about some useful patterns in this blog, and maybe in the Tempo! newsletter.

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