February 26, 2021

The Future of Work: Powered by Shared Stories

We sit at a critical juncture in the future of work. As virtual workplaces proliferate, disaffection, isolation and loneliness are on the rise. The proliferation of technology—our devices and social channels—replaces face-to-face human connection. Should we be concerned about preserving that which makes us uniquely human?

Human beings form bonds. We speak with each other. We engage.  We connect. Sure, thanks to the internet of things, washing machines communicate with dryers, but they don’t share experiences, stories or traditions.

We can and we must.  Especially if we want to make our workplaces inclusive, collaborative, productive, and rewarding.

Shared stories build community

Reflection Point uses a time-tested technique to build workplace culture that works.  We share stories—indeed, that’s the oldest form of human expression.  Why?  Because humans are storytelling animals, building communities across space and time with the power of a tale. We do it informally through family or community tradition and religion. We do it formally through literature.  

Either way, this ability to share what we have learned over time is a critical element to our ability to collaborate and innovate. To navigate through uncertainty and face a future filled with inevitable change and challenge.

Literature chronicles and preserves the ever-evolving human story. Stories enable us to see ourselves and each other in the way characters interact and evolve as a story develops. Literature invites us to reflect on our lives and, in discussion with others, to add our voices to the exploration of timeless human problems. Oftentimes, it’s easier to tap into our own deeply-held feelings and beliefs when we are talking about fictional characters.

Stories help us see our blind spots

For this reason, every Reflection Point (formerly Books@Work) session starts in literature - specifically, a short story. But it never ends there. Because the story starts a group thinking in new ways about how individual assumptions affect the way they work and engage with colleagues.  Some real-life examples of real changes brought about by shared fiction:
–A manufacturing supervisor re-examined his leadership approach and his blind spots after discussing William Carlos Williams’ “The Use of Force” with his team.  
–A healthcare professional understood white male privilege for the first time after discussing several contemporary short stories with a diverse group of colleagues in a large medical center.
–A management professor realized the benefit of diverse perspectives after discussing William Trevor’s short stories, leading him to question the reliability of research conducted alone.
–A group of 100 senior leaders in a global manufacturing company examined their own ability to weather fast-past technological change triggered by Ken Liu’s story “The Waves,” including how artificial intelligence challenges them to revisit and abandon their business’ origin stories.

These shared narratives - whether classic or contemporary, famous or not - flatten hierarchies and break through boundaries. They provide the structure for conversations we might otherwise never have. They make personal engagement between a CEO and her lowest level employee not only possible but memorable and rewarding for both. They forge connections that once made, do not expire.

The Future of Work requires us to look within

Reflection Point is not a classroom. We do not teach. We explore the human condition, using literature as a guide and a springboard. Through diverse life experiences, emotions and personal perspectives, we engage with the story and each other. The story becomes a platform for collaborative reflection – about our relationships, the workplace, the world.

The great astronomer Galileo allegedly said, “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself.” He’s half right.  We may start alone but we really advance our learning when we find ideas together.

Literature is the perfect map to guide this search, offering the journeys of flawed characters in challenging situations. It takes us to places we have never been, and forces us to examine the places we know well. It models humanity at its worst and at its best.

Most of all, literature shared in discussion with others, taps into the wisdom of life experiences and reminds us that we – each and every one of us – has something to contribute. And as long as we sustain this human conversation, we remain the captains of our own fates, collaborators on a journey to the future of work and life.

Image Credit:
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