Knowledge Management Tools: The Art of Storytelling
When it comes to knowledge management tools, storytelling is the best, most universal solution. Just a hot take or something more?
I’ve been teaching folks how to be their most creative and entrepreneurial selves for most of my long professional life and learned early on that the more perspectiveS I can provide on a creative concept or entrepreneurial behavior the more likely you are to not simply consume my understanding but continue on to build your own understandings from those multiple perspectives: that understanding you construct will be most useful to you and your circumstances.
I will follow that multiple perspectiveS content delivery strategy with all the creatively entrepreneurial content I share with Creators.
When I taught Creativity and Entrepreneurship courses to over 2,000 students at Duke University, I suggested that they think of Story as the one and only Universal Knowledge Management Technology.
I ask you to pause in your reading for a moment and think about what that suggests to you, that claim.
1. Understanding Story as Technology
Since it was abundantly clear my classes were filled with students who were much more confident in their ability to master a new technology than they were in becoming effective storytellers this proved to be an effective confidence-boosting approach.
And seeing Story through that lens — that’s quite a claim, yeah, the one and only Universal Knowledge Management Technology — provides fresh insights to think new thoughts about Story’s usefulness in different settings, for a range of purposes.
In class, I’d give the students a few minutes to think about that label and chat with the students around them about how Story might justify that label, or not, and then we’d discuss their thoughts.
There was always an early challenge about treating Story as a technology.
I would ask if they considered software and its code to be technology and of course, they did.
I asked if anyone wanted to argue against the view that language could usefully be thought of as a software technology as a communications system designed to create a benefit and not only that, it’s the first open-source software, with each of us able to make additions to the core code.
I’d wait for someone to mention the final word: software is language, so language is software — and it didn’t take long.
Then I claimed that human language technology’s first killer app was Story, another communications technology relying on language for its code.
I proposed for discussion that it is such a powerful tool it will shape the way people think and behave and it can change human expectations for ourselves and Story will advance understanding.
“Story” creates an advantage for the tool’s user.
2. The Creative Power and Entrepreneurial Usefulness of Story
It’s a knowledge management technology as it takes information and turns it into knowledge by adding context and examples, by including human elements that assist the listener’s understanding of the relation and relevance, the usefulness, of the information.
This invites a deeper understanding — neuroscience shows us how and why — and leads to new knowledge.
Perhaps even wisdom will emerge.
Story manages that knowledge — it organizes it and archives it and allows for easy transfers of it.
It’s Universal. We all know how Story works. We may not consciously think of ourselves as storytellers but each of us has used the elements of Story to persuade, to inform, to help accomplish goals throughout our lives and most likely at the most important times of our lives.
And we’ve all had Stories impact our lives in defining ways, repeatedly I’ll bet.
This Universal Knowledge Management Technology is an insistent technology.
3. The Universal Value of Storytelling
If a CEO stood up in front of a group of employees and shared information with them without putting it into context for them in the shape of some narrative that illustrates the information’s significance, the first thing the folks will do when the CEO leaves is search for or create the Story that helps them understand what they just heard.
Neuroscience discoveries help us understand the importance of intentionally embracing this Universal Knowledge Management Technology when communicating important happenings. They reveal why Story is so insistent.
Research finds that when a direct and factual presentation of information is shared with an audience that information is processed in isolation, limited to specific portions of the brain without engaging the rest of the brain’s cognitive processing networks.
But when that information is wrapped in a narrative, when Story elements are used to demonstrate or illustrate or dramatize the information, virtually all of the brain is engaged, and deeply related to all of itself, including the motor, the sensory, and the prefrontal cortexes.
With Story you get sensing and thinking, logic and emotion, the rational and the intuitive; more integration of more processing is always the goal for brain optimization.
In addition, the emotional qualities of story solicits and elicits result in the brain’s release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, making memories of the information more accurate and easier to recall, and triggering systems that prepare the body to take action.
Story also activates the brain’s neural coupling capacities resulting in the listeners feeling the story through their own ideas and experiences.
In fact, there is even a brain mirroring that can take place so that listeners will experience similar brain activity as the speaker, and each other.
Our brains come fully alive, approaching states of optimal performance, when listening to a compelling story.
This coupling and mirroring leads to another core benefit of Story as a Universal Knowledge Management Technology.
When the leader of an organization has presented the company’s mission or plans or new initiatives in the form of a Core Company Story that illustrates what we all need to be doing as we are all working together towards common goals, that Core Company Story affects us more deeply than the plan itself will.
The Story assures we’ll remember what’s significant to our work, we’ll understand the behaviors this Story is asking us to perform, and we relate more closely with each other as we make the Story real.
So a good Story will help Manage the organization’s productive behaviors.
In the next piece of this series, we will talk about how Aspirational Stories work, the importance of knowing your audience’s Story, and how to use Story elements in conversations, presentations, and in idea generation and development.
4. Tell your story
A parting reminder: You are a storyteller.
You’ve come by it naturally, you’ve been surrounded by Stories your entire life, and in my experience, if you are a good listener you are a good storyteller.
My goal is to provide fresh insight that will help you realize you know something you didn’t know you knew and to remind you the tool is there for you whenever you need it.