July 2011 Archives

A week or so ago, I kind of ambushed some of my closest colleagues in the story world — Gregg Morris, Cathryn Wellner, Thaler Pekar, Lou Hoffman, and Terrence Gargiulo — bloggers and luminaries all, and made them into an ad hoc advisory board to ask about preventing blog-readership decline.

noise.jpg Among many brilliant observations and suggestions, Gregg made an interesting comment about why the attention of folks interested in story and storytelling is currently getting diverted:

There is more “noise” in the story space now than at any time over the last few years. I used to be able to get through the Twitter stream and Google in reasonable time when searching story and storytelling and the derivatives. I can’t do that anymore now that “storytelling” is the new “everything.”

The others agreed that the story space is cluttered with noise, so I decided to analyze where that noise is coming from. Let’s say that, like Gregg, you use Twitter as one of your main sources for your news of storytelling (currently I don’t, but I have in the past). I get a daily email that aggregates tweets with the keyword “storytelling” and the hashtag #storytelling. Let’s look at the tweets on a random one of these emails, the one from Friday, July 29. Some initial categories of “noise” (and these might not be noise to everyone, but they are to me):

  • Tweets in languages I can’t read.
  • Multiple retweets of the same resource. Once I’ve checked out the first one, subsequent retweets are just noise.
  • Tweets that announce specific storytelling events (often oral performance or library story hours) in remote cities.
  • Tweets of resources that the tweeter has newly discovered but that I have known about for months or even years, and probably most serious story folks know about. A good example is the series of YouTube videos by Ira Glass on storytelling that repeatedly gets tweeted.
  • Tweets of resources that seem to be at best peripherally about storytelling and are perhaps in the Twitter stream because they have “storytelling” in the URL (Example: 6 ways Twitter has made me a better writer). Or because they are given a #storytelling hashtag.
  • Tweets that contain no links, so there’s usually no place to go with them. Sometimes these are good quotes about storytelling. Hannah Arendt’s “Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it” gets tweeted frequently.
  • Tweets that comprise little more than a video. I’m probably in the minority, but I just don’t have the time or patience to check out most of these.
  • Tweets that contain bad/dead links.
  • Tweets that label something as “storytelling” that is not storytelling. For example, this link was touted as a “great example of activism via storytelling.” Can you find any storytelling?

So, discounting all of the above, here’s what’s left from Friday’s storytelling Twitter stream. Tweets about …

  • Storytelling in social media. For example, Why Storytelling is Key to Social Media Marketing, which falls into the category of items I’ll certainly want to check out even though many articles of this type turn out to have a vague notion of what storytelling is and offer minimal examples.
  • Same goes for storytelling in marketing and branding. In Crowdsourced Co-Storytelling: Brands Invite Fans to Assist in Idea Generation & Content Creation, Reb Carlson says, “Today, consumers comprise a huge part of a brand’s overall story,” but the article does not support the idea of storytelling or demonstrate how crowdsourcing contributes to storytelling.
  • Storytelling in screenwriting and filmmaking, a topic of interest to some in the story space, but marginally to me because I veer toward nonfiction and applied uses.
  • Curations and aggregations, like Gregg’s. I tend to already know about these. One new one was Twylah, where Jan Gordon’s curation is kind of a curation of curations!
  • Transmedia storytelling, which is huge right now and certainly has implications for folks in the applied-story space. Much of it tends to be noise, however, for the same reasons that items about screenwriting and filmmaking are. Here’s a provocative one from April currently making the rounds: TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING IS BULLSHIT… And Michael Margolis calls this one a “fascinating example of transmedia brand #storytelling.”
  • Pop-culture blockbusters like Harry Potter. Again, not of primary interest because it’s fiction.
  • Amazon Japan. In my Scoop.it curations in particular, I have noticed huge numbers of tweets of books listed on http://www.amazon.co.jp/. I think Amazon Japan must pay people to randomly tweet book titles. Serious noise here.
  • Children’s story books. Generally not of interest to adults in the story space.
  • notes-storytellingKnisley.jpg
  • Various forms of visual storytelling, such as Friday’s More on Storytelling With Your Camera. Like social-media storytelling tweets, these are usually worth checking out, but often the “storytelling” aspect is questionable. One item showing promise is a beautiful slideshow by visual storyteller Matt Knisely, along with his downloadable quick reference guide to storytelling (partial screenshot at left).
  • A song called Storytelling by Belle and Sebastian.
  • Storytelling in videogames. Surely of interest to some in the story space, but not me because I loathe games.
  • A kind of uncategorizable piece about how story makes content more entertaining.
  • Storytelling in fiction. Not of primary interest.
  • An Exquisite Corpse experiment. An intriguing experiment (that takes a while to load) by IDEO Labs, which explains that the creators “asked a group of collaborators to submit sentences/fragments … to create a dynamic visualization for the “exquisite” story our writers had crafted. These collective fragments formed a base on which we layered sensory artifacts, from voice-over to tagged visuals, and we were curious as to how far we could take the experience.”

So, of 100 tweets in that one day’s email of storytelling tweets, I would strongly consider writing about, or including in one of my curations, maybe two of the items tweeted about. Perhaps two others would get secondary consideration. Indeed the noise-to-valuable content ratio is high. That’s one reason I eventually determined that culling through Twitter streams was not a good use of my curation time, but the noise is nearly as bad in other channels as well.

Gregg predicts: “I think that you’ll see your traffic pick up again once this madness has run its course. Cream always rises to the top.”

I hope he’s right.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


My friend Karen Dietz has a whole flurry of story activity going on under the new brand “Just Story It.”

JustStoryIt.png She has rebranded her Web site from the former Polaris Associates to Just Story It, offering tools, videos, and e-books for tips, strategies, skill building, and resources.

She’s also offering a free Story IQ Assessment to measure storytelling skills, knowledge of how/why stories work, and awareness about applications for story in business. Karen says each part takes about three minutes to complete.

  1. Storytelling skills
  2. Story knowledge about how and why stories works
  3. Awareness about story applications in business life

I haven’t taken the assessment yet. I’m scared. What if it turns out I’m a story moron after all this time?

Karen also has a Facebook page for Just Story It and a Scoop.it curation, the best articles from across the web that she can find on using stories and storytelling in business. “I’ve chosen them,” she says, “because they actually make a contribution to our knowledge and wisdom about stories, show us how to apply stories to growing our business, or give valuable how-to tips.” I’m curious about what keywords Karen uses for her curation because her finds don’t seem to overlap much with those in my own organizational storytelling Scoop.it curation.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Just discovered my colleague Sharon Graham has continued her excellent series on storytelling in the job search beyond the post I reported on here.

goldnuggets.jpeg In Career Stories that Capture Attention, Sharon offers some nuggets worthy of attention:

In brainstorming stories, she advises, “ask yourself, ‘What about the story makes it important?’” This question reveals the “so what?” factor. Put yourself in the mindset of any employer asking “so what?” about each of your stories. If your story can’t answer that question for a specific employer, you may want to consider a different one.

Sharon underscores the notion of tailoring your set of stories to each targeted employer, which is a must, and she also stresses recency: “Choose examples that are most recent. While there are certainly exceptions, for the most part, those that happened in the past decade will have more impact than those that took place more than ten years ago.” Great advice. Employers want to know “what have you done for me lately?”

But the best piece in this post is Sharon’s take on story structure — the Situation —> Action —> Result — because it can really help job-seekers mine for the most effective parts of their stories:

Beginning: What was the event, issue, challenge, or situation that started it all? Why were you picked to handle it? Was it something that was highly visible and could have negative repercussions if not handled well or tactfully? Was there a tight timeframe or deadline? Did everyone else think there was no logical solution?
Middle: What roles did you assume? The Coach? Visionary? Leader? Executive Sponsor? Key Player? What were the key things that you did, which were pivotal to the outcome? What was different in this story from similar ones? What was the turning point?

The question of role is so important because I have found that in developing their stories, job-seekers often fail to give themselves adequate credit. They talk about team projects and successes instead of their individual successes as part of the team.

Conclusion: How did your story end? What worked out well? What surprised or delighted the recipients of the end results? Did the outcomes enhance things for the team, the company, the client, and other stakeholders? Can you provide more impact by providing tangible numbers such dollars gained or savings made?

The theme of yesterday’s post, Advancing your career through effective storytelling is the ability to tell effective stories in various phases of the job search, from networking to interviewing:

You must also be prepared with multiple compelling stories that connect to your personal career brand. When you find a contact that can be a key influencer or even the decision-maker for hiring you, ensure you deliver stories that will be easily remembered. Based on what you know about that contact, gauge the best stories and how much time to take telling each one. People’s time is precious and anything you can do to impart your stories in the briefest amount of time will help.

The earliest post in the series, Strategic Storytelling in your Executive Resume, would benefit from examples, but it’s still an excellent piece.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


HeadStrong-Book-Image-102-x-150.jpg For A Storied Career’s parent site, Quint Careers, I recently reviewed HeadStrong, by my friend Tim Tyrell-Smith. In one of the chapters I especially liked, Tim offered a wonderful list of questions to ask yourself to get at “what’s memorable and interesting about you.”

Happily, Tim has also published this list of 31 questions on his blog.

These questions are primarily intended to generate sound bytes — which could be in story form — for networking situations — in which an individual might want to stand out from the crowd and be remembered. Most of the questions relate to personal rather than professional life, but a few of them could also generate stories that might come up in a job interview:

  • Have you ever done anything really hard (run a marathon, complete a triathlon, read all the classics)
  • What can you do unusually well (artist, chef, writer, chess, crossword puzzle)
  • Do you have an engaging hobby (re-building cars, growing flowers, interior design)?
  • What is your best quality?
  • Have you ever written a novel, an ebook of poetry or a song?
  • Have you had to overcome a challenge in your life?
  • What one work accomplishment will you be remembered for?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What have you always been known for?

The more personal questions could also be used as journaling or memoir prompts.

Whatever your preferred use for it, it’s a very nice list.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Thanks to Michael Margolis/Get Storied for making me aware of this one:

DownButNotOut.jpg Zachary Roth at Yahoo News’s The Lookout has undertaken the monumental task of putting a human face on unemployment — a storied look beyond the dismal numbers. In turn, Justin Ellis has chronicled The Lookout’s effort at Nieman Journalism Lab:

The Lookout was specifically looking for full personal stories, not just modular information that could be used to fill out copy. The result was unexpected: More than 6,000 responses through comments and email, so much that they went beyond a one-off story on long-term unemployment and created Down But Not Out Tumblr devoted to the personal narratives of the long-term unemployed. … Roth … asked readers for a full picture of their lives now, not just the salient bullet points on being jobless.

The site includes “50 of the most vivid stories” with plans to add more each week. Here Roth and team list three of the stories “that really stuck with us.”

These poignant stories indeed have far greater impact than the statistics we see constantly. The current situation becomes more and more unacceptable as we read of livelihoods and self-esteem being devastated. The jobless themselves, at least, may find a bit of comfort in reading each others’ stories and sharing their pain.

Through stories, we can pick up some other threads that may prove helpful — or at least eye-opening — to anyone facing unemployment:

  • You’ll be much better off if you can anticipate and plan for a layoff.
  • Much has been written in the last year about the unemployability of the unemployed (see this article in yesterday’s New York Times), and some of these stories underscore that sad phenomenon. Answers are scarce as to what can be done about that employer mindset. “It’s time to adjust the thinking that someone who has been unemployed is lazy or unemployable,” says one participant.
  • Some employers expect the unemployed to be pursuing constructive projects and keeping skills current while jobless, not always easy to do when you’re worried about supporting your family.
  • Networking really does work. So do recommendations and endorsements, “When you know someone who knows someone, who can vouch for you,” says one respondent, “you have a much better chance of getting a job with the company you want/in the field you want. “
  • An employer’s market tends to make employers — even more than usual — arrogant and neglectful of basic courtesy, decency, and letting candidates know where they stand. The jobless will just make themselves angrier if they expect good etiquette and pleasantly surprised on the rare times they receive it. “Hiring managers hide behind blind ads, third-party web sites, and robot resume readers,” says one participant.
  • Interview skills often matter more than actual job skills. “It doesn’t matter what skills you have, and it doesn’t matter what skills the employers say they want,” a participant writes. “What matters is having the skills that get you through the interview process.”
  • Family closeness can be a saving grace, and it’s possible to generate happiness without a lot of expensive “stuff.” Wrote one participant, “We entertain ourselves and each other on very little, and I think we have made some memories that are priceless.”
  • It’s often harder to get a new job if you’re older, especially in technology fields. One respondent considers himself old (for tech jobs) at 37! Age discrimination was a surprisingly (or perhaps not so) strong theme in many of these stories.
  • Entrepreneurship is a possibility for the jobless, but that’s not easy either.
  • Sometimes advanced education can actually hurt the candidate. “During the course of my unemployment, I have received consistent feedback that the problem lies not with my competencies or interview skills, but instead with the fact that I have an MBA,” says one respondent. “I’ve been told off-the-record from numerous companies that they are hesitant to spend extra money to hire qualified MBAs when job competition is so fierce.” Others told tales of polishing skills or training for a new field while unemployed, only to find their fields weren’t hiring or were hiring younger candidates with the same training. This observation is telling: “There is a lot of brain power sitting on the sidelines while you hear our politicians saying how we are not educating our people to be competitive.”
  • The cost of childcare is a huge issue for many. Since folks are often forced to take jobs that pay far less than what they had before, they have great difficulty affording the childcare necessitated by their working. One participant spoke of having to turn down a job that would not have enabled him to afford childcare.
  • Openness to relocation can help, but not always. A respondent points out that she landed a job because she was willing to relocate anywhere — “In this day and age the worker has to go where the jobs are” — but others who express the same willingness are not successful.

I encourage everyone to read these heartbreaking, depressing — and sometimes hopeful — stories because they reveal the current narrative our country is experiencing. I especially urge our corporate and government leaders to read them because if we ever get out of this mire, we need to look at ways to address issues like age discrimination, discrimination against the unemployed, and affordable childcare.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


LifeinaDay.jpg Special screenings are taking place today of Life in a Day, a historic global experiment to create a user-generated feature film shot in a single day. The videos that comprise the film were shot exactly a year ago today, July 24, 2010.

Participants had 24 hours to capture a glimpse of their lives on camera. The most compelling and distinctive footage were edited into a feature film, produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin Macdonald. The filmmakers whittled down 4,500 hours of footage from 80,000 submissions.

You can read more in a Washington Post article by Melissa Bell.

Here’s the trailer:

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Penelope Trunk makes an interesting point in How to Answer the Question: “What Do You Do?” on BNET — that “most people have coherent stories, but they don’t see it. Their resumes are a mess and their elevator pitch is a bore.”

HireProfessional.jpeg Trunk therefore recommends hiring a professional “to help you make a story that makes sense for where you want to go.”

That’s good advice, especially when so many professionals are now offering exactly this kind of storied approach. It’s Michael Margolis’s speciality now with his New About Me, especially for entrepreneurs and creative types. My colleague Karen Siwak does it in the resume realm. Lots of folks are also now specializing in LinkedIn profiles. I’ve been known to take on clients now and then to help them tell their stories in these settings.

Trunk also links back to a piece she wrote a couple of years ago, Be memorable by telling good stories about yourself in which she cites three plots from the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die:

  1. The Challenge Plot
  2. The Creativity Plot
  3. The Connection Plot.

I’d like to think most folks can learn to tell their stories well, and that’s what my upcoming workbook will guide them through. But hiring a professional is a smart option if you lack the patience, drive, or confidence to do it yourself.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


A Story for Every Purpose

On the Internet, you will find no lack of efforts to collect and share stories, either on an ad hoc basis, or as a site’s raison d’etre. Following are a few that have caught my eye recently. I have also attempted to categorize the purpose for each collection/collection point:

story-lab_620x110.gif Stories to illustrate a point: As part of the Washington Post’s StoryLab Project, Brigid Schulte has collected stories from working-mother readers share stories of opting in and out of the workforce. I found this collection especially interesting, having just read When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins, which noted that, as much as women’s place in society is different from what it was 50 years ago, women still face great difficulty in integrating work and motherhood. Similarly, Schulte’s conclusion from the stories she collected: “It ain’t working now, and something’s gotta give.”

Stories to inspire: In Learn From Student Stories of Scholarship Success, Scholarship America shared five stories of students, who without scholarship assistance, would either graduate with thousands of dollars in debt, or not attend college at all.

DrinkingDiaries.jpg Stories for sharing experiences. DRINKING DIARIES is a forum for women to share, vent, express, and discuss their drinking stories without judgment. “Whether you drink or not,” the blog states, “are the child of an alcoholic or the mother of a future drinker, sip wine on occasion or binge drink for sport — we want to hear your story.” Regular readers will understand my special interest in this collection. I’m fascinated that Drinking Diaries is equally about drinking and sobriety.

ExchangeStudentStories.png Similarly for sharing experiences, ExchangeStudentStories appears to collect cautionary tales for exchange students in hopes of including them in a book. (It’s not clear because the site has no “About” page.

Stories for “the memory economy” and fundraising. I’ve mentioned the TOTeM Project before (TOTeM = Tales of Things and Electronic Memory). I have a hard time grasping this project, but here’s a description of an aspect of it about a “memory booth” at an event:

… We spent 4 days gathering visitors’ stories … We had a selection of blank objects, painted white and unbranded to create a generic signifier for the object itself. This meant that people were free to add any stories they liked to the objects, putting the emphasis on the memories rather than the objects themselves. At the end of the 4 days we gathered a lot of great stories from memories of traveling, looking cool in that first pair of jeans through to the trouble of kissing with sunglasses on! Once these stories were attached to a QR tag people could visit the Oxfam Originals store to pick up a memory. Every time someone bought a pair of jeans for example they would be given a QR tag loaded with other people’s memories.

Ultimately, people could (and presumably still can) “buy into the memory economy and help raise money for Oxfam.” You can see the collected stories here.

Stories for promotion via social responsibility: Purina’s Rally to Rescue program, which “recognizes the importance of the work pet rescuers do to help protect homeless pets,” is holding a contest via Facebook in which visitors can vote (through Oct. 3) on their favorite of 10 stories of rescued dogs and cats. The winning Rally to Rescue® group wins coupons good for up to $5,000 in pet food.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


I am often dumbfounded at the richness and generosity of resource offerings by story practitioners. Notable is my good friend Terrence Gargiulo, who has made many white papers available on the Scribd site.

IndexofPersonal.jpg These are all invaluable resources for story practitioners and people like me who follow story. With one exception, they are free. For awhile there, Scribd was wanting me to either upload something of my own in exchange for downloading or wanted to charge me, but that seems to have stopped.

Here are some of Terrence’s recent treasures:

Framework for Story-Based Consulting provides a detailed analysis of nine functions of stories and their unique effects. Originally derived in 1992 this framework guides all of MAKINGSTORIES.net’s consulting work. This paper is shared in response to people’s request to understand how Terrence crafts interventions. It is not intended to be a “How to,” piece. Links to complimentary and fee based resources/guides/tools are offered at the end of this paper.

Tell to Win and Win and Win: A cautionary tale and a traffic light system for business storytellers (co-authored with Graham Williams of The Halo and the Noose): In response to a recent emphasis on a storytelling-to-win focus (which, the authors say, “carries some potential for misuse — to manipulate others into doing what you want, telling in order to serve self” and to be “tools for the Machiavellian, narcissistic, even sociopathic. (a noose),” the authors propose “a self‐regulatory traffic light system for storytellers.”

In Bringing Corporate Social Responsibility to Life Through Storytelling, Terrence and Daniel Korschun, PhD, propose that “stories provide an ideal platform upon which stakeholders can interpret [corporate social responsibility] in uniquely meaningful ways.” They present case studies of companies that are “bringing [corporate social responsibility] to life through stories.”

The most exciting (to me) gem is the one that carries a cost. Given that Building An Index of Personal Stories: A Simple Guide to Mining Your Stories is a 36-page ebook, the $7.95 price tag is a bargain. In this fantastic guide the emphasis is truly in the personal; Terrence provides dozens and dozens of questions/prompts for getting at personal stories, I can see these being used for multiple purposes, such as memoir, journaling, sharing stories with children and grandchildren. But I can also see using the sets of questions for self-assessment/actualization — even healing and avoiding repeating destructive patterns. By looking at early influences — hobbies, school experiences, teachers, you can learn a great deal about yourself and even think about career paths.

Terrence provides lists of questions/prompts on 21 topics. The “Time in the Spotlight” chapter would generate excellent fodder for self-esteem, as well as for mining accomplishments for resumes, cover letters, and job interviews.

The ebook is a must-have.

Finally, I’ve already written about Terrence’s superb An Analysis of a Storied Approach to Crafting Influential Messages.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Some extraordinary work has emerged recently on ways to elicit stories in organizational settings. Here are some highlights:

ElicitingStories.jpeg In 7 Tips for Finding Stories in Your Organization, Thaler Pekar offers tips especially geared to nonprofits but applicable to other organizations as well:

  1. Ask about moments of emotion.
  2. Ask for the stories behind the words.
  3. Plot stories on a timeline.
  4. Ask for superlatives.
  5. Play with objects.
  6. Use visuals.
  7. Create a living circle.

Love Heidi Cohen’s rich list of 29 prompting questions particularly for getting at a brand. Here are the first six:

  1. How did your company start? Think in terms of your firm’s “once upon a time”.
  2. What adversities did the company overcome, either in its early days or at some other critical point?
  3. What’s a day in the life of your company like?
  4. How did your company do something positive to make life better for its community or customers?
  5. What did your company do to pitch in for a local problem? Think of Walmart’s effectiveness during Katrina.
  6. Does your firm have a special association with a particular holiday? This doesn’t mean a sales promotion.

The Sparknow blog offers Five Great Questions to Elicit Stories, which I especially like because they would work equally well for individuals mining for accomplishments for various job-search communications (resumes, cover letters, interviews):

Tell me about a time when… Tell me about a moment when…

  • you or your team faced a dilemma
  • you or your team experienced a significant turning point
  • you took a real risk and it paid off or didn’t pay off
  • you encountered an obstacle and overcame it
  • you saw positive changes happen as a result of your work

Finally, in Tapping Intuition: A Key Is Storytelling, Denice R Hinden tells the story of eliciting stories from a client organization. Here’s the pivotal moment:

We spent a few minutes on “what is organizational culture” and explained we were going to tell the organization’s creation story. We prompted the group with, “Why was the organization created? One person shared and others added to it. Then we asked, “Who founded the organization?” And “What were the founder’s motivations and background?” With each question another part of the organization’s story got into the room, like a puzzle taking shape. People that had been quiet all evening got the courage to share and you could hear a lot of “wow I didn’t know that” and “that just helped me understand something I see happening in the organization today.” We also asked the group to talk about “What actually happened to form the organization (the details of it getting started).” That surfaced a very painful part of the organization’s story, and people said we don’t want to talk about that. We made a note to come back to that in the next meeting when we will be talking about “survival stories,” another part of the ROC process … The last question we had time for was, “What was happening in the broader world (i.e., social, economic and demographic trends at the time)?” Someone in the group said, more importantly what was happening in our own community? Getting that into the room created more insight as well. The reflections on the times said a lot about how this organization came together when it did. Our questions and the stories the group shared brought to the surface elements of the organization’s history that had been forgotten and that many of the new people in the room never even knew. These included elements of deep passion, tireless hard work, hard choices, nurturing students, involving families, and so on. The short stories each person shared came together to create a whole new appreciation for what the organization is and how it got to be that way. There was a fresh buzz and the feedback was we made an important breakthrough that will surely help the group with its planning this time around.

I was especially intrigued because I’ve recently revived my interest in intuition. Here’s how intuition came into this process, Hinden relates:

Defenses went down and intuition opened up. The stories created awareness at a level that everyone in the room could identify with. There was a new found “knowing” about the organization that was buried under the surface because the group didn’t have a common way to share it before. The creation stories changed that. The power of the stories was evidenced in the openness that continued into the post meeting conversation.

[Image credit: Help My People Tell]

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


I am not a thought leader.

At least not about storytelling. Oh, sure, I might have a brilliant insight now and then, and I have a good knack for recognizing and synthesizing the thought leadership of others, as well as applying thought in one area of story practice to another area.

But, as I’ve noted here many times, I’m not a practitioner but a curator and reporter about my passion, applied storytelling.

imposter.jpg I thought about all this because Michael Margolis just posted an enthusiastic and inspiring piece, Why Your Thought Leadership = Career Independence.

He lists a bunch of great business advantages to thought leadership, takes readers through his own journey to being a thought leader, notes how it’s easier than ever to be a thought leader, and rounds out the piece with tips for becoming a thought leader.

I could be a thought leader. I have a pretty good platform here. I am perhaps a minor thought leader in the realm of career management; I’ve written eight books in that sphere, for goodness sake. But I don’t care a lot about that field anymore.

And even though I’ve written some articles I’m very proud of (and, of course, the books), I always conduct a ton of research and rely largely on quoting others rather than articulating my own opinion.

So why am I not a thought leader?

Well, for one thing, I don’t really have anything to sell. Six years later, I still haven’t figured out how to make money from my passion. I have joked (though rather accurately) that I make about $1.39 a month from Google ads on this blog. Now I don’t even make that because Google hijacked the blog with an ad that covered the whole screen and had to be clicked out of. So I dumped them. (I think the ad is gone. Readers?)

I have also always been thin-skinned and highly sensitive to criticism. Kindergarten report card: Takes criticism well = Unsatisfactory. Seriously.

If you criticize my books or blog posts, hey, that’s not me; I’m just reporting what others think.

The very fact that I insist on hiding behind the curator/reporter label shows my lack of courage in my own thought leadership.

We women are more likely than men to feel fraudulent, to lack confidence in our own expertise and thought leadership. Not that there aren’t plenty of women who are thought leaders. I’m just saying that if you asked men and women if they aspired to be thought leaders, more women than men would say they couldn’t possibly because they feel fraudulent. Lots has been written about the phenomenon; there’s a whole blog (with quiz!) on The Imposter Syndrome. Men experience the Imposter Syndrome, too, but it’s far more common in women.

Perhaps I’ve shown thought leadership by suggesting that it’s harder for women than for men to be thought leaders. But then just look at how how I waffled by adding a question mark to the headline.

Do you think it’s harder for women to be thought leaders than it is for men?

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


One of my periodic updates of my Toastmasters experience.

Ten months into my Toastmasters experience, I am more than halfway toward achieving the first level of Toastmasters accomplishment, the Competent Communicator designation, which requires delivering 10 speeches. I’ve made a few interesting discoveries about myself by this time:

KatRibbons.jpg I am much more competitive than I realized. Toastmasters awards prizes at each meeting for Best Speaker, Best Table Topics (impromptu presentations), and Best Evaluator. I’m not sure of the rationale because winning these awards contributes nothing toward the various levels of Toastmaster designations, but I think the awards keep meetings interesting and motivate members to do their best. They are voted by the other members in attendance. I’ve found that it really, really means a lot to me to win these prizes, which surprised me. I’ve “legitimately” won three Best Speaker awards and three Best Evaluator prizes. I’ve won a couple of others by default — having no competition or having someone disqualified for exceeding the time limit. I’ve never won Table Topics; I’m not all that great at impromptu speaking. We were asked this week if we’d be willing to recycle our ribbons, so I figured, sure, but I took a photo of mine first.

Maybe certain groups prefer fact-based presentations to story-based. I’ve made it a point to develop speeches that, if not one big story, contain smaller stories or anecdotes. My fourth speech was one big story. I probably worked harder on that speech than any other and desperately wanted to win Best Speaker. The story was very personal and meant a lot to me; it was the story of my sister who died before I was born. I was stunned and devastated when I didn’t win Best Speaker. The speech that won was an entertaining, energetic how-to, but it wasn’t storied. It’s also possible my speech lost because of its downbeat subject matter. At this week’s meeting, we had a “grab bag,” meaning we didn’t know till the night of the meeting when we drew roles out of a grab bag what we’d be doing. I ended up as one of the speakers and delivered the only speech I’ve given in Toastmasters that has not contained a single story or anecdote; it was pure, didactic information. To my shock, I won Best Speaker. My competitor, whose speech, in my opinion, was much better than mine, took a much more anecdotal approach. Perhaps our group prefers informative speeches they can learn something from.

Maybe I’m overpreparing. Back in March, I wrote about my embarrassingly over-the-top, intensive preparation process for speeches. I had followed that process for every speech before this week. I’ve also added a new twist. I downloaded a teleprompter app for my iPad, Prompster, which enables me to do initial rehearsals of my speech as though referring to a teleprompter. Before I’ve totally learned the material, I do teleprompter run-throughs with both the full-text speech and the outline I use consisting of the beginning of each sentence. I can also time the speech with Prompster, although a delivered speech is always longer than a read speech. Now the kicker: For my grab-bag speech, I barely prepared at all. I did one run-through just to gauge the timing. But I delivered the speech with complete ease. Now, it was based on a lecture I used to give to my students, consisting of material I knew well, but I hadn’t delivered that lecture in at least four years. I’m wondering if I need to prepare quite as much, though. Maybe if I didn’t, I’d smile more and be more relaxed.

We’ll just see if I have the courage to back off my prep regimen for my seventh speech next Tuesday …

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


QuintCareers, the parent site of A Storied Career, has for more than 10 years, provided readers with updates to new resources added to the site, most of them links to other sites. In fact, those updates evolved into the site’s newsletter, QuintZine, now in its 12th year.

Recently, it occurred to me that I could do something similar here — not just announce that I have added new links to my inside pages, but list exactly what I’ve added to bring these interesting resources front and center. So here we go with the first installment of links that are next to be added to my inside pages:

Links about Journaling, Memoir-Writing, and Personal Storytelling

  • Beth LaMie: Author, speaker, and personal historian who helps people capture their family stories.
  • Family Life Stories: Lynne Griffin shares compelling stories that provide insight into the human condition.essays, interviews, videos, and links to other sites.
  • Foley Center for the Study of Lives: An interdisciplinary research project at Northwestern University committed to studying psychological and social development in the adult years.
  • My Life Stories: Autobiographical blog by teenager Katie Kellar.
  • New Life Stories: Journaling and Ellen Moore’s own life story.
  • Obit Magazine: Examines life through the lens of death.
  • OhLife.gif
  • OhLife: Journaling tool that sends users daily emails about what happened each day.
  • The Place + Memory Project: Project to use people’s memories and stories to recreate places that no longer exist. “Places that were important to us. We are creating a series of stories for radio and an online map where you can to add your own memories through text, photos, sound, whatever.”
  • Proust.com: A place for families and close friends to share life stories, thoughts, and aspirations to spark meaningful conversations about who we are. Inspired by the 19th-century writer Marcel Proust, who became associated with a popular ice-breaker parlor game, now known as the “Proust Questionnaire.”
  • Story of My Life: Blog of “Jenni” that tells her life story.
  • Then Life Happens: For sharing experiences and life lessons with an intention to encourage, inspire, and motivate users to live a life beyond imagination.

Links to Interdisciplinary Storytelling Resources

Narrative Psychology

Oral Performance and Presentation Storytelling

  • 5 Truths and a Lie: Six interesting people are given a theme and asked to tell an 8-10-minute story from their lives, without notes, in front of a live audience. The twist is, one of the storytellers (known only to the host and themselves) is lying. At the end of the evening the audience takes a vote and we find out which person was fibbing. See also 5 Truths and a Lie Facebook page.

Social-Change Story Initiatives and Resources

  • The Ruby Books: Deploying great girl voices combined with the power of well-told stories to balance and heal the world.
  • Discover the Journey: Team of journalists and story-tellers who expose injustices facing children in-crisis and advocate for intervention partners until change is realized.
  • Silence Speaks: International digital storytelling initiative supporting the telling and witnessing of stories that often remain unspoken — of surviving and thriving in the wake of violence and abuse, armed conflict, or displacement.
  • Wonderfully Made: HerStory: Film series of Wonderfully Made that features testimonies from real girls who’ve gone through real struggles. This collection of stories is designed to share a message of hope, freedom and worth with girls everywhere.
  • Over 50 and Out of Work: Ongoing multimedia project that documents the stories and the impact of the Great Recession on jobless Americans, 50 and older.
  • Immigrant Archive Project: Independent national initiative dedicated to preserving the life stories of America’s immigrant population.

Story Collections

  • 1000 Lives in 100 Words: Working on getting 1,000 people to write about their lives in 100 words.
  • The Atavist: Publishes original nonfiction and narrative journalism for digital devices like the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, and Nook.
  • Byliner: Publishing company and social network built around great stories.
  • The Day I Found Out: Where those recently diagnosed with cancer can find inspiration from the people who’ve been there,.
  • logo_memoro.png
  • The Memoro Project: Nonprofit online initiative dedicated to collecting and divulgating short video recordings of spontaneous interviews with people born before 1940.
  • The Parable Teller: Growing collection of inspiring, thought-provoking and life-affirming stories illustrated with pictures from flickr.
  • Red Lemonade: Publishes fiction and highly narrative non-fiction.
  • The Story Collider: Stories about science
  • Storytelling Traditions: Stories in text, audio, and video formats comprising Folklore, Cowboy/Western Tales, Family Stories, Heroic Stories, Tall Tales, Fairy Tales, Poetry, Biographies, Auto-Biographies, Cultural, Regional, Seasonal, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Ghost Stories, Military, Political,
  • Storyville: App from iTunes ($4.99) that publishes one story each week to your iPhone or iPad.
  • World of 30: Platform for stories from women around the age of 30 worldwide.
  • teller2teller: Storytelling podcast that gets everyday people to tell everyday stories.
  • TellMyStory: Online library of that contains interesting and sometimes fascinating stories from people of all walks of life.

Story Practitioners/Consultancies: Marketing, Branding

  • Find Your Online Voice: Offers social-media and content marketing using storytelling techniques and tools.
  • Greenough Communications: Helps companies develop thought-leadership programs through a “disciplined, yet creative, approach to storytelling that generates brand conversations with customers, prospects and investors.”
  • Storytelling for Software Marketing: Pietro Polsinelli’d collection of links on this subject.
  • Transmedia Storyteller: Company providing interactive, social and pervasive cross-platform entertainment and marketing services.

Story Practitioners/Consultancies/Authors: Other

  • StoryThings: Helps clients design, produce, deliver and evaluate story-related projects across a range of media.

Storytelling/Narrative Theory and Research

  • The FrameTales Project: About storytelling in art (novels, theater plays, movies), but also for strategic reasons (presentations, pitches, speeches, ad campaigns.

Visual Storytelling

  • ISHRA7: Digital content creation company focused on developing intelligent visual stories that drive engagement.

Links to Blogs that Relate to Storytelling

  • Narrative by B. E. Berger: Barbara Berger’s blog exploring narratives.
  • Narrative: Richard Gilbert’s blog focusing on reading, writing, and teaching narrative nonfiction.
  • Narrative Now: Siobhan O’Flynn’s blog about the design of narratives in interactive environments, including screen-based works, in situ installations, online social networking sites, cross-platform projects, and interactive short films.
  • Stories Connect. Love Heals Blog by Charles R. Hale, an “archaeologist piecing together ancestral shards. I am an historian, mapping my ancestors’ spirits and emotions with words.”
  • Storyfountain blog: A blog by Richard House about communication and storytelling.
  • Story of Design: Shares how to extract the stories that drive problem-solving for designers; interviews with designers, design thinkers, and entrepreneurs; how to’s that demonstrate various parts of the design process, and more.

Links to Storytelling Platforms, Prompts, and Tools

  • 100 Digital Storytelling Tools for Your Digital Selves + Natives, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
  • MuseumBox: Allows users to build up an argument or description of an event, person or historical period by placing items in a virtual box.
  • Prompts Writing: Asks open-ended questions to inspire users to start writing.
  • Storyworld Box: Create-a-Story Cards: Commercial product in which each themed box contains 40 cards from the StoryWorld that suggest a myriad of characters, places, objects, and more. Users pick a handful of cards, use their pictures and words as inspiration and you tell a new tale every time they open the box.
  • The Tarot Game: Encourages storytelling and evokes laughter, providing an engaging, cooperative, environment to address life’s issues and create a bond between players. The game includes more than 100 insightful questions, as well as a 78-card keyword deck for beginners.

Links to Organizational Storytelling Resources

  • Only Human Communication: Uses creative approaches to help organisations and groups improve how they are seen, understood and valued: both inside and out.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


The piece below from Sharon Lippincott really grabbed my attention this morning and resonated with me. She’s referring to her “writing groups, both local and online, formal and ad hoc.” Her declaration, “My life is better for the writing and sharing,” reminds me of a book I just read, Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith, which is told in epistolary form. At the end of the book, the protagonist burns a certain group of the letters she’s written but never sent. Her family members thought she would have wanted to keep and perhaps pass down the letters for the family history they told. But the protagonist concluded that the content of the letters wasn’t important. What was important was the writing the letters; telling the stories of her life had made those stories real to her. Sharon’s piece below comes from Fireflies and the Power of Story: symphony.jpg

I think of our stories as dots of light, building bridges between people. They create a web of links between us wherever we are, and that web will grow larger as they shine forth to others. Each time we share stories, we create a symphony of life, with each story carrying part of the tune. I hear everything, from lullabies, to stirring storms, combining in perfect harmony, creating something greater than the sum of the parts. As we write and share, our stories show us life and the past from new angles, hopefully wiser stronger ones. We light each others lives by sharing hope, love and humor. My life is better for the writing and sharing.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


I am really liking the articles by my colleague Mary Jeanne Vincent, who is posting them as notes on her Facebook page. The most recent is about developing success stories for resume use.

HandingResume.jpg As I’ve discussed numerous times in this space, it’s common for job-seekers to craft success stories in preparation for job interviews, but less so for them to think about them for resumes. (but, bonus, once you develop them for your resume, you can also use them for interviews.)

Let me just highlight a few of Mary Jeanne’s thoughts on this process that may not be well-known:

She suggests reviewing old performance appraisals “with a highlighter in hand. Mark the successes you’ve forgotten about and jot down additional details about those projects.”

She provides a nice list of questions for brainstorming accomplishments:

  • What has your manager complimented you on or recognized you for in your work?
  • When have you solved a problem or successfully handled an emergency?
  • What have you built, made, or created?
  • When did your idea or suggestion result in an award?
  • How have you streamlined operations, increased productivity, or cut costs?
  • How have you influenced individual or team productivity?
  • What do you do better than your colleagues and why is this helpful to the organization?

Mary Jeanne suggests that 10 accomplishments is a good number for starters. She then advises crafting success stories about these accomplishments using a Problem —> Action —> Result format.

For a resume, you need to edit each of these stories down to an “accomplishment statement: two sentences that describe the action you took and the results of that action.” Here, we would add that it’s best to tell the story backwards on the resume — Result —> Action —> Problem — because employers read resumes so quickly that you want the result to catch the reader’s eye first. In fact, Mary Jeanne says, “Results are what employers are looking for! Other features contribute to a successful résumé, but solid accomplishment statements are the most important because they demonstrate what you can do for a potential employer.”

Another great piece of advice is to “always, always, always write more success stories than you think you need. Then you can pick and choose the best for a particular situation and hold the rest in your ‘back pocket,’ ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice during an interview.”

Below is a piece of an infographic that appeared on Mashable that seems appropriate for this post:


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Patrick, his bio, Part 1 of this Q&A, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Q&A with Patrick Reinsborough, Question 6

Q: If you could share just one piece of advice or wisdom about story/storytelling/ narrative with readers, what would it be?


A: It’s not just about telling better stories its about changing the stories that are already out there in the culture. As psychology and cognitive science are teaching us the art of persuasion is an art not a science and it has far less to do with objective facts then many of us have believed. Of course the facts matter but unfortunately the facts alone are not enough. That’s why it is so important to understand the role of narrative in defining social reality. The power of story is being abused everyday to justify erosions of democracy, structural violence, racism, and ecological devastation. However simultaneously stories of hope, possibility and justice are being spread every day. The more that people working for positive change understand the power of narrative and use it effectively the more successful our efforts will be. The first step in changing the world is changing the stories that shape the world.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Patrick, his bio, Part 1 of this Q&A, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Q&A with Patrick Reinsborough, Question 5

Q: Are there any current uses of storytelling that repel you or that you feel are inappropriate?


A: Tragically far too many of the contemporary uses of storytelling are not only inappropriate, but downright coercive, destructive, and pathological. Currently, many of the best storytellers and image-crafters in our culture are hired guns that sell us an imagined vision of ourselves, complete with the appropriate brand of carbonated beverage, designer jeans, or suitably inspirational political candidate. The advertising and culture industry is full of story exploiters — whether its Disney privatizing our cultural commons of folk tales and shared memories or the latest slick brand crafting stories to make their toxic, disposable products seem more “authentic” or necessary. The material effect on our planet is clear: mass over-consumption is literally eroding the life support systems of the planet. But there are massive psychological consequences as well. By turning our culture into a free for all of highly sophisticated, manipulative commercial storytelling we have allowed advertisers to create a psychological arms race to further penetrate people’s consciousness with commercial messages. Many of these messages are highly pathological — starve yourself to look beautiful! Eat unhealthy food! Wealth is the only way to happiness! Your life will be so much better with our mood altering pharmaceutical, etc. The long-term effects may be unknown because we are all lab rats in this uncontrolled experiment, but the initial trends are clear: further isolating and privatizing our bodies, commodifying our lives and entraping our collective imagination.
Another area of storytelling abuse is the contemporary world of politics. We live in an age of persistent propaganda where politics is often reduced to sound bytes, images, and sensationalized narrative — anchor babies, death panels, surgical strikes, too big to fail, etc. The influence of unchecked money has allowed for a corporate takeover of our political system, economy, and culture, and much of the mechanics of this takeover happens in the realm of story. High priced public-relations operatives and other “spin doctors” use well-crafted narratives to distort the facts and manufacture public consent.
Often times as ordinary people struggles to make positive change and promote visions of justice, democracy, and ecological sanity, they run into the same obstacles: dominant culture frames that filter and distort social-change messages. The power of storytelling — particularly as a tool to frame critical issues — is often abused to prevent change. Narrative power is used to justify structural violence, marginalize critics, and normalize suffering. This power express itself as they ability to blame those victimized by injustice for their own oppression and rationalize an unjust status quo as “just the way things are.” These uses of narrative are as central to maintaining social control as fighter jets, police batons, and pay cuts.
Part of smartMeme’s mission is to help those working for a better world to understand how storytelling is being abused by unscrupulous power-holders from Wall Street to the White House to the Pentagon to justify incredibly destructive, unjust decisions and policies.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Patrick, his bio, Part 1 of this Q&A, Part 2, and Part 3.

Q&A with Patrick Reinsborough, Question 4:

Q: The storytelling movement seems to be growing explosively. Why now? What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with so many people right now?


A: I think storytelling and narrative are core to the human experience and have always been at the center of culture. However now I think we’re experiencing a growing interesting in story because there is increasingly recognition that many of the dominant meta-narratives that have been guiding our society need to shift. The stories that have driven the rise of global consumer capitalism and the U.S. as a global super power — economic growth as the sole measure of human progress, more stuff will make your happier, U.S. foreign policy is a benign democracy spreading force — are losing their grasp on the collective imagination.
In the mind-bogglingly long sweep of planetary history, let alone the relative eye-blink of human history, the present is a unique era. Two hundred years of unfettered, globalized industrial capitalism has dragged our planet into an ecological endgame. As the planet’s basic life-support systems buckle under the weight of unlimited resource extraction and economic expansion, cracks are spreading not only in the system’s physical operating structures, but also in the controlling mythologies that have helped bolster the status quo. People experience the dissonance in many different ways: economic pressures, spiritual longing, psychological crisis, political awakening. There are a lot of people wondering what happened to the economy that used to propel the so-called American dream, wondering why a loved one in the military has to serve yet another tour in a distant occupied land, wondering why the weather is getting so unpredictable and the seasons starting to shift …
At smartMeme we often refer to our current political moment as a slow-motion apocalypse — the gradual unraveling of the routines, expectations and institutions that have traditionally comforted the privileged and defined the status quo. But by apocalypse we are not referring to a certain flavor of Christian ideology’s much foreshadowed Jesus-the-Sequel-world-ending-cosmic-smack-down. Far more relevant is the original sense of the concept coming from the Greek word apokalypsis meaning literally to “take the cover away,” or to reveal something that has not been seen. The intersecting crises of the 21st century — economic, ecological, political — are laying bare the contradictions and inadequacies of the dominant culture.
This leaves people hungry both for new stories and to understand what went wrong with the old stories. Within many of the major spheres of our society — business, education, politics, entertainment, science, spirituality — there are massive struggles emerging to change the story of what is necessary and indeed what is possible. The Obama campaign in 2008 is a powerful example of the appeal of a sweeping new narrative. The historical nature of Obama’s candidacy notwithstanding, the campaign narrative was a skillful cooptation of traditional movement branding for the narrow goal of electing an individual political candidate. However, the popularity of the effort is an indicator of the power of new stories as was evidenced by the fact that believers projected far more transformative ideals onto the candidate that he ever actually espoused himself. The Tea Party represents an equally carefully constructed right-wing version of the same phenomenon.
New stories are bubbling up all over — promoting alternatives, contesting out-dated mythologies and expanding the story of what is imaginable. Local communities, emerging networks and social movements around the world are telling the story that “another world is possible” in an incredible array of different ways.
The work of midwifing the future will require the creative labor of literally billions of people. Different communities, cultures, and localities must find their own ways of navigating these challenges, but a common denominator will, by necessity, be the ability to collectively re-design our economies, political systems, and social realities from the ground up. At the roots of so much of this transformative force is the power to renarrate our lives: to challenge out-dated stories, shift the stories that shape our collective vision and ultimately create new stories together which chart a path towards resilience, change and a better future for all of us.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Patrick, his bio, Part 1 of this Q&A, and Part 2.

Q&A with Patrick Reinsborough, Question 3:

Q: What kind of response have you had to your book Re:Imagining Change?


A: The response has been really fantastic. The book has been out for a little over a year, and it’s now on its second printing. It has been republished internationally and has widely circulate in a lot of the networks and social movements that smartMeme supports. Some of the supplemental tools from the book have been downloaded off our website by more than 10,000 activists all over the world. It’s not a book written for a general audience. It’s really a tool kit for activists who want to be more strategic and effective. The book has helped draw attention to smartMeme’s work but more importantly has given some momentum to the larger movement strategy conversation about how progressive’s can better harness the power of narrative. It’s helped advanced the discussions around narrative and framing to include a more refined sense of power and how to apply a narrative power analysis to social-justice campaigns.
Hopefully the book has helped connect the often rather abstract conversations around framing into more specific action oriented experiments. As a mission-driven non-profit, we’ve given away a lot of copies of the book to support frontline communities who are organizing against fossil fuel extraction, fighting for immigrant rights or working to address the threat of climate destabilization. We’ve gotten orders for boxes of books from the Gulf Coast after the BP oil disaster and from communities fighting hydraulic fracking in the Northeast.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Patrick, his bio, and Part 1 of this Q&A.

Q&A with Patrick Reinsborough, Question 2:

Q: You cofounded smartMeme in 2002. Can you share the organization’s founding story?

A: SmartMeme began as a three-day training exploring strategies for building a transformative, earth-centered social movement in a North American context. The founding collective brought together a number of people who were veterans of different social movements — fighting to protect the environment, stop wars, organizing for racial and economic justice. We all shared a common analysis of the need for fundamental change in the direction of our society but brought very different skills to the table. My background was as a grassroots organizer, campaigner and direct action strategist. The other founders included an advertiser, a filmmaker and a forest ecologist turned international finance campaigner. As the project evolved we were fortune to add a fifth person to our collective — a teacher who had decided to work as an educator in social movements rather than in a traditional class room setting.
Several of us had been active in the dramatic period of street organizing confronting the World Trade Organization in Seattle in November 1999 and challenging the neoliberal agenda of corporate-driven free-trade agreements. Personally, I had played prominent roles in both designing mass action spectacles and being a media spokesperson for the movement. After the tragedy of 9-11 we experienced first hand — as did so many US citizens — the power of narrative to set the terms of the political debate. Suddenly the Bush administration was using their mastery of propaganda to sell a “Global War on Terror” and political space for opposing view points and dissent began to close.
SmartMeme was founded amidst this tumultuous moment. The idea was to combine movement building with strategies to change the stories that shape the dominant culture. Inevitably we began looking at narrative as a key arena of struggle and particularly at the role storytelling played in organized social movements. Storytelling has always been a powerful tool for organizers and movement builders to name problems, unite constituencies, and mobilize people towards solutions. But how does a story become well known? How does a new idea spread? How can we challenge the assumptions that prop up the status quo and create momentum for fundamental social change? SmartMeme was founded to explore these kind of questions in order to help progressive movements communicate compelling stories about the more democratic, just, ecologically sane future so many people are working to build.
We recognized that although many aspects of traditional organizing skills are timeless, there was a need to update social-change strategies for the information age — the current 21st-century context of 24-hour news cycles, information warfare, and saturation marketing. So we developed a set of tools for applying “a narrative power analysis” to campaign development. We created some strategic frameworks and interactive exercises to help groups assess the web of existing stories and cultural assumptions that frame public understanding around the issue they have chosen to organize around. This approach provided a process to understand the current story around an issue and identify opportunities to change that story with the right framing, messages, messengers, and creative interventions. Through our efforts to assist grassroots groups and advocacy campaigns in telling their stories more effectively, smartMeme developed what’s now called the story-based strategy approach.
In the last eight years, smartMeme has trained thousands of activists in story-based strategy, and collaborated with more than 100 organizations to apply this framework to grassroots organizing and advocacy efforts. SmartMeme has developed story-based strategies to support family farming, indigenous rights, chemical policy reform, antiwar organizing, tax policy reform and climate justice.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Here’s a neat idea. I’ve come across many summer reading-list suggestions in the last month or so, but the list from Get Storied is the first one to focus on books about story.

Check out the Ultimate Storytelling Reading List for Summer.

Get Storied also offers a full list of suggestions on Amazon, “Storytelling Mojo: An Essential List for Business and Social Change”.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



I learned of Patrick Reinsborough when I learned of his organization smartMeme earlier this year and wrote about it. I’m intrigued by the organization’s work and Patrick’s book co-authored with his partner, Re:Imagining Change — How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements, and Change the World. Patrick’s partner, Doyle Canning, also has been invited to participate in a Q&A. This Q&A will run over the next six days.

board.patrick.jpg Bio: [from the smartMeme Web site]: Patrick Reinsborough has been involved in campaigns for peace, the environment, and social justice for nearly 20 years. He co-founded the smartMeme strategy & training project in 2002 and provides grassroots partners with support on strategy, messaging and capacity building. Patrick was previously the Organizing Director of the Rainforest Action Network where he mobilized thousands of people to confront corporations who destroy the environment and violate human rights. He has been deeply involved in the movements against war and corporate globalization and has helped organize countless protests and creative mass actions. He is a frequent commentator on issues of movement building and social change strategy and has guest lectured at numerous universities. Several of his strategy essays were published in the anthology Globalize Liberation: How to Uproot the System and Build a Better World. Patrick spends his time parenting, wandering through urban space, and playing music for his friends. He lives in San Francisco and staffs smartMeme’s west coast office.

Q&A with Patrick Reinsborough, Question 1:

Q: Can you tell readers more about your organization smartMeme?

A: SmartMeme is a national, non-profit strategy center that offers social-justice networks and organizations the analysis, training, and direct support to apply a story-based strategy model to their campaigns. SmartMeme re-imagines methods to achieve fundamental social change with effective story-based approaches to framing that amplify the impact of grassroots organizing and challenge the underlying assumptions that shape the status quo. We are a team of strategists, communications professionals and trainers, as well as a community of practitioners who are exploring emergent models for social action. In addition to directly supporting allied campaigns, we develop curriculum, convene cross sector strategy conversations and engage in R&D into new social-change methods and experiments.


Much of our work happens through partnerships with specific constituencies who are on the frontlines of critical struggles. Since we think most injustices today are symptoms of systemic problems we prioritize strategies, organizations, and political moments that help advance an agenda of structural change. Some of the ways we do this include looking for opportunities at the intersections between different issue areas where our narrative work can support broader alliance building, challenge underlying assumptions or reframe an important issue in the public consciousness. For instance one of our past projects was to bring together anti-war organizers with U.S. military veterans who had served in Iraq to create some shared stories for movement building against the occupation of Iraq. Currently one of our projects is to support the emerging climate justice movement that brings together community-led responses to the climate crisis with a vision of racial and economic justice. Through our organizational consulting, strategic communications, and training work, we combine grassroots movement building with strategies to inject new ideas into the culture.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


I am deeply ashamed that I am not remotely well-read in classic literature.

UncleTom'scabin.jpg Before I read Annette Gordon-Reed’s review of David S. Reynolds’s Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America (abstract here), I knew very little about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic.

Gordon-Reed several times in her article credits the book with crystallizing anti-slavery sentiment sufficiently to precipitate the Civil War. She writes:

Stowe … understood how influential narrative could be, and with Uncle Tom’s Cabin she achieved what endless speeches in the halls of Congress, political tracts, harangues, and newspaper, and newspaper articles failed to do: she made the reality of slavery palpable to the American public. As one Southern commentator notes, “Thousands will peruse an interesting story, and thus gradually imbibe the author’s views, that would not read ten lines of a mere argumentative volume on the same theme.”

While we might have wished that slavery could have been ended without the bloodiest war in US history, the ability of Stowe’s writing to galvanize the citizenry is testimony once again to the power of story.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


A Storied Career

A Storied Career explores intersections/synthesis among various forms of
Applied Storytelling:
  • journaling
  • blogging
  • organizational storytelling
  • storytelling for identity construction
  • storytelling in social media
  • storytelling for job search and career advancement.
  • ... and more.
A Storied Career's scope is intended to appeal to folks fascinated by all sorts of traditional and postmodern uses of storytelling. Read more ...
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Dr. Kathy Hansen

Kathy Hansen, PhD, is a leading proponent of deploying storytelling for career advancement. She is an author and instructor, in addition to being a career guru. More...


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Free: Storied Careers: 40+ Story Practitioners Talk about Applied Storytelling.
$2.99: Tell Me MORE About Yourself: A Workbook to Develop Better Job-Search Communication through Storytelling. Also $2.99 for Kindle edition



The following are sections of A Storied Career where I maintain regularly updated running lists of various items of interest to followers of storytelling:


Links below are to Q&A interviews with story practitioners.

The pages below relate to learning from my PhD program focusing on a specific storytelling seminar in 2005. These are not updated but still may be of interest:

October 2012

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Shameless Plugs and Self-Promotion

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Personal Twitter Account My personal Twitter account: @kat_hansen
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