story harvesting

the missing piece of your company's identity

One of the biggest dilemmas organizations face as they expand into global markets is ensuring that the values that helped to support their growth are not lost in the process. In fact, the spirit and values of an organization are encoded and expressed implicitly in the stories that people share about the deeds and accomplishments of people throughout the organization. These are the hidden assets of your company, and in some ways may be more important than the more apparent assets that appear on your balance sheet. We call them "narrative assets."

The StoryWork Institute specializes in working with companies to help them identify their core values and mission and discover stories out of the life experiences of the people who work there. We have found that these stories, more than any other form of communication, can best reinforce these ideals in the everyday behavior of the people responsible for making things happen. They are also useful as powerful learning tools that can be integrated into knowledge management efforts, orientation and training programs, and recruitment activities.
SWI will work with your organization to collect the stories, edit and write them, as well as develop a cohesive communications strategy for using them in all phases of your organization’s training, orientation, staff development, as well as marketing.

Over the years, the StoryWork Institute has had the privilege of harvesting these stories from the organizational life of some of the nation’s outstanding companies. The following are a few powerful examples of such stories developed from interviews with one of the country’s largest providers of healthcare services to children—Nightime Pediatrics in Salt Lake City which routinely sees approximately 80,000 children a year.

Up Your Nose and In Your Ears
as told by Lori Jensen
It's amazing what finds its way into kids' orifices. I have seen a dozen M&Ms packed so tightly up a child's nose that the only thing the physician could do was wait for them to melt and then have the little boy blow as hard as he could. One young patient was brought in with an acorn firmly planted in her nostril. We concluded that she was storing nuts for the winter. What I love is how kids explain these tricks with their nasal cavities. "I don't know how it got there. It must have fallen in when I looked up at the tree." One of the biggest offenders is the lima bean. Once it gets wet it starts to swell, making our job doubly tough. It wouldn't surprise me to see a sprout coming out of a child's nose one night. Ceramic tile, paper, and about every other kind of foreign object "fall" into kids' ears and noses every day, but, luckily, we are there to pick up the pieces, so to speak. But the best story I could tell you is about Dr. Collin Cowley's last day at Nightime and his triumph over a lowly ant.

It was late in the evening and we were celebrating and wishing Collin success in his new job. We had refreshments and a large going-away cake. That's when a mom walked in with her little boy. Her child claimed he had an ant in his ear. The mother thought that was the most preposterous thing she had ever heard, and kept telling him that it just felt like he had an ant in his ear, but it was an ear infection. I was the nurse that night, so I took out my otoscope to take a look before the doctor came in. Staring back at me was an ant. I don't know what he must have thought when he saw my large eye looming at the other end of the scope. He looked like he had been there for awhile, just wandering around trying to find his way home. In the meantime, the little boy was going nuts with the strange sensation in his ear, and he kept pulling at it and sticking his finger in it as far as he could to scratch and relieve the itch. The ant must have really loved this.

I went and got Dr. Broadbent, informing him that the kid really did have an ant in his ear. Collin was standing nearby eating a piece of cake and Ken asked him, "Heh Collin, what's standard procedure for removing a live ant from a child's ear?" Collin just laughed.

"Ken, you guys are really going to miss me. You see, I happened to do a sub-specialty in ant removal during my residency. It's a tricky out-patient procedure, but I think we can pull it off." With a sly smile, he dipped his finger in the cake icing. "Take me to the patient."

I led the way and introduced Dr. Cowley and Dr. Broadbent to the mother and the little boy. Collin explained that they could probably go into the ear with tweezers to extract the ant, but that would no doubt kill it. He asked the child's permission to try an experiment. Taking his finger that was smeared with icing, he dabbed it on the child's ear, then stepped back. Silently, we all watched and waited. Not more than a minute went by when the little ant poked his head out of the boy's ear and went right for the icing to feast. For a moment, we just stood there in awe.
As I was reaching for the ant with a tissue in my hand, Dr. Broadbent yelled out, "No one touch the ant!"

Being a lover all living things, small and large, he leaned down and put the ant and the icing in his hand. Carefully, he and Collin walked outside and placed our little friend in the bushes along with a piece of cake. Where that ant is today, no one knows. But if he found his way back to his family, I'm certain that every night his grandchildren gather around him and say, "Tell us again, Grandpa, about your journey to the center of the world and how that giant saved your life."

The Barbie Hospital
as told by Sybel Simmonds
Kids, when they're young, can get attached to almost anything. Some have their favorite blanket, like Linus in Peanuts. Up until age five, my son was attached twenty-four hours a day to a Barbie doll. She was his most prized possession.

One morning he left Barbie out to sunbathe in the backyard. My husband, not realizing that he was barging in on Barbie's resort vacation, decided to mow the lawn. In a terrible accident he ran over Barbie, mutilating her! Arms and legs and body parts went flying everywhere. My husband was heartsick. I was preparing to leave for work and was in no frame of mind to deal with my son's upset when he discovered that Barbie had met an untimely demise. So I scooped up all the parts, put them in my purse, and took them with me.

When I came in I jokingly asked if there was a doctor in the house. With great anguish, I yelled, "Help me. Look at my Barbie!" Everyone had heard about my son's love for this doll, so they knew that I was half-serious. Julie Gustin, our pediatrician, carefully examined the patient. The prognosis wasn't great, but she was comforting. With a serious expression, she asked for a couple of days to see what she could do.
For two nights, when there were no patients, Julie carefully ministered to Barbie's broken body and severe lacerations. For starters, part of Barbie's head had been chopped off, so she ingeniously made a headband that covered up the spot. Then, she took some cast material and rebuilt her torso, even making a new breast to replace the one that had been mangled by the mower's blade. I think ours was the first Barbie to get a breast implant. When she was done it looked just like a body cast.

Both arms had been severed at the shoulder. Using some suture material, she reattached them. I was never able to find one foot that had been cut off. Cleverly, Julie used the bottom of a small plastic curette and fashioned a foot prosthesis.

For a couple days Barbie was allowed to convalesce and dry. It was then that I got up the courage to tell my son what had happened, reassuring him that everything would be okay because I had taken her to the Barbie Hospital. I explained how Dr. Gustin, a Barbie expert, worked her magic and made Barbie whole again.

When Barbie had recovered, I took Andy to Nightime one evening to bring her back home. Dr. Gustin carefully handed the patient to him. At first, he didn't seem to know quite what to think. Step by step, we explained the detailed medical procedures that the good doctor had performed. Andy's face lit up. From that day on we called her our handicapped Barbie.
Andy is seven now, and he's outgrown Barbie. We have carefully packed her away so one day he'll be able to tell his kids the story of the Barbie Hospital, and he can show them that so much of the healing that doctors do comes right from the heart.

The Most Important Job in the World

as told by Susan Walker, Receptionist
When we're swamped, I feel like I'm the eye of a hurricane. The phones are ringing off the hook. Parents who call are angry when they discover we're so busy that we can't see their child for another four hours. Often I'm the lightning rod for their anxiety and hostility. Patients are backed up in the reception area, some with no place to sit. The nurses and docs are breathing down my neck, upset that I have just booked another child into an already over-packed schedule. Believe me, whoever is sitting at the front desk is not going to win a popularity contest.

One evening, when things were particularly bad, a mother called, concerned because her child had passed out. Unfortunately, I often listened to such concerns with a dose of skepticism. The cynic in me presumed she was making things sound far worse than they actually were in order to get an appointment. But I responded according to company policy. "If you're worried about your child, come right on over. You'll just have to be patient and sit in the waiting room, but we'll work you in as quickly as we can." When I hung up, I thought, "Oh man, we probably won't be seeing her." Luckily, I was mistaken. In fact, I was nearly dead wrong.

Forty-five minutes later she showed up at our door. Standing beside her was her teenage daughter with hardly an ounce of color in her face. I don't think I had ever seen anyone come into the clinic looking quite as sick.

Without hesitating, I ushered them back to the nurses station. We got a urine sample and the nurse immediately ran the test. A moment later she told me to quickly get the doctor who was seeing another patient. His preliminary diagnosis was juvenile diabetes, and he feared that she might slip into a diabetic coma at any moment. Instinctively, I ran for the wheelchair. Within seconds the doctor was running with her and her mother in tow to the emergency room just a couple hundred yards away. She was so dehydrated they had trouble even getting an IV into her. Luckily, they were able to stabilize her, then move her to Primary Children's Hospital.

Rarely do we have a chance to follow up with our patients. Even more rarely are we contacted by a parent letting us know how things are going. This mom was an exception. A few days later she called to let me know her daughter was going home. Most of all, she wanted me to know how grateful she was for all that we had done.

When I hung up, I, too, was grateful. What if I had said, "No, I'm sorry. You're going to have wait four hours." That girl would have died. I had a new-found appreciation for the principles that Nightime had established for receptionists. They worked. Most importantly, they saved a life.

When people used to ask me what I do, I would say, almost shamefully, that I was just a receptionist. But since that fateful night, I say the same thing, thinking, "I'm so proud of that."