The Truth About New and Old Stories

The clash of the old and new stories can be seen everywhere. It is painfully visible in organizations that were created to birth the new story, including many nonprofits, churches, and public benefit organizations. People form these organizations in response to the call of the new story; they join together because they know that they can’t birth this dream alone. An organization is required in order to move it forward. The human desires that lead them to organize—to find more meaning in life, to bring more good into the world, to serve others—come from the new story.
Yet as soon as they embark on the task of creating an organization, old ideas and habits arise. These organizations impose structures and roles, develop elaborate plans, use command and control leadership. Over time, the organization that was created in response to the new story becomes a rigid structure exemplifying, yet again, the old story. People come to resent the organization they created, because now it is a major impediment to their creativity, to their hope, to their dreams.
The new story holds out different images of organization—it teaches us that humans, when joined together, are capable of giving birth to the form of the organization, to the plans, to the values, to the vision. All of life is self-organizing, and so are we. But the new story also details a process for organizing that stands in shocking contrast to the images of well-planned, well-orchestrated, well-supervised organizing. I can summarize the organizing processes of life quite simply: Life seeks organization, but it uses messes to get there. Organization is a process, not a structure. - Margaret Wheatley, Finding Our Way

What starts out as a rebellion against an old story eventually becomes an institutionalized one.

This is not a critique. This is the truth.

Chances are you work in one version of the story or another.

Old or New.

You are either at the beginning of the uprising or at the tail end where walls have been built and structure imposed. Perhaps you’re somewhere in the middle.

And so I offer a few questions in light of Wheatley’s words:

If you’re in the early stages of your insurgency will you, in the heat and excitement of launching your never-before-seen venture, have the maturity and guts frankly, to begin cultivating the willingness to take down the walls that will eventually be built to corral your great ideas?


If you’re in the latter stages of the story you’re telling, will you, in the midst of the searing desire to control, manage, and create rigid structures in order to corral your ideas, be willing to to have the maturity, courage, and guts frankly, to embrace the messiness of the process as you work to create yet another new story for your organization (family, life, home)?

It may not feel like you have choice - but I promise, you always do.

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