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Jarche: The Impact of Narration on Power Structures

Narration is only the first step

Reposted from Perpetual Beta by

I think that narration is one of the key principles of an effective networked workplace, or social business. Narration is making one’s tacit knowledge (what one feels) more explicit (what one is doing with that knowledge). Narrating work is a powerful behaviour changer, as long-term bloggers can attest. In an organization, narration can take many forms. It could be a regular blog; sharing day-to-day happenings in activity streams; taking pictures and videos; or just having regular discussions. Developing good narration skills, like adding value to information, takes time and practice. Narrating work also means taking ownership of mistakes.

Jane Bozarth discusses the nuts and bolts of narrating our work in this Learning Solutions Magazine article:

By sharing what we are doing and how we are learning, we distribute the tacit knowledge otherwise so hard to capture; invite feedback and encouragement from others; invite others to learn with us; document our work and learning for future use; and tie our learning to the efforts of others. Here’s a true story about physical rehab turned learning turned hobby turned community of practice turned two successful businesses, all via informal, social means. And all within six months.

The story that Jane tells happens outside the walls of an organization. I think this is important to note, because one of my other principles for an effective networked workplace is shared power. Shared power enables faster reaction times so those closest to the situation can take action. In complex situations there is no time to write a detailed assessment. Those best able to address the situation have marinated in it for some time. They couldn’t sufficiently explain it to someone removed from the problem if they wanted to anyway. This shared power is enabled by trust. Power in knowledge-based organizations must be distributed in order to nurture trust.

But sharing power is really difficult. In the video Dare to Disagree, via Jim Hays, Margaret Heffernan describes how people inside organizations, and professional communities, are afraid to challenge conventional wisdom, even when the data are overwhelming. The power structure exerts great pressure to conform. Only organizations that share power and encourage conflict can advance different ideas. As she says, “openness alone can’t drive change”.

Power-sharing decreases the fear of conflict. When those at the top hold most, or all, of the power, then  those near the bottom will try to avoid conflict. But conflict is essential for learning. As Heffernan describes in the video, only in trusted relationships can conflict for learning happen. Sharing power creates trust.

Unfortunately, power is addictive. For example, simulations reveal that when there are no levels of hierarchy, everyone shares in 89% of the rewards of the system. When only one level level is added, then those at the top get 98% while those only one level below gain a mere 6%. No wonder hierarchies are so appealing. Power, and its effects on organizational performance, are holding us back. This is why we need to experiment with new and much flatter work structures.

As Heffernan says, the truth will not set us free until we have the courage to use it. Our organizational structures, and their power systems, are a major part of the problem. Command and control are the barriers to an effective networked workplace. I have written that Enterprise 2.0 and social business are hollow shells without democracy because without power sharing, narration of work & transparency are a useless two-legged stool.


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-~Authenticity, Creativity, Community~- - eLearning Consultant & Trainer & Superhero - User Interface & Course specialist for Moodle & Totara LMS - I also enjoy researching into the Humanities - esp Cultural Studies, the Arts&Crafts Movement, and Medieval Guilds - warning: my hair colour changes a lot -

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