# 117: Story Struggles and Digitalization

Davenport, Thomas H., and Laurence Prusak (1998). Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know, 82.

Story behind the Passage

Why struggle with stories if I write every day? You know what, I am so sick of this back and forth. What I mean is: In some organizational cultures, storytelling is already a very well-known and appreciated measure of organizational development, almost a thing of the past. It is completely established to know that you need stories in order to pass on knowledge. In other organizations, however, it seems as if storytelling is such a completely innovative thing that people get extremely excited about it. Do not get me wrong, I am also excited about stories because I LOVE and LIVE them. I suck up every story I hear, I think in stories. I do not have to repeat myself…

The problem is: If you have business people around you from so many different disciplines and organizational functions, you get the full range of feedback. Some will tell you: “Storytelling, this is just marketing bullshit, it creates no value.” Then you have the other people: “Yes, sure, storytelling is crucial in every change process.” And then I go: “Yes, but I am not sure if I just want to work on change.” Or maybe I do but I am just confused because I know that stories create value anywhere but you cannot sell anything anywhere to anybody if you do not have the right keywords to get your value proposition across.

It is such a hassle.

Sometimes I start neglecting the power of stories altogether because of all the confusion. I think about studying computer science to just get away from stories. And then, the next day, I happen to talk to a colleague who asks me what I do and then I go like: I do this and that but actually, I write stories to help people. There it is again… Grrrrr. All this tells you why I have chosen the book Working Knowledge on storytelling today. I started publishing about Storytelling four or five years ago, I think. I mean, in academic articles about narrative organization studies. Maybe it is time to get back to this, to finally “settle” and accept that I love stories and that I should NOT stop researching about them?

My Learnings

“A good story is often the best way to convey meaningful knowledge.” The stress is on “meaningful” here. Knowledge that has no meaning does not even end up as knowledge because knowledge needs to be stored in order to be called knowledge. It is information that has meaning; it makes SENSE. It is just such a pity that our modern-day education institutions have forgotten about this to the result that now, consultants and even new universities make big money with the ‘invention’ that stories help people learn. What a surprise that is, right?! It is so funny how “innovations” come back every 30 years — same content, sometimes a different label, that is it.

“Once we recognize that narratives are the best way to teach and learn complex ‘stuff,’ though, we can often encode the stories themselves so as to convey meaning without losing much of its leveragable value.” For anyone who knows anything about narratology, there is no surprise here. I do know, however, that with the digital transformation, storytelling is gaining much more practical relevance again. Of course, people who are scared of technology and/or not very skilled can be ‘guided’ towards digital literacy by reading or listening to tales of digital value creation. And yes, stories, as you will also read in any book about storytelling, derive their power from the fact that they put human beings at the forefront of their plots. Humans have and trigger emotions and emotions in turn support learning. There you go!

The question that I am asking myself in this context of simplification as the most valuable effect of storytelling is: How much is too simple? To be honest, I am getting sick of all the simplification talk. I know that business — especially nowadays in the age of digitalization — is very much based on simplification as a technique. You communicate your value in a very simple manner to the client and the value you create for your clients is also, most likely, related to a product or service that makes the life of your customers easier. This is what technology is all about, as I also explain to clients and anyone interested in learning more about the products that startups build.

The only problem is: What if your brain longs for more? What if you are not satisfied with simplicity all day long? Yes, I have written in other posts that the ability to actually make things less complex is a great art that requires much genius. I am not underestimating this. But I am talking about personal needs and pleasure here. What if you know that your brain can do things that can be considered as complex thinking and what if your brain actually enjoys this very much? What if you simply give a shit about simplification because you can read scientific papers that many other people simply cannot understand but you actually enjoy them because they are more complex than the everyday marketing slogans of some personality branders?

Of course, all these are rhetorical questions, right? I am posing them because there is an answer that is longing to break free inside of me. Of course, there is a part of me that is not happy with the simplification effect that stories achieve, no matter how much I love writing stories. But there needs to be some guideline as to how much you value one or the other. This value attribution cannot be based on some “trends,” some public appreciation of how much business storytelling gives you these days. This value can only come from your personal reasoning, I guess, with reason being the ability to think in the most sophisticated way possible according to your level of education.

So, what the hell am I actually doing with my brain these days?

Reflection Questions

1) Are you using storytelling for digital change management in your organization?

2) What is the most striking story that taught you some really crucial lesson in your life?

3) Does your job keep your brain busy?

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