Thursday, March 21, 2013

Narratives Are Thicker Than Water

Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families, says: "The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative." That's not just his opinion. It's buttressed by research done at Emory University and the US Naval Academy. You can substitute "company narrative" for "family narrative" because the benefits of knowing one's organizational history are so similar:
  • Post 9/11, offspring who "knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress" (a quote from psychologist Marshall Duke, co-author of the Emory study).
  • "Jim Collins, a management expert and the author of Good to Great, told me that successful human enterprises of any kind, from companies to countries, go out of their way to capture their core identity. In Mr. Collins's terms, they 'preserve core, while stimulating progress.'" 
  • "The military has also found that teaching recruits about the history of their service increases their camaraderie and ability to bond more closely with their unit." (Quotations 2 and 3 are from Feiler's book.)
Families use holidays, parties, vacations, and other events to transmit their narratives to the next generation. Businesses have an array of means to tell the story of their corporate history and values: parties, sure, but also conferences, internal communications, the About Us pages of their website, social media, team-building activities, and more. Anniversaries present ideal opportunities! What matters is the message This is our history, not the form.