Storytelling to Transform Your KM Projects, Strategy and Culture #ILTA13

ILTA13Tracey Erin Smith (Founder, soulOtheatre)  and Ginevra Saylor (National Director, Knowledge Management, Dentons Canada LLP)

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2013 Conference. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Why Storytelling and the Law? Young lawyers learn by hearing war stories from their more experienced lawyer mentors. Case law is another way to transmit lessons. Ginevra Saylor suggests that every court case is a fable and the moral of the story is the court’s decision. With respect to KM, Stephen Denning says ” I found that a certain sort of story enable change by providing direct access to the living part of the organization. It communicates complicated change ideas while generating momentum toward rapid implementation. It help an organization reinvent itself.”  (Ginevra recommends that you read one of Denning’s books on springboard storytelling.)
  • What’s the Scientific Basis for Storytelling? When you hear a set of facts and figures, it stimulates a part of your brain (Broca’s Brain) that focuses on decoding what it has just heard and works to test the information. By contrast, when you here a story,  the analytical part of your brain is stimulated, BUT many other parts of your brain (e.g., your motor center, your olfactory and auditory senses, etc.) also get activated by the story.  In addition, a story has the effect of causing the hearer to mirror the emotions and affect of the storyteller. The storyteller can implant thoughts and emotions in the listener by this act of synchronizing through storytelling. Finally, we have been telling stories since the beginnings of species — in fact, we are hardwired to tell stories.
  • There are 3 Types of Stories. (1) The “It Happened” story. (2) The “This Will Happen” Story. (3) The “Don’t Let it Happen” story. Before you start, you need to be sure the audience knows the characters involved. This allows you to speak in shorthand and let’s the audience fill in the gaps.
  • Storytelling for a lawyer audience. Don’t start by turning down the lights, putting on your shaman robes and then telling lawyers that you are about to change their lives. Rather, focus on the relevance of the story for them and then incorporate the storytelling basics below.
  • There are 3 Types of Stories. (1) The “It Happened” story. (2) The “This Will Happen” Story. (3) The “Don’t Let it Happen” story. Before you start, you need to be sure the audience knows the characters involved. This allows you to speak in shorthand and let’s the audience fill in the gaps.
  • Storytelling Basics. These are the elements that every effective story has:
    • State the theme
    • Explain the relevance
    • Place the story in time and location
    • Introduce the characters involved
    • Include dialogue
    • Something unexpected has to happen (e.g., an obstacle or a villain). Some obstacles in our work include, bureaucracy, last-minute changes, lawyers…
    • Learnings, redemption, transformation
  • How to sell a Vision Story.
    • It is critical that you put the audience at the center of the story. Each audience needs to feel like the hero of the story. To deliver this story, you particularly need to convey the feeling that they will feel if they experience what was experienced in the story. You also should contrast the pain of the present with the promise of the future.
    • Boost the confidence of your audience. A confident group is more willing to move to action.
  • Radical Empathy. When someone throws an objection your way, respond first with radical empathy. Say “of course” first so that you don’t put your listener on the defensive and then provide further detail that helps the listener understand the problems with their objections. Above all, don’t let your initial response be an argument.
  • Key Archetypes.  These are the archetypes often embodied by knowledge management professionals:
    • The Pioneer — strikes out on a new path
    • The Detective — organizes the information, helps makes sense of the data
    • The Guide, Yoda, Mentor, Teacher — communicates their experience and wisdom
    • The Mediator — someone with patience and skill who can mediate to bring two sides together.
    • The Network — forge alliances within your organization and bring people from different parts of the organization
    • The Storyteller — explains her vision in a vivid and compelling manner, moving her audience to take the desired action
    • The Student — studies the organization’s environment
    • The Visionary — sees beyond the obvious, designs the future and then helps the organization achieve those goals.
  • Storytelling is Basically Sales. Overcoming objections in order to paint a vision in which the star (the audience member) will live.
  • The Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey was discovered by Joseph Campbell. This discover was the result of his wide and deep reading, from which he discerned key patterns that are consistent across all the great world stories.
    • The story begins in the Ordinary World
    • The Call to Adventure
    • Refusal of the Call
    • Meeting the Mentor
    • Crossing the Threshold — now you move from the Ordinary World and enter the Special World
    • Tests, Allies, Enemies
    • Approach (getting ready for the boss fight)
    • Ordeal — this often involves a death of someone close to the hero
    • Reward, Seizing the Sword
    • The road back
    • Resurrection
    • Return with Elixir — return to the home world with a healing balm, the treasure you have received for all your troubles along the journey. This journey is not complete until the hero brings back the healing gift for the home tribe.
  • Applying the Hero’s Journey to Enterprise Search.
    • The ordinary world — everyday life without a good search engine. This is the Traditional Law Firm.
    • The call to adventure — usually provided by the vendors who show you really cool things
    • The refusal of the call — this usually happens when you discover how expensive the product is
    • The meeting of the mentor — in this case, an external consultant helped her plan her strategy. This mentor told her what other people had experienced in similar journeys.
    • Crossing the Treshold — for Ginevra, this was spending the money. Once she did this, she was committed to completing the project. This is the point they moved over into the KM-Powered Law Firm.
    • Allies, Enemies — there are always skeptics within the firm. In addition, during the pilot, all the bugs can be overwhelming — giving rise to a fear of getting fired
    • The approach — you and your champions become a little army that readies for launch
    • The Ordeal — at the last minute, they tried to pull the plug on the project (i.e., the near death experience), but you rallied and persevered.
    • The Reward — after launch, management acknowledged that things were much better now that enterprise search was in place
    • The Road Back — this is where the hero reflects on the journey and realizes that he can never go back.
    • The Resurrection — this occurred when the champions are able to celebrate the success of the journey.
    • The Elixir — the healing balm is seeing enterprise search embedded in the daily life of the lawyers of the firm.

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