A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Utah with The Nomadic School of Wonder to learn from a herd of wild horses. They live at Windhorse Relations, an organization dedicated to providing care and stewardship of the horses, learning from them, and giving others the chance to experience the power of connecting with the herd.
On the first morning of the experience, the organization’s founder, Mary Lee Brighton, strode into the center of a round pen with a jittery horse named First Star. Mary Lee held a frame drum encased in a deerskin pouch. As she entered the pen, First Star’s eyes widened and his nostrils dilated.
Mary Lee explained that horses are prey animals. Anything unfamiliar represents a potential threat. Since the drum case, with its dangling tassles and odd jangly sounds, was new to First Star, he was understandably anxious.
She moved around the pen and First Star did everything he could to put maximum distance between himself and the drum case.
Over the next hour, Mary Lee worked with First Star, helping him conquer his fear of the threatening drum. In the process, she offered a master class not just in working with horses, but also in leadership.
Here are five lessons gleaned from the heart of the horse:
The problems of poverty, disease, and environmental decay cannot be solved merely by the use of more and more scientific technology. Technological fixes usually turn out to be a jumble of procedures that have unpredictable consequences and are often in conflict with natural forces. Indeed, technological magic is not much better than primitive magic in dealing with the fundamental issues of human existence, and in addition, it is much more destructive.
–Rene Dubos, 1967
At a recent conference billed as an exploration of the intersection of Social Impact and Exponential Technologies, a prominent tech luminary spoke on the increasing incidence of depression and how technology will be essential to dealing with it.
She walked us through data showing that depression is projected to increase several-fold in the next decade. Other data laid out the developed world’s current capacity to treat depression. There was a clear and growing gap. We simply will not have the resources to handle the epidemic.
We must, the speaker said, find a way to increase our capacity to serve those grappling with depression. It’s not possible to train enough therapists in time to offer support. Fortunately, exponential technology, specifically adaptive intelligence, can help.
Currently, those working with depression have limited options for getting support. Almost all of them involve having to find and vet a therapist, go to therapy consistently, and/or get a prescription medication. With adaptive intelligence, help could be as close as an app on your phone.
The speaker walked us through a use case. Someone feels unmotivated, disconnected, and depressed. They log on to a secure (much emphasis was placed on ‘secure’) app and are greeted by an adaptive Artificial Intelligence that approximates warmth and curiosity. With a few questions customized to inspire reflection and sharing, the AI triages users.
Some people may only need a bit of space for reflection. For them, the AI provides the necessary level of support.
Others may require more intensive support. The AI detects this and links them to a trained therapist for a consultation.
This technology driven solution solves for the problem of capacity. Exponential technology saves the day.
I listened to the talk with a growing sense of dread and frustration in my gut.
Over the past few years, Storytelling has emerged as a critical communication skill. Stories help us establish emotional connections with our audience, community, customers, and contributors. These connections can build over time and create brand loyalty that goes beyond purely ‘business’ transactions.
Story, however, is much more than a tool for communication. It also is one of the most effective, efficient, and powerful tools we have to build effective teams.
Here are four ways that incorporating storytelling as a core practice can deepen engagement and increase effectiveness in teams:
Client: Nonprofit Finance Fund Advisory Services
Founded in 1980, Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) unlocks the potential of mission-driven organizations through tailored investments, strategic advice and accessible insights. NFF functions both as a CDFI Lender and a provider of advisory and consulting services and helps organizations connect money to mission effectively, supporting innovations such as growth capital campaigns, cross-sector economic recovery initiatives and impact investing.
At a broad level, NFF works towards a world where capital and expertise come together to create a more just and vibrant society.
Any time I lead an organizational or leadership storytelling workshop, I split folks into pairs and ask them to share a story with each other. Person ‘A’ goes first and Person ‘B’ is asked to simply listen without interjection. After the exercise, I ask everyone what they noticed about sharing and listening to the stories.
Based on what I’ve heard after facilitating this exercise hundreds of times, one of the most challenging parts is not telling the story, but listening without speaking. This makes a fair bit of sense: most of us have been culturally training to treat conversation like a tennis match. We listen primarily for an opening, a chance to return the volley, to share our own point of view.
What happens when we’re challenged to simply listen, to take in another person’s story without any agenda of our own other than being present?
Recently, I had the chance to speak with two organizations who had both attended the same training as part of the Think Money First Accelerator program I co-presented with Social Sector Partners in October 2017. The storytelling part of the program was a half-day focused on storytelling for communicating with funders and, perhaps more importantly, transforming internal culture and core beliefs.
Six months after the training, many of the organizations reported not only retaining much of the information from our time together, but also implementing new strategies and approaches.
Two organizations in particular stood out. Both had implemented story-based strategies with the aim of increasing team members’ connection with themselves, each other, and the organization’s mission.
One reported great success, the other reported challenges with the process. Examining each organization’s approach reveals a few key best practices when it comes to moving organizations towards a Storytelling Culture.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.