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

The film-maker as storyteller: Katalina Groh

    I learnt this when I first started making education films, films that needed to have a purpose, films that were not merely to be entertaining. I was making a film on collaboration technologies with John Seely Brown. We had a great big long shoot for the film. There was a lot of excitement and wonderful stories. I thought it had been a great shoot. The interviews had gone well. 

   I felt we had a big success. And at the time, we hired a consultant, Michael Schrage, who was helping us with the content. I had sent him stacks of transcripts, and I thought, “With all this wonderful stuff, we’re on our way!”

   And I’ll never forget the single thing that Michael said. I was on the telephone with him and he was outside a conference, and about to give a talk. He’s always very busy. And he said to me, “Katalina, I’ve read all the stuff.” He’d read it all in an hour because he reads like lightning. And he said, “Now I’ve only got 15 minutes.” 

   When he said that, I started to laugh, because I knew he was going to say something awful. (Laughter) He doesn’t hold any thing back. He was great. And he said, “Yeah, I don’t really need 15 minutes. I don’t even need 1 minute.” And I was just laughing, because this was not upsetting me. This was good. I wanted him to help put us back on track. 

   Then he said: “It just doesn’t add up. I’ve read all of the stuff, all of these stories from all of these people. It’s got all kinds of happy endings. But it doesn’t answer the most important question of all: ‘So what?’” There was a pause and then he said, “O.k.? Got to go.” 

   I said, “Bye!.” (Laughter)

   And I sat there, and I didn’t get upset. I knew immediately that he was right. It didn’t matter how great I thought these stories were. We weren’t making a story for PBS, or for PBS only. We had a very tough audience. We were going to have people who would be asking, “Why am I buying this to show it to my organization? What are they going to get out of it? There needed to be an answer to the “So what?”. So that was a very important discovery for us. 


    People ask me: how do create narratives? We’re still always trying to make it entertaining. And I don’t mean entertaining just in the sense of laughing or enjoying something. There are a lot of entertaining parts to these songs, but rather entertaining by having what Larry called earlier the emotional punch-line. 

   This is the most important element in a good story, whether it’s a film, or it’s told orally, or written in a book. Whether it’s a happy emotion, or a violent emotion like the stories of blood and murder that Larry had mentioned, or whether it’s sad or funny, it has to have an emotional punch-line. And hopefully it has many of those emotional punch-lines. Because this is what keeps the audience engaged. So this is what we are always trying to do, creating emotional transitions. 

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 Katalina Groh
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