KMW2006 – Innovative Enterprises: Leaders’ Visions & Stories

WOW! What a great Keynote we had today. Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge & Cindy Gordon of Helix Commerce International gave a great show this morning.

I have to say that I’m a little worried about the way Info Today conference Keynotes are headed – last week we had our keynote speaker serenade us and this morning we got a musical slideshow – do we see a pattern here? 🙂

Anyway, I never feel that I can do justice to great speakers when I sum up what they said, but I’ll give it a whirl here.

The question is “What makes a great story?”, the answers – Endurance, Relevance, Memorable. The examples that Cindy gave us of memorable characters were Shrek (a movie that almost everyone in the room had seen) and Gollum from Lord of the Rings.

Why do stories matter? Well, Dave wanted us to take a little test before he answered that question for us. I’m going to give you a link to a video – while watching it please count the number of times that someone in a white ball catches the ball – and Dave points out that a bounce and a catch counts. Have you see this video before? If not – watch it now (don’t read any further).




Okay – so what’s your answer? 8? 16? 24? 30? Did you see the gorilla? (are you going HUH?) Watch it again – this time just watch – don’t count. If you saw the gorilla the first time then you weren’t paying attention to the task at hand.

Dave says that the problem is either you can count the ball or look for the gorilla – you can’t do both. It’s not possible the way the human brain is structured, you see the world as a series of dots and you fill in the gaps with memories from previous experience. If you come from a western-based language and you really concentrate, at most you will take in 5% of the data – if you come from a pictorial language group it goes up to 10%.

A radiologist for example looks at an x-ray, scans 5% if they’re really concentrating, scans through 40,000+ patterns in their long-term memory, which are roughly sequenced in frequency of use, and having done that makes a first pick pattern match that fits with their previous experience – a first pick – not a best pick. Then they rationalize it – whatever they picked is a rational decision.

Human beings are pattern processing intelligences not information processing intelligences – the only human being that process information in a rational structured way is autistic – which is why they find it difficult to cope with the amount of sensory stimulation within the world.

He then recommends reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (a great book). He said he sent several copies to an IT department at a major American company and when they asked why he made them read it is was because they assume their users are autistic – they assume that they can look at everything you present on the screen and make rational decisions.

I find this fascinating!!

I won’t go on to quote everything that Dave said, the point is that Content Management assumes you have context – when you don’t. This explains why search engines can’t find what you’re looking for – you’re asking based on your stories – your memories. The way that we can explain things that we know is to tell stories. He showed us a diagram where between abstract content and embodied context you find narrative stories. Dave says:

I can always say more than I can write down. I always know more than I can write down. I will always say more than I can write down.

So, narrative stories are the missing link in knowledge management.

He then gave us a quote from Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad:

Stories don’t care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats. Or, if you prefer to think of it like this: stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service only of the story itself.

In conclusion, he calls for a combination of stories and content – a way to let the author add keywords to their content (tagging) since they know the context in combination with keywords added by professionals who lack context (taxonomy) will lead to better knowledge management.

I hope I did Dave’s talk justice, since it was amazing. I will add a link to the presentation once it becomes available – because the graphics and quotes where too much for me to get down 😉

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