This book, by a lecturer in ethics, communication and leadership at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, is about the role of a story and the ethical role storytelling plays in our lives, particularly in organisations and workplaces. True, people take time to talk about or speculate on the nature of their work, but they are predisposed to saying things worth hearing, telling stories worth remembering – the very act of storytelling brings with it openness towards the world and a fundamental optimism. Each one of us has a good story to tell and the very art of storytelling generates energy around the teller’s subject, bringing the speaker and audience to life in a way that defines ethical engagement.
Storytelling is a communal experience – a communication that brings into being, however briefly, a community of two or more. The impetus, again, is values. At its most elementary, the story is the vehicle by which one generation instructs the next in what the world is or might be. We use story to clarify right and wrong for our children who haven’t yet experienced the world as we know it. Our stories illuminate modes of intervention so that the others can judge whether they are experiencing appropriate or inappropriate, outdated or premature ways of getting along in a community.
Storytelling is not just about the telling; it is always also about the conversation or interpretation, the conflict of views, the building of consensus. What do we think about the story? The question is always as important to us as the question of what I think about it: the I learns from the exchanges as much as the we, hearing oneself in the audience and connecting that self as the story unfolds. That’s why the art of storytelling is so invigorating!
We argue that in the increasingly globalised world, we find it difficult to say which stories really matter, which ones sketch the dominant spirit or view in a global society that is itself many different societies. The author says that stories allow us to chart our course, entertaining and educating simultaneously, drawing an audience in and pointing the way for people or inviting them to help see the way. Globalisation and cyberspace may change the physical markers for this process, but the process itself remains the same across time and space. The skills by which we understand printed or filmed stories are the skills we apply when we tell our own stories. We probe for ethical standards in all true situations and the juxtaposition of stories across countries, which is increasingly a feature of our global society, keeps on testing our standards for validity.
The Story of Success offers five views on ethical behaviour in business and management. For good or ill, behaving ethically rarely involves transcendent moments, though it does involve deep-seated values. Removing ethics from the realm of daily action may preserve our values, but it also makes them very hard to recall from their luxury status when we decide they are needed.
Ethical practice is as fundamental to our survival as food, clothing and shelter. The book offers five approaches to ethics which are grounded in the specifics of a case or a story. People, not principles, make ethical practice, and the stories explored here are about people – not just the characters in the stories but the readers, listeners and viewers who engage the stories through their own stories which they share with one another. The five ethics outline a consistent framework to ethical practice, though any one of the five offers a valid point of access to the others.
Leigh Hafrey illustrates these steps through contemporary books and movies to show how elaborate a managerial style is from early childhood. He juxtaposes the narratives taken from classic children’s tales with real life business people’s stories of career challenge and personal success, while speculating on the way in which American business values increasingly shape and will be shaped by the global culture.
(Maverick Business, an Imprint of Rave India, 22-C, Pocket C, Siddhartha Extension, New Delhi-110 014.)