Story Of Us

Collective Fiction

Interesting thing here. Here’s an excerpt from a blog post I’m reading (unrelated to this idea):

Recently I read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari. The basic thesis of the book is that humans require ‘collective fictions’ so that we can collaborate in larger numbers than the 150 or so our brains are big enough to cope with by default. Collective fictions are things that don’t describe solid objects in the real world we can see and touch. Things like religions, nationalism, liberal democracy, or Popperian falsifiability in science. Things that don’t exist, but when we act like they do, we easily forget that they don’t.

We’ve passed 150 people at my company, but I don’t think we’ve invested enough in our Collective Fiction that explains us and what we’re doing. This is why I’ve been so obsessed with communicating context lately.

We need to spend more time telling the story of Us so that we all understand who we are and how we get things done.

A shared sense of Us enables us to make decisions in an aligned way and work together cohesively.

This also explains why startups usually feel so different from big companies—the big companies have a much harder time telling a compelling story that staff wants to buy into. The good ones do a better job at this.

So: who are we? Our values are one way to describe it, but also our shared history, and our shared perspective on the future—our vision. This is why describing a vision more clearly than just the long term helps—it puts our actions in context and if aligned to Who We Are, it Makes Sense.

In my previous entry I wrote about how to set a vision. But I didn’t really write about why it’s so important. Vision enables us to tell our story.

Shared History

A shared history is important too. Most people are good at telling their history—they love to tell stories about themselves and their past, especially if it has been successful. But telling a history intentionally is something else, and can take some planning.

An Intentional History brings out why your values are what they are. It shows us how we’ve made decisions in the past and enables future decisions in line with how we want to get things done.

  • “Of course to solve this problem Amy and Bob collaborated” - clearly we value collaboration to solve hard problems
  • “Charlotte sacrificed sleep for 3 days to get the product to market” - we value sleepless nights and hero culture
  • “Doug cleverly put in a clause that helped us win the next deal” - we value deception

These stories can be powerful, so be intentional with how you tell them.

Story Of Now

It takes daily practice to tie our history and our vision to our current action. Why are we working on X project? What is it in service of? What’s next? How much time do we spend on this thing? Do we build it to last or build it for the moment? You can answer these questions if you understand the Story of Now.

Think about the stories you tell, they’re how you grow an organization.

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