Friday, December 28, 2007

Myth and narrative in leadership

People need stories. Roger Schank taught me that. Stories become mythic when they become structural--a part of our culture. They teach in such a way as to create the absence of thought... To tell a story can be a process of enabling a learner, in this avatar a listener, to reduce their own dissonance. But a story can also be used to avoid the dissonance necessary for real learning to grow with its own energy--the ultimate goal of leading as enabling.

We hope that the learner satisfies themselves rather than being satisfied by avoiding investigation while accepting mythical foundations. Our own philosophical investigations, where philosophy means the love of knowledge, form the basis of being able to cope and the basis of helping others to cope. Myth is always a part of that, but never a barrier. The mythic spawns creativity, allusion, language, hope and confusion...all essential to learning.

The mythic is a sort of story told that borders on helping the listener to cope while also potentially creating dissonance when the myth is exposed to further investigation. And investigate we must...particularly when our structures melt. Melting caused by globalizing interaction exposes myths because others we contact reject them, point out their silliness, or question mythic conflicts with their own traditions of structure which raise a sort of shared dissonance.

Old leadership uses myth and narrative to build and push agendas. Myth and its acceptance become the foundation of identity--often with much beauty. This is the beauty the anthropologist revels in, for instance. Sadly, it is an identity that can be a social distortion. It is this identity and its beauty that melts rapidly as we interact. In the present age of markets and rapid communications, a retreat to mythic identity is the politics of isolation. In the long run, mythic worlds savored in isolation are unsustainable--at least for those who hope to learn, innovate and explore.

The leader as enabler is open to myth as a learning instrument and as a means of aiding with learner coping, but such leaders won't tighten myths as a boundary around learners. I believe the enabler opens prospects and uses narrative to illustrate--that is leadership.

Stories become neither sacred nor sacrosanct; they are pictures like an artist draws in an ephemeral medium--here now then gone. We love them, even treasure them, but we do not live by them alone and we certainly do not live for our myths.

A life given over to the hardening of structure seems obsolete. But that is a very dissonance-causing statement for me--a great opportunity to learn.

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