5. "JOE FIRESTONE'S POSTINGS ON NARRATIVE AND KNOWLEDGE: I won't give
here the detailed response that Joe's lengthy and helpful postings
deserve. I'll just make two points.
Joe concludes that story is essentially good for pretty much everything
except the weighty task of Knowledge Claim Evaluations. In this I would
agree with him: analysis is a better tool than narrative for evaluating
the truth of some supposed piece of knowledge. Narrative has many
strengths, but sorting out the wheat from the chaff isn't one of them."
Joe: "To have your agreement on this greatly increases my confidence in my reasoning about it.
You also said:"
"Second, Joe's underlying assumption seems to be that knowledge" is the
gold standard and that nothing else is worth a damn. I find this
assumption more problematic. In the world of, say, the physical
sciences, where what was true yesterday is almost certainly going to be
true tomorrow, this is a sound approach. But in the world of human
affairs, tomorrow may not look at all like today, and in organizations,
the principal issue is what to do tomorrow, about which there can be no
certain knowledge. It's in dealing with tomorrow that an approach
rooted in yesterday's verified knowledge, and constrained by
yesterday's axioms, and dominated by analytical thinking that flows
from that knowledge and those axioms, has been shown to be so lacking."
"My assumption is not that knowledge is the only thing that "is worth a
damn". It is that "knowledge" is biologically unavoidable, and that it
is developed through a process of problem recognition, developing
tentative solutions, and then eliminating the errors in them. The only
question is how well we will do the job of performing these three
think that story-telling is very useful for developing tentative (and
alternative) solutions. It is a very old and honored human technique
for doing that. But once the stories are told, and even if they are
wonderful stories, we still have the task of trying to eliminate the
errors in them; of trying to make the stories as strong as they can be
so that the knowledge they carry does not fail us. The physical
sciences and the world of human affairs are not different when it comes
to the need for critical evaluation of the stories we tell in both
spheres. If anything, criticism is more necessary in the area of
knowledge claims about human affairs, so that we don't act on what are
obviously false knowledge claims.
regarding your critical comments about analytical thinking and
yesterday's verified knowledge, I, don't believe that knowledge claims
can be "verified" in the sense I believe you have in mind. I do
believe, however, that knowledge claims can be criticized and that we
can distinguish among them according to how well they meet our tests
and criticisms. I also think that even though analytical thinking in
the Social Sciences has been far less successful than in the Natural
Sciences, the lack of such thinking and uncritical reliance on
intuition and authority has had even worse results. And that we see
those results around us in the corporate world and in Government every
day. So while, I believe in intuition, in story-telling, in unfettered
imagination, and in artistry, I also believe in analysis, in logic, in
rationality, and in criticism. All of these are our faculties and they
are all equally human."
"Narrative is often a better way of exploring possible futures and
their implications, and certainly needs to be part of the toolkit.
Verified knowledge is obviously part of the picture but it isn¹t the whole ballgame when it comes to innovation in human affairs."
"As indicated just above, I don't think error elimination is the whole
ball game in any field. Inquiry is a mix of the creative and the
evaluative, and so is innovation. I think one problem with KM as a
field these days is that it is out of balance. There is tremendous
emphasis on novel techniques and experiences for generating knowledge
claims, but very little concern and emphasis on how claims, once
generated, will be tested and evaluated. This is a great mistake, and
in calling for its correction I am not denigrating story-telling,
collaborative spaces, mind mapping, communities of practice, or any of
the techniques we currently value because they free up our thinking.
What I am calling for is the recognition that the results of using
these and other techniques stops short of Knowledge Claim Evaluation,
and that our task in solving problems is not done until we've completed
that activity as well."
"6. DETECTING THE FALSE NARRATIVE: I agree with John Barrett that there
is no reason why narrative should be more likely to be false than
abstractions, and so I disagree with others who advise against using
narrative because it might be false. If anything the presumption should
be the opposite: narratives are typically specific to individual
situations and can usually be verified in various ways. Abstractions
are typically more general and are more difficult to verify. We may
believe that all swans are white because no one we know has ever seen
anything but white swans, but then one day we may find that there's
another upside-down part of the world where swans are black. In human
affairs, generalizations are even more difficult to prove than
narratives and even more likely to be false."
"I don't think abstractions are true or false. Abstractions are
concepts. We use them in statements. The statements that include them
are true or false. And stories are not free of abstractions, even if
they are about specific events. When stories are told we must be aware
of the generalizations that are implicit in the stories and we must be
aware of the abstract concepts that these stories contain. You said
there was no reason to believe that narratives are more likely to be
false than abstractions. I would not put it that way. I think the
comparison is between narratives and more formal knowledge claim
networks that express theories containing abstractions. And I think
that while it is true that narratives are not more likely to be false
than theories, in theory, it is also true that in practice we are likely
to treat theories differently than we do narratives. When we use
theories we are likely to compare them against each other, to view them
as competing, and to criticize them in an effort to see which is the
stronger. But when we have narratives, we are likely to use them to try
to sell and to provide support for a point of view we favor, and we are
not likely to use them to test and to evaluate and to determine whether
our point of view can survive our evaluations.
You also said:"
"In practical terms, the issue boils down to whether we are going to be
intelligent about our storytelling or not. Refusing to learn what works
and what doesn't work in this field isn't all that smart - in fact,
it's the antithesis of knowledge management. Refusing to do it because
of the risk of misuse is a bit like saying we won't give people hammers
or allow them to fly in planes because hammers and planes can be used
as weapons rather than for their intended, constructive use."
"I quite agree. The remedy is not to prohibit story-telling or to
refuse to learn about it. It is to learn more about it and to subject
narratives to Knowledge Claim Evaluation.
You also said:"
Steve: "We are a storytelling species."
"With which I also entirely agree, but I must add that we are a
criticizing species as well. And as I pointed out in an earlier post,
the evolution of language was accompanied by the evolution of
story-telling, which, in its turn, was accompanied by the evolution of
criticism, so that we could eliminate the errors in our stories.