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The Modern Campfire: the use of stories as a Knowledge Management tool in organizations

1 July 2013

Liron Rigal

We all deal with telling the story of our life's events, whether done consciously or not. We constantly share stories about different occurrences with others and others share with us: stories about what happened, stories about what may happen. We tell our story usually accompanied with body gestures, face expressions, vocal intonations all used in order to create a dramatic effect to emphasize what was said.

This is obviously not a new phenomenon. Since the dawn of human history, man has been telling stories as a form of conveying knowledge and culture. We are telling stories in any moment and state of our lives. Also in business and workplace situations, stories can be used as a means for describing complex multidimensional situations as well as presenting creative complex solutions. A good story, optimally constructed and presented, can serve as a invaluable lesson for emotionally and conceptually learning visible and concealed knowledge in regard to a specific situation as well as in regard to learning lessons for future situations.


Telling Stories within the organization

Telling stories within the organization can serve as a means to several ends:

  1. Sharing organizational norms and values: telling and sharing stories is a means to spreading the organizational culture between workers and instilling important organizational values.

  2. Developing trust and commitment: telling stories contributes to building trust between workers, communicating reliability and developing a sense of mutual security.

  3. Sharing concealed knowledge: telling stories in a quick efficient way to exchange complex knowledge which can assist in solving complex problems. Sometimes, the organization's canon knowledge which was documented and stored in organizational systems is found insufficient or inefficient when dealing with real problems. In these situations, knowledge experienced when dealing with the problem in real time can provide the perfect solution.

  4. Reevaluation of work methods: sometimes the work method becomes so deeply rooted into organizational conduct even though it isn't the most successful or efficient solution in the organization. Using storytelling, in which the narrator does not stick to the dry facts rather adds an intuitive or emotional element, can provoke reevaluation and as a result coming up with creative original methods.

  5. Creating emotional connection: Stories usually deal with special / extraordinary situations which we have gone through. These situations arouse emotional feelings on behalf of the listener. This makes the knowledge easier to retrieve in future situations.


Storytelling as a means to sharing complex knowledge:

In the organizational circle, defined knowledge can usually be utilized effectively so that purchasing the knowledge is the main point of the organization-it is merely only purchasing the knowledge according to which you can conduct oneself morally in the organization.

A story which contains organizational knowledge must have a detailed narrative of previous conduct, of interaction between workers, and a description of intra-organizational and extra-organizational activities unofficially communicated within the organization.

A story conveying knowledge should serve the following purposes:

  1. Conveying an experience in narrative form: a story conveying knowledge is simple and clear, includes a number of important points assimilated into the general story, can be retold and passed on, and in most cases anyone can find a point of contact to a field or aspect of their lives.

  2. Conveying an alternative experience: a story conveying knowledge is indirectly teaching performance-it contains information regarding conduct/course of action and grants the listener an indirect learning experience.

  3. Providing information on performance: a story conveying knowledge deals with conduct or course of action found by the storyteller (or narrator) particularly effective/conducive and can usually be dissected to action units of beginning, middle and end.


How can we utilize this type of communication for sharing knowledge in the organization and increasing organizational efficiency?

Reaping a story: producing insights from a story of conduct in a project

One of the most important processes in storytelling is knowing how to efficiently utilize information which was intermediated by analyzing the information, dissecting it to information units and drawing conclusions in order to implement the information in future situations. There are 4 stages in the process of 'story reaping':

  1. Writing the story: by transforming the experience into a story through its writing, the storyteller is forced to place the experience in a context, to instill logic into it and create an orderly sequence of conduct that may the listeners understanding of the described occurrence.

  2. Interaction: Constructing the story must be the result of a collective effort and team cooperation. This way, the listener has the opportunity to ask questions in order to deepen his/her comprehension as well as a chance to build shared meaning and understanding.

  3. The listener internalizing the story: request the listener to write down the main things he/she learned or understood from the story and refine points that weren't comprehended correctly.

  4. Documentation: in the end of the process, document the important point produced from the story such as: positive and negative results, how to apply this knowledge in future projects, the lesson learning performed. During the documentation process, aspire to "release" the story from the specific situation in which it took place and search for general insights and main patterns of action.


How to encourage storytelling in the organization:

  1. Creating opportunities for an informal discourse: the environment in which the story is told is very important. Usually, the story will be told during informal meetings between workers: in the line for the coffee dispenser, on the way to a meeting and even during a meeting when unfortunately there is hardly time to tell exchange information. The organization should aspire to create spaces and locations in which workers will feel comfortable to tell stories and exchange information.

  2. Raising Awareness: workers are unaware of the importance of storytelling as a means of exchanging information. The organization must aspire to enhance workers' awareness to this form of information exchange by communicating through organizational means of communication and by allocating time for performance.


In conclusion

Storytelling is another means to intermediate information between workers along mentoring, simulation, reading and learning. Research has shown that storytelling encourages building trust, instills organizational norms, exchanges concealed knowledge, stimulates learning from others and creates emotional connections between workers.

Storytelling is a means to get people closer, to create friendships and relationships that enhance the sense of mutual trust and as a result the continuation of collective performance and cooperation between workers.

We should aspire to create opportunities for sharing stories between workers, not only as a creative and expressive means for sharing information and experiences but also (mainly) as a way to create work partnerships and mutual commitment as well as a means for creating a work environment that supports knowledge sharing.  It is important to know how to reap the fruit of the story and produce the best of the learning experience in order to reuse the insights acquired from other working processes and other situations.  



Application of storytelling in knowledge management , Eric.D.Brown, Amit Deoker, Presentation for INFS , 2009, Storytelling in organizations: the power and traps of using stories to share knowledge in organizations, Deborah Sole, Daniel. G. Wilson

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