Storytelling 
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: Organizational Perspective: Larry Prusak
Encouraging positive behaviors 

   So the last thing in terms of enablers that I would want to talk about is encouraging positive behavior. I used to use the word, ďincentingĒ. But itís more like encouraging or demonstrating the behaviors you want to see universalized in the organization. Again, Iíve mentioned earlier that Iíve worked for four or five consulting firms, all of which say that we really value knowledge and intellectual capital. Every one of those organizations only, solely, promoted sales people. And what message does that send? They say, ďWe value this. This is why weíre hiring you. Write articles, books, develop ideas, but weíre only going to promote sales people.Ē 
    Itís like telling kids. Kids learn to be grown-ups by watching adults. And if you tell your kids one thing and act in another way, itís the very first thing they notice, and it gets embedded in them for life. 
   So when people go and join firms, they arenít stupid. They notice when people in the organization say that they do this, but in fact, they do that. This has been known since Hector was a pup. 
 

   But itís very true when we talk about the knowledge stuff. So while norms get enforced in community, the greater institutionalization of norms comes from the top. 
   So if you are only going to promote sales people, thatís not necessarily a bad thing.  But donít try to say other things though. Say: youíre here to sell. So sell, and youíll get promoted. Theyíd have a very different catch basin of applicants if they said that. People catch on fast.  Itís a very different world. 
   And there are knowledge behaviors that you want to encourage. But they are just the ones that most organizations canít stand. Reflection. Imagine if you took a day. I try, and again, I can get away with it. But Iím very much aware that most people canít. To take a day a week, to read, to reflect, to write. One day a week. Itís not as much as I would like. But itís the minimum. Most people canít do that. They donít have the freedom to do that. And without that, you do the same thing tomorrow as you did yesterday. Because you have no new input to change what youíre doing. Why wouldnít you go on doing the same thing? As long as no one kills you, youíre not destroying anything, you will do tomorrow what you did yesterday. Thatís not always a bad thing. 
    But itís a fast moving world. The world is changing and moving quickly, for reasons of globalization, and technology, and the like. So you might want to spend some time reading, thinking, reflecting and those things are deeply time consuming. You can read on a laptop what you can read on a book. But itís still words that youíre reading. You still have to absorb the words. It doesnít matter about the means of delivery. Itís great that you have ways that you can get things faster  I mean, I like e-mail. I like ordering books on-line. I like downloading articles. But it still takes the same amount of time to read and absorb this stuff.
   We are really confusing two things here. So without time for reflection, and without acknowledging and encouraging behaviors that lead towards knowledge reflection, you wonít have new knowledge and you wonít absorb the knowledge you get. You can absorb data. You can absorb information. But knowledge takes time.
   You know, it still takes the same amount of time to learn French as it five hundred years ago. With all the tools we have, I donít see any change. I mean, you can learn it a more fun way than memorizing verbs on a blackboard. It might be more fun using a PC, but it takes the same amount of time. There are core irreducibilities in working with knowledge that we just canít change. It hasnít changed yet.
   So those are the leading activities of the firms who do this well. I would say about half the firms that have big knowledge projects under way, about half succeed because they have some metric for success, some milestone for success, and reach that. I would say that half fail. Now the technology doesnít fail. And people donít admit theyíve failed. What happens is two or three years later, people ask, ďWhatever happened to this knowledge management project?Ē
   And people say, ďOh, it went this way or that.Ē Itís mulch. Itís polenta. No one got excited. It didnít transform the organization. 
    Unlike the Navy, which is being transformed by some of the policies. Unlike the World Bank. I mean we could start naming groups that are being transformed, with really exciting, lively, interesting things are going on, around knowledge. And thatís really a win. It may be hard to measure it in a pointillist fashion. But itís a win
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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