Recast the Past

Use Your History To Tell The Story You Want

The Spider-Man story has been rebooted three times in the last 15 years. The story of Peter Parker shifts each time with different characters brought into the foreground; Aunt May gets younger every movie!. But what doesn’t change are key facts: Uncle Ben will die and Peter will mull over His final words, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Purists argue over the alteration of history, but the vast majority just enjoy the movies, pouring billions into Marvel’s coffers.

I worked with Jill, a CEO for a growing financial services business. She was at a crossroads. They had evolved from the founders’ focus on serving the poor with a few offerings, to a more affluent set of customers. While very profitable, board members continued to focus on a past that was no longer relevant operationally. Lamenting a ‘loss of focus’, they continue to reference their history, rendering future visioning difficult. Denying their history would cause a lot of resentment. What could she do?

Words we use and stories we tell are fundamental drivers of corporate culture and employee behavior. They become embedded and companies lose sight of their meaning. When changing culture, it is easier for an outsider to catch and challenge the phrases and stories that reinforce particular values, thinking, and strategies.

Like Spider-Man, we can honour our past without being chained to it. For my client, she continued to tell the stories, but in a new way, de-emphasizing the class of people served, while increasing the focus on the quality of service and passion of the founders.

This is not spin. For the longest time I thought there was only one “Last Supper” – DaVinci’s. In fact, there were many versions painted through history. While the Bible’s text remains unchanged, artists ‘fill in the blanks’, portraying the scene in different ways, emphasizing different aspects. By doing so, we gain greater perspective on the event.

To be sure, re-telling corporate history is not enough to move a culture, but it’s a strong start. Couple it with repetition, phrase-threading, and an alignment of leadership actions consistent with the new direction, and you have a strong rudder for your culture.

My Challenge to You: Pick a story from your past and re-tell it from a different angle:

  • An unseen bystander
  • A person who heard the story second-hand
  • A customer from 10 years in the future

You’ll be surprised what you learn.

Thoughtfully Yours,

Jeff works with growing businesses and aspiring non-profits to help them establish leadership positions. He also works with executives who want to accelerate their growth. Learn more about Jeff here.