Knowledge and memory using story

Came across this great quote today from a landmark paper by Schank (not Mark Schenk!) and Abelson (see http://cogprints.org/636/00/KnowledgeMemory_SchankAbelson_d.html for the full text) that was done some more than 10 years ago but still relevant.

The understanding problem is simply that humans are not really set up to hear logic. People tell stories because they know that others like to hear stories. The reason that people like to hear stories, however, is not transparent to them. People need a context to help them relate what they have heard to what they already know. We understand events in terms of other events we have already understood. When a decision-making heuristic, or rule of thumb, is presented to us without a context, we cannot decide the validity of the rule we have heard, nor do we know where to store this rule in our memories. Thus, what we are presented is both difficult to evaluate and difficult to remember, making it virtually useless. People who fail to couch what they have to say in memorable stories will have their rules fall on deaf ears despite their best intentions and despite the best intentions of their listeners. A good teacher is not one who explains things correctly but one who couches his explanations in a memorable (i.e., an interesting) format.  

This reminded me of a presentation that I saw by Steve Denning, one of the masters in storytelling, last year at KM Australia.  He said we are trained in abstractions (maths, physics, historical facts, hard science, etc) but we live stories.  He stressed the need to establish narrative as a core leadership competence and that he fell into storytelling  in his career when the rational arguments did not work but that stories did.  Something really important there for the knowledge managers amongst us!

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One Response to Knowledge and memory using story

  1. I completely agree with you and Schank, Luke.

    I’m working on a global change management project currently. As we design roadshows for the Executives we are collecting stories from all over the world for the Executives to include as part of their presentations.

    This is a large IT outsourcing project. We are asking for stories of people’s history and experiences with IT, examples of the work that it’s taken to get to today and thoughts about what the future will be like after the project is complete.

    We feel that this approach vs. just getting up and talking about all of the financial and operational improvements (which will be large) that will result is going to have a much greater impact with audiences.

    Not neatly in the knowledge management world but a telling example of the power of stories in an organizational context.

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