Storytelling as a Tool for Vicarious Learning Among Air Medical Transport Crews

Abstract

Learning vicariously from the experiences of others at work, such as those working on different teams or projects, has long been recognized as a driver of collective performance in organizations. Yet as work becomes more ambiguous and less observable in knowledge-intensive organizations, previously identified vicarious learning strategies, including direct observation and formal knowledge transfer, become less feasible. Drawing on ethnographic observations and interviews with flight nurse crews in an air medical transport program, I inductively build a model of how storytelling can serve as a valuable tool for vicarious learning. I explore a multistage process of triggering, telling, and transforming stories as a means by which flight nurses convert the raw experience of other crews’ patient transports into prospective knowledge and expanded repertoires of responses for potential future challenges. Further, I highlight how this storytelling process is situated within the transport program’s broader structures and practices, which serve to enable flight nurses’ storytelling and to scale the lessons of their stories throughout the entire program. I discuss the implications of these insights for the study of storytelling as a learning tool in organizations, as well as for revamping the field’s understanding of vicarious learning in knowledge-intensive work settings.

Publication
Administrative Science Quarterly

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