Personal Stories and Testing Assumptions

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

Recently a few of us spent an evening deconstructing the idea of storytelling: why we're drawn to it, how it works, and how we use stories personally and professionally.

(I've written about storytelling on CPSRenewal before (see: Towards a New Professionalism in Government), as has Nick, probably multiple times (see: Purposeful Story Telling).)

We looked at a number of angles, but the one that stuck out for me might be called the stories we tell ourselves. Ashleigh Weeden opened this rabbit hole for me with her fantastic blog post on the subject, and most of my post, today, is just encouraging you to go read it.

Humans have a deep-seated tendency to find patterns, categorize, and sort things in our minds. These can turn into heuristics about how we see ourselves, which could be as simple and innocuous as saying something like "I'm very intuitive." It might be true, or it might just be rationalizing shortcuts on decision-making. In other cases, some stories that may well have been true at some point can outlive their usefulness. And they influence how we approach the world and our jobs, for better and for worse.

Examining our stories is an incredibly useful exercise, a healthy testing of assumptions. But we also noted two things about this kind of introspection during that evening:
  • it's deeply uncomfortable - and full of cognitive dissonance - when we realize that some of the things we tell ourselves and others aren't true
  • it must be highly deliberate, with others challenging us and prodding; it would otherwise be as easy to rewrite our stories with just new, different fictions
I'll forgo the temptation to apply the above to public service renewal and change initiatives.

All of that to say. If you're interested, and you should be, you should read Ashleigh's excellent and courageous post. With the warning that it may lead to an uncomfortable but ultimately worthwhile exercise of introspection.