January 2012 Archives

One of the most persistent and frustrating issues I’ve had with this blog in its history of nearly seven years is the comments function.

FacebookComments.jpg At various times, it has not functioned properly, or it has been difficult for readers to log in. When I’ve removed all barriers to commenting, I’ve been bombarded with spam.

The current setup calls for commenters to log-in. To the existing choices of logging in via Movable Type (this blog’s platform), Google, or Yahoo, I’ve just added the option of logging in via a Facebook account.

It’s still not the perfect setup perhaps, but it does provide commenters with another option.



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

I’m intrigued that a TED Talk about stories that is nearly three years old is getting attention. If I had seen any buzz about Tyler Cowen’s presentation about the problems with stories when it was first posted, I would have written about it or certainly seen others write about it.

I first wrote about the speech earlier this month. I’ve included a question about it in the set of general questions I ask my Q&A participants, and Jim Signorelli and Doug Rice have weighed in with their responses.

DonaldMiller.jpg Donald Miller (pictured) is the latest story guru to offer a rejoinder to Cowen.

In railing against stories, Miller notes, Cowen is “telling a story and he’s made himself a character in that story.”

Miller contends that by the time Cowen confesses to have told a story, it’s too late:

He’s already positioned story as suspect, the way a culture might present shovels as suspect if they’d been used in too many murders. I’d rather have him show us how to use a shovel than scare us about how we are going to be killed by them. What we need, then, is people who tell great stories with their lives, based in truth. We need people to live better stories so those around us can learn to live better stories themselves.

Instead of merely exhorting us, Miller asserts, Cowen could offer suggestions for improving our stories:

A better method would not be to attack stories (who would win that fight? An earth without Middle Earth is boring) but rather to warn us about making our stories too simplistic, and warning us that stories can be used to manipulate.

Why do you suppose this talk is getting so much attention now (I admit I manufactured some of the attention by asking Q&A subjects about it) — and why didn’t it get attention back when it was posted in 2009? Or did it, and I somehow missed it?



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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


Q&A with Doug Rice, Question 5:

Q: How important is it to you and your work to function within the framework of a particular definition of “story?” (i.e., What is a story?) What definition do you espouse?

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A: A story in general can be defined as an account of events in the lives of characters — real or imagined. I think it’s very important, though, to understand a particular definition of story in the context of business. Many people rightly have ethical reservations about the term when they equate it to lying or “making something up.” When I help my clients with their stories, I am not helping them create works of fiction. I am helping them frame who they really are and share it with the world. It’s more like a memoir. While some level of interpretation is necessarily involved, the point is to convey their true identities — not to create fairy tales.
Another distinction I would like to make is between discovering the story, crafting the story and telling the story. Whether the entity be an individual or an organization, the story itself is not only something that is created; it is also something that is revealed. I start the process with my clients by helping them understand their back stories — why they are in business, what they sell, who they serve, how they operate, and their industrial settings. What is in the past is something to discover and not something to construct. I would never ever encourage a client to manufacturer a history that isn’t there.
But the past isn’t the only part of framing the story. For a business, each and every decision shapes the future story. The story is an eternal work-in-progress. The present is the point at which you transition from discovering the story to creating it. The past is the past. It cannot be changed. But, going forward, the person or organization can always choose a better story. Crafting the story has to do with deciding what comes next.
The final component of a business’s story is actually telling the story. In business, this is called marketing. It’s the person or organization sharing what it has learned from its discoveries and what it intends from its creations. It is only lying if it is inconsistent with the business’s history or plans for the future. Otherwise, it is a wonderful thing to share a valuable story. That’s what I help my clients do.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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


Q&A with Doug Rice, Question 4:

Q: Watch the TED Talk by Tyler Cowen about the trouble with stories and react to what the speaker says are the problems with stories — especially as it relates to your mini eBook, An Introduction to Storytelling in the 21st Century: A Resource for Small Business Owners and Independent Professionals [Editor’s note: Visitors to the preceding link can get Doug’s ebook by subscribing to his newsletter.] The speaker would probably characterize the kind of storytelling you discuss in your ebook as manipulation. How would you counter that characterization?

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A: I highly respect Tyler Cowen as an economist (my undergrad is in economics) and agree with much of what he has written. However, I find his arguments against storytelling to be perplexing. Storytelling is inescapable; it is hardwired into the way we think. Even if we think we are making rational decisions, those decisions are based stories we are telling ourselves. A judgment is merely a story about the facts that we’ve gathered.
To characterize storytelling as manipulative, though, would depend on the definition of manipulation. If any attempt at persuasion is considered manipulation, then I would have to agree that it is manipulative. But, given this definition, I also believe that it is impossible for human beings to communicate with one another at all without being manipulative. Everything we say to each other contains some element of “spin” in that we are expressing our judgments about what we are speaking. But there is nothing wrong with that. It’s just the way we are.
Literally, to manipulate is to alter an outcome. But I think that most of us understand it as lying or cheating in order to alter an outcome. Merely trying to persuade another is not something we typically view as manipulative. It’s tricking them that we frown upon. Tyler Cowen mentions companies that use slick advertising to trick us into buy things that aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. I do not condone this kind of storytelling.
At the same time, I don’t believe that this is the only kind of storytelling there is. I believe there are companies out there that take such pride in what they do that the advertising is merely descriptive of the value they have to offer. Do they want customers to buy the products? Absolutely! But, are they lying to get the sales? Absolutely not! Just as there is a distinction between fiction and non-fiction in the world of literature, storytelling for business can be either a lie or a truth. I think businesses can benefit greatly from a little more truth in their stories.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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


Q&A with Doug Rice, Question 3:

Q: Who has been most influential to you in your story work and why?

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A: Two names come to mind. The first is Seth Godin [pictured at right]. Seth is the artist of the marketing world. He actively promotes concepts in business that thinkers before him would consider too abstract but are now considered vital to business success: dialogue with customers (Permission Marketing), storytelling (All Marketers Tell Stories), non-conformity (Purple Cow), employee empowerment (Linchpin), and risky innovation (Poke the Box). I’ve learned more from Seth about helping my clients tell their stories than I have from all other thinkers combined. If you haven’t read anything by Seth Godin, regardless of what industry you are in, read it now. It will revolutionize your perspective.

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The second thinker that has influenced me in storytelling is Anthony Iannarino [pictured at left], sales superstar and author of The Sales Blog. The vast majority of my digital network can be attributed to referrals from Anthony, and he has taught me the power of the Internet as a platform for storytelling. He is a world-renowned speaker and sales trainer with all of his businesses coming to him as a result of his blog. He is a testament to the fact that, if you have a powerful story to tell, there are people out there that can benefit from it. I learn from Anthony daily and use him as an example for all of my clients of what can be accomplished through the power of the Web.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

A convergence of three recent articles tickles my fascination with differences in how we tell our stories in the virtual world vs. “in real life.”

BeYourself.jpg In one of the posts (which is referenced in the second one), R.I.P. Personal Branding, Olivier Blanchard expresses a refreshing, iconoclastic view in a careers sector that has been dominated by the you-must-have-a-personal-brand edict for the past several years:

People are people. They aren’t brands. When people become “brands,” they stop being people and become one of three things: vessels for cultural archetypes, characters in a narrative, or products. … Can you realistically remain “authentic” and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?

I have long shared this cynicism about personal branding. “Is there really any value,” Blanchard continues, “to turning yourself into a character or a product instead of just being… well, who you are?” And finally, scathingly: “You know what we used to call people with ‘personal brands’ before the term was coined? Fakes.”

In Is Your Personal Brand Fake?, inspired in part by Blanchard’s post, my colleague Barbara Safani seems to take the view that personal branding is OK as long as it’s not fake. For example, the identity — or brand — she projects on Facebook, she contends, is authentically her:

People who friend me on Facebook see the gray. Sure, they get job search advice, links to great articles and resources, and motivating success stories about my clients and all of this helps build their confidence in me as a professional. But they also see what types of things I am interested in and they get a feel for who I am as a New Yorker, a mother, a daughter, a friend. And if they dig deeper they will figure out that I love dark chocolate, running in Central Park, and high-heeled shoes. They get the panoramic view of me rather than just the professional headline. People want to hire people that they relate to and connect with.

Barb contrasts the projection of one’s personal brand on Facebook with that on LinkedIn, which she implies may be “boring, one-dimensional and not believable … [j]ust like many of the LinkedIn profile headlines I read…Visionary CEO…Dynamic Marketing Executive, Results-Oriented Operations Manager…”

She’s saying, I believe, that it’s possible to express an authentic brand but easier (or perhaps, more expected) to do so in some online venues than in others.

According to the third post, we do authentically express our real selves in social media, especially on Facebook. In Study: Your Facebook Personality Is The Real You, Alicia Eler reports on an academic paper revealing results of two research studies that conclude “Facebook users are no different online than they are offline.”

It’s not hard to find flaws in the studies. One suggests that the number of one’s Facebook friends correlates with extroversion. I have a higher than average (130 friends, according to Facebook’s stats) number of friends, but I attribute that at least in part to the fact that I have been on Facebook longer than many people — since 2005, when only people with .edu email addresses could belong.

Still, I agree, like Barb Safani, that what you see of me on Facebook is pretty much authentically me. One exception is politics. I hold strong political feelings, “feelings” being the operative word. I expend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid political punditry because it makes my blood boil. Similarly, I avoid engaging politically in social media because I’m too emotional about it to make rational arguments. This avoidance is admittedly difficult in an election year. But I digress …

To avoid fakery in the way we project ourselves — whether online or in real life — we need to think in terms not of personal branding but of personal storytelling. We have amazing tools to do that these days. Blanchard writes, for example:

If I have learned anything from Facebook’s new Timeline feature, it’s this: It’s fun to be yourself. It’s easy to forget that, especially when the “personal branding” industry would have you shift your focus away from the little flaws that make you… well, you.

Ask yourself if you are authentically telling your story in all your interactions and look at the differences in how you tell it from venue to venue.



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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


Q&A with Doug Rice, Question 2:

Q: Your Website includes the acronym “T.R.U.E. Stories.” Can you elaborate on that concept?

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A: The acronym is my philosophy for successful business storytelling. I chose the word, “true,” because I wanted to convey the idea of a compelling story being meaningful. I distinguish between truth and fact in that truth actually matters to us where as facts may or may not be relevant. The acronym lists the four components of stories that matter. A “true” story must be: trustworthy, relevant, unique, and enduring. If these qualities are present in the story that is told, it is infinitely more likely to be successful. I use this acronym as a measuring stick for success with my clients.
A trustworthy story is one that is credible and consistent. A business can have “holes” in its story just like a film can and it takes away from the audience’s ability to believe. A relevant story is one that is focused on the audience. The customer must be able to identify and empathize with the story the business is telling. A unique story is one that is different from the others. An organization or person that is not differentiated becomes a commodity, and no one likes clichés. Finally, an enduring story is one that creates a legacy. It is memorable enough to withstand the test of time and find a permanent spot in the audience’s mind.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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It’s a great treat to feature someone in this Q&A series who is just starting out in the story field. Doug Rice launched his blog and business, Small Business Storyteller, just a few months ago. This Q&A will run over the next five days.

DougRice.jpg Bio: Doug Rice is the founder of Small Business Storyteller, an Internet marketing company dedicated to helping independent professionals develop their personal and professional brands via the Web. Currently, he offers a variety of free content for the general public, including a blog, a monthly newsletter (free eBook for signing up), and a small-business article reading schedule. All of this information is available on his Small Business Storyteller website.


Q&A with Doug Rice, Question 1:

Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/ narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?

A: I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I wrote poetry, short stories, and eventually a novel (unpublished). Narrative has simply always been the most poignant metaphor for describing life. Sure, life is like a river. Life is like a song. Life is like a box of chocolates. But life is a story. It has a beginning, has an end, and is filled with characters in between.

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Professionally, I kind of fell into storytelling. I would love to create an intricately compelling narrative about how I came to use this concept but, truth be told, I just picked it. I had been doing Internet marketing for a couple of years and decided I wanted to go out on my own. I started to think about what exactly I was trying to accomplish and who I was trying to do it for, and I named my business after the conclusion to my question. I was trying to help small businesses. I would help them by assisting them in telling their stories. Thus, I created Small Business Storyteller.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

Your Film Festival is billed as a Global Search for the World’s Best Storytellers. The contest seeks short, story-driven videos.

YourFilmFestival.jpg Some details from the site:

15 minutes to tell a story. Millions of people to watch it. $500,000 to make a new one for the world to see.
This is Your Film Festival. You have until March 31st to submit a short, story-driven video. There’s no entry fee. It can be any format — short film, web-series episode, TV pilot — and any genre. In June, audiences around the world will vote, sending 10 deserving storytellers to open he 2012 Venice Film Festival where a Grand Prize Winner will be be rewarded with a $500,000 grant to create a new work, produced by Ridley Scott and his world class team.
Any format, style and genre is welcome, so long as it’s story-driven. It can be a short film, the first episode of a web series, or whatever else qualifies as a story-driven video. Fiction narratives and non-fiction documentaries are welcome.



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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


Q&A with Jim Signorelli, 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: My one piece of advice, whether it relates to story, storytelling, or narrative is to be true.

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I love the answer that Stephen King gave when he was asked to critique someone’s story. “No, it’s not a good story,” he said. “Its author was too busy listening to other voices as closely as he should have to the one coming from the inside.”
For brands this means to avoid manufacturing an image. Rather it means to find and amplify values and beliefs that already exist. For storywriters, being true means writing from one’s own voice as opposed to all those voices that direct us to be something we think audiences want. To some this may sound self-centered. But to me there is nothing stronger than one’s true convictions. Easier said than done. It not only takes courage, but it takes constant introspection and relentless honesty. And it always puts the appreciation for meaning over money.
Over and out.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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


Q&A with Jim Signorelli, Questions 4 and 5:

Q: What has surprised you most in your work with story?

A: Of all your questions, this one can be answered most simply: Everything and nothing.
First the everything part: Writers like Kendall Haven, Annette Simmons, Doug Lipman, Stephen Denning, and last but not least, Robert McKee, helped me to understand and fully appreciate the power of a communication tool that I’m regularly exposed to while awake and yes, even while dreaming. Their works have given me a whole new perspective on human communication in general and persuasion in particular. Theirs has been a gift that continues to excite me about the value of authenticity in human exchange and how I can better contribute to it.

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The nothing part stems from the lack of awareness and appreciation for story’s power in my chosen profession. However, I can’t allow myself to get too frustrated when I’m barraged with brag and boast, meaningless advertising. After all, it took a few epiphanies for me to give up my old ways. And furthermore, I’m optimistic. Soon I think advertising, as we know it, will change. Bob Garfield and Doug Levy wrote a groundbreaking article that appeared in AdAge titled The Dawn of the Relationship Era in Marketing. This article put a new stake in the ground for the advertising profession. It suggests that the old days of telling and directing consumers to think one way about their brands is giving way to the need for building relationships with consumers that are founded in shared values and earned trust. I am in heated agreement with these guys.
Telling must eventually give way to showing. And we the persuaders as well as those we set out to persuade will all be better for it.

Q: Watch the TED Talk by Tyler Cowen about the trouble with stories and react to what Cowen says are the problems with stories.

A: Yes, many who know about my interest in stories have sent me this video. I’ve had plenty of time to watch and study it.
Tyler Cowen’s TED speech has been the subject of a great deal of criticism. The most vociferous of the naysayers are wondering why Cowen uses stories to talk about why we should be suspicious of stories. Others are complaining that in his warnings about the ill effects of stories, he offers no remedy. And still others state that until Tyler Cowen can define what he means by stories, he’s hardly worth all the attention we’re giving him.
I subscribe to all three points of view.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

When I was teaching, I was so appalled at the prices of college textbooks that I used an assortment of popular-press books instead of texts.

I knew from Walter Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs that Jobs, too, was appalled, and one of the next things on his agenda was to revolutionize textbook publishing the way he revolutionized the recording industry.

iBooksAuthor.jpg With the announcement today of the (free!) iBooks Author app, the fulfillment of that part of Jobs’s legacy has begun. And as soon as I heard it, I knew I wanted to organize a crowdsourced (and probably peer-reviewed) textbook on applied storytelling, focusing especially on organizational/business narrative and brand storytelling.

How awesome would it be if some of the luminaries of storytelling each contributed a chapter to such a textbook?

Stay tuned for more on this idea as it burbles through my brain. You might just be receiving a Request for Proposal soon.



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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


Q&A with Jim Signorelli, Question 3:

Q: You use a slightly modified version of Kendall Haven’s story definition (the one that also opened my eyes). How did you arrive at that one, and how important do you think it is to define story?

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A: Let me say up front that I will be forever thankful for Kendall Haven and his work. Storytellers, writers, teachers, leaders and now branding specialists owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
Anyone familiar with Kendall Haven knows that he is a NASA scientist turned story theorist. In his seminal work Story Proof, he details his 10-year quest to prove the power of story as a learning tool. He amasses some 300+ studies that had been conducted prior to his writing. For me, the biggest take away was his insightful working definition of what a story is. tory is a word that we use very casually. But try to define it in a way that withstands debate? Hard to do.
Kendall pokes holes in many of the definitions that are often given for story, i.e., the very popular “something that has a beginning, middle and an end.” As he points out, this also defines a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. After taking a few stabs at a workable definition, Haven arrives at a brilliantly simple definition for story that stands up to the hard questions: “A story consists of a character overcoming an obstacle to achieve some goal.”
“Of course,” I thought.
But as I began to work with that definition, I was faced with a slight problem. It was with the words “overcoming an obstacle “that are part of Kendall’s definition. As I later discussed with him, the word “overcoming” suggests a positive outcome. Sometimes what makes a story meaningful is the fact that the character does not overcome his or her obstacle. Shakespeare called these tragedies. So, and with limitless respect for Haven, I took the liberty of tweaking his definition. I replaced the word overcoming with the words “dealing with.” This just seems to fit better for me.
To an outsider my quibble may seem like dancing on the head of a pin. But if I was going to construct a planning model based on story structure, I had to have a definition that worked in the absolute. With this slight change in wording, it did. And regardless of the tweak, Kendall has graciously offered up a wonderful forward to my book.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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


Q&A with Jim Signorelli, Question 2:

Q: What inspired you to write your book, Storybranding: Creating Standout Brands Through the Power of Story, especially at a time when books about storytelling in business and branding are proliferating? What makes your message unique?

A: As I began to read about stories, my fascination with them snowballed into an avalanche. My questions found answers that raised more questions. Intuitively I knew that brands could benefit from story, but articulating how became a major challenge. It took three years of starting and stopping, backing and forthing, and a lot of paper. How I finally got to something I was satisfied with will also address the other part of your question, as your observation is astute. With so much buzz about storytelling in business and branding, any insights I might be able to offer risked a welcome similar to one given the newest passenger on a crowded bus.

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Try as I did, using storytelling as an advertising technique was often a force-fit. Everything was starting to look and sound like a clichéd testimonial, i.e., one day John had a problem (dramatize problem) and found the solution (big smile goes here) with brand XYZ. Logo/Tag line. Music up and out. The End.
After much trial, and mostly error, I came very close to giving up. Reluctantly, I had to admit to the fact that storytelling, albeit a powerful technique for speakers, salespeople, leaders or anyone engaged in persuasion, was not workable in the various constraining forms of the media we typically employ. On the other hand, there could be no denying that story’s purpose was something worth emulating. It was the lightning I needed to bottle.

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Then, I was introduced to Kendall Haven’s book Story Proof, the outcome of some 10 years of research on what stories are and how they are structured. Borrowing from Haven’s model of story, I crafted something similar for brands while casting them as heroes trying to overcome obstacles in its quest to establish a relationship with prospects.
Rather than a messaging technique, I had arrived at a strategic-planning technique, one that requires looking beyond what we call their “outer layers” or their functional advantages and benefits — and one that includes a clear understanding for what the brand stands for and how it can better align its unique worldview with targeted prospects. Besides requiring a high degree of empathy for the prospect, staging the brand as a story character helps identify the brand’s underlying beliefs and values, or the brand’s “cause” beyond its profit motive. Applying what we know about our interactions with people, shared beliefs and values contribute greatly to reasons we form and maintain certain relationships.
So you see, StoryBranding is not just another trumpet on the storytelling bandwagon. In fact, StoryBranding is very different from storytelling. Rather it defines both an approach and a process for giving brands the kind of meaning that resonates with prospects. And by doing so, it displaces advertising’s natural inclination to hit the prospect over the head with the brand’s puffed up image of itself.
Why it became a book finds reason in the fact that anything less would have given the subject short shrift. Plus, after three years, I had to do something useful with all that paper.

[Editor’s note: You can download an excerpt from StoryBranding here.]



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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I first encountered Jim Signorelli through my Scoop.it organizational storytelling curation and having been following him in several, social-media venues. I’m excited about his new book, StoryBranding. This Q&A will run over the next six days.

StoryBrandingBookSmall.jpg Bio: [in his own words, from his LinkedIn profile]: I’ve always had a passion for advertising. My favorite class in grade school was “show and tell.” As a paperboy, I would add subscribers by copy testing leaflets (“If you buy from me, I promise not to throw your paper in the bushes,” out pulled “You need the news, I need the money.”)

After receiving both a B.A. and M.A. in advertising from Michigan State University, I started my adult career in advertising in nearby Chicago. I later worked in New York, Los Angeles, and Baltimore, amassing experience on a wide variety of major accounts like Citibank, Kraft Foods, Burger King, General Electric, Toshiba, Arby’s, and many others.

JimSignorelli.jpg In 1999 I started my own agency back in Chicago that today goes by the name esw StoryLab. Our agency has been named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing independent companies in the U.S., three years straight. In that time I became a story buff, as I set out to understand why stories are so powerful and how advertising can benefit from the way they are structured. My book, StoryBranding: Creating Stand Out Brands Through the Power of Story, is the culmination of three years of research on the subject.

When I’m not working or telling a story, I am an avid golfer, tennis player, drummer. And my weirdness finds its expression in a prized Pez collection. I live with my lovely wife Joan in Evanston, Illinois.


Q&A with Jim Signorelli, Question 1:

Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/ narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?

A: I’m asked this question a lot. I’ve often thought it would be wonderful if I could offer up an awe-inspiring story about that big moment when I realized how branding can benefit from the power of story. There were actually many Aha! moments along the route to completing this book, and their effects were cumulative. I talk about some of those in the book, but I can tell you about one of them here.
A few years back, I was observing my two young grandchildren as they were watching a TV cartoon show. I was interested in seeing what they were going to do when the commercials came on. Would they remain attentive? Start talking to each other? Yell out that they wanted what was being advertised?
They both remained engaged through the first commercial shown. Upon hearing the commercial’s tag line, “we love to make you smile,” the youngest turned to her older brother and asked, “why do they say that they’ll make me smile? They don’t make me smile.”
Her brother responded with his now typical boy-I-got one- dumb-sister look and said, “that’s ‘cause it’s advertising stupid.”
This experience raised two questions. First, if little kids disregard advertising promises, how must adults? And second, having spent my entire academic and professional career studying advertising, why haven’t I asked this question sooner?
I’m not good company when it comes to watching TV. While my wife will want to fast forward through the commercials, I’ll want to hit replay. The experience with my grandkids made things worse as it gave me something else to critique. I now started to see that many ads were like the ad they commented on, puffed up, self-adulating statements about what one should expect from the brand being advertised. It’s what we’ve become used to and expect from a lot of advertising, regardless of how little proof there often is for its claims.
Eventually, and in search of a solution, I came around to see how the power of story could help solve this problem. Stories are one of the most persuasive tools in our communications arsenal. I’m sure this needs no explanation to readers of your blog. There are many reasons for this, but for me, the biggest, most important one is that, unlike outward efforts to sell something, stories persuade without getting in their own way. They resort to pulling influence rather than pushing it. They welcome us to decide for ourselves what’s being said without trying to force feed us opinions. Unlike advertising, with all their hype that we have grown to resist, stories can powerfully resonate with what we already believe is true. And it was this realization that influenced my desire to deconstruct stories; one that ultimately revealed a way in which brands could benefit from story’s influential power.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

Recently, in a LinkedIn group to which I belong, a member cited his “favorite LinkedIn profile of all time.” The profile belongs to Orrin “Checkmate” Hudson, who uses chess to turn around troubled kids, and it does the best job I’ve ever seen of using a LinkedIn profile as a platform to tell a story. And not just a story, but a compelling, inspiring story. Here is most of it:

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I grew up in a tough housing project in Birmingham, AL, in the 1980s, never far from gangs, drugs, and criminal activity. Fortunately for me, I met an exceptional teacher who put me on the right path.
After 6 years as an Alabama State Trooper, I thought I’d seen some worst possible examples of human behavior. Then one night in May, 2004, the TV showed how 2 teenagers murdered 5 teenaged employees of a Wendy’s in far-away Queens, NY. Kids killing kids for money — cold blooded, execution style, no value for life — all for a lousy $2400.
Evil prevails when good people do nothing. The TV images were so awful I couldn’t sleep that night. I thought back to my own youth — growing up in a family of 13 kids — and how close I came to landing in jail for stealing inner tubes off truck tires. But an English teacher got me interested in the game of chess. He turned me around.
Watching the aftermath of a mass murder in Queens was my personal wake-up call. I decided to follow the example of my own teacher and use chess to turn around troubled kids. Nine months later I sold my business — auto sales and repairs — and launched BeSomeone.org. As of 2012, we’ve helped build the character of about 25,000 young people — our goal is one million — to inspire them through the game of chess.

The last time I wrote about LinkedIn profiles, I noted that one of the difficulties of deploying stories in profiles is that, like resumes, the profiles are usually constructed in reverse-chronological order. Granted, it appears that Hudson doesn’t seek a job; his objective seems to be to raise awareness for his organization and drive visitors to its Web site. As such, he perhaps has more latitude with the chronology of his profile.

LinkedIn profiles are usually presented in reverse-chronological order because the user wants the audience to see the most recent — and usually most relevant — career activity first. In promoting his organization, Hudson has less of a need to list the most recent first. In fact, his story does not follow a linear course. His profile is far more engaging for drawing the reader in with the challenge of his growing-up years. He then skips way ahead to a more recent career incarnation and how a classic inciting incident became the turning point that led to launching his organization.

In between the incident and describing founding the organization, he flashes back to the teacher that turned him around as a youth by sparking his interest in chess.

Skipped in the tale is how he went from being an Alabama State Trooper to owning an auto sales and repair business — but it hardly matters because the reader is so immersed in his tale.

Would a chronological — but not necessarily linear — story work in a job-seeker’s LinkedIn profile? Maybe. It helps to have a dramatic, turning-point inciting incident around which to spin the story. It also helps to write as well as Hudson does. At the very least, Hudson’s profile has opened my eyes to the story possibilities in LinkedIn profiles.



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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


Q&A with Nora Camps, Question 7:

Q: What do you love about storytelling?

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A: Story is so dear to me personally that I use it to share ideas always… in my paintings and photographs, which tell of happenings, birth, death, flight or even just being… always leveraging story for conveyance. To Thine Own Self Be True — is a first book project, Mugs with Frames Portrait of a City — an installation and game about how approachable people in Toronto are, and SARAYU, a series of images that marry a goddess with situ. The method of telling the story is completely unique to the source of the story. Using commercial examples, each client has a look, feel and method that is completely unique to them — non-transferrable.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

FacebookLogo.jpg Mashable wants to see what’s possible in terms of Facebook’s dramatically expanded 63,206-character-limit status updates, so it’s holding a contest. Strictly speaking, the contest isn’t just for stories, but stories are among the possibilities:

We want you to post something in your status update that’s going to blow us away. You could write a short story, or an epic poem. Facebook has given you the space to write the equivalent of 451.5 tweets, and we’re giving you the green light to use it. We just want you to write about whatever you want.

Deadline is Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 5:00 p.m. EST, and you can learn how to enter here.



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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


Q&A with Nora Camps, Question 6:

Q: Your bio notes that you “execut[e] agricultural theme marketing initiatives for a brighter future on a greener planet.” Can you elaborate on that idea and perhaps describe an example? How did you get interested in that area?

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A: We get involved, completely involved with the ideas, the sentiment and the source of the stories. Obviously we can only take on clients when we share a belief, when the client proves triple bottom-line thinking — when the client is ready to reveal their truth: complete with highs and the lows. Truth is absolutely necessary for the kind of storytelling that wins hearts and minds. What I have learned through my work with the University of Toronto has informed my fine-art projects; my involvement with the University of Guelph and Monforte Dairy has produced a deep commitment to environmental, sustainable, humane food production.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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See a photo of Nora, her bio, Part 1 of this Q&A, and Part 2.


Q&A with Nora Camps, Questions 4 and 5:

Q: What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with so many people right now?

A: People crave authentic pathways for reason, selection and understanding. As a fine artist, as a graphic artist and as a marketing strategist, I weighed and measured the most authentic methods of conveying truths, ideas, and passion, and I progressed quite naturally to storytelling that is subtly nuanced, imaginatively reported, richly textured and often married with rich, somewhat surprising imagery.

Heinlein.jpg Q: Do you think the storytelling movement has peaked? To what extent do you think “storytelling” has become an overused buzzword?

A: Let’s consider a new buzzword to measure story — grok — from the book Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. Grok literally means “to drink,” but it is taken to mean “understanding” — wherein someone really gets inside an idea so completely that they have drunk it in and now it is part of them.

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It is possible to have people, your people, the people you want and need, to grok your story and by extension, grok your brand. Story is a condition of brand; it is brand building, it finds a voice, projecting a sentiment, sharing deeply held beliefs and intention in a way that is far more powerful and lasting than a clever campaign. Leaders become oral storytellers, clients and suppliers become re-tellers, employees can put on the story like a super hero cape… The story gains momentum — it can leap tall buildings.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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See a photo of Nora, her bio, and Part 1 of this Q&A.


Q&A with Nora Camps, Question 3:

Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/narrative? What attracted you to this field?

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A: Once I understood that billboards and all printed material were the result of graphic designers, copy writers, commercial photographers and an elaborate team of post-production experts, once I understood this world, I knew, with absolute conviction, that I wanted to be the one that imagined and directed what would materialize on all manner of media. My early work was catalogues for Tom Taylor Marine Outfitter, then fashion brochures and posters for Peter Nygard, for whom photographer Taffi Rosen and I travelled to Italy, then to the British Virgin Islands for North South Yacht Charters… and on the strength of this work, there were more and more new clients. And then, like a light switch being turned “off” and then “on”, there was a shudder felt all over the world as disasters, natural and otherwise, resulted in the demise of thousands of people. And for me and for others, this resulted in questioning what is important, what is true, what is real. I was part of a world-wide movement toward authenticity, of turning away from the flash-in-the-pan advertising campaigns of the 1980s and early 1990s. To me then, as now, there is nothing as authentic, as moving, as memorable, as story.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

While researching questions for an upcoming Q&A, I came across the Professional Values & Story Index (PVSI) on the site of The Storybranding Group, headed by Cindy Atlee, who has committed to a Q&A.

PVSI.jpg The assessment is based on a model created by Dr. Carol S. Pearson, who specializes in story archetypes. The site describes the index as a “story typing instrument for individuals that illuminates professional assets, values, and gifts through a story-based lens.”

Unlike the assessments in my 5-part series on Life-Story Interventions that Guide Career Choice, the PVSI doesn’t use storied techniques to arrive at self-actualization or help users come up with a preferred career/life story. Instead, it looks at story type, resulting in one of 12 story types.

I wasn’t surprised at my results; I’m a Creator. In every assessment I’ve ever taken — and I’ve taken many — the consistent themes are creativity, introversion, and intuition.

The other types are Caregiver, Ruler, Hero, Revolutionary, Magician, Jester, Everyperson, Lover, Innocent, Explorer, and Sage. Under each type are several sub-types; for example, under Creator are Innovator, Inventor, Artisan, Builder, and Dreamer.

Perhaps most valuable, pun intended, is seeing the values that go with one’s type, in my case, imagination, expression, invention, innovation, and authenticity.

I wasn’t in love with the interface of the assessment. As you can see in the image above, the assessment uses a standard Likert scale, but one with 10 choices. Having to determine where I fit on a scale of 1-10 for all the items in the assessment made my brain hurt. I would have preferred a scale of 1-5. Users should also note that results are not saved. I went back, thinking I might have missed something in the results, but was not able to access them.

Something I really like about The Storybranding Group’s offering of the PVSI is that it’s free. Says the site: “we decided to make this instrument available at no charge because it’s such an important part of our mission to make the world a better place through authentic expression. The only ‘consideration’ involved is that by taking the instrument, you’re agreeing to join our mailing list (which will never be sold to or shared with anyone else).”

Check out the PVSI here.



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

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Like many of my most recent batch of Q&A invitees, Nora Camp and her work popped up as suggestions in my Scoop.it curation. I am most excited to have her join the Q&A series because she and her company, Duo.ca, are approaching brand storytelling in a unique way. This Q&A will run over the next six days.

Nora_Workshop.jpg Bio: [from the Duo.ca Web site]: Nora Camps, president, of DUO.CA is a brand strategy consultant for charitable foundations, not for profit organizations and companies who have an entrepreneurial spirit. Nora’s personal interest is in executing agricultural theme marketing initiatives for a brighter future on a greener planet. Over time Nora has articulated, and indeed demonstrated the power of high fidelity storytelling, and how she uses print collateral and events to build an organization’s character.

Before starting her own firm, Nora worked in advertising, direct mail, sales, media relations and corporate design.

Nora says: “I love helping people achieve great things: connecting people with ideas and each other: and juxtaposing disparate ideas to produce new realities. My painting and photography exemplify these desires”.

Q&A with Nora Camps, Questions 1 and 2:

Q: Who are you? Share something about your early years, something that coloured how you think about storytelling now.

A: In 1969, our family took delivery of a Telefunken stereo in a teak cabinet. I’ve since seen many of the very same cabinets in vintage furniture stores across Toronto, so I know we were not alone in our experience. The unit was carefully carried into our small house, positioned in the place of honour in the living room and plugged in. Mom, Dad, my brother, our dog and I sat down for the first sounds from our very own hi-fi system. The unit came with a record and we placed that on the turntable, carefully closed the sliding doors and sitting back to hear a voice that sounded very much like Peter Ustinov tell us that we were about to experience the incredible quality of High Fidelity Sound Reproduction. A car horn sounded from the left side of the cabinet and then birds tweeting on the right … clarity and amazing precision … and then a symphony began some orchestral suite. This was our foray into a way of hearing that would establish a new measure of what is good, average and unacceptable in sound reproduction. This quality of sound would be forever remembered by me as high fidelity sound — sound which reproduced the complete range of the sound experience — subtly nuanced, magnificently reported, larger and more textured than life. There is a direct relationship between how I think about story, about what I call High Fidelity Story Telling and this early experience of hi-fi sound reproduction.
Q: Can you talk a bit about your company’s concept of “High Fidelity Story Telling?” Duo.jpg
A: We have broken down High Fidelity Story Telling into seven distinct deliverables — each one can build out a campaign or be used alone. We use something called ‘residual memory’ to program the stories to be memorable and easy to recall/retell. The way we use imagery, with words or on its own, is quite different from the convention. We have begun to deliver a story essay for Monforte Dairy each month, and we want to do that for others. We are talking to a foundation who can use all seven facets of High Fidelity Story Telling to launch and sustain a fundraising campaign for a significant sum … we can incorporate our storytelling method into social media campaigns … Can you tell that after 27 years in business, I am completely smitten with storytelling?

Hi-FiStorytelling.jpg



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

81st Q&A Debuts

I’m planning a new round of Q&As this late winter and spring. I recently sent out 29 invitations (would have sent more but found that an amazing number of blogger/practitioner Web sites had no contact information). Seventeen practitioners responded affirmatively, and a particularly quick and eager respondent, Nora Camps of Duo.ca, will be featured in the coming week.

story_practitioners_small.jpg A bit of history and stats — just because I find it fun to compile this stuff … I began sending invitations for the Q&A series in the summer of 2008 and began publishing Q&As in early September of that year.

I have sent roughly 174 invitations. Three kinds of responses occur: 1) No response at all, 2) a response declining the invitation, and 3) a response accepting the invitation. The third response is the most common, but it doesn’t mean the respondent will necessarily follow through with responding to my questions after I’ve researched them and sent them out.

I was pleased and a bit surprised to realize I’ve conducted 80 Q&As to date. That means that about 41 percent of invitations yield published Q&As.

StoriedCareersCoverSmall.jpg When I hit 100 Q&As, I want to revise Storied Careers, my free compilation ebook featuring the Q&A story practitioners.

I’m excited about the launch of the latest series. The bulk of them will start appearing in February, and especially March and beyond.

Want to participate or nominate a practitioner? Please email me.



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

Yesterday on Facebook, the ever creative Park Howell shared a 30-second TV spot (embedded below) his company, Park & Co., had created about donating to Goodwill.

teddybear.jpg In the spot, a young boy packs his teddy bear into his backpack and pedals his bike to a Goodwill center to donate it.

It’s a sweet, heart-warming, storied video. BUT, something that happens between the teddy bear being bundled in the backpack and being dropped off at Goodwill distracts from the message, in my opinion.

The boy passes and glances at another teddy bear, this one sticking out of a garbage can. The message is intended to be that donating to Goodwill is a better alternative to tossing out your beloved stuffed-animal friends.

But that message was lost on me because all I could think about was “Why didn’t the boy rescue the bear from the garbage can and also take it to Goodwill?” Another commenter asked the same question. Park’s response: Because it would not have fit in the 30-second spot.

Maybe it’s because I always tended to over-sentimentalize and anthropomorphize stuffed animals. I have only one from my own childhood, but I still have all my grown kids’ stuffed animals. Maybe the spot reminds me of a childhood trauma in which I bathed a doll that should not have been bathed. Though she had rubber or plastic “skin,” she oddly had some sort of stuffing inside that was not meant to get wet. My mother made me throw her away. I was so devastated, not as much over the loss of the doll as over what she must be going through.

Another commenter would have liked to see another child adopting the donated bear from Goodwill. Again, no time to fit in that scene.

It’s an interesting discussion because it raises the question of what parts of the story are most important to include when time is highly constrained. Which parts of the story will best convey the message, and which will distract?

I would rather see Park risk not conveying the Goodwill-as-alternative-to-garbage message than risk traumatizing and distracting people like me and the other commenter who want to see that trashed bear rescued. Maybe if he took out that piece, he’d have time for a scene in which the bear gets adopted.

Goodwill “Teddybear” - :30 TV from Park&Co on Vimeo.



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

Two TED Talks came to my attention in the last couple of days — one that embodies an affecting story (as many TED Talks do) and another that casts a critical and suspicious eye on stories themselves.

I often see storied presentations, and I often see written pieces on integrating story into presentations, but a wonderful post by John Zimmer analyzes in detail a storied presentation. Zimmer is a Toastmaster who blogs about public speaking and often integrates Toastmaster-specific content.

The presentation, embedded below, is by Alberto Cairo, who runs the orthopedic program operated by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan.

I urge you to read Zimmer’s full analysis, which is enormously helpful to public speakers, but here’s my brief synthesis that applies the analysis to integrating story into presentations:

  • Establish your credibility with humility, and do it briefly (One of the most striking things about Cairo’s presentation, in my view, is how humble he is throughout.)
  • Foreshadow that you will delve into the past to reveal a story (which, in this case, had several sub-stories).
  • Forego charts and graphs; just tell the story.
  • If you use slides, make them striking photos/graphics that go with your story.
  • Own your emotions. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable as you tell your story.
  • Make your gestures natural.
  • Paint descriptive pictures, but keep them simple.
  • Use facial expressions appropriate to your story. (Here, I differ slightly from Zimmer’s analysis. Cairo tells a serious story, but he could have smiled occasionally. When he smiles at the end, you wish you’d seen that smile during the story.)
  • Don’t be afraid of humor when presenting a serious subject. (The audience indeed laughs several times; these would have been good places for Cairo to smile.)
  • Build drama with your physical presence.
  • Provide relief to that drama with lighter moments.
  • Don’t be afraid to inject pauses, even long ones.
  • Think about what you want the audience to remember, and be sure to articulate that message (What’s the moral of the story?). If an audience member were describing the story/presentation to a friend in a restaurant two weeks later, how would you want him or her to express your message?
  • When appropriate, become your characters.
  • Bring the story full circle by describing a transformation.
  • Provide a few supporting points that enhance the transformation’s impact.
  • You’ve told the audience what you want them to remember, but take that a step further by describing the action you seek.

The Toastmasters tradition is to constructively evaluate speeches and offer suggestions for improvement, even for high-quality speeches in which it’s difficult to identify ways it could be better. Zimmer calls Cairo’s presentation “a fantastic talk on so many levels,” but he does suggest a few minor improvements. One slide isn’t the best choice for its part of the talk, Zimmer opines, and it stays on the screen too long. Cairo could have employed longer pauses. And Zimmer feels Cairo could have stood closer to the audience, although he suspects, as do I, that the TED folks had him stand in a certain spot for filming purposes. I would add that Cairo could have used more energy. His humility became a bit like an enveloping cloak that made him just a wee bit plodding. Again, a serious subject, but a bit more spark would have enhanced my engagement. He’s not a native-English-speaker, though (he’s Italian), so it’s possible he would speak more energetically in his native tongue. In Toastmasters, he would have been dinged for saying “um,” but I caught no more than two or three of those in a 19-minute talk.

TylerCowan.jpg The second TED Talk is a two-year-old deep critique of stories themselves by economist Tyler Cowen (thanks to Stephanie West Allen for alerting me to it). Cowen is suspicious of stories because they (a) are too simple, (b) end up serving dual and conflicting functions, and (c) are often the wrong stories, as served up by marketers and politicians. This third point is the popular manipulation argument often leveled at storytelling.

Throughout the speech, I found myself thinking: What’s the alternative? We have no choice but to think in story form. While he acknowledges that it is impossible for humans not to think in stories, Cowen wants to see more messiness, ambiguity. He wants us to scrutinize stories more critically and suspiciously before buying into them. It’s a provocative talk, and I’d be interested in what story folks think of it.

Interestingly, I was just as engaged in Cowen’s talk as I was in Cairo’s even though Cowen tells few stories — possibly because I had my defensive story hackles up and wanted to understand what he sees as the problems with stories.



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

Some interesting life-writing items I’ve come across recently reflect end-of-the-old-year/beginning-of-the-new-year themes.

dan-resized.jpg Professional Personal Historian Dan Curtis (pictured) published a list of The Top Personal History Blogs of 2011, some of which I know well and will also be well-known to readers here. (Do read his post to learn his criteria for the list and which blogs he considers to be the best of the best). Here are his picks with his commentary:

  • Legacy Multimedia blog. Owner Stefani Twyford says that on her blog “you will read about my passion for personal history, filmmaking techniques, genealogy, and related topics. I will veer off onto other topics from time to time but always come back to the things that make my work and my life a joy.”
  • Memoir Mentor. Owner Dawn Thurston says, “My blog is an attempt to participate in the larger community of people interested in life story writing of all kinds and perhaps help a few people persevere in writing their stories.”
  • One Story at a Time. Owner Beth LaMie says, “I hope you find my stories of interest, especially if you want to write some of your own family stories.”
  • True Stories Well Told. Owner Sarah White says, “Here’s where I share the thoughts I might bring up for class discussion. Here’s where I post the writings of my fearless, peerless, workshop participants. Here’s where I share stories from my own life, as well as my pet peeves, pointers, and personal observations. I hope to create the atmosphere you find in my classrooms.”
  • Video Biography Central. Owner Jane Lehmann-Shafron describes her blog as a place for “Advice, essays, samples and inspiration for people interested in preserving their personal and family history through video biography, memorial video, life story and genealogy video.”
  • Women’s Memoirs. Owners Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnet have put together a wealth of information that includes writing prompts, book reviews, and more. Women’s Memoirs is not strictly speaking a personal history site but there’s a lot of useful material here for anyone involved in personal histories.

Curtis also recently published The 50 Best Life Story Questions. It’s a terrific list because it certainly isn’t run of the mill. Here’s a small sampling:

  • If you could do one thing over in your life, what would it be?
  • What makes you happy?
  • Looking back on your life, what do you regret?
  • What do you believe to be true?
  • What is the secret to a happy life?
  • What do you believe happens to us after we die?
  • Who’s had the greatest influence on your life and why?
  • What are the qualities that you admire in your friends?
  • What is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?
  • How would you describe yourself?

New-Year-Chart_350x263.jpg Amber Lea Starfire has an New Year’s Day excellent post in which she describes the process she engages in annually in which she reflects on the past and looks forward to the future. In A New Year’s Writing Tradition, she describes creating a New Year’s Chart (pictured), kind of a mind map that captures:




  • Things I want to do.
  • Things I want to be.
  • Things I want to learn.
  • Things and people I want to see.
  • Places I want to go.
  • Adventures I want to have

Amber says developing the chart is a fun, creative activity, and I believe it.

TheMomentCover.png Finally, when SMITH Magazine founder Larry Smith participated in his Q&A here back in September 2010, the magazine had just launched a new project, The Moment, “moving personal pieces about key instances — a moment of opportunity, serendipity, calamity, or chaos — that have had profound consequences on our lives.” Today is the release day for the book that resulted from the project, THE MOMENT: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure. I’m probably looking forward to this book more than Smith’s six-word-memoir books because the contents will necessarily be much more storied when not restricted to six words.



Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.

 

About
A Storied Career

A Storied Career explores intersections/synthesis among various forms of
Applied Storytelling:
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  • storytelling for identity construction
  • storytelling in social media
  • storytelling for job search and career advancement.
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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:

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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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