Lessons Learned Case #2

Bringing lessons learned to life by creating a more impactful storytelling environment

Author/contributor: Ken Wheaton

Applicable to: Business (People, Process and Technology Alignment; Culture); Communication (Presentations; Storytelling)


Story: The owner of a local cafe where I get coffee and breakfast on the weekend decided to have different themes in the cafe every weekend. Last weekend it was the 50’s, this weekend the 60’s, next will be the 70’s and etc. Staff were required to dress for the theme and music of the time period was played. Specials on the menu reflected the times and small gifts of the times were given to customers. This weekend for the 60’s beads were given out to customers. Staff were also dancing from the time period.

What I noticed was people including myself were talking about the times related to the theme. It seemed to bring out memories with many talking about issues and how they handled or even survived them. I also noted a lot of smiles and laughing as stories were told with most enjoying the whole experience. Of course there were those that continued to do their own thing. Cafe employees who were 40 and younger told me that they had to do a lot of research for the time period in order to know how to dress. Most of this knowledge came from either parents or elders of that time.

This reminded me of a knowledge cafe I attended some years ago at a KMWorld Conference. The difference is that in the situation at the cafe some research was done up front and an overall theme was created for the environment. I also got to thinking how this idea might work in different cultures or professions by creating an appropriate environment both visually and verbally to prompt the conversations.

Setting (situational context):
  • Date and time: Winter 2014
  • People and their roles: Ken Wheaton’s observation of people collaborating in a café environment that has created a central theme.
  • Place: A café in Wasilla, AK USA
Problem (symptoms/observations, why it’s a problem and the impact if not solved): Overcoming barriers to capturing and sharing lessons learned and obtaining a natural flow in collaboration in organizational situations. Getting as many involved as possible to contribute.

Goal (challenge):

Root cause (of the problem/challenge and how it was determined): Forced or unplanned collaboration is used in problem solving meetings in most organizations. Many are uncomfortable participating in what appears to them as unnatural knowledge sharing processes.

Solution (action taken and how it came about): Bring people as close as possible to the problem by encouraging them to actively take part, especially by gathering background knowledge and creating the proper environment.

Outcome (the end result and its impact): Getting those not so familiar with a topic to gather knowledge from others prior to getting together and creating the appropriate environment helps the conversation to flow more naturally.

Analysis (what worked and why, what didn’t work and why):

Cautions/warnings: This approach will need further testing and some fine tuning. May also need some extra work or facilitating to keep the conversation on target.

Lesson (moral of the story, guidelines, rules, recommendations): When getting a group together to share lessons learned do the best you can to do your research up front and to create an environment that best fits the situation. If the right environment is created the conversation develops naturally rather than being more controlled or getting way off topic.

Full narrative:

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Art Murray: I experienced the same thing years ago when I took my son to a US civil war re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam. They had over 100 cannon and thousands of re-enactors totally in-character. Soldiers and cavalry, doctors and nurses sewing people up, undertakers embalming people (those who had special tags indicating their families had paid up-front), courts martial and executions of deserters…no detail went unattended. And as luck would have it, the pre-dawn Battle of the Cornfield was enveloped in a deep, dense fog, exactly as it was 140 years earlier, where soldiers were firing at point blank range because the visibility was only a few yards.

We both learned more that day than we ever did from any history book...