Quick Dispatches from the Story World

Even at my most consistent and prolific on this blog, I wasn’t great at one of the features that distinguishes blogs – presenting new information on the blog’s topic quickly, being among the first to disseminate news.

As I duck in to make one of my (very ) sporadic appearances, I present a few items that aren’t exactly brand-spanking new but are somewhat recent:

On Facebook, I came across a site I hadn’t heard of before, StoriesSellTellYoursWell.com. I wasn’t exactly enamored of the title as selling is not my favorite use of story, and I didn’t like the way a video instantly played when I visited the site. Worse, I couldn’t get into the site without entering my name and email. I beat a hasty retreat. But then I learned that Madelyn Blair*, whom I great admire and respect, was among the participants on the site in a free 21-day TeleSummit on the site. The presentations are in interview format.

I saw that other story folks I’ve encountered are also participating: Julie Ann Turner, Michelle James, and Susan Luke*. So I’ve signed up for the series. The interviews began Aug. 6 are are continuing for 21 days; Madelyn’s is scheduled for this Tuesday the 13th. If you sign up (here), you also get access for a limited time to the interviews that have already take place. Here’a a summary of the early ones:

Felicia Slattery interview – Tell Your Story with Your Signature Speech

Most important takeaways:

  1. Drop all the hype and simply communicate who you are and what you do to those you can best serve
  2. A fast and effective way to network with a whole room full of people at one time – and do it in a way that allows you to tell your story and be memorable.

Craig Harrison interview: Homegrown Humor – Prospecting Our Past to Find Hidden Story Treasures

Most important takeaways:

  1. Find past personal stories you can polish and share with others to teach, inspire and entertain with “homegrown” humor from your own life,
  2. Look with new eyes at disappointments, missteps and mishaps, and even tragedy (which, over time may turn into comedy).
  3. Explore the universal values, lessons and learning points embedded in your own personal stories.

Julie Ann Turner interview – SHIFT YOUR STORY ARC: Crafting the Trajectory of Your Life, Work & World

Most important takeaways:

  1. Shift Your Story Arc and Craft the Trajectory of Your Life, Work & World
  2. See that your life, work and world are shaped by story, by the stories you tell – and by the stories you believe.
  3. Recognize the story YOU are telling the world and learn to fully express your core meaning and message and to reach your highest potential

Julie Ann delivered what sounds like a similar presentation* during last year’s Reinvention Summit.

Gina Graves interview – How to Harness the Power of Story in Social Media

Most important takeaways:

  1. Use your story in every aspect of developing your on line business with Gina’s five core systems necessary to build a successful on line business.
  2. Discover how to grow RICH through Gina’s five core systems and the secret power of your story on the internet!

The five systems are:

1. Mindset System
2. Relationship Building system
3. Monetization System
4. Leveraging System
5. Traffic and lead-generating system

Lisa Rosetti*, who has participated in my Q&A series, will soon have a new ebook out with co-author Tony Wall. I’ll be previewing the book, entitled Story Skills for Managers: Nurturing Motivation with Teams, for probable testimonial purposes.

Another Q&A subject, Mike Wittenstein*, also has a new project, a revamped Web site, which he describes as having “a whole new look with multi-language editions, new video, and a user-friendly Speaker’s Kit.” Mike says he assembled the talent to design, develop and bring to life a website that reflects his work in customer experience and service design as a speaker and practicing consultant.

Users can sign up for exclusive content by subscription that is not available on the website. “You can opt out at any time, but we think you’re really going to like it,” Mike says.

A couple of blog posts gaining traction for story guru Thaler Pekar* (still another Q&A subject) have been Hearing the Stories within the Stories and What Will Replace the Hero’s Journey?, both on Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Thaler reports that the posts were inspired by “the smart students in my Story and Narrative Persuasion course at Syracuse University’s Executive Masters in Communications Management, and by our wise clients.” (I will keep these in mind this fall as I prepare to teach PR for nonprofits to doctoral students.)

She also notes that the Atlantic Philanthropies has launched a Stories of Impact section on its website, featuring written and videotaped stories gathered and produced by Thaler Pekar & Partners.

“One of those stories,” Thaler writes, “this three-minute video about Witness to Innocence – went viral after being featured on Upworthy, generating over 31,000 views in just one day (it’s been viewed more than 56,000 times since launching), 1,325 shares, 2,670 likes, and 239 Facebook comments. A terrific example of the power of story to engage people and inspire action.”

John Capecci and Timothy Cage, authors of Living Proof: Telling Your Story to Make a Difference, have a lively new blog. (I wrote about the authors’ participation in last year’s Reinvention Summit here.)

I just bought their book as a possible text for the nonprofit PR class I’ll be teaching. I decided it’s not quite right for the class, but it’s an excellent book for spokespersons and advocates.

*Sorry about the formatting on the old Q&As; they date back to my blog’s former platform. One of these days, I’ll spiff them up.

Anthology of Millennials’ Stories Documents Lost Generation’s Quest for Answers

Neal Gorenflo, co-founder Shareable Magazine, a nonprofit online magazine about sharing, and Malcolm Harris, senior editor of the New Inquiry, have just released Share or Die, an anthology with stories by recent graduates and twenty-something experimenters “who are finding (and sharing) their own answers to negotiating the new economic order.”

Because the nonprofit Shareable is dedicated to (as you might expect) sharing, Shareable offers the book for free online here under a Creative Commons license.

The creators have also given permission to publish credited excerpts; I chose the one below because it reminds me of the dilemma that faced many of my former students. I left on-ground teaching in 2007; many of my students graduated the next year, 2008, when the bottom fell out of the economy. While many hatched creative solutions – starting businesses, teaching English overseas – others struggled with protracted job searches, took low-level retail and server jobs, or decided to become single parents.

This excerpt describes the struggle that Millennials have faced these past few years but offers hope of a way out.

An excerpt: Unprepared: From Elite College to The Job Market

I’ve lived in Chicago, first as a student, then as a working resident, for six and a half years now. But I didn’t vote in the pivotal mayoral race held here recently.

I still list my parents’ address in Pennsylvania as my “permanent address” on anything requiring one.

I don’t have health insurance through my employer, a travel company in downtown Chicago, because I’m still on my Pennsylvania plan, even though I’ve worked here for nearly three years.

I don’t have a dentist here. Or an opthalmologist. I’ve never even been to the new primary care physician I selected through my insurance.

And I still hold a Pennsylvania driver’s license.

Why is this? The answer is fairly simple: I still don’t consider myself a full-fledged resident of Chicago. But the reason for that is a bit more complicated.

In high school, I was smart. Really smart. I knocked out A’s like I was baking cupcakes. Teachers loved that they could count on me. But I was small-town, public-school smart, the kind of girl genius who plows through her secondary education without too much resistance. Deep down, despite my excellent grades and my involvement in a bunch of extracurricular activities, I knew that I hadn’t been challenged enough to be as cocky as I was. When it came to college, I had two options: I could play it safe, stay close to home and go to school in Pittsburgh where I would benefit from the “big fish in a small pond” effect. Or I could take a leap and accept my offer of admission from the University of Chicago.

The prospect thrilled and terrified me. Everything the school promised sounded utopian: the academic rigor, the immersive intellectual energy, the dense core curriculum filled with great books that sparked constant meaningful discussion. But the school also prominently promised on all of their prospecting materials to challenge me. They said they would force me to defend myself and the positions I took, that they would force me to think deeply, to see all the angles. I knew I’d been handled with kid gloves so far, and that Chicago would be an insane leap outside of my comfort zone. Not to mention the shock of being so far away from home (what was this alleged “Midwest?”) in a place where I knew virtually no one.

But in the end, I decided: nothing ventured, nothing gained. I flopped like an enthusiastic mudfish out of the small pond and into the lake.

Now, like anything, school had its ups and downs. Not every class is inspiring, not every teacher is interesting, and, of course, not every assignment will take precedence over a new and interesting social life. But ultimately, it would be nearly impossible to count the ways in which I benefited from my education (much, in the end, thanks to that social life). I was, as I suspected I would be, somewhat behind from the start, and the learning curve was steep. Most of the time those first two years it felt like just about everyone I met was a genius. My friends were brilliant. My classmates were all well-read and eloquent. I was so green and, I thought, underprepared. I had an embarrassing moment during a movie night with my new dorm-mates when I revealed I didn’t know what NATO was. Despite what a guidance counselor might have thought from my high school transcript, I didn’t have the natural ability or aptitude for the University’s rigorous academic and intellectual life; I had to learn it. But surrounded by and in the constant presence of people as smart or smarter than me, exerting their influence in class, at dinner, hanging out in someone’s dorm room, everywhere I was in contact with other people, I learned quickly. It was like taking up a foreign language through immersion.

Eventually, I got more comfortable with the rhythms of things. I learned to ask questions, to read carefully, to be inquisitive, to poke around in all of the dark corners of a text or a thought and to follow the strands of thought wherever they may lead. I felt like I was aging in dog years, absorbing more, learning and maturing more quickly than I literally could have imagined possible for myself. But that kernel of insufficiency planted there in the beginning still never goes away. It changes shape, maybe, becomes something slightly different, but it instilled in me a driving force, my raison d’etre: to be better, and to learn more. Constantly and forever. My life’s quest became and has remained the struggle for self-improvement through knowledge. Because learning, truly learning, is like cracking open the door to a universe: once you’ve experienced it, everything else spreads on and on right before your eyes. The more you learn, the more you find to learn. You can never know enough. I had found what people go to college to find: direction.

Unfortunately for me and my fellow classmates, the culture of learning is not necessarily compatible with the culture of the market. I was an English major, and not one who was diligent seeking internships while in school. My expertise was literary analysis. What I considered to be probably my highest achievement was my exploration of Milorad Pavić’s postmodern hypertextual novel Dictionary of the Khazars, for which I found myself researching and downloading examples of the obscure genre of hypertext fiction (way bigger in the 90’s) and writing about the subjectivity of names and definitions, the existential crisis of reading a book without its own narrative velocity, and the futility of the self-guided attempt to achieve simultaneity of all the information in the text. Who wouldn’t want an employee who could do that?

Of course, the thing I hadn’t yet faced was that my literary skill would not directly translate to a job. The ideals I had internalized and learned to dedicate myself to made me the kind of University of Chicago student they let rave in the brochure, but they weren’t the same skills I would need to survive in the real world.

“The real world” as an expression is apt. For all of my feverish intellectualism, I was in a charmed environment. Perhaps it was a necessary part of my education, but college functioned as a  protection, a safe haven, a free pass of sorts, and it did not reflect the reality of life outside of it. For me and my classmates, the transition was destined to be particularly difficult. We had less warning than most other people; we had so much less time and energy to spend focusing on the future. The kind of education I got, priceless though it was, is tricky to spin into a proper post-college career even in the best of economic times if you don’t have a sense for where you’re going once you step outside. I did not have that sense. Most of my friends, largely students of the humanities and/or theater, didn’t either.

Inevitably, the clock ran out on us all. Graduation rolled around and dumped us on the other side, where we were within grace periods for our student loans but not for long. A life philosophy of inquiry and a fairly elite diploma didn’t protect us from the immediate exigencies of rent, jobs, and stress.

I knew I was at a disadvantage, not having the same career-boosting professional degrees some of my more technically minded peers had. Like my friends, I had a world-class education and ambitions to be great, but only the vaguest of ideas about what I even wanted to do.

Some people, though no one I was close with, were fortunate enough to have parents who were able and willing to foot the bills for a grace-period of post-college finding oneself. The rest of us had to do it on the fly, scrambling for work in what we knew was a quickly deteriorating economy, while trying to work out what sort of path we wanted for ourselves. The word “job” was precious enough; the word “career” seemed outlandish, absurd, almost unseemly. My ambitions had shrunk alongside my options; we went from expecting greatness to expecting respectable work to hoping for something that paid.

I was naïve about the real world much in the same way that I was naïve about academic life. I searched for jobs primarily on Craigslist. I didn’t know what to do with my resume. I only had enough money from my graduation gifts to last a couple of months unemployed in Chicago; after that, it would be back to suburban Pennsylvania. Looking at job postings, I realized I had no idea what I was even looking for. Jobs were scarce, let alone appealing gigs. Furthermore, I was totally unqualified, based on the advertised requirements, for anything but clerical administrative work. All that I had learned, all that I had overcome and accomplished, and here I was scanning dozens upon dozens of ads looking for the rare few with the words “administrative assistant” in them.

Not knowing what else to do, not having any clue or any direction, feeling the hot breath of unemployment breathing down my neck, I applied to all of them.

I managed to get lucky – and despite my degree, it does feel like luck. I had a job by July, one of the applications for which I had, by this point tired and getting lazy, attached my resume to an email and just dashed off a paragraph in the body about how great and bright I was. This is the same job I still have now, almost three years later—a gig at a small travel company typing and printing travel documents for unbelievably wealthy, entitled globetrotters who won’t read any of them. This was about as far from the highbrow literature of my undergraduate years as construction work. I was terrified to start an actual 9 to 5 job; it seemed like a myth, something surreal, something that couldn’t touch my life.

After starting, the disbelief soon gave way to misery. The day-to-day experience left me feeling utterly crushed. I wasn’t creating anything, I wasn’t even really doing anything of any consequence at all. I got on the bus every morning, exhausted, with all the other people who worked in offices downtown. I walked into the office every day, sat at the same desk, in the same chair, did the same things. I adopted the same bubbly, pleasant attitude as my coworkers, with whom I felt no connection at all. It made no sense to see them as real people I might connect with, since after all, I felt like this was not where I belonged: an office in an industry that had nothing to do with my life, in a job in which I had no real interest. I had nothing invested in my job or my employer, I did what I had to do: hammer out the work, play nice. But I felt all day long that I was inhabiting a strange bubble, separate from where I really lived my life, removed from anything that affected me or that I cared about.

But the bubble expanded to fill such a large part of my days that I started to despair. During office lunches, when I sat at the conference table eating pizza while my coworkers talked about the best time during the week to pick up ornamental plants at Home Depot, I sometimes felt so detached that I saw myself hovering above the table, watching the me sitting below. I was an alien who had just woken up in a strange place with a broken compass. Several nights in the first few months I came home, took off my coat, sat on the couch, and starting sobbing inexplicably and inconsolably. I had crying jags in the bathroom at work. I was falling into a dark hopelessness. I hadn’t read a book or written anything new since before graduation. I finally started to appreciate why TV is so popular: when you’re working a day job who has the energy or will to do anything more at the end of the day than collapse on the couch with a bag of chips and an NCIS rerun? I gained fifteen pounds in six months.

And still, I did not leave my job.

It sounds like stupid or self-destructive behavior. I was suffering. I was miserable. For my own good, I should have left long before now.

But I stayed because I was too terrified to leave. The economical situation was bleak and not improving. All I had to do was look around at my friends, the best and the brightest, to see it. One woke every day at four in the morning for the morning shift at Starbucks, trying to get enough hours every week to make the minimum for health insurance. One interned in local government, but afterward was forced to take up his old job at the zoo. One had to move back with his parents in Iowa. Several waited tables. Two toiled miserably in low-level jobs at law firms. Out of everyone I knew, there was only one real success story—only one person who secured a job in the appropriate field that set her on the career path she wanted. More school was an option for the shell-shocked or potentially so; my boyfriend took refuge in another year. One friend defected to grad school in Austin, Texas. Everyone seemed to be in the midst of the application phase at any given time, working on getting into grad school for something or other, anywhere but here, anywhere but the real world, where there was no work, and even less fulfilling work.

My job was almost insultingly low-paying, and I was living paycheck to paycheck, as we all were, cutting it too close to quit with no other offers. When I got home, I trolled the web for hope of better opportunities, but jobs were so few that I found just about nothing, and certainly nothing that I would want to do more than what I was already doing. I was interested in the arts, but with the economy tanking and arts funding even more constricted than in normal lean times, a paying job was a far-off dream, and I couldn’t afford to do an unpaid, or even low-paid, internship.

It was jarring. Not just for me, for all of us. It seemed to make so little sense. The banal necessities of the actual struggle for survival in the world were at odds with our sense of the world as some kind of meritocracy brimming with possibilities for genuine intellectual growth, a place whose purpose is to provide those opportunities. Having been bestowed with the unquenchable need for knowledge that we all had worked hard to develop, we had also acquired a unique capability for dissatisfaction—something most of our parents had never had the luxury to experience, especially so acutely and so early in life. This dissatisfaction is a luxury, but also a curse. My peers and I, perhaps sometimes even despite ourselves, believe in the higher purposes we learned in class, the value—sacredness, even—of knowledge, inquiry, curiosity, justice, the pursuit of truth. If we can be said to have a collective moral compass, that’s what’s in it. My friends and I trust in the values our liberal arts education set out and succeeded to instill in us. But sitting in an office typing away meaninglessly? How were we supposed to understand that as part of the world we had imagined, or had been taught to imagine?

This disconnect made me think I might be going insane. Like my head had been metaphorically severed from my body. The realization that I had little beyond my job to fill my days and justify my existence terrified me. Was this who I was now? A stranger to myself, typing away inconsequentially in an office somewhere in the West Loop, with no bright shining future?

I felt stranded, lost, paralyzed. And I resisted dropping anchor in a place so toxic. My attitude toward my work was distanced; it was impossible to develop any feelings of loyalty or any desire to chase upward mobility or permanence when I couldn’t stand the thought of actually caring about such a dull job. I remained unsettled, like a nomad pitching a tent on fallow ground, refusing to get too comfortable. It was bad enough that I was totally rudderless, that I had no clear professional aims or goals to speak of, but add to that what had become our culture’s collective recession-fueled terror—I couldn’t even say how many times I heard the warning, “At least you have a job”—and you have a bona fide total inability to climb out of my rut. Unable to keep the nine-to-five levees in tact, my work situation had metastasized into a very miserable work/life situation. The expansive, freeing sense that I had once felt, seemingly lifetimes ago, that my life’s possibilities were endless had shrunk down to the size of a pinhead. The area of possible movement seemed to be so very small, not just for me, but for all of us. We still wanted great things, but they seemed so impossibly distant, so indulgent, when the basic fact of work wasn’t even a given.

Everything we wanted, everything we really valued, was offset by the reality of “normal,” traditional work. We had no idea how to navigate this world, but our education didn’t fail us—it instilled in us a dissatisfaction for this kind of life.

I didn’t have the confidence to go searching for personal success. I had the momentum, the take-the-bull-by-the-horns wind, sucked right out of my sails. For almost three years the kernel of dissatisfaction has grown inside me while I allowed the things I truly valued to be subsumed by the empty immediacy of survival. I doubt we will see the full effects on this generation for decades to come, when we’ll start to understand just how far-reaching the tentativeness that has developed within us these last few years really is.

But now I’m preparing to take another leap, just like I did when I went away to college. I’m going to try to marry the ideals I am so loyal to with the very same life necessities that generated my stagnancy and depression. I want to integrate the spirit of inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge into the way I make my living and create my own version of the real world—a lesson I never learned in school, and for which I have absolutely no blueprint. Again, I enter a new situation underprepared, but optimistic that my capacity for dissatisfaction will actually me well this time as a trustworthy guide.

I’m planning to leave Chicago this summer to start over. I’ll move somewhere where I can finally put my feet on the ground: grow roots, get a new driver’s license, get a new permanent address. I want to make friends and build a community with interests deeper than the potted plants at Home Depot. The goal is to stop feeling like such a listless wanderer in the story of my own life. Maybe I’ll even find a new dentist.

This essay appears in the new Shareable ebook collection Share or Die, which is now available in downloadable and free online forms. For the next article (cartoon!) in Share or Die, Emi Gennis’s “Quitter”, click here.

Integrating Story into Online Learning

Cross-posted in my KatharineHansenPdD.com blog about online teaching..

A major reason that I’ve been delinquent in getting A Storied Career back on track is that I have been trying to build a new career in online teaching. Here’s a post that combines my passion for applied storytelling with my emerging career.

As I embark on a career in online teaching, I know I will integrate my passion of the last eight years, applied storytelling, into my courses. In fact, I already have. In the enhancements I added to my Principles of Management course for StraighterLine, I integrated storied videos, both those I created myself and others I found from other sources.

I’m not just using storytelling because I love it, of course, but because stories promote learning. As Roger Courville points out, “the primary research all agrees that story help us more readily comprehend and retain information.”

In this post, I’m listing some concepts and resources I’ve come across in my early efforts to incorporate story with eLearning. The list is by no means all-ecompassing but represents a microcosm of a vast sea of available material.

Vignettes Learning: A generous and remarkable resource. I’ve blogged before about Vignettes and its founder Dr. Ray Jimenez (this post has funky formatting because most of my older posts have not yet been carried over to my blog’s newer WordPress theme). As the graphic at right shows, Vignettes offers a huge variety of resources for those interested in story- and scenario-based learning. Dr. Jimenez and his colleagues offers many free webinars (including one tomorrow – April 26, “Truths and Lies: Keeping Authenticity in eLearning Stories“) with free handouts whether you attend the webinar or not, as well as publications, such as Story Impacts, which offers eLearning interactive mini-stories and source files. Still another amazing offering is 10 Models of Interactive Stories.

Interactivity: Dr. Jimenez also offers a blog, in which one of his recent posts stresses the importance for learning of stories that are interactive. “My interest in Story-Based eLearning Design,” he writes, “led me to conclude that interactive stories are valuable agents in transferring knowledge into applications.” He cites the article, Storytelling as a Link between Formal Knowledge and Actual Performance in a Critical Transformative Design Environment, by Paul Oord and Cecile Crutzen, in which the authors note: “Telling about their own experiences, reading and reflecting on experiences of other students in a learning environment could broaden their view on the use of technology in future design processes and in other interaction communities.”

In ‘Story Editing’ as a Technique for Improving eLearning notes that his decades of experience as an eLearning developer have enabled him “to observe how people react to interactive teaching methods. By simulating real-life scenarios in our learning modules, learners experience the learning process with impact. The learning strategy of Story-Based eLearning Design places our participants in a simulated environment that mirrors real-life situations.” He point to Vignettes’ interactive eLearning videos (which I’ve used in my course designs) that “simulate actual life scenarios, the participants experience the urgency of the situation and discover their responses.” (Dr. Jimenez cites “story-editing” as a term set forth by author Timothy D. Wilson that refers to giving people “information that suggests a new way of interpreting their situation.”)

Self-disclosure stories. Taking the idea of sharing student experiences a step further, David Lee cites Peter Bregman, who “by sharing his inner world, including his fears, insecurities, and human imperfections, … makes it safe for people to do the same.” To paraphrase Lee in the context of teaching and learning, Bregman, by sharing his internal world along with his missteps, he invites the learner to vicariously do the same. So, here we’re seeing the idea of the instructor modeling the sharing of experience stories to encourage students to do the same. Lee’s post lists six examples of self-discolosure stories that, in this case an instructor, can use. An especially effective kind for teachers is the “I blew it” story, which “enables [him or her] to be a powerful teacher while at the same time, not coming across as a Know-It-All ‘I’m the guru and you’re not’ way that some authorities adopt.”

Collecting, Curating, and Telling Stories. In a webinar I attended not long ago, Roger Courville discussed the power of story in the virtual classroom, and included guidance on finding stories and integrating them into an online-learning experience. In 10 tips for storytelling in the virtual classroom – part one and part two, Courville talks about using stories to illustrate points, how to curate stories in light of aspects unique to the virtual classroom, and how to practice stories for effective delivery. Part two also contains a nice list of resources about storytelling.

Tools for storytelling. As I mentioned, I found myself delving into creating video stories – both talking-head versions and stories evolving from slideshows – for my new Principles of Management course for StraighterLine. An absolute flood of tools for creating multimedia stories grows every day, and my work barely even scratched the surface. An article that also just scratches the surface (focusing on iPad apps) is Digital Storytelling and Stories with the iPad, which not only suggests apps, but also takes the instructor through the steps for creating stories this way.

Storyboarding is another aspect of creating storied multimedia learning experiences, and educator Chiara Ojeda of Tweak My Slides offers a wonderfully illustrative tutorial on four ways of organizing slides for storied presentations.

I’m excited to know that as I seek to add storied approaches to my online teaching, I can rely on a ton of excellent resources. Check them out!     


How Would You Fix This Story?

Lead with Story author Paul Smith has a nifty recent post in which he presents a story a client submitted to him for improvement suggestions.

Paul offers his suggestions, but he also invited some of the luminaries of the applied-story world to give theirs.

David HutchensAndrew Nemiccolo, and Annette Simmons have responded.

How would you fix the story?

Paul is considering making this type of exercise a regular feature. I hope he does; it’s a brilliant idea.

Healing-Story e-Journal Seeks Submissions

The Healing Story Alliance journal, Diving in the Moon: Honoring Story, Facilitating Healing, will now be designed as an e-journal that will be published online on the Healing Story Alliance journal Web site by or before fall 2013.
The theme for the first online issue is Healing Conversation and Stories (including Story and language/Multidisciplinary Initiatives/Story Listening)

The journal will include articles, written and recorded stories, art and poetry. All copyrights will be listed as remaining with the author/artist.

Please contact the editors by April 15 if you are interested in contributing to this issue or if you have questions:

Allison Cox
Mary Louise Chown

Send copies of all submissions to both co-editors as an attachment in Word/Microsoft Word with the words e-journal submission in the subject line.

Arial 12 font
Single spaced
Title & author/s listed at top of first page with 100 word maximum bio at end includes contact info for permissions
Word  count included
In-depth articles up to 8000 words
Shorter articles –  500-2000 words

Mp3 brief stories will also be considered that are no longer than 10 minutes
Poetry can be submitted in pdf if format is important
Art needs to be in jpg format – no bigger than 600X800 or 250 kb

Please feel free to share this announcement with others who may be interested!

Calling All Story Practitioners: What’s Your Take on These Questions about Storytelling in Management, Leadership?

Pia Christina Bröckelmann is a student in Mexico conducting research for her thesis on “Storytelling in Management – an Effective Tool for Leadership.” Her deadline is very tight; she needs responses this week (March 25 at the latest).

She has been interviewing story practitioners, such as Paul Smith and Karen Dietz, and would like to interview more. Since I’m a curator/reporter rather than a practitioner, I’m not in a position to be as helpful as a practitioner would be.

“I have already reviewed a lot of literature (including academic papers and journal articles) on how storytelling works; its benefits; etc.,” Pia says. “Therefore, I am now more interested in corporate effects measurable impact of storytelling, since there is only a little information about this aspect. I am also interested in examples of problems that companies solved using storytelling.”

If you can help Pia, please email her. The first set of questions indicated in bold type are those she considers most important.

General Questions

  • What types of companies normally use storytelling as a leadership tool and demand your trainings? Multinationals, large enterprises, medium-sized companies, etc.? Which nationalities have already discovered the benefits of storytelling and which resist accepting them? Mostly American companies or also those from other countries?
  • From which industries are those companies that have already implemented storytelling into their management techniques? Is there a focus on a specific industry or is it cross industries?
  • Why do companies implement storytelling? (Is it a trend? Do they want to be up-to-date/modern or do they really see the benefit? Do companies tend to implement storytelling in difficult situations when problems occur (e.g., during merger and acquisitions, job cuts)? What triggers their decision to implement storytelling?)
  • In which field/area of management is storytelling most effective? Which management challenges cannot be solved with storytelling?
  • How does a company implement storytelling to their management techniques? How do they convince each manager to adopt the concept? How do they communicate the change?
  • Does a company need a certain structure to implement storytelling successfully?
  • Which attributes/characteristics does a CEO or a manager need to maximize the impact of storytelling?

Quantitative Questions

  • How many companies have already implemented storytelling into their management techniques? What percentage (approximately)?
  • Can you say something about the rate of success of storytelling? Maybe some examples where companies solved problems through storytelling and where the success was somehow measureable?
  • Which methods can be used to measure/quantify the success of storytelling?
  • Does the implementation of storytelling into a company’s management techniques also have a financial impact? Is it measurable? Maybe you could present an example?
  • Have you noticed any correlations between the implementation of storytelling and other factors; for example the rate of women, multicultural variety, global players, listed companies, companies where PR is really important, etc.?
  • Have you any experience with German companies which implemented storytelling?
  • Have you any advice on how to convince a traditional German company to implement storytelling
  • And finally … Do you think that psychological methods such as storytelling will be established as acknowledged management techniques in the near future? Will they replace traditional ones?

If Only We Had Listened: An Assessment and Broad Overview of the Status And Scope of Narrative Practice

Graham Williams and Dorian Haarhoff of The Halo and the Noose are offering an article, “If Only We Had Listened: An Assessment and Broad Overview of the Status And Scope of Narrative Practice,” and submit this note for readers:
“We share Theodore Levitt’s belief that “…a colourful and lightly documented affirmation works better than the tortuously reasoned explanation”. But this is a long article. The subject is complex, important, strategic – and deserves a fuller treatment. The article addresses those who use narrative in their organisations, and those who consult to and advise those organisations on their use of narrative.” To get a copy of the full article, email the authors.

Main-heads of the article are:
Story is the in thing in business. The business-case for the contribution of narrative is well established, and the use of narrative in organisations is growing fast.
Story Practitioners tend to address the top levels and relatively neglect the middle and lower levels – even though a new workplace paradigm has emerged where leaders and their followers at the levels below could both benefit from an equally-proportioned thinking, caring, doing approach. Practitioners also spend more time and effort on the construction and telling of stories, then the capturing of stories, then the art of story listening. It may be that an effective process is the reverse of these areas, and a shift in the proportion of effort devoted to these areas.
Organisations are not always clear about their narrative intentions and there are traps that need to be avoided. A number don’t use the contribution of narrative along their entire business chain, and confine themselves to applications in marketing, selling, training and scenario planning. A look at the story ice-berg reveals lots of untapped potential. Use is mainly about telling, then capturing, then listening. Too few embed narrative in their culture and measure the impact of narrative.
What questions should practitioners and organisations be asking to get the most out of what story has to offer?


“She listened for a long time and then she told me a story………..” Ben Shrank

Story is the in thing in business

In the business world there has been an explosive uptake of the use of narrative applications by organisations – corporate and non-profit. There has also been a proliferation of narrative practitioners (management consultants, service providers who offer programmes to up-skill sales people in forging emotional connections with customers, leadership coaches, specialists who conduct anecdote circles for research and sense-making purposes, those who assist organisations to tell their brand story, and others).

The case for using narrative has become well established and accepted. Key arguments are:

  • Neurological: Story and metaphor have immense psychological & physiological power. The human brain processes imagined experiences in the same way it processes real experiences
  • Historical/Social: A legacy and atmosphere of stories. Some (like Kendall Haven, Nigel Nicholson, A.C. Grayling) believe that we humans are ‘hardwired’ for story, possess a ‘fiction impulse’, empathise with and find meaning in story. Corporations can effectively plug into this predisposition
  • Cognitive: Our cognitive functioning, the way we learn, remember and grow, is via both abstract and narrative thinking. We employ anecdote, story, metaphor naturally
  • Successes: More and more success stories are emerging of organisations who have made use of story for a range of business challenges. And around the world tertiary institutions and MBA programmes are offering story modules
  • Future: How we remember, plan and dream holds clues for more telling vision and scenario construction, pending transitions

Cynthia Kurtz wisely points out that story is not a panacea for business success. It is not necessarily dominant but complementary. It is with that in mind that we look at the areas where story is being applied by organisations and by practitioners, and where opportunities are being missed.

Where is the emphasis in business?

How and in what areas narrative practitioners (internal and external) and organisations are (and could be) placing their emphasis, is the subject of this document.


New Book Distills Leadership Stories Down to 3 Types

Annette Simmons (The Story Factor, Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins) tells us of six kinds of stories that can be told in organizations; Steve Denning (The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling) lists seven; Paul Smith (Lead with a Story) describes stories for 21 business challenges.

But in The Three Stories Leaders Tell, coach and consultant Christine Cavanaugh-Simmons has distilled the stories organizational leaders can tell to just three types:

  • Who am I?
  • Who are we?
  • Where are we going?

I love the fact that book is set up as a workbook – Cavanaugh-Simmons – calls it a “guidebook” – in a workbook-style size and shape. A typical chapter contains an introduction, a reflection, worksheets for several exercises, questions for reflection, tips, examples, a place to record learning about the process, “go deeper” suggestions, and a checklist for tracking impact.

The book is designed in user-friendly fashion with plenty of space for writing, inspiring quotes, and illuminating graphics. The Appendix offers further resources and a dandy bibliography with the work many story luminaries.

Purchasers of the book can request a passkey to a Practitioner Community Wiki.

See the The Three Stories Leaders Tell on Amazon.

Description from the book’s Amazon page: “The Three Stories Leaders Tell is designed to give leaders practical methods for using stories to lead. This guide translates what fuels the power of stories into a wide range of step-by-step techniques for storytelling. Since storytelling is social, the guide also gives how to’s for team and organization wide engagement. … The reader will be able to understand what makes each narrative unique as well as how to craft each narrative with the desired level of involvement and impact. Whether you are a leader, a leadership and organizational development professional, or an executive coach, you will find this guide to be an easy-to-follow resource for one-on-one or group leadership development efforts.”

Cavanaugh-Simmons’s company is CCS Consulting, where she works with leaders and organizations that want to project a memorable identity, drive positive change, and rapidly cascade strategy through the stories they tell. Cavanaugh-Simmons uses stories, storytelling, and narrative process to coach executives and organizations of all sizes through post-merger integration, branding, leadership development, visioning, and strategic planning.

iBook of 150 Life Stories is Free This Week

I’ve cited Reader’s Digest several times in this blog as a major early source of my passion for stories and anecdotes.

Just happened to notice in my Web wanderings today that the magazine’s The Best Life Stories is free on iTunes or the iBook app this week. Here’s a description from iTunes:

Carefully selected from more than 6,500 essays, this wonderful collection of more than 80 stories reveals pure, common wisdom at its best, shared by ordinary people who look at life in an extraordinary way. From heartbreaking accounts to amusing snapshots, The Best Life Stories will leave you feeling hopeful, resilient, and optimistic that happiness can be found even in the darkest moments. Born out of a Reader’s Digest Facebook contest that challenged readers to write their life stories in 150 words or less, this book features the editors’ Top Picks, such as the inspirational tale of . . .

    • one father’s desolation and the renewal he found in his family’s faith and love.
    • one woman’s ability to let go of her abusive past after rescuing an abused dog.
    • a mother’s pride in a life-changing decision made by her autistic daughter.
    • a breast cancer patient’s realization that her identity goes way beyond her diagnosis.
    • a free-spirited woman’s choice to live on her own terms.
    • a young girl’s proud recognition of her grandfather’s simple but profound legacy.

Slideshow Conveys Fabled Design Message

Update: I’m a little rusty about posting to this blog after my 5-month hiatus and forget that when I embed things like slideshows and videos, email subscribers can’t see them. In addition, yesterday, I found something else inexplicably running in the space where the slideshow should be. Bottom line: It’s always a good idea to include the URL of a slideshow or video in my posts. Click here for the slideshow referenced in this post if you can’t see it below.

I’m always on the lookout for elegant slideshow presentations that are not text-heavy but can stand on their own without narration.


One that’s attained some recent buzz is the one below, which uses story to convey its message. “The Great Eye Learns to See” is described as a “fable about using design to help your audience see your message clearly. And what to avoid. For directors, designers, instructional designers, and presenters.”

Although the story appears as text, it is unobtrusively at the bottom of the screen, kind of like closed-captioning.

The images and graphics are lovely, and the slideshow gets its point access. Ultimately it’s a pitch for its designer’s book, but the journey to the pitch is engaging. The book also looks intriguing.