Storytelling At NASA

I came across a post on story-telling at NASA by accident the other day – I was interested in the science and engineering theme:

For six years, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory librarian Teresa Bailey has been overseeing monthly storytelling sessions at JPL’s library that often attract fifty or more listeners. Some stories have focused on fairly narrow technical or scientific issues (for instance, “Discovery of Sulfur Dioxide on Jupiter’s Satellite Io”). Other stories have dealt with particular missions (“The True Story Behind the Mars Pathfinder Success”), with more general learning from experience (“How Spacecraft Fail”), and with the organization itself (“Jet Propulsion Laboratory—The Early Years”).

What do people get from these stories? Some pick up bits of wisdom they can apply to their own work—do’s and don’t’s of planning and design, maybe a technical insight that helps solve a problem. Some are inspired by stories of success. Most gain a greater sense of connection with the organization, because they hear about what colleagues have been doing, because the stories express values and aims that tellers and listeners share, and because they are participating in a communal experience. I believe building trust and relationships is a more important effect of organizational storytelling than knowledge transfer.

Knowledge managers seldom talk about what stories do for their tellers.

….

The person who learns most from the story is often the one who tells it.

There’s more information on knowledge management at NASA here, including a general overview as well as their strategy (dated 2002).

As part of their strategy, one of their short term goals (1-5 years) is to “encourage storytelling to share lessons learnt“. Lessons are elicited from academia, industry and global partners.

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