Last week I had the opportunity to see Matilda  in the West End. Coincidentally, it’s just opened on Broadway to well-deserved rave reviews.
For the uninitiated, it’s a musical production of Roald Dahl’s book of the same name – about a little girl who develops her own knowledge, imagination, stories and her own special powers in some pretty extreme family and school circumstances.  It’s Dahl, (and Tim Minchin who wrote the musical), at their best – my family loved it.  Here’s a 90 second clip:

 

Reading the programme in the interval, I was really  struck by a phrase in an interview Tim Minchin’s Olivier Best Director acceptance speech:

“Denying stories is denying the most human part of being a human.
Without stories we’re just eating machines with shoes.”

I like that.

It challenges me a bit too, as I think about the way in which organisations often treat their employees, focusing only on their current role and failing to surface their stories and experience. It’s like they’re “working machines with shoes” rather than people with a wealth of experience.
Here’s a picture I ask people to reflect upon during my training programmes on knowledge-sharing, networks and communities of practice. I ask them to describe how it relates to their own organisations.

Upturned jigsaw pieces

They usually talk about not knowing who to connect with, not knowing where expertise and relevant experience lies, relying on serendipity, not knowing where to start (no corners or edges), lacking strategy (no picture to copy) etc.
Then we discuss what it would take to turn the pieces over, so that we learn more about each others’ stories.

That then leads nicely into a conversation about social media, or into some practical, no-tech activities like personal social network mapping on paper (thank you Cheryl Cooper), anecdote circles (thank you Ron Donaldson), peer assists (thank you Geoff Parcell) and knowledge cafe’s (thank you David Gurteen) – or a trip to the bar (thank you Stella Artois and Samuel Adams). That way, we move from being eating machines with shoes to drinking machines with stories!

I’m sure Roald would have approved.
Even if Miss Trunchbull wouldn’t.