Ask a gardner what she knows, in a garden

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —November 10, 2008
Filed in Business storytelling

Remembering experiences is heavily dependent on surroundings. I’m currently helping an energy company learn the lessons from retiring employees. I’m videoing their experiences with the view to facilitating sessions using the footage; it’s not really about capturing knowledge, just sparking new conversation based on what’s captured. My last subject was the company’s network controller. He’d been in the role for 10 years and I interviewed him in his office, which was right next to the control room. The control room looks like a mini version of the one from the movie The China Syndrome. His office has a window looking into the control room and it is festooned with charts and whiteboard diagrams. Everywhere you look are computer screens. He has a large table in the middle of his office, which has been the site of many disaster response war rooms. He was brimming with stories.

The network controller was retiring two weeks after my interview and I asked whether I could interview him again at his home. He was happy to help. A month later we met in his lounge room and the response was noticeably different. The stories weren’t as rich. It was harder for him to recall the events. The surroundings didn’t contain the memories and prompters to help him remember what he knew. Surroundings make a big difference to what people can recall.

This pattern repeated itself yesterday, but in a positive way. I had lunch with Patrick Lambe in Singapore and after dim sum (and a durian fruit dessert) we jumped in a cab and visited one of Singapore’s best book stores, Kinokuniya. We wandered around the store chatting and the book covers that grabbed our attention sparked new threads in our conversation. Really enjoyable albeit an expensive outing. Here are the books I bought:

Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

Einstein’s Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius

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. James Dellow says:

    This also reminds me of the memory rooms I’ve seen used in the aged care sector.

  2. That sounds interesting James. What are memory rooms?

  3. Alison says:

    I love Kinkuniya – I visit it in George Street Sydney when ever I can

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