Of storytellers and pattern-makers; Book: Solitude: A Return to the Self

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
Anthony Storr

(Disclosure: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link. That said, I recommend checking out your local library. I got this book from the Toronto Public Library, yay!)

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…

Learning storytelling from my parents

My parents are both storytellers.

My dad makes everyday life seem epic, with sound effects and humour. He embellishes tales to make them more dramatic. He tells stories in conversation, and is often the center of attention in a large crowd.

My mom keeps the stories of generations, revealing unexpected connections with grandparents or great-grandparents. She tries to stick as close to the truth as she can remember. She tells stories in intimate conversation and through her writing. I look forward to our weekly Skype conversations because of the mix of stories she shares: some about the past, some about recent adventures.

I’m really lucky that my parents both love telling stories.  Growing up, I saw how the stories they told inspired and energized and connected people. Good stories don’t have to have morals, points, or storybook villains threatening to destroy the universe. Sometimes a slice of life can make an unexpected connection.

I want to learn how to tell stories like that. My sister Kathy tells stories like my dad does, and I tell stories like my mom. I want to get better at saving and telling stories, particularly the difficult ones, and writing is my way of remembering.

Reinvention: virtual storytelling summit Nov 11 – 22, 2010

Update: May 12 2012: Hmm, files are missing. Sorry!

UPDATE: Here are my sketchnotes from the first day. Click on each one to view the full-sized version. Want to share this post with others? Short URL: http://sachachua.com/blog/p/21866 . (Follow me on Twitter: @sachac)

New: Added three more sketchnotes:

That Resonates With Me! How to Change the World, One Story at a Time, Nancy Duarte

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Shift Your Story Arc: Creating the Trajectory of Your Life, Julie Ann Turner

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Screw Your Career Path, Live Your Story! Jason Seiden

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Previously posted:

Why You Need to Tell a Bigger Story, Get Storied

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Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell, and Live, John Gerzema

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Just Enough to Make a Story: Creating a Narrative from an Anecdote, Sean Buvala

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Social Movements as Participatory Storytelling, Andy Goodman and Lily McCombs

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Want to share this post with others? Short URL: http://sachachua.com/blog/p/21866 . (Follow me on Twitter: @sachac)

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I normally gloss over marketing e-mails, particularly the ones that ask me to promote something to the readers of “sacha chua :: tech evangelist, storyteller, geek”. It was a good thing Anthony Marques reached out to me again about the Reinvention Summit, which turned out to be a virtual summit on storytelling with some pretty good speakers. The sessions will run from Nov 11 (today!) to Nov 22, and the basic Explorer’s Pass is currently $33.33 - which you can get down to $8.33 if my math is right, using this $25 coupon code: REINVENTION. – the REINVENTION coupon doesn’t seem to apply, but oh well! Not a bad price for attending sessions by Nancy Duarte, Steve Denning, and other storytelling gurus.

Of the 32 sessions planned, here are a few I’m particularly interested in:

Just Enough to Make A Story: Creating a Narrative from an Anecdote
Sean Buvala, Thu, November 11, 4pm – 5pm

In most business and nonprofit settings, there is plenty of anecdotal content for just about any point you would like to illustrate. However, these single-reference-point remnants of story need to be filled out and supported in order to make their biggest impact. In this workshop, you will learn some methods for helping you create impactful stories from these story-starters.

That Resonates with Me! How to Change the World One Presentation at a Time
Nancy Duarte, Thursday, November 18, 2pm – 3pm

If you say “I have an idea for something”, what you really mean is “I want to change the world in some way.” You might not be able to change the entire world, but what is “the world” anyway? It is simply all of the ideas of all our ancestors. Look around you. Your clothes, language, furniture, house, city, and nation all began as visions in other minds.

Humans love to create. And creating starts with an idea that can change the world.

“The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.” – John F. Kennedy

Presentations are the lingua franca of business and those who master communicating with them rise faster than their peers, reach more customers than their competitors, and turn causes into a groundswell.

Pioneering presentation innovator Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Design, will demonstrate how to apply the methods in her book resonate: Presenting Visual Stories That Transform Audiences, to build meaningful connections with audiences that compel them to action. Her groundbreaking work details a new way of structuring a presentation and connecting with an audience – helping the presenter create a human connection.

Changing the world starts with transforming an audience and an audience will only change if you resonate with them.

In this session, you will learn to:

  • Leverage the hidden story structures inherent in great communication
  • Connect with your audience empathetically
  • Create captivating content
  • Craft ideas that get repeated
  • Inspire enthusiasm and support for your vision

This session is for leaders who are tasked with communicating clearly and persuading through verbal communications.

Telling Taller Tales
Andrew Melville, Monday, November 15, 5pm – 6pm

I run through a model of three different levels of story; interesting, through memorable to compelling. I build on journalistic and script writing story principles to discuss people’s Intention behind storytelling, and look at observation, juxtaposition and transformation as components of powerful storytelling. I talk about experiences working with the Maori tribes of New Zealand, and their oral traditions, and metaphors from nature. Telling Taller Tales talks about building authentic and honest stories in the workplace, melding a brand story connecting marketing messages, vision and values and corridor conversations.

Why Great Storytelling Initiatives Fail, and What Can Be Done About It
Steve Denning, Friday, November 19, 4pm – 5pm

Why do great leadership storytelling initiatives tend to fail? These world-class initiatives in established organizations seem to flourish for a while, with strong top management support and demonstrated results; but then something happens, and the initiative is sidelined or downsized or undermined in some indirect fashion, Why do managers act in this way? Why don’t they recognize that storytelling is central to leadership and key to their organizations future? What can be done to sustain storytelling initiatives? Steve Denning draws on the findings from his new book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, and shows what kind of changes are needed to have storytelling take its rightful place as a key management and leadership tool in 21st Century organizations. Come learn seven principles to enable storytelling in organizations.

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Even if Anthony didn’t offer me a free press pass and discount coupon for sharing (code: REINVENTION), I’d probably pay for it anyway – it looks like it will be worth it. I might not have come across it without his nudging, though, so thanks, Anthony! =)

I’ll post sketchnotes for the sessions I do manage to make it to. Check it out!

http://www.reinventionsummit.com