In 2001 Shell collected a bunch of stories and put them together in a booklet now know as the Blue Book, but with the official title of Stories from the Edge: Managing Knowledge through New Ways of Working within Shell’s Exploration and Production Business. It’s a landmark publication because it shows that a company in a hard-nosed industry like oil exploration and production recognises the value of storytelling and are getting benefits from its application.
The booklet (87 pages) is in four parts:
- Global Networks
- Global Consultancy
- Centres of Excellence
- Distributed Teams
Many of the stories tell how the organisation has saved money by sharing knowledge. Others are about how new tools and techniques have been used. In each case the stories are in the language of the Shell employees. Here’s an example:
Pecten Cameroon’s research revealed that other operators had achieved production gains by injecting demulsifier downhole in gas lifted wells, reducing viscosity in the production string and thereby increasing production. After a trial evaluation of their own, the company obtained a gain of 500 barrels per day or $5 million per annum. The approach is being extended to 17 other wells with prospective gains of $9 million per year.
What I find most interesting about the Blue Book is how the authors recognised that collecting and sharing stories of success is a powerful way to garner resources for things like communities of practice, which are notoriously difficult to develop a business case for. In fact, any learning initiative is difficult to justify in a strictly analytical way (to see why have a look at this post I wrote a while back-Learning initiatives need stories not measurement).
BHP Billiton has taken a similar approach with their communities of practice (also called Networks). Check out their Ok Tedi story.
Throughout the Blue Book are quotes from Dave Snowden’s early papers on narrative techniques for knowledge management. I hadn’t heard about any work Dave had done with Shell so it was a welcomed surprise.
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: