STEPPING INTO STORY ACTIVISM

We all use stories as a frame for how we see the world and as a filter for our actions. They tell us how far we can go, what “people like us” can expect and who has the power.  So what happens if you want to change the story you’re living in? So many people want to get good at storytelling so they can influence others.  But stories can do so much more than this!  They are a foundation stone for changing our experiences and expectations and the doorway for new possibilities.

This session offers ten practices of Story Activism and how you can use them first to take back the power of your own story and then to work with others to change the stories we’re all living in together.  This will be a highly practical and fun session aimed at providing a roadmap for taking action in areas that matter most to you.

We Are All Chimeras: Promoting Unity, Diversity, and Ingenuity through Metaphorical Storytelling

We will share an experience of using a mythological creature (the Chimera) and organizational metaphor analysis (see, e.g., Gareth Morgan’s Imaginization) to guide people through the process of crafting stories about how they envision themselves and their organizations as multi-faceted or hybrid organisms—reflecting on their past, present, and future possibilities—with the aim of valuing the diversity of that community while also promoting a collective, collaborative identity.

During the workshop, facilitators will briefly share the case study behind this workshop (10 minutes) then lead the participants through a series of interactive storytelling activities to reflect on the “chimeric” characteristics of themselves and of their organizations (70 minutes) and close with a time for reflection and further discussion (10 minutes).

The background of this workshop is a case study at an Art and Design college with a diverse international student population (California College of the Arts in San Francisco, USA). Students, faculty, and staff adopted as the school mascot the Chimera: a fantastic beast from Greek mythology—part lion, goat, serpent, and dragon. The term “chimera” in English has come to mean any dazzling, seemingly impossible, or ingenious combination of things, so until recently there was no single visual symbol for this mascot and no single definition of it; instead, our artists composed many different chimera. This seemed fitting for a community where everyone celebrates their own uniqueness. But when a symbol can mean almost anything, it can become vague rather than unifying. Student Life leaders developed a series of campaigns to help people at all levels of the organization see themselves as chimera, using visual and verbal storytelling to bring people together to compose and communicate that message.

What participants will get out of the workshop is: 1) A critically reflective and creative learning experience regarding their personal and professional identities; 2) a set of tools and examples for facilitating hands-on “maker-space” type experiences with colleagues (using visual methods such as collage along with creative writing prompts) for metaphorical storytelling and dialogue within their organizations; 3) an annotated bibliography of resources for further reading and exploration about this approach. 

Developing the future stories of companies – open and closed storyworlds

Convincing future stories of companies and organizations (Where will we go? What will we do? What will be our place in the world?) are crucial for the value of companies in (stock) markets, as the sociologist Jens Beckert showed in his book “Imagined Futures”. But future stories are as well important to give employees and executives of company a deep understanding of the meaning of there everyday work: What is the goal of our company? And what is my contribution to this goal? Where am I situated in the common story of our organisation?

Future stories of companies can be situated either in an open or a closed storyworld. To explain what open and closed storyworlds are let’s take a sidestep into screenwriting. In his screenwriting guide “First save the cat” Blake Snyder identifies 10 types of stories told in movies. One of these he calls “Monster in the House”: The main character of these stories is locked in a closed setting with monster he has to fight. An example for this story type is Ridley Scott’s film “Alien” (1979): Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is fighting a murderous alien in a spaceship; she will only survive if she can kill the monster. Closed stories like “Monster in the House” are based on fear. Companies often tell there future stories in such a closed setting: The globalization, the digitalization, an economic crisis can be the monsters in the house, and the survival of the company will depend on how they deal with these monsters.

Future stories of that type can motivate by fear, but only on short term; they lack a perspective for the time after the monster is killed. They are focused completely on the monster and don’t have a compelling vision. An example of an open storyworld setting can be, according to Blake Snyders types of stories, the “Golden Fleece”: Jason ant the Argonauts in Greek mythology have the vision to find a treasure, the golden fleece. This story is situated in an open storyworld: During the Quest for the treasure a lot of things can happen, and maybe the Argonauts learn on their way, that they have to change their vision and seek another treasure. Future stories in an open setting include spontaneity, adaptation on the needs of new situations, change and re-authoring of the goal and the outcome of the story while telling it.

Based on this difference between open and closed storyworlds in the workshop we will discuss the building of successful future stories, look into examples, and see how we can develop future stories beginning with the stories of the past and the present.

Workshop Host

Storytelling in a social media era

In barely a decade, social media has transformed our world, the way we communicate, and our relationships in quite remarkable ways. It still changes and evolves unceasingly. Stories are the way that we process information and make sense of the world. This has gone unchanged for centuries.

What is happening now is that the tools to create stories are exploding. Today people have the expectation to be much more involved and to be part of the story, to create their stories and to co-author. To engage and get engaged. We live now in a culture of connectivity. Borders do not exist in „Social-Mediastan“. The „Netizens“ communicate via Skype, Whats App, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Vlogs, Youtube… all around the world (most parts) 24/7.

Time is negotiable. We can either communicate in real time about everything we want or go back in time. In closed private or in open public networks. We amuse, enchant, empower and enable ourselves with videos, flashmobs, quotes, memes, gifs and DIY instructions.

Storytelling has not only become a strategy to catch the attention of individual recipients. Through social media it has also become a way to break barriers and to make interaction possible, to create an environment for convening and supporting groups, to move crowds and to nudge our creativity, be it for political, business or private reasons. But storytelling in social media also exposes us to audiences which can agressively criticise and in the worst case betray us.

The world has changed social media just as much as social media has changed the world. Social media should not be seen primarily as the list of platforms on which people post, but rather as the content that is being posted on these platforms.

Facts, Fakes and Featured Realities: Ethics and Liabilities of Stories for the Future

When I was a child, I used to make up a lot of stories about my life. Astonished, people would report them to my parents, who urged me to tell only true stories and to stick to facts. While growing up, I was first shocked to understand how scientifically established truth is by essence relative to questions asked at a certain time, in a certain space, in specific constellations of convictions, beliefs and power. By the time I understood that even ethical big norms like the universal human rights were part of a much bigger system of power, I was long time an adult.

One of the oldest questions of mankind is "What can I know"? We build knowledge through experience and understanding. Understanding though, is a never ending process of interpretation, a game of doubt and trust: Is this the whole story? What is hiding? Why? Is it maybe totally different? In order to be able to act, to take the many decisions shaping our lives past, present and future, we need to query and trust over and over again the stories of reality. We have a very vital need for truth. This may sound trivial.

Yet, this question went a long way down through centuries of philosophy and is now living a highly controversial peak-time with the actual debates about post factual times. But hands on heart: there is nothing new about disputes on what is fact and what is fake, nothing new about conspiracy theories, biased scientific research, political demagogy. What is new is the distressing impact they have on the global world.

The filters helping to decide which news or story should be trustworthy seem to have vanished. Their period of validity dramatically shrinks while they are reduced to being mere consumer products. In this workshop I propose to work out together playful ways of rebuilding and strengthen trust in our capacities to understand reality, explore truth and take action. We will find out more about which kind of stories we want to stand for and how much of the explanatory gap left open by narrative discourse helps engage people. The process will be collective, co-creative and framed by a creativity challenge.

Accessing new futures: The contribution of constructive journalism

Research shows that people who consume negative news are more likely to experience stress and report having a bad day than those who consume media that has an underlying message of hope.

Still, many people wake up each day and see negative headlines before they even get out of bed. They begin their day with thoughts about how bad things are going in the world right now.

However, as the public intellectual Steven Pinker has pointed out, the world might not be as disastrous as we think it is. Part of the problem might be how we’re looking at it.

Advocates of three emerging genres of journalism are working to provide readers, listeners and viewers with a new, more constructive lens on the world.

They have created networks under the names Solutions Journalism, Constructive Journalism and Restorative Narrative, and each of these may collectively fit under the umbrella term Constructive Journalism.

The groups include practitioners and journalism educators who are telling stories about how individuals are making meaningful progress to solve some of the biggest social and economic problems in the world, or how they are recovering from trauma and tragedy.

By focusing on what is working and why -  and highlighting ways people have become resilient - these type of stories present tangible options for the future that other people can try out and adapt for themselves and their environments.

In the first part of my session, we will talk about the three genres – what they are, what they’re not, who is doing it and why. The New York Times, The Guardian and De Correspondent are among the practitioners. We will also discuss the role of companies, NGOs and advocacy groups in providing solutions research to journalists who are working on these type of stories.

In the second part of my session, we will take a deeper look at restorative narratives. They focus on human resilience and transformation. Through these stories, people can experience a form of “vicarious empathy” that allows them to see the past differently and imagine the future anew, based on the experience of someone else.

Here the session also gets hands-on. We will use a Story Circle process for you to write about a personal experience or a struggle you faced in life or work. A few volunteers will be able to share their writing to the closed group and receive constructive feedback on it.

Your writing could form the basis of a digital memoir you may want to make someday, or it may help you discover and/or clarify a personal story that has similar traits to those found in restorative narratives.

Re-shaping a brand’s future by creating alternative narrative territories

Today, the world we live in is a vuca world – a world that is characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. At a time like this, brands are permanently faced with lots of diverse challenges. With increasing regularity, these brands have to reinvent themselves in order to retain their relevance and keep their competitive edge in the market. They have to be adaptive to all the demanding circumstances and requirements of a vuca world. At regular intervals, this means that those brands need to reflect on their current state. Let’s call it starting point A. They have to challenge their own status quo and ask self-critically ‚How do people see our brand and how do they act?‘ and ‚What and how do we have to change ourselves?‘. 

As soon as this current mischief is identified relentlessly, a brand is ready to re-think and ultimately to re-shape its future state as a consequence. Let’s call this future state endpoint B. For this purpose, a spicy mixture of the relation to reality and the power of imagination is vital: What kind of future state can be imagined for our brand? And what are the limitations we are faced with realistically? Debating this area of tension, a brand always should draft alternative narrative territories (B1, B2 or B3) to tap into and explore. Creativity leads us into these territories. When it finally comes to decision making which one is the most promising territory for actually re-authoring its future, we need a change of perspective and put the consumer in the center of our thinking. We need to ask: How do we want to change him or her? Because each narrative implies a distinct impact on the consumer. Already in 1993, the author R.J. Gerrig stated in his book ‚Experiencing Narrative Worlds‘ that the consumer (= traveller) „goes some distance from his or her world of origin [= starting point A], somewhat changed by the journey“. In this sense, we can spot a move from A to B. From a consumer’s point of view, the narrative therewith marks a journey changing them. And for the brand, ideally this means a progress that reveals new perspectives.

After a short introduction, the interactive session is composed of thee parts:

(1) Case studies: You will be given three famous brands as short case studies. Each brand holds a certain current state and is respectively faced with a challenge. This is the starting point A. (OI)

(2) Groupwork: In groups, you will be working on one of these brands, re-shaping its future by drafting alternative narrative territories (B1, B2 or B3) to tap into. Therefor, you will be armed with a toolkit. (IC)

(3) Elevator pitch: As a last point, each group will present their alternative narratives as an elevator pitch.