Career Passion Interviews Reveal Stories That Inspire Career Decisions

It’s always a treat to come across resources that truly reflect the career portion of A Storied Career. I love the idea behind Pursue the Passion:

The goal of Pursue the Passion is to get people to think differently about career paths. We want current and future workforces to not only realize that they can be passionate about a career, but we want to provide them with the tools to do so.

Pursue the Passion tends to use the word “interview” rather than “story” to convey the way folks talk about their careers on the site. But it is through story that they communicate their passion for their careers. The purpose is to open minds to career paths they might not have previously considered:

Career interviews expose people to career possibilities. These career interviews come out of our yearly tours and from people we have the pleasure of speaking with between tours.

Determined to Recruit Even More Folks to Storytelling Weekend

I am very psyched that I actually recruited someone — my new virtual friend Craig DeLarge — to attend all three days of International Storytelling Weekend in DC.

Maybe continued buzz from the organizers will help. From Steve Denning:

This year, the Storytelling Weekend at the Smithsonian and the 4H Center is
about a different way of communicating about work, a different way of looking at work, a different way of thinking about work, a different way of managing, a different way of leading. It’s not too much to say that we are talking about a profound mental revolution. This is a passionate effort to create a better workplace.

Like to find out more? Listen to Noa Baum, one of the speakers for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, discuss the upcoming weekend.

Denning also interviewed Gerry Lantz, who is speaking during Saturday (April 18) Golden Fleece portion of the weekend, and Hollywood mogul and storytelling guru Peter Guber, who is speaking at the Friday (April 17) event.

Q&A with a Story Guru: Mike Wittenstein, Part 5

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

Q&A with Mike Wittenstein (Question 5):

Q: Your company’s Web site states: “Storymining helps you hear the real voices of your customers.” You and your company seem to believe that the customer-experience story is the most important one an organization can tell. Without giving away all your secrets, can you talk a bit about the Storymining process? Have you encountered organizations whose customers have very few positive things to say about the company? How do you turn around a situation like that?

A: Storyminers is a business strategy studio with a focus on customer-experience design. Storymining™ is the trademarked name for the proprietary process we use. The “secret” is this: We teach our customers that brands make promises that their businesses must keep. We show them why the best service brands use customer experience as a differentiator and as a way to achieve sustainable competitive advantage (the holy grail of marketing). Then, we take them through a process of finding the soul of their business — their story. Clients are often surprised to find out that it’s not their story that becomes the focus of attention. Rather, it’s the story a contented customer tells their friends and colleagues about the experience they just had. The retelling of customer experiences as stories is the genesis of word-of-mouth. By focusing the entire business on the stories customers tell their friends, the entire business becomes focused on the customer and the experience they provide to them. In my opinion, that’s the beginning of a great brand!

The rest of the Storymining™ process involves change management, organizational alignment, process, training, people, and technology. Once we have the story, we can engineer the right kind of experience. With the detailed experience design in hand, we and the clients’ teams can determine the operational requirements for the business to deliver on its promises. Once we know what the business has to do, we work with clients to help them figure out the best ways to do it. This may involve drawing pictures of who owes what to whom and creating other governance tools such as Governing Principles and a Reason For Being.

It’s not uncommon to run across prospects, whose promises are unfocused and weak, or whose operations are sloppy — to the point that there is no good experience or good story to tell. If, through our due diligence, we find that the people in the organization aren’t honest, don’t care about their own employees, or don’t want to listen to the voices of their customers, we simply won’t engage. For those clients we do take on, if they decide not to do the hard work of changing the way they work to create better value and better outcomes for their customers, we also disengage. Working with those visionary, intrepid and people supporting leaders who are left is a great deal of fun and the work is quite easy. Generally, they are very excited about having the tools they have been looking for to make their brands better. It’s all about delivering a better customer experience, based on a great story that yields raving fans.

Interestingly, as Frederick Reichheld proved in the mid-90s, treating your employees well leads to happy customers. And happy customers lead to happy shareholders. In summary, a great story supported by a great experience, helps improve the bottom line. I think the world is ready for that message now and I’m excited to be a part of the community is helping to make it available to mainline businesses.

Personally, I’ve found it quite interesting to witness the transformation as hard-nosed, bottom-line-oriented leaders make the transition from believing that their businesses make money (only the US mint can really make money) to realizing that their operations must deliver highly engaging experiences to win the attention — and loyalty — of their customers.

It’s My Birthday, But I Already Got the Gifts!

As I thought about a blog entry for my birthday, I wondered: What’s the most self-indulgent entry I could possibly make? Last year, I posted a little video about myself on my birthday.

It’s kind of a milestone birthday. Not one that ends in a zero, but one that ends in a five.

I think for my self-indulgent birthday post, I will celebrate all the wonderful blog gifts I’ve had since my last birthday:

  • Readers: I now have more than 150 most days; one day in the past week reached 175. Those are pretty tiny numbers in Internet terms, but they represent steady growth, and I am grateful for every reader.
  • Commenters: Thank you for all thoughtful and supportive comments of the last year. Keep ’em coming.
  • Redesign: Well, this one wasn’t a gift; A Storied Career’s parent, Quintessential Careers, paid dearly for it. But I’m still grateful to have a nicer, more reader-friendly blog as of last May. Still frequently question my adamant decision to stick with Movable Type, which I do not consider to be intuitive to use. But if it’s good enough for Barack Obama …
  • Q&A interviewees: The fact that 32 brilliant story practitioners (including seven not yet published) have responded to my Q&A queries is possibly the greatest gift I’ve received in the last year. Many others have committed to the project (if you are one of them, your Q&A is always welcome; no pressure).
  • Resources: I am thankful for the gift of a never-ending flow of fascinating story resources and information that guarantees this blog will never want for material.
  • Learning opportunities: I’m grateful for events like International Storytelling Weekend in DC and Terrence Gargiulo’s wonderful webinars and fantastic books that have contributed to my storytelling learning.
  • My own book: To be honest, when I wrote a popular-press manuscript to accompany my PhD dissertation, I wasn’t that optimistic that it would be published. I’m so tickled that JIST Publishing found value in Tell Me About Yourself and that people seem to be interested in it. Having a storytelling book makes me feel like even more a part of the storytelling community.

And I think that’s my final point: I’m grateful for the wonderfully generous storytelling community — always willing to share.

Happy birthday to me and thank you for the gift of being you and for being here.

Semiotics, Symbols, and Storytelling

During my PhD program, one of my doctoral committee members suggested I look into semiotics and storytelling. I was interested, but I had plenty of other storytelling material to digest, so I never explored semiotics, which Wikipedia defines as “the study of sign processes (semiosis), or signification and communication, signs and symbols, both individually and grouped into sign systems. It includes the study of how meaning is constructed and understood.”

Recently, though, I came across two remarkable examples that I think nicely illustrate the ability of signs and symbols to tell stories — and hence, make meaning.

The first comes from Xu Bing, whose spare Web site depends on the visitor’s ability to navigate signs. More amazing is Xu Bing’s project — Book from the Ground, “a novel written in a ‘language of icons'” that Xu Bing has been “collecting and organizing over the last few years. Regardless of cultural background, one should be able understand the text as long as one is thoroughly entangled in modern life.”

Here’s a sampling:

You can “read” more here.

The other example is this short video from the terrific series of TED talks. It consists of storyteller and poet Rives using typography/emoticons to tell a tale. Would we say this example is less successful (yet highly entertaining) than Xu Bing’s because it requires narration and explanation of its symbols to tell the story?

Q&A with a Story Guru: Mike Wittenstein, Part 4

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

Q&A with Mike Wittenstein (Question 4):

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

A: Listen. No matter how good you are or think you are already, make the effort to continuously improve at this skill. Listening and storytelling skills go hand in hand.

Many people believe that storytelling is about talking, or relating one’s past experiences or making something up. Good storytellers are, first and foremost, great listeners. They have the ability to find important details and small nuances, and to put words to hard-to-describe feelings and emotions. These are the essential ingredients story consumers need to process what they hear and create their own meaning. Without those valuable little clues, stories are nothing more than poorly written, foreign-language instruction manuals, taking us step-by-step through difficult to understand processes with poorly illustrated pictures.

Using Story to “Ride the Current”

A couple of weeks ago, I “attended” another one of Terrence Gargiulo’s fantastic webinars. As I’ve written before, these webinars are always so well done. So professional. None of the technical glitches and fumbling around I so often see in other webinars — and trust me, I’ve attended a lot of webinars in the last year. Great slides. Bonus handouts. And Terrence is so respectful of attendees’ time with his concise, 40-minute sessions. Did I mention that Terrence’s webinars are free? You just can’t beat that, and if you are interested in storytelling and communication, you must try one of his webinars. (And wouldn’t it be silly of me to rave this much without directing you to his Web site?)

Anyway … his webinar two weeks ago had the added value of a special guest, Madelyn Blair, a superb presenter and a force of nature.

Madelyn talked about how to keep knowledge current, the subject of her upcoming book, Riding the Current, which she also touched on in her Q&A with A Storied Career:

I hope to use story to help people discover ways in which they can keep their knowledge current. We live in a world where information and knowledge comes at us at a pace that can’t be absorbed. Moreover, we are able to go after specific knowledge with an ease that has never before been offered. Yet, how to manage this barrage? Through the use of story, I hope to show that there are many, many ways in which individuals, teams, even organizations can keep themselves appropriately current. … it is a book filled with the stories of people who have figured out how to do this along with a process for the reader to create what works best for them.

It really is ironic, isn’t it — that we have more information than ever coming at us, but that deluge makes it harder to stay current. I’ve felt that especially since I’ve been engaging in hardcore Twittering. I find myself constantly having to make decisions about how much of the info that comes at me I actually need to learn to stay current. In addition, I have diverse interests and professional areas in which I need to keep current. Readers here see my attempts to keep up with the storytelling side. But then there’s the huge part of my professional life dedicated to helping folks manage their careers. And lots of other stuff …

In a wonderful chapter from Riding the Current that Terrence shared with webinar participants before the webinar, Madelyn suggests some excellent ways. One is the concept of the Practice Partner, someone whose role is to “help create and hold for you a climate in which you can think and learn. In this climate, the Practice Partner is willing to listen carefully to your thoughts, ask questions to help you explore them more deeply, encourage outlandish ideas, praise your successes, and give you time to finish your sentences.”

The other suggestion that especially resonated with me came in an after-webinar handout (yes, Terrence and Madelyn provided an embarrassment of riches) in which Madelyn tells her personal story of setting boundaries for the areas she felt she needed to keep current on. She started with a list of forces that affected her business. Next was a list of the areas she truly enjoyed. She then took these two lists and stripped them down the topics that built on each other or supported a trend relevant to her. What a great technique. Can’t wait to put that one into practice.

Heck, I can’t wait to read the whole book.

[Image credit: Seaside (CA) Art Gallery, Boat on Ocean, Dan Beck:]

Q&A with a Story Guru: Mike Wittenstein, Part 3

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

Q&A with Mike Wittenstein (Question 3):

Q: What future trends or directions to do foresee for story/storytelling/narrative? What’s next for the discipline? What future aspirations do you personally have for your own story work? What would you like to do in the story world that you haven’t yet done?

A: I honestly believe that story will become a synonym for strategy. Alan Kay said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Story is one way to do that. Simply writing a story about a business’s ideal future state helps socialize the idea internally and align various departments toward it. And, story is much easier to understand than a PowerPoint presentation. At Storyminers, we use storyboards to portray a visual representation of a client’s strategy and to capture all of the clues that make their signature experience compelling. After that, we write the actual story, using words.

On the personal front, I’m co-authoring my first book, titled Go Away! with Randy Sekeres. The book is about the unwritten customer experience rules that many companies break — and how not to do the same thing in your own business. Randy is a truly gifted writer, and I’m learning so much from the process of working with him. Oh, I suppose I should take the opportunity to use this interview to plug the book. You can sign up for a prerelease notice by going to

Toward Friendlier Workplace Communities through Storytelling

As I told my new “discovery,” Andree Iffrig, I’m amazed that after nearly four years of combing the Internet for storytelling materials, I had never before come across Andree’s work. Andree has agreed to respond to a Q&A, so I’m hoping to learn more about what sounds like a fascinating journey from her beginnings as an architect to her current life as a writer who “uses her broad background in environmental design and community development to investigate trends in architecture and urban design.”

In addition to her intriguing career, Andree has developed an approach to organizational storytelling that is not quite like any I’ve seen. While leadership and management play a role in her approach, Andree champions what I would describe as “worker storytelling” aimed at creating friendlier workplace communities. She also writes about (and, I suspect, does more than write about) communities of inquiry — peer-learning groups that meet outside of workplaces, enabling workers to “cultivate deeper meaning” in their work lives through storytelling.

Best of all, she offers wonderful resources:

Read about her sustainability work here.

Q&A with a Story Guru: Mike Wittenstein, Part 2

See a photo of Mike, a link to his bio, and Part 1 of this Q&A.

Q&A with Mike Wittenstein (Question 2):

Q: The culture is abuzz about Web 2.0 and social media. To what extent do you participate in social media (such as through LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Second Life, blogs, etc.)? To what extent and in what ways do you feel these venues are storytelling media?

A: Like many others, I’m experimenting with various kinds of social media. The hardest part for me is determining the right formula for time spent and value received by others — and for my business. For people who market by their names, such as authors, doctors, speakers, trainers, accountants, and many other professionals, I have found a name-promotion service by QAlias to be extremely effective. They have a deal with the major search engines to put your name at the very top of the left hand side of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other search engines. Try it. Google “Mike Wittenstein” and see what happens. Sign up and you can get the same results.

Someone recently told me about the notion of “ambient awareness”. It’s an academic term that describes our interest in the small and continuous goings-on of others. Much like a soap opera, where we sit glued to the TV screen to find out what happens next to one of the doctors in “General Hospital,” Twitter, micro-blogging, LinkedIn, many of the social media sites give us the opportunity to read a diary-like synopsis of our friends’ lives. The disadvantage may be the clutter of intermittent interruptive communications. The advantage may be a sense of connectedness it seems to generate. I remember mentioning to someone I hadn’t seen for a while something about the details of their life I learned on-line. They smiled. So did I.

What will become of all this social media, innovation, and energy? It’s too early to say, but, if this “stuff” goes the same way as software, sites that are popular today may become features of larger programs tomorrow. It’s been that way with traditional software, with automobile brands, and in financial services for many years. I don’t see that pattern changing very much with regard to social media.

I also believe that the staccato nature of this kind of storytelling makes it more important for each of us to become better communicators. In order to be understood by others, especially over long spans of time, we have to learn how to say what we mean and mean what we say.