The power of and … embracing the many, not the lone
“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity” (Adichie, 2009)
Several months ago, during my ongoing research into human and organisational performance, I took the plunge down one of several ‘rabbit holes’. A plunge that brought me into contact with the work of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her much celebrated 2009 TED Talk on ‘The danger of a single story‘.
Adichie as a proud Nigerian. Shared through her own experience, the risks of critically misunderstanding our world, its people, and our relationships, by solely relying upon singular accounts, perspectives or stories.
She emphasised that if we wish to create a single story, one must “show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become” (Adichie, 2009).
Listening to Adichie, I was reminded of the very point of Learning Teams as a means of sharing multiple stories in order to develop a deeper understanding, as opposed to the singular, explanatory tale so often sought after by management systems.
In Adichie’s words “the single story creates stereotypes“, a dangerous biased state for any organisation to find itself within, not because stereotypes are untrue, but because they are incomplete (Adichie, 2009).
The single-story further “robs people of dignity“, emphasizing “how we are different rather than how we are similar” (Adichie, 2009). Whilst Adichie is discussing the singular stories of a people or nation, one can quickly draw parallels with the accounts we author and rely upon for our understanding of front-line operations – the complacent carpenter, lazy linesman, or non-attentive driver. Such attributes, or stereotypes born of a singular causal narrative, robbing hard-working people of their dignity, categorising them according to their disposition, not the interdependent conditions that become exposed through hearing multiple stories and perspectives.
Perhaps the greatest point that I took away from this talk, was the power of ‘and‘, a connector of words, phrases and stories, that enable us to humanise the story and promote a richer understanding. No longer is the driver involved in a near miss incident the inattentive stereotype of a single story; instead he’s a driver and a father, a man who has to navigate a number of different conditions and tradeoffs in his day, a man who has worked for many years with the company but who recently has had financial difficulties…no longer a generalisation, or stereotype, but a deeper understanding.
Our challenge to you is to watch this wonderful talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and when you next have the opportunity to review or write a story of some type, ask yourself and your colleagues the following:
- Where do we rely upon single stories in decision-making processes?
- What detail are we losing when we merge or adopt a single story?
- What subsequent actions or decisions will be based upon these singular stories?
- If we were to insert the connector ‘and’ into our stories a little more, where would you and what would you connect with?
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Adichie, C. N. (n.d.). The danger of a single story. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story
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