this is a translation of the original article in Danish which is available on VidenDanmark.dk
Organizations have widely started to embrace knowledge management in the beginning of the 1990s. This was – among other things – a result of the new economy which is more networked and subject to rapid change. Particularly due to the rapid change, organizations are sensing an absence of the data or information necessary to make an informed judgment concerning a new problem or opportunity. Such an absence creates uncertainty and new knowledge is required. Hence, to generate and share new knowledge effectively, organizations are increasingly developing tools and activities to enhance learning.
In the blog post I present a way how co-created storytelling can be used to generate new knowledge, to migrate the knowledge into an organization and to let it impact the organizational performance.
Why is co-created storytelling crucial for your organization?
First of all, storytelling is crucial for current knowledge management practices because all the changes in knowledge management have resulted in a focus on context and narrative, rather than only on content. In this respect, Polanyi already argued in the late 1950s that we only know what we know, when we need to know it. Hence, human knowledge is deeply contextual and requires a stimulus to recall. Snowden (2008) refers to this as “the small verbal or nonverbal clues [that can provide] those ah-ha moments when a memory or series of memories are suddenly recalled”.
Secondly, storytelling is crucial because we always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down (Snowden, 2002). Thus, the process of speaking out loud your ideas and thoughts will already result in a loss of context, because not everybody have the same richness in their vocabulary and therefore these thoughts and ideas are being translated in limited ways. However, by writing down thoughts and ideas people are losing far more context, because you should also think about the structure of the language.
In order to increase the richness of the spoken words, it is being argued that stories should be co-created. This is because one single story cannot outline the complete truth. Everybody is experiencing new problems or opportunities through their own mental filters and past experiences. Therefore, a story should be constructed in collaboration with more than one person.
How can co-created storytelling be implemented in your organization?
The Future, Backwards technique is a way to implement storytelling in your organizations as an alternative tool to scenario planning. It is designed to increase the number of perspectives that a group can take both on an understanding of their past, and of the range of possible futures through storytelling. Future Backwards is set-up as a workshop format which takes around 90 to 120 minutes. Ron Donaldson (2009) outlined the steps that need to be taken to implement the Future Backward technique.
First, participants of a Future Backwards workshop are being divided in small groups. If there are, for example, 21 participants, these can be divided in three groups of seven participants. Thereafter, each of the groups are being asked to produce their own ‘story’ on a certain topic. They start defining how TODAY looks like by developing a time line backwards, made up of the most important events, decisions and turning points that have led the organization into the current situation. This timeline is made out of tags.
Second, each of the groups will be asked the question, if within three years everything could go wrong that could go wrong, how would HELL look and feel like, and what might be the fictitious events that lead to it. Again, this will also be tagged with keywords.
Third, each of the groups will be asked how HEAVEN would look like in three years, if everything could go right.
Finally, each group then nominates a storyteller who will tell the co-created story. By having three different stories with assigned tags, it is becoming relatively easy to signal future problems and opportunities. Therefore, co-created storytelling is a useful tool to look into a rapidly changing and complex future by using multiple knowledge bases.