Exercise in Empathy

empath122Anna Deavere Smith is a wonderful actor who “performs” stories by taking on the personality of the original teller. She brings people from Studs Terkel’s collections back to life and takes her audiences on a tour .  Here she is pitching a workshop on Empathy but this little clip reminded me how to really pay attention and I thought it might be a good reminder for you as well.  She points out, “There is someone else going on when you are really paying attention.” [Read more…]

Sinking Ship

The guy on the right drew this map.  He is bailing out the boat that is sinking.  He is doing his job in spite of a bad situation.  I asked, “Who is the guy on the left?”  He said “That’s my boss.”  A few heads turned toward his boss sitting up front.  I asked “So what is he doing?” He answered, “He’s pissing in the boat and not doing much else.”  There were guffaws from his cronies and the rest of us couldn’t resist smiling.  [Read more…]

Metaphor Maps

Using Art to Create A Safe Place for Dangerous Truths

When you walk into a room and see people leaning back with crossed arms, responding to words like “teamwork” with rolling eyes and cynical smiles, or worse, staring into space with blank faces of apathy, it is hard to expect you will accomplish much.  Yet, you risk — if you ask about “the problem”— potentially hours devoted to a vitriolic bitch session that can demoralize the few previously happy people and intensify the cynicism of the unhappy ones. [Read more…]

The Big Secret

o_i-ve-got-a-secret-50-s-game-show-ca441 . Nothing works 100% of the time. A machine can have a motor replaced but a sales manager can’t have a personality transplant. Maybe a new story about who he is and why customers need him will mean he sells more, but maybe it won’t.  Successes of 70% or higher are good. Expect more and you kill good ideas as heartlessly as killing imperfect children.

2 . Tiny details can deliver great power and huge gestures can mean nothing. One plus one doesn’t equal two anymore.

3 . Since the situation, emotional state, and time context are unpredictable the outcome is always unpredictable. [Read more…]

Four Ways to Find Your Story

In t4storieshe beginning, finding good stories is difficult. If only because your brain keeps saying, “I can’t tell stories.” or “I’m not a storyteller.” Trust me; if you are breathing you tell stories. The problem is that on a bad day, our stories are about being stressed out (who I am) barely surviving stupid decisions (why I’m here) and counting the days until we can retire (vision). We blame politicians for self interest (values-in-action), repeat stories that prove there is nothing we can do to change things (teaching) because we’ve already tried and failed (I know what you are thinking). Okay…it’s not that bad (I hope) but you will have to work a little harder to find good stories. There are four reliable buckets that are full of good stories. [Read more…]

Exercise in Empathy

Anna Deavere Smith is a wonderful actor who “performs” stories by taking on the personality of the original teller. She brings people from Studs Terkel’s collections back to life and takes her audiences on a tour .  Here she is pitching a workshop on Empathy but this little clip reminded me how to really pay attention and I thought it might be a good reminder for you as well.  She points out, “There is someone else going on when you are really paying attention.” [Read more…]

Episode #17 – Capturing Wisdom with Storyteling

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Madelyn Blair’s company name Pelerei represents two root words that mean “lifting people up.”  She made up the name as a hidden reminder of who she is and why she is here.  Learn more about Madelyn’s books: Riding the Current and Essays in Two Voices.

In Essays in Two Voices Madelyn offers a simple process for two people to better understand an issue with by examining an issue together by sending short essay responses back and forth.  We have so little time for pure inquiry, this process occurs when you have time for it, minimizes hidden agendas and gives permission to think a bit deeper and take some risks. [Read more…]

The art of seeing the story…

popup1Joe Dager of Business 901 and I begin by talking about the similarities between storytelling and art in this podcast.

I promise to send out a new Story Factor Podcast soon. I’ve been writing and editing the second edition of Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins and there is so much I want to add! [Read more…]

Episode #16 – Narrative Intelligence – thoughts from Madelyn Blair

madelyn-blair-essays-in-2-voices-3

The best part of this podcast may be when Madelyn’s husband shows up and gives her a bouquet of red roses for their 40th anniversary! But the rest of it is pretty good too.

This week’s conversation begins as Madelyn Blair (www.pelerei.com) describes the idea of Narrative Intelligence.  She describes a quick process she recently used at a Knowledge Management conference.  Small groups address a theme (in this case lifetime learning) tell their own stories, summarize these stories into “Chapter titles” – a great idea that saves some of the context from their stories but condenses the time frame needed to share with the larger group. [Read more…]

Episode #15 – More Moth Secrets from Lea Thau

Lea Thau

Lea Thau, creative director of TheMoth.org for a decade (2001-2010),

Lea teaches business people not so much how to tell personal stories, but  how to use the principles of storytelling to shape strategy, to roll out new initiatives, or frame business proposals.  However I learned most by asking more about her process at the Moth and with her radio show, Strangers.

Lea Thau is interested in stories with high stakes.   Experienced with the anti-hero stories that dominate the Moth, she looks for stories that contrast the darkest dark with light.  This is kind of extreme sports of storytelling.  It takes, “hours, and hours, and hours” to get it right.

Where she used to spend hours coaching storytellers to tell a story that reduced itself down to a well rehearsed twenty minute performance, she now gathers hours of interviews that must be edited down.  She never has less than 5 and has had up to 20 hours of audio recordings that she edited down to a short twenty minute show.

How in the world does she pick and choose from that much material?

“The first rule is that, what happened ≠ the story of what happened.”

Lea Thau, Former Moth Creative Director

This gives  some perspective on the kind of time it can take to research, develop and tell a powerful story.  When we are lucky, the right story pops into our mind just when we need it. Art can be spontaneous. On the other hand, finding the right story can also take a lot more time than  business people expect. If you love the power of stories, don’t  balk when the process gets complex and finding the core meaning feels like hard work.

 At the end of the day, storytelling is not a checklist, it is a process. 

As a master editor Lea shares one of the primary principles that help her choose – and will help you choose from all the possible detail of an event which details to include.

Editing is about making choices based not only on what actually happened but on which details will demonstrate the meaning of what happened.

Lea’s new show Strangers on KCRW (also a podcast) explores what she sees as a deep cultural shift in how we define “friend” and “stranger.” Is a person you have never met a stranger, even if you’ve been playing video games with them for years? Who is your friend? One episode dives into the world of online dating. One examines the difference between growing up rich and growing up poor. Another explores the happy marriage of two exceedingly normal people who had an arranged marriage along with hundreds of other couples at the 2005 “Moonie” wedding along in Korea.

Lea Thau had a nose for stories and an ear for storytelling perfection.

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