Last week, I finished reading Daniel Pink‘s book, “A Whole New Mind: How to thrive in the new conceptual age,” (which I originally heard about in this EconTalk podcast) which argues that “right-brain thinking approaches” (design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning) are increasing in importance. Instead of writing a full review of the book right now, I’m going to quote a particular section that interested me. It involves a large financial institution that many may be familiar with from the headlines:
Dan Pink tells the story of Steve Denning (author of several books on organizational storytelling) who:
“… an Australian who began his career as a lawyer in Sydney and later became a midlevel executive at the World Bank. “I was a left brain person,” he says. “Big organizations love that kind of person.”
Then one day, in a World Bank shake-up, he was booted from a job he loved and banished to the organizational equivalent of Siberia: a department known as “knowledge management,” corporate jargon for how a company organizes its vast reserves of information and experience. Denning became the department’s chief. And – grudgingly at first – he underwent a transformation… As he sought to understand what the World Bank knew – that is, what knowledge required management – Denning discovered that he learned more from trading stories in the cafeteria than he did from reading the bank’s official documents and reports. An organization’s knowledge, he realized, is contained in its stories. And that meant that if he was really going to to be the top knowledge honcho at the bank, he had to go well beyond the L-Directed [Note: This is Pink's shorthand term for left-brain thinking styles that emphasize formal logic and other similar approaches] lawyer-executive approach he’d learned in the first twenty-five years of his career. So he made the World Bank a leader in knowledge management by making it a pioneer in using stories to contain and convey knowledge.”
This struck me as an interesting contrast to a presentation I saw on the Bank’s knowledge management processes at the SLA Conference in Washington D.C. last month. That approach emphasizes organizing existing, explicit information such as documents and reports – no small challenge in an organization that employs thousands of economists and other people from all over the world. I have been thinking about how these two methods can work and how to engage staff with both of them. Organizing documents, data-sets, internal records and other materials is something familiar to me, but I wonder how stories can be accessed and organized (are stories classified by theme? Inspiration? How-To?)
Can the act of story telling (including capturing and organizing such stories) assist organizations as much as Pink and Denning suggest? Such suggestions (including Pink’s example that Xerox’s database of stories has an estimated value of $100 million) and examples lead me to think that seriously story-telling KM is well worth pursuing.
What’s one story you know from working at your organization that could benefit from wider circulation? Would it inspire? Would communicating it in a story – rather than a memo or report – help others remember it better?