I feel we have a tendency to confuse communication with learning.
Most of us spend the majority of our time in organizations
communicating in the explicit ways expected of us. We think if we
can't say it straight, or make a thought immediately digestible,
then we have failed. But conversational forms of learning thrive on
implicit communication. Stories are implicit. Although this may
seem counterintuitive, stories used to stimulate the storytelling
of others will yield the best results.
In addition, story has a natural connecting power. Consider:
- A learning event is an unfolding story.
- People craft a story to make sense of what they are learning.
- Stories are at the intersection of people's synthesis of
- Stories are tools for thinking.
- You can move through complex information more efficiently using
story devices than with standard forms of discourse.
- Breaking a story or a group of stories into a bunch of smaller
pieces throughout a learning event helps anchor your learning and
hold people's attention.
- Scenarios can be used as mini virtual reality simulators to
engage people in stimulating conversation.
As you design conversationally driven learning programs, keep in
mind what I call the triple threat of storytelling - telling,
listening to, and triggering stories.
Telling stories is the tip of the iceberg. We need to be able to
listen for the stories, look for patterns that are emerging, and
explore the contours of this terrain as meaning surfaces. Search
for context and the story behind the story being shared. And
perhaps most central to our discussion - learning events need to
trigger and elicit stories from participants.
Don't be concerned if stories don't get shared during a live event.
As long as people reflect on stories, they'll make invaluable links
to your key messages. Stories touch our imaginations. Real changes
in behavior related to performance percolate in our imaginations
before they ever become visible.
Collaged anecdotes can become stories
Keep in mind that stories that create engagement don't need to be
long drawn-out dramas. Two or more anecdotes woven together can be
more effective than one big story. In fact, just as words mean
different things to different people, stories are indexed with
different tags in peoples' heads. The danger of limiting yourself
to one big story is that you're treating stories as encoded
messages. Stories tickle, tease, and invite participation. So
collaging two or more stories together increases the likelihood
that your stories will resonate with your learners.
The same holds true for stories you're likely to hear from others.
In fact, they may not even look and feel like stories when first
presented. They might be a pointer to a story - a short phrase
uttered by someone that acts as a placeholder to an experience.
These can be probed and expanded upon as time and circumstances
permit during learning events.
Stories map to one another. We create relationships between the
things people tell us and look for parallels. In this way, stories
are also building blocks for learning. We learn by associating new
pieces of information with existing ones. When experience remains
isolated in a single domain, it is horribly inefficient. Roger Schank, founder of the
Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University and
founder of Socratic Arts, asserts that intelligence is the ability
to easily index our vast array of experiences and make connections
between old ones and new ones.
Stories are happening all the time. Here are a couple of quick
ideas to get started:
Does your learning organization have a story bank?
- Become mindful of stories.
- Develop mechanisms for collecting stories from customers,
employees, stakeholders, and other domains.
- Offer people formal and structured, as well as informal or
unstructured opportunities to share stories.
How do I get stories for my story bank?
- Listen carefully to comments during live online learning
events, meetings, project debriefs, and mentor and coaching
- Invite veteran employees to special focus groups designed to
- Mine your social media outlets on a regular basis for stories.
- Provide story prompts to get people going. Stories are some of
the best prompts I know because one story usually leads to another.
- Generate a good stream of questions.
- Show genuine interest and curiosity in others, their
experiences, and how they have formed their worldviews.
Three useful tools