Let us start by understanding what a story and storytelling is. A story is a sequence of events, which can be factual or fictional. However, every good story has a core element of truth, even fiction. Storytelling is the art of conveying a story entertainingly and engagingly. A storyteller aims to give knowledge, information, and a message (Frits Hesselink and Peter Paul van Kempen, 2013).
Storytelling is an ancient art form that reveals the different elements of a story at the same time encourages the listener’s imagination (National Storytelling Network). This art form has helped human expressions to survive beyond generations even when no method to document a story, fact, or expression was known to the human being.
In a competitive world, knowledge is the only enduring source of advantage for a company (Birkinshaw, 2001). However, managing knowledge effectively and efficiently is a challenge that many companies face. As employees gain expertise in their work over a period of time, the amount of tacit knowledge they build keeps on increasing. Tacit knowledge refers to the knowledge, skills, and abilities an individual gains through experience that is often difficult to put into words or otherwise communicate (David Oragui, 2020).
The KM model of McAdams and McCreedy (1999) considers that knowledge is created via social interactions and becomes a part of how an organization gets things done. The knowledge yield is not based on mere inputs or data points. It also happens due to social interactions as employees interact, passing and building tacit knowledge. This signifies the importance of tacit knowledge and how tacit knowledge is built in an organization.
For an organization, the story can be interactions that employees have, events communicated informally, both internal and external, and history of the management’s action shared formally and informally within the organization.
Stories are their best bet if one needs to share tacit knowledge more efficiently. Stories help to uncover the knowledge in the context of its use. Stories convey meaning and knowledge, and not the information.
The most basic way for an organization to use storytelling is in informal education and training of resources. Once the employee learns the low-level details and procedures, stories present finer points and share expertise in the proper context. Even though the application is pretty sophisticated, the stories shared by colleagues and subject matter experts make understanding far easier than technical product documentation.
Using context, the information that they contain is blended into the story. Stories create clusters of information that are easier to remember. It is easier for humans to remember knowledge instead of random bits of information presented via codified knowledge (Tom Reamy, 2002). Therefore, stories convey complex messages with the simplicity that is easy for humans to grasp, remember, and reproduce for knowledge transfer.
For example, the standard documentation might suggest dialing the call center and seeking support from the product specialist. However, the storytelling with the proper context can inform a person under what scenarios one should not dial call center instead reach out to the person sitting in the next room.
Storytelling is an organic way to learn new things. The purpose of the KM framework is to equip employees with the proper knowledge; hence, it is important to consider the medium of learning (Ekta Sachania, 2021). Storytelling is an effective method of imparting knowledge to the mentees from the mentors or old employees to the new employees.
Storytelling fosters the collaboration between different individuals, teams, and groups within an organization. People learn from each other’s experiences and pass on the knowledge and the experience, context, and learnings, which further makes the knowledge transfer process efficient.
Conclusion: Can the application of storytelling be useful in knowledge management? Yes, it could be beneficial, and for some companies (like IBM, Xerox), it has proved its worth on investment. Storytelling can be used to tell complex facts and figures in a more impactful, easy to remember, easy to articulate way (Shauna M. LeBlanc and James Hogg, 2006). Storytelling has a reach and a long history, and this method of tacit knowledge transfer will likely continue to gain further momentum in the future.
What is storytelling? National Storytelling Network. https://bit.ly/3HQnZvd
Dalkir, K. (2017). In Knowledge management in theory and Practice. essay, MIT Press.
Dalkir, K., & Wiseman, E. (2004). Organizational Storytelling and Knowledge Management: A Survey. Storytelling, Self, Society, 1(1), 57–73. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41948945
David Oragui, (2020). Tacit Knowledge: Definition, Examples, and Importance https://bit.ly/3gLbN3c
Ekta Sachania, (2021). Facilitating Knowledge Management Through Storytelling. https://bit.ly/3GKVRs7
Frits Hesselink and Peter Paul van Kempen, (2013): Storytelling for conservation action, https://bit.ly/33lNINe
Birkinshaw, (2001): “Why is knowledge management so difficult?” Business Strategy Review 12 (1), pp. 11 – 18
Katuščáková, Marcela & Katuščák, M.. (2013). The effectiveness of storytelling in transferring different types of knowledge. Proceedings of the European Conference on Knowledge Management, ECKM. 1. 341-348.
Shauna M. LeBlanc and James Hogg, (2006). Storytelling: A Practical Method for Facilitating Knowledge Management. The University of Central Florida, pp. 265-267
Tom Reamy, (2002). Imparting knowledge through storytelling, Part 1 of a two-part article https://bit.ly/34x7iqw