The Story of our Work

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A while back, hereticalpoetical wrote a post about knowledge transfer and social capital which started me thinking about how knowledge bounces around in the workplace. One of the key points she mentions is relationships and trust, which she continues in a later post, discussing how knowledge management is concerned with relationships. I’m going to go alongside that and say that knowledge transfer is greatly affected by stories.

The articles I read this week have a lot to do with stories and with communities. Brown and Duguid (1991) discuss, among other things, how doing work can involve story telling and collaboration. This can involve relaying past experiences and comparing them to the current situation. Narratives and stories are how we relay what we have experienced to others, and in how we relate to others. Brown and Duguid (1991) also seem to be fans of tacit knowledge transfer, as they mention it is important to learning to be a participant and practice doing, and that reliance on formal paths can be a disadvantage.

In stories we might be explicting stating what has happened in the past – our experiences – but the knowledge others gain from those stories is tacit. The listener hears the narrative and sees the storyteller. Facial cues, word choice, and other social cues will tell the listener tacit information about the story the storyteller can’t put into words. This leads to what Colon-Aguirre (2015) discusses as cultural knowledge. Colon-Aguirre (2015) discusses organizational stories for librarians (academic). The stories the librarians shared wasn’t too different from other organizations: stories about patrons (customers), supervisors, administrators, former employees, crises (aka, “fire drills”). All these stories, from rumors to organizationally-approved narratives, build the cultural environment of a workplace. And the culture of a work environment can be very important. Negative culture – rumors, poor communication, etc – can cause companies to fail. Good culture – understanding of changes, opportunities for growth and innovation, etc – can stimulate growth.

Telling stories is all about communication, but that doesn’t mean it’s always about talking. Akeller discusses Web 2.0 and knowledge sharing in a previous post; I’ve discussed social interaction and wikis before myself. In a digital age, we’re moving away from face-to-face interaction and more towards digital collaborative knowledge sharing. As we share our stories and hear the stories of others, our knowledge grows. Sometimes I can look at two opposing viewpoints and think they both make sense; it all depends on context. Brown and Duguid (1991) show that communities of practice – of doing and sharing stories – are constantly changing. To me, this means that they are constantly growing.

But growth isn’t always easy. If it was easy we wouldn’t need practice, or stories. We could take directions straight out of a manual and never need to improvise. Kang, Rhee, and Kang (2010) show us that gaining that explicit knowledge isn’t always easy, and is sometimes considered not worth the effort. They “prove that knowledge that is more tacit, difficult, or important requires more effort to transfer” (8160). The more effort it takes, the more resources have to be devoted to making the knowledge found in the narratives explicit.

But, at least for me, sometimes I need a story to understand context. Just because I know how to do something doesn’t mean I know when to do it.

 

References:

Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (1991). Organizational learning and communities­of­practice: Toward a unified view of working, learning, and innovation. Organization Science, 2(1), 40­57. doi:10.1287/orsc.2.1.40

Colon-­Aguirre, M. (2015). Knowledge transferred through organizational stories: a typology. Library Management, 36(6/7), 421­433. doi:10.1108/LM­06­2014­0073

Kang, J., Rhee, M., & Kang, K. H. (2010). Revisiting knowledge transfer: Effects of knowledge characteristics on organizational effort for knowledge transfer. Expert Systems with Applications, 37(12), 8155–8160. doi:10.1016/j.eswa.2010.05.072

 

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10 thoughts on “The Story of our Work

    • I’m thinking context of knowledge might shape culture (as opposed to filtering). Two different organizations might have the same story being told within them, but have a different context. The storyteller’s tone of voice, word choice, facial expressions, etc will give listeners information beyond the explicit words. That different context might create a good experience or a bad experience, and therefore influence organizational culture (as well as trust and relationships).

      Liked by 2 people

  1. The point about the role of internal storytelling helping to shape organizational culture is particularly apt. I’ve observed that process at work in every place I’ve been employed, and it does indeed play a major role in determining the quality and attitude of the staff and organization.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love love love this. Storytelling is a much ignored skill and your last lines “But, at least for me, sometimes I need a story to understand context. Just because I know how to do something doesn’t mean I know when to do it.” is perfect. I have come to the realization recently (my mother comes up with stuff sometimes that just… makes sense) that the reason I have a hard time reading academic and nonfiction works is I need a story for it to make sense to me. If there is no narrative, my brain just doesn’t want to understand. So this post about the importance of story telling to share knowledge is just… on point.

    Like

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