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
Knowledge as a social phenomenon

    If in fact participation and engagement are so critical, itís not at all surprising that this epistemology suggests that in fact a lot of what we know is distributed across others. It has as much to do with how is there knowledge between people as well as knowledge within people. And we can think about it in terms of the organization, or think about 

it in terms of communities of practice, where people have engaged with others, in a systematic way, sharing tasks, creating a joint practice over a long period of time.
   Thereís as much kind of knowing lying between, often, as knowing within. So this suggests that basically some of this knowledge that we are talking about is actually spread around, and in fact what is interesting to me is that although we have focused up till now, and most people are writing on this on the tacit and explicit dimensions of the individual. There is also, as I referred to earlier, the tacit dimension having to do with how we as a community of practice interact. 
   Let me give you another example of this. If you actually share a task over a long period of time with a group of people, what happens is that you learn to read each other. In a very intimate textured nuanced way. That ability to read others actually starts to shape the way you talk, shape the language. And in fact, communities of practice, you will find, evolve their own genre, their own specialized ways, their own language in some interesting sense to communicate. So that you can actually map out a community of practice. So this has something to do with these kinds of tacit practices that lie in the group mind, as opposed to just the individual mind. It also suggests that if this is the case and is in association with participation, we have to pay a little bit more attention to the social fabric underlying the organization. 

Architectís studios

   Let me give you a couple of examples of what this actually leads to. Here is an example of an architectís studio. I spend a good share of my life in architectís studios, because my wife is an architect whose handwriting and sketches you see before you. What I find so interesting about an architectís studio, especially those at schools, although it continues afterwards as well, is that you basically think about the crafting of the social setting, where deep learning is happening, something very interesting is happening in this studio, and that is, the work in progress is always made public. I know of no other field where the work in progress is consistently rendered public. This means that you are always looking over each otherís shoulder. You are always kind of copying each other, always learning how to critique each other. And when the master comes in to comment on something, you have understood the thinking of this particular object, this particular design of somebody else, how that came to be, and you have learnt a lot by eavesdropping, by linking and lurking, so to speak, on the periphery. This is one of the ways that apprenticeship learning actually happens. 

Contrast with other academic practices

    But you also learn how this genre, of how to critique and interact, a very very powerful form of learning, which, by the way, is the exact opposite of what happens in the academy, in the university. The way I was trained as a physicist, a mathematician, I learnt to hide everything, until at the last moment, I surprised my colleagues, by and large, publishing it in Nature before anyone else. And so this whole sense of something public, work in progress, I find that very interesting. Now this is not necessarily a community of practice, it could become one, if this architecture of the studio had a lot of joint work at one period of time, and in this genre of interaction really lead to some very powerful abilities to lead each other, almost with no verbal communication whatsoever. 

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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