“The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
— Muriel Rukeyser
As architects, we tend to spend our time in the data, the facts, the models — the smart, left-brain thinking that we are so good at. We have rare gifts like the ability to see and design the big picture, to abstract, and to find patterns and connections that are not readily identified by others. All of these skills and competencies are highly important for understanding, modeling, architecting, and rearchitecting an organization, but when it comes time to communicating with others about a new architectural vision of the future and influence and inspire them to move into action, it requires a different set of abilities. This is where techniques such as illustrations and presentation design, graphic recording and facilitation, and storytelling become critical (see “Visual Business Architecture: Approaching the Discipline Differently”).
Storytelling in particular reaches people on a human level. It helps them to make sense and meaning, and even creates a physical response that increases buy-in. For example, research indicates that chemicals such as cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin are released in the brain when people hear a story, which helps to keep them engaged, form deeper connections, and build empathy. Good storytelling is critical for a business architect’s effectiveness, but there’s an even bigger message: story can frame a business architect’s identity.
If we think about story structure, the cast of characters includes the protagonist, the antagonist, and the guide. Business architects play a vital role as the guide within an organization’s story. They make order out of chaos and create a path to transformation. Thinking about business architects as guides brings new context, meaning, and importance to how we think about the role and ourselves.
To illustrate this concept, Figure 11 overlays the role of a business architect on the various elements of story structure. Consider the flow throughout this story structure within the context of a significant organizational change, such as a digital transformation or merger. In the first moments of the story, the Context/Opening Scene, we enter the world of the protagonist (i.e., the organization), where business architects bring their skilled curiosity and keen powers of observation to the situation. Status Quo is the reality that the organization is currently experiencing. Business architects understand and reflect the current state of the organization to inform decision making when the challenges mount. During the Inciting Incident, there is disruption. Something happens that causes the protagonist’s reality to shift and it can never go back to the status quo. Without the Inciting Incident, there would be no story. It is important to recognize that an organization’s equilibrium has been lost at this point. Business architects often enter the scene because of a disruption — or they may bring disruption as they guide change.
The Inciting Incident sets the organization on a Quest. This is the hero’s journey, where the organization solves a problem or pursues an opportunity. The organization invests energy in trying to create a new equilibrium. Business architects help organizations clearly articulate what they are going after from the very beginning. Then comes the Conflict. This is the core of the story, where the organization encounters one challenge after another attempting to prohibit it from reaching the desired goal.
To overcome great challenges, an organization needs to have a great goal and desire. Organizations can have external goals (e.g., growth, effectiveness), but it’s becoming increasingly critical that they have internal ones as well (e.g., social impact, sustainability, values-driven culture). Business architects help organizations navigate the Conflict and create order out of chaos. They also help an organization remember the goal and the why. The Conflict is the biggest part of every story and the most crucial time for the business architect role.
As the organization moves toward the end of the story, there is a sense that all is lost, and then they come to The Choice. This is the decision point where the organization must decide if they are all in. Business architects help organizations make excellent decisions, even when they are in the throes of change.
After the Choice is made, then comes the Climax, which is a grand success or failure. Business architects help organizations understand the stakes from the beginning and navigate through challenges. However, it is up to the organizations to make the choices, leading to their own successes or failures. Finally, there is the Denouement, which is the moment at the end of story where we make sense of it. Business architects help organizations pause to assimilate their own story, and either lock in the transformation by reflecting on the shifts that have occurred or soak in the lessons of failure.
In conclusion, storytelling is an essential ability for business architects to be effective, but framing the role in terms of story structure gives a new identity for business architects and the value they contribute to their organizations. Business architects are the very important guides within an organization’s story of transformation. Business architects enable organizations to change by leading them with an architectural vision of how to achieve the transformation, providing leadership and serving as a change agent. They create order out of chaos and help organizations make good choices in the midst of complicated challenges. They help organizations rally new courage, and take them from idea to execution, and from problem to success, as they carve out a path for the organization to go where they’ve never gone before. Business architects are transformational forces, guiding organizations to better places, better choices, better outcomes, and success that they couldn’t achieve on their own.
[This Advisor is based on content from the S2E Transformation StraightTalk podcast, “15-Minutes with Tamara Park: How Business Architecture Practices Can Leverage Storytelling for Greater Success.”]