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

Storytelling: Scientist's Perspective: John Seely Brown
Practice: the rails that knowledge runs on

        In effect, we think of the flow of knowledge as one in which shared practice provides the rails on which knowledge so readily flows. 
   Now you’ve got a problem here: you’ve got knowledge flowing very readily in the community of practice over here and now you’re trying to move it to another community of practice over here, when there is no a shared practice. Why should knowledge, which flows on the rails of practice, move from here to here? 

   You have a tremendously difficult time doing that. Because basically, if you don’t share a practice, it’s hard to build up the trust that is required.
   A beautiful example is: we had invented a brilliant new printing technology that might have been able to save Xerox. It came out of the research center, and the chief engineer from Rochester came out to look at this. He walks in the door and we like to talk about shared trust. Well, he says “John, I’m here to kill you.” It’s a great way to start a conversation. 
   But what happened is this. I am thinking this is completely technology ready, totally robust. And I had all kinds of reasons to believe that. And this guy looks at me and he says, “John, when is the last time you’ve ever delivered a billion dollar product?”
   I said: “I’ve never delivered a product at all.”
   “Just what I thought! A goddamned researcher! Well, what do you know about engineering?”
   “Well, I don’t know anything about engineering.”
   “Have you ever been in a manufacturing plant for more than a week?”
   I said, “No, I’ve been in the research center.”
   It went on and on, and it turned out that our practices were so completely different that he said, “Now, you see, my practice is so different from your practice, how could I possibly believe you? You don’t have the basis for making this statement that this technology is robust.”
   Well, that was the beginning of something that turned out to be a profitable thing…
There were two communities of practice being brought together, around the boundary object, which was, first, this technology, and second, now, a set of criteria used in a phase gate to move technology from research to manufacturing.
   And we can now use the steps of this phase gate, this process,  to negotiate a practice, the meaning of the critical parameters, the latitudes that would be involved, and so on and so forth. And so around this boundary object, we had to construct a new kind of narrative that actually enabled us, for at least that particular event, to create some shared trust. To let this idea flow from one community of practice to another.
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 John Seely Brown 
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