Steve Denning
 April 12, 2003: The Springboard 
Smithsonian Associates 2003

Chapter 1:  My life in storytelling
Chapter 2:  Storytelling without realizing it
Chapter 3:  Learning about storytelling
Chapter 4:  Spreading the word
How to arrange a storytelling workshop in your organization

The first chapter of my life in storytelling is very short, although it lasted a long while. More than five decades. You see, I was born in Sydney Australia. I grew up there. Unlike most people, my father did not sit me on his knee and tell me a story. (Laughter) My mother did not put me to sleep telling me fairy tales. I had S.D.S. – Story Deprivation Syndrome. (Laughter

But I did well at school. I studied psychology and law. I worked as a lawyer in Sydney. I got a post-graduate degree in England. 

And then I joined the World Bank in Washington D.C. I was the quintessential analytic manager. Crisp. Clear. Sharp decisions. Stories were the last thing on my mind. These were the things you stayed away from. You needed bottom-line. You needed analysis. Those were the things that got you on. And I got on. I climbed right up the managerial ladder of the World Bank. Stories played no part in chapter one. Stories were not part of my life. 
     In chapter two of my life, I was telling stories without realizing that I was telling stories. I was in denial. (Laughter
     What had happened was that by February 1996, I had become Director of the Africa Region of the World Bank. And the Africa Region of the World Bank handles a third of the operations of the World Bank. So I was beginning to think, “Well, this is a pretty important position.” 
And then as things happen in big organizations, the scene changed. The president of the World Bank suddenly died. My boss unexpectedly retired. Someone else was appointed to my
position.  So I could see that things were not going too well for me in the World Bank. (Laughter) So I asked the management, “Do you have anything in mind for me?” And they said, “Not really.” (Laughter) I was really being fired. I was being pushed out the door of the organization. But as it happened, I wasn’t quite ready to be pushed out the door. You see, it wasn’t really that I was asked to look into knowledge sharing. I decided in fact that this was actually a good idea. The World Bank had a tremendous amount of knowledge, but you couldn’t easily get access to it. And I thought, “Why don’t we become a knowledge sharing organization?” Then we could become a pretty 
important, even exciting organization, if we did that. So I personally took on the challenge. No one asked me to do it. I just had the idea to persuade the organization to adopt this new idea.
     So here I was. I’m persona non grata. The management is trying to get rid of me. I’ve got an idea that nobody can understand. So now I ask business school classes, “What are my chances of actually pulling this off?” And they always say, “Zero. You have no chance of persuading the organization to change.” And if you’re thinking rationally, they were right. But I had something else.
First of all, I used the things that had worked in my background up till then. I used analysis. I showed people charts and they just looked blank. I gave them reasons and they couldn’t understand what I was talking about. Then I stumbled on something else.  I’d be talking about the future, and the future of the World Bank. And what’s it going to be like? 
     “Well,” I said. “It’s going to be like today. Let me tell yousomething that happened just a few months ago in June 1995.” We’re still in early 1996. 
“In June 1995, a health worker in Kamana Zambia logged on to the website for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta Georgia and got the answer to a question on how to treat malaria. 

    "Now that was June 1995, not June 20015. That was not the capital of Zambia. It was a tiny place, 600 kilometers away. And this is not a rich country. This is Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world. But you know the most important part of this picture for us in the World Bank? The World Bank isn’t in this picture. The World Bank doesn’t have its know-how organized so that we can share it with all the millions of people in the world who make decisions about poverty. But just imagine if we did. Just imagine if we got organized, think what an organization we could become!”

   And that started to register. People said, “Yes, that’s pretty interesting. Why don’t we do that?” So first, with staff. Then with managers. Then with senior managers. And it wasn’t too long after that the president of the World Bank heard about it and he said, “Let’s do it.” So he went to the Annual Meeting of the World Bank on October 1, 1996 and in front of 170 finance ministers, and all their entourages, a huge public occasion, and he announced: “We are going to do it. We’re going to become the Knowledge Bank. We’re going to share our knowledge with the world.”
    So in chapter two of my life, in 1996 and 1997, I was telling stories to communicate to people the idea of knowledge sharing and get them into action. But I was in denial, because everything in my life up till then, my background, my environment, my career, had told me that this was wrong. Stories weren’t serious. Stories were irrelevant. So I’d tell people the story and then I’d give them the analysis. And I was telling myself that it was the story that was warming people up but it was the analysis that was doing the job.
    And then one day, I was doing a presentation and I dropped the analysis. It worked even better. (Laughter) So I figured out it must have something to do with storytelling. 

    So in the third chapter of my life, I started trying to find out what I was doing. It all seemed so counter-intuitive. It was the opposite of everything I knew about how to get on in life, how to get things done. So I went to Jonesborough in 1998 and I told stories like the Zambia story to the professional storytellers. I thought that they would know about this stuff. And they told me, “Steve, you don’t know anything! That’s not a story. I mean, let’s take the Zambia story. You told us about a health worker in Zambia. Was it a man or a woman? Was it a doctor or a nurse? Was it hot or cold? Was it wet or dry? What were the smells? What were the sounds? You need, Steve, to immerse your audience in your story so that you take your audience to Zambia. You need to make them feel what it was like being there in Zambia. Your story, Steve, is not worth a damn.” (Laughter)
I replied, “Well, that may be true in your area. But I’m in a different area. I’m in Washington D.C. I’m on Wall Street. I’m in the world of big organizations and this story, which you tell me is not worth a damn, is able to pick up a big change-resistant organization by the scruff of the neck and hurl it into the future. You might not think that’s very important. (Laughter) But in my world, the managers of big corporations happen to think that’s very powerful and useful.”
     So from 1998 to 2000, I looked into storytelling. I looked into how a story could work like this and why. I looked into the pattern of story that could have this kind of effect. It was very different pattern from a professional entertainment story. It was a springboard story that is told in a minimalist story. And I wrote my book, The Springboard, (Butterworth Heinemann, 2000) which tells the story of my discovery of the form of the springboard story, a story that can spark change.
The book has received a lot of positive press, and in December 2000, I left the World Bank and started working with organizations around the world, to help them use the power of storytelling. I worked with many different organizations in the private and public sector. I discovered that springboard stories were only one form of story. There were many different purposes that you could use stories for. You can read more about this at:
    So now I give masterclasses with Dave Snowden in various capitals around the world. These are open to anyone who wants to discover the world of organizational storytelling.
    In addition to open workshops in capitals around the world, your organization can also have: 
a workshop tailored to your specific organizational needs. 
   You can arrange for me to come to your organization and work with your staff on-site to unlock the immense potential of storytelling to meet your organizational objectives. 
   Such a workshop might comprise: 
        - a two-hour presentation and a discussion; or 
        - a half-day workshop to introduce springboard storytelling and show staff how to craft and perform springboard stories, using a simple twelve-step template; or 
        - a full-day workshop to introduce springboard storytelling and develop the capacity of staff to craft and perform springboard stories, as well as explore other high value uses of storytelling, such as: 
                           o transferring knowledge, both explicit and tacit; or 
                           o building community 
                           o accelerate collaboration in mergers and acquisitions; 
                           o disarm negative stories with virus stories; 
                           o show the way forward with stories about the future 
                           o develop linkages with knowledge management programs. 

        - a two-day workshop, aimed at exploring the above issues in depth and developing capacity to craft and perform the full array of storytelling techniques. 

     The benefits of such workshops include the following outcomes: 
 - all participants develop an understanding of the potential importance of storytelling. 
 - all participants significantly enhance their skills at springboard storytelling, 
 - all participants would have had exposure to other types of storytelling, and depending on the amount of time invested, develop capability to use these types of story. 

   In addition, it needs to be recognized that storytelling's effectiveness depends not only on our intellect, but also our emotions, our creativity, and our willingness to renew ourselves. Storytelling elicits genuine authenticity in the storyteller as well as the listener. So at one level, storytelling is a tool, but it always ends up as being much more than that. Because springboard storytelling "flies below the corporate radar", it can be introduced seamlessly and easily into any organization. 

   I have given these workshops in major organizations in the public and private sector in the U.S., Europe and Asia. 

   If you would be interested in having such a workshop in your organization, then contact me at You can also watch a video at:


   Steve Denning is the author of the acclaimed book, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations (Butterworth Heinemann, 2000) which describes how storytelling can serve as a powerful tool for organizational change and knowledge management. 
   From 1996 to 2000, Steve was the Program Director, Knowledge Management at the World Bank where he spearheaded the organizational knowledge sharing program. 
   In November 2000, Steve Denning was selected as one of the world’s ten Most Admired Knowledge Leaders (Teleos) along with Jack Welch (GE) and John Chambers (CISCO).
   He now works with organizations in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia on knowledge management and organizational storytelling. Steve also conducts workshops around the world on organizational storytelling. 
   His clients have included: GE, Shell, Bristol Myers Squibb, Danfoss, McDonalds, Unilever, Nestle, Xerox PARC, IBM, US Army, USAID, American Institute of Architects, California Workforce Association, PVDSA , US State Department, World Bank, The Brookings Institution, UNDP, CIA, NSA, NIMA, NY State Government, Australian Federal Treasury, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Norway), American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), marcus evans, Linkage, InfoToday 2002, KM World, ARK Group, Bellanet Foundation and Henley Management College.
    Learn about Steve's animal fable Squirrel Inc (2004) at
and The Leader's Guide To Storytelling (2005) at:

   Steve’s website which has a collection of materials on knowledge sharing and storytelling may be found at: 
   Steve was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He studied law and psychology at Sydney University and worked as a lawyer in Sydney for several years. He did a postgraduate degree in law at Oxford University in the U.K. Steve then joined the World Bank where he worked for several decades in many capacities and held various management positions, including Director of the Southern Africa Department from 1990 to 1994 and Director of the Africa Region from 1994 to 1996. From 1996 to 2000, Steve was the Program Director, Knowledge Management at the World Bank. 
   Steve was a member of the Quality Council V of the Conference Board from 1993 to 1996. 
   Steve is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (U.K.) He has published a novel and a volume of poetry. 

Tel 301 371-7100 :; www.Pelerei.Com
Steve Denning
Tel. 966 9392
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To buy:
The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Steve Denning (October 2000) Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston, USA

          Paperback - 192 pages. ISBN: 0750673559 
To read 
of :
The Squirrel: The Seven Highest Value Forms of Organizational Storytelling
          by Steve Denning (work in progress) 
RECOMMENDED LINKS Copyright © 2000 Stephen Denning-The views expressed on this website are those of Stephen Denning, and not necessarily those of any person or organization.