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
The 'light overseeing' of communities 

   ďHave any of you had the charming experience of trying to manage a birthday party for eleven-year-old boys?Ē Iíve done this. I mean, there is a lot of ways that you can go about it. But if you try a top-down strong-control approach, it doesnít work. But you can see what boys naturally will do, if you give them a little tools, a little time, a little space, a little light overseeing. Light overseeing works reasonably well. 
  The same thing works in organizations, in connectivity and community. A light touch is essential. That heavy hand: ďWe now have 93 people in this community. Youíre supposed to do this every hour.Ē It doesnít work! Iíve seen it.
   In IBM, I do not have anything to do with IBMís internal knowledge management. practice. For the simple reason, no man is a hero in his own company, in his own agency. 

You all know this. I know it. Iím not that stupid. Youíre not either. So I donít touch it with a barge pole, but they do try to do this stuff.
   And one of the things that they often try to do in big companies is to organize communities, force them together. Well, I'm sorry, it doesnít work. 
   There are communities, but they donít want to do, and what many large firms donít want to do, Iíd add a whole bunch of firms to this list Ė is give the staff any time and any space and any money. That they hate. Thatís worse than the plague. So they think you can just organize and erect it and have conscious goals, rather than: let them self-organize. What Karl Weick calls ďloose couplingĒ. Itís magic stuff. Loose coupling. I think itís just as good for raising kids as it is for working in organizations.

Finding who knows what

   So connectivity is really important. People self-organize. How do they find each other? They do. How do kids find each other? How do you find partners in life? We find each other. Stories. Shared passions. Some lizard-brain type of activity where you find people who share likes and dislikesÖ This stuff is real. Thatís how we find each other. We find each other, and people find each other in organizations. 
I would certainly agree with the previous speaker when she said that the transaction cost of finding people, when you donít know them, is very high. And itís terrible. And it costs firms money. 
   About two months ago, I got a phone call from a very senior person in a big, big company in Japan, and he asked me whether Iíd be interested in doing something. That company has a large IBM client team in place to help sell IBM products. No doubt about it. But I canít find those people. I donít know who they are, and I canít spend the time, because it will take me three to four hours. I donít have that time to waste, so I donít tell IBMís client team. I would. Iím a good corporate citizen. I would do it if it wasnít hard to do. But all of us are intendedly rational. Most people come to work to do a good job. They are rational by their own lights. For me to spend three to four hours doing something like that, rather than working with clients, doing creative stuff, is death. Iím not going to do it. So they lose an opportunity. This story can be multiplied in IBM, probably by the thousands, and in any large organization, no one knows what anyone else knows, they canít find them, and they miss opportunities. That is exactly what the previous speaker talked about.  Itís both information question.and a knowledge question. Itís an information question to find the person, but when you find the person, it becomes a knowledge question. Thatís something we could talk about later. So thatís connectivity and community.

Communities

    One of the great achievements of the knowledge movement was to get the fact acknowledged that human beings individually, in organizations, is not the unit of analysis for knowledge. This is a big step forward. And it goes against Microsoft and IBM and firms that try to push that individualistic viewpoint, because they are selling individualized technology. They think thatís the right unit. Theyíre wrong. The right unit for managing knowledge in organizations is the group. Itís not an individual. Individuals donít do much. The smartest ones donít. The stupidest ones donít. They group together and form a common mean.
 

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  ... 
The views expressed on this website are those of Stephen Denning, and not necessarily those of any person or organization
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