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Squirrel Inc.: A Fable of Leadership through Storytelling

ISBN: 978-0-7879-7371-1
208 pages
June 2004, Jossey-Bass
Squirrel Inc.: A Fable of Leadership through Storytelling (0787973718) cover image

Description

Take a satirical scamper through organizational life in the midst of  changing times, brought to you by master storyteller and former World Bank executive Steve Denning. With wisdom and a healthy dose of wit, Denning introduces a cast of furry characters who together learn the fine art of change through storytelling in their quest to overcome obstacles, generate enthusiasm and teamwork, share knowledge, and ultimately lead their company into a new era of success and significance. Through the stories of Squirrel Inc., readers will learn that the ability to tell the right story at the right time can determine the outcome of any major change effort. In each chapter Denning's squirrels learn to use storytelling to address leadership challenges:
  •  How to bring about change
  •  How to communicate who you are
  •  How to transmit values
  •  How to foster collaboration
  •  How to stop rumors
  •  How to share knowledge
  • How to lead your organization into the future
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Table of Contents

Preface xiii

The author explains the purpose of the book and the process by which it came to be written.

Part One

1 Squirrel Inc.: How to Craft a Story to Spark Organizational Change 3

Diana is an up-and-coming executive at Squirrel Inc., an organization in decline. She seeks guidance from a bartender on how to persuade the organization to change. She learns, in nine steps, how to craft a story to communicate a complex idea and spark action.

2 Diana Tells Her Story: How to Perform the Story to Spark Change 25

After initial success with her story at Squirrel Inc., Diana returns to seek further guidance from the bartender on how to enhance the performance of her story.

Part Two

3 Save Squirrel Inc. Night: Seven Types of Organizational Storytelling 41

After the success of her story with the managing committee of Squirrel Inc., Diana joins employees to explore other ways in which storytelling can help address the challenges the firm is facing.

4 Whyse's Story: How to Use Storytelling to Reveal Who You Are and Build Trust 49

Whyse shows how storytelling can enhance communication in corporate environments by communicating who you are.

5 Hester's Story: How to Use Storytelling to Get Individuals to Work Together 59

Hester shows how storytelling can be used to get individuals working together. She presents five steps to craft a story for nurturing a community.

6 Mark's Story: How to Use Storytelling to Transmit Values 69

Mark shows how stories that are told and retold in a organization, particularly about the organization's leaders, transmit the organization's values.

7 Mocha's Story: How to Use Storytelling to Tame the Grapevine 79

Mocha shows how humor can be used to harness the power of the informal network of communication in an organization and to tame the grapevine by neutralizing rumors and bad news.

8 Howe's Story: How to Use Storytelling to Share Knowledge 89

Howe shows how the sharing of knowledge takes place through a particular kind of narrative.

9 Sandra's Story: How to Use Storytelling to Create a Future 101

Sandra shows how future stories—visions, business models, scenarios—help organizations move into the future. Meanwhile Howe reveals some unexpected developments within Squirrel Inc.

10 Howe Upsets the Acorns: How Individuals and Organizations React to Change 115

The discussion in the bar now turns to what will happen next at Squirrel Inc. Will the old way of doing business triumph? Or will Squirrel Inc. carry through with the change? The characters explore these and other possibilities.

Part Three

11 The Journey of a Leader: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leadership 127

As the continuing tale of Squirrel Inc. unfolds, the characters encounter a variety of surprises and Diana goes on a journey.

12 The Return to Squirrel Inc.: Living the Story as Well as Telling It 143

We learn the impact of storytelling on Squirrel Inc. and on Diana herself.

Seven High-Value Forms of Organizational Storytelling 150

The nature, form, and purpose of seven high-value kinds of organizational storytelling are compared, in a table.

Notes 155

Further reading 169

Write to the author 177

Acknowledgments 179

About the author 181

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Author Information

Stephen Denning is a leading writer who consults with organizations in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Australia on leadership, management, innovation, and business narrative. In 2009, he was a visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford University, U.K. He is the author of The Secret Language of Leadership—a Financial Times selection in Best Books of 2007, and a 800-CEO-READ selection as the best book on leadership in 2007.
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Reviews

“…a very effective management tool…it is sure to inspire readers working in all sorts of organizations…” (Edge Magazine, February 2005)

“…This charming little book holds many secrets within its attractive covers….” (City to Cities, Jan/Feb 2005)

“…clearly encapsulates both the why and how of seven types of organisational storytelling”. (Knowledge Management, September 2004)

“…makes serious points about leadership and change…” (Financial Times, 29 July 2004)

Squirrel Inc. is a wonderfully refreshing look at leadership that contains countless insights on how stories create meaning and can inspire even cynical management to act.  This book is both provocative and evocative.  It’s central message kept resonating in my head for weeks after reading it. I highly recommend this book¾and it is a great read, as well.”
--John Seely Brown, former chief scientist, Xerox Corp; and director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)

“It is hardly a nutty idea that narrative is a useful means of transferring knowledge from one human—or squirrel to another. Steve Denning’s wonderful story about stories is a unique way to tell a fundamental truth about how organizations improve their performance.”
--Thomas H. Davenport, President’s Distinguished Professor, Babson College and Accenture Fellow

“I’ve witnessed the power of narrative in my work and life, but I haven’t had the tools to effectively employ story when I’ve needed it most. Denning’s book provides the ‘how to’ for which I’ve been looking.”
--M. Gary Ryan, director, Brand Development and Strategy, People Magazine

“Steve Denning is one of the most imaginative knowledge practitioners around, so it isn’t surprising that he’s produced a charming and illustrative fable about organizational life (among other things). Read it and grow wiser in the ways of squirrels and men!”
--Larry Prusak, coauthor, What’s the Big Idea and Working Knowledge

“The success of a leader can best be measured by how many who actually followed. In the management literature of today, we are overestimating the more rational dimensions of leadership and underestimating the importance of how to craft a story that attracts the fullness of human desire. Steve Denning's work is an important reminder and great inspiration to all leaders who wish to connect with their employees on all the human dimensions required to create true followership.”
--Mats Lederhausen, managing director, McDonald's Ventures, McDonald's Corporation

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