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May 22, 2006

A Storytelling Story

Pretty much everyone interested in knowledge management knows that storytelling can be an effective knowledge-sharing technique, largely because it conveys context, causal relationships, and emotional content more effectively than most other modes of communication.

Here’s one little story about storytelling that suggests some of the benefits.

For six years, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory librarian Teresa Bailey has been overseeing monthly storytelling sessions at JPL’s library that often attract fifty or more listeners. Some stories have focused on fairly narrow technical or scientific issues (for instance, “Discovery of Sulfur Dioxide on Jupiter’s Satellite Io”). Other stories have dealt with particular missions (“The True Story Behind the Mars Pathfinder Success”), with more general learning from experience (“How Spacecraft Fail”), and with the organization itself (“Jet Propulsion Laboratory—The Early Years”).

What do people get from these stories? Some pick up bits of wisdom they can apply to their own work—do’s and don’t’s of planning and design, maybe a technical insight that helps solve a problem. Some are inspired by stories of success. Most gain a greater sense of connection with the organization, because they hear about what colleagues have been doing, because the stories express values and aims that tellers and listeners share, and because they are participating in a communal experience. I believe building trust and relationships is a more important effect of organizational storytelling than knowledge transfer.

Knowledge managers seldom talk about what stories do for their tellers. In fact, the benefits of telling a story can be profound. Shaping stories helps people make sense of experiences they’ve had. Telling them to a receptive audience not only provides heartening evidence that colleagues find your work interesting and valuable, it remind the tellers how much they care about what they do. Describing her scientist and engineer storytellers, Bailey says, “They don’t even know how passionate they are about their work until they start talking about it.”

The person who learns most from the story is often the one who tells it.

Posted by Don Cohen at 12:35 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (0)

May 20, 2006

How Google Plans to Change the Scope of Googling (And Why Information and Knowledge Workers Should Care)

Want to find out where the weird word “pachyderm” came from? Just google the phrase “pachyderm etymology” and within a second you can learn how the English word traces its roots back to Frenchman Georges Cuvier, the father of modern biology. In 1797 Cuvier began using the French pachyderme to describe animals like elephants and hippopotami. The French term derives from pachydermos, the Greek word for thick-skinned.

Want to find out where your company’s 2005 revenue came from? Good luck to you.

These days, employees feel increasingly confident that they can find anything, just as long as it’s external information. But if it’s right under their noses in their companies’ databases, their confidence will often be much lower. (And they will assume that it will take a lot longer to find it.) One obvious culprit is the massive quantity of internal or proprietary data that companies now stockpile—an amount that continues to grow 40-70 percent a year. As one analyst recently noted, “in the same way that consumers were set adrift in the early days of the Web, enterprises are now drowning in data sets of their own.”

Enter Google, which is now redoubling its efforts to do for internal information what it once did for the Internet. Below we offer excerpts from a few noteworthy articles that outline the company’s strategy to “go corporate”—and thus diversify away from its core search-advertising business, which currently drives 95 percent of its sales.

- In “Google shifts focus to show it means business,” Matthew Glotzbach, Google’s head of enterprise products, explains: "Companies have to deal with [internal content explosion] if they want to compete. Google wants to use its experience in web search to provide a ‘fast front door’ to that information – one that doesn’t require any special training for users."

- Quoted in another article, “Enterprise Search: A Different Animal,” Glotzback describes how Google’s search appliance allows administrators to select documents that will appear at the top of results for specific key words, not unlike the way Google.com returns a few paid listings at the top of natural search results. “It's almost like an internal ad.”

- In an interview with CIO Insight, Dave Girouard, general manager of the enterprise business, describes the fruits of his customer research: “When you put Google inside a company…There's almost a sigh of relief that now they'll be able to find their information. For us, that is always the most important thing—how well does it solve the problem for the end-user.”

- Finally, in “Google dodges knowledge management question,” you’ll see Google product marketing manager Arvind Desikan do just that. However, Desikan does mention a couple of potential case studies worth tracking, "We appear to have served the knowledge management needs of several large companies to date, including BA and Schlumberger."

Posted by James Wilson at 12:17 AM | Permalink | TrackBacks (1)