Story - Storytelling - Business - Research

last updated 5/14/2004

We all have been told stories in our lifetimes since we were quite young.  There is a common notion that the role of storytelling is primarily constrained to bedtime or play time for children. Recently it has become more popular to extend role of storytelling and the lable of storyteller to include the work of Hollywood filmmakers.  "Really, I'm just a storyteller," we might hear Spielberg say in an interview on E!. "Me too!" responds Scorsese.

The true role of story and storytelling is much greater, older, and elemental than Hollywood.  The human animal is a narrative animal. We are made of stories.  We speak them, understand them, remember them, and live them.  In the canonical image of village people sitting around a fire at night, everybody is listening to the storyteller tell the tales of the day, the season or of the people themselves. The tales were about life itself – living it, surviving it and ending it; whether historically or metaphorically. And since stories are such an important part of our very nature, we have no choice but to apply this natural and powerful tool to entertainment as well as to the other parts of our lives, like business.

Story and storytelling are tools like any other - a pencil, a computer.  No longer behind the scenes, an increasing number of professionals are discovering the power and applicability of story proficiency for business management, knowledge management, organizational development, coaching, sales, and software interface design.  In large and small corporations, storytelling is not just for the marketing and legal departments anymore. Some of the theoretical background for these uses of story comes from the scientific study of narrative, known as narratology; some comes from leaders, researchers and visionaries of the business world like IBM's Dave Snowden; some comes from computer science; and some comes from common experience,common sense, and a common understanding of humanity.

The links below represent a sampling of professionals, writers, researchers, and organizations that are furthering the investigation and application of story in business and other organizational contexts.  The list is in no particular order and is not exhaustive.  It is offered as merely a beginning taste of how people are applying stories and narrative research to various professional endeavors. Stories are not just for bed time, but for all the time.

-Kevin Brooks, Ph.D.



General Links

Steve Denning
Author of The Springboard Story
Advance chapters of his new book, "Squirrel Inc.: A Fable Of Leadership & Storytelling", to be published
by Jossey-Bass in June 2004.

Master class in organizational storytelling by Steve Denning and Dave Snowden


Doug Lipman
Storyteller, professional story coach and workshop leader.  Doug Lipman is an amazing coach.  He practically invented coaching for artists and performers.


Karen Dietz - Polaris Associates
A folklorist and business consultant that assists companies in their communication needs booth internally and externally.  Karen is also Executive Director of the National Storytelling Network (NSN).


Tim Sheppard - Storytelling FAQ
A very comprehensive storytelling site that Tim has been building for several years.  Quite impressive.


Vandania Story Studio


The Six Stories You Need to Know How to Tell
An exerpt from Annette Simmons’book
The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, andPersausion Through Storytelling


The Liquid Narrative Group
Part of the Dept. of Computer Science, North Carolina State University
Prof. R. Michael Young, dir.


Garage Cinema Research Group, UC Berkeley
Prof. Marc Davis, Dir.


Interactive Cinema Group - MIT Media Lab


The Narrative Psychology Internet Resource Guide


Loren Niemi
Storyteller, corporate and dramatic consultant, chairman of the board for the National Storytelling Network


Storytelling: Passport to Success in the 21st Century
Why is there a resurgence of interest among today's business and organizational leaders in the ancient art of storytelling at a time when electronic communications might seem to make it obsolete? Human beings have been communicating with each other through storytelling since we lived in caves and sat around campfires exchanging tales. What is new today about the art of telling stories is the purposeful use of narrative to achieve a practical outcome with an individual, a community, or an organization. Four of the world's leading thinkers on knowledge management explore how storytelling will become the key ingredient to managing communications, education, training, and innovation in the 21st century.


Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Compassion
A book by Marshall Rosenberg about "deep listening" with many stories and illustrations.


Envisioning and Storytelling
A Vancouver British Columbia comany that uses story work with resort developers and other clients to create branding. Very nice flash animation site with good explanations of what they do. Especially interesting is their definition of Story Management.


The use of metaphors in journalistic stories - specifically having to do with the Gulf War


Leading Thoughts
talent management firm for business speakers, including Steve Denning
"In 2002, I was being increasingly contacted by people and firms who were primarily and directly interested in organizational storytelling to solve business problems. There was evidence of significant progress towards recognizing narrative as a central way of understanding and interacting with the world (reversing two and a half thousand years of bad press)."


A business consultancy that uses narrative as a model for their work. It is directed by Ashraf Ramzy, who has strong background knowledge of narratology.


David Skyrme, Associates
A business consultancy specializing in knowledge management. An associate and information analyst in the firm, Jan Wyllie, has created "Taxonomies: Frameworks for Corporate Knowledge"


Six Minute Cinema
Founded by Frank Felker, a leading proponent of short-subject digital storytelling.


The Dialogue Group
company that provides dialogue fascilitation to organizations. Their web page offers some nice definitions of human dialogue, plus a comparrison between "dialogue" and "discussion."
"Dialogue is a foundational communication process leading directly to personal and organizational transformation. It assists in creating environments of high trust and openness, with reflective and generative capacities. One might think of dialogue as a revolutionary approach in the development of the following organizational disciplines: continuous learning, diversity, conflict exploration, decision making and problem solving, leadership, self-managing teams, organizational planning and alignment, and culture change."--Linda Ellinor , 1996

Robert McKee
Story and screenwriting instructor and guru


Seth Kahn's excellent resource page for Community Building and storytelling in organizations


NASA's ASK Magazine
Published by NASA's Academy of Program and Project Leadership. The stories that appear in ASK are written by project practitioners – primarily from NASA, but also from government agencies, industry, and academics.

Svend-Erik Engh
Organizational Storyteller in Denmark


A story application business consultancy, founded by Tim Keelan. Using Stories to help business, connect, teach and build trust.


Richard Stone
Storytelling programs and services with other resources, including great articles on storytelling and its applications in organizational life, as well as how it relates to leadership.


David Vanadia - Vandania Story Studio
- A virtual meeting space for people applying story to many disciplines and a collection of workshop and conference listings
- A collection of New York City stories, featuring 166 historic accounts, 162 pieces of folklore, and 31 photos about Sept. 11, 2001
- David Vanadia's personal web page


The Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism
A great resource for anybody interested in the interfaces between traditional storytelling and journalism -- and photojournalism:


While some may find it hard to believe, IBM probably employs more "corporate storytellers" and story researchers than any other company. (That is, storytellers not employed by either a marketing or legal department.) And since IBM shares much of their work with the public on their research web site, other researchers get to share and respond to IBM's efforts. One group at IBM doing much of this work is the Knowledge Socialization Group.

Here are some individual story researchers at IBM that I know about. I am sure there are many others.
John Thomas
pdf doc: The knowledge management puzzle: Human and social factors in knowledge management
Peter Orton
Dan Gruen
pdf doc: Beyond Scenarios: The Role of Storytelling in CSCW Design

Others that I know of are:
Eric Mueller - researching AI and cognitive science.
word doc: Story Understanding

Cynthia Kurtz
Principal Researcher for the Cynefin Centre

Dave Snowden
Director of the Canolfan Cynefin Centre
IBM Global Services
Dave Snowden is a prolific writer, thinker and innovator in the area of organizational management and knowledge management. Snowden is also a frequent contributor to the workingstories listserv.


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Story and Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management Magazine has run a number of articles about narrative by some of the authors mentioned above. Here are some examples:
- by Madanmohan Rao
Networks & Narratives - Highlights from KM World 2003 in Santa Clara (November 2003)

- by Dave Snowden
Rethinking Management Methods - Dave Snowden's new Cynefin Centre takes an innovative approach to organizational complexity. (November 2002)

- by Steve Denning
The Narrative Angle - Exclusive Preview of The Seven Most Valuable Forms of Organizational Storytelling (March 2002)
Squirreled Away - PREVIEW: More chapters on Organizational Storytelling(October 2002)

- by Philip J. Gill
Once Upon an Enterprise - The ancient art of storytelling emerges as a tool for knowledge management (May 2001)


This is a presentation given by John Thomas (IBM Research, Watson) that explains some concepts behind the Knowledge Socialization project and many of its goals.

IBM Systems Journal - Volume 40, #4, 2001
This issue of the IBM Systems Journal is dedicated to knowledge management.  Near the bottom of the suggested readings section are citations and descriptions of two books that each have relevance to storytelling. 
- Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, by Etienne Wenger
A foundational book.
- The Walking People, by Paula Underwood
The transcribed oral history of Underwood's branch of the Iroquois. The Walking People recounts the journey of a people over a millennium or so from Asia, across a land bridge to the northern coast of North America, down the Pacific coast, across the great plains, over to the Atlantic Ocean, and back to the Great Lakes, where the people eventually settled. During this journey, the people encountered and had to adapt to a wide variety of physical circumstances as well as a wide variety of other tribes with various mores, customs, and ways of looking at the world.


A business consultancy specializing in knowledge management and organizational transition.

The ArkGroup - a knowledge business consultancy and management firm that posts to the workingstories listserv.


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Documents and Articles


Articles and papers by Kevin Brooks:
- There is Nothing Virtual About Immersion: Narrative Immersion for VR and Other Interfaces
This is an unpublished work written in 2003, though a portion will be published in the March-April 2004 edition of Storytelling Magazine.
Brooks, K. (2004, March-April). There is Nothing Virtual About Immersion. Storytelling Magazine.
Full version: immersiveNotVirtual.pdf
- Context Quentet - Narrative Elements Applied to Context Awareness
Brooks, K. (2003, June). The Context Quintet: Narrative Elements Applied to Context Awareness. Paper presented at the Human Computer Interactions International, Crete, Greece.
- Navigating Context for Nonlinear Narrative
Brooks, K. (2004). Navigating Context for Interactive Narrative. In M. Damásio (Ed.), Interactive Television Authoring and Production 2003. Lisbon, Portugal: Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias.
navigating context.pdf
- Pas de Duex - The Dance of Digital Design
Brooks, K. (2001). Pas de deux - The dance of digital design. The Design Management Journal, Spring 2001, 10-14.
- Storytelling and Computational Narratives – Reaching for the High Bar
This paper is largely a summary of and new direction for my doctoral thesis work.
Brooks, K. (2000). Storytelling and Computational Narratives – Reaching for the High Bar. Paper presented at the Workshop for Narrative in Interactive Learning Environments, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Brooks-NILE paper.pdf


Articles by Seth Kahan:
- Bringing Us Back to Life: Storytelling & the Modern Organization
- Jumpstart Storytelling - "a powerful technique for quickly engaging participants in the business at hand and accelerating productive work together.  Designed for groups of 10 to 100, it can be customized for as few as three and as many as 400. It takes about 60 minutes and sets the stage for the collaboration which drives high performance."
See also:


Storytelling That Moves People: A Conversation with Screenwriter Coach
Published in the Harvard Business Review, June 2003.  An interview with Robert McKee, Hollywood screeanwriter and screenwriting guru. The quote at the top of the article: "Forget about PowerPoint and statistics. To involve people at the deepest level, you need stories. Hollywood's top consultant reveals the secrets of telling them."
McKee, R. (2003). Storytelling that Moves People. Harvard Business Review(June), p.51-55.


A couple of articles on storytelling from the New Yorker on films and Robert McKee. Another from the Shawnee News Star on schools that confirm the continuing interest in the role of story:
- The Real McKee  (Lessons of a screenwriting guru)
Parker, I. (2003, October 20). The Real McKee. The New Yorker.
- Ancient art enlivens imagination, learning
Wilkerson, A. (2003, October 12). Ancient art enlives imagination, learning. Shawnee News Star.


Two Wall Street Journal articles by Julie Bennett
- Promoting Diversity Through Storytelling
Bennett, J. (2003, July 8) Promoting Diversity Through Storytelling.Wall Street Journal/
- Spin Straw Into Gold With Good Storytelling
Bennett, J. (2003, July 30) Spin Straw Into Goald with Good Storytelling.  Wall Street Journal/Startup Journal.


Booz Allen Hamilton's Strategy+Business - a quarterly newsletter
- When Stories Create an Organization's Future
Forman, J. (1999). When Stories Create an Organization's FutStrure. Strategy+Business(Second Quarter).
- Once Upon a Time
"When a meeting of the minds isn't enough, try a meeting of the emotions: Tell a story."
Birchard, B. (2002). Once Upon a Time. Strategy+Business (Second Quarter).
See also:

Introduction to Corporate Storytelling, by Hilary McLellan


Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Gives $1 Million to Storytelling Group


The Ultimate Interactive Storyteller
A 1999 article by J.F. Culhane that provides an approach to interactive narrative and includes a summary of the history.


Analysis of Personal Narrative
by Catherine Kohler Riessman, Boston University
Analyzing and understanding the power and usefullness of personal narrative accounts during the interview process.


Stories of Narrative Research
A chapter that appears in Qualitative Research Practice
Silverman, D., Gobo, G., Seale, C., & Gubrium, J. F. (Eds.). (2003). Qualitive Research Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
ISBN: 0761947760


Story Listening Effect
Part of the research presented by Prof. Sunwolf
Communications Dept., Santa Clara University*sunwolf.html


How Storytelling Ignites Organizations
A January 2002 article by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts.


What's the Story?  Why Stories are Critical to Strategic Planning
Appears in the Organizational Development Leadership News, July/August 2003


The application of personal storytelling to politics, with reference to Gephardt


Henry Jenkin's post to Technology Review Blog on Transmedia Storytelling
- Simson Garfinkle's response:
- Rod Johnson's post on transmedia storytelling on November 12th to the workingstories listerve. He makes a nice argument for the power and structure of transmedia storytelling - storytelling across multiple media (film, comics, the internet, animations) as in the Matrix movies and marketing.


The use of story to create context: The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world, by C. F. Kurtz and D. J. Snowden
kurtz.pdf  or
"As we are progressing with narrative databases we are increasingly seeing the development of what I will term 'emergent context' which can to a degree be 'managed' through the use of boundaries and attractors. And to return to a theme of previous postings (and I seem to have become a lurker in this group of recent months rather than a participant) the importance of interaction of people and communities with anecdotal material (none of which has been refined or enhanced) continues to provide greater evidence of meaning that 'story telling' per se."


Washington Post article about organizational storytelling at NASA
Storytellers Pass On Lore Of Space Age; Mentors and Their Memories
Christopher Lee. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Nov 29, 2002.  pg. A.41
Section:   A SECTION


Fabulists at the Firm - The strange tale of corporate storytelling consultants
by Mark Lasswell of the Wall Street Journal
Friday, January 9, 2004


Not Your Typical Bedtime Story
by Michelle Howard, of Conkling Fiskum & McCormick, a public affairs firm
January 13, 2004


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Selected Books

Managing By Storying Around - A new method of leadership
by David Armstrong
ISBN: 0-385-42154-0

Making Use - Scenario-based design of human-computer interactions
by John M. Carroll
ISBN: 0-262-03279-1

The Springboard - How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Stephen Denning
ISBN: 0-7506-7355-9

Storytelling in Organizations: Facts, Fictions, and Fantazies
by Yiannis Gabriel
ISBN: 0-19-829706-8

Narrative Intelligence - Advances in Consciousness Research
Michael Mateas and Phoebe Sengers, eds.
ISBN: 1-58811-273-X

Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting
by Robert McKee
ISBN: 0-06-039168-5

Hamlet on the Holodeck - The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace
by Janet H. Murray
ISBN: 0-684-82723-9

Inside Out – Using Classic Children's Stories for Personal and Professional Growth
by Myron J. Radio and Rod N. Johnson
ISBN 19316469937

Never Be Boring Again - Make Your Business Presentations Capture Attention, Inspire Action, and Produce Results
by Doug Stevenson

Hypnotic Selling Stories
by Joe Vitale


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Related Research

Augmented Cognition

The connection between augmented cognition and storytelling has to do with cognitive engagement.  The best stories are so powerful and memorable because they engage so many parts of the human mind at once.  Stories naturally act as a type of glue or connnective tissue, that ties experiences, sensations, and emotions to intellectual facts.  The goal of augmented cognition is to extend a human’s information-management capacity by developing and demonstrating quantifiable enhancements to human cognitive ability in diverse, stressful, operational environments.  Yet we natually process very complex information when interpreting stories.  While the AugCog research may not deliver a wartime storyteller to improve cognition in the field, it is very possible that narrative techniques will ultimately play a part.


Communities of Practice

The importance of stories and the limitations of conceptual exposition. An Online Workshop as a Community of Practice: Evolution of Design and Practice

CPsquare is offering its online Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop starting on Jan 19th, 2004
presented by Etienne Wenger, John Smith, and Bronwyn Stuckey.
"There are many connnections between communities of practice and storytelling. "From a learning theory perspective, a community of practice provides a powerful tool to look at sense-making and sense-making activities, such as storoy-telling. On another level, communities of  practice are interesting in how they use story-telling to negotiate local theories of cause and effect.  Finally, developing communities of practice is an organizational intervention that works." John D. Smith <>

Communities of practice and organizational performance
an article written by E. L. Lesser and J. Storck for the IBM Systems Journal issue on Knowledge Management, Volume 40, Number 4, 2001.


Narrative Medicine

Stories in Medicine
Doctors-in-Training Record a Different Type of Patient History


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Mailing Lists

Workng Stories
An important tool for the many georgaphically separated practitioners of storytelling in business where they can share their knowledge and expertise. Most of the postings to this list are very intelligent and articulate.

Storytelling in Organizations Special Interest Group
A discussion group for members of the Storytelling in Organizations (SIO) Special Interest Group of the National Storytelling Network. To learn more about NSN, see

This group supports a shared conversation about storytelling in organizations. Although other may join the online discussion, it is primarily for participants in the Boston-area meetings of this group. For those interested in a broader discussion, please see the Yahoo Group: Storytelling in Business

Golding Fleece
The email list for members of the Golden Fleece group - a Washington DC community of practice around stoytelling in business.  It is a model organization for the other regional groups around the US.  Membership to there mailing list is private, but requests can be made to Seth Kahan -

The official email mailing list of LANES, the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling. Share stories, announce events in New England and upstate New York, share ideas, and discuss the art, craft, and business of storytelling.

There is no more active electronic forum on storytelling in the world than Storytell.  It is a high volume mailing list about global storytelling, with a concentration in the US and a membership in the hundreds. It is an immense organism of storytelling expertise that one can post common or escoteric queries to and get almost immediate and varied responses.



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Commercial Software

A "writing partner" for Hollywood style screenplays that has been around for many years.  It is a pioneer in applying a complex set of heuristics to story design.

An "up and coming" system for guiding a startup company through the organization and product story crafting experience.  Such stores define a company's identity and greatly effect their success. StoryManager is an interesting new attempt at commercial story software in that by utilizing the power of Adobe Acrobat, it seems to put much more effort into the content than in the software tool.

The Writer's Store
An online store offering books, supplies and a lot of software packages for writers, especially for screenwriters.

An open source, Java, storycrafting software package. The software runtime environment can be downloaded from this page.


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Storytelling in Organizations
A special interest group of the National Storytelling Network

GoldenFleece is an international community of practice devoted to storytelling in business and organizations.

The Center for Narrative Research, University of East London

The Center for Narrative Studies, Washington DC
CNS is a multi-disciplinary team dedicated to applying narrative theory to the practical renewal of leadership in culture and communities. Working with groups and organizations, we train people to become leaders by teaching them to understand the power of stories, to weigh the real effects stories have in shaping our lives, to apply narrative approaches to engage creatively with conflict and change.

National Storytelling Network - includes information about the national storytelling conference

The International Storytelling Center - includes information about the national storytelling festival in Jonesborough, TN.

Illinois Storytelling Inc. - includes information about the Illionois Storytelling Festival

The League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (LANES) - includes information about the New England regional storytelling festival - Sharing the Fire


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Special Storytelling Events

How Storytelling Changes Organizations - a two day workshop
Smithsonian Associates in Washington DC
Friday April 16 & Saturday April 17, 2004: 9.00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m

The World's First Summit Meeting on the Art, Science & Application of Story
(late September)

Fray Day
(early October)

(mid November)

Mesa Storytelling Festival
(late October)

National Storytelling Festival
Jonesborough, Tennessee, USA
(early October)

National Storytelling Conference
(early-mid July)

Digital Storytelling Festival
June 10-12, Sedona, Arizona, USA

Sharing the Fire
The New England Regional Storytelling Conference
(mid March)

Illionois Storytelling Festival
(mid September)

Nordic Storytelling Day
(every spring equinox)


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