Rob Creekmore
 April 12, 2003: Future Stories
Smithsonian Associates 2003

A Tale of Two Worlds
Story as a Transformational Tool
The Power of Story in Operations & Maintenance
A New Hero's Journey
Story & Organizational Learning
Spreading the Word About Storytelling


My work with story in organizations emerged from the coming together of two very different worlds: the world of high tech and the world of transforming human potential. 

Like many people, my early career – as a telecommunications engineer and manager – was a way of “earning a living.”  For many of the 16 years I worked for GTE Corporation, I worried about bits and bytes, 

databases, telephone switches, how to manage and operate large telecommunications systems.  But all during this time, I also explored my deeper passion: how human beings can tap their deepest potential, together, in community. 

For more than 23 years, I have explored developmental approaches from a wide variety of psychological and cultural traditions.  While still working for GTE, I obtained a Master of Divinity degree from Wesley Theological Seminary and worked with churches to revitalize the traditional youth confirmation process as a modern rite of passage.  I also developed and trained the mentoring communities to support this.  I explored innovative approaches to adult learning and transformation – .especially in groups.  In all my explorations of how to develop human potential, I began to notice how the sharing of stories was a crucial doorway.  I began to realize the significance of how stories open people to deeper learning and self-understanding. I saw that when people share stories with one another – whether traditional stories or personal experiences – it creates a powerful chemistry for mutual learning as well as deep bonds of trust and cohesion between people. I saw that people coming together around stories – and their re-enactment through ritual and process – is the very lifeblood of a vital community

Meanwhile, my work with GTE and its customers was taking a new turn – one that led to further discoveries about the power of story.  After nine years as a consulting engineer and project manager, I had begun to realize that addressing the underlying organizational issues confronting GTE’s customers was far more “value added” than just treating the technology issues alone.  I worked in depth with one particular government agency charged with 
coordinating and managing the telecommunications systems of the different branches of the US military.  The issues the agency confronted were often more political than technical, and I began learning and applying innovative approaches to communication and decision-making among the different factions.  As one customer once stated: “Our agency only exists because the Army, Navy, and Air Force can’t communicate about their communication requirements!”
I recall one such innovative approach to helping the different factions work together and – in the process – improving the agency’s reputation with those factions.  Our customer hosted a yearly conference for the different operations and maintenance (O&M) commands at the different military communications sites around the world.  The conference was supposed to address important common issues facing the O&M community.  But every year came the same boring conference format of endless ‘one-to-many’ Power Point presentations and status briefings, and the O&M conference was becoming more and more unpopular.  My colleagues and I had been successfully experimenting within GTE with ‘process action teams’ typically used in total quality management initiatives.  We proposed to our customer to reinvent the O&M conference to allow the 
attendees – the actual members of the O&M community – to brainstorm what issues they wanted to address during the three days they were together and then have them self-organize into process action teams around each set of issues.  As we facilitated these teams we found that what really energized the O&Mers was their swapping stories with one another about what was happening at their sites.  Rather than an abstract Powepoint presentation, it was the sharing of stories that most energized the teams and helped them envision successful solutions to their problems.  With this new conference format, the annual O&M conference became wildly popular.  It was only years later that I discovered that Xerox and other organizations had also discovered – and had made the strategic commitment to support – what they called “communities of practice.”  They found – as we did – that the lifeblood of these communities was the sharing of stories.

In both my work with churches and at GTE, I discovered a whole other way that story can be a powerful transformational tool.  Early on in my exploration of transformational processes

from many cultures and traditions, I came upon the work of Joseph Campbell.  Campbell studied the stories, myths, and rituals of hundreds of cultures throughout history. He began to notice common patterns, particularly in the stories and rituals used to initiate young people, to help them navigate the journey from being dependent children to becoming responsible adults in the community.  In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces he outlined the “Hero’s Journey” narrative pattern – the stages, thresholds, roles, and events that occur in this journey from dependency to independence and interdependence.  Later, I encountered the work of David Oldfield, 
who had adapted Campbell’s Hero’s Journey pattern to create adolescent treatment programs through modern rites of passage.  I adapted Campbell’s and Oldfield’s approaches in reinventing church confirmation as an in depth rite of passage, following the same stages and drawing on the same roles and kinds of events that Campbell had identified, especially the critical role of the mentor. 

As my work with reinventing confirmation progressed, GTE Corporation – the company for which I had now worked for 13 years - was itself entering on a collective “Hero’s Journey.”  Because of the Telecommunications Act of 1995, the telecommunications industry was now becoming deregulated.  GTE – a phone company - was facing stiff competition and at the same time had a tremendous opportunity to compete in new markets to which it had previously been closed.  The company leadership realized they needed a major shift in organizational culture.  They could no longer have the employees expect to be taken care of for a lifetime if they

simply followed orders and performed their narrow job function.  GTE embarked upon a major culture change initiative to shift the thinking of employees to see the business as a larger whole.  They wanted them to see how they might be a more proactive and creative contributor to the larger enterprise, especially in terms of meeting the needs of the customer.  In short, GTE needed its employees to become more entrepreneurial. 
I recognized that this transformation of the employee – and of GTE’s culture – was similar in many ways to the transformation from dependency to interdependency of the Hero’s Journey narrative pattern.  Indeed, the modern hero “myth” in the corporate world is that of the entrepreneur (as any front page of the Wall Street 
Journal demonstrates).  This was precisely the kind of “hero” GTE was seeking to foster.  I convinced the senior management of my company to pilot a powerful employee development process, the Intrapreneur Program, based on the Hero’s Journey narrative pattern, designed to discover and uncover and develop the entrepreneurial aspirations of employees and put it to work for the company.  As with the church based developmental processes I had developed, I realized that a critical aspect of this approach was the effective development and use of a community of mentors – more senior and seasoned employees desiring to pass on their legacy.  The Intrapreneur Program successfully launched new careers and new profit-making ventures, and it was the underlying power of the Hero’s Journey narrative pattern that was the key to its magic.

In 1996, at the height of the GTE Intrapraneur Program I returned to graduate school to obtain a Masters in

Organizational Learning with the Program on Social and Organizational Learning at George Mason University.  As a result of my studies I began to apply the principles of dialogue, experiential learning, and appreciative inquiry to my work of helping organizations tap the deeper potential of employees and teams.  Once again I found storytelling to be a key catalyst.   In 1998, after leaving GTE and forming IRC Associates, I worked with Fannie Mae, the US Department of Energy, and the World Bank to apply what I had learned about organizational learning to building high performance teams. 
As I began to teach and facilitate the dialogue process with these teams it became clear that a powerful doorway into dialogue is the sharing of personal experiences.  With one team at Fannie Mae, the members gathered every other week for three hours to share their stories about what they were experiencing in helping Fannie Mae prepare for the Y2K crisis.  The team would share their stories and then surface and explore the deeper assumptions and dynamics of their interactions with their clients within the company.  Not only did this help them be much more effective and creative with their clients, but it also created deep bonds of trust between them that grew deeper as we continued the regular practice of storytelling and dialogue. 

Since then I have continued to apply storytelling, dialogue, experiential learning, and appreciative inquiry to a wide array of organizational needs, including organizational vision, strategic planning, project management, and teambuilding.  Among the additional organizations I have worked with are the General Services Administration, VSA Arts, the Department of Education, the International Storytelling Center, the General Accounting Office, and the International Finance Corporation.


In March 2001, I co-produced, with Lisa Kimball, the first ever international symposium of organizational storytelling practitioners: the Virtual Storytelling in Business Symposium.  The symposium brought together 50 participants from a wide variety of organizations who were using storytelling and narrative practices for everything from high performance communication to knowledge sharing to organizational analysis and transformation to leadership development.  The following April, after Steve Denning convened the first 

Smithsonian sponsored workshop on organizational storytelling, the time seemed right to begin to build an on-going professional community around organizational storytelling in the Washington DC area.  In May, I organized an initial lunch at the World Bank to explore this, and then in July, Seth Kahan, Paul Costello, and I kicked off the first meeting of what eventually became known as the Golden Fleece organizational storytelling group.  Golden Fleece has now been meeting monthly for almost two years and has spawned similar groups in Boston, San Diego, and internationally.  In addition to my association with Golden Fleece, I have been an advisor to the International Storytelling Center to help them create and establish their vision as a beacon for the power of storytelling to transform education, health care, and business.  I have also given workshops and presentations on organizational storytelling at the National Storytelling Festival and for the International Institute for Research, Johns Hopkins Center for Technology, and the Mid-Atlantic Facilitators Network. 

President, IRC Associates, Takoma Park, MD (1998 – Present)
Founder and President of a consulting, coaching, facilitation, and training firm that specializes in:
-organizational learning
-community based knowledge sharing
-high performance communication
-communities of practice
-wholistic leadership development
-organization development
-strategic planning. 
-mindfulness training

 Rob’s clients include:
-International Storytelling Center 
-International Finance Corporation 
-VSA Arts 
-US General Accounting Office 
-US Department of Education 
-US General Services Administration 
-World Bank 
-Fannie Mae Corporation 
-Federal (Inter-Agency) Procurement 
              Executives Council 
-George Mason University 
-National Health Council 
-US Department of Energy 
-GTE Corporation
-US Defense Information Systems Agency


Rob has organized, or helped organize, the following professional groups/seminars:
-Golden Fleece Washington Organizational 
-Storytelling Group 
-Virtual Storytelling in Business Symposium 
-Walt Whitman High School Stress Reduction 
-Dialogue Practice Community of Washington
-Insight Meditation Community of
-Kalyana Mitta Groups

Prior work
GTE Corporation
-Director, Organizational Learning (1997-8) 
-Manager, Intrapreneur Program (1996-7) 
-Senior Systems Engineer (1995-6) 
-Systems Engineer/OD Consultant (1980-95)

-Youth Consultant, Emmaus (Potomac 
    Association) United Church of Christ, 
    Vienna, VA (1993-7)

Master of Science in New Professional Studies, Organizational Learning (January 1999), George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.
Master of Divinity (May 1993), Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC.
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (May 1980), Duke University, Durham, NC.

Tel 301 371-7100 :; www.Pelerei.Com
Steve Denning
Tel. 966 9392
 Tel  301 585-3610
Seth Kahan 
Tel 301 229-2221; Email:
Rob Creekmore
Tel. 703-435-4623

Tel.  202 364-5369;

To buy:
The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Steve Denning (October 2000) Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston, USA

          Paperback - 192 pages. ISBN: 0750673559 
To read 
of :
The Squirrel: The Seven Highest Value Forms of Organizational Storytelling
          by Steve Denning (work in progress) 
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