One of the big misunderstandings about stories and tacit knowledge

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —February 25, 2007
Filed in Business storytelling

People have heard that storytelling is great for dealing with tacit knowledge. They say things like, “If we could only capture our stories we could then capture our organisation’s tacit knowledge.”

This is the big mistake! Stories only have meaning in the context of their telling. That is, you need to tell and listen to stories to transfer (not capture) tacitly held knowledge. It’s a social process. You need to be part of the conversation.

In practice, this means creating spaces for stories to be told and listened to. We do it in a bunch of different ways depending on the needs and objectives of our clients.

For example, if we are helping tackle complex issues such as trust, leadership, culture change, we would create the space in sensemaking workshops.

If we need to evaluate the impact of difficult to measure initiatives we create the space using Most Significant Change and the selection workshops.

NASA creates this space for staff to listen to and tell stories in their monthly project management seminars where PMs discuss the stories collected in the their monthly newsletter, ASK.

Everyone is busy and no one will give up their valuable time to listen and tell stories. But they will allocate time to evaluate a project, tackle a complex problem or learn lessons from their colleagues.

The stories don’t contain magical solutions that we can capture, dissect and unleash. Rather they provide a language of engagement, of learning and a way to transfer what is impossible to write down and store in any database.

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:

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