Storytelling is a meta-level concept in that all KM concepts, strategies, designs, interventions, and even outcomes are all reduced to and communicated as stories. KM itself is a story. Therefore good storytelling is vital in KM work. Stories are used in a variety of applications in KM work. Examples include:
- KM - designing, conceptualising & communicating KM strategies, processes & interventions. Designing and testing models & meta-models. Developing organisational metaphors.
- Leadership - telling stories that exemplify customer service, learning, change, diversity, co-operation etc.
- Culture & Change - reflecting on culture, designing a vision and roadmap of the future, employee induction programs, corporate history & grand narrative, identity
- Marketing & branding - community animation, customer engagement, customer definition
- Ideation - developing & implementing programs for responsible innovation & idea creation
- Communication - transferring implicit knowledge
Storytelling in KM work
Stories are vitally important in times of change – they bring a sense of meaning and purpose to the human experience. Stories contain elements that enable us to 'travel forward in hope', even if we don't like our fellow travellers. Clearly managing the story of 'what is going on' is vitally important in situations of conflict and change. This is because people resort to violence and brutality when the story collapses. In KM, change and transformation management, the work of the storyteller may include:
- Accessing the conversations that are occurring in the situation. Experience has shown that this role is best accomplished by an ‘outsider’ who does not have a particular affiliation to any party to the conflict.
- Helping to understanding the possible impact of these stories in the situation - especially if they evoke emotional responses or build 'vicious' or 'virtuous' cycles
- Creating a story – either factual or allegorical. (Allegorical refers to the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form)
- Asking key questions like 'how would you like it to be?'
- Telling / reflecting a story and making adjustments as a result of listening to feedback
- Identifying and reinforcing the useful stories that support a sense of mission, vision, values and purpose through conscious, on-going telling and mutation of the story.
Using African Storytelling in KM work - The African Dilemma Tale
The following story was developed for an Africa healthcare organisation in order to give people a picture of “where we are” following interviews conducted in the discovery phase of a change project. The story is designed as a point of feedback and reflection and is deliberately left as a cliff-hanger in the African storytelling tradition; what happens next is dependent on the listeners who are challenged to tell the rest of the story. In old Africa, these stories are called African Dilemma Tales. Such stories may be allegorical – many of the things described may not actually have happened and the characters might not be real. The story is designed to create a shared understanding that we are all involved in a process and that our values, attitudes and beliefs create the experience of the complex system we call an organisation. The story also allows us to talk about complex realities in a new way. The story below was read out and circulated by the organisation’s leadership figure in a formal ceremony.
Once upon a time in a small, beautiful kingdom in Africa, a group of leaders saw that their people were facing terrible suffering. They wanted to help and between them had many skills, but they were faced with many obstacles – hands that should have been extending help were bound. Webs of confusion slowed them in their place of work. There was dissent between them and splinter groups formed. Much of their supporters were scattered. Some of the leaders had forgotten their Great Work. Worst of all, the fire around which they gathered to talk, had gone out. And even though there was help available from allies, they were so burdened and constrained that it was difficult to make use of the help offered to them.
Every time news came in from the mountain, they felt worse. The suffering was increasing. Parents were dying. Children were dying. Young people, who should have been strong and energetic looked lost and without hope for the future.
“This can’t continue”, someone said and several others heard, repeating the phrase. Though tired and lacking motivation, the wisdom of their ancestors whispered in their dreams.fireside
“Build a fire,” the whispers said. “Gather round and talk this thing through until you find solutions”.
Someone found a few twigs and put a match to them. Someone else came with more twigs and a few of the leaders started talking about their difficulties and found that all their problems were similar. Soon others arrived, bearing more firewood. As they talked and the flames leaped up, more arrived, until a great fire could be seen from afar. The leaders talked and talked until they all understood what the difficulties were and then began to plan how each would be overcome. Their supporters drew closer to the fire, heard the discussion and were glad, so glad, that some started to dance and sing. The people of the kingdom could see the fire and hear the singing from afar and their spirits rose. Something was happening at last…TO BE CONTINUED….
The style of the African Dilemma Tale is an interesting approximation of 'real life' because. if you think about it, what happens next is always up to you. In the dilemma tale above, listeners were asked to respond to the question 'So what happens next in this story?'
From “Art & Science of Change – A Resource for Management and Leadership” – (ISBN-978-0-9802550-3-4) available – Available from Ubuhibi Media – http://www.ubuhibi.com/art.and.science.of.change
Stories about Stories
Storytelling is probably the world’s biggest industry. Think about it. Radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, websites, books, pamphlets, advertising hoardings, blogs, annual reports, financial statements, court papers invoices and handouts such as these are just some aspects of the incessant post modern chatter. Seems everyone is trying to tell a story.
Since you learned language, whatever you came to know about the world was communicated to you by story. Either a story told, read or made up by you. How do certain stories, words and jokes make you ‘feel’? Are there certain events in your life that you think might have empowered or disempowered you? What is the link between your emotions, your nervous system, the language you use and the stories you tell? Are you making it up or is it 'real'. How could you tell the difference?
Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, to rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it and change it as times changes, truly are powerless because they cannot think new thoughts. Salman Rushdie