KM Component 27 – Storytelling, Business Narrative, and Anecdote Circles

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

September 23, 2021

Storytelling is 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. 

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 10 Commitments. 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.


According to 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.”

In The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling Steve defined 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.

Business Narrative

According to Shawn Callahan, “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.”

Anecdote Circles

From Anecdote Circles by Dave Snowden: 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.

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Please enjoy  Stan’s additional blog posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. You may also want to download a copy of his book, Proven Practices for Implementing a Knowledge Management Program, from Lucidea Press.  And learn about Lucidea’s  Inmagic Presto and SydneyEnterprise with KM capabilities to support successful knowledge curation and sharing.

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