Story Telling and Business

Well before the current fascination with story telling and business, the Melbourne Company of Friends held its own special forum.

It was March 2002.

I'd founded a group of readers of Fast Company Magazine a few years earlier and we'd meet monthly to discuss the future of business.  On that night the invite read:

Why is it that business struggles to maintain culture whilst indigenous Australians appear, at least to me, to have developed and maintained a cultural unity for generations. I suspect part of the answers lies in story telling.
Joy Murphy Wandin an Aboriginal Elder of the Wurundjeri people, businesswoman, Chairperson of the Australian Indigenous Consultative Assembly and... has agreed to lead us in a discussion on the importance of story telling.

But by 6pm Joy had not arrived.  She wasn't going to make it.  We were in the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre within the Melbourne Museum and I had 30 people and no speaker.  Or so I thought.

Our security guard for the night was Brendan and, as luck would have it, he was an elder and an exceptional teacher.

It was a long time ago and I remember more about the way he made me feel than what he said.  But my notes tell part of the story.  He referred to us as tribe and spoke about timeless things:

  •  the difference between elders and leaders
  •  the purpose of story and culture
  •  the link between rhythm ( heart beat ) and community
  •  looking and listening before thinking
  •  the importance of walking together in business and all looking and listening

He shared many stories.  But looking back, the most important one was the one I've forgotten.  I don't remember it because it wasn't the story that was important but the lesson he shared.  He separated the tribe by gender.  He told his story and then asked the two groups to discuss what it meant.  The same story was described in two very different ways.  One was "men's business" and the other "women's business".

Brendan ended by getting us all to sing a traditional aboriginal song and do a dance to sing our way home if we were ever lost (in life as much as the Australian bush).

For all the stories on story telling,  it's the one told that night by our accidental leader that holds most true and still exercises an important influence on my work on directorship. 


About the Company of Friends

The Melbourne Company of Friends disbanded in 2003 following 4 years of monthly events.  What we had in common was that we all read Fast Company.  

We were disruptive.  Never meeting in the same place.  Never covering an idea covered somewhere else.  Never following the same format.  Just to be surprised by what would happen - even when 50 people turned up knowing there was no agenda.

Our themes would not be out of place tomorrow - story telling and business,  the role of mindfulness on strategy and how the work place was a self organizing system.   I'll share my notes on some of these events as they seem far more relevant now than they did over a decade ago.  


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