A Running List of Powerful Quotes about Story

See 29 Favorite Quotes About Stories/Storytelling to Use in Business, a PDF from Karen Dietz,

See this blog post for some storytelling quotes.

This set compiled by Michael Margolis and published in his book, Believe Me: Why Your Vision, Brand, and Leadership Need a Bigger Story. To see more of Michael’s collected quotes, one each day, see Michael’s site, Storytelling Quotes:

  • When you’re conversing with coworkers, customers, or investors, the richness and meaning of your story is what people really buy. Everybody thinks it’s the return on investment that you’re selling … but it’s really the story about ROI that an investor takes away.
    — Tom Durel
  • A great brand story is a story that’s never completely told. Stories create the emotional context people need to locate themselves in a larger experience.
    — Scot Bedbury
  • I had to know and understand my own story before I could listen to and help other people with theirs.
    — Barack Obama
  • believeme_book.gif
  • The ability to see our lives as stories rather than unrelated, random events increases the possibility for significant and purposeful action.
    — Daniel Taylor
  • Those who tell stories rule the world.
    — Hopi Indian proverb; also attributed to Plato
  • People don’t want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith — faith in your, your goals, your success, in the story you tell … Once people make your story their story, you have tapped into the powerful force of faith.
    — Annette Simmons
  • Culture is not about what is absolute, real, or true. It’s about what a group of people get together and agree to believe. Culture can be healthy or toxic, nurturing or murderous. Culture is made of stories…
    — Thom Hartmann
  • The marketplace is demanding that we burn the policy manuals and knock off the incessant memo writing; there’s just no time. It also demands we empower everyone to constantly take initiatives. It turns out stories are a — if not the — leadership answer to both issues.
    — Tom Peters
  • Humans have been storytelling for 100,000 years around the campfire; the media is now our campfire.
    — Gloria Steinem
  • If you’re going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all.
    — Joseph Campbell
  • Great stories agree with our world view. The best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead, the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes the members of the audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.
    — Seth Godin
  • There is no greater burden than carrying an untold story.
    — Maya Angelou
  • Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.
    — Hannah Arendt
  • It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story.
    — Thomas Berry
  • Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives — the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change — truly are powerless because they cannot think new thoughts.
    — Salman Rushdie
  • One of the most important things to keep in mind in using stories in organizations is to get clear, and stay clear, on the purpose for which the story is being used. Because we human beings find stories such fascinating things, it is all too easy to get interested in the story for its own sake and lose sight of the purpose for which we set out to use the story.
    — Steve Denning
  • The highest-paid person in the first half of this century will be the storyteller. All professionals, including advertisers, teachers, entrepreneurs, politicians, athletes, and religious leaders, will be valued for their ability to create stories that will captivate audiences.
    — Rolf Jensen
  • The “true” story is not on that exist in my mind … The story in my mind is nothing but a hope; the text of the story is the tool I created in order to try to make that hope a reality. The story itself, the true story, is the one that the audience members create in their minds, guided and shaped by my text, but then transformed, elucidated, expanded, edited, and clarified by their own experience, their own desires, their own fears.
    — Orson Scott Card
  • We have to have a version of our own story that we keep telling ourselves that allows us to get up in the morning. This version of yourself is what you sell to yourself. I htink it necessarily includes … not looking at certain things. Everybody’s got some blind spot.
    — Steven Soderbergh
  • By refusing to have our storied bounded by race, belief, ideology, nationality, and even by time, and by grounding them in our awe of the universe, we choose to enact a larger, more hopeful and more positive story of humanity.
    — Michael Bogdanffy-Kriegh
  • We live in story like a fish lives in water. We swim through words and images siphoning story through our minds the way a fish siphons water through its gills. We cannot think without language, we cannot precess experience without story.
    — Christina Baldwin
  • What happens is fact, not truth. Truth is what we think about what happens.
    — Robert McKee

From Nigel Baldwin in Using Storytelling As a Tool to Change Your Life:

  • A society without storytelling is a sterile and emotionally poverty-ridden society. People underestimate the power of stories.
  • Thus stories and storytellers have the potential to be at the vanguard of shifting paradigms while those who hold power want stories which reflect the old paradigms which keep them in power. Therefore they will seek to censure and censor the stories and storytellers who stand for and advocate the very changes they fear. Change is inevitable though however gradual, and stories and storytellers can be the midwives helping to ease the pain of the birthing. Ergo storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we can use to change our lives.
  • We are all on a journey and a journey is a story. It has (finally) a beginning, a middle and an end (of sorts) even if we haven’t come to the end of ours just yet. Stories are a means of expressing that journey and speak to the human need to make sense of life and to address the big questions of life and death. They communicate knowledge, are entertaining and they stimulate the imagination. Storytelling is emotionally involving, nurtures community and helps us heal. Storytellers and stories help us move on into new paradigms.

  • Science is an inspired account of the struggle by human beings to understand the world. Changing it in the process. How could this be anything but a story?
    — Roald Hoffman, Storied Theory
  • Having a coherent, integrated story is indicative of integrated brain circuitry. If we can make sense of our life story, we become more equipped to alleviate suffering.
    — Daniel Siegel as quoted by Stephanie West Allen
  • No matter what you do in your life, what you create, what career you have, whether you have a family or kids, or make a lot of money… your greatest creation is always going to be your life’s story. Because it’s like this container that holds all of those other things. That was something I was really interested in with this project, thinking about life itself as a creation, as a story that you’re writing.” — Jonathan Harris
  • Story is the OS of our brains. The more sense a story makes, the easier it fits into our existing knowledge base, whether it augments or contradicts. Tell your story well, be honest about boundaries, and relax!
    — Sharon Lippincott
  • In a story, a challenge presents itself to the protagonist who then has a choice, and an outcome occurs. The outcome teaches a moral, but because the protagonist is a humanlike character, we are able to identify empathetically, and therefore we are able to feel, not just understand, what is going on.
    — Marshall Ganz in Why Stories Matter
  • A story communicates fear, hope, and anxiety, and because we can feel it, we get the moral not just as a concept, but as a teaching of our hearts. That’s the power of story. That’s why most of our faith traditions interpret themselves as stories, because they are teaching our hearts how to live as choiceful human beings capable of embracing hope over fear, self-worth and self-love over self-doubt, and love over isolation and alienation.
    — Marshall Ganz in Why Stories Matter
  • The task of the storyteller is to create gaps as wide as possible in every aspect of storytelling and allow the audience to become the other half of the narrator. The best narrative is always the one that is created in the spectator’s own mind.
    — Posted by MotionBugger on Twitter
  • The “story world” doesn’t boil down to “I think, therefore I am” but rather “I want, therefore I am.” Desire in all its facets is what makes the world go around. It is what propels all conscious, living things and gives them direction. A story tracks what a person wants, what he’ll do to get it, and what costs he’ll have to pay along the way.
    — John Truby, Anatomy of Story
  • Stories make our messages easier to remember and have been used throughout history to help explain concepts more effectively.
    — Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind
  • There is no better means of inspiring cultural change than through the simple craft of telling stories.
    — unnamed author of Embrace the Power of Storytelling
  • The discipline of storytelling can energize (or re-energize) any business or organization. It becomes woven into the fabric, stimulates excitement and understanding of vision … builds consensus of purpose … and triggers sharing, far and wide. In today’s online world, the influence and payoff of good corporate storytelling can be staggeringly powerful.
    —David Henderson in A Great Story Has Legs
  • A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens — second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence … the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day’s events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths.
    — Reynolds Price in A Palpable God
  • Story has form. You can¹t get around it. In memoir either you are going to write a long grocery-item-like list of events that happened in your life, or you are going to select some of those events and draft them into a narrative. And narratives need dramatic tension, some compelling aspect that pulls the reader forward. The very definition of story demands that we select certain events and leave out others, and when we do this we impose interpretation. We edit; we shape meaning. That is what story does.
    — Lisa Dale Norton in an interview with P. Nestor
  • Stories are all around us, in words and sounds, in what we see and in what we feel; everything is a story, everything tells a story. Stories are contextual; they make sense of who we are and how we fit into the larger picture. Storytelling puts our backstory and future potential into the context of the present. Through our stories we see the world, and our experience in it—episodic events, not an ordered logic of presuppositions. We process and discover our identity through the story.
    — Frank Mills in Quantum Storytelling: The New Way of Thinking The great American mythologist, Joseph Campbell, often said that storytelling is how we learn, grow and develop as individuals and as a society. This is true for organizations as well. It is called “narrative knowledge.” The stories we tell about ourselves or our organizations define us. Stories of victory and success, or loss and failure, have greater impact within working environments than we can measure. People are propelled into action and belief by stories of overcoming obstacles. Organizations are just as easily deflated by stories of unfairness or weakness. Stories drive the culture.
    — Ed Santana in Powerful Organizational Storytelling: What is Your Company’s Story?
  • Human knowledge is deeply contextual…
    — Dave Snowden
  • … stories talk to the gut, while information talks to the mind.
    — Anol Bhattacharya in Art of storytelling
  • … we cannot fully participate in the life of another person unless we know at least a small bit of their story. … All of us struggle with other people all the time, and we are frustrated constantly by the relationships that we have with the people around us. But how many of those frustrations are based in incidents and moments rather than stories? If we focus on learning the stories of others and engaging the people around us in our own story, no matter how ugly or unpolished that story might be, we can begin to untie the knots of our bound and gagged relationships and we can start the process of growing in relationship to others.
    — “Bryan” in Wicked, The Snape Effect, and Storytelling
  • I think we have stories because they help us understand who we are.
    — novelist Jodi Picoult
  • If you don’t have a story to tell, you’ve got nothing to sell. — “Seshu,” a commenter to Chris Brogan’s blog
  • There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.
    — novelist Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Leadership is about telling a story that other people want to be part of.
    — Dr. Daniel Becker, quoted in Storytelling Charlie Feigenoff
  • Why is [storytelling] so powerful? On one level, we all have to wake up in the morning and choose to go on — to resurrect ourselves in the face of fate and circumstance, the memory of loss and almost unbearable struggle, and our own sense of weakness and vulnerability. The stories we are drawn to, that resonate in our direct emotional need, in general, are those that give us a reason to make that decision to go forward. They inspire us. The very word inspire, in its archaic sense, means to breath again. Stories encourage us to take one more breath, to swim up to the surface, above our despair, and live.
    — Joe Lambert, Digital Storytelling Cookbook
  • Is this what a story can do? Emerge from the most painful event and transform it into something else, too? So sad. So funny. Both. And life is there, for a moment, almost adequately represented.
    — Marie Howe in O Magazine
  • Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience […] For storytelling is always the art of repeating stories, and this art is lost when the stories are no longer retained. It is lost because there is no more weaving and spinning to go on while they are being listened to. The more self-forgetful the listener is, the more deeply is what he listens to impressed upon his memory. When the rhythm of work has seized him, he listens to the tales in such a way that the gift of retelling them comes to him all by itself. This, then, is the nature of the web in which the gift of storytelling is cradled. This is how today it is becoming unravelled at all its ends after being woven thousands of years ago in the ambience of the oldest forms of craftmanship.
    — Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller” in: Benjamin, Walter (1999), Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, translated by Harry Zorn
  • Any story that affirms and redeems us is sacred. Sacred stories sweep away the stones, shove aside the boulders and clear a path through the dense sometimes confusing thicket of experience. They rekindle hope, bring us fully into the flow of life and remind us that God is on the journey with us.
    — Eileen Silva Kindig in Remember the Time…? The power & promise of family storytelling
  • I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain or loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape. I suppose if that definition is strictly held to, then a writer of stories is a liar — if he is financially fortunate.
    — John Steinbeck
  • What truly moves us as human beings, what prompts us into action, is emotion. Imagination is the conduit of emotion and well-crafted storytelling carries the imagination.
    — Eileen McDargh in Storytelling— The Great Motivator of People
  • To be a person is to have a story to tell.
    — Isak Dinesen
  • Their story, yours and mine — it’s what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them.
    — William Carlos Williams
  • Those who do not have the power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless because they cannot think new thoughts.
    — Salam Rushdie, quoted by Lor Silverman in the article Strategic storytelling: a timeless tool makes its way into association management
  • History will be kid to me, for I intend to write it.
    — Winston Churchill
  • Stories. Done well, they are not only unique, but powerful and vital representations of our experiences and knowledge. They are our vehicles of explanation and meaning. We carry within us stories of discovery, accomplishment, adventure, character, recovery, placement, memorial and ability. — author unknown in A Journey in Digital Storytelling
  • Storytelling is an act of love. Sharing stories connects us to each other. When I tell my story, it connects to your story.
    — Njoki McElroy, teacher and storyteller
  • When storytelling is reduced to content, ideas die.
    — Gary Goldhammer in The Last Newspaper
  • We may forget most of the stories that are told or read to us when we are children, but we remember who told it, what his or her voice sounded like, the smells and sounds in the house, classroom, or library. In the storytelling we bind ourselves to others. In so doing we overcome a measure of that loneliness inherent in the human condition. We need to share our stories because in so doing we hope to be understood and being understood we are no longer so alone. … Through story we seek to know ourselves and we seek to be known. Thus we become joined with others.” — Julius Lester, On Writing for Children and Other People
  • Stories are based on the repeating patterns of living that recur and create echoes and ripples as history repeats itself time and again. As we hear or see the stories, we feel the thrill of the familiar, a déja vu that resonates with our own experiences. This familiarity hooks us in and hence carries us into the depths and detail of the individual story.
    — author unknown in Seek patterns and connections
  • We live in a world where facts are everywhere. If we wanted to know the gross domestic product of Ecuador, my kids could find that online in 15 seconds. What matters more now is the ability to put facts into context and deliver them with emotional impact. And that’s what a story does. We have in our head something called story grammar. We see the world as a series of episodes rather than logical propositions; when your spouse asks, “How was your day?” you don’t whip out a PowerPoint presentation and a pie chart. Instead, you narrate: “First, this happened, and you’ll never believe what happened after that…,” and so on. In our serious society, storytelling is seen as being soft. But people process the world through story. Companies are now using a product’s backstory as a way to differentiate items in a crowded marketplace. … business schools are slowly starting to recognize the power of narrative—if you want to lead an organization, you have to be effective in creating a compelling vision with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
    — Daniel Pink in an interview with Oprah Winfrey

Wisdom from Bill Johnson in Perceiving The Foundation of Storytelling:

  • A story is a world where every character, every action, every story element has meaning and purpose. This makes a story fundamentally different from life, which offers facts and ideas that don’t necessarily have a clear meaning; events that generate emotional states that have no clear resolution; or, events engage the senses, but not in a meaningful, fulfilling way.
  • Most people … have a need for something that assigns a desirable, discernible meaning and purpose to life. This is what a story does. A story promises its audience a dramatic journey that offers resolution and fulfillment of life-like issues, events and human needs.
  • Because stories promise experiences of life having meaning, a story fills a basic human need that life have purpose.

Wisdom from The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning about storytelling and how important stories are for sharing our common humanity and imperfections:


Listen! Listen to stories. For what stories do, above all else, is hold up a mirror so that we can see ourselves. Stories are mirrors of human be-ing, reflecting back our very essence. In a story, we come to know precisely the both/and, mixed-up-ed-ness of our very being. In the mirror of another’s story, we can discover our tragedy and our comedy — and therefore our very human-ness.

The stories that sustain a spirituality of imperfection are wisdom stories. They follow a temporal format, describing “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.” Such stories, however, can do more: The sequential format makes it possible for other people’s stories to become part of “my” story. Sometimes, for example, hearing another person;’s story can occasion profound change. Telling the story of that change then follows the format of telling a story within my story: “Once upon a time, I did not understand this very well, but then I heard this story, and now I understand it very differently.”

When a [person] comes to you and tell you your own story, you know that your sins are forgiven. And when you are forgiven, you are healed.

Stories help us attend. And “attending” in a setting of storytelling and storylistening, helps us to remember… “Memory” is communal.” Thus, although a spirituality of imperfection insists, “Pay attention to yourself,” such attending is not self-centered self-seeking but an awareness of oneself as related to others, as a member of a community.

Spirituality’s long-standing connection to story and storytelling ensures that we will never be alone in the spiritual way of life. For whenever and wherever there is a storyteller, there will also be a storyhearer. In the communal act of telling and listening, listening and telling, the sense of belonging begins.

If we would listen, we must also tell; and if we would tell our stories, we need places where we can tell and listen.

It is … a human truth that we are able to listen only when we know that in time. we will be able to tell our own story. Perhaps the main benefit of thr storytelling format … is that it invites, enables, and teaches listening. When we are able to tell our storied, when we are urged to stand up and tell them, we learn respect for other people’s stories and for the need to tell them. The practice of telling stories gives birth to good listeners.

… Community is where we can learn and practice storytelling and its virtues.

That [sober alcoholic] way of life, [early AA members] discovered, could be learned and taught only through the process of telling stories — stories that disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.

Discovering a new “map” through storytelling:

When newcomers to Alcoholics Anonymous become immersed in storytelling and storylistening, they begin to see the form and outline of a new map, which details where they are, and how they got there, and — most importantly — the way to get where they want to go. … Through the practice of hearing and telling stories, we discover and slowly learn to use a new “map,” a map that is more “right” because it is more useful for our purpose. … what happens in the remapping of storylistening and storytelling is that in telling our own story, we come to own the story that we tell.

At times … adulthood seems to consist of fending off others who try to impose on us their ideas of what our roles should be, their versions of our stories. Our spiritual problems stem, at least in part, from the fact that we continue to allow someone else to tell us our story.

Recovering our own story, our own spirituality:

The spiritual leaders recognized as “great” … invited their followers to question the handed-down maps by making their own maps — their own stories. Rather than trying to tell their listeners’ stories, rather than imposing interpretation, the sages and saints told the kind of stories that invited identification. For they understood what the ancients had discovered: The best way to help me find my story is to tell me your story.

Why stories and storytelling are crucial in piercing denial:

The practice of telling stories of “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now” helps to make whole because it makes available one’s real identity. In bringing us face to face with our own imperfection, stories confront us with our self in a way that helps us to accept the ambiguity and mixed-up-ed-ness of our human be-ing. Storytelling helps us to create a “whole,” a whole that does not deny that it is made up of incongruous, fractured pieces, but whole nonetheless.

Storytelling in and of itself conveys that there are no quick fixes. The storytelling format of “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now,” emphasizes a process through time and so points to the healing of time. By telling of a past at work in the present, that story-format effects a kind of re-creation of self by the self. In presenting ourselves as we were, we exercise the right to recover possession of our present-dat existence. We do not recall the past for the past; story calls up the past in the present, for the present, making present that which gives meaning and value to today. “To create and in creating to be created” perfectly describes this kind of storytelling.

We cannot command precisely those realities that we most crave. But we can tell stories about them; and our paradox unlocks with the discovery that storytelling (and storylistening) opens us to the experiencing of those realities that we seek. The A.A. storytelling style of — the general format describing of “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now” shapes a language of recovery that acts as the key that opens the door to experiences that are spirituality. In telling our stories and in listening to the stories of others, we actually come to experience the powerful spiritual realities of Release, Gratitude, Humility, Tolerance, Forgiveness, and Being-at-home. … The “language of recovery” works not because those telling their stories describe experiences of Release, Gratitude, and so on, but because, in the very telling of their stories they actually experience those realities.

The vision of “giftedness” is transmitted through stories. Stories speak the language of the heart, giving us the means to express our gratitude.

When alcoholics stand up at A.A. Meetings and tell their stories, the experience of tolerance is almost palpable. Stories invite tolerance because they sensitize both hearers and tellers to the richness and complexity of our diverse possibilities. Each human being has his or her own story, and every story is unique. But the telling and hearing of those unique stories takes place in a setting where each participant is conscious of an identity rooted in limitation. … Stories founded in an identity defined by limitation and shared with others who acknowledge the same limitation involve less the “discussion of weakness” than than the acceptance that one has much to learn from others. Such storytelling testifies that one is teachable. For in the setting of A.A, storytelling and storylistening, two paradoxical things happen. First, participants discover their shared story; and second, they come to realize that each of their stories is unique. But the discovery of the shared story must precede the realization of uniqueness and difference: for only the foundation of shared weakness, shared limitation, and shared flawedness can sustain the openness to difference, the attitude of “teachableness,” and the vision that undergirds tolerance.

True community requires more than the sharing of stories — true community requires the discovery of a story that is shared.


[slide: David Gagnon]

  • Storytelling is central to the well-being, the confidence and sustainability of communities. It allows communities to generate and sustain a sense of belonging and cohesion and purpose even through periods of tumultuous change - especially through periods of tumultuous change. It allows them to constantly define who they are and who they want to be.
    — K. Longley, 2002, Stories for Sustainability, Sustainability Forum, Perth, via Barbara Ganley in (The New) BG Blogging.
  • Storytelling is the oldest form of education.
    — Terry Tempest Williams
  • If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realizing that you are the author and everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page.
    — Mark Houlahan
  • There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.
    — Maya Angelou
  • Stories serve the purpose of consolidating whatever gains people or their leaders have made or imagine they have made in their existing journey thorough the world.
    — Chinua Achebe
  • … stories are the interface to the human brain. … Our culture’s stories create the filing system that allow us to quickly access information. They provide the tools we use to distinguish good from evil, and fact from fiction. In fact, when we encounter cultures that don’t share our stories, we are often entirely unable to communicate.
    — Leylah Farah, Cause + Effect Public Relations
  • Stories define us. Since early cave dwellers left their graffiti in Lascaux, listening to and telling stories have moved people. Stories are powerful: They give meaning and context to what would otherwise be a collection of easily forgettable facts. Stories invoke the imagination so that listeners begin to own them almost as much as the teller. In fact, there’s a growing body of research that points to the power of narrative not just as a way to engage people, but as the only way to change deeply entrenched views.
    — Simon Kelly, ADWEEK
  • We ride stories like rafts, or lay them out on the table like maps. They always, eventually, fail and have to be reinvented. The world is too complex for our forms ever to encompass for long. Storytelling requires continuous reimagining.
    — William Kittredge
  • … everything in life is about story-telling. Whether it’s keeping family memories alive, processing our own feelings and thoughts by dramatising it to others over a coffee, a boss passing on stories of wisdom to teach his team, a marketer luring you into the world of his product, a photographer conjuring up a thousand neologisms with one image… life is about storytelling. That in itself could be an interesting topic for a book/script… but if I recall correctly, it’s been done before. And better. … Stories are the most effective vehicles for thoughts and ideas, if they succeed in engaging their audience. Maybe the world cannot be changed with Politics or money or guns. Maybe stories can.
    — “Dr. Pew,” blogging at Ubiquitous
  • The shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story.
    — Anthony de Mello, from One Minute Wisdom
  • We are our stories. We compress years of experience, thought, and emotion into a few compact narratives that we convey to others and tell to ourselves.
    — Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind
  • Stories are the root of God’s story. Stories remind us where we’ve been, who we are, and where we are going. Without stories of joy and lament we loose our identity.
    The Laughing Pastor
  • “Thank God for stories — for those who have them, for those who tell them, for those who devour them as the soul sustenance that they are. Stories give shape to experience and allow us to go through life unblind. Without them, everything that happens would float around, undifferentiated. None of it would mean anything. Once you have a version of what happened, all the other good stuff about being a human comes into play. You can laugh, feel awe, commit a passionate act, get pissed, want to change things.”
    — Tomas Alex Tizon, Los Angeles Times
  • Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.
    — Hannah Arendt, German political theorist
  • Without the story - in which everyone living, unborn and dead, participates — we are no more than bits of paper blown on the cold wind.
    — George Mackay Brown

  • Storytelling is an interaction between teller and listener. It ultimately becomes a mutual creation.
    — Dr. Rebecca Isbell

  • We tell ourselves into being, don’t we? … I think that is one of the great reasons for stories. I mean, we are the storytelling animal, there is no other creature on earth that tells itself stories in order to understand who it is. This is what we do, we’ve always done it, whether they are religious stories or personal stories, or tall stories, or lies, or useful stories, we live by telling each other and telling ourselves the stories of ourselves.
    — Salman Rushdie in an interview with him in The Spectator

  • Alongside the seemingly innate human drive to converse, probably one of the most powerful human linguistic compulsions is storytelling, the art of congealing the runny dialogue of real-time conversations into a cultural artefact. Stories then have the added benefit of being able to be packaged up, sent out, unwrapped and explored by whosoever sees fit in whatever way they deem appropriate.
    — Scott “Scotland” Drummond, editor of Marketing magazine
  • … Stories are what people are interested in. From novels to biographies to tabloids, and from comic books to television shows to movies, we understand stories. They are the stuff of real life - and the stuff of fantasy. They engage us. They connect with us, with our hearts, with our minds. They illustrate truth, tragedy, the way things should be, the way things really are, and on and on.
    — “Guest Author,” Impact, a blog for Southern Baptists

  • The spirit that motivates great storytellers is “I want you to feel what I feel,” and effective narrative is designed to make this happen. …the challenge for the business storyteller [is that] he [sic] must enter the hearts of his listeners, where the emotions live, even as the information he seeks to convey rents space in their brains. Our minds are relatively open, but we guard our hearts with zeal, knowing their power to move us. So although the mind may be part of your target, the heart is the bull’s eye. To reach it, the visionary manager must first display his own open heart.
    — Peter Guber, Harvard Business Review

  • Throughout human history, stories have been used to pass on the wisdom and values of society as well as to nourish and strengthen the minds and spirits of those listening.
    — John Porcino, “Stories, the Teaching Tool.” Spinning Tales Weaving Hope; Stories of Peace, Justice and the Environment. Brody New Society Publishers, Philadelphia PA. 1992. 11- 21

  • Stories have to be told, to be expressed, for they are part of the narrative quality of existence that can be shared and that therefore compensate for all that cannot be shared. … When we tell our tales, we give away our souls (p. 940). … We are our stories. We become our stories. (p. 115).
    — W. Doty, “Stories of our times,” J. W. Wiggins, editor Religion as Story. New York: Harper and Row. 1975.

  • In recent years, social scientists have come to appreciate what political, religious, and military figures have long known; that stories (narratives, myths, or fables) constitute a uniquely powerful currency in human relationships… . And I suggest, further, that it is stories … of identity — narratives that help individuals think about and feel who they are, where they come from, and where they are headed — that constitute the single most powerful weapon in the leader’s … arsenal.
    — Howard Gardner, Leading Minds, An Anatomy of Leadership, New York: Basic Books. 1995.
  • … stories are not reducible to mathematics, so they are unlikely to impress our peers… facts are mute. They generate neither the desire to understand, nor appeals for the patronage that science requires, nor the judgment to do A instead of B, nor the will to overcome a seemingly insuperable failure. Actions, small or large, are taken at a certain time by human beings—who are living out a story.
    — Roald Hoffman, “Storied Theory — Science and stories are not only compatible, they’re inseparable, as shown by Einstein’s classic 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect,” American Scientist, 93(4), p. 308
  • Stories (and even individual parts of stories) have a resonant, alchemical relationship with the way we experience life.
    — Tom Atlee
  • Narrative in any form helps to connect us with our own and others’ humanity. To tell a story is to be human, in some sense, for we are storytelling animals. Story is the way we define ourselves, make sense of the world, learn about ourselves, share our experiences, and form group identities.
    — Victor Sierpina, Mary Jo Kreitzer, Elizabeth MacKenzie, and Michelle Sierpina in “Regaining Our Humanity Through Story,” Explore, Nov/Dec 2007
  • Storytelling … is one of the most powerful tools for achieving astonishing results. For the leader, storyelling is action oriented — a force for turning dreams into goals and then into results.
    — Peter Guber in Harvard Business Review
  • Storytelling is an amazing tool because it is holistic, engaging the whole person. It makes it possible for people to bring all their resources, head and heart, to bear on creating new solutions.
    — Seth Kahan, in an article by Sue Dancy

  • Words are how we think; stories are how we link.
    — Christina Baldwin

  • Decision-makers look for the most compelling story from their persona library of possible solutions, comparing each to the current solution.
    — Gary Klein, Sources of Power
  • Leaders achieve effectiveness largely through the stories they relate … Stories must in some way help audience members to think through who they are … and frame future options.
    — Howard Gardner, Leading Minds

  • The biggest stories anyone has ever told are all held in people’s lives.
    — Prof Hamish Fyfe, University of Glamorgan
  • There are more truths in twenty-four hours of a person’s life than in all the philosophies.
    — Raoul Vaneigem in The Revolution of Everyday Life
  • It seems to me that every community has a memory of itself. Not a history, or an archive or an authoritative record…a living memory, an awareness of a collective identity which is woven from a thousand stories. The sum of these stories creates a meta-narrative that is far greater than the sum of its constituent parts.
    — Prof Hamish Fyfe, University of Glamorgan
  • A leader’s job is to create stories that are worth believing.”
  • — Austin Hill of Billions with Zero Knowledge

  • Storytelling is the art of expressing meaningful change in the life situation of a character in terms of values to which the listener reacts with emotion.
    Robert McKee, screenwriter and instructor of screenwriting seminars
  • We are all storytellers, homo narrans, by birthright. Stories are the most powerful tool we have for communicating because they engage our imagination. Homo narrans learn by telling and hearing stories, relating our experiences, and transferring messages created in our imagination. … Storytelling persuades when the listener can place himself inside the story with ease, listen deductively, absorb a story that explains the conflict early on, articulate the story in his own terms, and filter the evidence selectively to be consistent with his personal story, world experience and understanding of the world order. … Moreover, we believe what we understand. We understand what comes to us in a story that mimics our life experiences, our world views. Storytelling is such a natural, instinctual process that we sometimes are hard-pressed to fully comprehend its uses or more importantly, to explain its effects…. Listeners journey — virtually — with you into a different world, an imagined reality, another mental location where the story actually exists while never having left their physical state. The process of transition from physical world to virtual world is active with the listener energetically conniving and conspiring with the attorney all the time to actually will the virtual world into existence. Why? Because the factfinder wants to believe the story and that they can do something which matters. Facts do not engage. Facts cannot engage. … Storytelling thrives on imagination. Images touch the heart and become sensations, sensations trigger memories, memories create meaning, and meaning leads to listener action.
    — Diane F. Wyzga, RN, JD, in an interview conducted by Stephanie West Allen
  • We are made of stories. Stories contain power. People don’t just tell stories. Stories tell us who we are and how to live.
    — James Ball, formerly with Fox TV and ABC and now with smartMemes
  • Unsung, the noblest deed will die.
    — Pindar, 500 BC
  • Storytellers help us process our lives.
    — Abbott Joseph
  • Stories are a powerful medium for creating and making meaning. Because leadership means, in part, making sense of the variety of often complex and ambiguous experiences, stories can help us. Stories communicate deeply held individual and organizational values. Listening to the stories … is like reading the maps that guide our thoughts and behaviors. Stories reinforce culture. One important task is telling stories about our history. We learn from the mistakes of the past and better understand the present and where we want to go in the future. Stories promote the weaving together of leadership, spirit, and community, generating new energy and vitality.
    — Russ S. Moxley
  • Looking at humans from an evolutionary psychology viewpoint may explain why telling and recording stories is becoming an important part of formal knowledge management and learning strategies within many organizations. Telling and listening to stories has been at the very core of human communication since the dawn of time. As technology has advanced, our stories are now more likely to come from books, television, film, and the Internet, rather than from fellow tribe members seated around a campfire. But, stories still remain central to human life.
    — Richard Nantel
  • The lessons we take from the stories become part of us.
    — Sandra J. Sucher
  • Storytellers will be the most valued workers in the 21st century. All professionals, including advertisers, teachers, entrepreneurs, politicians, athletes, and religious leaders, will be valued for their ability to create stories that will captivate their audiences.
    — Futurist Rolf Jensen, director of the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies
  • Without air, our cells die. Without stories, ourselves die. … Because a story evokes both visual image and emotion, it is likely to be remembered.
    — Sandra Morgan and Robert Dennehy
  • We are always telling stories; our lives are surrounded by our own stories and those of other people. We see everything that happens to us in terms of these stories, as we sometimes try to lead our lives as if we were recounting them.
    — Jean Paul Sartre
  • For a huge collection of story quotes, see this article on
  • Stories are a natural stimulant. They are the antidote to boredom and indifference.
    Lori Silverman, author of Wake Me When the Data Is Over

  • Stories are best shared, don’t you think? — Dandelife Web site
  • We create meaning by telling ourselves stories. Storytelling is the DNA of all communication and meaning.
    — Annette Simmons quoted on One Thousand and One Web site
  • If your goal is to educate, persuade, or simply connect in a meaningful way with a particular audience, storytelling is the single most powerful communications tool available to you.
    a goodman Web site
  • Our Selves are nothing but cross-sections of stories. Our identities are created by a vast web of stories, as is out relationship with reality. We understand and identify things by placing them in stories we tell about them: just like selves, things do not really exist outside of stories.
    — Stefan Snaevarr in Philosophy Now magazine
  • What do people get from … stories? Some pick up bits of wisdom they can apply to their own work—do’s and don’t’s of planning and design, maybe a technical insight that helps solve a problem. Some are inspired by stories of success. Most gain a greater sense of connection with the organization, because they hear about what colleagues have been doing, because the stories express values and aims that tellers and listeners share, and because they are participating in a communal experience. I believe building trust and relationships is a more important effect of organizational storytelling than knowledge transfer.
    — Don Cohen on
  • Telling our story, and sharing the meaning we find in our life, also helps to connect more to the human community. By sharing our story, we find that we have a lot more in common with others than we might have thought. This sharing of stories creates a bond between people who may not even have known each other before. After sharing, or listening to, a life story, a connection is established that remains even if we don’t see the other person again. … We discover in the process of telling our life stories that we are more sacred beings than we are human beings. A life story is really a story of the soul of a person.
    — Robert Atkinson in The Gift of Stories: Practical and Spiritual Applications of Autobiography, Life Stories, and Personal Mythmaking

All quotes below this point were collected by Spoken Stories:


  "Man is eminently a storyteller. His search for a purpose, a cause, an ideal, a mission and the like is largely a search for a plot and a pattern in the development of his life story-a story that is basically without meaning or pattern." - Eric Hoffer, U.S. philosopher, "The Passionate State of Mind"

  "Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it's an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole." - Eudora Welty, "One Writer's Beginnings"

  "I have learned in my 30-odd years of serious writing only one sure lesson: Stories, like whiskey, must be allowed to mature in the cask." - Se O'Faol, Atlantic Dec 56

  "If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive." - Barry Lopez, "Crow and Weasel"

  "To hunt for symbols in a fairy tale is absolutely fatal." - W. H. Auden

  "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." - G. K. Chesterton

  "Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it." - Hannah Arendt

  "The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in." - Harold Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare

  "Family lore can be a bore, but only when you are hearing it, never when you are relating it to the ones who will be carrying it on for you. A family without a storyteller or two has no way to make sense out of their past and no way to get a sense of themselves." - Frank Pittman, U.S. psychiatrist and family therapist, "How to Manage Mom and Dad," Psychology Today (November/December 1994).

  "Of course it's true, but it may not have happened." - Patricia Polacco's grandmother

  "Story is the vehicle we use to make sense of our lives in a world that often defies logic." - Jim Trelease

  "There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories." - Ursula K. LeGuin

  "The folktale is the primer of the picture-language of the soul." - Joseph Campbell, The Flight of the Wild Gander
  "As we share stories, we exalt in the joy of completed journeys, solved problems and happy endings." - Joe Healy

  "If you want to tell the untold stories, if you want to give voice to the voiceless, you've got to find a language. Which goes for film as well as prose, for documentary as well as autobiography. Use the wrong language, and you're dumb and blind." - Salman Rushdie, "Songs Don't Know the Score," Guardian (London, January 12, 1987).

  "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years." - Willa Cather, "O Pioneers!"

  "The universe is made of stories, not of atoms." - Muriel Rukeyser, U.S. poet, "The Speed of Darkness"

  "Faith! he must make his stories shorter Or change his comrades once a quarter." - Jonathan Swift, "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift."

  "It's all storytelling, you know. That's what journalism is all about." - Tom Brokaw, Northwestern University Byline Spring '82

  "There is a certain embarrassment about being a storyteller in these times when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics; but in the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells." - Flannery O'Connor, "Mystery and Manners"

  "All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by.Religion, whatever else it has done, has provided one of the main ways of meeting this abiding need." - Harvey Cox, Professor of Divinity, Harvard, "The Seduction of the Spirit"

  "Earth and I gave you turquoise when you walked singing. We lived laughing in my house and told old stories." - N. Scott Momaday, Native American poet, "Earth and I Gave You Turquoise"

  "The tale is often wiser than the teller." - Susan Fletcher, "Shadow Spinner"

  "'Thou shalt not' is soon forgotten, but 'Once upon a time' lasts forever." - Philip Pullman, 1996 Carnegie Medal acceptance speech

  "People who don't have stories in their cultures go nuts." - Rafe Martin

  "Telling the proper stories is as if you were approaching the throne of Heaven in a fiery chariot." - Baal Shem Tov, quoted by Steve Sanfield

  "Australian Aborigines say that the big stories-the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life-are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush." - Robert Moss, "Dreamgates"

  "Stories tell us of what we already knew and forgot, and remind us of what we haven't yet imagined.? - Anne L. Watson

  "We can never know truth, but some stories are better than others." - Aaron Shepard

  "Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." - Henry David Thoreau

  "The tales are like rays of light, taking their colors from the medium through which they pass." - W. A. Bone, "Children's Stories and How to Tell Them"

  "The greatest tales, well told, awaken the fears and longings of the listeners. Each man hears a different story. Each is touched by it according to his inner self. The words go to the ear, but the true messages travel straight to the spirit." - Juliet Marillier, Sons of the Shadow


A Storied Career

A Storied Career explores intersections/synthesis among various forms of
Applied Storytelling:
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  • organizational storytelling
  • 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:


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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