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  • Andrew Scott

A Four Box Model

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

I have long been a fan of four box models: whether the Eisenhower (urgency/importance) grid, the very useful conscious/competence model of learning, or the famous Boston Matrix. So I thought it would be interesting to devise a four box model about stories. The ManyStory Approach doesn't readily lend itself to this, so this is something of a digression, and relates to the kinds of stories that get told in organisations.

As my two axes, I selected truthfulness and helpfulness, and as I reflected on the resultant quadrants, I thought it did actually have something interesting to offer. The first set of stories that might get told around the organisation are those that are neither true, nor are they helpful. They tell lies about people or events and they are destructive of good relationships. They often deal with stereotypes, or demonise 'them' whilst giving 'us' the chance to feel superior. As I reflected on this, and on examples that I could call to mind, I also remembered that when challenged, those telling them would often claim 'It's just a joke.' I call them slander, and suggest that we should always refrain from spreading them, and should challenge them when we hear them.

The other types of negative story that may circulate are the true ones: stories about people or incidents that are accurate, but that do nothing to foster good relationships or useful learning. People often feel the need to talk about such negative things, sometimes simply to get it off their chest. But often, with hindsight, they will self-describe as 'bitching.' I call these stories defamation; and again suggest that we should not tell them, unless someone has a genuine need to know (eg that someone is untrustworthy). Apart from that, we should find other places to discuss them (eg with trusted friends outside of work) if we need to vent. Better still, if appropriate, we should talk with the individual(s) concerned about what has happened, rather than talk behind their back. (Egan's work on The Shadow Side is very interesting in this regard).

Positive stories, in organisational life, are those that are both helpful and true: stories that illustrate the values of the organisation in action, or the good behaviour of people in adversity; or even of disasters and mistakes, if the intent and effect is to enable and encourage learning, and not to diminish or disrespect individuals (negative stories about oneself are often particularly powerful in this regard, especially when one is a senior or respected figure).

The other interesting category is the helpful stories that are not actually true. Here I am thinking of parables: the kinds of stories we tell to illustrate a truth, even though the story itself may well be made up. Like most facilitators, I am full of these, and I often find that they are what people remember for longest from my programmes.

So now all I need to do is copyright my four box model, find a way to market it across the world, and then I'll move happily into the top right (rich and famous) box of another model where I currently languish towards the bottom left box....

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