Of the three phrases in my e-mail signature and business card, storyteller draws the most smiles. People visibly relax. They ask me questions. They talk to me in a way they might not talk to an IT specialist or a consultant. Geek gets grins from people in the know, but storyteller is the one that crosses boundaries.
I added storyteller to my self-descriptors when I noticed technology evangelist needed a lot of explanation. The idea was simple: you can’t get people to explore social media by just showing it to them. You have to show them real people using it to create real value, and stories are a great way to do that. I collected examples from different industries and business units, and I used anecdotes to help people understand.
I was reading Solitude: A Return to the Self (a psychoanalytic exploration of introversion and creativity, drawing on historical examples), and I came across an interesting distinction between dramatists and patterns: people who retell stories and relieve experiences, and people who focus on patterns and regularities.
I stopped, reflected on it, and recognized more of myself in the patterner than the dramatist. At the family table, my father and my sister were always the ones telling stories with accents and sound effects. I spent more of my time thinking and reading, drawing connections among the dozens of books I read on a topic, teasing out common topics and threads.
I didn’t fully recognize that part of myself until I had the words to describe it.
I am more of a pattern-maker than a storyteller. Yes, I sprinkle anecdotes through talks to make them more alive, and I share stories through my blog. But the real value I find myself creating at work is in documenting and improving the way people do things. I build Drupal systems, and more than that, I build people’s ability to build Drupal systems. I use social software, and I train people how to do so. I facilitate workshops, and I improve the way we organize and facilitate those engagements.
What does this mean in terms of playing to my strengths? I’ll write about more processes and look for more ways to improve them. I’ll organize what I create so that it’s easy for people to learn and contribute. I’ll work on being able to see and being able to communicate. I’ll learn about lots of different kinds of patterns, so that I can bring them together.
I’ll still work on storytelling skills. Stories are essential for leadership and connection. I’ll keep blogging, and I’ll keep using lots of examples in talks.
But it’s nice to have a name for what I do.
Here’s a link to the book:
|Solitude: A Return to the Self|
Most of it is about Freud and Jung, and various writers and poets who’ve had solitary lives (mostly troubled solitary lives). The key message is probably that being alone isn’t as bad as people think it is. =) And you might pick up something completely different, like I did…
What kind of superpower would you like to have?
When I answered this ice-breaker at a women’s leadership session last week, I said that I wanted to be in multiple places at the same time so that I could explore all sorts of great opportunities and learn all sorts of great things. Most people mentioned time-based powers: having more time in the day, freezing time, and being able to instantly teleport. Me, I wanted to scale.
On reflection, though, I realized that the superpower I really wanted was different. So when the facilitator used the same question with a different group (I was there because they were going to discuss my Remote Presentations That Rock video), I was ready.
I want to have the superpower of being able to effectively teach everything I’m learning to people, to be able to package whatever I had learned and to share that with others.
I realized that what I really cared about isn’t filling the world with clones of myself so that we could explore different things, it’s building foundations so that I can learn from whatever else people create on top of it.
I’m going to figure out how to gain that superpower. And as I figure more of it out, I enable other people to figure it out even faster and go even further than I can.
My passion is helping people connect and collaborate. My vision is a world that’s truly flat, where people can work together and lead from anywhere, where we can fully tap the talent of people from different backgrounds, lifestyles, and geographies. To make any real progress towards this, I have to create exponential change. I can’t do that alone. I need an army, and I need to build things so that they transcend me.
People used to think that job security was about keeping knowledge to yourself. Me, I think that vision security is about sharing as much as you can with as many people as you can, so that the momentum transcends you. The more I learn and the more I can help others learn, the more likely it is that the vision will happen, whether or not I’m in the picture.
Fortunately, I don’t have to wait until I’m an expert in order to do this. I can move towards that vision as a beginner and a learner. I have a lever and a place to stand on. I can move my world. As we get better at this, we can move bigger things.
What superpower are you working on?
W-: I just have some more to do.
Me: Can I help?
W-: It’s okay. I’m faster in vi than you are.
<I do a mock eye-narrow emphasized with hand gestures> <we both do the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly>
Me: <laughing hard>
W-: Our kids are going to roll their eyes. “Ncurses was so fifty years ago!”
Me: <laughing even more> <mock-crying> “Oh no, I just had an integer wrap!”
W-: 16-bit or 32?
Geek love. It’s like xkcd with much less angst.