Knowing what it is that we know- using storytelling to get to our knowledge

In the management of knowledge, neither the individual nor the community is fully aware of the depth or range of its knowledge. Asking an individual what he knows in isolation from context of knowledge use just does not work. Useful knowledge is triggered by events and circumstances. So one has to re-create the events and circumstances in order to identify knowledge.

Observation of knowledge use in day-to-day business works when business cycles are short. But in long-term settings, other approaches need to be implemented.

Interviews fail as while describing the past, history will be changed to ensure the story of the past meets the requirements of the present (e.g. sale numbers).

But indirect approaches like storytelling provide the needed information. Storytelling as a pervasive technique that triggers the memory of knowledge and triggers a desire to acquire knowledge.

As an example, workshops can be undertaken where teams talk about the former cases of lost and won businesses in a relaxed atmosphere. Teams should be prevented from telling stories in a linear time sequence as their inevitably led to distortion as a pseudo-rational model was imposed on the past. Free flow stories reveal a considerable number of decisions that would not have been revealed through conventional interview, and some material is only triggered to be remembered by a powerful story from another team member.

Observers then note every decision made and consolidate them into simple flow diagrams which are then consolidated by the team members. For each decision point, the participants were asked which knowledge they used there, both explicit and tacit.

The result is an idealised model of the decision process and associated information forms and a consolidated register of knowledge assets used.

Distributing knowledge to a wider community

For effective knowledge transfer, an interaction between trainer and trainees is necessary as knowledge is contextual. By collecting anecdotes, underlying values and rules can be identified. Anecdotes can then be decomposed and reconstructed to stories that include the desired values and rules.

In distant learning, anecdotes told in the non-virtual course can be collected, decomposed and re-written with the main values, rules and characters to guide through the online learning, to create identity and the drive to bond, to entertain and – to motivate!

Based on Storytelling and other organic tools for Chief Knowledge Officers and Chief Learning Officers; David Snowden, Founder of the Cynefin Center

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