Knowledge transfer through narrations - Wissenstransfer mit Hilfe von Narrationen

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

18 Pages, Grade: none


Table of Content

1 Introduction

2.1 Characteristics of Organisational Stories
2.2 Function of Organisational Stories

3 Narrations as Carriers of Knowledge
3.1 Narrative Knowledge
3.2 The Distribution of Technical Knowledge
3.3 Transmission of Organisational Culture
3.4 Contributions of Formalising Storytelling
3.4.1 Vicarious Learning
3.4.2 Concept Learning

4. The Boundaries of Storytelling

5. Concluding Remarks


1 Introduction

In recent years knowledge has become one of the most central themes in managerial science. Knowledge at all gains a high importance in social and corporate life and is seen as a success factor which is indispensable to pass the competition in agressive markets. Organisations are seen as systems of knowledge which have to acquire knowledge through processes of learning and self generating[1]. Popular buzzwords and concepts of managerial and organisational science like the knowledge spiral, knowledge intensive firms and the proclamation of a knowledge society underline the meaning of knowledge in the current scientific debate. In this context the intra- and extraorganisational transfer of knowledge is widely discussed. Alongside the formalisation of knowledge transfer e.g. by means of databases and standardised training methods, the more informal knowledge transfer through narrations, myth and anecdotes approaches in the focal point[2], because conventional knowledge management methods hit upon their frontiers when it is required to cover and confer “soft” knowledge which is difficult to access and elusive. Sharing knowledge through stories is emerging as a powerful way to exchange and consilidate knowledge. So it is not astonishing that stories and their possible impact in increasing the operating efficiency are worldwide observed among general practitioners as well[3]. The aim of this paper is to give an overview about the possibilities and restrictions of knowledge transfer through narrations. Starting with a review, some theoretical common definitions are presented by a following characterisation of organisational stories and naming their functions in organisational life. In the principle part the paper tries to define the disposition of knowledge transferred through stories and to show exemplary the transfer of narrative knowledge among communities of practice and also the transfer of knowledge about the organisational culture. Afterwards some possible contributes of storytelling for organisational training effectivness are exemplified. The last part tries to identify possible boundaries and weak points of knowledge transfer through narrations and draws a short survey.

2 Organisational Stories

There is a wide spread of definitions and conceptions of the organisational story[4] in science. Martin et al. defines the organisational story as an anecdote aboute an occurrence, which is obvious pulled from an organisation´s history. It includes primarily organisational participants e.g. employees[5]. In their conceptualisation a story requires a full chronology or script to be a story[6]. Czarniaskawa sees a story basically constituted by three criterias: an initial position, an incidence and a consequence[7]. Following Martin et al a happening doesn´t meet the criteria, because of the missing logical sequence of action. Similar argues Mitroff, who speaks of an organisational story, when it includes characters, a portrayal of the issue and the action. For Mitroff this gratifies the essential questions of “Who”, What” and Why”[8]. A different position is hold by Boje who negates the existence of action, chronology and characters as the premises for the existence of an organisational story and speaks already of an story if merely short sequenzes or a section of an anecdote or experience is told[9]. According to Boje in organisational everyday life only small pieces of experience are shared, but although these chunks of a story suffice to activate the whole one.[10] Therefore he calls for the allowance of these fragments in the search of stories in organisations[11]. Thier tries to combine the divergent views about the conceptualisation. For her an organisational story includes provable or fictive field reports, fairy tales, myths and legends, which circulate among members and teams of an organisation and may comprise although complete stories with starting position, incidence and consequence as well as fragments[12]. Swap enlarges the view and accepts beside narrations about intra- also such about extraorganisational events as a organisational story. Furthermore he points out that a moral of a story is implied if not explicitly stated[13].

2.1 Characteristics of Organisational Stories

Anlogical to the widely spreaded range of definitions literature offers a complex classification of narratives. Nymark splits organisational stories into formal and informal ones. His differentiation is based on the intended purpose a narration has to accomplish. Informal stories have the aim to make sense among organisational members for a certain event while formal stories are used systematically by management to communicate values and visions[14]. Martin et al clasifiy stories by their content. During their examination they identified seven types of common stories, which can be find regularly in organisations like “the rule breaking story” or stories about “how will the organisation deal with obstacles”[15].They furthermore point out that for every identified story type it is possible to find negative as well as positive examples. Similar outcomes found Gabriel, who pigeonholes organisational stories into poetic modes like “tragic” or “epic”[16].

2.2 Function of Organisational Stories

As in 2.1 shortly mentioned beside knowledge transfer stories capture different rolls in organisational life. Wilkins refers to the meaning of narrations for the social coherance in organisations[17]. Boje assumes that stories about certain events are useful to keep the social memory alive and preserves the organisation to repeat mistakes from the past[18]. Beside the creation of social ties stories create a feeling of uniqueness for organisational members in differentiation to other ones[19]. Brown argues that accelerating environmental transformation requires business organisations not only to build knowledge, but also to unlearn, that means to rethink how and even why they undertake certain activities. He acknowledges that there is a tacit (taken for granted) dimension, which highlights why unlearning seems so hard for organisations. For him stories and anecdotes can be able to correct this state of impossible unlearning[20].

3 Narrations as Carriers of Knowledge

The ability of narrations to transfer knowledge is beyound dispute. Through stories incidents are arranged in space and time and translated into meaningful events by organisational members and thereby promote sensemaking[21]. For Davenport and Prusak a story is actually often the best way to communicate knowledge[22]. Because storytelling is trained since childhood it is widely accepted as a natural mode of circulate knowledge, people are characterised in this context as “natural born storytellers”[23] and “homo narrens”[24].

Nonaka and Takeuchi point out to transfer the hardly subsumable hidden, implicit knowledge via analogies and myths, which is normally conserved in stories. The externalisation of tacit knowledge through narrations may be a not negligible part of knowledge management[25]. Because of their entertaining, engaging and vivid character stories are quite more memorable than dry guides to behaviour or rules argues Swap referring to conclusions of cognitive science research. In particular through the opulent contextual details keyed in stories they are ideal promoters of tacit dimensions of knowledge and able to transfer tacit knowledge about managerial systems, norms and values of an organisation if used moderate and considered[26]. Similar argues Patriotta, who sees narratives as material traces of learning and collective remembering process. He refers to the possibility of carrying deep seated (tacit) knowledge through stories and so display the common sense wisdom[27].

The concepts above of narrations as carriers of knowledge implicate that the tacit dimension of knowledge can be transferred. Beyound controversy narrations are an implicit constituent of organisational life, but must not be coequal with tacit knowing. Because of the very special characteristics tacit knowledge has, it is impossible to transfer it, rather narrations carry their very own type of knowledge namely narrative knowledge, which is illustrated in the following.


[1] Vgl. Schreyögg 2003, S. 550.

[2] Vgl. Boje 1995, Orr 1996, Browning 1991, Patriotta 2003.

[3] Vgl. Schütt 2003, S. 8.

[4] The terms story and narration are used synonymously in the paper.

[5] Vgl. Martin et al 1983.

[6] Vgl. Martin & Powers 1983.

[7] Vgl. Czarniaskawa 1998, S. 2.

[8] Vgl. Mitroff 1983.

[9] Vgl. Boje 1991a.

[10] Vgl. Boje 1991b.

[11] Vgl. Boje 1991a.

[12] Vgl. Thier , S. 20.

[13] Vgl. Swap 2001.

[14] Vgl. Nymark 2000.

[15] Vgl. Martin et al 1983.

[16] Vgl. Gabriel 2000, S. 61f.

[17] Vgl. Wilkins 1983.

[18] Vgl. Boje 1991.

[19] Vgl. Martin et al 1983.

[20] Vgl. Denning 2000.

[21] Vgl. Patriotta 2003.

[22] Vgl. Davenport/Prusak 1998.

[23] Vgl. Boje 1991.

[24] Vgl. Eco 1983.

[25] Vgl. Nonaka/Takeuchi 1995.

[26] Vgl. Swap 2001.

[27] Vgl. Patriotta 2003.

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Knowledge transfer through narrations - Wissenstransfer mit Hilfe von Narrationen
Free University of Berlin  (Institute for Management, Organisation and Leadership)
Knowledge in Organisations
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ISBN (Book)
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Knowledge, Wissenstransfer, Hilfe, Narrationen, Knowledge, Organisations
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Nikos Kalitta (Author), 2004, Knowledge transfer through narrations - Wissenstransfer mit Hilfe von Narrationen, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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