posted 29 Feb 2004 in Volume 7 Issue 6
Book review: Ghost Story
Mikko Arevuo reviews Ghost Story Ė A Modern Business Fable by Carol Kinsey Goman
Title: Ghost Story Ė A Modern Business Fable
Author: Carol Kinsey Goman
Publishers: KCS Publishing, 2002
Carol Kinsey Goman uses her storytelling skills to teach us how and why knowledge is and isnít shared in organisations. She also examines how we can create high-performance teams by drawing on the individual and collective strengths of their members.
Ghost Story is the adventure of Dot, a clerical employee. After her boss, Mr Bigguns, asks her to lead a team of people from all levels of the organisation, she is full of self-doubt and self-depreciation. She finds herself talking to a bonsai tree in the conference room. How could she, a lowly clerical worker, have anything to contribute? The tree turns out to be a talking bonsai tree and promises to help and mentor Dot.
The bonsai urges Dot to crawl through a refrigerator and she finds herself in a Ďparallel conglomerateí, the biggest multi-dimensional in the world. She meets Mr Grandfella who asks her to lead a team to solve the mystery of a Ďlittle maní and a ghost who cause pandemonium in the company by spreading discord, mistrust and suspicion.
Dotís team includes Mr Stonewall, Ernest Blinkers, Ms Pureperson, Even Steven and Admiral Blowhardy, each of which have traits that we all possess. Needless to say, this group has never worked as a team. Nevertheless, it sets after the little man and ghost, which culminates in a battle with The Pyramid, The Old Guard and The Hindsights.
As in all good adventure stories, good prevails over evil, but not before the team has defined the new rules of engagement:
1.† Knowledge is not like gold, itís more like milk;
2.† You canít win if you donít know that the rules have changed;
3.† Knowledge isnít power; sharing knowledge is power;
4.† Nobody knows everything, so nobody can win alone;
5.† Thereís always more than one right answer to any challenge;
6.† If you fail and donít learn from it, everybody loses;
7 . If you win and donít tell others, everybody else still loses;
8.† You canít share knowledge you donít know you have;
9.† Everyone has something to contribute, even if they donít know it;
10. It can be easier to believe in ghosts than look at your own fears;
11. Donít be afraid to trust one another;
12. Donít be afraid to trust yourself.
Having won the battle and learnt the new rules, Dot and her bonsai tree emerge back on Ďourí side to take on the challenge set by Mr. Bigguns.
It is refreshing to read a book that uses storytelling to communicate fundamental KM issues, rather than overly complicated and theoretical concepts. I am not aware of many books that have so clearly communicated complex issues through the use of storytelling, apart from Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Coxís classic book on continuous process improvement, The Goal.
Gomanís metaphor demonstrates how businesses are haunted by the ghosts of the past. In todayís world, old industrial structures and values are no longer applicable. Value is derived from intangible assets imbedded in all organisations, commercial and not-for-profit. However, we are still trying to use old, industrial era management models and structures. As we know, change is difficult, and we are haunted by previous experiences and practices. To succeed in our endeavours, we must exorcise these demons to create new rules of engagement.
The book also highlights the role of people and teams in the value-creation process. In trying to capture and share an organsiationís cumulative knowledge and wisdom, businesses have invested vast sums of money into corporate portals, intranets and collaborative software. However, knowledge sharing is more than the technology that supports it, the business strategy aimed at optimising company expertise, and more than a cultural shift from the industrial era to the information age. Knowledge creation and sharing are about people and building high-performance teams. Gomanís insight into the human psyche in an organisational context, and how value can be created or destroyed, are issues we must keep at the front of our minds even if we are preoccupied with KMís technology issues.
Everyone would benefit from this book. Being able to bring theory to life using non-offensive storytelling techniques is a great tool for knowledge-management strategies and teamwork seminars. As the book is only 113 pages long it can be read by delegates in one evening and can used for group discussions the next day.
I have tested the book on my MBA students. They were initially sceptical about reading a Ďstoryí, which is presumably a consequence of always teaching from theory books and case studies. However, seminars built around the book produce lively debates and positive feedback.
Ghost Story is a captivating piece of writing with characters that we all can relate to and learn from. As Dot finds out, sometimes the only way we can only discover what we have to contribute is by actually contributing it. The bookís messages are clear and powerful; it is a real gem.
1.†Goldratt, E. & Cox, J., The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement (Gower Publishing, 1993)
Mikko Arevuo is managing director at Delta Strategies Ltd, UK and Oy Delta Strategies Ltd, Finland. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org