Thursday, August 23, 2012

Twitter storytelling

A newsletter from Michael Margolis last week showcased the @NotTildaSwinton twitter craze as an example that stories can be told on Twitter.

What came to mind as soon as I saw Twitter and storytelling together was an entirely different example.  That of @AngelaShelton's Twitter stories of sexual abuse from April 2010.

I'm surprised that I haven't blogged about this before, it was so powerful.

Stories have been told on Twitter in several ways.  I know I have bookmarks of @NeilHimself and other authors telling stories 140 characters at a time.  It's a new version of the serial - a story spaced out over a given period in bursts of just a tweet.

As part of her efforts to raise awareness of abuse and its impact on the lives of more around us than most would realize, Angela told 3 victim stories over a week: a teen who survived abuse by her father and attempted murder by his friend and testified against both, a man finally coming to terms with a childhood rape kept silent for years, and a young woman still trapped by a father who trafficked her.

The stories were incredibly powerful.  The community that sprang up around them was amazing - fellow survivors who identified with each piece shared, supporting each other through tough moments.  I made friends with people in this community who I'm still connected to today.

Here's a presentation done about 6 months after the stories were tweeted where Angela talks about some truly exciting connections made during the event:

As I told Michael, 140 characters can force you to strip away any preamble.

And the connections enabled by Twitter stories are just as strong as elsewhere.

(Two years later, I'm having problems finding the actual tweets - here's the speech that kicked it off at #140Conf NYC)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lesson learned

I have had copied a story out of The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness
by Joel Ben Izzy hanging in my study for a while:
The Secret of Happiness
Nasrudin is known as much for his wisdom as his foolishness, and many are those who have sought out his teaching.
One devotee tracked him down for many years before finding him in the marketplace sitting atop a pile of banana peels - no one knows why.
"Oh great sage, Nasrudin," said the eager student.  "I must ask you a very important question, the answer to which we all seek: What is the secret to attaining happiness?"
Nasrudin thought for a time, then responded. "The secret of happiness is good judgement."
"Ah," said the student. "But how do we attain good judgement?"
"From experience," answered Nasrudin.
"Yes," said the student. "But how do we attain experience?"
"Bad judgement." 

I should have known, but guess I'm that much closer to happiness.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Patient stories

I'm a total sap.  Stories of struggle tug at my heartstrings.  People achieving dreams they've worked their butts off to reach sends tears streaming down my face.  Ask J, he's found me nearly sobbing over the last month.  The Olympics.  Prime sap material.

And then there are certain commercials during the games that are just so well done and touching.  They pull you in to a story and you forget you're watching an ad.  I got hit with those a few times during the off and on bits of the games I actually watched - and every time they were for the same place.

Our hospital.

I was starting this post in my head and referred to it that way.  As a University of Rochester alum who worked at the med center and bought a house nearby, I tend to think of it that way.  I know a bunch of  people who work there now.   It's where multiple family members have wound up in times of crisis.  And where I was raced the night of my episode.

Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester.

Their new ads lead you to a site  - URMC Stories, a highly visual gathering of detailed patient stories that also includes a submission form for more patients to share their stories.

It's where I found the story of a work acquaintance's bout with cancer.  It's where I found the story of Cameron, a kid whose family went through an episode worse than mine that got them to the same place - Long QT and an ICD.

I'm tempted to share my story, though I'll have to check with J, because he's a big part and it impacts him when I tell it.  I also feel a little ... intimidated, I guess ... since there's already a Long QT case and he's a bit more media-worthy as a young kid.

Whether I do or not, I do plan to return to the site and I love that they have it.  Sharing stories is so important to healing and such an awesome way to convey appreciation for those who save lives every day.  Job well done.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Stories for GOOD - a hindsight review

...or, as I'm calling it, a post-mortem.

First off, thanks to all who voted for the Neighborhood Stories idea. I greatly appreciate your support and the feedback that I received in the comments.

Early in the contest, my idea was in the middle of the pack and it pretty much stayed there. I ended up at rank #41 of 82, with 24 votes. I'm not happy with the number of votes that I received, but I also have learned a lot and am using this as a learning experience and springboard to move forward and use other venues to get this project off of the ground.

So, what did I learn from the process?

  1. Stick to the theme of the contest.  This was a local contest.  My idea starts local, but can scale, so I initially tried to sell it as a broad solution.  I think this diluted its power.  This was especially true for the project name - Mine was very generic and I think got lost in the mix amidst some creative names and others that had specific ties to places with stories of their own.
  2. Make the initial content more compelling.  I chose video because I could get more of the story across in it, as I knew I was limited for what I could submit officially for the contest.  J pointed out after the fact that the video insert made the entry look like the posts he specifically ignores on Facebook.  The video did get 72 views - more than I got votes, but many people may not have wanted to take even a few minutes to get the initial point.  Late in the contest Jenny and I returned to an initial sketch idea that I had had, but that didn't get posted.
  3. Amplify with supporting materials outside the contest bounds/ as the vote period progresses.  I did post a couple of posts here that I thought would supplement the contest entry materials, but I think I could have done more.  The video could have been on the blog, instead, and I could have pulled in some starter stories and testimonials to show community support.
  4. Rally more local support early and often.  Midstream I reached out to some media contacts locally and a couple of organizations, but I didn't make a strong enough push.  I also need to think of a creative way to break something seeking support into the mainstream media, as that always seems to happen after the fact here. I could take more advantage of clubs, grassroots orgs, neighborhood merchants associations, and the neighborhoods themselves.
  5. Go grassroots for a local effort.  Late in the game, Jenny and I came up with a gorilla idea that was really fun, but it didn't get fully implemented (ran out of time to post) and I think it could have gone further.  Flyers, stickers, being at big events.  All may have helped.
I'm not done with the idea.  I still would like to start local and then scale it for other locations and scenarios.  I have new ideas on ways to spread and share the stories after they are gathered.  And to get some initial stories out there to kick off the gathering effort and grow interest in the launch event.  This still can be very cool.

Thank you for helping me to learn, for the supportive comments, and for the votes that did come.

Watch for Round 2 in the ROC - before the end of summer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Using location to mark a story

My husband, J, is currently reading on storytelling as he works on his Industrial Design thesis. The other day, he told me of an essay on Apache storytelling.

There's a certain type of Apache story that deals with morality lessons. Each of these stories starts and ends with a place name - so envision the story opening and closing with "This happened at White Pine Ridge". The places in the stories are from nearby, ones that the audience - and the intended recipient of the lesson - know well.

By marking the story with a place, it is locked in memory. The story and the place become intertwined, so that whenever someone goes by the place, the story comes to mind.

I had not thought of this when first developing my story idea, at least not consciously, but tagging the stories to the neighborhoods they come from will do more than help people to understand they have common threads across different parts of the city. It will provide an identity for that place, a tie to it. People could get more vested in community efforts that cross neighborhood lines, and then perhaps more stories will be shared and more bonds formed, all categorized by a place.

When my brothers and I were younger, we moved several times. Since then, we've often used the house we were in as a reference point for placing a story in time. J and I also do that with our past apartments. Place as a means to mark story then isn't hugely new, but formalizing it might be, and using it to help people in the community connect could be a whole new adventure.

***Don't forget to VOTE for Neighborhood Stories in the Stories for GOOD contest so that I can bring these connections to Rochester!***

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Neighborhood Stories

I promised more details on Focus #2, connecting people through story, so here it is:

GOOD magazine is running a grant contest called: Stories for GOOD (!) Here's the description:

Stories unite. Stories educate. Stories inspire. GOOD wants to know how you would use storytelling to unite your community and bring people together.

With 2 hours of submission time left, mine is one of 60 ideas vying for the $3,000 grant prize. You can check out my video and contest entry (and vote, if you so please ;) )here.

As I've said before - the truly awesome aspect of stories is their ability to make connections. I thought about what I could do with a grant to make connections here in Rochester - in a concept format that could potentially expand in scale.

It struck me that people from different parts of the city do not always have a way to connect (or see a need to) - that there are biases about people from Pittsford vs the ABCs, Browncroft or the 19th Ward that may keep people from truly hearing their stories and thus that may keep potential connections from forming.

Knowing that story can tear down these walls, I want to gather stories at the neighborhood level. Each neighborhood has plenty of stories of its own that are often trapped in the heads of the neighborhood association members - so I want to create an outlet at the neighborhood level, to paint a portrait of Swillburg or Charlotte...

Through the members of the neighborhood associations, I plan to reach out to people from each area willing to tell a story of their own. Ultimately, a web site may be constructed for submission of stories, for now it will be mainly in-person, perhaps via email.

These stories will be printed next to silhouette portraits of the tellers and displayed in a local studio setting, with an opening on the First Friday circuit of art events and running for a month. People can come and read the stories in a way that does not automatically reveal the identity or neighborhood of the teller. After the stories have a chance to sink in, the answer will be revealed. Tellers and audience will now have the common threads of story as a means to connect and overcome any neighborhood walls.

Along with the exhibit will also be a short run of soft-cover photo books.

The more I think on this, the more I like it. Largely focused on in-person and print narrative for the local scale and budget, I can see how it could grow across various media and cover much larger geographies - it could also focus on particular topics and themes. Working off of ideas spurred by Elif Shafak and Jeff Gomez, we can bring people together based on the common themes their stories share. It's a smaller world each and every day and if we don't do anything, the walls between us could pen us in. Let's knock them down using one of the oldest tools in our arsenal - story.

What do you think? Comment here or on my idea page - and vote if you think it's cool! - A

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Every good story has 3's - my focus does too

Ever since the Reinvention Summit, and really ever since J and I did some brainstorming early this year, I've had a swirl of ideas in my head about how to get closer to story. But I wasn't quite sure where to go, how to focus my energy. Over the past few months, 3 prizes have settled to the bottom of the goldfish bowl. I'm liking the way they work together. I guess I'll see where they take me!

#1 - Craft stories - I'm working on this and should have news to share in the next month, I'm hoping. There's a lot of groundwork to lay to even think of starting in the space. This gives me a guaranteed creative outlet and also something tangible, which, like those object-oriented stories I talked about in April, intrigues me immensely as it relates to story. (I'll never feel I need to repair or build my own motorcycles or the like, but rather, via technology and craft we can give substance to stories...)

#2 - Connecting people via story - After RS2, I had identified the average Joe's story, and making that happen, as part of the roots of my excitement with the topic. I've had a note on a whiteboard about "the glory of stories is in the connections" and finally put the two together - I wanted to connect people using stories. This has a strong relationship with my direction at Kodak when I left there. The thought of connecting people from all over the planet, all races, creeds, cultures, classes, using the universal tool of story - incredible. I also am working on what might be a "prototype" project for this space (and which also has tangible pieces!)
that I'll be talking up soon....

#3 - Helping companies market to their communities using story - I realized just this weekend that adding this third leg would truly balance my stool and round out my ability to potentially launch out into the story space. Community management and engagement has long been an interest, even before I snagged on the story idea. I have experience building and managing a couple of research communities and did a stint in a more engagement centered social media role, as well. The community focus can pull a bit away from the straight story marketing offerings out there, I think.

So, those are my 3. I look forward to playing with all of them! Watch for more details on projects for 1 and 2 soon...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Little fluffy clouds...

At the tender age of 3, my brother, Sonny, would spend hours with Grammie Roelle, watching the clouds. Like examining inkblots, they would play a type of “I spy” in the sky – picking out familiar shapes in the puffy forms.

I can pinpoint this to when he was 3 because I was 5 and was hospitalized with a broken arm and he told me this is what they did while I was away.

I like to think that this had some influence on his current career as an artist, but that's his story to tell.

As a kid, I often wondered how other people thought. Was the dialogue in their brains like the one in mine? Did they even have such a dialogue? How did they take in, process, and decide what to do with all the sensory information around us? What shapes did they see in the clouds?

In my teenage years, this became a quasi-crisis (as, I suppose, many things do for teens). I was convinced that I was different and, in the search for the root of that difference, perspective was a key culprit. Everyone else just didn't understand the stories my brain was telling me.

My brother, Dan, is red-green color blind. They discovered this when he was in kindergarten or first grade – he did the color by numbers all wrong until he learned to read the names on the crayons. To him, the lawn is orange. Our Uncle actually sees in only shades of gray. I remember trying to play Trivial Pursuit with him and it just didn't work because the color coding meant nothing.

Knowing that Dan sees the grass as orange fascinates me. If he has this colorblindness, how does he know that it's orange that he's seeing in the grass? Wouldn't oranges look a different color to him? How does he create his frame of reference when his perspective is so shifted from “the norm”? Does a color shift change way you experience things? Does a purple strawberry taste the same?

Oliver Sacks did a study on an island of folk in the South Pacific, where almost everyone saw in shades of gray. In the book, he describes the artwork of some (Scandinavian, I think) people with the same condition. Paintings done in black, white, and various grays that have patterns and details those of us who see the whole spectrum of colors cannot distinguish. Only visible to those who perceive the world just as the artist does. Cool!

Shapes in the clouds and orange grass, with a bit of teen angst thrown in. This is the root of my fascination with perspective, which in turn is key to the importance of connections. It's only by connecting to others and hearing their stories that we can understand what the world is like for them – and by so doing understand a bit more of what is unique about our own point of view.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The human search for connections

Photo: Danny's birthday, which was also Easter (hence the ears).

When we were young, we moved rather frequently, or so it seemed to us at the time, when the majority of kids we knew lived in the same house from birth to graduation. The longest we stayed in one house, until junior high, was four years. The moves weren't dramatic for their distance, but a few were enough to put the three of us Roelle kids in a new school and new social situation.

From age 3 to 7, we lived in a suburban track neighborhood full of kids. We had easily unlocked the secret of the circle as a gathering point and made several close friends with whom we spent many an afternoon adventuring. There was a bully, a couple of annoying kids, a spoiled kid who just assumed everyone would like him - a whole society.

From there we moved to a small town about 45 minutes away. As it was early April, we had a few months left of the school year, but didn't really connect with anyone at school. My brothers and I formulated a plan. We would play primarily in the front yard, with occasional forays up and down the street, so that kids would see us and we could make friends.

It didn't work all that well. There were a couple of kids in the neighborhood. I became friends with a girl on the corner of the street. Sonny found someone to hang out with. But it wasn't the whole society of kids we had had at our last place.

We were there for just over a year. The following summer we moved to a farmhouse with a bunch of land on a relatively busy road for the country, just about 15 minutes from our last place – but at a new school.

Again, we spent the summer playing in the front yard, desperate for connections, for friends and playmates to “fall in our laps”. It had been so easy in the suburb. In the country, cars passed at 55mph and people had huge properties to walk and play in, they didn't come by.

I don't want to give any impression that we were harmed by the moves or that we were sad and lonely. Everything else aside, we had our cohort of 3 for the summer until school started. We fought like crazy and created our own adventures.

But we yearned for connections and weren't sure how to make them. That was missing. The companion crowd, the society of kids that we had experienced briefly, didn't emerge in these other places.

Today, when I think about the value of connections, I think about those summers in the front yard, trying to be noticed. It's the first major evidence I have of the importance of a tribe in my own life. And the start of a search for the tool to create connections - story.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sea serpents haunt my daydreams


I recently made an "about me" video where I talk about how I put the pieces together and came to story and some of the things that get me really excited. In it, I make an analogy to American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.

In American Gods, incarnations of gods travel from their lands of origin to the US with immigrant believers. Once here, they struggle to maintain belief in this new land of opportunity, variety, and distraction and - in more recent years, in a time of emerging technology gods, like the Internet, TV, and Media.

Stories face a similar issue. I don't think that there's a risk that humans will ever stop telling stories - it's too much a part of how we function, of how our brains work, for that. Rather, the playing field has shifted from small local communities to an increasingly connected world across geographies, languages, and cultures. From oral retelling or the printed word to an ever increasing array of near instantaneous connectivity and multimedia wealth.

Story will have to adapt. The question isn't "if" so much as "how".

I have a print above my desk of a sea serpent by Daria. Its tangled and twirling length is made up of sections of scales in varying patterns and colors. Each of these, as I stare at it, is a story.

They're growing like catfish in Chernobyl's holding pond. (Catfish continue to grow until they die, which when undisturbed can be past the century mark. Chernobyl's catfish are now about 8 feet long.) Layer by layer, story by story, the serpent grows. I want to put a webcam near his lair (or his hunting ground) so that we can share and spread the wonder of his stories without disturbing his normal existence.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Reinvention Summit 2 - A week of Story

People respond to stories. They tell them themselves. The stories spread, and as people tell them, the stories change the tellers. Because now the folk who never had any thought in their head but how to run from lions and keep far enough away from rivers that the crocodiles don't get an easy meal, now they're starting to dream about a whole new place to live. The world may be the same, but the wallpaper's changed.
- Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

(One of my favorite story quotes.)

This past week I attended Reinvention Summit 2. Each day had 4 sessions that tackled story from a variety of angles. At the end of each day, J and I would sit there for a bit, just getting our heads around what we had absorbed. I have homework to do yet - a few sessions that I missed most of and want to watch, worksheets, book shopping, and lots of links to follow. This is going to help me immensely as I step forward on the Initiative front the remainder of this year.

One key takeaway for me was to set fear aside. I hadn't really acknowledged that it was holding me back. "Nerves". "Not my cup of tea". "Too risky for me". "I don't want to deal with the paperwork." Really all fear-based. Afraid of stepping out and not having anything of value to say. Of crawling out on a limb only to have it crack under my weight. Of not having a clear enough direction and so ending up going nowhere fast.

What I learned this past week is that, if I let myself think those sort of thoughts, there will always be some reason NOT to move forward. That I share a love of story with a large number of smart people, so I don't have to do anything alone. That story excites me and makes me happy and I already knew that when I'm excited I'm pretty good at bringing other people into the fold.

I just have to do it.

Here's a snapshot of just my tweets and retweets from the week so that you can see a bit of the themes that I appreciated enough to share.

What I think jumps out here is that subjects related to connecting stand out as much as creating stories (connect, audience, change, conversation, love, tell, culture, world, people, share).

Some specific key quotes (all from Michael Margolis @getstoried, btw) out of those tweets include:
- Life is a conscious creation - get comfortable creating something on your own terms.
- It's not a job to you. It's a quest.
- We are all self-made individuals and we now have the tools to become whoever we want to be.

Maybe these jumped out because of the fear discussion above.

There was a ton more - a great cast of speakers and a great tribe of participants. Like I said, I have homework to do yet, so I suspect this won't be the last post you see on the topic. ;-)

As part of setting aside my fear (and part of shoving myself into interaction so I don't revert to bashful wallflower), I contributed to the Tribe Showcase and shared the story of my projects - nascent as it is. AStoriedCareer did a nice writeup of the Showcase here. I also provided feedback on the impact of the summit that was shared in the final session, so that was pretty cool.

The experience was awesome and I can't wait to see the path I carve for myself from here and for future encounters with the Tribe on the road ahead.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Storytelling that heals - digital style

Saturday, Jenny and I went to BarCamp Rochester. We were a bit wary. It was our first time going to a geek unconference and several of the presentation titles seemed way-over-our-heads-geeky. But we both wanted to share and to test ourselves and keep up our presentation skills. As we think about getting ourselves and our thinking out in front of people more often, this seemed like a good place to start.

I wanted to present something about story, but it took me a while to craft the exact angle I wanted to take. Working in healthcare market research, I had started to gather a bunch of articles and posts on storytelling in that space, so I decided to focus there.

The result is the prezi below. I talked more to the opening parts of the presentation, so I'm also posting a video. Note, however, that the video includes some Q&A and runs about 16 minutes. (OK, video upload being a pain, so I'll just update this post when I get it up)

It went well! Yes, I read from the screen more than I should, but I also didn't want to read from the laptop and some of the quotes were long. It's all a matter of chops. I like presenting in these environments, so I am bound and determined to chase more opportunities coming up. The Q&A was a good exchange and I think people enjoyed and learned from the prezo. Here are reactions in tweets.

What do you think? And what can we do to roll some of the ideas in here forward, to crank up the support for storytelling as a healing tool?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Object-oriented stories

The Reading Glove is designed to present a tactile storytelling experience. You go into a room that has a table covered with objects and put on a glove with an RFID sensor. Each object is tagged and will give you a bit of the story as you pick it up and pass the tag by the glove.

I find this fascinating as it integrates storytelling with tech in a novel way. Karen Tanenbaum talks in this interview about how the Reading Glove's current state is a scaled down version of her original idea of an entire "haunted" room that could tell a tale.

I had a couple initial reactions:
  • Haunted room?  Coooolness.
  • This reminds me a lot of exploring within many of the puzzle games that I enjoy. You go around the room - looking for a cursor change to indicate that this is an object that you can interact with. You can add things to inventory for later use, get backstory through reading notes and journals and looking at photos,and interact with buttons, bells, knobs etc, sometimes just for silly effects.
    • Moving these type of interactions into the physical realm to tell a stand-alone story is pretty cool, but I'd like more. Some sort of visual interaction perhaps (the glass of a mirror or photo frame is actually a display that plays a bit of a visual story or has a visual narrator). Maybe a way to link stories in different locations into a larger tale - or to spread a story out over a city - a scavenger hunt object-oriented story - love it!
  • I like the ability for a group of people to experience the story together, but I'd like if there was a private feed option (headphones or something) that could bring the storytelling to places that might not be rooms explicitly set aside for it - into public spaces.
  • This could easily be adapted to make interactive displays in museums even more interesting and functional.
Reading RFID isn't super new.  A few years ago, companies got started selling codes that other companies could put on their products that could "record and share" the story of whatever it was.  The examples that I saw I remember being a bit "tired" - quick updates like "bought here on this date", etc.  "Jane gave this to Sue".  But the possibilities were there.

What the reading glove does is provide an interim step where people don't have to get creative on their own with a new technology to boot, they just need to experience it.  I think there could be some really cool things we could do in the object-oriented story space.  Hopefully we'll see some happen.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Top 10 cool people who influence me from afar

My first top 10 list - I think. I wanted to share some of the people whose work and thinking and just the way their brains approach things inspires me and helps me over hurdles. This does not include any important friends and family members. These aren't in any order of importance, necessarily.

1 - Jane McGonigal- Someone as fascinated with how people interact through games as I am with how they interact through story. She's done great work and come up with some fascinating game systems. I look forward to seeing where SocialChocolate and SuperBetter go.

2 - Jan Chipchase - One of those brilliant anthropologist/ design minds who see the disfunction of things that should work and the functionality in jerry-rigged work arounds. His work in India and Africa - understanding the interaction with devices in the daily lives of the masses, is very cool.

3 -Oliver Sacks - Anthropologist on Mars got me hooked. I had always wondered what life was like, what the world looked like, to people with different neurological issues. Sacks explores these marvellously, putting you in the head of a painter who, after hitting a bump in the road, can no longer perceive color, of a doctor with Tourette's, and more. I'm currently reading Migraine, which is a bit dense but tells me so much more than any docs have.

4 - Umberto Eco - The man is a genius of language, its use, and hidden meanings. Foucault's Pendulum is my favorite to date, although I need to reread it and I have a couple of his newer books to still get to. Baudolino had some great storylines that still stick in my head.

5 - Neil Gaiman - A master storyteller, who has a firm belief that a large part of the experience of a story is what the audience brings to it. I've been following his blog for years, an avid fan, and I just really like the twisted cool way he thinks.

6 - Henry Jenkins - An expert on transmedia storytelling who often finds great examples like the guest blog post around Cookie Monster and Canadian healthcare. His book Convergence Culture was a great entry point for me into what the technology of today can do to shift storytelling.

7 - Dan Ariely - His work on why we make the decisions we do is incredibly interesting, as is his background and how he came to his initial observations of behavior.

8 - danah boyd - I started following danah when I was doing quite a bit of research on teens and sharing. I like the way she thinks and her perspective on the issues that she writes about/ speaks on.

9 - Seth Godin - I find he's got a great way of stating what just makes sense, but what so many fail to see.

10 - David Eagleman - Much like Sacks in delving into what makes our brains work the way they do and offering great slices of perspective, but maybe even a more diverse thinker. A new discovery for me, I have to check out his books.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The power of stories

To brighten your week - here's the Oscar nominated short

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

One of five nominations for the 2012 Academy Awards’ Best Animated Short category, this film inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story.

(via invisibly)(via BookshelfPorn)

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The evolution of myth

I just finished Book #2 A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong. In it, she walks through each of the stages of civilization and
discusses the myths of those eras. She's quite matter of fact, which on a subject like myth can be a bit disappointing, because it seems like the richness of the subject is lost in her translation, but she did outline an evolution of myth that I found quite interesting and wanted to share.

People have pretty much always spun myths. These weren't codified in writing, obviously, in the early days, but signs of them still remain. Traditions formed around the myths and children were taught their intricacies. These were life lessons - beliefs on how to deal with the existence we are faced with and as existence changed, so did the character of the myths, although they always dealt with answering the main questions about our life and death.

The earliest myths (based on paleolithic graves and observations among pygmie and Aboriginal tribes) were about transcendent experiences. The Sky God overlooked all and represented the ultimate transcendence. But transcendence is a hard thing to hang your understanding of the universe on. Myths cannot focus on the supernatural alone, but need some connection to humanity. They need to be put into practice in order to reveal their hidden truths. The Sky God eventually "disappeared". Some cultures have myths that details how he was removed from the picture. It would put some mobsters to shame.

Shortly after the Sky God exited, myths were formed that focused more concretely on the reality of death. Society was becoming agrarian and struggled to tie the cycle of the harvest to the passage of their lives. Strong, vengeful female goddesses emerged who set the cycle of life, death, and rebirth in motion.

From the farms, man moved to towns and cities. Myths in the era of urbanization were built to explain order's fight with chaos.

Finally, at the dawn of many of today's established religions, in the scientific era, man turned to logic before myth. To order, to experiment, to evidence. Without myth to give structure and meaning to life, society began to despair. Cruel acts of unspeakable violence emerged as the myths that taught compassion, the ability to identify with your fellow man, were pushed aside in favor of cold, hard facts.

So here we sit. Desperately seeking someone to pull us back to a life full of stories and myth and hope. In need of myths that can help us to understand the latest permutation of life on this planet. Who will take up that lead? Organized religion is mired in ritual that has lost its meaning. Perhaps the arts is a better place to look. And to each and every one of us, telling stories and making life a little better for all who listen.

We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow beings, not simply those who belong to our ethnic, national, or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion,which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a 'resource'.

We need stories - go tell one.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My day job is all about data, and yet...

I believe in data driven decision-making. I believe that data can be the backbone to a story and is often a compelling aspect of changing corporate minds.

But data isn't everything. Data alone is a snore to those not equipped to or interested in swimming in it. Personally, if I'm thrown a bunch of data and forced to digest without the ability to look at the angles that I want to explore myself, I get quite upset and then bored.

In Lincoln on Leadership: Executive strategies for tough times by Donald T Phillips, he talks about Lincoln's proclivity for using story to bring his message home. Many important statements and answers had a story involved, often stories of simple folk on the frontier. Phillips includes a quote from Thomas J Peters and Nancy K Austin:

"It turns out that human beings reason largely by means of stories, not by mounds of data. Stories are memorable. ... They teach. ... If we are serious about ideals, values, motivation, commitment,we will pay attention to the role of stories and myths."

So it depends in part on what the objective of your communication is. Data still has a role in making reasoned decisions. But when seeking emotional buy-in, excitement, motivation, commitment to a cause or value, then the most powerful tool you can use is story.

Leveling up in 2012

Challenged to think about my next level and how I plan to attack it, I focus on much of what I've already posted regarding my themes and challenges for the year. The next level for me will mean cutting down on piles of materials (physical and mental) by starting to USE them. Taking risks, making commitments, staying disciplined - all at levels that aren't default for little miss "you'll find me in the corner with a book".

On this journey, I expect some key guides to help (no commitment needed guys, just by being you). J. Jack & Lorraine. Jenny. Mom & Dad. Probably others.

Let the games begin. (Or crank, since we're a couple of weeks in already.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What ties us together

There are different arguments about how and why we as humans feel a need to connect with others of our kind.

I've been reading and rereading an outline by Stowe Boyd about Social Cognition. He starts off the presentation talking about how language is universal, in a social environment. Lose a kid in the woods to be raised by wolves and he will have no language. Drop two kids on a desert island and they will create their own language.

Stowe then moves to how relationships/ conversations/ and connections unite us and have been proven to help advance adoption of new ideas, scholarly performance, happiness in the workplace, and so on.

Cognition is social, at the core, and much of what people do, or decide to do, is channeled and amplified through connection with others.

Social Cognition, as a discipline, studies how our brains work on relationships. It's a key element of understanding the struggles of the autistic, who make fewer social connections in their brains than the average Joe.

So we are wired to think socially. To draw from relationships to solve the problems that we encounter day to day.
We are also wired to socially build and evolve language.
Social transcends the development of both.
And I would argue that story transcends it all. We are compelled to share our experiences, to work through problems, morals, wonders, and discoveries together, via language and the way we encapsulate this and work things through together is story.

It's universal, fundamental, and shapes our lives at the core.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2012 challenges

So, I've had this thought about story for a while now and I haven't really taken it anywhere.

I recently took the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment for work and came out as:
Learner - Kinda' obvious. A love of learning. On a whole string of topics.
Ideation - Again, straightforward. Coming up with new ideas.
Individualization - Focused on understanding what makes each person tick in their own way - realizing that people are different and that solutions need to vary to accommodate (one diet does not fit all, e.g)
Maximizer - Highlighting the strengths in myself and the people around me, rather than getting stuck on what needs improvement. Playing those strengths together to get the best results.
Input - Collecting data from all sorts of sources. Hence my tons of open tabs, bookmarks, to read piles, and whatnot. I'm an information horder. Deal with it.

Taking the first and last of this list, you start to get a bit of a picture of my dilemma around story. I have been absorbing, gathering, bookmarking, reading. Trying to get all the angles I can and in the meantime not doing much movement at all on my own.

This is part of the reasoning behind the theme of Initiative in 2012. One of my big challenges for myself this year is to move from gathering info into action. I'm pretty excited about it actually. It's like when you talk and talk and talk about a project or trip and then it finally starts falling into place. I'm doing a little bit of the jump-up-and-down-and-giggle-and-clap-hands - on the inside, anyway.

The plan is to share challenges more often here, too, throughout the process.

What are your challenges as you set out on your 2012 adventure?