April 12, 2003: Seth Kahan
Smithsonian Associates 2003
[ Introduction ] [ Jumpstart Storytelling ] [ Values ] [ Putting Story to Work ] [ Future Stories ] [ Springboard Stories ]
[ Seth Kahan ] [ Alicia Korten ] [ Rob Creekmore ] [ Madelyn Blair ] [ Steve Denning ] [ Paul Costello ]
[ Chronology of Storytelling ] [ Golden Fleece Group ] [ Dave's Story ] [ Preparing the story ]
Transcript of the April 12, 2003 session at the Smithsonian Associates
Storytelling: Its Purpose
The theme of the storytelling
Clusters and chains
The participants' stories
So hereís how Jumpstart Storytelling works. In a minute, Iím going to ask each of you to tell a group of people around you, a ninety-second story from your personal life, something really happened to you. Iím going to ask you to do it on a particular topic. That topic is: what do you aspire to today? What do you hope is going to happen? Let me give you an example:
What I hope is going to happen is: when this day is over, weíre going to have 102 new people who are involved with us, actively creating, lending their creativity to this organizational storytelling phenomenon, which is blossoming as a valid toolset in organizations today. Thatís what I hope for.
I can look out at you and I can see your faces and I know you have a valuable contribution to this work. And I also know your perspective is extremely different from all the people who have been participating in it thus far. So Iím excited by that. So thatís my aspiration: that at the end of the day, weíre all involved together, having a lot of fun and developing this new field.
So think for a second. Whatís your aspiration? What are you hoping to get out fo today? Just make a note in your mind what that might be.
Now Iím going to ask you to think about a story from your personal life that serves as an anchor for that aspiration. All of hope for things because of experiences that weíve already had. Something that happened in our past. What has happened in your past, that you would hope for that? Iím going to craft a ninety-second story and share it with your neighbor, in just a second. But let me give you an example. Hereís my ninety-second story:
In 2001, I participated in the first Smithsonian
event on organizational storytelling. I sat in the audience and watched
John Seely Brown, Steve Denning, Larry Prusak and Katalina Groh.
|So now weíre going to get into tables of twelve and then
weíll tell some ninety-second stories.
(There were then two rounds of storytelling in groups of twelve.)
Seth: So now, at the end of two rounds of storytelling, let
me make a couple of points.
As we begin our day together, we not only want to hear each otherís stories and piece together the mosaic of who we are, as a community, but we also want to float to the top, the threads that resonate with us. Those threads are not necessarily on the agenda. Those threads or issues are not necessarily something that the planners have thought about. But you have! You just bring them to the table by virtue of who you are.
|Now, take a moment of reflection and think back to all the stories
you just heard. I know they just ran across you like and you canít sift
out too many of them. But ask yourself: was there one that spoke to
you, that resonated deeply with you? Maybe there was more than one.
But pick one now that has that quality to it. A story that you felt
had something special. It could have been a deep concern that you have.
A fear. An issue. An emotion. A resonance. It really doesnít matter.
What matters is that the story went deeply into you. Pick that story
and place your hand on the shoulder of the person who told itÖ.
(The participants formed clusters and chains and then the three storytellers who had most hands on their shoulderes were identified.)
When the storyteller is finished, Iím going to ask you not to applaud. Instead, Iím going to ask you to take 20 seconds of silence and notice how the story is moving into you. Just be, with the experience of the story.
|THE THREE STORIES THAT EMERGED
Allan: Once upon a time, not so many years ago, when I was in an involuntary career transition, (laughter) I took a look at my life path, and the things I had done. I had worked in theater. I had been a newspaper reporter. I had been an attorney and a judge and a mediator. I had worked in conflict resolution. I had been a real estate agent. I had been a marketer. I had been a consultant. I was thinking: what do I do now? And when I looked at the threads, I realized that in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of places, I had always been a storyteller.
At the same time, I was starting to do some coaching work and I began to appreciate how deeply I carried personal, cultural, historical stories with me. And one of my coaching teachers asked me a very powerful question.
|He said, "We all live in story. The question is: do we have our story
or does our story have us?"
Now I'm working in a corporate setting where I do competitive intelligence and building strategic partnerships. Around me, everyone thinks this is about analysis and revenue streams. But I realize it is about telling convincing stories about the world we're living in and persuasive stories about the world we can create.
Sharon: This scares me to death. (laughter)
At a time of great professional and personal accomplishment -- I was in graduate school. I had a great career. I had a consulting practice Ė my thirty-six year old stepson was diagnosed with leukemia. He died two years later.
And in the middle of that, my thirty-two year old stepdaughter ended up in the hospital for four months in intensive care. In the middle of all of that, a leader that I respect a great deal told a story about his own personal development; of the asteroids that had hit his life. He told a story about learning to deal with professional failure, and personal asteroids.
And there was a moment in listening to him that I realized that I .
|develop out of my failures, and sometimes because of the
things I didn't really ask for that were pretty horrible
And that this is true for all of us.
When we ask people to come to work and be whole people and to create whole organizations, there's a whole piece there that I haven't really wanted to look at very much. I had left some folks high and dry at times in their lives when they really needed my support. Partly it was just being able to tell their story.
Barb: My husbandís chuckling because he knows I like to do
She changed my life that day. And I became a nurse instead of a teacher, because thatís what girls could do
|back then. Nursing or teaching. But that nurse became a teacher, became
a writer, became a consultant, became an administrator, and she would
have staff meetings, and management meetings, and she would tell them
It got to the point where my management team would come in and say, ďHereís the problem. Whatís the story?Ē And I discovered that there was a real message in the power of stories, and that stories ďtalkedĒ.
But what I also discovered is that weíre all putting our bulbs in the ground and I love gardens. Iíd start out with ďno flowers,Ē when I moved to a house, and by springtime, a few yearís further, Iíd have more flowers, because I put bulbs in the ground. Except that where Iíd put those bulbs, like that speech pathologist, is not where they end up. Because you see, the squirrels moved the bulbs. And we have the power to move those bulbs in our lives too. And what we put and where we put them, and where they end up, we never know, because life is a garden, and we have all kinds of bulbs.
And Iím here today, to get some new bulbs for my flower garden. I donít know what theyíll get me or where theyíll be, because when that speech pathologist told me that, when I was a young girl, I was crushed. But wasnít that a great bulb that I got after all?
|Seth: Stories upon stories upon stories. These three
stories have articulated something of our collective consciousness.
What? I think itís too early to tell. But there are important treasures
here. Not only in the three stories that were told up here, but in the
two hundred or so, that were told in the last hour.
Paul Costello will now offer you his reflections on the session. Youíll notice heís wearing a tie from the ďdream time.Ē Paul has cosmic connections.
Paul: Itís great to be here and what a fantastic start. I donít know whether you believe in reincarnation. Iím wearing my New Age Angel on my lapel here, but if we did believe in reincarnation I think that Seth in the dark mysteries of time past must have been a shaman. He brings a kind of shaman energy to our work and he inspires us.
I wore this tie this morning because it connects me to my Australian roots, but also what Seth demonstrated, is something that the ancient
|Australian peoples live their lives around stories. But
for them, stories were more than just tales to be shared around the
campfire. When we were little kids at school, we learned that Captain
Cook mapped Australia, and all these great navigators. In fact, the
aboriginal people used stories as maps.
I am sure many of you have read the wonderful book by Bruce Chatwin called Songlines. But if you havenít itís the notion that aboriginals told stories that included mountains and valleys and rivers and trees and rocks. Thatís what they told, so that they could find their way through that vast vast continent. And thereís a songline connection between the tribal peoples in the far north-western corner of that continent, down through the middle, to the far south-eastern corner. Itís a songline.
And didnít we see a songline, or a storyline enacted in what Seth did? With all the hands on the shoulders, it was moving feeling for me, it connects today with the past. Weíre not inventing anything new. This is the wisdom that peoples of ancient civilizations have known about. Weíre the ones who have forgotten it. And a day like today allows us to recapture that wisdom. What Seth has started us doing is to have our stories map our aspirations for the day. Theyíve mapped our hopes. Theyíve mapped our dreams. Stories map our memories. In those memories, we draw back to go forward. So letís look forward to what the next map is going to be, as we move to our next module.
Steve:Wasnít that terrific?
Voices: Yes. Absolutely.
Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Steve Denning (October 2000) Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston, USA
Paperback - 192 pages. ISBN: 0750673559
Squirrel: The Seven Highest Value Forms of Organizational Storytelling
by Steve Denning (work in progress)
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