What Was Sgt. Joe Friday Really Thinking?

People like Stories.

People like Stories. I think that when we say that Stories are a “humanizing” way of communicating, we mean that telling and hearing Stories connect us to other people as well as to the content being conveyed. Which other people? Whoever tells the story. Whoever else hears the story. Whoever is behind the story, whether ‘behind the story’ points to a culture or a discipline or an organization or a team. Whoever takes the story to its next telling or version. Whoever makes sense out of the story. The reach of the connection is expansive.

Stories are certainly more interesting and often more impactful and memorable than recitations of dry facts.Take the often-told story of the time that Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson went camping (I’ve seen the story in various versions all over the Internet, but I’ve never found it in the Conan Doyle canon):

Holmes and Watson went camping as many of us do. They went to the woods, pitched their tent, had their dinner, and went to sleep.

Holmes woke up in the middle of the night. He looked around and then woke Watson.

“Watson, look up and tell me what you see.”

As was his custom, Watson responded to Holmes’ challenge.

“I see the sky, Holmes, and it’s full of more stars than one can count.”

“Good. Now tell me Watson, what do you think that means?”

Ahh—a rare moment when Watson could showcase his knowledge and brilliance.

“What does it mean? Astronomically, it means that there are millions of stars and perhaps billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that it’s about 3 in the morning. Meteorologically, I predict that tomorrow will be another fine, clear day. Theologically I see that God is all-powerful, the universe is vast, and we are insignificant. Now you tell me. Holmes, what do you think it means?”

“So glad you finally asked. Watson, it means that someone stole our tent.”

Facts, Perspectives, Interpretations

I suspect this story interested you much more than if I had said “Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson went camping and their tent disappeared while they slept in it.” Even if you don’t know the Conan Doyle canon and these central figures from it, you might have a sense of the characters now and perhaps a stronger interest in investigating that canon than you had just a few moments ago. You might have started to think about the various perspectives and interpretations that can be imposed on a single set of dry facts, and perhaps you’ve even begun to wonder if dry facts matter much without perspectives and interpretations to inform them.

Do you remember Sgt. Joe Friday from the television series Dragnet? Friday wanted “the facts, ma’am, just the facts.” I suspect he wanted a clean, dry-fact-only canvas not so that the facts would speak for themselves to solve his cases (they wouldn’t, couldn’t, and didn’t) but rather so that he could paint it with his own unswayed interpretations, which would indeed successfully solve his cases.

Learn More

Do you sometimes think you might be or become a Holmes or a Watson or a Sgt. Friday? Do you want to take the facts that define your story to  the next step—the interpretation that helps you first to understand the challenge and then to define and deliver an effective solution—based on a deep understanding of the facts and the context that surrounds them? Group Atlantic is currently developing ways to deepen understanding and then to transform deep understanding into action. To learn more about our exciting new directions and to provide input that will help us serve your specific needs, please provide your responses in the comments section. We look forward to hearing from you, addressing your needs, and working with you.

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Suzie Garfield

Suzie Garfield has decades of experience in the worlds of business, technology, education, and performance. As a computer programmer, teacher, trainer, storyteller, coach, and mentor, Suzie faces any question or challenge with an exploratory, agile, "yes-and" approach. Suzie holds Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Mathematics and in Literature, a Ph.D. in Humanities/Comparative Literature, an MBA, and certification as a PMP. As a developer of business application systems and a project leader and manager, she has seen again and again how intention, expression, and interpretation converge to support and to subvert business and technological relationships, outcomes, and results. Suzie shares her insights into how verbal and quantitative processes impact real-world outcomes and how a deep understanding of the products and services we envision enables us to build and deliver them.

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