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3 Ideas for Better Storytelling in Knowledge Management

3 Ideas for Better Storytelling in Knowledge Management

Storytelling is the number-one way to get people to participate in knowledge management (KM). Most of the time, you can’t force people to “do KM”—and even when you can use requirements and performance goals to make KM a must-do, that’s usually not enough. KM teams need to find and promote stories that show how KM works and why it matters.

All of us share stories every day, so integrating storytelling into a KM program should be easy, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. A lot of KM teams struggle to pull stories out of the business and share them back in compelling ways. To learn how KM can find and tell better stories, I reached out to two of the best storytellers I know: Miriam Brosseau, principal at Tiny Windows Consulting, and Dr. Carla O’Dell, APQC Board Chairman. They shared so many amazing insights, but these three ideas really struck me.

Three ideas for better KM storytelling:

  • Use appreciative inquiry to find stories
  • Build storytelling into process
  • Steal ideas from internet culture to share shorter, more powerful stories

Use Appreciative Inquiry to Find Stories
The idea of telling a story causes a lot of business people to panic and resist. They may think they’re not creative enough or be afraid of getting the details wrong. Some think storytelling sounds like a bunch of fluffy nonsense. So, you’re probably not going to get far if you directly ask employees to share their KM stories. Instead, use appreciative inquiry to pull stories out. Ask questions that encourage people to focus on their strengths such as:

  • What made you proud of this project?
  • What made you smile in the course of your work?
  • What surprised you?
  • What would you like to see happen next?

Build Storytelling into Process
It’s smart to build storytelling into existing processes. Like anything, we get more comfortable with and better at storytelling the more we do it. For example, Miriam recommends kicking off your next virtual meeting by asking participants to find an object on their desk or nearby to share.

“I did this exercise with a group recently, and we got some really creative examples that sparked great conversations,” said Miriam. “One woman lifted up a baby toy that was a knotted plastic mess and said, ‘I just had a baby, and I feel like a knotted plastic mess.’ Someone else pointed to this massive stained-glass window, and shared that she had learned to do stained glass and was creating these pieces for family during these crazy Coronavirus times. It’s about giving people permission to share just a little bit of themselves, and in this case, literally giving them something to hold onto to define the parameters of their story.”

Integrating into processes is also the best way to make sure that great KM stories get heard. If you squirrel away all your KM stories in a dusty corner of the Intranet, only the most curious (and bored) employees will ever see them. Instead, jump into teams’ existing processes—such as monthly meetings and project stage gates—with a quick and compelling story. 

Steal Ideas from Internet Culture to Share Shorter, More Powerful Stories
In our personal lives, a lot of us use memes to share stories and connect with each other online. So, why not try using popular memes to tell KM stories? Miriam particularly recommends “How It Started…How It’s Going.” I used Meme Generator to quickly whip up this one, which a KM team might use to promote a new, user-friendly, non-ugly KM hub.

How KM Storytelling Started, How It's Going

“It’s just two pictures and a little text, but it’s a story,” said Miriam. “A snapshot of the beginning and where it’s ended implies the arc of change and captures that change in a really simple way.”

Miriam and Carla also recommend that KM teams look to the internet for fresh ideas on video storytelling. As Carla said, nobody wants to sit through 20 minutes of a talking head these days. KM teams should consider using animation to give videos more visual appeal and presenting a series of shorter videos (much like Instagram stories) instead of one big, long video.

For more from my conversation with Miriam and Carla, see: