Tuesday 18 January 2011

Knowledge headlines; Lesson first, then story

"Story Road"
The last couple of weeks I have been involved in some major knowledge handover exercises (a knowledge handover being a meeting where a project invites other projects to come hear and discuss the lessons they have identified from their project activity, with rich storytelling and questioning).

These exercises have been very successful, with 100% of attendees saying they have been either very hepful, or extremely helpful events. However as with everything in life, we can always see room for improvement.

One piece of feedback we recevied was to do with the relative roles of lesson-stating, and storytelling. Many of the presenters started with the story, and ended with the lesson. "This is what we planned, this is what happened, this is what we learned, this is what we recommend to others".  However this approach did not go down well with all attendees. As one person said later
"We need to push presenters even harder to present in a language of 'recommendations' for next projects, as opposed to reflecting on what happened in their project. We should coach presenters to get to the lesson quickly, perhaps even starting with the lesson and then returning to the story of where it came from".

This at first sight is counterintuitive. How can people understand the lesson if they don't hear the story?

But thinking about it a little more, I begin to ask "why will people pay full attention to the story, if they don't know that there is a lesson for them?"

It's a bit chicken-and-egg; you need both story AND lesson, but certainly in some cases last week we got it the wrong way round - too much story, not enough lesson.

Possibly the answer is to treat the sessions as if they are newspaper articles. Start with the headline, summarise the key lesson, then give the detailed story that backs this up. For example -

"We have come to the conclusion that a project like this needs to involve the marketing department from day 1, as part of the core project team. Let me tell you what happened in our project as a result of bringing in marketing only towards the end of preliminary trials."

A start like this will engage the reader, and give them context for the story.

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