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What is a springboard story?

How does it work?

A springboard story is a story that enables a leap in understanding by the audience so as to grasp how an organization or community or complex system may change.

A springboard story has an impact not so much through transferring large amounts of information, but through catalyzing understanding. It enables listeners to visualize from a story in one context what is involved in a large-scale transformation in an analogous context.

The idea of a springboard story was first explained in the book, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations published by Butterworth Heinemann, in October 2000.

The Springboard describes in detail how a springboard story works, as well as how to craft, frame and perform a springboard story.

Not all stories had the springboard effect. The book describes why springboard stories worked well with particular audiences – and why they didn’t with others – and the principles that can help us choose stories that will work with audiences to achieve a particular effect. It also explains the characteristics of springboard stories. Thus springboard stories are told from the perspective of a single protagonist who was in a predicament that is prototypical of the organization’s business. The predicament of the explicit story is familiar to the particular audience, and indeed, it is the very predicament that the change proposal is meant to solve. The stories have a degree of strangeness or incongruity for the listeners, so that it captures their attention and stimulates their imaginations. Diverse readers have found the springboard story a powerful communications tool, e.g.

"For me, reading The Springboard was just that, an amazing spring board for better understanding how to bring strategic change to organizations, how to communicate in ways that impact skeptical audiences and in general, how to rethink knowledge management from a customer perspective. It is also the best thing I have ever read on corporate communication." John Seely Brown, Chief Scientist, Xerox Corp, coauthor of 'The Social Life of Information'

"As a professional who uses storytelling in the business world to catalyze community, I have found The Springboard by Steve Denning to be the manual I wish I had had ten years ago. Over and over again I appreciated his articulate description of the components and dynamics of good storytelling." Seth Kahan,

Steve's subsequent books have continued the exploration and deepened the understanding of springboard stories and their role in leadership.

The Leader's Guide to Storytelling (Jossey-Bass, 2005) shows how springboard stories fit within a larger taxonomy of leadership stories.

The Secret Language of Leadership (Jossey-Bass, October 2007) looks more broadly at the overall challenges of leadership and shows how storytelling fits within those broader challenges. Story isn't the only communcation tool available to leaders: there are also metaphors, questions, images, conversations, offers, challenges and so on. Which tool is most appropriate for which task? Why are some more effective than others in some settings? How does a springboard story fit within this broader framework? How do you put together an overall leadership presentation that has the best chance of sparking enduring enthusiasm from a difficult audience? This book addresses those questions.


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