Story Bias: Stories of failure


Stories of failure tell about things that did not work. They may be stories of big failure or small, personal failure.The stories may simply tell the facts or may well also explain why the failure happened. They may also include details of the consequences for the people involved.


Failure is a form of education. Some organizations invest in a culture of learning while others punish their employees for mistakes. There is learning either way.

J.K. Rowling did a great TED talk on The Benefits of Failure.


One of the significant elements of such stories is what happens to the people involved. If they were blamed and suffered significant punishment, then this becomes a cautionary tale that warns people not to fail. The problem with this is that the real warning is not so much not to fail as not to be caught.

This can result in dysfunctional politicking where the slippery soap of blame is passed around with pointing figures that point anywhere but to the person pointing.

More positive stories tell about the learning gained and encourage reasonable failure for this purpose.

Story Bias: Stories of transformation

DescriptionTransformation stories tell about how individuals, groups and entire organizations went through deep and fundamental change, transforming from one state to another.A common structure to this story is:

  • Before, we were happily blind, not realizing the difficulties. Then something happened and we realized that we could not stay where we were.

  • The transformation was a difficult journey and some did not make it.

  • Looking back it was all worth it. Now things are much better. Our future, looking forward, is bright.

ExampleThere is no one else in the corporate world who has so taken to heart the essential lessons of sustainability — and then put them into practice. "From my experience, it's a false choice between the economy and ecology," says Ray Anderson. "We can have both — and we have to have both."Anderson came to green passions relatively late in his business life. He'd started Interface from scratch in 1973, and by the mid-1990s built it into a major player, generating nearly $1 billion a year in revenues. The environment wasn't on Anderson's radar screen; Interface complied with government regulations, but never went further. But in the 1990s, customers started asking him about the environmental impact of his business, and in 1994 he read a book called The Ecology of Commerce by the environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken, which criticized the tremendous waste in much of industry. "It was a spear in my chest."DiscussionLike caterpillars and butterflies, transformation involves a deep change that leads to people emerging very different from when they entered the process.Transformational stories often use the metaphor of a journey, often an adventurous one with hardships along the way.