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How to get 60 people telling a story together

Photo (c) Rianne Hordijk

Everyone likes a story, but what does it take to make one effective?

On Sunday I was asked by social media platforms Peerby and Konnektid to ‘do some storytelling’ at their global sharing picnic. The open brief got me thinking up some mischief – how to get a large bunch of people, thinking and moving together?

This is not just a question for a high quality party piece. There must be ways and ideas that allow people to organise, that get them to align of their own free will around effective ideas. If stories are an organisation of ideas, what kind of stories organise people tooand what can company culture learn from the exercise?

The day was remarkable for being part of Global Sharing Day – an event involving 70 million people sharing food at the same time at events in 192 countries. The Amsterdam venture was set up by the two social media start ups with an advanced attitude to the social value that sharing can bring. We had a live stream connection to the global event and generated plenty of good cheer of our own. Perhaps 300 people showed up, shared food, made merry and knitted picnic blankets together.

Now, social media has given us an astonishing capability in how and what we share. It has evolved a consciousness, I believe, of what it is give and what is worth giving. Arising from the chaos, we are seeing genuine decentralised stories emerge. People are becoming organised around narratives that inspire them. These are storylines they want to buy into and dedicate some energy – perhaps as a tweet, perhaps as physical activity – to the becoming of an idea. And the best ideas, the deepest, most resonant with our psyche are stories.

The astounding feature of our time is the newness of the modern myths being created. We can spot archetypal patterns in old stories, but here we are seeing them livingly created. Whether it is the current Turkish uprising, local cake sales, inspiring architecture or political movements, we share what we want to cherish and believe in. Each is showing a different colour of our own freedom: in ideas, in community, in world events and art.

The Global Sharing picnic showed the simplicity and ease of community, how people will invest in it, how much goodwill can be generated. Previously, political activity was enacted by joining a tribe and setting yourself in opposition to someone else. Now, it is the affirmation of an ideal that embraces opposition as a spur for change but does not need to be defined by the conflict. The M15 demonstrations in Madrid and certain aspects of the Occupy movement were remarkable in that their only stated aim was to initiate dialogue. Let’s just take a look and see what is there. What is meaningful to people? What will make them move? The dismissal by the mainstream media and much of the public of these movements as irresolute and not standing for anything only shows how fragile a culture of openness can be. You need courage to stand alone and simply ask.

Now, with 60 people in front of me, rather than spin them a cracking yarn or get them to give me suggestions for one, I organised them in circles and asked them to ask questions of eachother. Simple ones, nothing tricky (i. hello, ii. how are you, iii. wat in God’s naam doe je hier in Amsterdam?. The group object was to enquire into as many lives as possible in a short space of time and the result was a satisfaction of seeing organisation break into chaos and become organised again. Then the real mischief could begin with side stories and different instructions (“Tell that woman she ha nice earrings/ Lie down on the floow and yell ‘Everyone on me!'”) being asked of different groups to shake up the intercation

Once people felt aligned and together – responsible for each

other and sharing something of themselves – they found it easy to move together and to receive instructions as to their next actions. Our work completed they moved back into the larger crowd taking their new culture with them to spread further and wider. It was a neat example of how simple enquiry and social technology can improve conditions in a community.

But then again, these were a highly sophisticated group of sharers. I wonder how it might work in your company?

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