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Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

The Egyptians built more than a pyramid, so you should do it in safety at work.

Many of you measure your safety performance based on the safety pyramid. But there is another pyramid, you have to build and maintain. It’s even bigger.

The best teacher I had was a brilliant storyteller. Unfortunately, I only had one course with him. When he entered the classroom, he introduced the topic of the day and start explaining it, in a very lively way. And whenever one of my classmates raised a question, he took this up and included it into his speech. We soon realized, that as long as he talked, we don’t need to work. So we asked questions in order to keep him talking. Surprisingly, by the end of the lesson, he was always able to connect the dots and successfully finished the daily subject. In retrospective, it is amazing, that we learned a lot, without even realizing that we were learning at all! And we had fun, too.

By the way: The course was about electro-magnetic-fields, so surely no topic typically connected with the idea of storytelling. Instead of volume integrals, he talked about spoons, sheets, onions, balls etc. all things we know from daily life. That way he made it possible for us to develop an intuitive knowledge of this normally hard nut for students of electrical engineering. He broke down the explicit knowledge, preserved in physical formulas, down to a more tangible tacit knowledge.

So why do I tell that? Because, next to your safety pyramid showing your performance in safety, you need a second one: The knowledge pyramid.

Whenever a safety incident occurs, a lot of knowledge is gained. The answers of all the questions asked. You will process lots of those answers for your policies or training. That way, you create masses of explicit knowledge, the building blocks of your new pyramid. But as you all know, writing and signing of procedures take time and even more critical incorporating them by your workers takes even more time. So the building blocks are not everything, you need mortar for your pyramid. Which again is tacit knowledge.

And for this, do it like my teacher: Start telling stories of what you want your people to learn. Tell what happened, why it happened, with which consequences for the individual and give that way the incident a face. Put the story into an informal language, use even metaphors to make the knowledge more memorizable and don’t even be shy to make it more dramatically. You don’t want to write another report, you want to catch and touch your people with empathy. The difference between report and story. If your audience feels connected, it will process the learning points like self-experienced. The reservoir of tacit knowledge in your company grows.

And don’t forget: Tacit knowledge is regarded as being the most valuable source of knowledge, and the most likely to lead to breakthroughs in the organization. Science links the lack of focus on tacit knowledge directly to the reduced capability for innovation and sustained competitiveness. So maybe storytelling is also a tool for many other areas of your business. What do you think?

Yours, Torsten Dederichs

To be continued ...