An application of storytelling

Practical storytelling

What is storytelling used for? Storytelling is always important and is particularly topical this week when there is a great conference on the subject.

Examples of practical uses of storytelling abound in the fields of training and elsewhere. One of the most practical uses is in aviation, a field in which storytelling is rife. This is driven by the general acceptance, in aviation culture and especially among pilots, that no one has enough time or lives to learn entirely from their own mistakes; it is important also to learn from other people’s mistakes.

Story types

Aviation storytelling ranges widely.

At one extreme is the bar tale typified by the raised hand, with attitude representing that of the aircraft and the commentary of the “there I was, flat on my back, with nothing on the clock …” variety.

Somewhere in the middle are more carefully recounted stories of incidents major or minor, serious or not so serious, subtle or obvious, complex or simple; these are sometimes referred to as “hangar talk” and are an important mechanism for the transfer of knowledge from the experienced to the less experienced.

At the other extreme are official bulletins and reports resulting from formal accident and incident investigations; these form a substantial plank in the platform of safety in the whole aviation industry.


Another aspect of storytelling relates to time. Of course, it is often said that “timing is everything”.

However, this is not only true for the timing of the delivery of content, but also in the selection of the time and context for its delivery.  So, the values of stories vary not only because some of them become worn out, but also because their relevance varies.

For example, it is well known in many fields, and aviation is no exception, that the time to tell an apocryphal tale is while a related incident is fresh in everyone’s mind.

Positive reaction

Given the generally action-oriented character, self-reliant nature and somewhat opinionated approach of the kinds of people drawn to aviation, it is perhaps surprising that stories of mishaps and mistakes are not met with blame and/or detachment. Instead, such stories are typically met with empathy and self-assessment, together with reactions such as “there, but for the grace of God, go I!”.

It is, in general, a thoroughly healthy and intelligent response to such situations and represents a less common aspect to “cost-benefit analysis” along the lines of: we have already incurred the cost, so let’s maximise the benefit.


Each of these elements contributes to an aviation culture of safety and continuous learning. We can all learn from this, and from the ways in which storytelling plays an important role.

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