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A Lesson from Jackson Ward: How Our Stories Can Inspire Innovation


On the first day of the inaugural cohort of the Virginia Housing Alliance’s BIPOC Leadership Institute (BLI), where I’m a co-facilitator with Ebony Walden, I was inspired to witness a cohort group of fifteen (15) housing leaders with a vision for transforming the housing sector journey the historic streets of Jackson Ward in Richmond, Virginia, with Gary Flowers, a fifth-generation resident. As Gary shared the heroic stories of those who lived, worked, and helped build this vibrant community that became known as a Black Wall Street of the South, I was reminded of the profound impact storytelling can have on innovation. The stories of Maggie L. Walker, businesswoman, philanthropist, bank president, and the first African American woman to charter a bank, William "Bojangles" Robinson, philanthropist and entertainer who invested his resources to ensure Black children's safety as they navigated crossing a highly trafficked street to go to school, and John Mitchell Jr., the iconic editor of the Richmond Planet conveyed vision, commitment to community, and resilience. They are a testament to how stories can inspire innovative thinking and drive us toward new ideas and solutions to some of our most complex and challenging circumstances.

 

How can we use storytelling to be innovative and grow as leaders?

 

Lessons on How Stories Can Inspire Innovation

 

  1. Inspiring Vision: Maggie Walker's story encourages us to break barriers and not be deterred by gender, economic, or racial obstacles we may encounter. Stories like these can spark new ideas and inspire us to envision possibilities beyond our realities. They provide a framework for dreaming big and thinking creatively.

 

  1. Learning from Challenges: William “Bojangles” Robinson's determination to ensure the safety of children despite challenges teaches us resilience and the importance of persistence. Like our lives, the human experience is a collection of stories filled with ups and downs, successes and failures. By sharing these narratives, we can create a culture where challenges are filled with learning opportunities.

 

  1. Building Empathy and Connection: Stories can connect us on a human level, creating a sense of empathy and understanding. They help us see the world through different lenses, which is crucial for creating inclusive and collaborative solutions. The experiences of these Jackson Ward leaders remind us that innovation thrives in diverse and connected communities.

 

Questions Leaders Can Ask to Leverage Storytelling to Support Innovation

 

  1. How can we leverage our organization's unique stories to inspire innovative thinking and actions? Reflect on the stories that define your organization's history and values. How can these narratives be shared to inspire creativity and innovation within your team?

  2. How can we create a safe space for sharing and learning from successes and failures? Consider implementing regular storytelling sessions where team members can share their experiences. How can this practice support a culture of openness and continuous learning?

 

  1. How do we ensure diverse voices and stories are heard and valued in our innovation process? Evaluate your current processes for inclusivity. How can you ensure various perspectives are included in decision-making and brainstorming sessions?

 

Interactive Storytelling Exercises Leaders Can Engage to Encourage Innovation

 

  1. Story Circles: Gather your team and create a space where everyone can share a story about a time when they faced a challenge and found an innovative solution. This exercise builds trust and encourages learning from each other's experiences.

  2. Mapping the Future: Ask your team to map a storyboard illustrating a future innovation journey. Start with a problem, incorporate diverse ideas, and envision the steps needed to achieve an innovative solution. This visual exercise helps in aligning vision and strategy.

  3. “Take A Walk In Their Shoes” Brainstorming Exercise: Encourage team members to imagine themselves as historical figures. How would Maggie L. Walker, William “Bojangles” Robinson, or John Mitchell Jr. approach a current challenge? This exercise promotes creative thinking and problem-solving from different perspectives.

 

As we move forward, let's consider how we use storytelling to support innovation. Inviting these questions and incorporating these storytelling lessons into our leadership portfolio can help us think differently and discover much-needed solutions to challenging issues like housing, which this BLI cohort is committed to doing in their leadership development journey.  

 

We would love to hear from you!

Share your experiences on this topic in the comments below


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