The Beauty of Narratives in the Workplace
The beauty of a story-if indeed it possesses beauty-is one thing, if not the major thing, that separates the story from other kinds of communication in organizations. Those other kinds, such as reports or lists, are relevant communication in organizations, but it’s rare, indeed, that they qualify as aesthetic documents (Czarniawska, 1998). But a lack of agreement is part of the deﬁnition of beauty in the ﬁrst place. White (1996) uses Kant’s conceptualization to say we ﬁnd things beautiful that we cannot necessarily articulate. He uses the term “purposiveness without purpose” (p. 202) to account for when we are drawn to something that we cannot explicitly account for. Again using Kant, White (1996, p. 202) adds still more complexity to the term when he says that “beauty is necessary,” which means that when we see something as beautiful, we expect others to necessarily see it in the same way and are surprised when everyone does not. Certainly that is true for the beauty of stories, and a theme we have emphasized throughout this book applies once again at this place. Since everyone has the right to tell a story and the right to critique a story, we also have the imperial right to say someone else’s story is boring and for them to ﬁnd ours, even ones that we have carefully crafted, guilty of the same fault. In contemporary culture, we know aesthetics primarily from its opposite: anesthetics,
as in anesthesiology, which is meant to deaden all senses. This is why it is remarkable that some people-redheads, for example-can still perceive remarks made about them by the operating team even when under deep anesthesia, and will require a
20% larger dose of medication to knock them out. The focus on senses is in keeping with the ancient Greek deﬁnition of the term; in the eighteenth century, German scholarship expanded the term to focus on beauty (White, 1996). Our development of this theme in this chapter makes use of both trends. Part of the power of stories can be found in our common assumptions about
child-rearing and aesthetics. According to the political philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre (1981), children who are deprived of stories are unscripted and anxious in actions and words. Stories are aesthetic in that they allow for the exploration of feelings, identity, and meaning. The capacity of a narrative to engage our feelings and to capture important cultural information about identity and worthiness places it at the center of most of our lives. Stories are beautiful communication; they have the capacity to engage the senses that respond to quality. Conversations and human action are enacted narratives. A narrative includes what someone is saying or doing about an event-located in a context (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988). Stories are basic to placing oneself in the world-whether it is about the knowledge of a farm operation or the beauty of seeing workers toss broken tile from the roof of a near-by building. Prior to moving to Strati’s initial example, we will summarize the contents of this chapter that we take up immediately after his story. We follow Strati with a statement on the meaning of aesthetics, four stories demonstrating aesthetics, and then an application we call “elevation” that sets up a ﬁnal story that demonstrates the connection between the idea of elevation and an aesthetic story.