The Story of April 12, 2003
Smithsonian Associates 2003

Transcript of the April 12, 2003 session at the Smithsonian Associates
Introduction to the workshop
The invocation
Jumpstart storytelling (Seth Kahan)
Storytelling and values (Alicia Korten)
Putting story to work (Rob Creekmore)
Future stories (Madelyn Blair)
Springboard stories (Steve Denning)
Paul Costello's commentaries
Seth Kahan
Alicia Korten
Rob Creekmore
Madelyn Blair
Steve Denning
Paul Costello
The Chronology
The Golden Fleece group

    The workshop, co-sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates and the Golden Fleece Group, took place on April 12, 2003 and was introduced by Steve Denning:

Steve: A warm welcome to all of you. It’s wonderful to see such a packed room. It may be the only sold-out conference in the world, in this particular month. 
   Many people have come a long way from countries around the world to be at this event. New Zealand, Netherlands, Denmark, Brazil, United Kingdom, Canada, San Diego, Boston and San Francisco. I’m probably missing some. But for all those who have made long journeys, a deep and warm welcome.
   We’re going to be talking about storytelling, one of the most ancient and powerful ways of communicating and being human. But we’re also talking about this as a bridge – a bridge to the world of organizations, in which most of us are deeply involved. 
   Today, we’ll be telling each other a lot of stories. We’ll be doing some talking, but actually, you will be doing most of the talking. So we’re very conscious of your stories. You come here with a lot of stories. We’ve been puzzling: how can we incorporate the stories that we all bring to this event? How can we incorporate them into the day? We’re also very conscious that this event will lead to new stories. We’ve given quite a bit of thinking on: how can we incorporate those new stories into what follows from the events of today?
   In getting to today, we have our stories - the stories of us, the six presenters. We wanted to share our stories with you but without taking up large amounts of time during the day. So we’ve prepared a booklet, and it tells our stories. We are six very different people. You’ll find in there the story of how each of us has come to this particular event today.
   We’ve also included the story of getting here. We described some of the fun of preparing this event. We’ve actually been working together for some months now. It’s rather like the Indonesian puppet theater where you can go behind the stage and see how the whole event is being put together. So we’ve included some of the preparation discussions, so you can take a peek behind the scenes and see how we came up with the plan of what we are going to be doing today. 
   We’re also aware that there are many stories of the global context. Stories about what’s going on in the world today are on most of our minds today. The country is at war, for instance. But we’re also aware that we can’t cover all these stories here. So we will have a story space over in the corner, where Seth will facilitate a discussion of any story that is not being covered in the plenary sessions.
   There’s also an on-line conference, where there is a rich discussion going on about various aspects of organizational storytelling. It’s at This is one of the ways in which we can continue the discussion after today. There is also a luncheon get-together tomorrow, Sunday April 13, 2003, hosted by Lynne Feingold and the Golden Fleece group that we’ll be talking more about during the day.
   We’re also conscious that many people have contributed to the emergence of storytelling. Some of you here today were actually at the first Smithsonian event in 2001. The transcripts of those discussions, showing what these thought leaders contributed, are available at The storytelling movement has come out of the Jonesborough festival which has been going on for many years. Complexity theory, scenarios – a whole lot of things have contributed to enable the emergence of organizational storytelling at this time. We’ve actually put together a partial chronology of how this has happened (see Appendix). We would welcome your help in completing the chronology. 
    The agenda for today has five modules. 

· First, Seth Kahan will show an exciting new technique called Jumpstart Storytelling, a way of bringing people together extremely rapidly. We will be doing it right here. We will be experiencing this kind of “jumpstart.”
· Then we will move on to narratives and values, which Alicia Korten will be leading. Values are a crucial part of the organizational world, and narratives are where they reside. Alicia will be taking us through an exercise that will help us understand core value stories more deeply.
· Then, putting storytelling to work. Rob Creekmore will be guiding us through how we actually use these stories in a practical way in organizations - putting stories to work.
· Then Madelyn Blair will take us into the future. Perhaps the most important use of storytelling is as a guide to the future. It enables us to plan and think about the future. We'll be dealing with future stories.
· In the final session, Steve Denning which will be about springboard storytelling– how you can spring people into the future. It’s an indirect but powerful way of getting even a difficult audience into the future.
· And a unique feature of today will be Paul Costello. Paul is probably the only person in the world who has read every book on narrative. (laughter) He knows everything! I just wish I had read even a tenth of the books that Paul has read on this subject. 
   So at the end of each of these five modules, Paul is going to be giving us a three-minute commentary on: how does that link to the larger story? He will give us his view on how what we do in this room today links to the larger story of storytelling that has been going on all these thousands of years. I think you’ll find those three-minute commentaries very insightful. He is the director of the Center for Narrative Studies and he is a true leader and pioneer in this field. He runs a truly amazing program for young Irish leaders from the north and the south of Ireland and brings them here and uses storytelling to weld them together as a group, even though they come from families that have been killing each other for hundreds of years, and give them a different story of their future. You’ll see here today in Paul's commentaries some of the deep wisdom that he brings to this subject. 
· There will also a couple of other events during the weekend. On Saturday evening, there was - Noa Baum’s storytelling theater, “A Land Twice Promised.” It’s a wonderful wonderful solo performance, with voices coming from various parts of the Middle East and truly something not to be missed. 
- On Sunday morning, there will be Paul Costello’s walking tour of the Washington monuments.
- On Sunday afternoon, there will be a storytelling get-together with the Golden Fleece Group hosted by Lynne Feingold.


This is a special event.

This is a special event because it is about storytelling, an ancient and powerful way of being human.

This is a special event because it is about organizations, the home of education, the home of health care, the home of government, the home business, the home of philanthropy.

This event is a bridge between the worlds: storytelling and organizations. 

You are part of this story... in ways we don't yet understand. We are part of this story... in ways we don't yet understand. This story is being told through our lives. 

This story is larger than us.

This story is not finished being told.

Today a new chapter will be written here, in our gathering 

What will your contribution be? 

It's a mystery.

It's alive.

It's in you.

It's in me.

It's in this room.

And, it has been here since 
the beginning of time. 


Imagine you are attending a think-tank with other business leaders coming together to address important issues. The opening session propels the meeting into a high performance meeting, drawing everyone together while emphasizing the diversity of perspectives.  These people are using Jumpstart Storytelling to maximize the impact of their time together. 
This powerful technique quickly engages participants in the business at hand and accelerates collaboration.  Designed for groups of 10 to 100, it can be customized for as few as 
 three and as many as 400. It takes about 60 minutes and sets the stage for high performance. 
Jumpstart storytelling: 
* Efficiently engages every participant in the business objectives
* Accelerates collaboration without compromising diverse perspectives
* Effectively introduces each person to 10-15 other participants 
* Improves learning through high quality idea exchange

Created by Seth Kahan, it draws on his experience in designing multi-cultural collaboration sessions for professionals. It flows from his research at the Center for Narrative Studies, as well as his experience in increasing the effectiveness of conventions, and presenting at numerous business conferences

The magic of Jumpstart Storytelling occurs when participants tell and listen to each other's stories, engaging the hearts and minds of their colleagues. It is a great way to begin a business gathering, involving everyone in the room. Ideas cross-pollinate, and rapport increases. The entire meeting comes to life in a way that naturally and predictably focuses the audience's collective enthusiasm on the business at hand through the participants‘ personal stories. Thus Jumpstart Storytelling establishes links between participants, and sets the stage for high performance.

Read what happened on the day in Jumpstart Storytelling


Alicia Korten’s session shows how stories emerge from – and give expression to – our roots and deeper values.  Whether a corporation, a public institution, an academic setting, a religious organization or a community – values are the bedrock that create lasting institutions and provide the compass for effective decision-making.

So how do we identify the values that will endure and provide clear direction and then get an organization to embody those values so fully that they permeate the day-to-day life  of the people within it – both in how they treat each other and what they project into the world?

In this section, we look at the power of Core Value Stories to identify and transmit values.  These are stories that embody values that are essential to an individual or an organization. 

Alicia worked for many years with traditional societies in Central America, which had developed decision-making models based on narrative principles.  In this segment we will hear how meetings were run in a traditional setting in Panama, and then see how these same principles can be applied in modern settings and organizations.

Read what happened on the day in Storytelling and Values

   Storytelling is a powerful way to build trust, transmit values, and energize a group.  But is there more we can do with stories?  What’s the next step beyond the telling of stories?  How can we put the stories we tell to work in organizational settings?
   Rob Creekmore explores with us ways to leverage stories by penetrating deeply into their significance, shared meaning, and implications for the future.  The stories we tell are a rich source of “data” that can:
- Surface hidden thinking - the “elephant in the middle of the room” - in a safe way 
- Reveal “lessons learned” that could be the crucial difference between future business success and failure 
- Uncover the tacit values and behaviors that most energize your organization
- Predict the friction between cultures during a corporate merger or the arrival of a new leader
- Build bridges of understanding where there is conflict 
   Rob leads us through a process of exploring the deeper – and perhaps hidden -implications of the stories that were shared earlier in the morning.  Stories can be like a treasure chest whose full value is only revealed when we open the chest and look inside.  What are the themes and patterns common to our stories?  What characters and events move us most and why?  What might our stories reveal about our hidden capacities and strengths as an organization, and how we can better leverage those capacities in the future? 
   In this session you discover how the deeper exploration of story restores a critical “missing link” in how groups of people successfully learn and make decisions together in organizations.

Read what happened on the day in Putting Story to Work

What is our future story that we're going to take away from this event? 
What we do today is influenced by the images we have of the future, and story is one of the most powerful ways to create an image. Whether one is a leader, or a planner, or a manager or simply just an individual, moving into the future involves developing a story about what the future will look like. 
Mergers occur every day. New units are formed from old. Existing groups -- and new groups -- decide they need to move in a new direction. When individuals appear to each have a different 'vision', how does a group find a higher ground where a common story of the future will have both acceptance and traction? How does a group find the common threads on which to build this story?
In this segment, Madelyn Blair defines the qualities of a strong 
future story. Using the principles of Appreciative Inquiry to find the sources of energy and excitement, she guides participants in finding the common threads to weave their dream -- future stories that are grounded and energized by the best of the present. 
In this segment, we see how Appreciative Inquiry can be a powerful tool for helping organizations to define their dream in a story -- a story that can be experienced in the telling. A story that compels enactment. 
Read what happened on the day in Future Stories

In the final segment, Steve Denning shows how we can use a springboard story to spark a group into action. 
Getting to the future story of the listeners is the key to getting action from any group of human beings. But if they see the story as imposed upon or dicated to them, it’s unlikely that they will be seeing the proposed course of action with any kind of spontaneous enthusiasm. If on the other hand, the listeners invent a future story for themselves, it becomes their own story.
But how can we elicit a future story from the listeners? In the previous segment, the workshop explores the direct method of creating such a story, which works well when we have the luxury of a receptive and supportive audience. 
In this final segment, we explore a method for dealing with dealing with difficult, skeptical or even hostile audiences. When we are introducing bold new ideas this is the more frequent situation. Here we learn how to tell a story about the past, which sparks the listeners’ imaginations to create a new story for themselves and so “spring” them into the future.
Once we understand the simple narrative pattern that underlines the springboard story, we can go on finding such stories in whatever context we find ourselves. 
Participants use a simple template of steps to follow in creating a springboard story in their own environment and have the chance to perform the story for their fellow participants.
The session helps participants craft stories that spring them into their future.
Read what happened on the day in Springboard Stories

Throughout the day, Paul Costello offers thoughts on links between the stories that are being generated by the workshop and the role of storytelling in human society, the history of the storytelling movement and implications of storytelling for our lives.
In these contributions, Paul draws on his many years of research on the role of narrative in society, including:
- Understanding the different genres of storytelling, which create expectations that can be anticipated.
- Understanding the role of storytelling in generating identity in both individuals and organizations.
- Understanding the long history of storytelling dating 
back to earliest known experiences of the human race, including the great philosophers and the great religious teachers.

Read Paul Costello's commentaries on the day in Paul's Commentaries

Tel 301 371-7100 :; www.Pelerei.Com
Steve Denning
Tel. 966 9392
 Tel  301 585-3610
Seth Kahan 
Tel 301 229-2221; Email:
Rob Creekmore
Tel. 703-435-4623

Tel.  202 364-5369;

To buy:
The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Steve Denning (October 2000) Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston, USA

          Paperback - 192 pages. ISBN: 0750673559 
To read 
of :
The Squirrel: The Seven Highest Value Forms of Organizational Storytelling
          by Steve Denning (work in progress) 
RECOMMENDED LINKS Copyright © 2000 Stephen Denning-The views expressed on this website are those of Stephen Denning, and not necessarily those of any person or organization.