Originally published on March 30, 2017

27th in a series of 50 Knowledge Management Components (Slide 36 in KM 102)

Storytelling: using narrative to ignite action, implement new ideas, communicate who you are, build your brand, instill organizational values, foster collaboration to get things done, share knowledge, neutralize gossip and rumor, and lead people into the future (from Steve Denning)

Storytelling can stimulate change, build trust, instill values, enable collaboration, and transmit understanding.

Storytelling should be incorporated in many of the KM implementation steps, activities, and components. A springboard story should be used to motivate the senior executive to approve the KM initiative and provide the Top 10 Commitments. As described in the two Business Innovation Factory articles, narrative plays an important role in innovation.

Communities can be nurtured by having members tell stories of who they are and knowledge-sharing stories about what they have learned. The effectiveness of training and communications will be enhanced by using narratives rather than dry bullet points. For example, instead of creating the usual PowerPoint slides to present the KM program, tell the stories of some typical users and how they apply the components of the KM program to help them do their jobs.

Lessons learned can be captured and reused with greater impact if they are told as stories rather than captured as imperatives in text format. Proven practices captured as pictures, video, and audio telling the story of how to apply them will be easier to replicate than if they are in a written document. Collaboration can be stimulated by using narrative to get others working together. Almost all forms of narrative are useful in the management of change, including motivating others to action, building trust, transmitting values, getting others working together, taming the grapevine, and creating and sharing a vision.

Appreciative Inquiry is based on storytelling. And you can use storytelling during podcasts to share knowledge verbally without the need to write anything down, submit any documents, or enter any data in forms.


1. Steve Denning

One of the key skills of any innovator is to communicate to the organization the risks in clinging to the status quo and the potential rewards of embracing a radically different future. The nature language for accomplishing this is artful narrative — that is, telling a story about the path to a desired future in a way that fully engages the listener.

The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling — eight narrative patterns of organizational storytelling:

  1. Motivate others to action: Using narrative to ignite action & implement new ideas. The challenge of igniting action and implementing new ideas is pervasive in organizations today. The main elements of the kind of story that can accomplish this — a springboard story — include the story’s foundation in a sound change idea, its truth, its minimalist style, and its positive tone.
  2. Build trust in you: Using narrative to communicate who you are. Communicating who you are and so building trust in you as an authentic person is vital for today’s leader. The type of story that can accomplish this is typically a story that focuses on a turning point in your life. It has a positive tone and is told with context.
  3. Build trust in your company: Using narrative to build your brand. Just as a story can communicate who you are, a story can communicate who your company is. A strong brand is a relationship supported by a narrative. It’s a promise you have to keep, that begins by making sure that the managers and staff of the organization know and live the brand narrative. The products and services that are being offered are often the most effective vehicle to communicate the brand narrative to external stakeholders.
  4. Transmit your values: Using narrative to instill organizational values. The nature of values includes the differences between robber baron, hardball, instrumental and ethical values, between personal and corporate values and between espoused and operational values. Values are established by actions and can be transmitted by narratives like parables that are not necessarily true and are typically told in a minimalist fashion.
  5. Get others working together: Using narrative to foster collaboration to get things done. The different patterns of working together include work groups, teams, communities and networks. Whereas conventional management techniques have difficulty in generating high-performing teams and communities, narrative techniques are well suited to the challenge.
  6. Share knowledge: Using narrative to transmit knowledge & understanding. Knowledge-sharing stories tend to be about problems and have a different pattern from the traditional well-told story. They are told with context, and have something traditional stories lack, i.e., an explanation. Establishing the appropriate setting for telling the story is often a central aspect of eliciting knowledge-sharing stories.
  7. Tame the grapevine: Using narrative to neutralize gossip and rumor. Stories form the basis of corporate culture, which comprises a form of know-how. Although conventional management techniques are generally impotent to deal with the rumor mill, narrative techniques can subvert neutralize untrue rumors by satirizing them out of existence.
  8. Create and share your vision: Using narrative to lead people into the future. Future stories are important to organizations, although they can be difficult to tell in a compelling fashion since the future is inherently uncertain. The alternatives available to a leader in crafting the future story include telling the story in an evocative fashion and using a shortcut to the future. Others include simulations, informal stories, plans, business models, strategies, scenarios and visions.

Storytelling and the Innovation Paradox

The biggest challenge in innovation is not in generating more ideas, it’s about how you take the really good ideas and make them actually happen. A company’s sustainability requires a commitment to transformation via disruptive growth — a place where most companies do not excel. The paradox lies within the heart of the organization itself. Innovation is less about understanding the problem than getting people to act differently, often contrary to well-established assumptions and practices. To solve this paradox, a different kind of leadership is needed — one that goes beyond the familiar command and control. By crafting a logical narrative and testing a potential new business model against it, leaders learn to adapt the innovation to the evolving realities of the marketplace.

The laws of knowledge managementLaw #6: Storytelling ignites knowledge sharing:

As organizations start on their knowledge journey, they inevitably find great difficulties in communicating complicated ideas through abstract forms of communication. This is even more true where this knowledge journey also implies large-scale changes in behavior and understanding of the mission of the organization. Telling stories that build on real knowledge sharing situations, enables individuals to gather in some of the understanding of the storyteller as well as recast the story into their own contextual work environment; hence adding their own understanding to the process. Organizations are finding that the marriage of narrative and abstract communications provides a more powerful tool for sharing knowledge than merely abstract communications.

Master Business Narrative

A narrative or story in its broadest sense is anything told or recounted; more narrowly, and more usually, something told or recounted in the form of a causally-linked set of events; account; tale,: the telling of a happening or connected series of happenings, whether true or fictitious.

2. Shawn Callahan

What is business narrative?

Business narrative is more about listening rather than telling. Storytelling, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with crafting persuasive stories to affect change in an organization. Both are important and complementary uses of narrative in organizations.

Story-driven change

Change is energized by:

To succeed you need all three.

Anecdote Circles

An anecdote circle resembles a focus group except it’s designed to elicit people’s stories — their real-life experiences — rather than opinions. The role of the anecdote facilitator is to ask very few, open questions which helps the participants recount real events. The facilitator spends most of their time listening and whenever someone offers an opinion they ask for an example.

3. Dave Snowden

Anecdote Circles

An anecdote is a naturally occurring story, as found in the “wild” of conversational discourse, usually about a single incident or situation. An Anecdote Circle is a way of capturing these. It is a lightly facilitated, group based Method. People are selected that have some form of common or shared experience. As an example, they will be prompted to “Share either a good or bad experience when…” in relation to this common or shared experience. Anecdotes can then be applied across a wide variety of organizational endeavors, from culture to strategy. They may also later be tagged or signified and placed in a Narrative database. The general operating principle of the anecdote circle is this. Because “you only know what you know when you need to know it”, it is difficult to get at aspects of knowledge, values and beliefs that are held in common but rarely talked about.

When people tell each other stories about their experiences, the social negotiations that take place create conditions which recreate to some extent the feeling of being “in the field under fire”, or, in the state of “needing to know”. Thus, hidden knowledge surfaces and becomes available in ways it could not otherwise do so. Anecdotes are usually short and about a single incident or situation. Contrast this with a purposeful story, which is long and complex as well as deliberately constructed and told (usually many times). Some people tell purposeful stories often; others don’t. What you are after in the anecdote circle is not purposeful stories, which are indicative of what people believe is expected of them, but anecdotes, which are more unguarded and truthful. For sense-making and knowledge sharing anecdotes are priceless. They can answer many questions that direct questioning cannot. Telling stories allows people to disclose sensitive information without attribution or blame, because the inherent distance between reality and narration provides safety for truth-telling.

4. David Skyrme

Knowledge Flows: Mainstream or Myths? — Storytelling Isn’t Just Telling Stories:

A good storyteller captivates their audience and leaves them with something to remember. Sometimes, people remember the occasion and the atmosphere and not the content. If it inspires them to do something different and worthwhile, it has achieved its aim. Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of knowledge sharing used by man and has been revived in the corporate context. The real focus of storytelling is the listener. They have to be an active participant in the process. If they can rearticulate the story in their context with a new story, then progress is made. Storytelling is just the start. Narrative, dialogue and changed actions and behaviors are where it leads.


  1. Knowledge Narratives
  2. Skepticism About Stories
  • Patrick Lambe
  1. Storytelling and Ignorance
  2. Brains Respond to Stories as if They Are Real
  3. Building and Learning From Story Banks
  4. Storytelling Tips
  5. Narrative Unbound
  6. Stories, Spin and the Loss of Intellect
  • Seth Kahan
  1. Interview of John Kotter: The Power of Storytelling
  2. Identifying Communities of Practice through Storytelling with Dr. Madelyn Blair
  3. Interview of Steve Denning: Storytelling & Social Networks
  4. Organizational Storytelling
  5. Bringing Us Back to Life: Storytelling & the Modern Organization
  6. The Power of Storytelling to JumpStart Collaboration
  7. Fuel Your Imagination: Knowledge Management & the Art of Storytelling
  8. Organizational Storytellers Take on the Economy — Focus is Innovation, Hyper-production
  9. Fuel Your Imagination — Knowledge Management & the Art of Storytelling
  10. Interview of John Seely Brown — Narrative & Knowledge Sharing
  11. Change: Interview of Rory Chase — Knowledge Management
  12. Culture: The Extraordinary Potential of Knowledge Management


Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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