Have you noticed how we structure our stories? They seem to start with good intentions before startling themselves with some surprise disappointment, then finish with either a redeeming flourish or a catastrophic crash; saved or doomed. Maybe no experience qualifies as a story without satisfying this rough plot outline. The most believable stories seem to be the most redemptive ones. Life doesn’t play out very much like this, but our stories about life certainly do.

The distinction between story and reality seems difficult to maintain. Stories too easily sneak across that unguarded boundary to inhabit the place real life lessons used to live. These invasions tangle up expectations, leaving even the most mindful anticipating salvation or doom, and little else. Clients call the BriefConsultant when anticipating doom, seeking some kind of salvation.

Nobody masters this universe; we apprentice to it. Apprenticing requires some careful attention to the way things are rather than how they were supposed to be, and our FableTales tend to encourage more supposed-to-bes than are-s. Much of the BriefConsultant’s work entails proposing alternate FableTales, ones not so bound by the structure our usual stories presuppose. This tortoise might not win this particular race with this specific hare, which should not surprise any practicing tortoise or head-strong hare; tortoises routinely finish last. So the project will absolutely not finish on-time, on-budget, or on-spec. Dog bites man. No headline-quality news anywhere around that event.

In the shadow of a fading FableTale, though, reality bites, and bites hard. We confront the previously unthinkable; mostly, perhaps, because we weren’t thinking but FableTale-ing before. Where’s the salvation? Where’s the eternal damnation? Most of us somehow manage to live respectable, productive lives without ever once being saved or doomed, but these lives don’t qualify as story, let alone FableTale material.

It seems to be news to the client that in the history of the world so far, almost nothing has yet been finished on-time, on-budget, or on-spec. He’s apparently suffering from a case of the normals; completely unexceptional except for the degree of suffering, which seems rather extreme, perhaps (dare I mention this?) overblown. The published lessons learned from past failed efforts seem to miss the subtle point that their failure probably originated in the careful selection of a redemption creation myth (or a doom prevention fable) for a strategy. Maybe nobody could have even recognized a realistic plan, insisting upon FableTale instead.

I’ve long encouraged retroactive planning, the creation of a step by step plan of how a successful project actually executed, as a means for learning to recognize real successful trajectories. Of course every retroactive plan fails to satisfy the fundamental underlying pattern every story’s supposed to embody. Nobody in their right mind would have ever followed such obvious folly, while everyone seems more than insistent upon following some hare-brained FableTale instead.

I love my Fables and my Fairy Tales until they start raiding my refrigerator. I always seem like the last one to recognize that I invited them in, I extended my belief to embrace them long before they started strangling the life out of me. I’m never the first to realize that I could change my story and in so doing change pretty much everything while, quite conveniently, actually changing nothing. The way things are might just be the way things are, completely unaffected by my tenacious beliefs of how they were supposed to be.

FableTale salvation depends upon fat chances, and FableTale doom demands slim ones. Most of real life inhabits that space between fat and slim chances, where it tells the most remarkable stories, neither Fables nor Fairy Tales; eventually more believable than even the very best fiction.

©2014 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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