In search of a storytelling ‘grid’ | Part VII | What is story-work made of?

By Limor Shiponi

Cynthia’s request about creating a storytelling ‘grid’ in relation to story-work appears in a comment she made to Part V. If summarized, I think this is what we get:

The ‘grid’ has to include places story practitioners can point at and state “Here I am; here I am not”. When they state so they are relating to those parts of the ‘grid’ which are essential to their work. Without those parts, their work cannot take place.

Those places should be “doings” of story practitioners. “Doings” like in what they need to know how to do or be, not the outcome of their work.

Therefore, those “doings” need most probably to be labeled ‘role’ ‘skill’ ‘trait'(?) ‘knowledge'(?). They cannot be names of professions or organizational/positioning titles.

I’m stopping here, hoping for Cynthia to visit and examine these parameters. In the meanwhile I’m going to start compiling a list of ‘places’ on the ‘grid’ so this post will be updated several times. As always, your contributions are most welcome.

Update – aggregating from comments made on a previous post: empathy, (honest, childlike, playful) curiosity, the ability to spot a story.

Update – In the meanwhile I visited WWSW, collected texts from ten users commenting on “about me” and their work, placed everything into ‘Wordle’ and asked for the top five words. Got: Narrative, story, use, patterns & understand. Hmmm… although a tiny sample I can already see a problem: narrative – what exactly about narrative do you DO? What do you DO concerning story? What or how do you use and understand? Understand patterns? Use patterns? Something else patterns? We’ll need the people to come over and say exactly what they do. Square one? I’ll wait for a while.

Update – I’m adding here the list of components important for a storyteller in descending order of intensity, created through a survey I conducted several years ago. There are some ‘doings’ that can be easily spotted here but for most, this list too needs more clarifications around what exactly each component translates into when it comes to doing:

Sense of story, interest, passion, perseverance, intention, communication skills, listening skills, authenticity, observing skills, presence, desire, love/care for others, being approachable & welcoming, practice, non-manipulative motivation, self-awareness, being humane, voacl skills, respect for language, self-confidence, wisdom, courage, ability to cooperate, experience, marketing skills, being fun, charisma, clear identity, natural talent, understanding what creates drama, spatial intelligence, dramatic skills, visual intelligence, movement skills, the ability to move between different layers of language, large repertoire, humbleness, knowledge in other fields, spirituality, facial mimics, theoretical knowledge, knowledge of own family background, peacemaking ideology, ability to train others, physical fitness, ideology of any kind, ethnical identity, good looks, religious identity.

Update – notice Karen’s comment on part V, replying to Cynthia (submitted on 2011/05/31). Karen lists her ‘doings’ among them: listening, patterning, sense making, evaluating, reflecting, resonating, etc. modes of story work. I feel I need to ask – listening, for what reason or whom/what to? Patterning of? What else do you do with patters? Sense-making from what perspective? What kind of skills are you using there within the wider sense-making process? Etc.


10 thoughts on “In search of a storytelling ‘grid’ | Part VII | What is story-work made of?”

  1. Sorry for not keeping up, holiday yesterday. I like your list as a start. If I was trying to build such a list I would (surprise) use a narrative survey to help people think about their own stories to help us all explore the space. I would ask people to recount a moment during their career as a story worker in which they did one of these things:
    – felt exceptionally PROUD or ashamed of something they had done;
    – were excited to have found a perfect FIT between their natural talent and what they needed to do, or were frustrated when the fit was bad and a task did not come easily to them;
    – were TOLD by a colleague that they did something exceptionally well, or watched a colleague do something exceptionally well and realized they could never do that as well and should concentrate on other things;
    – felt POSSESSIVE about an activity or task because they loved doing it so much, or wished someone else would take a task or activity away because they dreaded it;
    – found that they JUST KEPT ON DOING something, not on purpose but because it just kept coming up naturally, or found that even though they felt sufficiently capable of doing something, it just never seemed to happen, possibly because they didn’t seek it;
    – found people repeatedly asking for their HELP in an area, or had to admit they needed help in an area
    – heard about something a story worker did (or saw a book or web site about a way of doing story work) and felt “I have GOT to try that” or “I suppose its’s nice but it’s not my thing” or “ewwww, why would I want to do that?”
    – learned about a way of doing something and realized that they’d been doing it for years ALREADY without knowing it, or understood why they always avoided a task for the first time
    – noticed similarities or differences between their professional description (on web sites, blogs, LinkedIn, WWSW, etc) and those of others, and felt good or bad about what they saw

    Normally I brainstorm a list of MANY such things then whittle them down to the best three or so. This is just an off-the-top-of-my-head try, and such lists are always better if multiple people work on them. I was thinking about moments in my own work life in which I’ve felt all the things described; I’m sure other people could come up with more.

    Then after the person tells the story, I would ask them some questions about the story, something like this:

    – What do you think was the critical factor that made you succeed or fail in this story? Is there anything that would have changed the outcome in a strong way if it had NOT been present? If you had or lacked a critical ASSET or SKILL, what was it? If you took or didn’t take a critical ACTION, what was it? If you made or didn’t make a critical DECISION, what was it? If you received or didn’t receive any critical HELP, what was it? (and so on)
    – In the story which assets (or lacks thereof) are UNIQUE to you yourself, and which do you think would apply to anybody?
    – If you wanted to teach a COURSE in which people would learn how to do what you did in that story, or what you wish you could have done but didn’t do, what would the course syllabus look like? What would the lectures be about? What (fictitious or real) books would be assigned?
    – Describe the LAND of activities in which you found yourself in this story. If everyone in that land did exactly what you did, or wished you had done, in this story, what would they all do? What would they be like?
    – What SURPRISED you in this story? What didn’t surprise you?

    Normally I include some interpretation questions that have numerical or easily counted responses, to look for quantitative trends in balance with the qualitative patterns, so I’d try to put in some things like:
    – How do you feel about this story? (either a positive to negative line or a list of named emotions)
    – How long will you remember this story? (as a way of sorting sacred from mundane)
    – How likely would you be to tell this story to someone seeking advice on how to do story work? (as a measure of perceived centrality to the purpose)
    – From your experiences talking to colleagues, how COMMON were the experiences you described in this story? (as a measure of perceived insider/outsider status)
    – How much do you talk to other story practitioners? (as a measure of awareness)

    And so on. Then I’d take all of the responses – say 50 or 100 or so – and start heaping them up looking for map locations. The positive stories (proud, good fit, at home) would provide some locations and the negative stories would provide others. Then the next stage would be to start clustering the “countries” of affinities into “continents” and so on. This is all better if it can be done in a room with a lot of people, but it can be done in other ways as well. I would think that as an activity (poll?) on WWSW it could be VERY cool. Even just reading each other’s stories would be fun. I’m certainly happy (and secure enough) to recount some of the many ways in which I have discovered my useful limitations as well as talents. !

    Helpful? Of course that mostly reflects the toolkit I carry around with me, not necessarily the right way to go about it. As they say, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail …

    1. Cynthia, I totally understand what you are describing and thanks for spreading out a rich example. It’s a fascinating read. As I was reading, a pecking question appeared: why not ask the people directly – what is it that you do i.e. things you can say that you notice or others notice you DO IN ACTION (doing your ‘thing’) that if you were not doing would block the possibility of completing the task at hand?

        1. You’ll have to explain ‘spiel cart’. I’m not familiar with that expression.

          I’ve read the page on your blog and I understand what you’re saying. The thing is that in this case there are certain differences:

          The people we want the stories from, we can’t meet in person. Therefore we will not be listening to them but rather reading them. There are many implication coming from that difference.

          If we would be reading that means they will be writing. It’s a different process than telling a story spontaneously in front of a group. They can wear more masks and edit their stories endlessly in order to present something really ‘good’. It will stay so they will want to make sure it will present them in a certain way, which is not necessarily authentic.

          Think about the investment each possible participant will have to put in place in order to generate those stories. If we were meeting in person it would be easy. As we have already seen, when in distance, busy, not knowing each other really, people tend to not take part unless they see a very good reason (what’s in it for me?)

          On the other hand, as we have seen along the search discussion, those who do come over, speak their truth and try to refine their observance for the sake of a more fruitful discussion.

          I’m making a suggestion – what about the possibility of asking for a single input that in the way it is requested can elicit the same outcome as many questions? Is it possible?

          1. Had a power outage and couldn’t reply sooner. I made up “spiel cart” – kind of a mixture of “don’t upset the apple cart” and “here comes my spiel” 🙂

            Totally understand and agree with your concerns about listening as opposed to reading. In fact I am enthused to see you don’t equate superficial data gathering with deep understanding 🙂 On the other hand I can’t agree that writing is ALWAYS less authentic than talking. We introverts often think by writing and feel safer disclosing things in a quiet space where we can be careful and triple-check. You will always get a more authentic answer out of me in writing than in speech where I tend to get muddled and cannot call quick answers to hand. It takes all kinds! I have seen that in projects where we allowed people to speak either/both in person and in writing different people opened up and spoke more authentically in different ways.

            One possibility is to suggest people do peer interviews where they form pairs or triads or quads and ask each other the questions over the phone or Skype or in physical space if they live near each other. They would share the task of entering the data, but they would get to having data to enter in a more lively, spontaneous way than filling in the same forms alone. That would address the issues of presentation and time and listening you raised. And if people didn’t feel comfortable doing it that way they could still enter their information alone. I’m not sure it matters whether the material is collected consistently, since the goal is not an academic proof of anything but a collective artifact of mutual aid.

            I agree that people don’t have much time to participate in things like this. On any online group you are lucky if you get 10 percent participation in anything. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing! I think there are something like 300 people on WWSW? Even if we got 30 to do it, we could still build a pretty good map don’t you think? I don’t have time to participate in this discussion either! (and maybe you don’t!) but we both/all share a goal of connecting and making sense of the whole of story work (I think). There may be more people who share that goal than is obvious from the surface.

            Also agree that people will want to present themselves well to others. I have met with this issue lots and have developed some means of communicating the goals of the project so as to reduce people co-opting the collective goal for self-promotion. You can never get self-promotion down to less than a dull roar, but there are ways to do that. Even if it comes down to bare self-interest, people should have reasons to support the collective goal of building stronger connections.

            Having said that, putting a lot of weight onto the authenticity of the stories people tell is only required if the stories must stand ALONE. That is the participatory part of the approach I use, where REFLECTIONS about stories are as important as the stories themselves. The stories matter as an end, but equally they are a MEANS to help people reflect on their possibly inarticulate feelings, beliefs and values, so that the answers they give to questions reflect a deeper authenticity. Meaning, telling a story and reflecting on it is a process of participatory sensemaking that includes each person in what is discovered by all. This enhances the win/win outcome of the project for everyone involved – in the language of action research, the researched, the researching, and the researched for. (In the WWSW case all three groups would be one, which is nice.)

            As to scope, I only listed LOTS of questions to give you an idea of the range of possibilities. It’s always necessary to trim to fit into any time/attention scope. This application would be at what I call the kiosk level, meaning people are likely to wander off if it’s not super quick. In a situation like this I wouldn’t ask for any more than two stories and I wouldn’t ask any more than five questions about each. That’s only 12 questions total, probably not more than a ten minute session at the most. You could trim it further … but there is a balance between the richness of each response and the number of responses. More responses are not always better if they are more superficial as a result. Sometimes the barrier represented by a time requirement weeds out the non-responding respondents, meaning the people who SAY they will do it but then just click randomly to get through it. That mucks up the data and gives the illusion of results without actually useful patterns.

            I’m waaay out here so gather me up and pull me back in before I reach orbital velocity! I apologize for getting carried away (but I didn’t trim this comment did I? I tried!) I’m not sure if any of this is feasible or even desirable. I’m just traveling in search of enlightenment 🙂 Thanks for a fascinating journey so far. Even if it doesn’t go any further it has been eye-opening for me. I’ll shut up now and let you decide what YOU want to do next.

          2. WWSW has 610 members and it seems to me that the place to go now for the story practitioners mapping. I can continue the search here since I’m (we) are not done with storytelling yet (far from it). Then we can see where things meet and where they don’t and we’ll have a full landscape. So, how do we proceed from here? Your lead lady, just tell me what you want me to do 🙂

  2. One more idea (sparked by thinking of more ways to witness stories, see previous post) would be to ask people to answer three questions about stories about their work: In what ways did you TELL stories in this story? In what ways did you WITNESS them? In what ways were you PART of stories?

    Those are Limors, then ask mine: In what ways did your work in this story have to do with the FORM of the story/stories worked with? With FUNCTION? With PHENOMENON? And, can you place dots on this “life cycle” diagram showing what you did?

    And Shawn’s, and Karen’s, and whoever has one that people think has utility. Meaning, use our intuitively developed maps not as THE map but as SKETCHES from which to explore more fully. This requires that our sketches be VERY SIMPLE and NOT LEADING but more like scaffolding on a rising building. Of course I’d want to give all the visualizations equal room! To give people a variety of models to resonate with and to include us all 🙂

    1. Continuing from my previous comment – this speaks to me as NATURAL. I love it and I think this is the way to go.

      1. Limor, I did not see your comment about doing something on WWSW until just now (a while later). I mentioned our discussion to Madelyn and she said she hadn’t read it being busy with the release of her updated web site. I am myself busy finishing the update of my book! Else I would have been checking here. I would be all for doing “something” on WWSW – how about we start a discussion there?

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