Narrative and OD LO13298

Steve Finegan (
Fri, 18 Apr 1997 10:21:29 -0800

Hello. My firm's primary focus is writing video and multimedia scripts for
employee benefits training and commercial marketing/sales projects; we
also research and write white papers, reports, books, articles, as well as
press and advertising copy.

I'm currently working on a book project with an OD consulting firm. During
the research phase of this project I've become fasinated by the potential
(I'm sure in many cases realized) role that narrative has to play in OD
and organizational transformation.

There is an emerging realization within the social sciences that narrative
is the, largely unrecognized, other half of a dual system we use to
construct our reality. Opposite narrative is scientific rationalism and
its language of logical discourse. During the past 300 years, science has
completely overhauled our Western worldview by explaining how material
reality works and how it can be put to use. However, social scientists are
beginning to discover that narrative, or the storied form of experience
generated by constructing stories and listening to the stories of others,
transcends strictly rational explanations by gracing human experience with
meaning. By storied form of experience I'm referring to a tradition at
least as old as history: myths, fables, fairy tales, history, poetry,
literature and biographies (those written and those elaborated every day
by people in the process of living their lives). What's most interesting
about narrative is its apparent positive feedback quality: storied lives
influence family, society and culture and vice versa in a intricate and
subtle dance of meaning. Most recently, some psychologists have argued
that the weave of individual, social and cultural history can be shaped,
over time, by the direct intervention of an agent in the narratives of
individuals and groups. These practitioners contend that dysfunctional
narratives can be deconstructed and more functional narratives constructed
through a process called "narrative psychology."

In light of the above, OD practitioners and trainers should find the
possibility of applying narrative in organizations both relevant and
interesting. But is there an application? Some social scientists (most
notably Donald Polkinghorne) suggest that an organization is an elaborate
mental construct distributed among a large number of people. The argument
runs something like this: The organization -- it's collective beliefs,
goals, actions and consequences -- emerges from the internal and external
narratives people tell themselves and each other in an effort to create
coherence and meaning in their lives. The collective story is the
organization's metanarrative (the myth in which everyone is caught up).
This metanarrative is brought into existence by and sustained and
developed in time through the ongoing conversations taking place within a
circle of people both within the organization and in the wider cultural
environment. Even more importantly, any postive results the organization
achieves -- including its ability to transcend the problems associated
with growing change and complexity -- are directly related to the quality
of its metanarrative and the individual and group stories that it

Recognizing the role of narrative in no way denigrates the role of logical
reasoning and descriptive writing in OD. It does bring the other, less
visible, side of the equation into the light for further inquiry and
analysis. What can be accomplished in organizations using narrative? I
think this is an important question which should be explored.

I would welcome contact from anyone who uses, or has used, narrative (this
includes metaphors) theories, methods, tools and techniques in OD and
training situations. Perhaps we can strike up a dialog and share
information. I'm currently conducting research on narrative applications
in the social sciences, specifically OD, for an upcoming white paper. I
look forward to contact with anyone who takes interest in this message.
Please respond to me directly. My e-mail address is listed below.



Steve G. Finegan, President, The Huntington Group, Inc.
PO Box 340, Lake Oswego, OR 97034. Phone: 503-635-9182. FAX: 503-635-9869

-- (Steve Finegan)

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>