“Sometime reality is too complex. Fiction gives it form.” Jean Luc Godard
Sitting on a Greek island, I am reminded of how historically, stories have played a key role in transferring knowledge; the epic poems and ancient parables are evidence of this ageless capability. Before text was invented, stories were the main form of knowledge recording and sharing, as the conditions for the preservation of ideas were mnemonic (Havelock, 1976). Stories are still easier to remember than prose and any good speaker uses them to this advantage.
Research into great leaders suggests that a leader who truly enables change is one who creates a story; a vision that significantly affects the thoughts, behaviors and feelings of a large number of people who then become followers (Gardner & Laskin, 1995). Stories provided the organizing framework for both the recorders and the receivers of knowledge.
With the advent of text and storage devices such as clay tablets and papyrus, other forms of documentation became possible and stories went underground in certain contexts such as business. But stories did not lose all their power to move people and the printing press made them scalable. For example, many historians have argued that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was more instrumental in convincing the people of the northern United States of the evils of slavery than the more abstract appeals to morality by contemporary politicians. Stowe was referred to as the old lady who started the Civil War.
Within business however, although stories have remained important in informal knowledge transfer, they have not been fully recognized for their value and have not been used to achieve maximum benefit. I see signs of this changing. More business projects are starting to include the collection of stories as a part of their communication plans.
This is a good idea as while stories can be simple, they also require a broad bandwidth to convey their context and richness. Information systems traditionally focused on data. Now, with continuing increases in bandwidth and other advances, corporate stories could become more recognized as a major source of organizational learning able to be managed through technology.
Stories could be managed, evaluated, documented and made accessible to the right people to increase their effectiveness. A U.S. study found that a vast majority of employees felt they gained most of their work-related knowledge by chance from informal conversations, mostly stories, and not from procedure manuals or formal training (Wensley, 1998).
Stephen Denning (2001) is the most recognized business storyteller and he writes a complement to Goddard: “Storytelling doesn’t replace analytical thinking. It supplements it by enabling us to imagine new perspectives and new worlds, and is ideally suited to communicating change and stimulating innovation.”
Here are some references as not all have links.
Denning, S. (2001) The springboard: How storytelling ignites actions in knowledge-era organizations. Boston: Butterworth Heinemann.
Gardner, H., & Laskin, E. (1995) Leading minds: An anatomy of leadership. New York: Basic Books
Havelock, E., (1976) Origins of Western Literacy. Toronto: The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Press
Roud, R. (1967) Goddard. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.
Wensley, A. (1998) The value of story telling. Knowledge and Process Management, 5, 1, 1-2.