Storytelling for sharing knowledge Part 2

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Emma’s Nanny has valuable knowledge and knows how to manage it when the time comes that she needs it to solve a problem. Emma, however, doesn’t have valuable knowledge, can’t manage it, and endangers her own life. If we extrapolate this story to a company, certain obvious questions arise: What knowledge is important at your company? Who has it? What knowledge do employees need so they don’t “drown”? What knowledge do others have that could “save” them? How can we transfer it? Do you know what knowledge must be “retained” even if people leave the organization?

Our brain isn’t organized around databases or numbers nor do we think using theories, formulas, definitions or concepts. The mind is a repository of experiences, cases, plans, objectives, failures, etc., which are the ingredients of a story. If I ask you to remember the most important moments of your life, you would surely think about different situations and persons (the birth of a child, your wedding, the death of a loved one, the attack on the Twin Towers in September, 2001, the earthquake in 2010, etc.), and, by remembering them, you will be evoking a set of stories. We understand and explain the world through stories, and we spend all day telling stories and listening to stories without realizing it, you just need to pay attention. In his book “The Blessed Mania of Storytelling,” the Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez says, “I am convinced that the world is divided between those that know how to tell stories and those that don’t.“ You remember your past and the most important events in your life as stories, and when you imagine your life in the future, you also do so as a story. We tell children stories when we want them to go to sleep, and when we sleep, we dream in stories. But you don’t only think in terms of stories: your fears and hopes are stories, your imagination is expressed as stories, the plans you make are stories, just like your loves, hates, etc.  Each of us is a story. Our lives are stories. We are the main characters in our story and we interact with other characters, we play out roles, with experience situations, we make decisions, we learn from our experiences and the experiences of others through conversations and interactions. Some time ago I performed an experiment and asked several people to tell me something concrete that they had learnt in the previous week. Practically all of them told me a story. This isn’t anything new. Stories are ancient. 10 thousand years ago there was no PowerPoint, there was only direct experience and stories were the way in which humanity transmitted knowledge before the development of written language. The paintings discovered in the caves inhabited by our primitive forebears clearly show their intent to leave behind the footprint of their lives through “painted” stories. Without knowing it, they were creating the foundations for what would later be known as the comic.

Stories move us. A well-told, good story (whether true or made up) makes people cry, feel anxious, have nightmares, laugh, feel affection for the people and the situation, become obsessed, suffer… An important quality of stories is that they make you want to hear them and can also be remembered better than any other format. One feature of stories is the way they can explain the unexplainable (using examples), and how they can help understand complex issues like Knowledge Management. And for good measure, stories trigger your imagination because not only do they allow you to recreate your own world (much like books do), but you can’t be indifferent to them: they “force” you to think. Stories inspire because they attack the emotions and not just the rational side of things. They speak to the gut (the creative-emotional brain) while information speaks only to the head (rational brain). Stories even have the power to change people’s behavior. The impact of a story like the Bible on humanity’s evolution is undeniable. Stories are felt and stories inspire because they lead you to ask questions in a time where education keeps insisting on the answers (forcing us to memorize untold amounts of useless theories and concepts that we soon forget).