Story time

The other day, I found myself reminiscing and story telling with a business associate. After he left I thought, "Well, that was fun for me, but he was probably bored silly with all those stories about the old days." But then I decided it wasn't a waste of time, and he most likely did learn something from some of the stories —perhaps some perspective, if nothing else.


The other day, I found myself reminiscing and story telling with a business associate. After he left I thought, "Well, that was fun for me, but he was probably bored silly with all those stories about the old days." But then I decided it wasn't a waste of time, and he most likely did learn something from some of the stories —perhaps some perspective, if nothing else.

I think that some of the best education I got over the years came from those informal sessions during "social" time when people shared their stories about their experiences and lessons learned. And I hope some of the stories I've shared have been helpful to others.

When I was in the Navy, we told sea stories. Lots of people said these were just the Navy equivalent of fairy tales, and that was partially true. But many of them were fascinating or humorous accounts of important lessons learned or problems solved. The same is true in industry.

Educator Roger Schank ( Virtual Learning: A Revolutionary Approach to Building a Highly Skilled Workforce , McGraw-Hill) says that stories are "where golden nuggets of organizational knowledge reside. In every organization, tips and tricks for outstanding job performance assume shape in stories that lay dormant in each employee's head. These stories are rarely told to other employees who have the exact same job and could benefit greatly from hearing them....

"In the world of work, war stories fill you in on what lies beneath the surface. Unfortunately, these stories are not included in traditional training. Often they are about the unofficial procedures, the things that really get the job done. To hear them, you often need to go for drinks with a bunch of veteran employees or hang around the lunchroom.

"Every organization has thousands of stories. The problem is getting people to tell them."

From my own experience, I can advise that you have to be intentional about getting people to tell their stories. Sometimes, all it takes is for you to lead with one of your own. Other times, you have to prod. Nearly always, you have to provide opportunity. Those opportunities may come during breaks on the job or during regularly scheduled meetings. Or you may need to set up those opportunities with off-hours social events or off-site meetings.

And you have to demonstrate that stories are welcome. Be ready to accept some humor at your own expense or to tell a slightly embarrassing story about yourself. And don't ever cut someone off in the middle of a good story; you'll be sending all the wrong signals.

Normally, one good story encourages another. Before long, they'll be circulating throughout the plant.

Virtually everybody has a war story to tell. You can use these stories to benefit your training, encourage vital communications, and build a culture of cooperative, mutual learning.

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