Passport to the 21st Century
John Seely Brown, Steve Denning, 
Katalina Groh, Larry Prusak: 
Some of the world's leading thinkers
explore the role of storytelling in the world

 I Introduction to storytelling I John Seely Brown on science I Steve Denning on change I Katalina Groh on video
Larry Prusak on organization I Discussion I | Contact us | Bibliography on storytelling

Steve Denning: opening session 

Thanks very much, Mara, and let me quickly say that pretty much everything I know about these subjects I learnt from the people on this panel. And they really taught me a lot. And of course, John Seely Brown and Larry Prusak were also selected last year as being among the ten most admired knowledge leaders in the world. Some say that Larry invented knowledge management. Others would say John invented knowledge management. I don’t know who is right. But between them, knowledge management did get invented.


    Actually, when we started talking with Mara and Mitzi, about this, we were talking about knowledge and how important knowledge was going to be, but as the

 conversation moved on, storytelling became a big part of it. And eventually, the Smithsonian came up with the title for the symposium, “Storytelling: Passport to Success in the 21st Century”. And then we thought, “Oh, my gosh!” (Laughter)

    And then I remembered Albert Einstein, who said, “If at first an idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” (Laughter) This is certainly an idea that stretches us, and one that we thought was worth giving a shot. And to deal with it, we do have some fairly mainstream folks with us here tonight. Larry Prusak … and John Seely Brown… and Katalina Groh… 


      We also thought we should have some friends in the audience. So the Special Libraries Association is here in force, and I would like on behalf of the Smithsonian Associates to acknowledge the presence of the Knowledge Champions Institute from the Special Libraries Association, headquartered here in Washington DC. It’s an international association of information professionals and committed to putting knowledge to work. So welcome to you all.

       We also have a number of members from the Listserve, Storytelling in Business, and they all have met each other electronically, but have not met each other physically, and they were trying to figure out a way that they could meet. So a number of them are here tonight, and Madelyn Blair, who is sitting in the front here, she is handing out green ribbons. So they are wearing green. And if you just happen to be wearing green, and someone comes up to you and accosts you and says, “You must be part of the Listserve”, well then you can say, “No, I’m just wearing green.” (Laughter) But that’s the official color of the storytelling Listserve. And thanks very much for coming and being part of the friendly audience tonight.


       We have also tried to give a preview of what we might cover, and also make some of the more systematic material available. So we did put together this website, and tried to get postcards to those who registered early enough. It’s at:
And I saw from the traffic after I sent out the postcards, that a lot of you did in fact visit the website. So I hope it was helpful in getting a preview of what this is about, and we hope to have more discussion on there as it moves forward. It obviously covers a lot of ground that we can’t cover in the time available in this day and a half. Given the scale of the topic we are dealing with, we are clearly just scratching the surface.


     What do we hope to achieve here? Well, the truth is that we don’t have the answer as to what the 21st Century is going to be about. We don’t have any lock on knowledge. We don’t have a solution. We are trying to put in front of you what John might call “idea sparkers”, thoughts that are probing, and playful, and provocative, and even now and then, a trifle profound. 

      We want to put some ideas in front of you, not so much in terms of solving problems, but rather in terms of, as Katalina’s video might say, radiating possibility.
We’ll mainly be telling you stories and hoping that these stories spark in you a whole set of new stories as to what this century will be about.


     This evening is really going to be in three segments. 

      The first half hour segment or so is really a few words of introduction from each of the speakers in which they’ll tell us, well, actually I’m not sure what they’re going to tell us, since they won’t tell me what they’re going to tell us. So we’ll hear in a minute what they really are going to tell us! (laughter)

      And then we’re going to hear one of Katalina’s videos, The Art of Possibility, with Ben Zander. 

      And then we’re going to use that as a way to bring the audience into the whole discussion. We’re going to ask you to tell your story. Anything in your life that resonates with the story that you’ve just seen and heard.. So that will be the third half-hour. And we’ll try to finish promptly at eight o’clock.

      So without further ado, let me ask Larry to say whatever he’s going to say.

Books and videos on storytelling 
*** In Good Company : How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work
by Don Cohen, Laurence Prusak (February 2001) Harvard Business School Press
*** The Social Life of Information, by John Seely Brown, Paul Duguid
(February 2000) Harvard Business School Press
*** The Springboard : How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Stephen Denning (October 2000) Butterworth-Heinemann 
*** The Art of Possibility, a video with Ben and Ros Zander : Groh Publications (February 2001)
Copyright © 2001 Stephen Denning 
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