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Storytelling is more about creating connections than knowledge transfer

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —May 23, 2006
Filed in Business storytelling

Don Cohen reminds us of the power of telling stories in organisations by retelling the story about NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs regular storytelling sessions. More organisations should do this rather than traditional information sharing get-togethers you typically find ladened with powerpoint and rooms filled with of rows of seats in seminar style. By asking the presenter to tell the story of their work the nature of the conversation changes—people don’t fight the content, they relax. Present people with facts and they feel compelled to examine and dispute. Present a tale and people engage and explore.

The different interpersonal dynamic created between presenting facts and telling stories was made clear to me one day when I was running one of our sensemaking workshops. The client said there was no time to collect stories to use in the workshop (our standard approach) and asked whether using snippets from reports would suffice. I said I was happy to give it a try while making it clear that I had never done it that way before. We ran the workshop and the participants argued vociferously over most of the snippets which, of course, lacked context and seemed to the participants as bold statements of fact without justification. It was a disaster. On the other hand people rarely argue against a story.

Don then makes two excellent observations we should all keep in mind:

  • “I believe building trust and relationships is a more important effect of organizational storytelling than knowledge transfer.”
  • “… the benefits of telling (emphasis added) a story can be profound.”

I agree with Don on both points and would add that any activity that fosters conversation and the development of new social networks is essential for creating adaptable organisations. Not only that but it makes work fun.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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