Organizational Research Methods: Storytelling in Action

David M. Boje

Book being prepared for Routledge, due March 2018

To cite this document: Boje, David M. (2018) "Organizational Resarch Methods: Storytelling In Action", (March 15), URL = <>


Chapter RPO13 - True Storytelling Praxis

Walter Benjamin uses the term 'true storytleling' in his classic essay:

Benjamin, Walter (2007/1986). The Storyteller” Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov. Pp. 361-378 in Hannah Arendt (ed.) Illuminations. Translated from the German (1955) into English (1968) by Harry Zohn. NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. Storyteller essay is available online 2007, pp. 83-110 with Preface by Leon Weiseltier

My colleagues are using 'True Storytelling' in a praxis approach: your implementation’, working paper. Please check it out. We have seen in the 13 PRO's that many of them seek true storytelling.


The Oxford Dictionary has declared 'post-truth' the new word of 2016. They define post-truth as "an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief" (source).

My narrative and my living story existence are necessarily false in the post-truth era of multiple narratives and their counternarratives. Post-truth is not new! We have not just entered the post-truth era, because the political pundits were surprised by the election of Donald Trump, or aghast that his follows apparently do not care if the facts of Trumps speeches and Tweets are oftentimes, not factual. We live in a era of multiple narrativesand people no longer expect or claim a common truth. Post-truth is not new. We have always in the US lived in a nation of multiple narratives, one for the Native American community, another for the white community, another for the black community, another for Hispanic community, another for each gender, and another for every immigrant community, and so on. With the popularity of relativistic social constructivism, post-truth becomes multiple narratives in search of a common ground that does not exist. In George Orwellian society where in modern times, many people get their knowledge from the 'University of Google' and in "Wag the Dog, Barry Levinson’s movie satire of 1997, which describes the 'pageant' of a fictional war invented to distract attention from a presidential sex scandal":

"Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else ….Whatever the Party holds to be truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. ...  You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature. We make the laws of Nature” (Mathew d'Ancona, Guardian, May 2017).

Organizational research is in crisis in the post-truth world In organizational research, if we compose our inquiry with like-minded Anglo folks, then they will produce a monological narrative of the organization that is different from the narrative of a group of non-Anglo folks.Each group of like minded folks finds the facts to support their narrative, or hires a researcher to sell them the facts they need. In short, Anglo narrative is not the only narrative. In an inter-inquiry-group research meeting, it is unlikely these various monologic narratives will agree upon 'reality.' Can there be substantial agreement in a multi-narrative world on a singlar narrative. More likely there is narrative and counter-narrative dialectic in our multiple narrative. People go to the source of media to confirm what they already beleive rather than challenging thier own reality.

"Our problem is not primarily with what truth means but how and by whom truth is established. Truth used to seem simple because it was easy to assume that most of what we thought to be true really was true, that things were as they seemed, that the wisdom passed down the generations was timeless... To rebuild belief in the power and value of truth, we can’t dodge its complexity. Truths can be and often are difficult to understand, discover, explain, verify. They are also disturbingly easy to hide, distort, abuse or twist. Often we cannot claim with any certainty to know the truth. We need to take stock of the various kinds of real and supposed truths out there and understand how to test their authenticity" (Julian Baggini, September 2017 Guardian)

Just the facts, does not take us out of the world of multiple narrative and the regimes of truth imposted by the powerful on the less powerful. Just the facts, would reduce organizational research to empiricism. Post-truth storytelling is a shift form fact-based to fiction-based storytelling, in order to be persuasive, add some drama, an emotional appeal. Going to ground, organizational storytelling researchrs can inquire into the deeped storytelling, the beneath and below, where a publicly-unknown storyteller is framing and coaching the leader's storytelling.

"So why is a post-truth, evidence-rejecting public so beguiling? Because, I’m afraid, it flatters timidity and easy populism. Big decisions are hard. Policymaking is not straightforward. There are always trade-offs, mitigating factors and politics to contend with and these are difficult to communicate. Facts and evidence are disruptive too. They don’t always fit easily with scoring points or appealing to prejudices in debates about immigration, drugs or prison sentences. Sometimes they’re just hard work to explain. The idea of a post-truth public is an excuse to run from all this" (Tracey Brown, Guardian, 2016).

Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, then Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair, and now Donald Trump, had their favorite hidden storyteller, behind the veil, and it was none other than Friedrich August von Hayek. Hayek's heroic narrative of ruthless Titan-entrepreneurs who would be unrestricted and unregulated by government, and provide the little people with 'trickle-down' 'free market, 'economic dividends' --- had great appeal to these political leaders. It was the socio-economic montra of Joseph Schumpeter's model of entrepreneurship fo creative-destruction, as well as, Herbert Spencer's Social Darwinism, survival of the economically-fittest, long before. Hayek assumed that customers were rational, optimizers of market efficiency. Now President Trump is the selfish savior storyteller, the embodiment of heroic entrepreneur reaping creative destruction on government, in order to crate free-market competition. The invisible storytellers, behind to visible leader, run the world.

There are of course many counterstories and counternarratives. Cutthroat competition brings about its own inefficiency, despite Schumpeter's preference for monopoloy capitalism. I work in a public university notorious for spectacular bureaucratic competition that is at the same time outsourcing, downsizing, and reengineering to become leaner and meaner competitor. Without regulation, universities, are able to rationalize giving tuition assistant to the least needy, in order to raise their ranking in academic achievement. Governors in Illinois and here, who have cut state funding to public educaiton have weaked the market infrastrcuture, as less students from their state attain higher education, and become the sought-after entrepreneurs of creative destruction. The selfishness of business process reengineering applied to public universities (& private) hinders democratic governance, and democratic participation in solutions to unleash human potential to de-bureaucratize and de-layer administrative gloat of universities (see chapter on Savall socio-economic democracy, and Follett's chapter on socio-economic capitalism). Very few universities make any money by Regents investing in football and basketball, in lucrative TV deals. Most go into debt attempting to boost enrollment by boosting athleticts for TV. Few intellectual property entreprenur incubator centers are able to transfer enough faculty and student intellectual propoerty fo sale to coprate bidders, to pay for the costs of their infrastructure and administrative personnel. Few investments in golf course, shopping mall, and hotel complexes on a campus pay the bills. The reason why there is downsizing and reengineering can be, but certainly not here, to save money in faculty salaries to have more money to manage the non-academic enterprises of the campus (and its intrastructure of facilities, grounds, maintenance, buildings, etc.).

In the post-truth era we canot trust leaders self-serving storytelling about heroic entrepreneurship. The Hayek-entrepreneurial storytelling has diminished 'real storytelling's' important connection to democracy. Not the once-every-four-years voting, for pre-selected lobby-sanctioned candidates, who can afford to run. Rather, following Follett, creating direct democracy of local citizen groups, and direct democracy of workers and managers both involved in democratic-governance of capitalist enterprises.For Follett direct democracy, as we have seen, is a network of groups, accountable, trained, and involved in governance.

Today's storytelling ecosystem has tilted in favor of multiple narratives, and the kind of enterpreneur-heroes of individualism, where, according to former President Obama, in the new media (facebook, Twitter, etc.) "everything is true and nothing is true" (source).

University presidents, chancellors, provosts, and boards of regents are being schooled in Hayek unrestricted enterpreneurship as a heroic business model, called academic capitalism ('the university is a business, so run it like one, with market efficiency outcomes for the rational-consumer-student').

In organization storytelling, we can initiate a beginner's inquiry, being skeptical about the surface narrative ever matching the deeper narrative of non-leaders' living story life. We as organizational researchers can miss the story. Leaders are going over the head of their collective stakeholders to fashion a singular narrative.

Given the socioeconomic death spiral, the crisis of the 1970s oil embargo, the 2008 mortgage banking crisis, the recent 2015-2017 collapse of public education budgets in the US and worldwide --- leaders of many institutions are tempted to engage in post-truth storytelling, to put a positive cover, a spin on their encounter with the abyss.

There is something naive about calling for 'facts' as the basis of 'true storytelling.'


We would like to develop a summary of the 13 RPO's and how they approach 'true storytelling'.


Certainly this is true of Plato who gets at 'true storytelling' in a dialectic to negate false concepts. Kirkeby (2009: 50) includes "the true" as a core value of The Greek Square, along with the good,,the just, and the beautiful, in order to reach 'freedom.'

Figure 17: The Greek Square (adapted from Kirkeby, 2009: p. 50)

The protreptic guide, "must be the mirror for the other person" (Kirkeby, 2009: 61). In the Alcibaiades dialogue, pLote writes about the eye of one person viewing another;s eye, see itslef and that which "the virture of an eye is found to occur" and the "soul too - wisdom at any other port of a sould which resembles this" (as cited IBID., p. 51). The protreptic guide in dialectic conversation searches for the core values of The Greek Square (among others) to bring the person to sense of health and well-being, not to unmask them or do expose journalism (IBID, p. 75,p. 85). It is not about the guide defeating a dialectic opponent because the guide ia partner with the other. It is not about developing a narrative geneaology. Rather "protreptic only wants to follow the concept-analytical path, because narratives always create indirect approaches to values, noten not incorporating them, but blurring and distorting them by personal strategies of misconstruction" (IBID., p. 82-83).

"It is important that the protreptic dialogue aims at discovering the reasons why a misconception of a concept, and hencie probably of the denoted value, exists" (Kirkeby, 2009: 83).


What is 'true storytelling' in Hegelian dialectic? With the 'negation of the negation' the long historical development is the abstract spirit begins to materialize in the world, achieving reason and science, the 'true' 'crown of the spirit'


Feuerbach "To remove this disturbance, he must take refuge in a double perception, a profane one which only perceives the "flatly obvious" and a higher, philosophical, one which perceives the "true essence" of things. He does not see how the sensuous world around him is, not a thing given direct from all eternity, remaining ever the same, but the product of industry and of the state of society; and, indeed, in the sense that it is an historical product, the result of the activity of a whole succession of generations, each standing on the shoulders of the preceding one, developing its industry and its intercourse, modifying its social system according to the changed needs" (Marx, Critique of The German Ideology).

"The reality, which communism is creating, is precisely the true basis for rendering it impossible that anything should exist independently of individuals, insofar as reality is only a product of the preceding intercourse of individuals themselves" (IBID.).

"... in a way peculiar to Hegelian dialectic. For to the theological critic it seems quite natural that everything has to be done by philosophy, so that he can chatter away about purity, resoluteness, and quite critical criticism; and he fancies himself the true conqueror of philosophy whenever he happens to feel some element [4] in Hegel to be lacking in Feuerbach – for however much he practises the spiritual idolatry of “self-consciousness” and “mind” the theological critic does not get beyond feeling to consciousness.)" (Preface to Economic Phiosophical Manuscripts of 1844).


By her Law of the Situation, the situation is the 'invisible leader' and by co-inquiry into the facts of the situation, people arrive at convergence on a unity of their differences, so that conflicts over truth are resolved, and a common direction is possible.


Ontically, Heidegger (1962: #12) "Science in general may be defined as the totality established through an
interconnection of true propositions. This definition is not complete, nor does it reach the meaning of science. As ways in which man behaves, sciences have the manner of Being which this entity-man himself- possesses.This entity we denote by the term 'Dasein'"

"Here "Being-ontological" is not yet tantamount to "developing an ontology". So if we should reserve the term "ontology" for that theoretical inquiry which is explicitly devoted to the meaning of entities, then what we have had in mind in speaking of Dasein's "Being-ontological" is to be designated as something "pre-ontological". It does not signify simply"being-ontical", however, but rather "being in such a way that one has an understanding of Being"" (Heidegger, 1962: #12).

Heidegger wants to destroy to older dialectic traditions (Plato, Aristotle, etc.): "The question of Being does not achieve its true concreteness until we have carried through the process of destroying the ontological tradition" (Heidegger, 1962: #26-27).

Dialectic-synthesis is not construed as consensus nor is it representation of psychic inside opposed by physical outside: "Furthermore, because the is a letting-something-be-seen, it can therefore be true or false. But here everything depends on our steering clear of any conception of truth which is construed in the sense of 'agreement'... Here "synthesis" does not mean a binding and linking together of representations, a manipulation of psychical occurrences where the 'problem'... arises of how these bindings, as something inside, agree with something' physical outside" (# 33).

True storytelling would include revealing, taking entity out of its hiddenness: "The 'Being-true' of the ,,, means that in ... as..., the entities of which one is ... must be taken out of their hiddenness ; one must let them be seen as something unbidden" (#33).

Deseverance gets at true storytelling: "The circumspective de-severing of Dasein' s everydayness reveals the Being-in-itself of the 'true world'-of that entity which Dasein, as something existing, is already alongside" (#107).

"When does truth become phenomenally explicit in knowledge itself? It does so when such knowing demonstrates itself as true. By demonstrating itself it is assured of its truth. Thus in the phenomenal
context of demonstration, the relationship of agreement must become visible" (#217).

Being-in-the-world: "True storytelling is letting the entity be seen in its uncoveredness (unhidden) in 'Being-uncovering": "To say that an assertion "is true" signifies that it uncovers the entity as it is in itself... Being-true as Being-uncovering, is in turn ontologically possible only on the basis of Being-in-the-world" (#219).

Directionality: "The adequacy of holding-for-true is measured according to the truth claim to which it belongs. Such a claim gets its justification from the kinof Being of the end tity to be disclosed, and from the direction of the disclosure... Holding something for true is adequate as a way of maintaining oneself in the truth, if it is grounded in the uncovered entity itself, and if, as Being towards the entity so uncovered, it has become transparent to itself as regards its appropriateness to that entity" (#256).

Being-certain of true storytelling. "The primordial truth of existence demands an equiprimordial Being-certain, in which one maintains oneself in what resoluteness discloses. lt1 gives itself the current factical Situation, and brings itself into that Situation. The Situation cannot be calculated in advance or presented like something present-at-hand which is waiting for someone to grasp it" (#307-308).

Heidegger gets at true storytelling in historicality of history rather than shall historicity that passes for storytelling, especially in the hustle and bustle of organizations, with no spacetime for reflection. Heidegger gets at true storytelling with Daisen's authentic Being-in-the-world. Merleau-Ponty (The Visible and the Invisible, p. 94, as cited in Kirkeby, 2009: 43-44) develops the notion of 'hyper-dialectic' that is useful for our exploration of true storytelling:

"What we call hyper-dialectic is a thought that, on the contrary is capable of reaching truth because it envisages without restriction the plurality of the relationships and what has been called ambiguity. The bad dialectic is that which thinks it recomposes being by a thetic thought, bu and assemblage of statements, by thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; the good dialectic is that which is conscious of the fact that every thesis is an idealization, tha Being is not made up of idealizations or of things said... but of bound wholes where signifcation never is except in tendency" (Kirkeby, 2009: 43-44).

I like how Merleau-Ponty rejects the classic thesis-antithesis-synthesis model of dialectic. In most of Hegel, my read, is he too rejects it, but has a progressive telology in which the spiritual begins often in abstract, gains manifestation, and reason is worked out in experiment after experiment, rejecting deadends, until some sense of truth remains (for a while). For Bhaskar, the real is greater than the empirics of sensemaking, and the actual event-ness, aiming at something more universal, more spiritual and enchanted, and non-dualistic, which is what Hegel had wanted to achieve.

"disturbing our epistemological habits with a sufficient level of agitation to enable us to begin to recognize our immanent, relational and inherently open-ended condition; of being a system set within wider systems without end" (Chia & Holt, 2009, p. 90)

Chia, R., & Holt, R. (2009). Strategy Without Design: The silent efficacy of indirect action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.










There are multiple ontologies, and one adding to esisting ones. These multiple relational processontologies are interacting in organizations.

David Boje - Storytelling Process Model blog post

Figure 3 - Process Model of Organizational Storytelling Systems

Unlike Kant's a priori universal and transcendental space and time, I am focused on spacetimemattering (Barad, 2007), and on how in Heidegger (1962) the future arrives into the present, and the past arrives into the present, and the present keeps changing our rendering of the past and the future. And time is not separable from space, nor from mattering, thus the term spacetimemattering.

David M. Boje, Ph.D. 

The University is a Butterfly: It Needs Two Wings to Fly

A Lorenz butterfly, has two wings, and a complex adaptive systems organization moves in a trajectory to and from, and on the two wings. When there is only one wing, a complex systems organization does not fly at all.

SPREAD THE WORD, I want students from Curriculum and Instruction, English Rhetoric, Counseling Psychology, Education Administration, Management, and other fine doctoral programs in this seminar


Four Kinds of Embodiment Narratives and Oppositional Self-Stories (by D. M. Boje, April 30, 2017, used by permission)


Restorable Body I.


II. Body’s Witness

Chaos Embodied IV.


III. Communicative Body


Figure 10: Franks's Dialectical types

Table: 7 STEPS of Embodied Restorying Process (ERP by Boje and colleagues)

1. Recharacterize (received Organization identity) from how other organizations are telling it.

2. Externalize (re-label) Make the Problem the Problem, not the Person as the problem.

3. Sympathize (benefits) – of old story of or your organization has its payoffs

4. Revise (consequences) – What are the negative consequences, including the stereotypes of received organization identities being applied to you?

5. Strategize (Little Wow Moments of exception to Others' dominant master narratives); These are also known as ‘anchoring points’ that contradict the crystalized traumatic narrative of traumatic experience

6. Restory (rehistoricizes the old dominant narratives by collecting Little Wow Moments into A 'New Story' of you several possibility futures), to not be stuck in the past, reliving one event

7. Publicize (support networking) e.g. letter writing, social media, celebratory events with supporters of your ‘New Story’ of future and potentiality, to stay in the ‘new world.’