Anecdote News – May 2007

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —May 19, 2007
Filed in News

** Anecdote News **

Brought to you by Anecdote – Putting Stories to Work

Discovering lost knowledge

Clients often ask us to suggest tangible ways to minimise

the impact of people leaving their organisation. The exodus

might be due to people retiring or in the case of one

organisation, people leave because the culture says

“you need to move positions to show your career is progressing.”

In one case everyone in a regional outpost was new to the job

leaving the team of 16 without a good understanding of the

work that has been done in the 15 years their group has been

operating. To be effective this regional group needs to know

about the scientific studies that have occurred in their region.

To re-find this knowledge the group is planning to invite past

employees to a world cafe. But because the current team is

new and they only know some of the past employees, they are going

to ask the people they know to name others they should invite and so

on until they get as many names as possible.

The event will be part reunion and part world cafe where

small tables will be manned by a person from the current team

and past employees will join each table and talk about the projects

they remember were done in the region. All the ideas are captured

on butcher’s paper tablecloth and the visitors rotate to the next table

where their table facilitator fills them in on the conversation that’s

happened so far prompting people to remember new projects.

Questions that elicit stories

We’ve written quite a bit on how to elicit stories and the questions you

should ask, and the ones to avoid.

One of the things we said is, “use ‘when’ and ‘where’ questions and

avoid ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions.” Questions like “When have you

been inspired at work?” tend to elicit stories. While questions like,

“What do you think about your work?” tends to elicit abstract opinions.

There is an exception that always bothered me. The simple question,

“What happened?” This is a great story collecting question. Well it hit me

yesterday while listening to a talkback radio host, Richard Stubbs. His

show is all about eliciting stories from his listeners and yesterday he

wanted stories about the things people achieved this week and he

simply asked, “What did you do?”

So ‘what’ questions that focus on actions elicit stories. Other ‘what’

questions such as “What do you think?” or “What do you feel?” will

likely result in opinions.


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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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