Story Bias: Stories of Hope


Stories of hope tell of what might be.They may speak of the hope for rescue from dire straits, of someone who will save the people and save the organization from the mess in which it finds itself now.

They may also project hope for positive success, of achieving visionary goals, of fat bonuses or of international acclaim.The hope in the story comes may come out in the wistful tone and expressions of desire more than determination. There is typically a sense of dependency on the leader or on external and uncontrollable forces.


Barack Obama has been out of the White House for only a little more than a year. But it's not too soon for historians to begin to assess the impact of his momentous presidency. As President, Obama never let go of the idea of hope. That was what made him so endearing to millions of Americans and shaped much of what he did in the Oval Office. Obama had clearly articulated his understanding of the nation when he came into the spotlight during the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

In the middle of one of the most contentious moments of the era, when Americans were deeply divided over a President who had taken the nation into a costly war in Iraq based on false claims of Weapons of Mass Destruction, then-Illinois Sen. Obama refused to give in to anger and disillusionment. "Even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. ... But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."

Hope was and remains the main pillar of his branding.



Whether the hoped-for end is achieved may well be seen as being out of the hands of the hopers and in the hands of fate. This puts the hoper in a child position, effectively seeking a parent to rescue them.Leaders can use hope stories to show themselves to be in harmony with the hopeful workforce, typically in times of change. The leader may then change the tone and show them the way forward.In organizations, hope stories may originate in Basic Assumption Groups as described by Wilfred Bion, where dependent followers seek a leader who will rescue them.

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.