Do you tell stories?

Maria Popova (of the very enjoyable Brain Pickings) shares the role of storytelling in transmitting knowledge and wisdom in this 4-minute video. Some follow up thoughts after the video.

Buffeted and cuddled by life, we gain both knowledge and hopefully wisdom. As we internalize life’s lessons we transform our experiences – a form of explicit knowledge, into a more coded form, personalized to context and our memory, tacit knowledge.

A time comes when we want to share our wisdom, to make the tacit explicit. While much has been written on “knowledge transfer” there are two means of sharing readily available to us; parenting (or its work equivalent of mentoring) and storytelling. Both parenting and mentoring require an engaged and intimate commitment to a relationship. Teaching is a similar commitment to a larger group and necessarily diffuses and divides engagement and intimacy. Storytelling requires less of a long-term commitment, just an awareness of the “teachable moment” and a desire to share. Nevertheless, storytelling can be equally efficacious in transferring our life experienced tacit knowledge to others.

Academia has identified a number of archetypical stories we share at work. Their subject are lessons about our work culture; rule breaking stories, how does the boss or organization respond to mistakes, can I succeed?

Why do stories so neatly allow us to share our wisdom?

Stories are first entertaining; creating a memory in words and visualizations that gives us a vicarious experience. On a neurologic level the more the story ‘resonates’ with us, the more our mirror neurons (a topic for another day) respond and the more the experience becomes ours.

Stories have context and detail making them an easier means to share our more difficult to describe tacit knowledge.

Stories illustrate a greater principle through narration. We are much better at remembering coherent experiences then we are at general principles so stories create more readily accessed long-term memories.

As a result, stories are an excellent means of sharing our knowledge and wisdom. So this brings me back to my initial question, are you a storyteller? Healthcare as a calling is complex. Storytelling enhances our team’s wisdom and diffuses wisdom between teams, across networks of our peers and support staff. For our patient’s it is an empathetic means to reduce anxiety, introduce new experiences – to help them to understand their new adjacent possibility. Storytellers along with mentors are scarce, valuable resources, drivers for our patients and organizations. We all have stories to share, wisdom to impart.

Take a moment tell a story.