Knowledge Management / Corporate Memory Development

Today, companies don't know what they know. They attempt to fix this with knowledge management solutions that are usually just elaborate document retrieval systems. But what people know, the really important stuff, is not likely to be in a document at all. Usually that information comes out in stories told late at night by expert practitioners swapping war stories or sharing interesting experiences that they've had. So how do you get that information to the people who need it?

Introducing ExTRA

ExTRA (Experts Telling Relevant Advice) is a knowledge management system that stores and retrieves digitally recorded stories. ExTRA has one intention -- and that is to get a story to a user that will help him or her make a decision just at the time that they are about to make a decision. We use storytelling as the vehicle to impart knowledge.

Experience EXTRA

Want to see how EXTRA works? Take a peek at the Medical EXTRA demo and see how EXTRA could help your organization.

This project is the result of a joint venture between Socratic Arts and Kay Technology.

ExTRA could exist in any domain of knowledge, and in fact, all possible domains of knowledge might come into play, depending on the needs of the user. The system can capture corporate stories, historical stories, or any recorded material. The idea is simple and is based on observations about everyday human interaction. People talk about their problems and those with whom they are speaking offer solutions. Typically, people tell each other information through storytelling. These stories are derived from their own experiences. When someone tells a friend about an issue, they are often regaled with a story that starts with "something like that happened to me" or "you know what I did when I was faced with that situation?"

Experts behave similarly when they offer advice to novices or are put in the position of teaching someone something. Each expert has stories to tell and willingly tells them when they know that they might be germane to the concerns of the listener. Telling stories through storytelling is the way we learn. Story based learning is the way we have learned about the world since time immemorial.

In the old days, people had their circle of friends and coworkers and the advice they heard was limited to those people they knew and spoke with. But today the world is different and new technology allows us to do something much better. Today we can state our problem to a computer and use digital storytelling to capture your advice and experiences. In certain situations, the computer will already know what we are trying to do. In either case, the possibilities are limitless. We can collect the relevant advice that any expert or corporation might want to provide to anyone at any time and then deliver that advice to a person who needs it at the right moment. It is a just in time reminding system.

How do we do that? We do it in the same way that people do it.

  1. We collect the best stories an organization or corporation has to tell. This is done by interviewing them on a digital camcorder and getting them to tell what they know in a crisply told one to two minute story.
  2. We index those stories according to the goals, plans, conditions, and warnings contained in the stories.
  3. We then match those indices to the current situation.

This is how people find the stories they tell, by matching indices they have constructed, which then are used to label the stories they know, and then match them with the situation at hand. They do this unconsciously and in general have no idea how they index stories or how they retrieve stories. We have constructed an algorithm for index matching that accomplishes this. There are never direct and total matches since no two stories are identical. The concept of partial matching across conceptual indices is an Artificial Intelligence technique that we have been working on for years.

ExTRA, as it exists today when we show it, seems to just be a way of organizing stories by their content, and that is what it is, if it is used for browsing through stories. But browsing is not the point of ExTRA. ExTRA was built to be a just in time system. The stories should find the user. The user should not have to find the stories.

The stories can only find the user if the computer knows what the user is doing. In some cases, a GPS in a car for example, the computer can easily know what the user is doing and stories can be retrieved at any time. In other cases, shipping for example, computers monitoring on board operations know exactly what any given user in any role on the ship is doing and stories can be found when needed. In slower processes, ones where a great deal of time is typically taken to make a decision. ExTRA can easily be woven in as a part of the decision making process.

When ExTRA finds a story it presents the most relevant story it can find to the user. This typically means a story that is in the domain of knowledge in which the user is operating. Stories about drug development are the most relevant ones to people developing drugs for example. But, after the first drug development story is found and after ExTRA is reminded of, and offers, more stories from the same domain, it can do something else.

ExTRA, when it is has been fitted with stories from many domains of knowledge can find analogous stories from one domain to another and can offer stories from different domains that might add a new perspective for decision making. The user can easily turn off this feature of ExTRA. The idea is not to bombard users with stories but rather to offer stories that a user wants. As in a conversation with a real person, ExTRA only offers up more stories when its best stories have been heard and more discussion is warranted.

ExTRA is a knowledge management system that works as an institutional memory to improve your daily operations. Storytelling is the key to making better decisions!
If you would like to see a demo of ExTRA or learn more about the system please contact Michael McGarry (

Download a short paper on how human conversation works and its relationship to reminding and story telling in ExTRA.

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