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
What is knowledge?

Now we come back to the notion of what is knowledge? And you know that there are many takes on it. But the philosophers had argued for some time that knowledge is true (whatever that means) justified or warranted belief. That is to say, a lot of people had opinions, but it doesn’t become knowledge until you are willing to act on it. You are going to act on it, when you believe it enough, when your actions are on the line. 

   So what these guys did, very much like in the coffee shop, or the beer shop, they would go to the system, when anyone had a titbit, a new idea, or a new story fragment, or a new story, they would choose their peer review committee, and use the intranet to instantly pull all the peer groups together, to be able to vet the social effect of the story, and once the story was vetted, then it got lodged into this knowledge base, and got lodged with this knowledge base with the name of the author. And if the peer review group had added a lot to it, then the peer review group’s name also went on this particular story, on this particular tip.
    What this led to, and after the fact it is kind of obvious, but we were surprised by it: here was a technology that was simultaneously building intellectual capital and social capital. It was building social capital because those people who contributed to this world-wide knowledge base had their names on it. And in fact those who contributed really great stories soon became heroes. In this relatively closed community, of communities of practice around the world. 
    And so their own identities also started to change.
    And in effect, here was a system that simultaneously built social capital and intellectual capital. And because of the dynamic I just talked about, it also led to a kind of scheme where personal identity started to be shaped and emerge through this community of practice. or communities of practice. So that interestingly not only did we capture intellectual capital and social capital but this new hub became a platform for creating meaning, with these guys’ lives.

The question of incentives

   And so we have a triple win. And this will show how stupid we were, not understanding the social dynamics of this. After we constructed the system, we saw this thing happen. Some of these ideas were worth a fortune. They were saving huge amounts of money. So we went back and we suggested that we give bonuses to people who were really contributing, and we need your advice to the system. And then what happened was that the technical communities themselves said: “No, no way”. In essence, they were saying: “We don’t want extrinsic motivation to replace intrinsic motivation.” As soon as you start giving us bonuses, we’re going to game the system, it will undermine the system in terms of the social structure that we have built here and so on. 
   Now one thing that I wonder is whether we didn’t offer large enough bonuses. If I had offered them a million dollars apiece, then who knows what would have happened. I think it would have actually tearing up the social fabric that we were constructing, in the sense that the construction of meaning, a sense of identity by becoming .. we had incredible stories,  of people in Brazil saving huge amounts of money by way of an idea that came out of Canada and this guy in Canada was now a hero of Brazil, and so on and so forth. 

The business results of Eureka

   What’s also interesting, we were able to measure some of the consequences of this by running controlled experiments in various countries. This is one example. We got a chance to measure what I call the learning curve of people in this community using this six month controlled test, in a two year field deployment. They got a 300% improvement in the whole group’s learning curve. To us, 10% reduction in service time and parts used was a huge amount of money. Fewer long or broken calls – this idea worked much better for the complicated stuff than the easy stuff. And increased customer satisfaction. So one could say very well: Eureka for Eureka!

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 
The views expressed on this website are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of any person or organization
Site optimized in 800x600: webmaster CR WEB CONSULTING
Best experienced with