Believing our own Propaganda

We’ve been thinking a lot about KM communications lately, and have just recently done a workshop on storytelling, where we were looking at the believability of stories, and how stories can be hijacked or artificially designed for propaganda purposes. Dave Snowden among others has a healthy scepticism about this, and points out that human beings are often very very good at detecting when a story is inauthentic and manipulative – they generate “anti-stories” in their own heads that directly counter the propaganda they are being fed.

So if human beings are so good at detecting fake stories, why does that end of the organisational storytelling movement prosper with senior executives lapping it up, and why do we in knowledge management tell so ardently what so many of our listeners manifestly do not believe? The answer came to me the other day in this lovely poem from Dave Bonta (quoted in full by permission – visit Dave’s blog!).


Is the angler fish ever tempted
by its own bait? Does it ever stir
from whatever trance-like state
passes for sleep in the aphotic zone,
see the glowing decoy & think,
Ah — mine! & surge forward,
jaws agape, like the proverbial donkey
tempted by a carrot? Or does it get
snappish at its traveling companion,
persistent as a bad conscience,
haunting as the image of its own death?

Photocredit: Picklerevenge

3 Comments so far

Matt Moore

Storytelling as rhetoric & propaganda does not always fail - but the audience gets wise to it if actions do not meet words.

The desire to control and manipulate through language is a constant temptation for everyone. The Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis suggests that is what our brains have evolved to do.

There is a long history of the magic word ("Open Sesame") that supposedly makes people and things do what you want. We still crave it - we just give it different names like “storytelling”.

BTW I love the imagery in the poem.

Posted on January 18, 2008 at 01:42 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

I wondered if this bait would lure you to comment, you poemifier smile

Yes, the urge runs deep… and it’s not just about actions having to follow words, in many organisations there is a memory context of prior stories and prior incantations without a corresponding reality…

Back to trust again, the authority of the teller/author, which is not just about the form of the words but the teller’s character and reputation.

Posted on January 18, 2008 at 01:52 PM | Comment permalink

Johnnie Moore

Yes, as a recovering adman I think I know the temptations of propaganda. 

And like Matt, though, I don’t think propaganda is inherently evil; it’s an intervention of a kind and it will have consequences, many unintended.

And don’t we all fall prey to the temptation to use language to get our way or influence people?  Isn’t this post or Dave’s itself a kind of propaganda?

Having said which, I love the idea of using story as way of listening and being changed, rather than broadcasting and changing.

Posted on January 18, 2008 at 08:52 PM | Comment permalink

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