Let’s presume … we come to the world as a white paper and over time we become a thick book of stories. There are different ways to deal with all this narrative material, we can feel victim or creator of our stories. As the persian poet Hafiz said The words we speak, make the house we live.
If we explore our narrative material, go beyond all stories, we will find a basic pattern, an essence – a personal myth. This myth is like a filter, our personal way to express life as such. In this context, I would like to appreciate Max and Ellen Schupbach, process worker and founder of the Deep Democracy Institute, and their work with the Childhood Dream.
One of my childhood dreams is the following:
I am about to play the main character in a theatre performance. I know many of the people sitting there in the audience – they have high expectations in my talents and performance. The thing is … I do not know the lyrics. I panic … I make the step into the spotlight anyway. In my not knowing, I start to connect to everything there in the very moment, I listen and watch into myself, I listen and sense into my surrounding … and I start to talk .…
There are many ways to work with this dream. An essential element is to extract polarities, vectors. Mine are for example: structure vs. flow, performance vs. letting go, experience vs intuition, extra- vs introversion. This polarity is the source for my enthusiasm about business & story work, it allows me to bridge and to dance between these poles.
Another important element of my myth is authenticity, exchanging ‚who one should be‘ with ‚who one really is‘. Applying this filter, ‚my storytelling‘ is not about perfection. It is not a talent reserved to some specially gifted people. We all have storytelling in our genes, we all are natural storytellers.
Sure, there are techniques to craft a story like architecture, tension building and solving, audience engagement, voice and communication style. But what makes a story magic and aspirational? It is the personal taste of the person who tells.
What I want to share now, are reflections on three of my preferred ingredients: imagination, empathy and courage.
1- Imagination: to invite people to dream
I have always been a dreamer – so imagination is a source I have easy access to. Metaphors and stories do a beautiful job, they invite the audience in a meta position. From this position, people can find much more ease and creativity to think about steps to undertake and obstacles to overcome.
Michael Margolis, the founder of the StoryU Academy, speaks about business storytelling promoting a paradigm shift from a problem/solution towards a possibility/obstacle attitude. Isn’t that beautiful?! It is like Steve De Shazer, who invited people in therapy – to dream into a highly pleasant future with his famous Miracle Question.
2- Empathy: to validate and invite the audience
Sharing a problem/solution story instead risks to make the audience feel stupid – as they might have been part of the current problematic situation. The audience has to feel good. Not because I tell them all they want to hear but because storytelling should not be moralistic or judgmental, it should invite people to join in. One of the best examples in history is Nelson Mandela. He made South Africa dream and invited all – black and white people (without judgement) – to join his story.
3- Courage: to let ourselves be seen
Story is a stage, it is a way to show ourselves –ideally it is also a way to connect with each other. But for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to really be seen. And this needs courage. Here, I want to refer to Brené Brown, who is beautifully unfolding the power of vulnerability.
As a leader or facilitator we have to be aware that the way we tell a story, the way we engage … affects the space a team is working in. Aspirational storytelling or leadership is not about taking space but about creating a prosperous space for others to join in. That makes me end up with an extract of Marianne Williamson’s beautiful poem ‘Our Deepest Fear’ . This poem has often been quoted as part of the inaugural speech of Nelson Mandela.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
… let your story lead the ship!