The danger of a single story

Our lives are saturated by stories in which we play a part. In the words of Roger Simon: “The stories we tell, the narratives that give coherence and meaning to our lives, set the terms within which we are able to formulate the possibilities of existence” (1992:60). Coaching can invite people to find a deeper presencing in the stories they tell about themselves. In October, 2009, a talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie was posted on the website.

The Danger of A Single Story – Chimamanda Adichie

In this brief presentation, entitled ‘The danger of a single story’, Adichie addressed our vulnerability in the face of stories. In particular, she addressed the power of “single stories” – stories that masquerade as the final truth about people and their lives. Adichie spoke of the stories that represented Africa as “a place of negatives, of difference, of darkness”, a place of human catastrophe. “To insist on only these negative stories,” she said, is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me” (Adichie 2009).

Coaching allows us to invite people to get unstuck from their own Single Stories, to move away from those stories that allow us to represent ourselves as a “place of negatives, of difference, of darkness”. With ill-fitting stories we distance ourselves from ourselves, and we feel this to be true, while frequently also denying this to be the case. An acknowledgement of flattened and flattening stories through coaching dialogue gives rise to the hopefulness of recalibration, as we come to a greater awaress of the ability of the stories we tell about ourselves to awaken our deepest possibilities and invoke the shimmer of the ordinarily extraordinarily.


Chimamanda Adichie. 2009. “The danger of a single story.” October 2009.
URL: (accessed 25th July, 2013).

Roger I. Simon. 1992. Teaching against the grain : texts for a pedagogy of possibility. New York: Bergin &​ Garvey

The Challenge of Culture Change

For a business to achieve what it sets out to achieve it is crucial to foster a strong, healthy, and culturally sustainable organisational environment. When resilience, engagement, productivity, and improvement are the outcomes promised by culture change, it is easy to say that culture change is needed. Working out what this means in practice is much harder, and one of the recurring challenges of business.

Culture change is about people – what they think, how they feel, what they do. You can restructure, rebrand, and reorganise, you can change the language of the workplace and re-arrange the furniture; but if the cultural climate of the organisation doesn’t substantially shift, then all you are left with are a series of very expensive cosmetic changes, even higher levels of employee cynicism, and a greater culture-change challenge.

How does an organisational culture defeat the best intentions of its leadership? How does an organisation slide from a career of excellence towards a cultural climate of employee dissatisfaction, low productivity, and stagnation? How can we understand the dynamics of culture change enough to enable us to not only understand what’s going wrong, but to provide us with clear guidance for pragmatically and effectively ameliorating organisational problems?

The interventions of culture change are called for in times of difficulty, stagnation, or crisis. Complex organisations, bureaucratic systems, and institutional practice have shown themselves over centuries to be well suited to facilitating the particular demands of business, profit, and economic growth. However, latent within organisations, bureaucracies, and institutions is a structural logic that consistently undermines the best intentions of the people within them. One of the key challenges of organisational leadership is balancing the benefits of organisational life, the gravities of organisational stricture, and the more personal dynamics of social interaction. Finding a balance is not impossible, but it remains improbable so long as the tenor of the cultural climate is driven most by goal-achievement, command-and-control, chronic high pressure, and financial growth rather than a more integrative understanding of cultural sustainability.

Most organisations committed to culture change focus on changing visible norms, customs, and behaviours within their organisation, which tend to have little impact on performance. A large number of small-scale changes may not effect the necessary shifts in the organisational environment to embed true, lasting, meaningful change.