Telling Tales

November 5th, 2008

Today I held a presentation to my faculty colleagues about Stephen Denning‘s article Telling Tales. What he says is that managers should use storytelling as a business tool in organizations.

Why the brain likes a good tale

Margaret Parkin says stories can be included in change programs in many ways, such as:

  • as part of a brainstorming session;
  • to communicate the future of an organization, clearly and enthusiastically;
  • to unpick a problem and offer a parallel view;
  • to add spice to a presentation on forthcoming changes;
  • as an aid to memorable learning;
  • to aid discussion and reflection during training sessions; and
  • to stimulate curiosity in a “change update” newsletter or e-mail.

Her choice of the word “brainstorming” might take on a more literal meaning as she explains:

Research shows that while listening to stories, biochemical changes take place in the brain; levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) drop and levels of immunoglobulin A rise. So listening to a story can promote relaxation.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

When Stephen Denning was program director of knowledge management at the World Bank in the mid-1990s, he gave impressive demonstrations and made compelling arguments about the need to gather information that, at the time, was scattered throughout the organization.

Frustrated at the poor response, he told them a story about a health worker in a tiny Zambian town who needed to know something about treatment for malaria, knowledge she was able to get immediately from a web site. The World Bank’s vast array of knowledge on poverty-related issues was not available to her in the same way.

Make’s you think, doesn’t it?

was the sort of response the little story elicited, and it did make them think and change the way they approached the management of their organization’s knowledge.

Ironically, Denning’s account was later criticized by a storytelling “expert” as being somewhat pathetic, lacking in detail and “plot”, few details about the health worker, nothing about her problems and so on. To his credit, Denning rejected this particular expert’s view.He says:

The ‘maximalist’ account would be more engrossing than my relatively dry anecdote. But I had learned enough by then to realize that telling the story in this way to a corporate audience would not galvanize implementation of a strange new idea like knowledge management. I knew that in the modern workplace, people had neither the time nor the patience – remember executives’ general skepticism about storytelling in the first place – to absorb a richly detailed narrative. If I was going to hold the attention of my audience I had to make my point in seconds, not minutes.

Storytelling can be used effectively at a time when an organization is about to undergo huge changes, and when those at the top need managers and other employees to envision what the organization will be like, and their role in it, after the changes. Human nature tends to make us apprehensive, maybe downright scared, of change, with a consequent reluctance to go for it enthusiastically. In the absence of a time machine to let people see that the future organizational change is not such a bad thing after all, the nearest you can get to it is their own imagination, fired by a “story-like” explanation of what is involved.

How Does Storytelling apply to blogging?

Article It is a very useful guide for blogging too. I know much of you already arranged your blog as a one big tale of yours but think again and try to give your audience a useful tale from your experience. Sometimes that’s what they need and that is what they will read with as little  pain as possible.

Here are 30 storytelling blogs you’ll love:

  1. Karen Chace – Catch the Story Bug!
  2. Granny Sue’s News and Reviews
  3. Ellouise Schoettler
  4. Storynory
  5. Stephen Hollen
  6. Priscilla Howe
  7. Going Deep: The Long Traditional Story Festival
  8. Gwyn Calvetti – Musings on story and me…
  9. Kevin Burge – Siegfried’s Viking Tales
  10. Sean Buvala: A Quarter for a Tale
  11. Sally Crandall: Heads or Tales
  12. Rachel Hedman
  13. Limor Shiponi: Limor’s Storytelling Agora
  14. Eric Wolf
  15. Kathy Hansen: A Storied Career
  16. Mathew Needleman: Creating Lifelong Learners
  17. Austories
  18. Teresa Clark – Storyteller
  19. Tim Ereneta: Some Thoughts from Tim and Breaking the Eggs
  20. Storytelling Guild of Eastern Idaho
  21. Chris King: Curiosity Cubed
  22. Holly Stephens: The Storyteller and the Listener Online
  23. Liz Weir: Liz’s Ireland Journal
  24. How to Tell a Great Story: A Beginner’s Guide to Storytelling
  25. TallTales Audio Storytelling Blog: All About Storytelling
  26. The Multicolored Lady
  27. Hope Baugh: Indy Theatre Habit
  28. Dianne de Las Casas: The Story Connection Blog
  29. Laura Lewis-Barr: Jung As I Can Be
  30. Stories From Papi

List source:

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One Response to “Telling Tales”

  1. Dianne de Las Casas

    15 years ago

    Thank you for the mention! I appreciate it. Happy Tales to you!

    Reply to this comment

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