The Paradox of Story: Simplicity and complexity in strategy (D.J. Snowden)
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Story is an ancient skill whose value we are starting to rediscover. This rediscovery coincides with a growing recognition that technology, and more specifically computers are no more and no less, than the latest in a series of tools that human society has created in its search for meaning. Tools are artefacts that human being use—when appropriate—to support some greater purpose. The very pervasiveness of computing has encouraged a shift away from idolatrous attempts to get the computer to replace fundamentally human capabilities. By making the computer ordinary we gain power over its use. We have started to recognise that a tool is something that fits the hand, we should not need to bio-reengineer our hands to fit the tool. As these tools become increasingly capable of managing data and information, it becomes possible to devote more time and energy to utilise the richer emotional, imaginative and innovative capabilities of humans within organisations. Those organisations that respond to this opportunity are more likely to capture market share. As choice expands, consumers will increasingly make their choices on the basis of emotional and empathetic grounds—utility, reliability and functionality will be assumed and will not of themselves provide a differentiator.
For strategy, Story is a valuable tool to understand our current situation, anticipate possible futures and to prepare the organisation for action. Within this article I want to look at the use of story both to create a self aware descriptive capability in organisations; and to initiate and sustain interventions that will create the three ‘R’s of the modern organisation—resilience, robustness and redundancy. In order to do this I will first look at the context within which story is being used.

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