The Blog

Posted:
10 Oct 2006

Storytelling: Passport to Success in the 21st Century

It is surprising to some, that the resurgence in interest among today’s business leaders in the ancient art of storytelling comes at a time when electronic communications would seem to make such an art obsolete.

Human beings have been communicating with each other through storytelling since the earliest times, when communities lived in caves and sat around campfires exchanging tales. What is new today about the art of telling stories is the purposeful use of narrative to achieve a practical outcome for an individual, a community, or within an organisation.

Larry Prusak, executive director of IBM’s Institute of Knowledge Management, is an early protagonist of knowledge management and he believes storytelling will become a key ingredient for managing communications, education, training, and innovation in the 21st century.

From an organisational perspective, several questions are beginning to be posed:
How has knowledge become such a key element of the 21st century economy?
What do organisations really know?
Can knowledge be managed?
What role can storytelling play in the creation and sharing of knowledge?
Prusak claims that after twenty years as consultant having developed an allergy to all presentation materials: overheads, powerpoints and slides, he stopped offering knowledge transfer in this way and began telling stories, particularly stories in and about organisations. Prusak believes it is possible to categorize storytelling in organisations into the following:

Stories about other people
Stories about the work itself
Stories about the organization
Stories as social bonding
Stories as signals
Stories about the past
Stories about the future
Stories about life itself
Stories about oneself and identity
Electronic storytelling
There are also other areas of social construction that stories can touch such as: Gender, Ethnic or Generational differences.

In summary, the attributes of a story are that there is durability (over time) of the message, the salience of the message within the story, the sense-making for those who may not see the reasoning behind a conventional message and comfort.

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