October 2011 Archives

New York Times columnist David Brooks isn’t framing his request as “stories,” but rather as essays providing “a brief report on your life so far, an evaluation of what you did well, of what you did not so well and what you learned along the way.”

Brooks_New-articleInline.jpg Nonetheless, Brooks is asking for these essays from folks over 70, and he plans to write columns about them at Thanksgiving time, as well as post as many as possible online. Septuagenarians can send their stories to dabrooks@nytimes.com.

His purpose is twofold. First, he wants to provide an opportunity for folks to conduct self-appraisal because our culture provides few formal opportunities for us to do so. Secondly, Brooks feels the essays will provide lessons to younger folks about “how a life develops, how careers and families evolve, what are the common mistakes and the common blessings of modern adulthood.”

Though I don’t always agree with his politics, I find Brooks to be a very smart guy. I look forward to learning what he comes up with

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Last week, I attended a workshop on Appreciative Inquiry, which I thought would be a little more focused than it was on using AI in the job search.

questions.jpg Appreciative Inquiry is not specifically a storytelling tool (and actually not a tool at all, but “a way of being and seeing,” as The Center for Appreciative Inquiry notes), but the kind of inquiry initiated during the process often results in storied responses. I know of at least one significant story practitioner who got her start as a follower of Appreciative Inquiry.

Since the workshop wasn’t exactly what I was expecting — but it stressed constructionism (“There are many realities out there, each constructed from a different view of the universe. They become real and palpable only when we put words to them”), I decided to construct my own expected reality from what I learned and see what I could learn about how AI might be useful in job search.

Appreciative Inquiry for building a positive view of work life. In Discovering Your Positive Work Self Through “Appreciative Inquiry”, Karma Kitaj, PhD, particularly focuses on those who have been laid off and are struggling to find a new job. Those folks can ask themselves questions like these:

Describe a time(s) in your life that you remember as a high-point experience, when you were totally engaged and felt alive and vibrant.
What do you value most about yourself and your work?
What are the factors that give life to the organization where you work now or most recently worked?
Imagine your work life in a year from now, exactly as you’d like it to be, your dream job. What have you contributed to make this dream job come true?

In sum, the point of such inquiry is this:

What is the positive story that you can create about your life circumstance today? What do you appreciate about yourself, about the people you come in contact with, about the environment you live in, about all that you value? Expand upon that narrative and live it today.

One company, ODC Associates, even provides appreciative outplacement and career-transition services in which “Our appreciative approach (built on the Appreciative Inquiry change model) not only helps those who are departing but ensures that corporate survivors can move forward productively with the knowledge that their former colleagues were treated with respect and fairness.”

Appreciative Inquiry for conducting a values-based job search. In How to Do a Values-Based Job Search, Nancy Archer-Martin suggests that job-seekers focus on values and strengths and tell stories in interviews to spotlight strengths.

Appreciative Inquiry for “staying connected to your true direction and finding the right job.” That’s the suggestion of Duncan Ferguson in Appreciative Inquiry. “I believe the AI approach should also be taken by individuals as they look at their jobs and careers. Understand what’s right about your skills, competencies, characteristics and values,” writes Ferguson, who also offers some useful resources on AI.

Appreciative Inquiry for “reconnect[ing] with the core elements of who we are and what makes us special.” Dan Shepard uses AI in coaching senior executives in transition, noting in Appreciative Inquiry for Career Development:

The AI process, when integrated with more traditional executive self assessments, which are focused on identifying individual motivators, interests, personality preferences, values and dreams, is very productive at getting to the heart of who someone is and enabling them to find their “wow” position.

Appreciative Inquiry for self-assessment and constructing positive accomplishment stories. AI is clearly a great way to get at the career directions that will really make us happy, as you can see from these sample questions that came from Dr. Cal Crow’s handout from the workshop I attended:

  • When have you been the happiest? What made that such a happy time?
  • When have you felt the most productive?
  • When are you at your very best? What’s going on when that occurs?
  • Can you describe a situation when things went better than at any other time?
  • What was special or different about this experience?
  • What did you say or do to make this special?
  • Who else was part of this? What did they say or do?
  • What would it take to create a similar situation today?

These and similar questions would also be effective in brainstorming accomplishment stories that an individual could discuss in a job interview.

Appreciative Inquiry is often used with organizations — focusing on what the organization does well rather than on its problems — but many of the inquiring questions directed at organizations can be adapted for individuals. I have a pricey book on my Barnes & Noble wish list that offers lots of sample questions: Encyclopedia of Positive Questions Volume One: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Bring out the Best in Your Organization. A Google search on Appreciative Inquiry questions also yields tons of inquiries.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


November is Lifewriting Month

So Denis Ledoux reminds me in a newsletter (The Lifewriter’s Digest) from his Soleil Lifestory Network.

LifewritersDigest.jpg I’m not sure how I got on the mailing list for this newsletter, but I’m glad I am because it is absolutely packed with content:

  • Memoir Prompts for November 1-5
  • 8 Tips…to Get You to a Fast Start Writing Your Memoir
  • Free Celebratory Tele-Classes for November Lifewriting Month.
  • Free Audios
  • A Writing Blog to Follow
  • Memoir Professionals in Action for November is Lifewriting Month
  • Opportunities to Develop Your Writing

The free teleclasses may be of particular interest:

Tele-Classes available FREE but registration is required.
November 3 ~ Write the First Draft of Your Memoir: Get Started and Keep Going.
7-8 PM/ET November 10 ~ A Roundtable Discussion with Nina Amir, who runs the November is Non-Fiction Month blog. This program is hosted by the National Association of Memoir Writers.
4-5 PM/PT (7-8 PM/ET). Go to the NAMW site to register.
November 17 ~ Polish Your Memoir: Add Metaphors and Imagery 7-8 PM/ET.
To register, call 207-353-5454 or e-mail.

In a separate email, Denis sent an offer to download the free report You Deserve an Autobiography.

I was also interested to note that Denis is based in the same town in Maine where my sister lives.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


This month’s O Magazine offers a 4-Step Guide to Discovering Who You’re Meant to Be in which Step 2 comes from well-known lifestyle/career coach and author Barbara Sher. She calls this exercise “a new twist on something [she] call[s] the Self-Correcting Life Scenario.”

201111-omag-workbook-strengths-600x411.jpg In my new workbook to accompany my book, Tell Me About Yourself, I offer lots of story-based self-assessment exercises (in fact, that subject area expands the scope of Tell Me About Yourself because assessment wasn’t covered in the book).

In all my exercises, the user is the one telling stories about himself or herself to discover possible career paths. Sher’s technique takes a partnered approach in which the partner tells the user’s story. After you as the user ask the partner to name three of your strengths:

Tell your friend your top passion. Then have your friend tell an imaginary story of your life, based on this passion and your strengths. For instance, “You’re organized, creative, and friendly, and your passion is baking. So, you run a bakery where customers can buy cupcakes with little icing portraits of themselves.”

After you offer your partner feedback on what you like and dislike about the story … your friend revises the story based on your feedback. … Keep going back and forth until the story feels right. This may take three or 13 rounds — there’s no need to rush. Your friend will likely suggest unexpected scenarios. Don’t let knee-jerk objections (“That would cost too much!” “When would I have time?”) shape your feedback. This is about crafting a scenario tailored to your strengths.

Finally, you and your partner arrive at a completely satisfying story. “You’ve just shaped your passion into a goal and defined what you do and don’t want from your calling.”

Sher doesn’t elaborate on the advantages of having someone else develop your story. My speculation would be that another person would be able to think beyond the limitations we often place on ourselves.

Image credit: Monika Aichele

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


When Raf Stevens first challenged me to present more examples of good storytelling two years ago this month, I scarcely imagined I would later get involved in his effort to produce an important new ebook in the applied-storytelling space.

fusion_starter_logo.png I had criticized the lack of storytelling quality among the winners of a slideshow contest, and Raf wanted to know what elements would have contributed to better stories. Raf’s question sent me on a quest that resulted in at least seven blog posts in which I explored the question of what makes a good story — especially in presentations.

Now, in his just released ebook, No Story No Fans, Raf devotes a whole chapter to what makes a good story.

I’m honored to have played a small part in this book’s development; I wish I had done more. Raf asked me to do several things for the book that I ended up not doing, but I think other shining stars in the story world did those things better than I would have.

Raf has created a remarkable compendium on the value of storytelling as “the New Trade.” In an attractive, accessible, reader-friendly volume with many extras (such as QR codes!), he frames the book as “start of a conversation” rather than a how-to; yet he offers tons of how-to suggestions.

Raf also includes the thought leadership of the most brilliant luminaries in the storytelling world. The chapter on the ROI of storytelling is a treasure unto itself.

Here are 10 ways this book really stood out for me:

  1. Its generosity of spirit. I have found that most story practitioners freely give away their work and ideas. Raf does so with No Story No Fans, as illustrated in the early oages of the book, where he writes, “You are given the unlimited right to spread this story. Feel free to copy parts from this book or to distribute it via email, your website, or any other means. You can print out or scan pages and put them in your favourite coffee shop’s windows or your doctor’s waiting room. You can transcribe my words onto the sidewalk, or you can hand out copies to everyone you meet.” He also gives away a preview of the book on its Web site.
  2. Some of the best-known and highly touted books about using story in business are surprisingly light on … stories. The same cannot be said of Raf’s book, which offers a cornucopia of stories.
  3. Bulleted lists of lessons in red type provide easily digestible how-to information.
  4. Chapter 3 about what makes up a good story is must reading for anyone interested in applied storytelling. Raf uses excellent examples to vividly illustrate what makes a good story. He also quotes participants in my Q&A series on how they define story.
  5. Raf nicely sums up each chapter with an “elevator pitch” at the end.
  6. Case studies in Chapter 4 illustrate some of the many ways story can be used effectively in business.
  7. Raf introduces his own model for storytelling, The Matryoshka Principle, based on nested Matryoshka dolls: “Like the nested dolls, re-storying your company, or even yourself, can only be successful if you take all layers of the power of storytelling into consideration.”
  8. Raf teaches practitioners to get at those layers through exercises.
  9. The book’s “checklist to help you design your (bigger) story” is a gem, though I wish it were longer.
  10. The list of “7 bullet points on why storytelling is useful in a business context” in the penultimate chapter sums up why this book is so valuable; through the learning gained in No Story No Fans, practitioners can apply stories to each of these contexts.

The site for No Story No Fans is also a terrific new resource, with lots of ways to connect and learn, including extended book content.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


When I first saw the ad below in the New Yorker, I was blown away by its use of story elements. The headline, “I had a hunch there was more to it,” sets up the story and draws the reader in. The fact that the rest of the story appears to be handwritten on lined paper (or perhaps an index card) gives it an authentic feel.

The “handwritten” copy is a bit hard to read, but the premise is that “Steve,” a successful executive affirms his hunch that there’s more to life than all his successes when he enters Columbia’s General Studies program. You can get a feel for it in a shorter version.

As much as I was drawn to the ad, my developing appreciation for what makes a story tells me the ad isn’t really a story. Tests and definitions established by folks like Karen Dietz, Shawn Callahan, and Sean Buvala would affirm that the ad doesn’t quite measure up as a story. Still, it has storied elements, and it isn’t hard to imagine more of the story from these beginnings.

Some readers, however, may find the executive protagonist, Steve, loathsome. That’s the view of Auden Schendler, who last year wrote that Steve is a sociopath. “He’s completely self involved,” Schendler writes. “He’s solipsistic to the point of toxicity.” The ad, Auden says, “speaks, frankly, to the worst inclinations of idle elite Americans, the clueless folks who’ve suddenly decided to read the classics — that’s their great mission in the world.”

In any case, I find the ad’s tagline, “Continue your story,” apt for an academic program that welcomes older adults. HadaHunch.jpg

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Graham and Dorian, their bios, Part 1 of this Q&A, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Q&A with Graham Williams and Dorian Haarhoff, Question 5:

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


A: Never tell a story you do not love because nobody else will like it. Share the stories that move you and allow time for discussion: insights gained when groups share their own understanding of the story and apply it to their work situation, are invaluable.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Graham and Dorian, their bios, Part 1 of this Q&A, Part 2, and Part 3.

Q&A with Graham Williams and Dorian Haarhoff, Question 4:

Q: What future trends or directions do you see for corporate storytelling? What would you like to do in the emerging story world that you haven’t yet done?

Fireside story[1].jpg

To lapse into linear time for a moment, we expect that the storytelling movement will continue to grow exponentially, that cross-country and cross-culture collaboration will increase.
To different degrees, corporations are already deriving the benefits of using story to present their corporate history and values, inspire employees, enliven training, formulate scenarios, engage and emotionally connect with customers through depth marketing, elicit metaphors, sell products and services, co-create marketing launches, capture knowledge-management information and wisdom, build community and internal relationships, harness diversity, build social and emotional intelligence, develop mindfulness and imagination for innovation…………..This story net will spread wider and deeper. And more and more educational institutions will offer storytelling and story-listening programmes.
As the movement grows we predict calls for professional standards, controls, and conformance. In a sense, this is disturbing because story demands freedom and should be driven by personal ethics.
As to what we would like to do — fewer “quick fixes” in the form of workshops and limited coaching and mentoring — and more depth interventions that lead to the instilling of a sound corporate story culture and practices.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Graham and Dorian, their bios, Part 1 of this Q&A, and Part 2.

Q&A with Graham Williams and Dorian Haarhoff, Question 3:

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


A: Inappropriate practices can of course harm the profession. There are both doctors and quacks in the exploding world of corporate story-ing. We think that quacks tend to focus on entertaining, winning, impressing. Quacks use stories to manipulate colleagues and clients. Doctors are more into sharing, expressing, conveying and capturing wisdom and insight — and blend the art/science of story with real business understanding and acumen.
Perhaps there is a gentle way of encouraging those who make noise not music, to look inside?
There was once a small boy who loved banging his drum all day and every day. He refused to be quiet, no matter what anyone else said or did. Various people were called in to do something, to find the answer to this disruption, to solve the problem.
The first told the boy that he would surely, if he continued to make so much noise, perforate his eardrums. The second told him that drum beating was a sacred activity and should be reserved only for special occasions. The third offered the villagers plugs for their ears.
Someone gave the boy a book to read. Another suggested meditation exercises. Yet another offered more harmonious musical instruments. Nothing worked.
Eventually a wise old woman asked of the boy, “I wonder what is INSIDE the drum?” (Idris Shah)
Benjamin Franklin: “People are best convinced by reasons they themselves discover.”

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Graham and Dorian, their bios, and Part 1 of this Q&A.

Q&A with Graham Williams and Dorian Haarhoff, Question 2:

Q: What do you love most about stories?


A: We are enchanted by the power of story to move people, the way that story has the ability to attract, engage, inform and enlighten. How this small container can trigger such huge, and valuable conversations. How stories promote attentive listening. How they stimulate a thinking environment (as advocated by Nancy Kline), and also provide a place of safety to encourage deeper sharing in the workplace. How they activate our imagination. And imagination creates reality for intention can create form. As Einstein reminds us, imagination is more important than knowledge. This touches on how we can create a fictional identity. We can become the stories we tell about ourselves. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes points out: “Most (stories) are not used as simple entertainment……..but used in many different ways; to teach, correct errors, lighten, assist transformation, heal wounds, re-create memory.”
We try to do all this in a subtle, non-intrusive manner.
We get excited when the storyteller emerges in another. The way we find our own voice and our own unique way of telling. We’ve come a long way since corporate story was limited to scenario formation, case studies and “war stories.” The way we tell can lead us into living a passionate life, personally and professionally.
We also like the way story has emerged since its origins and appeared throughout history in all cultures, religions and societies; how cross-pollination has taken place through Rumi, Idris Shah, Buddha, and social media; how myth, folklore, metaphor and images are embedded in the psyche. Of course for each country there is an accent too on difference, and in each country story is penetrating medicine, psychology, and the corporate world at a different pace and in different ways. In each corporation story is attracted to different functions and levels to different degrees!
So we like the challenge of the story-Rubik-cube: deciding and designing what approach and which stories for which purposes.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Proud to Have Taken Part

The tally is in for Sunday’s Blog Action Day: 2,710 bloggers from 109 countries registered to take part in Blog Action Day 2011.

BlogActionDaySmall.jpg Go here to see the range of bloggers from different cultures, countries, and languages who committed to blog about food for Blog Action Day, October 16, 2011.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



I recently had the most pleasant experience of having Graham Williams, pictured at right, nominate himself and his partner, Dorian Haarhoff, to participate in a Q&A interview. I loved the self-nomination, not only because I knew the pair would be motivated to respond quickly (they did!), but also because I was eager to learn more about The Halo and the Noose. Graham and Dorian are also my first Q&A participants based in Africa. This Q&A will run over the next five days.

Graham.jpg Bio: Graham Williams and Dorian Haarhoff run the corporate story resource web site The Halo and the Noose. They bring a unique blend of business experience, acumen and insight into the role and manner of using storytelling and listening, poetry and metaphor in business life. And impart new outlooks, skill and confidence to others. Part of their mission is to bring healing and possibilities to businesses. The site offers credible, quality resources to an elite readership.

Graham was previously a senior executive with Shell, is a thought-leader for the Institute of Management Consultants, and his formal disciplines are psychology, economics, consumer behaviour, and business economics.

Dorian.jpg Dorian, pictured at left, is a poet, writer, and mentor steeped in story. A former professor of English, he is a speaker, entertainer, and writing coach.

They are based in Cape Town, South Africa.

Halo & Noose eBookCOVER.jpg The Halo and the Noose, their first book, was published in 2009 and offers an innovative approach to the stories that beat in the heart of an organization. It addresses techniques and practical applications. At a deeper level the book shows a way of being in business and doing business.

Peter Block, author of Flawless Consulting and partner in Designed Learning: “This is the best book about business and leadership that I have seen in a long time. It is fresh, interesting, needed and written to reach out and touch the toughest part of each of us. This is not just about storytelling, but more importantly, about how we can all change our story and create a future distinct from the past”.

Ralph Windle, author of The Poetry of Business Life and founder/ director of The Creative Value Network: “The authors set out their complex and important themes with an impressive directness and clarity. They achieve this by the simple, persuasive device of practising what they preach. For the narrative moves between argument and story in a seamless way which argues a deep but unobtrusive scholarship in the literatures, cultures and traditions of many societies. The book should be seen as an exciting further step in the long process of re-connecting business life to the mainstream of human history, experience and potential”.

The Halo and the Noose was followed by Story Matters @ Work which deals with applications of story in various corporate functions, at various levels. Mindfulness and imagination are shown to be two key ingredients for effective storytelling and listening.

Halo Workbook_cover[1].jpg Much of their time is presently being spent on interventions with leading organisations wishing to better use story in order to forge emotional connections with their brand. They assist companies to achieve a triple bottom line — to do well, to be well and to care for the environment.

Graham and Dorian invite you to connect and converse with them at The Halo and the Noose.

Q&A with Graham Williams and Dorian Haarhoff, Question 1:

Q: Why The Halo and the Noose?

A: Our Orientation for The Halo and the Noose begins: “Stories can free us or trap us. They are like the two-edged sword. It depends on the telling, the motive for the tale and how we interpret the meaning. They can open us to new possibilities or keep us choked by or strangled in existing paradigms and orientations - whether these are about belief systems, values, religions, thinking styles, business and life journeys, strategies or behaviour patterns. Writer Dan McKinnon advises, “A halo has to fall only a few inches to be a noose”. “. The reverse is also true. We acknowledge him for the book’s title. We also dedicate the book to those readers who seek the liberation of the halo and wish to escape the entrapment of the noose……….

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


For the fourth year, I am participating in Blog Action Day. This year’s topic is food.


As a blogger about applied storytelling, my goal with Blog Action Day is to explore the ways food and story intersect.

We can tell something of a visual story with food. Food is is the center of many of our cultural traditions — the stories we regularly enact. A PBS series, for example, The Meaning of Food explored “our relationships to food and reveals the connection food has to our identity: personal, cultural, and familial. Everything about eating — including what we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first — is a form of communication that is rich with meaning.” When the series site states, “Our attitudes, practices, and rituals surrounding food are a window into our most basic beliefs about our world and ourselves,” it could just as easily be saying that attitudes, practices, and rituals surrounding food are a window into our stories.

FoodStories.jpg Similarly, Earthbound Farms supports its brand by offering a Web site section of Food Stories, about how “the stories of our food adventures are the stuff of rich family traditions and deep friendships.” Doesn’t look like the site has been updated since 2009, however.

Food-With-A-Story-Logo-4.gif The blogger behind Victual Storytelling asserts that a story to tell exists behind every meal. “I hope to show you something new about food,” she writes, “through the meals I eat, the people who feed me, those I cook for and the stories behind the food.”

Much of the narrative about food in recent years has concerned the unhealthful and inhumane aspects of the Western diet, the industrial food system, and factory farming. Author Michael Pollan(The Omniivore’s Dilemma and several other titles) is well-known for telling the harrowing stories of our food system. A Canadian effort that has gained significant buzz is The Story of Food, a 5:40 video intended to get people thinking “about our broken food system and what’s gone wrong!” The film is embedded at the end of this post.

How did our system get this way? The book, The Hungry World “tells multiple stories about people and institutions that played major roles in the 20th century struggle to ‘modernize’ the production of food, an intrinsically non-modern activity.

In From Factory Farm to Vegan, Angie Hammond tells her story of growing up on a chicken factory farm but later evolving into a vegan.

The flip side is of the farming system is the relationship of food to sustainable living, a subject covered in Cooking Up a Story, which offers “unique documentary stories about farmers and ranchers, food artisans, and others whose lives center around sustainable food and agriculture.”

Consumers are increasingly concerned about the story of where their food comes from. In the curriculum guide, Nourish, “Each story includes when, where, why, and how a certain food gets from the farm to your plate and who is involved in getting it there.”

In Food Curated, Liza DiGuia hopes to share stories of where good food comes from through short documentaries. “I believe food is a shared experience,” she writes, “and there is so much to the process that I find so beautiful and so compelling to film and capture.”

FeedingAmerica.jpg Perhaps the most significant way that Blog Action Day can raise awareness of food issues is by addressing hunger. As with any sort of cause, stories are a powerful way bring the issue to life. Three sites that tell stories about hunger are:

The Story Of Food from USC Canada on Vimeo.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


I’ll be participating in this effort — with a story spin — for the fourth year on Sunday:

I am proud to take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16, 2011 www.blogactionday.org

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


So there I was, cruising along toward the first major Toastmasters benchmark of 10 speeches. I gave my ninth speech this week.

nervouspublicspeaker.jpg In every speaker’s career comes a speech, or perhaps more than one, that he or she beats himself or herself up over. In his blog, Manner of Speaking, Toastmaster John Zimmer summarizes some of the things that can go wrong:

  • Did you ever forget what you wanted to say?
  • Did you ever get lost, or stuck in traffic en route, and arrive too late?
  • Did you ever have trouble speaking because you were so nervous?
  • Did the equipment ever stop working and leave you in the lurch?
  • Did the audience ever ask questions you couldn’t answer?
  • Did you ever lose a speech contest?
  • Did you ever get negative feedback?
  • Did you ever get laughed at?
  • Did you ever miss out on a sale or business opportunity or contract or job because of a bad presentation?
  • Did you ever think that you were not cut out to be a public speaker?

I had practiced my ninth speech to the same excessive extent as usual, rehearsing in 10 times the morning of the speech. I knew it cold.

But during the speech, several distracting things happened to totally make me lose my mojo. Our Toastmasters banner fell off the lectern. I may have knocked if off; I couldn’t tell you because I was in that speaker’s zone where you’re not that aware of your surroundings. Then a guest’s cellphone emitted a loud, obnoxious ringtone; he didn’t know to turn it off for the meeting.

Both interruptions threw me off my game. In two spots in the speech, I blanked out on the next line and had to peek at my cheatsheet.

But perhaps worse than the distractions and forgotten lines, I felt I was just not connecting with the audience. I could tell by their facial expressions. I’m not sure why I didn’t connect.

I know I was not as committed to this speech as I have been to others. I had planned for a long time that this topic — steps to success for young women — would be the subject of my ninth speech, but as I worked on it, I became less and less in love with it.

It had no stories. I of all people should know that a speech is always better with stories.

Despite my personal disappointment with my performance, I know that if I didn’t have any setbacks as a speaker, I probably wouldn’t grow or learn anything. My ninth speech was no triumph, but it may have taught me to pick topics about which I have more conviction, to include stories in my speeches, and to become less unnerved by distractions.

Rolling with the punches is the point of Zimmer’s post:

Every time we stand up in front of others, we are taking a risk. Things can, and do, go wrong. We can get hurt in the process. Sometimes a little, sometimes more than a little. It’s part of the deal; it’s part of the process; it’s part of the price of admission.
If you’ve never had a bad public speaking experience, chances are you haven’t done much public speaking. If you want to improve, there is only one real way and that is to speak. And if you speak, you will certainly have setbacks. You can’t avoid them forever.
Public speaking is a risk. Just like life. But if you persevere, the rewards are tremendous.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


If you’re interested in the connection between story and career, Herminia Ibarra is a name you need to know.

WorkingIdentity.jpg I first encountered her well-known Harvard Business Review article (Ibarra, H. & Lineback, L.K. [2005] “What’s Your Story?” Harvard Business Review, January, 83 [1]: 64-71) during my dissertation research and referred to it often.

But it wasn’t until I began soliciting nominations for a list of indispensable career books for the 15th anniversary of A Storied Career’s parent, Quintessential Careers, that I learned of Ibarra’s 2003 book, Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career.

Ibarra presents a new model for career change in which knowing what kind of career change we want is the result of doing and experimenting — as opposed to the common view that we must know what we want to do before we can make a change.

Story and narrative, Ibarra says, play a role in this career-change experimentation:

Throughout a career transition, the narratives we craft to describe why we are changing (and what remains the same) also help us try on possibilities.

She describes a case study in which the subject’s attempts to explain her transition were often clumsy — but the more she told her story, the more sharply defined it became, and the more excited she became about it. “Each retelling informed her evolving story,” Ibarra explains.

Later in the book, Ibarra notes: People devote considerable energy to developing their stories — what key experiences marked their path; what meanings they attribute to those experiences; and more importantly what common thread links old and new. Ultimately, though, our stories “never reflect objective reality,” Ibarra asserts, which is “why revising our stories is a fundamental tool for reinventing ourselves.” Further:

One of the central identity problems that has to be worked out during a career transition is deciding on a story that links the old and new self. Until that is solved, the external audience to whom we are selling our reinvention remains dubious, and we too feel unsettled and uncertain of our own identity. To be compelling, the story must explain why we must reinvent ourselves, who we are becoming, and how we will get there.

photo_herminia_ibarra.jpg Although others view us as unfocused before we fully have a story, retelling and rehearsing the story “until it comes out just right” results not only in a polished story but in a narrative that can inform the next step.

Indeed, Ibarra lists story-retelling as one of nine unconventional strategies for career change. “Take advantage of whatever life sends your way to revise, or at least reconsider your story,” she says. “Practice telling it different ways to different people, in much the same way you would revise a resume and cover letter for different jobs. But don’t just tell the story to a friendly audience; try it out on skeptics. And don’t be disturbed when the story changes along the way.”

Through discovering Ibarra’s book and Web site, I also learned of an academic paper she authored that I look forward to reading:

Ibarra, H. & Barbulescu, R. (2010) “Identity as Narrative: Prevalence, Effectiveness, and Consequences of Narrative Identity Work in Macro Work Role Transitions.” Academy of Management Review, January, 35 (1): 135-154.

You can access it through library or university databases.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Unearthing Your Career Story

I am often beyond surprised by which of my blog posts gets attention and resonates with readers.

unearthing.jpg My Saturday post about the Earth’s stories got some mini-buzz.

But who would ever think of connecting geology with one’s career story? Apparently my colleague Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter. She has written a brilliant post comparing the story-inaccessibility I’ve experienced with my geology interest to the way job-seekers’ career stories are sometimes obscured.

“Tasked chiefly with telling stories on behalf of my job-seeking clients,” Jacqui writes, “I am hired to narrate career stories that are both accessible and interesting to their hiring decision-maker visitors.”

She then offers story-development tips and processes “to help boost accessibility to your career story (Be sure to read her post to get the full elaboration on these great tips):

  • Launch your resume writing process with thoughtful idea conception: conceive your next career target.
  • The next challenge is to pick through the multiplicity of shiny stories you’ve exposed to find those that will appeal to your target reader.
  • Deeply reflect on your areas of value that you offer your intended company.
  • These snapshots must be arranged to mean something to your audience, resonating with their needs for increased revenues and profits, more customers or whatever it is they are feeling deficient in or business areas in which they wish to expand.
  • Finally, value your career unearthing process for the interview enriching preparation it provides.

This idea of targeting job and employer with the stories you choose for your resume is so important. I get asked all the time to critique resumes. The first thing I always ask for is a sample job posting typifying the kind of job the job-seeker is targeting. I can’t effectively critique a resume unless I can see how sharply it focuses on a given job and/or employer. I’m in the process of developing a list of indispensable career books for the 15th anniversary of A Storied Career’s parent, Quintessential Careers. Mentioned in the brilliant Guerrilla Marketing For Job Hunters 3.0 is the No. 1 job-seeker mistake: Lack of focus in the job search. Sometimes a job-seeker will respond to my request for a job posting by saying he or she isn’t sure what he or she wants to do. Your resume will be of very limited value if employers can’t see, as Jacqui puts it, the thoughtful conceptualization of your career target.

And Jacqui is right on the money in her assertion that one set of accomplishment stories won’t work for every job and employer; you need to pick a set specific to each target. My new workbook offers numerous exercises aimed at developing job-specific and employer-specific stories.

I love Jacqui’s final point about how valuable story development is as interview preparation. I ask clients to complete a grueling Accomplishments Worksheet that asks 18 questions for each past job (in the workbook, I ask for these accomplishments in story form). Many balk at all that work and wonder why they hired a resume writer. The smart ones, though, complete the worksheet diligently and then sing its praises for how well it helped them prep for interviews. (In the meantime, their work has enabled me to create a resume that is many times more effective than it would have been without their accomplishment stories.)

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


The Earth is a wonderful storyteller.

When we spent our first summer in Eastern Washington, I became absolutely fascinated by the diverse geology of our new locale. We live in an area that, 250 million years ago, was under the Pacific Ocean, though not far from the coastline — at that time, roughly the border between present-day Washington and Idaho.

It’s also an area that, 17 to 6 million years ago, saw thousands of years of lava flows pouring over it.

DryFalls.jpg And, during the most recent Ice Age, advancing glacial ice resulted in cataclysmic flooding that formed gigantic, deep lakes and resulted in many of the geological formations that exist today, such as Dry Falls, pictured at right.

I stand in awe of dramatic stories that unfolded long before the human story began.

The Earth tells her stories through what has been left behind after these dramatic events. The stories of undersea existence, volcanic activity, glacial flooding, and more are told all at once and in a nonlinear fashion. In our area, we can see the legacy of glacial lakes from 10,000 years ago and then travel a few miles to see volcanic evidence from a much earlier era. And the story continues as the earth continues to evolve. Volcanoes erupt. Tectonic plates clash. Floods and landslides change the landscape.

A week ago, I went on a geology field trip led annually by a local geologist. As fascinating as it was, much of the science went over my head; I wish our leader had been a bit better as a storyteller. Some scientists are brilliant storytellers who facilitate the layperson’s understanding. Our leader wasn’t awful, but I wish I could have grasped more of the story.

I was so fascinated by my area’s geology when we spent our first summer here in 2009 that I bought several books on the geological history of the region. But like the field-trip leader, they didn’t tell the Earth’s story in a very accessible way. The best, most storied, easiest-to-understand resource I found turned out to be a free 14-page booklet I picked up from the National Park Service.

Despite my struggle to fully understand the story, I’ll continue to study it. The field-trip geologist said the trip route he’s considering next year includes geological phenomena that are more a billion years old.

Can you imagine?

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Gerrit Hall’s article, The Relevance of Storytelling in Your Job Search, was not exactly epiphanic for someone like me who has been immersed in job-search storytelling for several years now.

JobHistoryPassion.jpg But Hall did mention a rationale for job-interview storytelling that was new to me. Job-seekers who respond in story form show they care more about their own work history, Hall says, than those who fail to deploy stories.

Hall contrasts these sample job-history summations:

“I was an intern for a while, then I started working as an assistant, and then I did some work as a manager…”


“I started working for ABC Company as an intern, learned a lot about the company, and was quickly promoted to an assistant position. After I sold the most units in one quarter, I was again promoted to manager, where I lead 15 people in the department.”

Of course, the job-seeker could likely tell an even better story than the second example indicates, but even as is, that summation is more compelling than the first.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


In Steve Jobs’ legendary 2008 Stanford commencement speech, which has been posted all over the virtual world since his untimely death, he says he plans to tell three stories and does so. The speech is rightly cited as a classic example of using stories in presentations. I can think of no better way to pay tribute to this storytelling genius than to provide an opportunity for you to see this speech — just in case you haven’t.

Here also is the transcript of the speech.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Here are two resources that convey a point of view about storytelling in audiovisual fashion.

My friend Karen Dietz turned me on to the 15-minute video, The Arc of Storytelling, noting:

Run, don’t walk to watch this incredibly inspiring video about what we are all searching for in our storytelling.


Even though Bobette Buster is speaking about the entertainment industry, her words are incredibly important to anyone who is crafting and sharing their business stories.
Bobette talks about the most powerful stories (and this applies to our biz stories) being ones showing transformation, becoming fully alive, and offering hope. When we think about stories in marketing/branding we often forget these fundamentals. The majority of ‘business story’ videos I watch these days totally miss these themes and end up being more like digital brochures than real compelling stories that build a growing cadre of loyal customers.
But think about this for businesses: a founding story of an organization is often about being faced with a challenge and overcoming it — that is showing transformation and offering hope to others.
Business stories about people (customers/staff) and the obstacles they’ve overcome + the results produced offer the same messages.
I could go on and on. It’s better to just watch the 15-minute video. Bobette talked 2 years ago at the Storytelling in Organization’s Special Interest Group (SIO SIG) and was masterful. The book The Uses of Enchantment she cites was a textbook in my PhD program. I’m currently reading Inside Story: The Power of the Transformative Arc, and it dovetails nicely with Bobette’s talk. I hope you get inspired and lots of ideas by watching this.

The other is a Prezi slideshow by Peter Fruhmann called Use your narrative space: How to make better use of stories in organisations by collecting, connecting and sharing.

NarrativeSpace.jpg The presentation offers for steps for telling the right organizational story: 1) Listen/Collect, the step Fruhmann spends the most time on; 2) Analyze; 3) Synchronize; and 4) Tell/Connect.

He also proposes a 3D matrix (at left) he calls the Narrative Space of the Organization.

Both of these presentations are worth your while.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


I’ve been interested in the relationship between creativity and storytelling since I began my experimental foray into crafts this past summer.

I further explored the connection in a discussion with Annette Simmons related to her new interest in painting.

MichelleJames.jpg I was thus recently interested in an interview Michael Margolis did with Michelle James on Storytelling and the Creative Process. (At this writing, the podcast has been taken down because it had technical issues, but check back to see if it comes back up.) I was able to listen to about half of the interview.

Michelle, who is CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence, notes that the creative process is nonlinear and is about pushing boundaries.

In the portion of the podcast I listened to, I picked up two threads connecting creativity with storytelling:

  • Creative people can expand the limited stories they carry about themselves.
  • Story-based activities can facilitate creative thinking.

A common limited creativity story that creative people carry, James notes, is one in which creativity is split from income-generation, and the creative person is constantly balancing and compromising to reconcile those two sides of the story. The questions James poses include, “How can we create a new, larger story where you can both create and generate income?” and “How can you expand the story to include all the aspects you want?”

That’s one I can certainly relate to. I wish all my income could come from writing this blog, writing books, and working with my hands. I am slowly working on expanding my story.

One way to expand the story, James says, is to accept your current reality, but add something news, such as in the well-known, “Yes, and …” exercise, in which one partner proposes and activity, and the other partner — instead of rejecting it — expands it by saying “Yes, and let’s [do something that goes beyond the activity you proposed.”] Instead of automatically poo-pooing an idea and saying it won’t work, you expand your framework, do something to break your pattern and unstick yourself.

“Be willing to expand beyond what you already know,” James suggests. “Base your story on where your energy is coming from.”

Story-related activities that get creative juices flowing, she says, include those that feature right-brained visual thinking. James suggests anthropomorphizing inanimate objects and giving them a voice, as well as acting out concepts.

WebMastHd2011Final2.jpg In group workshops, James asks participants to tell a 30-second story of their name. Another activity involves telling stories about things participants know to a partner and then looking for “deeper, shadow aspects,” such as beliefs, stories, and assumptions. Especially in organizations, the question then becomes, “What new story do we want to move into?”

A very quick glimpse at the articles on Michelle’s site doesn’t reveal a whole lot about story, but inspiration for creative people is plentiful.

Oh, and a little update on my creative pursuits: I wussed out of having a sale of my creations this fall. The date I planned for the sale sneaked up on me and just felt a little too real. Yes, I had a tiny fear that people would regard my handiwork as crap, but the bigger part of backing out was a practical view that a sale would be more successful in the spring. I’ll also now see how it feels not to have this creative outlet during the colder months.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


My friends Karen Dietz and Lori Silverman have just developed a nice, free resource — a seven-page handout, Narrative Forms and Stories: Narrative Forms Chart, which you can download from here.

NarrativeFormsChart.jpg The question of what is and isn’t a story has been a particularly hot topic among practitioners in the past year or so, and this resource enriches that conversation. The piece discusses the full story, anecdote, case study, description, example, news report, profile, scenario, testimonial, and vignette. Here’s the intro:

Not every narrative is a story. … Several [narrative forms] are often mistaken for stories. The examples of how a story changes into a non-story, or a particular type of story, are in the following pages…

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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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:

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