Storytelling happens at the workplace too!!

Aug 1, 04

This Month

Welcome to our inaugural monthly newsletter.

We will be bringing you articles relevant to connecting with people at the workplace, ideas and success stories in other organizations, resources and links. We would also love to hear from you on what you’d like to see in the newsletter.

The first issue talks about the “Power of stories at the workplace”, the different ways in which stories are being used in organizations and some resources that will allow you to dig deeper should you so desire.

Do you have any experience in using storytelling at your workplace? I would naturally love to hear your favourite stories.

In the next issue: Find out why you should appoint the “Tech-generation” or the 30 and below generation as Mentors to your Senior Team!!

Thank you,


Jigyasa (

Storytelling happens at the workplace too!!

“Stories carry with them little worlds that make their know-how situational, allowing us to remember them easily and adapt them to new circumstances.”

John Seely Brown, former Chief Scientist of Xerox PARC

Dr. Roy Vegelos, then Chief Executive Officer, Merck and Company decided to “give away Mectizan to all those who need it forever.” Merck had already invested 10 years and over $200 million dollars on a product that would help in treating “River Blindness” in many parts of Africa.

River Blindness with no known cure was a dreaded disease few could escape from in many parts of Africa. In fact many villagers assumed that growing old meant growing blind. According to World Health Organization, about 85 million people were at risk in many developing nations.

In fact, about 10 years earlier, when approval was sought to investigate further for a cure for River Blindness, the committee under the chairmanship of Vagelos gave the go ahead knowing fully well that its 18 million patients could not afford the drug at any price. The research was possibly on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. If successful, the drug would give ‘the gift of sight’ to the millions.

However, Mectizan, the successfully tested product found no takers: no potential donors, no international development agencies, no private foundations. Nobody was willing to underwrite its production or distribution costs so that it could be made available to the millions who could not afford it.

It was then that Vagelos decided on “giving away the product, forever.” He was aware that it set a precedent for future donations of medicines for diseases such as Malaria and guinea worms. He was also conscious of his responsibilities towards Merck’s shareholders. While taking such a decision, he not only, drew on his professional calling but also Merck’s culture that made health its first priority. George W. Merck, son of the company’s American founder and one time chairman had said “We try not to forget that medicine is for the people.” Merck constantly tried to live by it. Merck had donated a large supply to the Japanese Public after WWII, when Tuberculosis was a scourge in Japan and few could afford Streptomycin, Merck’s product that worked wonders against it. In the eighties, when the Chinese government asked Merck to share its technology for the production of Vaccine to combat Hepatitis-B, Merck agreed, accepting a token payment of $7 million, a fraction of the actual cost.

The above story illustrates a ‘moment in leadership’. Such stories can be found in any organization where people take critical decisions and take calculated risks in restricted time spans.

Are your people aware of such stories in your organization? Nobody can rely on personal experience alone. Values, culture and mission of an organization remain abstract subjects unless there are visible stories shared on what they mean in the organizational context. Stories help to see the “action” in these abstract and noble intentions.

We all carry a treasure-trove of stories, stories that we have read, heard or those we have been a part of. Equip your people with these stories, so that when the time comes, decision making and leading teams becomes easier. Stories also entertain, energize, inspire and bond us… like nothing else.

Here are six ways in which organizations are using storytelling:

A unique way to distill the company values and beliefs: Stories abound of how leaders ‘walk the talk’ in organizations. If you want your people to practise and imbibe your organizations values, harvest the stories of ‘what the organization means’ to them? And see the difference.
Teamwork and communication: Saying teamwork is a critical requirement for success is easier than putting it into practice. How does one succeed in getting a group of people who do not see eye to eye; to communicate and interact with each other? Use stories to build bridges and break down barriers.
Orientation: Use stories from within the organization to share with new employees about the company’s beliefs and values. Drive home truths about great customer service, teamwork, tolerance for failures or work-life balance with stories of people within the organization.
Initiate Change: Through the use of stories, Steven Denning succeeded in getting the World Bank to incorporate Knowledge Sharing as a principal tenet in its mission statement. This was done at a stage when “knowledge sharing” was not in the organization’s lexicon.
Inspiring Leadership: Leading people requires certain faith and belief in the vision of the future. Leaders like Howard Schultz (Star Bucks) and Jack Welch (GE) enabled their people to visualize the future largely through stories.
Knowledge Management: NASA uses the medium of stories in a number of ways such as holding “wisdom sharing workshops” and “knowledge sharing workshops” to keep abreast of management challenges, solutions taken and lessons learnt in addition to coming out with a bimonthly publications, ASK magazine.

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Want to try the power of stories at the workplace? Try these out!!

Seek out a person who is doing remarkable work, whose work you admire. Find out what makes this person go! What challenges he faces and how he overcomes them.
Identify people who “walk your organization’s core values”; try to understand what makes them do so; why they do so.
Identify people who have taken critical decisions for the organization; for better or worse. Understand why they took those decisions.

Share these stories at your next meeting, orientation or training session.

Complimentary session

Try out a one hour complimentary session of story telling and its benefits at your workplace. This is valid for organizations based in Singapore Only.

Call Deepa today @ 68720503 or email to confirm time and date. This offer expires on August 31, 2004.

Resources for corporate storytelling


The Leadership Moment, Michael Useem. This book shares nine true stories of triumph and disaster that teach great lessons about leaders facing their moments of truth. The story at the beginning of the article is adapted from one of the stories.
The Story Factor, Annette Simmons. Inspiration, Influence and persuasion through the art of storytelling. An excerpt from the book can be found at:
The Spring board, Stephen Denning. How storytelling ignites action in Knowledge-Era Organizations. Denning chronicles his personal journey at World Bank. He has recently written another book, Squirrel Inc, A Fable of Leadership through Storytelling. Visit his website for more details.

This site describes the Knowledge Socialization Project at IBM Research.
Wonderful resources for storytelling, maintained by Dr Kevin Brooks of Motorola.
NASA’s online documentation of its storytelling initiatives.

Do you have your favourite stories? Do you have the experience in trying it out the workplace? I would love to hear from you. Please mail to:


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