This is part 6 in a 12 part series. The first five skills were Pattern Recognition, Environmental Scanning, Network Weaving, Foresight, and Conscious Awareness.
:: storytelling ::
The following video by Jonah Sachs, creative director at Free Range Studios has prompted me to get back to completing the next installment in this Essential Skills series. He does a beautiful job revealing the secrets of effective and high-impact storytelling.
Jonah Sachs at Compostmodern ’11 from AIGA San Francisco on Vimeo.
One of the concepts Jonah presents is that of a “myth gap.” He defines ‘myth’ as the combination of Explanation + Meaning + Story. Historically, myths are the vehicles of culture. They provide a context and framework for the world, hopefully imparting wisdom, insight and guidance as to how we should live our lives. (ie – myth of Genesis). But sometimes, society falls in a myth gap.
Another way of saying this is that the cultural narrative is broken.
Most of us are acutely aware of this current state of affairs, especially in the broader context of systemic change. We see that our institutions (education, finance, politics, economy) are not equipped to serve us any longer, and we’re clawing around for a story (or stories) to describe the “new way of doing things” that can be agreed upon by society so we can move forward.
As Jonah notes in the video, it’s marketers and designers who are closing this myth gap and infusing our culture with the new stories we can choose about how to live our lives and exist in the world. It’s a powerful message, and one that seems pretty accurate to me.
People are disillusioned and lacking trust, and a new story infused with simplicity, aesthetics, beauty and grace will go far. I think many of us are looking for something resonant to believe in and stand behind, something that is in alignment with our deep desires, passions, values and principles.
So what are some stories shaping culture today?
Well here’s a few that I’ve been listening to and weaving into the architecture of my own mind:
- Makers, hackers, prosumers, and cultural creatives are the driving force of the new economy.
- It makes practical sense to support local economies, buy food that’s grown regionally when possible, and build resilience by creating infrastructures designed to weather uncertainty.
- The “future of money” is about cooperation over competition. We’re llearning how to intelligently share resources, build value together, and display integrity in thought, word and action – which is then reflected in a boost of social currencies like reputation, influence, trust, authority, and access to opportunities.
- Mindless consumption is uninspiring, and ultimately a distraction from engaging in the types of behavior that actually lead to sustained happiness. These include: spending time with people we love, having goals and actively working towards accomplishing them, and cultivating gratitude daily for having the opportunity to experience Life.
These are just a few narratives that keep me inspired and motivated these days.
What stories are guiding you towards a more meaningful future?
In today’s polarized and fractured narrative landscape, the winners are those who can get above the noise and weave new mythologies that act as a beacon of light for the path ahead. As a wise man once said:
Those who tell the stories rule society. ~ Plato
Below are a few resources to help you on your journey to becoming better storytellers and mythmakers.
Stay tuned for the next installment. In the meantime, you can follow my musings on twitter @venessamiemis.
“A concept is a brick. It can be used to build the courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.”
Brian Massumi – Introduction to A Thousand Plateaus
some storytellers i like:
– Coalition of the Willing
– Epipheo Studios
– Workbood Project
a few storytelling curators on twitter worth checking out:
The Hero with a Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell on comparative mythology
slide:ology – the art and science of creating great presentations
Resonate – present visual stories that transform audiences
Center for Digital Storytelling
7 Tips for Storytelling
Digital Storytelling: A Tutorial in 10 Easy Steps
The 17 Stages of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth – infographic
Storytelling for Knowledge Management in Projects – slideshare
Influence through Storytelling – slideshare
The Social Life of Visualization: Part 1
Transmedia Storytelling – wikipedia
Story-Based Communication Skills – on scribd by makingstories
With Clarity and Beauty, the Weight of Authority – NYTimes
The Pull of Narrative – In Search of Persistent Context – john hagel
Lost in Translation – language profoundly influences the way people see the world
The Future of Social Networks is Storytelling
The Hero’s Journey – video on big think
header image via http://www.limorshiponi.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/dl-storyteller-b1.jpg
jonah sachs video via @mgusek555
Janet Vanderhoof (@JanetVanderhoof) said:
This is such a fantastic blog. I am going to archive this. I must go through all your story tellers. I love Joseph Campbell, he talked often about how we have lost our mythology and what will be our new mythology. I am sure a lot of it will be about saving the earth from destruction, ecologically, economically and socially.
Monica Anderson said:
This is very timely for me. In less than 24 hours I’ll be moderating a discussion (at http://www.ai-meetup.org/events/43520182 ) on “Theater, Text, and Theories as Reductions of Reality”, making the claim that storytelling is similar to research and that several of the differences are simply matters of degrees of Reduction. Simplifying our complex Reality to a movie, a theater play, a comic book, a book, a story, or a scientific formula are all examples of discarding irrelevant detail, of purifying the message for maximum ease of communication and increasing its applicability by virtue of being less context dependent. Doing this simplification well is impossible without truly understanding the problem domain you are discussing. But it also requires experience with performing the Reduction.
As the video mentions, this ties in directly to what “an audience” (a real audience or a set of researchers) will accept as “an explanation”, something that we discussed at our previous meetup and to everybody’s surprise suddenly floated to the top as a key issue for AI but also for situations like “who’s explanation for the sorry state of our society should we believe”. We teach our scientists the Scientific Method as a way to create a Narrative, an Explanation that will appeal to Scientists. Explanations for Non-scientists require different strategies and those are taught (we hope) somewhere else 🙂
Complexity of our society has increased orders of magnitude beyond what our tribal-era brains were evolved to handle. The ability to do part of the Reduction for an audience – to do the stripping-away of irrelevant detail – in a way that allows the result to be assimilated by the audience at their existing experience level is definitely a key 21st Century Survival Skill.
A lot of the stories we are exposed to (Movies, books, newscasts, etc) are crafted by professional storytellers rather than by friends. Does this competence asymmetry give the pros too much power, too much mindshare? Skilled storytellers with diverse goals can use the same material and create narratives to further their goals simply by biasing their Reductive processes in their preferred direction. Also, incomplete Understanding of a problem domain leads to good old-fashioned Reduction Errors. Less sinister, still wrong.
We will have to get better at detecting these biases and errors in all the narratives we are exposed to. Will Venessa’s next Essential 21st Century Skill be BS detection?
Monica Anderson said:
Bah. Next time I’ll watch the whole movie before commenting so that I don’t end up (in effect) repeating half the points made in it. Even my point about Science being a narrative was mentioned in the movie. My apologies. I’ll be showing the movie at the meetup.
Yes, Monica, BS detection is a valuable survival skill. How could we thrive without it in a world of half-knowledge and ambitious agenda? How to vet a BS detector? Must be open source, I guess.
Fantastic collection. Thank you, Venessa and Michael. To get true stories accepted, it also takes active exposure to disinfectant daylight the false or borderline stories. Some do occupy minds and may cause fantastic side effects of selective perception, and a slew of cognitive biases.
As an example of accepting scientific narratives we need data we have verified to our own satisfaction, or we trust, or believe to be true, to compare the new findings to.
Case in point: some 30 Bq/kg radioactive cesium detected in baby formula made by Meiji milk company of Japan, and the press and some commentators have a field day bashing the company and calling for closing the company and worse.
fukushima realtime (@fukushima_actu)
12/10/11 9:37 PM
Kyodo: Baby food maker ignored info on cesium contamination for weeks — Initially concluded “further … http://bit.ly/rSCy9i #fukushima
What to compare this to? How about the natural level of radiation in our bodies, given in literature as 70 to 100 Bq/kg, mostly from potassium? Would you give Meiji formula to my baby? Draw your own conclusions.
Of course no radioactivity may be better than some and faced with the looming shadow of uncertainty our minds extrapolate to assess potential risk. There may be more (contamination) where this came from, so better not buy? Better buy locally where you know (you think) the conditions. But do you? For me, it boils down to dealing with people I know and who earned my trust. But how much can I trust my friendly neighborhood farmer to know about contamination of feedstock? My conclusion is when scared we are thinking at the edge of detection limits of trust. And that includes trust in our own thinking. Enjoy a good story. And now I want to watch that movie that inspired this wonderful curation of yours.
Nice…just returned from a wonderful two hours with one of my ecozone’s wise heroes–on exactly the topic of ‘re-indigination’ through storycraft. It’s such a wonderful feeling to have your worldview bubble out into new and syncretic territory on the wings of masterful tale-telling! And the tightening weave of community/commons it represents…indeed, powers to be reclaimed.
Here’s actually last years version of the same event (caught that one too, and it’s guided a lot of my inquiry and aspiration the meanwhile) in a lo-fi but still scintillating record: http://vimeo.com/17007631 This year ventured on into a work-in-progress follow-on to the classic Ecotopia books sci-fi as social architecture.
I’m still deep in mental thickets pursuing a bespoke digital toolkit for this kind of distributed mythopoesis (aka BrowsEarth), but shifting somewhat back towards the need for networked physical venues which can play collaborative set and stage to ground the requisite themes in some sort of invitingly communicable reality. Seems like the Occupy zeitgeist needs a causeway about now towards more coherent transitional modeling. #Inhabit__?
Community-supported-habitat, and storytelling as the new (overt) politic, embodying value as a kind of complex gravitational field for us all to circumnavigate and transduce, ahold of long semantic roots. Watch for it! Don’t string out on artificial dreck.
Just sat in on Monica’s AI meetup; the Jonah Sachs film and following conversation made for a very busy and satisfying period of note taking.
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Good post, great subject. Jewett and Lawrence have done some work on “The American Monomyth” which they see in somewhat darker and more cynical terms. It’s my personal thought that mythology was (and still is) a means for individuation, but now we have all these remediated forms and competitive metanarratives which are really at odds. The idea of “myth” gets tossed around but its at heart its a political, social, and personal “complex of narratives,” as someone wrote. Don’t forget about Barthes!
Hi Venessa, what an interesting coincidence, I did not have time to catch up with your blog untll now, And I find this fantastic posts, which is about one of the topics that I love. Storytelling (You know I do NLP and Linguistics). Congratulations on the post, is really good, it has from my humble viewpoint amazing links..
Well The coincidence is that I have been chatting with the following people:
Anni Roolf, Wilma Schrader,Helene Helene Finidori, Lucie Newcomb, Lynne Desilva-johnson, Jean Russell
Sharing with them links about Storytelling and a little about metaphors, and other issues that I love:. Several of them are in this post which is a complete coincidence.
And if you want I can Send you more links to add here.
Joshua Gunn said:
Thank you so much for highlighting these issues. At Planet Nutshell, we’ve been working very hard on trying to help our clients understand the power of story to elevate their brands above the level of mere “product.” People are yearning for meaning, and the brands that embrace a meaningful exchange with customers will win.
By the way, we at Planet Nutshell would love to be included in your list of storytellers.
Gideon Rosenblatt said:
Thanks for writing this up, Venessa, and for the pointer to Jonah’s talk. He gave a version of this to a group of us gathered up in British Columbia back in September and it was great. Can’t wait for his book. The guy is super smart – and a really good person.
One of the interesting things he noted at that talk was how most of our consumer culture today is based on a mythical structure encoded over a century ago by Freud. The idea was that at our core, the human id is a very dangerous. World War II was about fascists tapping that core and using it to build an all powerful state. After the war, the US saw that same danger and constructed a consumer economy to satiate that dangerous core and prevent it from running amok. The interesting thing that Jonah pointed out though was that Freud’s insights were for the most part all built upon observations of very troubled minds. Instead, Jonah was looking at what our society might look like were it to be built on a different set of assumptions, like say, Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. Great stuff.
One last thing. If you and your readers have not yet run across Christopher Vogler’s “The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers”, I highly recommend it. It applies Joseph Campbell’s thinking to the process of writing and it is very good. Here’s a link:
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