Strategies for Restoring Purpose: Storytelling
When founders of social enterprises come across challenges in sustaining their purpose throughout organisational growth, how can they get back on track? In this post, Alessandra Wulf explores some of the strategies and solutions for those who may have lost their purpose along the way. Her findings aren’t just important for those who are experiencing challenges, but they are also useful for those who want to maintain their purpose over time.
Sustaining purpose during organisational growth comes down to how effective leaders use themselves as instruments of change to influence their patterns of thinking, and thus their influence on others.
Of all the models and positions reviewed in business, psychology and philosophical publications, the framework which most closely mirrored the thought patterns of subjects who more easily cultivated purpose was found in the research of Hope Theory. Hope Theory is the process of the effective attainment of values-based goals. It involves a cyclical process of pathways thinking and agency, and the creation of realistic, attainable goals, which create positive, encouraging emotions which propels the cycle to continue.
The Value of Storytelling
The use of storytelling in the field of purpose has been proposed to be beneficial for self-therapy and connectedness to others. The effectiveness of storytelling comes down to some specific elements which are able to create positive thought patterns for subjects. For an individual, telling their story creates a sense of pride, and having a community to tell this to, only encourages further thoughts of self-agency like “I can do this”, positive emotions like “what I’m doing is good and impactful” and pathways thinking like, “by joining forces with collaborators I can create impact from another direction”. It also creates a springboard to discuss the purpose objective overall and its maintainability.
There is a clear pattern as subjects tell their story. They follow, quite clearly, Freitag’s dramatic arc and Bruner’s elements of compelling storytelling, specifically:
- Narrative diachronicity: The stories begin in the present and rolls into the future, shaping legacy
- Particularity: The narratives address a social crisis
- Intentional state entailment: Protagonists look to solve an issue
- Hermeneutic composability: The events over time represent a journey of struggle
- Canonicity and breach: The protagonists beat the odds and challenge the status quo
- Referentially: The characters are relatable, from humble beginnings
- Genericness: The story represents a drama of heroism
- Normativeness: The stories are normal in the issues, they deal with known societal issues
- Context sensitivity and negotiability: The stories are believable in their setup and execution
- Narrative accrual: The stories follow a logical path of life struggle, progression and business development
Subjects tell stories that follow the arc of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouncement. However, some subjects seem to do this more effectively than others, demonstrated by their publications (books, blogs, articles) on told stories. The same subjects, skilled in the art of storytelling, were those same outliers who saw organisational growth not as a threat, but as evolution and something to be welcomed. These subjects were very particular on how they shaped their story.
And so, it appears that the use of storytelling is an effective skill which can recalibrate a person’s sense of purpose by replaying a thought pattern, and embedding those key elements which are needed to pursue values-based goals; pathways thinking, agency, realistic goals, positive emotions and a believing community to encourage this pattern.