Steve Denning has written one of the more interesting and creative management books of the past few years. The Springboard reflects Denning's strong belief in stories as encapsulated knowledge and his own stories about the World Bank are strongly illustrative of his own passion and knowledge. This is the first book to give to anyone interested in storytelling for organizational change. Read it, and learn from it, and enjoy it!
Co-author of Working Knowledge
"Hurray for this modern Aesop, who has provided his peers in management with a primer for the new millennium!"
James Donald Wilner,
Architect, Washington DC
How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Stephen Denning
Paperback, 248 pages
In The Springboard, Steve Denning tells how he - a rational manager - got involved in storytelling
"The origin of my interest in organizational storytelling was simple: nothing else worked. As a manager in the World Bank in 1996, I had been trying to communicate the idea of knowledge management and to get people to understand and to implement it. At that time in that organization, knowledge management was a strange and generally incomprehensible idea. I used the traditional methods of communicating with no success. I gave people reasons why the idea was important but they didn't listen. I showed them charts and they just looked dazed. In my desperation, I was willing to try anything and eventually I stumbled on the power of a story, such as the following:
"In June 1995, a health worker in a tiny town in Zambia logged on to the website for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta Georgia and got the answer to a question on how to treat malaria.
"This was June 1995, not June 2001. This was not the capital of Zambia but a tiny place six hundred kilometers away. This was not rich country: this was Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world. But the most important part of this picture for us in the World Bank is this: the World Bank isn't in the picture. The World Bank doesn't have its know-how accessible to all the millions of people who made decisions about poverty. But just imagine if it had. Think what an organization it could become.
"In 1996 in the World Bank, this story had helped galvanize staff and managers to imagine a different kind of future for the organization and to set about implementing it. Once knowledge management became an official corporate strategy later that year, I continued to use similar stories to reinforce and continue the change. The efforts were successful: by 2000, the World Bank was benchmarked as a world leader in knowledge management."
The story of that evolution was told in The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations,
(Butterworth Heinemann, 2000).
It's a journey that takes us not only to Zambia but to Chile, Yemen, London, Bern, Bangui, Pakistan, and Washington D.C.. In the process, we discover the extraordinary power of storytelling to transform individuals, organizations and ourselves.
In December 2000, Steve Denning left the World Bank and began coaching other organizations how to use the power of storytelling in workshops and conferences around the world, and doing research on the broader uses of storytelling in organizations.
There are good reasons why business communications are persistently analytic. Analysis is the key to good theory, precise thinking, logical proof, sound argument, and empirical discovery. Analysis cuts through the fog of myth, gossip and speculation to get to the hard facts. Its strength is its objectivity, its impersonality, its very heartlessness: it goes wherever the observations and premises and conclusions take it. Analysis isn't distorted by the feelings or the hopes or the fears of the analysts: analysis gets us relentlessly to the bottom line.
Yet the very strength of analysis -- its heartlessness -- can be a drawback when it comes to communicating with human beings. Analysis might excite the mind, but its heartlessness is hardly the route to the heart. Yet it is the heart that we need to reach to get people enthusiastically into action. Endless mind-numbing cascades of numbers can result in dazed audiences and PowerPoint burnout. At a time when corporate survival often entails disruptive change, leadership is about moving and inspiring people -- often to do things that they are not by habit or by predisposition inclined to do: just giving people a reason simply does not work.
Hence the current business interest in storytelling. Good business cases are developed through the use of numbers, but they are typically approved on the basis of stories. A story can translate dry, abstract numbers into compelling pictures of how the deep yearnings of decision influencers can come true.