Friday, February 8, 2013

The potential role of fictional stories in strategic planning

I am back (for a little while) to share some of the progression of my thoughts that have been informed by my comprehensive reading of scholarship in knowledge sharing and storytelling. In this particular post, I would like to focus on some preliminary thoughts on the issue of the role of fictional storytelling in planning.

I have read a few authors that has advocated the use of fictional storytelling in planning. In previous blog posts I mentioned how the education field (see blog post on Drake) and library and information field (see blog post on Nyström and Sjögren (2012)) have seen a place for fictional storytelling in planning for the future. I have also read Bennet and Bennet (2007), who discuss an instance where storytelling has been used in technology planning in institutions such as the United States Military. In this post, I would like to extend on these ideas with a few of my own.

First, I would like to assert a number of propositions, that I believe future researchers can test. Throughout this post, I use the term stories to mean the account of an event or experience:

Proposition 1: In the absence of factual data and statistics, one can use stories of the past as a precedent to plan for future events.

This is not a new idea. Organisational storytelling already points out that experts based their judgements on their prior experiences (Orr, 1996; Denning, 2005). I already observe that this activity is taking place in fields such as law, where lawyers and judges use prior cases to make judgements about what should be done in a present case. Doctors and other health professionals also use this method of referring to historical cases to make judgements about the treatment of patients in the present.  

Proposition 2: Even in the absence of stories in the past, one can use imaginative storytelling to predict the future.

This second proposition is already being used in some fields under names such as scenario planning or thought experiments. Scenario planning is used in the military; thought experiment in philosophy and game theory in economics. Scenario planning and game theory practices use imaginative or fictional storytelling to help reduce uncertainty and consider how an event may unfold if one take certain actions. Thought experiments on the other hand, utilise one's imagination to attempt to experience a phenomenon or phenomena (Brown and Fehige, 2011). It is on this basis that I argue that fictional storytelling can be deployed as a tool to help one contemplate future events, based on projection of the past into the future or speculation about how the present will change.

I conclude this post by suggesting that organisations and institutions can plan for the future through applying fictional storytelling. This is already done in a number of fields. I further argue that we can predict and perhaps even create the future by imagining worst case and best case scenarios. We can ask questions such as:

  • What are the worst things that can happen if we take a particular action?
  • What bad can happen if we do not address a particular situation?
  • If we pursue a particular strategy, what good could come out of it?
  • If we address a particular situation, what good could result from it?

As such, we can frame our planning in terms of tragic or epic stories. We can use tragic studies to tell us the dangers that we need to protect ourselves or institutions against. However we can also use epic storytelling to motivate ourselves or organisations to aim for new possibilities, goals and achievement. These are some of my preliminary thoughts on the matter, as informed by some of my readings, some of which I have not explicitly mentioned here. Hopefully, after my comprehensive examinations, I will have more time to develop on these ideas and even conduct some research and experiments to test the validity of my propositions.


Bennet, A., & Bennet, D. (2007). From stories to strategy: Putting organizational learning to work. VINE: The Journal of Information and Knowledge Management Systems, 37(4), 404-409. doi:10.1108/03055720710838489

Brown, J. R. & Fehige, Y. (2011). Thought experiments. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved from

Denning, S. (2005). The leader's guide to storytelling :Mastering the art and discipline of business narrative. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint.

Drake, S. M., Bebbington, J., Laksman, S., Mackie, P., Maynes, N., & Wayne, L. (1992).

Developing an integrated curriculum using the Story Model. Toronto, ON: OISE Press.

Drake, Susan M. (2010) "Enhancing Canadian Teacher Education Using a Story Framework,"The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1(2), Retrieved from

Nyström, V., & Sjögren, L. (2012). An evaluation of the benefits and value of libraries. Oxford, U.K.: Chandos Publishing.

Orr, J. E. (1996). Talking about machines: An ethnography of a modern job. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press.

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