“Using Narrative and Telling Stories”

by David M. Boje


May 10, 2000


To appear in the Book: The Manager as a Practical Author

Editors (David Holman and Richard Thorpe)

Publisher: Sage




We know that managers are storytellers and do story work (some better than others), but what stories are they telling, and how can they tell a better story in a pluralistic, postmodern world? And how do managerial processes, the story work, control what stories get told? I want to make four practical author points in this chapter:

·        1. Managers are taught and socialized to participate in organizing processes that control stories, storytellers, and constructions of storytelling work in complex organizations.

·        2. Managers learn to listen to and to evaluate stories being told through administrative processes that reauthor the self and make the personal experience narratives of employees and customers impossible to hear.

·        3. Managers may learn how to "live into" stories of the other without via experiential and democratic dialogic processes.

·        4. Each of these has consequences for narrative ethics.

Let us begin with a story.

As we sat at our tables La Provinceal restaurant in the Paris resort hotel, every half-hour the waiters and waitresses did a choreographed dance routine. They formed a chorus line, waving flags, kicking their feet in unison, lip-syncing their lines, as they maintained the biggest smiles I have seen any food workers display.  Our friends from France assured us "this does not exist in France."  We remarked, "It is the Las Vegatization and Disneyfication of Paris, this is fake Paris." As our French guests asked for dishes in French, the waitress said she only spoke a few words of French, such as "Bonjour and Merci." "Is Angelique your real name?" I asked. "It is really Angela" she replied. As we watched the waiters and waitresses perform, it stuck we discussed how they were performing stories that were not their own. They were apparently trained in just enough French to simulate the French employee but trained (as at Disney) to smile and perform narrative acts that rendered them little more than "smiling robots" in a simulation of a Parisian restaurant.  As customers we participated in the spectacle, applauding their narrative performances, sometimes failing to notice differences between their ritual tellings and what we had each experienced in the "real" Paris. What kind of training had these people been through to learn their storylines and choreography? In what ways did this Paris simulation control Angela's story and her presentation of self? In what ways do managerial processes control the storytelling?


Role of stories in organisations, Importance of story telling for Managers


Managers tell and hear stories everyday. Managers construct and tell stories; they do the storytelling work of complex organizations. Stories are used as oral cultural memory, as ways to rewrite history to legitimate the moves in the present, and to articulate the future. What are vision statements, if not stories of a quest to some utopian future? Managers need to also understand how stories are making sense of their work, organization, community, and industry contexts. Stories are part of the collective sense making of the organization.  It takes a pluralistic community of tellers to construct and control stories of an organization.  The “context” of story matters; the context of meaning to story is fashioned by the work of creating and interpreting stories in relation to other stories. Managers are therefore embedded in a web of stories, some navigate the web, others get caught in it and lose their ability to narrate a personal account.



Problems with storytelling, Narrative ethics, Recapturing the narration of personal experience.


I assume that collective storytelling processes can dominate and marginalize personal experience narrative. This raises concerns of narrative ethics (Newton, 1995). Who narrates another's' story?  Collective storytelling processes can surrender narrative ethics. I assume that situated personal experience narrative can be brought from background to foreground through an improved understanding of storytelling processes of complex organization (Czarniawska, 1997; Barry & Elmes, 1997). Narrative ethics in organizations can be improved and developed (Yuthas & Dillard, 1999). Manager, worker, and customer tacitly agree to tell their stories with fragments of organizational jargon and replicating scripts of official narration. This includes how the manager rationalizes the storytelling process: becoming a judge of stories, change agent to stories, trainers of workers in scripted roles, and even rehistoricizing the past to make way for narrative visions of the future (e.g. “we will be an “edge of chaos” firm”).

Organizations are constituted by the stories told to customers, vendors, employees, and communities. Prior work has assumed that modern storytelling processes overwhelm the premodern folkloric capacity for experiencing the self and community. Opinions vary as to how overwhelmed modern organizations are by the postmodern narrative condition of the fragmented and poly-voiced narrative. At one extreme the individual is no longer assumed to be able to recount their life story, their experiences become marginal to various modern storytelling processes that Lyotard (1984) has called the grand narrative (e.g. scientific and bureaucratic).  It is also assumed that workers and customers live out the story as told by the CEO to the Wall Street Journal, unable to articulate unmediated personal experience narratives.  Yet, in the postmodern world of fragmentation (Bauman, 1993, 1995) and the chaos of overwhelming complexity (Kauffman, 1993; Stacey, 1992, 1993, 1996), it is also assumed that the individual can no longer narrate in ways that recover a sense of cohesive identity. In the more radical postmodern versions we live lives without coherence or meaning slipping down a slope that simulates both time and place but is no longer grounded.

But not everyone wishes to live the robotic narratives of modernity or the fragmented existence of postmodernity.  Here I am not interested in polemics of the triumph of modernity over premodern or postmodern over modern, and vice versa. Rather, I wonder if individuals are able to narrate their personal experience at all.  I seek to create a space for dialogue between various premodern, modern and postmodern perspectives on storytelling in complex organizations that might return the individual to the stage of narration.  But, to do so it is necessary to explore how such stages are controlled and constructed to pre-empt personal experience narratives. In this regard, Best and Kellner (1997) argue for a more “moderate” postmodern turn in which there is interplay between grand and more local narrating. Similarly Alvesson and Deetz (1996) look at critical modernism and skeptical postmodern as two sides of the coin. These theory moves hold out the possibility that a modernist and postmodernist can dialogue in non-polemic ways.

The manager as practical author drags the storyteller out of their personal experience narrative to learn a substitute organization story of self and other. But that managed substitute may leave the person worse off.  The so-called "postmodern turn" (Best & Kellner, 1997) returns people's personal and community stories to their premodern import. The individual once again takes ownership of their personal experience life story. This means substituting personal narrative for organizational scripted bureaucratic narrative as well as defragmenting the postmodern identity. But in many cases the legitimacy and knowledge needed to tell one's personal experience narrative has been surrendered to complex organizing forces of socialization, technological conversion, official strategic narrative control, edge of chaos, and charismatic vision narrations. We are not able to narrate freely in both the modern and postmodern sense of personal freedom (Hallstein, 1999: 39-42).

Narrative Ethics - narrative ethics is a method for gathering and interweaving multiple ways of telling the story of self and other. Narrative ethics "here does not mean systematic arrangement of checks and balance[s]; rather it means the performance of the singular claims narrative acts elicit" (Newton, 1995: 116). Sometimes ethical narrative means telling a story in ways it would be told in the absence of managerial control.  Narrative ethics can mean telling stories that are difficult to assimilate and more difficult to hear. Medical ethics (Nicholas & Gillett, 1997; Anderson, 1998), feminist ethics (Hallstein, 1999), psychoanalytic ethics (Guigon, 1998), Bioethics (Martin, 1999), and postmodern ethics (Bauman, 1993) inform this writing of narrative ethics. Consistent with these approaches are several questions that constitute what I mean by narrative ethics:

1.      Whose story is being told by the organization?

2.      Who gets to tell a story to whom?

3.      What narrative framework is being given authority?

4.      How do those who resist dominant storytelling processes fare?









Defining the storytelling Organization


            Here we will integrate storytelling and collective organizing processes, in a definition of “storytelling organization.”

The thesis of this chapter is managers manage the "storytelling organization," the narrative processes that are embedded in storying of self and other within organizations and across organizations and markets and global commerce.

In prior work, we have argued that organizations are "storytelling organizations" (Boje, 1991a, 1991b, 1994, 1995, 1999; Gephart, 1991; Boyce, 1995; Kaye, 1996; Boje, Luhman & Baack, 1999). Storytelling organization is defined as the "collective storytelling system in which the performance of stories is a key part of members' sense-making and a means to allow them to supplement individual memories with institutional memory" (Boje, 1991a: 106). For example, in a narrative analysis, Walt Disney enterprises was theorized as a storytelling organization in which an active-reactive interplay of premodern, modern, and postmodern discourses occurred and official stories triumphed over or accommodated more marginal ones.

Story has a strange subordinated relation to narrative. "The term narrative is a story retold in the voice of another person" (Anderson, 1998: 169).  Storytelling organizations exist to tell or “narrate” their collective stories, to live out their collective stories, to be in constant struggle over getting the stories of insiders and outsiders straight. At one extreme, the storytelling organization can oppress by subordinating everyone and collapsing everything to one "grand narrative" or "grand story." At the other extreme, the storytelling organization can be a pluralistic and libratory construction of a multiplicity of stories, storytellers, and story performance events.

Narrative Frames - In this chapter, I extend this work by exploring the control differences among five ideal type storytelling organizations: bureaucratic, quest, chaotic, postmodern, and hybrid inter-story storytelling organizations (See Figure One). These types are derived from Frank's (1995) work on medical narratives in the Wounded Storyteller and on work primarily in medical narrative ethics (Nicholas & Gillett, 1997; Anderson, 1998; Tovey, 1998). I have changed several labels, resituated the typology from medical ethics to the narrative ethics of complex organizations, and added the fifth hybrid type (inter-story). After developing the first four types, I will suspend the manager storyteller and administrator of the inter-storytelling processes that interpenetrate and interconnect the ideal types in what I term "inter-story storytelling organization."  Rather than seeing quest and bureaucratic supplanted and replaced by chaotic or postmodern storytelling organization, the idea I have is to theorize them in interaction, in layers and strands, and as intertextual and multi-layered processes. 

What I shall attempt to make clear here is how various narrative processes, be they modern or postmodern constitute storytelling organizations. For example, the employees' and the customers' life story is more than any reconstructed version a modern or postmodern organization can reauthor, retell and control. I assume managers, customers, workers and communities are embedded in networks of storytelling relationships and responsibilities (plots and characterizations) that control personal narrative. And I assume that there are multiple ways to make sense of these storytelling relations and processes of control. 

Figure 1: Interactive Storytelling Organization Types                 


Monophonic                                                                Polyphonic
ß - -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -à Narrative




  • Hierarchy
  • Red Tape
  • Functional
  • Stuck in Tradition


  • Chaos
  • Complexity
  • Adaptive Systems
  • Edge of Chaos



  • Call 
  • Journey 
  • Return 
  • Reorganization and change Adventures




  • Flows between Cells
  • Intertextual
  • Polysemous
  • Multi-Layered & Embedded
  • Story networking behaviors
  • Excess not in this Taxonomy
  • Hybrids



  • Post-Industrial
  • Post-Fordist
  • Late Modern
  • Postmodern




There are two dimensions in Figure One that array the various storytelling organization ideal types.  The first is monophonic/polyphonic. A monophonic narrative has one voice that narrates for everyone else, raising obvious narrative ethics questions. In organization studies, this narrator is typically the voice of the CEO, the spokesperson for bureaucratic and quest storytelling organizations. In more polyphonic narrative processes, there are many centers, a plurality of narrators, and narratives themselves can lack in cohesion and consensus, suspended in complexity and fragmentation. I assume bureaucratic and quest narratives are more monophonic, while chaos and postmodern are more polyphonic.

The second dimension is scientific/aesthetic knowledge. For Lyotard (1984: 7) the scientific narrative is paradigm of progress and economic growth realized through technical knowledge. Both bureaucratic and chaos storytelling organizing processes appeal to the legitimacy of science knowledge, be it Taylor’s scientific management or Fayol’s science of administration, reengineered information systems, TQM, or new kinds of fractals and complexity curves.

"Scientific knowledge narratives" compete with other kinds of knowledge narratives that I choose to call "aesthetic." An "Aesthetic knowledge narrative" does not make appeals to technical rationality as the basis for its legitimation. The ethical issue in the vertical dimension is who decides what knowledge is legitimate?  In the quest and postmodern storytelling organizing processes, legitimacy is the function of what Joseph Campbell calls mythic journeys or quests told in ritualized formula of narration, as well as self-reflective accounts that defy formula. In the postmodern narrative formulas for how to tell and listen to stories is meaningless lacking any "horizon of consensus" or an agreement on any one-language game (Lyotard, 1984: 24-25).  "Lamenting the 'loss of meaning' in postmodernity boils down to mourning the fact that knowledge is no longer principally narrative" (p. 24). If the legitimacy of scientific knowledge narratives is functionality, usefulness, and performativity (work till you drop) played out in games of technology then aesthetic knowledge legitimacy is through the Life of the spirit. As we shall explore ethics comes into play throughout Figure One since consensus on narrative ethics to paraphrase Lyotard (1984: 61) "is a horizon that is never reached." Consensus is however not the only goal of dialogue, a multiplicity of voices can be heard and understood without totalizing into one story fits all.

Descriptions of bureaucratic, quest, chaos, postmodern and inter-story story telling organisations.  This section will define the ideal types and show how these different narratives are problematic and how managers play a role in creating such problems by using these types of narrative.

Bureaucratic Storytelling Organizations - Managed process of organizing can overwhelm personal experience narratives with the technical language of managerial control, including reducing “individual story” to entries into personnel databases to facilitate the administration of storytelling in complex organizations. Stories so quantified, normalized, and digitized standardize personal stories and make the control of individuals more predictable. Managerial acts can play a role in creating linear, rationalized, and over-controlled storytelling processes. The basic human fear is to be invisible in someone else's narration.

Max Weber's bureaucratic ideal type was supposed to correct the deficiencies of premodern feudal and charismatic authority structures. And all bureaucracies claim up and down they are not a pyramid or that the pyramid is being flattened or otherwise reformed.   Professionalization and the division of labor were considered acts of progress resulting in more efficient orders, but as Weber notes at the end of the Protestant Ethic, the iron cage of rationality has its own dysfunction. This dysfunction is what Ritzer (1993) terms the "irrationality of rationality." The manager participates in bureaucratic processes that render storylines predictable; life is always getting better through successive reforms in administrative process, be they TQM, reengineering, or knowledge organization transformations. But if one peels back the narratives of rationality, there is a swarm of "vulnerability, futility, and impotence" (Frank, 1995: 97).  This can mean that storylines of coherent sequences of events told in the official and proper narrative do not adequately reflect the lived irrational experience of customers and workers. Predictability is embedded in causal processes that are known and systematized, but cove over more chaotic event structures.  Stories in bureaucratic storytelling organizations are made more linear, rationalized, and controlled than either customer or work narrative might otherwise give account. And we are seduced to abandon our lived experiences of complex organization as "real."  And for these reasons there are important questions of narrative ethics to be explored. 

Linearity - The bureaucratic storytelling organization turns chaotic adaption or quest adventure (in the other types) into a linear account of the self. Linear processes correlate with linear storylines. Working within a bureaucracy is hardly a story of adventure, unless one thinks of standing in lines at the Motor Vehicle Department, McDonalds, or Disneyland an adventure. And as we finish our time in line, we interact in ways that are a linear script, with lines of both customer and employee scripted.  The narrative process in the bureaucratic storytelling organization is ritualized.  In terms of narrative ethics, there is fake friendliness, scripted salutations, and insincerities in McDonalidized storytelling organizations (Ritzer, 1993: 85). Linear storylines are more predictable for both customer and employee. Managing the telling of a linear story while withholding a more non-linear account raises ethical questions. The bureaucratic storytelling organizations can become a demand for a linear storytelling, and managers can become complicit in over-learning linear performances.

Rationalization - Our storylines become standardized, formalized, systematized, routinized, and finally digitized in the methodical processes of the bureaucratic storytelling organization. With computerization the modern bureaucracy converts the life of customer and employee into the digitized story. Before computers batteries of standardized tests constructed a story entered into a personnel fold. This process has become digitized. Our digitized story is used to trace, select, construct, represent, and control the body.

Control - In the chaos storytelling organization there is a pretense of control. And this pretence can deny the suffering of those who shop or work there. Organizations can subtly undercut the narrative experience by socializing them into another narrative that exhibits the plot and characterizations of control.  The challenge in bureaucratic acts of reform is to hear the personal experience narrative. 

Quest Storytelling Organization - In the quest narrative, Joseph Campbell describes the hero of the journey who has a compelling story to tell. The quest narrative focuses upon the voice of the hero while marginalizing others who participate in the journey or experience of the consequences of the elixir spread over those who await the return. We can become robots in some quest for quality. Spontaneity and authenticity become the exception to the norm in a quest for product quality and over-scripted performances of quality service. Narratively, the journey experiences are organized in the telling to be both coherent and meaningful and can be the dominant theme of strategy (Barry & Elmes, 1997).  Joseph Campbell defined the quest narrative as composed of three essential segments: the call, journey, and return. There is a call to adventure, and after some false starts and meeting and recruiting companions the hero departs on the journey. The hero of the tale is overwhelmed by life and takes off on a journey where more overwhelming events unfold.  This threshold of departure crossed, the journey begins with some act of initiation that involves a series of trials. These usually mold the journey mob into a mighty team. Along the journey the hero can be tempted and even atone for transgressions.  In the end of the journey, the hero is transformed, returning not only with the loot, but also with values that have been transformed.  In the return, the hero has mastered the pain and suffering of chaos.

In film we see at least two types of quest journeys. Hercules slugs his way through a never-ending list of more and more powerful opponents. And at the last match, barely able to win against overwhelming odds and great risk. The other motif is more spiritual, where through the agony of trial, even defeat, the hero is initiated into the agony of atonement. Both hero-types return to convince others who did not go on the journey that they have the magic sword or the magic wisdom.

Question storytelling organizations, as an ideal type, construct the romantic tale of the heroic CEO. As Barry and Elmes (1997) argue many strategy narratives, including SWOT analysis adopt an heroic and romantic emplotment. Can the heroic journey the quest for the magic elixir that will transform corporate excess and inefficiency into responsible enterprise be an oppressive narrative?  We can explore this question by looking at the narrative demands for how chaos is registered and understood.

The hero of the quest meets chaos head on and seeks to master its secrets. In organization writing, the quest narrative affords the CEO the most distinctive voice.  Most Harvard case are variations of a quest narrative, with the triumphant CEO, returning from the reorganization or acquisition adventure with the boon.  Chaos itself can be part of the organizational call that prompts a journey into the unknown and promises something is to be gained through the experience of chaos along the way.  The most recent writing about CEOs stresses their "spiritual journey," as a discovery of great wisdom and enlightenment, not to mention higher existential meaning.

The journey storytelling control processes, I assume, can mask the polyphony of other stories.  The quest narrative can be a denial of the chaotic rifts in the existential fabric, offering up a boon that is a band aide. Can the heoric CEO journey and the tale of the transforming organization continue to mask and overwhelm the kinds of tragic consciousness that pervades the lay experience of complex organization? 

I agree with Frank (1995: 119) who observes "the conquering hero is on the modernist side of the postmodernist divide."  Both the chaos and postmodern narrative confront us with narrative holes that bureaucratic and quest storytelling organizations can not practically fill.

Chaos Storytelling Organization - Chaos storytelling organization, as an ideal type, is at the opposite continuum of bureaucratic storytelling organization. Bureaucratic storytelling organization presupposes order, coherence, and control, the opposite of chaos.  Chaos is the exposure of the pit of the narrative wreckage bureaucratic and quest tales seek to cover. At the same time chaos storytelling organization appeals to the legitimacy of scientific knowledge (Kauffman, 1993) in ways that marginalizes how people experience the suffering in chaos. Organizational practice is shrouded in scientific legitimacy through abstraction, with theories of fractal chaos, complexity and strange attractors.  "Chaos stories represents the triumph of all that modernity seeks to surpass" and the chaos story "traces the edges of a wound that can only be told around" (Frank, 1995: 97-98). Given the drone of the orderly bureaucratic narrative, the chaos narrative is hard to hear. The plot of the chaos storytelling organization is life never gets better, especially when one tumbles into the abyss. And the structure of the chaos narrative is in fragments and told as it is lived, with a syntactic structure of "then this happened and then that happened and then another event occurred."  The bureaucratic and quest narrative cannot stitch the wounds of chaos. The chaos story is not only improper because the storyteller uses "an then this happened" and "then that happened" without tying the events to some orderly plot, but the events are not ordered or grasped by some retrospective act of narrative reflection. Telling such improper stories of an organization life out of control while others expect to hear tales of coherent and order, only partially punctuated by surprise can be illegitimate. The defining characteristic of Frank's (1995: 97) chaos narrative is: "events are told as the storyteller experiences life: without sequences or discernable causality."   The chaos storytelling organization process provides narrative space to tell stories without plots and causal sequence, where no one is in control.

A caveat is necessary. I do not mean here the chaos storytelling organization of the chaos theorists, those that trace the emergence of discernable, yet non-linear patterns that can revert to linear pathways or even to randomness and noise at any moment. Chaos theorists (Kauffman, 1993) do not experience chaos as a wound or as the narrative wreckage of existence. Rather I seek to explore chaos as it is narratively experienced by employees and customers before they attend an "edge of chaos" postmodern consulting seminar (Bergquist, 1993) or read the latest Santa Fe Institute narrative. Chaos is the wound to the bureaucratic body of storytellers in complex organizations that no act of consulting narrative can fill in.  This is not to deny that the "edge of chaos" narrative insults the bureaucratic storytelling processes. Promising more efficiency form acts of randomness and emergence.  It merely points out that the stories of those living in the chaos can not be told in quest or bureaucratic storytelling control processes. 

The chaos storytelling organization is not mediated in acts of retrospective sensemaking. "To turn the chaos into a verbal story is to have some reflective grasp of it" (Frank, 1995: 98). It is as if the body of the storyteller has been swept overboard, and is without control over life's quintessential contingency.  Yet, a story is told, but one that not so mediated by what Weick terms retrospective sensemaking, where there is less distance or reconstruction by reflection.  "The person living the chaos story has no distance form her life and no reflective grasp on it" (p. 98). The chaos story is "anti-narrative," without a coherent sequence of events connecting to each other in time and space and without the meditating grasp of retrospection (Frank, 1995: 93).  Chaos stories are lived, not told in acts of cohesion, and the voice that narrates is chaos itself as it possesses the storyteller.

This brings up an important point of narrative ethics. The organization literature on chaos theory overwhelms the lay person's experience of chaos. As I explained the chaos storytelling organization to a chaos theory professor, he replied: "they don't understand the dynamics of emergence in chaos theory." But, this response that the theory has mediated and retrospectively ordered lay experience. In this sense chaos theory overwhelms the lived experience of chaos in complex organization. Chaos narrators speak in fragments which chaos theory defragments, making it more a bureaucratic or quest emplotment. When processes of storytelling management and organization over-determine the situational experiences and the ways one experiences chaos as a bottomless pit, then there is a question of narrative ethics. 

Chaos stores are told on the edges of the wound and therefore on the edges of speech (p. 1010). Chaos stories are about "the silences that speech cannot penetrate or illuminate" (Frank, 1995: 101). "Chaos is what can never be told; it is the hole in the telling" (p. 102).  The bureaucratic narrative is the total denial of the chaos narrative, while the quest uses chaos as a learning opportunity. In certain quests, there is a way out of the abyss. "All of us on the outside of some chaos want assurances that if we fell in, we could get out" (Frank, 1995: 102). 

What chaos theorists offer is ironically the same boon the bureaucratic and quest narrative hold out, to keep chaos at bay and once encountered to neutralize the effects of its interruption to order, coherence, and purpose. Chaos theorists restore faith in the modernist project by substituting a narrative of emergent chaos-control for the lay experience of chaos as senseless suffering. Modern organization theory seeks to romanticize the experience of chaos, overwhelming any tragic rifts in the existential fabric of complex organization.

Postmodern Storytelling Organization - The customer, employee and manager's life space becomes reduced to the circulation of fragmented stories across administrative networks that overwhelm the life narrative of the self and how people might otherwise tell and hear their life stories.  In the chaos narrative, there is a listener to hear and vicariously witness the unmediated telling of incoherent events of chaos and overwhelming contingency.  Postmodern narrating is a critical witness to modern times (Cooper & Burrell, 1988; Currie, 1998). As in the chaos pattern, there are fragments of memory overwhelmed by situated occurrence that do not settle into the coherence of meaningful journey or bureaucratic order. But in the postmodern storytelling organization process there is a conscious act of the storyteller to struggle to gain sovereignty over his or her own experience. In this sense, the difference between chaos and postmodern storytelling organization processes, is the more active role-played by self-reflection.  The difference with bureaucratic and quest narrative is that the retrospective sense making is fulfilled by the dialogue of storytellers and story listeners.  Yet, this is not the dialogue, which Senge writes, about in which stakeholders in the experience seek some type of narrative consensus or Habermasian rules of communicative order. There is not a grand narrative here, only a polyphonic expression of bits and pieces of narration.  As with the chaos narrative there are too many events happening to fit neatly under the façade of the bureaucratic storytelling organizing processes.  And some events simply do not fit even when given the retrospective sense making of the quest storytelling processes.  In both postmodern and chaos storytelling organizations there is no narrative coherence at the call to recite a story. Yet, in the postmodern processes there is an act of collective reflection that does not rob the individual of their self-reflective experience narrative. As with chaos, in the postmodern narrating there is an overwhelming sense of uncertainty as to what is being received. Acts of self-reflection creates a space and time to slow the events and interruptions down.

The most important difference between unmediated chaos stories and postmodern ones is the use of deconstruction.  The stories as told deconstruct the experience and in some cases the telling. For example, in a postmodern medical narrative, the postmodern narrating calls into question the experience of the sufferer as just the medical charts, financial statements and hospital procedures (Franks, 1995: 144). Further, the life experience of the individual is not subsumed by a collective narrative account. The personal experience narrative is therefore recovered in the telling.  However, this is the ideal, and the ideal is not often realized in the management of postmodern organization. As in the other types, the postmodern storytelling organization is a collective process that may or may not be experienced by the individual as a liberating structure.

My first contribution is a narrative ethics looks at how the manager rationalizes and appropriates the story and voice of the "Other" in administering the processes of the storytelling organization. The bureaucratic and quest storytelling organization processes have little tolerance for chaos and postmodern narratives. 

In all four storytelling organization processes, the personal experience narrative is inadmissible, reshaped, shattered or surrendered. Bureaucracy is scarcely able to imagine chaos as anything beyond disorder, much less hear stories of chaos as anything but calls to tighten the iron cage or rationality. A quest narrative sees a pedagogical role to chaos, so that one can return from the edge of the abyss or the inferno itself with some useful lessons. 

Narrative ethics enters the storied arena of complex organizations, because the employee's and customers life space is more than various storytelling organization processes can register and retell. No fragment of life, however simulated or typical, can stand in as the life story of the individual.  Yet somehow the individual voice and personal narrative can loose legitimacy next to the reconstructive narrative processes of the storytelling organization. The personal story always has more to tell than the official institutional narrative processes that represent the self. The practical manager manages storytelling processes in ways that construct the bureaucratic and quest (heroic journey) storytelling organizations that can rob both customer and employee of their life story, forcing them into processes that substitute a more sanitized quest or bureaucratic account of the self. And the chaos and postmodern narrative also robs the individual of personal experience.  Only on rare occasions in organizations do employees and managers author their fragments in charged moments of personal experience storytelling (Newton, 1995: 105; Frank, 1995: 5).  While looking at the relative dominance and interaction of the first four types is a contribution, the larger issue of inter-story storytelling organization dynamics merits more focused presentation.

Inter-story Storytelling Organizations – The inter-story dynamics raises particular narrative ethic implications for the practical author.  My purpose here is to show how the story telling process can be different, be more in tune with the idea of narrative ethics (e.g., engaging with the narrative of personal experience) and how this might be done by the practical author (i.e., the practical author is aware of the problems of storytelling and wants to co-author narratives with others). And this can include moving from a narrative position that sees the entire organization as a bureaucratic, chaos, quest, or even postmodern storytelling organization.  The deeper question is how do managers balance and inter-weave the various types?  In this section the implications for the practical author will be more fully explored.

Secondly, I look across types to how "inter-stories" in Figure One are simultaneously enacted across four ideal types (bureaucratic, quest, chaotic & postmodern). For now, an inter-story is a process that embeds these ideal forms of storytelling organization in a more hybrid form. My premise is that managers are practical authors and administrators of stories and story processes embedded within multiple layers and stands of storytelling organization processes that are intertextual, and polysemous (many meanings).  Complex organizations represent an intertextual collage of fragmented types depicted in Figure One.

In short, the types presented in Figure One are inter-active, multiple, and inter-penetrating. For example a quest may partially transform a bureaucratic storytelling organization into chaos or postmodern, but not completely, and perhaps only temporarily.  A narrative ethics develops a more co-authored and intertextual construction of narratives as well as and inter-story view of narrative processes, rather than an appeal to universal laws or expert pronouncements about ethics from any one perspective.  After reviewing inter-story and pointing out various narrative ethics and practical implications for managers we will look at the inter-relationships among the five ideal types.

Inter-Story - In Hollywood, a play called Tamara puts the audience in a special relationship with an experimental fiction. Tamara is Los Angeles' longest-running play where a dozen characters unfold their stories before a walking, sometimes running, audience. You do not sit in a seat and watch the play, you become a character in the play, deciding which actor to follow from one scene to the next, knowing all the while that you are missing story fragments played out in the rooms you elected not to go to. I experienced a very different set of stories than someone following another sequence of characters. No audience member gets to follow all the stories since the action is simultaneous, involving different characters in different rooms and on different floors.

Tamara enacts a true story taken from the diary of Aelis Mazoyer. It is Italy, January 10, 1927, in the era of Mussolini. Gabriele d'Annunzio, a poet, patriot, womanizer, and revolutionary who is exceedingly popular with the people, is under virtual house arrest. Tamara, an expatriate Polish beauty, aristocrat, and aspiring artist, is summoned from Paris to paint d'Annunzio's portrait. Tamara speaks to the rhizomatic or what I call "inter-story" relations among the four ideal types of storytelling organizations. Tamara is a play but also a discursive metaphor of the "inter-story" storytelling organization. The characters morph from stage to stage, but unless you follow a given actor you will not see the transformation of say the chauffeur to the aristocrat pretending to be a chauffeur to the spy who pretends to be in love with the maid. The inter-story of Tamara is a wandering linguistic framework in which stories are the medium of interpretative exchange across bureaucratic, quest, chaotic and postmodern perspectives. In the Tamara metaphor, the inter-story consists of many struggling stories, each a particular framing of reality being chased by wandering and fragmented audiences. In its plurivocality, each story masks a diversity and a multiplicity of voices. Instead of remaining stationary, viewing a single stage, the audience fragments into small groups that chase characters from one room to the next, from one floor to the next, even going into bedrooms, kitchens, and other chambers to chase and co-create the stories that interest them the most. If there are a dozen stages and a dozen storytellers, the number of story lines an audience could trace as it chases the wandering discourses of Tamara is 12 factorial (479,001,600).

This would be that case in bureaucratic, quest, chaotic, or postmodern storytelling types. And the types themselves are tangled into one another. As McDonaldization (Ritzer, 1993) points out, modernity did not succumb to postmodernity. Disneyfication and now Las Vegatization is everywhere, as is chaos and fragmentation. Cilliers (1998) sees an intersect of chaos and postmodern. What I am suggesting is a multi-vocal narrative theory of organizations as embedded in layered and stranded storytelling systems.

There are monovocal narratives of bureaucracy and quest competing with polysemous narratives of chaos and postmodern that constructs the very complexity of complex organizations. When the workers' and ecology's pain and suffering are foregrounded in the romantic and triumphant narratives of bureaucracy and quest, then there are important eithical issues to be explored. Who speaks for whom, and can one tell their story at all?  Just as there are when chaos and postmodern fragmentation overwhelm calls for order and meaningful quest.  I see is the dynamic movement of one or another narrative into foreground and background in a never-ending resituation. 

In the inter-story interpretation of Figure One, we can recognize the legitimacy of multiple claims and processes of narrative process. While consensus may not be possible or advisable, the use of dialogue to explore claims is worth exploring. The manager's job, like everyone else's is to make each storytelling organization aware of the other and to be aware of ways that personal narratives are overwhelmed by control processes. 

Narrative ethics need not fall into the abyss of relativity that is so-often used as a weapon of modernists to slay postmodernists. Dialogue is possible. As Bauman (1993) asserts there can be a postmodern narrative ethics. 


Practical Author Implications - The practical author uses stories in four ways.  First, managers tell stories that engage employee and customer in the legitimating knowledge narrative of the firm, be it scientific or aesthetic.  Second, managers as practical authors can decide if they are only champions the official organization stories or are able to listen to and respond to personal experience narratives of employees, customers, and communities. Third, the organizational storytelling organization of any one type, say bureaucratic may not be able to fully ferret out the competing types. Chaos, the quest of the charismatic, and the fragmentation of postmodern narrativity can peak through the mask of bureaucratic hegemony.  Finally, there are issues of voice.  How do you participate in the on-going ways in which many people of an organization put stories together without over-privileging any one narrator?  

Guru stories presented in popular texts and reprinted in textbooks may not be that helpful to practical authors. These tales too often subsume the complexity of the inter-story and Tamara of complex organization into one grand story.  This ignores the many contesting storytelling organization layers, and particularly the personal experience narrative. The official organization story is assumed to be the only story in guru advice.

In this chapter I have attempted to introduce a way to trace the dynamics of monovocal and polyvocal as well as various appeals to knowledge legitimation (scientific and aesthetic). For managers to establish their identity as practical authors of their stories means to be away of the context of the situated process controls over storytelling.

In managerialist storytelling, the managers' story becomes the story. I conclude that managerialist stories (with their one perspective fits all) make many managers and many stakeholders and publics very uncomfortable.  A managerialist story makes the manager the expert, the God-narrator and sole author of the organizational reality. The inter-story admits that there are multiple layers to the storytelling organization.  Many stakeholders narrate in the storytelling organization, and not always in ways that do not agree with the "official" story of corporate quest or rationality. 

The managerialist story is what Harry Braverman (1974) is talking about in the labor process theory.  The manager is the expert, the practical scientist who is given full charge of the labor process (how work gets controlled and done in) by the capitalist owners. The stage has shifted. The manager's myopic role extracting surplus value from the sweat of labor is now set in a more complex inter-story theater, one with a Tamara of many simultaneous stages, and many choices for audiences as complicit story performers to make. The line between actor and audience has been erased.  The managerialist story performed on the single stage as one audience hears but one account is too simplistic in a pluralistic world in which organizations are accountable to many constituents for the stories they perform.

At the level of organization practice, storytelling is how the organization presents its “face’ to the public. And, with most organizations there is a community of storytellers (activists, competitors, customers, and suppliers) ready to alter that image, for better or for worse.  You can see this for example with the Nike, McDonalds, Monsanto and other corporations, who have taken many hits to its public story from the activist counter-stories published in major newspapers around the world.  Disneyland is the storyteller par excellence, able to restory its public image as it extended the Magic Kingdom from North America to Japan and Europe. Yet, its pattern is also actively resisted.

In the layered and stranded approach to storytelling organizing process, I think there is a better story approach for organization practice that would promote dialogue. In this new story approach to storied dialogue, I am not advocating the consensus through dialogue of the learning organization or knowledge organization. In the new story approach, the organization participates in community to see how its story is being told, to listen to counter-stories, and to unfold co-authored tellings. If they find, for example, stories of how their corporate interests dominate and exploit nature, there is storytelling work to do.  If this is just PR work, then the consumers and investors catch on. Spin control goes only so far.

Finally it is possible that an awareness of multiple ways of telling the story while sensitize managers to narrative ethics. And this sensitivity can lead to material changes in the processes for controlling story sharing in ways that change labor and ecological practices. With storytelling, the oral tradition weds discourse to community in practical ways. The manager in dialogue with the Other becomes the practical author.





I have suggested in this chapter there are ways of being practical that include a more pluralized and even democratic and dialogic creation of stories. In practice this moves organization practice outside the hierarchical and mechanist metaphor or quest and chaos metaphor or even postmodern metaphor to practical discourse.

Chaos and postmodern fragmentation that are not necessarily the way all people want to narrate their life experience. If postmodern narration privileges the voice of self over the collective voice and the voice of nature there are ethical concerns. If chaos and postmodern narratives are more about situating claims in webs of dialogue and context than about universal appeals to abstract laws of ethics, one has to ask if all ethical laws are destructive to civilization and cosmos?  Is there a space for dialogue between modern and postmodern positions?  There are personalities who create dysfunction, whose way of being sets of chaotic misery for others (including nature).  They drop a pebble into the water and are not conscious and worse, not caring of its effects. It is also not clear that valorizing the personal experience narrative over the bureaucratic or quest narrative will result in an ethical position. 


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