what is important and what is becoming a serious concern -- simply get clouded?

A: Right. As you say, we are seduced by stories. But on the other hand, we are seduced by fact too, because often you can select them as you please to make whatever case you want.

Q: So for someone in government, working perhaps in a government agency or department, based on your vision of the future, how does he or she approach things differently?

A: I would suggest two things. Internally, for the institution, there is values-based management. This means finding out values, core values and having them acted upon. And not just on paper. What are the values? What do we stand for? Then perhaps collecting stories that illustrate when these values have been acted upon with good results. In other words, stories that offer good examples for the institution to follow. That would be the internal application. The external one would be communicating with the citizen. Realize the citizen is both rational and emotional. So how could we apply storytelling in our communication to get the attention of the citizen? We would, to some degree, have to move away from the rational way of using figures and facts to make a case, and turn to the dramatic and the emotional by effectively telling the story. That might involve, for example, explaining the decision-making processes that are undertaken. Tell citizens. "Here is the problem, and we have been discussing whether we should do this or that. Should we have this regulation or that regulation? After discussing the matter at length, we think that perhaps is the best course. But we aren't completely sure. What do you think?"

In operating that way, government institutions would start to appear more as human institutions, which means admitting you are not perfect. When anyone tries to act like they are perfect or don't make mistakes, he or she will run into a problem. People will go out of their way to try to show they are not perfect. That's what you have, for example, all these anti-McDonald's home pages accusing them of whatever. If you present yourself as being too good or too perfect, then you get a negative reaction.

In government, that would mean a lot more openness about dilemmas, about mistakes and how you resolve the problems and all these kind of things government institutions have to deal with. They have a tradition of saying, "We are perfect. We don't make mistakes. And if someone is accusing us of making mistakes, we deny it." Well, that is not good storytelling.

Q: And we are seeing more and more that this will blow up in their faces.

A: It will. Here's a funny twist on that. Here in Denmark, one consultant I know made a lot of money, so he bought a Rolls Royce. In social democratic Denmark, it is not exactly forbidden to buy a Rolls Royce, but you do have a problem in how people start to perceive you. So people were coming up to him and saying, "Hey, you bought a Rolls?" At first, he would justify the extravagance by saying he did a lot of driving. That didn't really go over too well. So the next time he got criticized for buying a Rolls, he changed his answer. He said, "It's to show off." And then people started responding, "Yeah, but you are driving a lot too, aren't you?" The conclusion from that one: If you are open and talk honestly about what you do, you are likely to get more support. But if your answer is not believable, if it isn't credible, then you don't get the support.

Q: Openness now needs to involve access to the processes, access to

Blake Harris  |  Editor