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
"I think" vs "We participate"
    So I have focused on learning, on unlearning. Letís talk about learning for a moment and how this relates to knowledge sharing. Steve Denning has been obsessed by Plato. I have been obsessed by Descartes. 
   Both Plato and Descartes have many strong points.  They also have some weak points in their philosophies.    The Cartesian view of knowledge, which by the way, all of us have been explicitly or implicitly trained in, and has dominated 
Western philosophy for over three hundred years is the belief that there is a clear separation between mind and body, a clear separation between the thinkers and the doers, between management and the employees. 
    On top of that there is this notion that knowledge is a substance. And what you really need to do, is that you now want to talk about teaching. You look at theories of pedagogy, which treat knowledge as a substance. The game of pedagogy, or corporate training by and large, is: how do you find a way to optimally pour knowledge into a kidís head with the recognition that there is already something already in the kidís head. And so pedagogy has to do with impedance matching in terms of how do you pour a substance into this receptacle. And that has a lot to do with practically every conceivable theory of pedagogy that we know about. The trouble is, it is based on the presupposition of knowledge as a substance, and that there is a sense of a separation between mind and body, which is probably not correct. 
   And I think that a much better epistemology or theory of knowledge comes from this icon, a wonderful icon that has influenced me for at least ten years, and this icon says, instead of ďI think therefore I amĒ but rather ďWe participate and therefore we areĒ. 
   We come into existence, we come into being through participation with others. Others could be mostly other people, participation with the world. In fact if any of you are trained in or know about psychoanalysis, it has a lot to do with object relation theory, in terms of how does identity get formed and so on and so forth. It is in participation with others that we come into a sense of self. 
    What this suggests is that understanding is basically socially constructed with others. And so a different notion of knowledge or of the system that you would use, as we talked about earlier, is: knowledge is something that we can actually internalize and integrate it into our conceptual framework. It can be highly personal to us, once we have found a way to integrate it into us, into our own conceptual framework. That often happens in the process of discussing something with somebody. 
   In fact, I happen to be one who believes that an awful lot of learning, even on campus, happens outside the classroom. Inside the classroom, you get information. Outside the classroom, you start to socially construct your own understanding. And of course, what this has to do with lifelong learning or virtually everything, most of what we know in this room today, we have actually learned with and from others. In terms of how do we talk things through, how do we work together in problem solving, and so on and so forth. 
   And in fact, you know, in terms of the whole notion of narrative, it has to do with the whole notion of the issue being socially constructed through being engaged. And so this whole notion of engagement, through participation, it turns out also to be critical. It puts quite a different spin on Piagetís theory, the constructivist theory of knowledge. 
What we are really saying here is that we are constructing knowledge all the time, in conversation, through narrative. We are personalizing it that way, we are constructing it, for ourselves. This is a very powerful metaphor.
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 Larry Prusak 
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