Anthropologist collects stories from soldiers in Afganistan

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —July 6, 2006
Filed in Business storytelling

I just noticed this news item over at Harold Jarche’s blog describing how anthropologist Anne Irwin spent time collecting stories in the field with the Canadian Light Infantry battle group in Afghanistan. Here’s an except:

When they are out in the field and return from a patrol, the exhausted soldiers relax together in small, tightly-knit groups – Irwin calls them “nesting circles” – and recount the events of the day or the mission.

Each soldier contributes a story, an anecdote or even a joke, adding stock and spice into what becomes a collective stew of experiences, she said. They also playfully insult each other.

The storytelling not only helps forge the individual identity of each soldier, it builds interpersonal relationships that can have a bearing on how well the unit performs on the battlefield.

I was struck by two things which seem to be pre-requisites for storytelling among group: memorable experiences and down time together for recounting those experiences. While never as intense as battle conditions I’m certain we still have memorable experiences at work but I feel we are losing out down time to recount and as a result losing valuable informal learning.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of 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:


  1. Yes, I believe that down time is an important factor – in our work and in our lives. As life gets more hectic, we have to make sure that we make time to do nothing. And I’m going to take a few days off 🙂

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