If ‘All the world’s a stage,” Don’t Leave Home Without Your Script.

If “All the world’s a stage,”

Don’t Leave Home Without Your Script

Vince Cyboran, Ed.D.

Restaurant 4 script

Imagine that you are meeting a friend for lunch at a restaurant that you have not eaten at before. You arrive first, five minutes before the agreed-upon time. You stand near the entrance, next to a sign reading:  “Please wait to be seated.” Soon, a young woman approaches and asks:  “How many in your party?” “Two,” you reply, adding, “He should be here any minute.” The hostess informs you: “I’ll seat you as soon as your friend arrives,” and begins checking her phone. You’re irritated that she didn’t offer to seat you immediately. Does she not like the way you’re dressed? You scan the dining room, and it is only half-filled. ‘What’s her problem?’ You wonder.  Your friend arrives, the hostess looks up, smiles at him, and says:  “Right this way.” She leads you to a table near the window, far from the kitchen and away from the other diners. You say to your friend:  “Man, she must like you. She wouldn’t even seat me.”  He shrugs, “They never seat people till everyone’s here.” You nod, and think, “Okay, I get it.” You’ve only been to restaurants before that seated people immediately, provided there was an available table. Next time, you’ll know.

But you won’t just know when you return to this particular restaurant. You now know that some restaurants seat patrons immediately, and some restaurants insist that all members of a party are present before seating patrons. You attach this new knowledge to your restaurant ‘script.’

Much of our understanding of the world comes from our direct experiences. Such experience might be as simple as passive observation or as complex as interactive participation. In fact, most of our social behaviors—particularly repetitive social behaviors—are formed through direct experience(s). This applies to how we act in restaurants, in school, and at work. We can safely conclude that:  Not everything in life requires direct instruction!

Silvan Tomkins introduced ‘script theory’ in the 1950s. In the 1970s Roger Schank expanded on Tomkins’ work, explicitly connecting it to learning and education. Schank was instrumental in promoting the use of scripts as stories, stories we tell ourselves. Schank posits that:

“Learning to explain phenomena such that one continues to be fascinated by the failure of one’s explanations creates a continuing cycle of thinking that is the crux of intelligence. It isn’t that one person knows more than another, then. In a sense, it is important to know less than the next person, or at least to be certain of less, thus enabling more curiosity and less explaining away because one has again encountered a well-known phenomenon. The less you know, the more you can find out about, and finding out for oneself is what intelligence is all about.”

  • What learning theory might Schank’s be associated with?
  • How might you use script theory and stories in training?

In the next issue of our blog, we’ll continue our exploration of scripts and stories and their use in training.

Roger C. Schank (1995). “Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence,” p.10, Northwestern University Press.


  • The transfer of knowledge is giving someone power. For someone to have power, they have to take ownership. When training, it is ok to challenge participants to find their own way. They may not be aware that a script is blocking them from getting their desired result. In the example, in this article, the person never experienced the seating procedure. Imagine the same is true for your stakeholders. Maybe they never experienced success with getting the desired result, so they assume there is something wrong with the company or themselves. Training should allow them to experience that success. Allowing them to build up to success even if there is some failure involved. The participants should be set up for a success that they feel they can replicate outside of training. This means the content of training needs to replicate the field atmosphere. Use tools being used in the job, in places they will be, with people they will be working with.

  • Generally, Schank’s Script theory is associated with Constructivist, Social and situational learning theories. Precisely, Schank’s Script theory can closely relate to Communities of Practice theory by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. Within the Communities of Practice Theory, people who share concerns or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. By doing this, common interest is formed, and people collaborate over an extended period, sharing ideas and strategies, determine solutions, and build innovations. I believe Schank’s theory is related here because it organized around personal experiences. Also, both forms of learning could be in a social gathering, and folks with little or no experience or knowledge rely on others to do great things. Using Script theory and stories in Training is ideal because it allows the trainer to be more of a listener. A trainer could ask participants to share their experiences on subject matters and give a recommendation based on the participants’ stories and experiences.

  • I think script training can be used as a training method. It could be used to teach customer service responses to high stress situations or how to critically think about a situation. Context is key for any scenario in a script and as a facilitator we can share our experiences with others. We can create If this happens Then this happens moments and adjust behavior as necessary in a safe environment. This could be beneficially in creating an attitude of can do vs failure mentality.

  • I would say that Schank’s learning theory can be related to Kolb’s learning style. Kolb’s experiential learning theory has a four-stage cycle, and for Kolb “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”. I would relate the restaurant experience in this way using Kolb’s 4-stage cycle:

    The restaurant experience was new – as it relates to “Concrete Experience”. Learn from the new experience and understand that restaurants have dining policies – “Reflective Observation of the new experience”. You now know that calling ahead to learn more about where you are dining is to your advantage – “Abstract Conceptualization”. From this point on, due to your experience you will apply what you have learned to the next dining experience, making the next one more enjoyable – “Active Experimentation”.

    Using script theory and stories in training is like creating new workable and trainable tasks for a complex application.

    Denise Brown-Fletcher

  • I think this script theory can be very applicable to a training environment. Managers can understand that a series of experiences in day to day work cannot be erased in a training environment and it is motivation to ensure that the training experiences and production environment experiences are the same. Trends in behaviors are key for both the employer and employee and the training environment and productive environment must trend in the same direction for the training to be send as authentic and vice versa for the productive environment.

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