Knowledge management through storytelling and narrative
: semiotics of strategy

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study reviews knowledge management as a construct for analysing strategy discourse; identifying key strategy artefacts; and how they may be interpreted by key stakeholders engaged in strategy discourse. The context of this study is set initially in three case studies that illuminate the nature of storytelling and narrative as a strategy discourse. In seeking to clarify the nature of storytelling and narrative and the import of social architecture, further enquiry was required. The importance of storytelling and narrative in the development of strategy is recognised. In developing the notion of strategy as a people orientated construct, this study provides a theoretical foundation for the determination of how actors in strategy may take a position on strategy. To understand the nature of strategy discourse, this study reviews the field of semiotics, as a form of social constructivism, and its importance in revealing the way artefacts in strategy discourse may be interpreted as it regulates behaviour towards establishing a position in relation to strategy. Some readers of strategy have flirted with the notion of semiotic theory in the field of strategy discourse, but the flirtation is fleeting and does not attempt to read strategy from a semiotic locus. In this study, the focus is on the way strategy conversation changes as the nature of the story is changed. This locus revealed a knowledge gap in current literature and therefore the relevance of this study. The mixed methodology in this study draws upon existing semiotic theory to explicate strategy as a story of intent; with a focus on the semiotic components; the artefacts; and the vocabulary of strategy discourse that so determine how actors in strategy take a position on strategy. This study uses three case studies as the genesis for this investigation, rooted in the academic field of knowledge management to set the context of this study on Semiotics of Strategy. These studies are practice based and define an organisational model of the social interactions affecting knowledge transfer within organisations arising from problems of knowledge location, knowledge retention; and knowledge transfer. The research framework chosen to achieve the research aims of this study, includes using Q Methodology, and the complexity of the Q Sort data demanded a logical and consistent analysis of the data to triangulate a semiotic view of strategy discourse. This ontological approach captures the epistemological characteristics of strategy artefacts interpreted by the Senior Management Team, as actors, at Solent University. This research project underpins the value of a semiotic view as a diagnostic tool to determine the position that actors take in the context of existing strategy discourse. From an etymological perspective this study posits a typology based upon a semiotic framework to help diagnose how actors take a position based on their interpretation of key strategy artefacts; and to understand the nature of interpretation as a means of intervention by which the strategy narrative may be reshaped. What is of interest is how storytelling and narrative empowers individuals as they seek to disseminate and transfer knowledge from the past in order to shape the future. This study reveals the inflection that individuals may exert on knowledge artefacts; and the motivation of those who trade in knowledge assets, through storytelling and narrative, as players in the game of strategy search for coping strategies in an attempt to adapt to the new reality. Ultimately this study provides new insight into the power of semiotics in the early stage; and constructivism in the later stages of the knowledge management continuum; and describes how participants in strategy adopt a position on strategy.
Date of AwardOct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Nottingham Trent University

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