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sterling silver locket from heartsmith.com

sterling silver locket from heartsmith.com

We met last week in a crowded Starbucks in the corporate soul of the city, the idealist and I. She doesn’t call herself an idealist unless you ask her directly, but I should have guessed from the two comfy chairs that are never unoccupied that were waiting empty for us. And by the way no one stayed longer than a few minutes at the table beside us, as if the heat, energy, and enthusiasm from our conversation was too intense, frying their gadgets and inner circuitry.

Our topic of conversation was corporate storytelling, the currentest hot phrase following on the heels of strategic planning, employee engagement, leadership, innovation; and if you want to push deeper into murky corporate mists: excellence, vision, transparency…

So in a place not too far from Starbucks, in a time not so long ago, there lived a manager who believed her workplace was a palace. She floated, skipped, and danced through her shifts basking in the smiles of happy staff and customers—until the day came when she noticed, probably because her feet hurt, that not everyone viewed their surroundings as palatial. And that when her back was turned, there lurked amidst the crevices disenchantment, boredom, and darker things we won’t bother to name.

For a while, the manager dealt with the nasty gnats one at a time, but the swatting grew tiresome; and the more she coached, scolded, performance-managed (could there possibly be a clunkier term?) the worse things became, until one Saturday long past midnight with the palace a shambles, her nerves frayed and jangling, she’d had enough! She spent twenty minutes alone at a keyboard, slapped the results into a communication binder, and drove home, not caring if she ever saw the stupid, ugly palace again.

Returning to work on Monday, the manager was greeted by broad, beaming, megawatt smiles. People she never spoke to came up and thanked her with tears in their eyes. They asked to be trained in the tasks she managed. They’d had no idea work could be so fun.

In the weeks that followed, store sales spiked. Managers on duty reported unprecedented enthusiasm from staff and glowing reports from customers. The climb in sales was noticed by Head Office who wanted to know what was going on. The GM shared the contents of the binder. Head Office had never seen anything like it. The manager was asked to expand on what she’d begun and to take her campaign company-wide. She said yes…

That was thirteen years ago, and the manager was me. If the phrase “corporate storytelling” existed in 2000, I hadn’t heard it, but I had read plenty of stories, and the pages I slapped into the binder that night began with, “Once upon a time…”

I hold that event, which seemed so tiny at the time, close to my heart. The adventures continued, stories built, and more and more, I am meeting people who float, skip, and dance through life.

sterling silver locket from heartsmith.com

sterling silver locket from heartsmith.com

One of them, the owner and chief executive of heartsmith, has launched a series of lockets featuring my poetry. “Live in the Momentum”, the Navarrosa Collection, sources from my novel-in-progress, Daughters of Babylon, which, in turn, is excerpted in Gavriel Navarro’s second volume of poetry, Fire and Earth: Poems and Reflections on the Nature of Desire. The best stories wind in and out, through and around, not caring a fig for distinctions like fiction and nonfiction, never been done, who do you think…?

Who do I think I am? Yes. There is no other answer to that shortest, most perfect story, should anyone ask it of you with a Snidely Whiplash curl of the lip.

So what does all of this have to do with whiskey? (Hafiz, lover of wine, frequenter of taverns, I’m sure you would have fun with this!) Perhaps it is because spirits, both liquid and disembodied, are disinhibitors by nature, their agility entwined with earth, rain, sun, love, tears, pride, joy. For reasons that are sure to unfold, as all things do, the idealist and I each brought as our best examples of corporate storytelling last week a whiskey tale. I share Johnny Walker and Writers Tears Irish Whiskey with you here. Sláinte!


© Elaine Stirling, 2013