Redundancy in storytelling

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —May 10, 2007
Filed in Business storytelling, Strategy

I found a new blog this morning and while it’s a newie I’m hoping it will have some more good posts like this one about Walter Ong and the issue of redundancy in storytelling. The blog authors are Jim Stahl and Nemola Kalo.

I found this quote Jim posted from Walter Ong very interesting:

“Since redundancy characterizes oral thought and speech, it is in a profound sense more natural to thought and speech than is sparse linearity. Sparse linear or analytic thought and speech are artificial creations, structured by the technology of writing…. With writing, the mind is forced into a slowed-down pattern that affords it the opportunity to interfere with and recognize its more normal, redundant processes.”

A while back I wrote a piece about the difference between storytelling and story writing and while I didn’t recognize the issue of redundancy there I was quite aware of the reduced speed and second guessing that was introduced when a story is written.

Perhaps more importantly, redundancy is an important feature in a complex environment where contexts are continuously changing. Mark and I are in the middle of a knowledge strategy assignment and we are conducting some interviews to help the organisation choose the knowledge objectives they would like to focus on for the next 12 months. During those interviews I have been telling the same story about how we propose the conduct the 3rd journey (the continuous improvement process). On the forth telling of the story I get this confused look on Mark’s face. It turns out that up until that point I was not conveying what I meant so this disconnect triggered a good conversation and we got our story straight. There was something different in the forth context and telling that triggered something for Mark. Redundancy is important.

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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:


  1. Jim Stahl says:

    Thanks very much for noticing our blog. We’re getting started on this blog. I’m sure we’ll have lots more to post and share.

  2. patti digh says:

    Ong’s Orality and Literacy is an important book for me in the teaching I do about storytelling and culture, so I was delighted to find your post and the blog you pointed to – thanks!

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