Into the field – Rients Verschoor and Martijn de Jong Posthumus on Applying the ‘learning history’ method in local government

In 2015, a group of ten Dutch history students from the University of Groningen gradually found out that their core business – thinking, writing, and telling about continuities and discontinuities – was useful. Indeed, all jokes cast aside, history could be useful. That is to say, these young historians discovered that their discipline, which is often seen as fun but practically irrelevant, could have serious impact. They made this discovery when they wrote a so-called ‘learning history’ of the place-based approach of the local government of Groningen. An assignment during the course ‘Learning History & Organizations’.

                  Learning history is a method that enables organizations to learn from their past. Based on a paper trail (various documents, reports, correspondences, etc.) and interviews we write ‘learning histories’. These learning histories then become the basis for dialogues in and between organizations to foster processes of collective learning. The goal, in the Groningen method, is to enable organizations to become ‘learning organizations’, and – even better – systems of organizations to become ‘learning systems’. Groningen, however, is not the only area where this method gains ground. A strongly overlapping method is the storytelling method of Christine Erlach and dr. Karin Thier, which we hoped to further explore during the master class of Christine Erlach at the congress Beyond Storytelling. So we packed our bags and together with dr. Rik Peters travelled to Heidelberg, curious what we would find across the border.

                  Aside from a lively and historically intruiging city and loads of enthusiastic people passionate about storytelling, we found two splendid additions to our own learning history method: a new interview technique and various effective ways to present the results of these interviews. In order to trace valuable tacit knowledge possessed by employees, Christine interviews employees using an ‘Ereigniskurve’. The Ereigniskurve is a supporting tool with which the employee can visualize his or her experiences on a time scale, and which enables the interviewer to in depthly and accurately interview the employee about these experiences. In addition, and it may sound silly at first, Christine emphasized the importance of truly listening. Whereas we were trained to accurately and actively interview, specifically searching for information based on the paper trail we analyze, Christine claimed the gist is in how people tell their stories – and they have their stories; don’t worry about that.

Christine also taught us new ways of production after the harvest of the interviews. Central to our Groningen learning histories are the experiences from employees, combined with the historical knowledge of the researcher, and presented in a narrative filled with citations and reflective learning questions. However, Christine demonstrated various different ways of presenting the harvest: combining the stories of the employees in one visual ‘roadmap’, in a comic, or as we saw in ‘Augenhöhe project’ from Daniel Trebien, in a film. It is important to stress, though, that the welding of the stories in a format is not the end of the story. In fact, when the format is ready for use the story begins. For the stories have to be shared, through dialogue, within the organization in order that people learn from it.

                  Eager to blend Christine’s method with our own in our line of work, we gave it a shot in our local government in Groningen. This local government is dealing with a major transformation from the Dutch welfare state to a ‘participation society’, in which many national tasks have been decentralized and another approach in relation to collaboration with civilians is being implemented. A large aspect of this transformation in Groningen is the further development of the so-called ‘place-based approach’; a task for which we have been employed. In short, the place-based approach is a contextual approach in which integral aspects of an area are decisive for governmental policy-making and operationalisation, as opposed to sectoral urban policy.

                  Right now we are busy interviewing our collegaes and collecting stories. Every interview we start by asking: could you please visualize your professional experience on a scale from positive to negative by drawing a line. This question asks people to think about their professional life in order of a story. They recollect their different experiences – which are stories in themselves – and connect them to each other in a bigger story of their professional experience as a whole. The Ereigniskurve in the form of a line then serves as a guideline for the interview. The next question we ask is if they want to explain the line they drew. From this point onwards the listening begins. Sometimes we interrupt by asking, for example, what they learned from this or that experience. But we try taking the advice from Christine to heart: stop asking, start listening.

                  We already collected a bunch of beautiful stories. The next step is analyzing all the material and discussing it within the organisation. In analyzing the stories we search for tacit knowledge. That is implicit knowledge of which the owner doesn’t know he or she has. There is not one way for doing this. In the Dutch language we have a saying that you have to ‘read between the lines’ which, in this context, can be used as a metaphor for the method. On presenting and discussing the stories and their hidden knowledge we are thinking of (innovative) ways for doing that. One idea is to present and discuss the stories (whether in a classic presentation in text, a ‘roadmap’ or a comic) in a room which is totally filled with prints of citations from the interviews. In the end this blog is a story of our own learning history in making learning histories and we are somewhere in the middle of it. We ourselves are curious how the story continues…

Rients and Martijn supported us throughout the BEYOND STORYTELLING conference.

Learn more about them on their linkedIn profiles:









It's not about the genitals - A reaction to the workshop: Let‘s deconstruct Gender: Does Gender Diversity need different Leadership Narratives?

The first thing I notice upon entering the workshop space is what I usually notice in events and discussions around the topic of gender – there is absolutely no gender diversity in the audience. Conversations around gender in leadership (or, let’s be honest, gender anywhere) are held almost exclusively amongst women – with the possible exception of the LGBT communities, where gay, bisexual, transgender and generally non-hetero-normative males might also be present. A am generalizing, off course, but personally I’ve yet to experience a gender-balanced conversation on this topic. I see the resemblance to how Kimmel describes the situation in gender studies classes in the university: there are usually one or two men “cringing defensively in the corner, feeling blamed for the collective sins of two millennia of patriarchal oppression (Kimmel, 2013, pg. 57).”

Diversity is a buzzword that has been around for a while now. Growing scientific evidence shows us that businesses with a higher level of diversity in the workplace reach sustainable success, create more innovative cultures, share an increased collective intelligence, are socially more responsible, more ethical, incorporate a multi-perspective view and are also socially more attractive (Marte, Müller & Wieland, 2017). And still, the world as a whole still fails at creating equal opportunities for both men and women. It is not just about being nice and more accepting; when it comes to business, money matters.  The Landmark McKinsey Global Institute report finds that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 if the gender gap is narrowed (McKinsey & Company, 2015). On average, only 23.3 % of board members of the largest publicly listed companies in the EU are women. This marks a significant increase from 11.9 % in 2010 (Jourova, 2016). However, there is still a very long way to go if we are to achieve gender balance; business is still largely run by men. If leaders care about success of their organizations, this should matter to them. And yet, men consistently stay out of this conversation. How can that be possible?

There is the simple and straightforward answer of men simply not being interested in a conversation that seemingly does not concern them. It’s feminism; it’s a woman’s issue. Not my gender, not my problem. The issue of the women in the workforce is seen as outdated – women in the western world legally have equal rights to men in all aspects and fields. Female participation in tertiary education overall has increased globally and currently surpasses male participation in almost all developed countries and in half of developing countries (United Nations, 2015). What is left to complain about?

Nevertheless, it’s hard to disregard the countless experience of me or another woman raising the topic of gender in leadership and at least some of the men in the room giving a “not the feminist again” comment, hiding their eye-roll or just simply shutting down and mentally exiting the discussion. Male voices in these conversations are rarely explicitly invited and hardly ever present. Even though they might not be excluded per se, for some reason the men just don’t show up. Given that we now have a lot of clear scientific evidence of gender balance contributing to better performance of the organizations, we cannot pretend anymore that this is not everybody’s issue. Any leader who desires results for their company must be motivated to invite diverse coworkers into their team. So why do men keep silent? What keeps them out of the conversation?

Obviously, I cannot speak for men. I can only describe what I experience and what I hear from men and women I interact with. These conversations have led me to believe it is not out of carelessness or meanness or superiority; it’s out of the lack of awareness that men rarely even perceive a problem. It is really hard to see your privilege unless someone points it out and you are willing to listen. Like in the example that circled around the web recently about the coworkers, Martin E. Schneider and Nicole Hallberg, that changed their e-mail signatures for a week – you just don’t know your privilege until you live without it for a while. In the workshop, we talked about this problem and realized how hard it is to create situations where men can experience what it’s like to be a woman in business. We came to the conclusion that maybe, sometimes, sharing our stories is the best we can do.

Therefore, let me share my own experience. I am a woman in consulting business. What’s worse, I’m a young, attractive woman, working in leadership development. When I came to the company, my boss kindly engaged in training me to deal with the male dominated world of our clients – he called it resilience training. He asked uncomfortable questions and made comments to test me. He would feedback me on my blushing, fidgeting or giggling and praise me when I “handled it like a man”. According to him, I was doing great and playing the game. This already hints to where women stand in business – men will be men, they set the norm, so I need to become resilient to being seen as an object of desire.

I vividly remember one of the most unnerving experiences in group facilitation. I was facilitating a communication workshop in a group of engineers; there were 20 men and me in the room. While talking about dominant nonverbal communication, I invited one of the participants to demonstrate a handshake with me. What happened next utterly shocked me. He pulled me towards him with one hand, and reached over my back with the other to grab my behind. He was taller and stronger than me and I felt small and helpless. I reacted on impulse, shook him off and pushed him away with a force I didn’t know I had in me. It was such a reflex to just get him off me that I was very glad I didn’t punch him in the face. I asked him to sit down and went on to explain about appropriate physical distance in a business interaction. When we talk about the comfortable distance of strangers in communication, this distance is very often “just far enough that neither a punch nor a kick can reach us”. I asked him to volunteer again to demonstrate why. I told him to stand at an appropriate distance. And then came a moment of surprise for the poor man: I swung a punch and a kick towards his face, stopping first my fist and then my foot a few centimeters away from his face. “And that is why this is the distance most people feel comfortable with when talking to strangers.” He gasped; the audience fell silent, hiding their amusement. Then I announced a break (even though it was less than one hour into the session) and went into the bathroom to calm down (and do some power posing :)). My whole body was shaking. I finished the rest of the day mostly on autopilot, not making any more eye-contact with this man. After the workshop, he asked me about my martial arts training (and yes, I did do some ninjutsu, I knew how to control my punch) and I told him to be careful with touching women without their consent. Now, let's be honest here, what I did was an obvious change of status in a power play. I answered aggression with aggression, a display of power with a display of power, and successfully gained respect from him and the rest of the group. Still – is that really how we need to be in a man’s world? To become like men, only better, faster, stronger?

Another question going through my mind was: “How did I contribute to this? Was I too familiar? Was I flirting? How am I responsible for this man’s behavior? Where are these thoughts coming from? A guy grabs me and I feel responsible? Chené Swart talks about “the water”, i. e. the taken for granted beliefs that inform the stories we buy into.


What is the water we are swimming in when discussing gender in leadership? Next to the stereotyping exercise we did in the workshop, I also asked my friends and colleagues and here’s what I’ve collected:

·       Men are better leaders, because they’re more goal-oriented, decisive, dependable and charismatic. Both men and women prefer men leaders and facilitators, because they have better authority.

·       To gain trust from the audience, any facilitator must (and an emphatic woman definitely will) adapt to their frame of reference – if they already see a woman as an object of desire, she will be most successful if she uses it to her advantage.

·       Men are rational, women are overly sensitive. If as a woman you notice and respond to sexual objectification, you are over-reacting and lack a sense of humor. It was, after all, just a joke.

·       Generally, women aren’t funny. However, women, who take part in the sexist conversation, are considered cool and fun.

·       Men will be men; it’s normal for men to feel and express sexual desire to an attractive woman and she should, if anything, take it as a compliment as it was meant.

·       It’s a men’s world and women should adapt to its’ standards.

·       To succeed in business as a leader, a woman must (excuse the expression) “grow some balls”.

I could go on, but I think we get the point. The ocean of taken for granted beliefs that we swim in makes it extremely hard for a woman in my situation to set appropriate boundaries. These beliefs are not just “out there”, they’re inside of my own mind, making me question my own beliefs and values. After a few years I gained some confidence in my professional identity and set clearer boundaries. I told my boss that my resilience training can end and that I’d appreciate it if he stops making sexist comments. Now he asks permission when he opens the topic of gender in my presence, which is an improvement. It gives me the opportunity to opt out.

Like most women do, I bought into these socially accepted messages and expectations. I considered myself cool for being manly enough to live in the men’s world. But it’s more than just about being cool. It’s about trying to be functional.

As Angelica and Michael point out, diversity is a problem. Diversity is a problem because it enhances complexity, increases differences, massively slows down decisions processes and building of trust, and finally, it causes conflicts (Marte, 2015). The current solution to the problem of diversity is its reduction. Women, who enter a culture that is dominated by men, perceive these problems and work to avoid them. Stereotypically, women focus more on the community and engage more in emphatic-intuitive thinking and decision models. They strive to manage and reduce conflicts and enhance trust (Chao & Tian, 2011). Women intuitively realize that we like those who are similar to us. That means that upon entering a male-dominated business and leadership culture, they adapt to the prevalent communication patterns in that culture to avoid diversity issues. This surely leads to a smoother career-path for a woman and less problems with diversity for the company, but it also diminishes its benefits to near zero.

When we talk about this, I can clearly observe all of this in our workshop facilitators, dr. Angelica V. Marte and Michael J. Müller. It’s intriguing to watch them interact with us and with each other. Angelica has spent a lot of her career in the academic research world and then in the business world, dominated by men. She is the first and the last person to speak to any topic, talks straight and direct, makes her messages clear and focuses on her 42 slides in the presentation, sometimes failing to notice that we as participants want to contribute to the discussion. She is professional, to-the-point and underlines her statements with her scientific background. Even in her picture on the slide, she embodies the male stereotype (or the stereotype of a successful woman in a men’s world) – arms crossed, looking straight into the camera with a slight social smile. Michael, on the other hand, stays playful and engaged with the participants in the workshop; he is the one to notice when we have something to say. He had prepared colored pencils and papers, chalk, and play-doh, in case we get inspired to create something during the workshop. He presents himself as an actor, and in his picture he is looking away from the camera with a child-like curiosity in his eyes. This difference is so obvious I wonder if they do it on purpose, just to give an example that male and female communication and behavior patterns are not necessarily connected to gender or biological sex. What’s interesting is that they perfectly balance each other. They demonstrate this diversity we talk about – and hint to the possibility of an integrated approach.

It’s not so much about the gender of the people in the leadership teams, but the diversity in their thinking and behavior patterns. If we reach the goal of having 50 % of senior leadership positions held by women, but do not change the culture, we have done very little to enhance our progress. I believe that sooner or later, the gender-battle must become superfluous and terms like “male and female patterns” meaningless. These patterns have very little to do with our genitals and much more with what we learn to be right, good or accepted.




Chao, C. & Tian, D. (2011): Culturally Universal or Culturally Specific: A Comparative Study of Anticipated Female Leadership Styles in Taiwan and the United States. In: Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, No. 18 (1), p: 64 – 79, Sage, Thousand Oaks.

Jourová, V. (2016). Gender balance on corporate boards: Europe is cracking the glass ceiling. European Comission. http://ec.europa.eu/justice/gender-equality/files/gender_balance_decision_making/1607_factsheet_final_wob_data_en.pdf

Kimmel, M. S. (2013). Who's afraid of men doing feminism; in: Digby, T. (Ed.) Men Doing Feminism, Routledge.

Marte, A.V. (2015): Mit weiblichem Durchblick zu mehr Aufsicht? ZU|Daily online

Marte, A.V., Müller, M.J., Wieland, J. (2017): Wenn Geschichten Führung führen. Narrative Perspektiven auf Führung, Führungs- und Führungskräfteentwicklung; in: J. Chlopczyk (Hrsg.), Beyond Storytelling, Springer Verlag.

Swart, C. (2017). Re-Authoring Leadership Narratives With and Within Organizations; in: J. Chlopczyk (Hrsg.), Beyond Storytelling, Springer Verlag.

United Nations. (2015). The World's Women 2015: Trends and Statistics. https://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/worldswomen.html

Woetzel, J., Madgavkar, A., Ellingrud, K., Labaye, E., Devillard, S., Kutcher, E., Manyika, J., Dobbs, R. and Krishnan, M.  (2015). The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth? McKinsey & Company – September 2015. http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/employment-and-growth/how-advancing-womens-equality-can-add-12-trillion-to-global-growth

Christine Erlach über die wahren Schätze: Communities

Christine Erlach mit einer kurzen Reflektion über die wahren Schätze – Communities of Practice:

Die wahren Schätze im Arbeitsleben? Das sind für all jene Experten, mit denen ich sprach, ihre Communities! Ich kann mich ihrer Meinung nur anschließen: Die Gewissheit, „da draußen“ Menschen zu kennen, die ähnliche Interessen verfolgen, Fachwissen und hohe Kompetenzen haben und die gerne und bereitwillig ihr Wissen und ihre Arbeitszeit einbringen, um einander zu helfen, ist in der Tat ein wahrer Schatz – dies gilt umso mehr in einer zergliederten Arbeitswelt, die uns einen Großteil unserer Arbeitszeit an Bildschirme und einsames Tippen in die Tastatur zwingt.

Enjoy: http://www.narrata.de/aktuelles/die-wahren-schaetze-gute-communities/

Niklas Gaupp on The Possibilities of Narrative Management – Michael Müller’s Approach to Organizational Consulting

In an inspiring introductory keynote, Michael Müller laid the groundwork for our journey “beyond storytelling” by providing us with a comprehensive summary of what the field of narrative management is about.

Michael Müller started out as a self-employed communications consultant 20 years ago, and is now not only one of the leading experts in the field of narrative management consulting but also professor for media studies and director of the Institute for Applied Narratology at Stuttgart Media University.

Michael Müller began his career with the observation that one learns more about an organisation over what gets said during a coffee break than what you find in the company brochure. Having studied literature among other subjects, Müller recognized the significance of these findings and turned what was merely a curious observation into an elaborate approach to organizational consulting.

Whilst Müller’s method would come to be known as the practice of “storytelling”, it could have initially been more accurately described as the practice of “listening” to stories. Only later did the focus shift to systematically looking at possible interventions once “the company in the mind of the employees” had been accurately described. This is how storytelling as an approach to organizational consulting came of age.

Müller emphasized that “storytelling” is not comparable to the many buzzwords in management literature that gain widespread currency before becoming a trend of the past. Rather storytelling belongs to the depth of Man’s cultural heritage. As pointed out in Yuval Noah Harari’s best seller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014), the ability of humankind to construct and tell stories has been crucial to the survival of groups of 150 people or more. To borrow from the title of Jonathan Gottschall’s recent work, we are The Storytelling Animal (2012). Indeed, with our natural tendency to live and coexist together in large groups, applying the art of storytelling to an organisation is the logical conclusion.

When working with stories, the first thing that comes to mind is the subject of identity. Developmental psychologists argue that it is through stories that identity is constructed. This is no less true for organizations as well – with broad implications for the experiences employees and customers make and the placement and perception of products and services in the marketplace. Müller specified three areas that need to be distinguished when dealing with corporate identity: the external narrations (how customers, media and partners view the company), the internal narrations (concerning internal developments, experiences and projects) and the contextual narrations (related to society and history). However, whereas the importance of external narrations is widely acknowledged, for example when a major scandal necessitates a wholesale rebranding effort, internal narrations must also be fully embraced on an executive level.

The second crucial dimension in dealing with this task and corporate storytelling is that of time. It follows then that there are three angles from which to look at the subject: past, present and future. When exploring the past of our stories, the focus is on learning and gaining knowledge: how did stories develop, how do they define and predetermine who we are today? In the present, storytelling is crucial to how we act and communicate: what is the story we’re telling right now? This leads to the possibly decisive question for the long-term survival of a company: what is the story of our future? This is the area where storytelling skills are most often lacking. Many companies have no stories of their future, only a corporate document which cannot generate the necessary motivation to join in. In interviews, employees then often say: “we don’t know whether we have strategy”, whereas executives emphatically contradict: “of course, we do – we communicated it so many times”. When employees think of their company’s future, it’s hard for them to relate to a fact sheet.

In addition, when stories of the future are crafted, the essential role of the past is often overlooked. Following Jens Beckert’s Imagined Futures (2016), one must take into account that a good future story has to relate to and build on the past. Corporate stories often revolve around a main event which is not part of the “official” identity of the company but looms large in the “experienced” identity of its employees. In one company Müller consulted, many events in the past had led to the overarching story that change projects never get finished and fail anyway. This was the reason no one wanted to join a new change effort, as employees understandably didn’t want to be part of a failing project. The solution was to change that story by starting a relatively easy small-scale change project that was able to dispel the belief that “change projects never get finished”. Small change makes big change possible.

Müller’s final warning was to be aware of too simplistic a future story: “more, more, more” is not the recipe for a good story. Such straightforward stories are mostly unbelievable and almost always hard to relate to. Therefore, it makes sense to study the art of storytelling, and it is not a coincidence that the best and most convincing storytellers, such as Steve Jobs in the case of Apple, often build and develop the world’s most successful companies. The study of stories can help us navigate the cunning passages and contrived corridors of what is actually going on in an organization, and it is the art of narrative management that uses this as the foundation to lead a company into its successful future.

Niklas Gaupp works with narrative approaches in the area of change management after having received his doctorate from Oxford University for a thesis on Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory. He helped with and participated in the 2017 Beyond Storytelling Conference in Heidelberg.

Further readings:

Müller, M.: Einführung in narrative Methoden der Organisationsberatung. Heidelberg: Carl-Auer 2017.

Harari, Y.N.: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. London: Random House 2014.

Gottschall, J.: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013.

Beckert, J.: Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press 2016.




Wolfgang Tonninger – Heidelberg Connection #beyondstorytelling

Ich stehe am Gaisbergturm und blicke auf die Lichter von Heidelberg. Es ist 4 Uhr morgens und es nieselt. Der Wind, der noch vor einer halben Stunde mit den Blätterkronen der Bäume spielte, hat sich gelegt. Es ist ruhig. Ich bin ruhig. Endlich. Der Gedankenstrom, der am Ende eine einzige Gedankenschnelle war, hat sich gelegt. Die Vertikale ist wieder hergestellt und ich wieder verwurzelt. Ich bin wach. Aber anders als im Gedankenturm. Ich bin wachsam und höre den Wald in all seinen Tonlagen. Nicht die schlechteste Vorbereitung auf einen Workshop, denke ich. Über den Horizont quillt Dämmerlicht in die Nacht. Als es Zeit ist, gehe ich hinunter.

Im Zug zurück nach Salzburg lese ich, dass alle 85 Stufen, die als Wendeltreppe auf die Spitze des Turms führen, unterschiedlich geformt und orientalischen Spiralminaretten nachempfunden sind. Und dass das Mauerwerk des Turms aus Buntsandsteinquadern ohne Mörtel oder sonstige Bindemittel aufgeschichtet worden ist. "Buntsteinquader ohne Bindemittel aufgeschichtet und begehbar über 85 unterschiedlich geformte Stufen" - halte ich fest und muss an den Kongress denken, von dem ich komme.

BEYOND STORYTELLING war ein Geschenk in doppelter Hinsicht, weil nicht nur die Qualität des Angebotenen passte (mit wunderbaren Keynotes von Michael Müller, Mary Alice Arthur und Petra Sammer, kurzweiligen Workshops (zu denen ich auch einen Beitrag leisten durfte), sondern auch die Qualität der Aufnehmenden, Zuhörenden, Anreichernden und Weiterdenkenden (die Open Space Session zum Thema STORY JAMMING mit Johann L. Bota war mein persönliches Highlight in diesen Tagen, nicht weil einer so gut war, sondern weil wir miteinander, das heißt alle zusammen, in dieser Runde etwas geschaffen haben, das über unsere kleinen Erzählegos hinausging).

Mein Resümee?
Selten zuvor auf einer Veranstaltung gewesen, die so wenig Energie in Machtspielereien und Eitelkeiten vergeudete. Selten zuvor auf einer Veranstaltung gewesen, wo so viel Dialog auf Augenhöhe möglich war. Buntsteinquader ohne Bindemittel: Es war die Vielfalt der Menschen, die einen tiefen Eindruck hinterließ und es war die Einsicht, dass das beste Bindemittel für einen Kongress, der über das Erzählen von Geschichten hinausgehen will, die Menschen selbst sind.

"Beyond beyond" formulierte es der wunderbare Rik Peters in einer Kurznachricht am Tage des Auseindergehens. Der Möglichmacher dahinter heißt Jacques Chlopczyk, vor dem ich jetzt meinen imaginären Hut ziehe. Einen Hut, der mit einer Feder geschmückt ist, die ich vor 20 Jahren in Ceüsse gefunden und aufgehoben habe - am Fuße einer Klettertour mit dem Namen "Captain Dada". Finden und aufheben - das muss zusammengehen, wenn etwas passieren soll. Ich habe es immer gewusst, instinktiv. Jetzt trage ich es auf meiner Stirn. Danke Jacques! Danke Stephanie! Danke Christine! Danke Yannis! ...

Was bleibt?
Der Kongress ist zu Ende. Der Dialog geht weiter. Springt über. Jeden Tag. Der im Umfeld des Kongress gegründete ThinkTank Stories for Europe ist ein Beweis dafür. Damit wird es ein Leichtes sein, die Tage bis Hamburg zu überstehen. Am 8/9. Juni 2018 sehen wir uns wieder, wenn der Kongress BEYOND STORYTELLING in die zweite Runde geht. Und dann gibt es ja auch noch das Buch, das die eigentliche Triebfeder war, die den Kongressgedanken angekurbelt hat. Es ist pünktlich zum Kongress erschienen und wunderschön geworden.

Ich bin stolz, Teil dieser Community zu sein!


Coverbild des Gaisbergturms: Von Solaris2006 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1177542


Mary Alice Arthur – Moving beyond story as a tool for influence

Mary Alice continues her harvest of BEYOND STORYTELLING and expands her future story of story to collective sense making and story as a process companion.

Check out the full article on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/beyond-storytelling-2-second-wave-future-story-mary-alice-arthur

Pia Horst on the THE BIGGER PICTURE – Power of visual Storytelling in intercultural communication

I met João from Brazil at an intercultural training that I held for him and many other incoming exchange students a few months ago. After lunch, we met in small groups for our next workshop. Earlier, I kindly reminded him to be on time. Noticing that he usually came about 10 minutes late, I decided to talk to him about it. I was utterly confused when he insisted that he had been on schedule the whole time. We talked for a while and eventually I figured out that being “on time” meant something completely different to João than to me. During the workshop on "The Bigger Picture - The power of visual storytelling in intercultural communication" led by Joanna at the "Beyond Storytelling" conference in Heidelberg I recalled the encounter with João and found out what actually happened when we met.


Joanna Sell is an intercultural trainer and coach, a holder of the certificate from the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena. Additionally, she has got two master degrees: in European Studies as well as in Art History. This combination led her to introduce the theme of visual storytelling to the intercultural field. Originally from Poland, she now lives in Germany and focuses on intercultural trainings for the business world. Besides running her company Intercultural Compass, Joanna is an author of the book Geschäftskultur Polen kompakt (Business culture Poland compact), a game diversophy Poland in English and German and co-author of several books on diversity and storytelling. She is a lecturer at two German universities. As mentioned above, at the Beyond Storytelling conference in Heidelberg she held a workshop on the power of visual storytelling in intercultural communication. That is how we met.

“It’s a question of perspective change”, Joanna says. To dive into the workshop, we start off with a simple exercise: in pairs we present each other ordinary objects such as watches, jewelry or notebooks and the personal connection we have with them. Afterwards our partner outlines what links them to the certain object. The different stories we tell change the meaning of a regular watch or notebook entirely.

What I take from this quick exercise is that getting our point across the way we have intended can be difficult. In the next hour, Joanna provides deep insights into how we can make sure that something is interpreted the way it is supposed to. One way is to share a particular culturally related story and describe the cultural context of that encounter. Telling a story about how I grew up with punctuality being instilled in me as an important value and the significance of being on time in Germany helps my partner to fully grasp the meaning I connect with a watch. It might have helped João when he tried to understand my perception of time and punctuality, in particular.

Three steps to getting a message across without misunderstandings are necessary: describing, interpreting and evaluating. “We interpret immediately according to our cultural background”, Joanna points out. We need to remind ourselves and have the openness to accept that there are several realities and all of them are okay. If the person I communicate with interprets my words differently, that’s because they base their interpretation on a different set of stories. Hence, exchanging not only facts but also interpretations as well as explaining how we relate to something, as part of the third step, is essential.

So, how do we encourage people to exchange on a deeper level? A possible way is to sensitize them to cultural differences, but also highlight similarities. When we interact with another person, we only see very few details from their cultural imprint in their behavior and the assumptions and interpretations we immediately make, originate in sometimes only one short conversation. That’s why it could be helpful to take one step back and zoom out. When we don’t focus on little details anymore, we realize that there is not only black and white or right and wrong, but there are as many “rights” as there are realities. “Zooming-out delivers an overview, a big picture where diversity is minimized” (Sell 2017). “Stereotyping and biases are “our strategy to enable us to survive in an ocean of data and facts”, but those simplifications “create black and white scenarios within seconds while dealing with other people” (Sell 2015). Even on the metaphoric level, instead of comparing coconuts with peaches, why don’t we see what they have in common? Both are about establishing a relationship and yes, it might work a little bit differently in other cultures, but we are all aiming in the same direction. “When we start exchanging stories about belonging and about identities” (Sell 2017), we widen our perception and get to see the “bigger picture”, as Joanna calls it in the title of her workshop.

Beyond Storytelling in progress

After all, our main objective in intercultural communication is to reinforce the positive aspects of diversity, such as happiness in the intercultural cooperation and, furthermore, to awake curiosity during cross-cultural encounters. When we do that by telling a story, we want to focus on the “happy end” and on synergy effects rather than listing possible challenges and differences. In general, “storytelling plays an important role in intercultural communication, not only because of the cognitive knowledge it includes, but also because of the so-called “silent knowledge” that can be transmitted in stories” (Sell 2017). Its focus on building relationships and emotional involvement makes a story much more effective than sharing facts and data (compare Sell 2017).

My encounter with João also had a “happy end”: On the third day of the intercultural training he showed up even a little bit early to one of my workshops. When I brought it up, he smiled at me and said that he wanted to experience my concept of being on time and was kind of digging it actually because he didn’t have to squeeze in the last row for once.

Pia Horst

Pia Horst studies Educational Sciences and Anthropology at University of Heidelberg and has an university background in Business Psychology. She is interested in working with stories because they spark interest and nourish the longest time the memories of her intercultural training’s participants. She´s part of the BEYOND STORYTELLING support team.

Sell, J. (2015). Power of visual Storytelling, in: SIETAR Europa Journal, September - November 2015. http://www.sietareu.org/images/stories/newsletters/SE_Journal_Sept-Nov_ 2015.pdf.

Sell, J. (2017). Storytelling for Intercultural Understanding and Intercultural Sensitivity Development, in: Chlopczyk, J. (Hrsg.): Beyond Storytelling. Berlin: Springer Gabler 2017, 223-250.


StoryUp your Artifact – Open Space Session Harvest

The team on StoryAtelier hosted a session during our open space. "StoryUp your Artifact" took advantage of the exhibition "ShareThis" which took place in our conference venue. They invited participants to join them in contemplating the artworks through the lense of the heroes journey and build a short movie around it. Enjoy:

To learn a bit more about the beautiful minds behind this, we conducted a short interview with Astrid Nierhoff and Mélina Garibyan, the founders of StoryAtelier.

BST: What is the StoryAtelier and what are you doing?

Mélina: StoryAtelier is a social business dedicated to storytelling. We facilitate group workshops to find, tell and craft personal stories with a special focus on digital storytelling. We also conceptualize other projects and events with storytelling.

BST: What is the story behind StoryAtelier? Where does your interest for (virtual) storytelling come from?

Mélina: StoryAtelier started with a call. Both a phone call and a call for something bigger, deeply human and sustainable. I had been working for years as a communication designer in renowned agencies, when I left in order to work with my husband who had just founded his own enterprise. In my first job, I had often lacked a deeper sense of what I was doing. In my second one, my creativity wasn’t triggered as much as I was longing for. I have always loved experiencing with creative techniques and technology and was an active blogger and digitalist. I barely knew Astrid from our children’s Kindergarden when she called me. She exposed quite a bold idea of a social storytelling agency and asked me right away if I would partner up with her. My first move was to think: What?! This is crazy! But my second move was to say: Great and crazy enough, I’m in! We founded StoryAtelier in September 2015 and have been growing our passion and expertise for digital techniques and storytelling ever since.

Astrid: My first igniting moment for digital storytelling was in 2005, during a summer trip to the US west-coast. At this time I was a Phd-Student in Literature and Arts and visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York. My trip was starting with a 3-days Workshop at the Center for Digital Storytelling (now Story Center) in Berkeley. I was immediately caught by the sheer expressive and transformational power of this tool and knew I wouldn’t let that go any more. In the years afterwards, I deepened my interest for storytelling methods and eventually applied them in my work. First as university lecturer, later as publicist in history marketing and intercultural consultant. Then, in 2011, life jumped on to me. My mother got diagnosed with Alzheimers at age 55. Four years later, which felt like decades of deep dive into the cores of our humanity, I decided to create StoryAtelier but didn’t want to be alone. This is when Mélina, whose qualities and talents I had an intuition of, came into my mind…

BST: What did you do in the Open Space Session? And how did the participants react?

Astrid: We did something quite simple and intuitive. We asked people to focus on one single piece of art they chose within an exhibit. We then paired this observation with a storytelling task. In the Open Space Session the observers had to randomly pick one of twelve steps of the heroe's journey and tell a personal story about it. Since stories are shaped by the context in which they are told and the art piece changes with each observer, we relied on this mutual fertilization. The result is one single heroe's journey co-created by twelve different stories. It’s up to some point comparable with the French surrealist’s collective game „exquisite corpse“.

Mélina: The group was very active and responsive during the session. I reckon one storyteller saying later that usually contemporary art doesn't reach him. But there, staying still in front of a wrapped chair, observing and interrogating it with his task in mind, the chair started speaking. Stories began to emerge and the group seemed truly connected to the very moment they were experiencing.

BST: What are the current projects you are working on? 

Mélina: besides developing regular interventions in schools and senior housing, we work on some specific projects: A broad city storytelling project based in Cologne, a project around Alzheimer's and Sports and an intercultural competence training paired with digital storytelling in an enterprise which is part of a network aiming at employing and integrating refugees.

Astrid: this last project allowed us to design a modular training for enterprises and organizations. We are now in the process of creating a second structure where we can focus on missions around corporate culture, diversity and social sustainability. People will also find us teaching at the Volkshochschule in Cologne.

Mélina: But we are also very active in the social media scene and love participating in barcamps. Once a month we organize a #DemokratieChat, where people are invited to answer 8 questions around democracy. We love to try out new things. I would also love to organize public StoryCircles…

Astrid: Can we already reveal something? In 2018 we are actually organizing a StoryCamp in Cologne. We’ll keep you updated.

You can learn more about their activities here:




Mary Alice Arthur – 6 Perspectives How Stories Work – LinkedIn Pulse

A wonderful harvest by Mary Arthur Alice on linkedin. She reflects the 6 perspectives introduced during her keynote:

  1. Story as a leadership practice
  2. Seeing self and Story as positive Change Agents
  3. Story as a learning practice
  4. Story as a process partner
  5. Story as a resonance tuner
  6. Story as part of the art of practicing humanity

Enjoy the read and follow her on linkedin!


Re-Narrating Work and Organizations – Augenhoehe and Re-Invention Movie Project

Augenhoehe has shaped the discourse around how we want to work and live in the future. Daniel Trebien´s key note speech showed how organizations can set up to be economically sustainable and at the same time organize in a way that caters to human needs. Based on a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign a movie emerged that shows new ways of organizing. Here is the trailer that started everything.

The official trailer for the first movie:

More videos and interviews on their VIMEO page: https://vimeo.com/augenhoehe.

Currently, Daniel Trebien is involved in another project, searching, harvesting and documenting the personal and organizational journeys behind these new ways of working. The project was initiated by Mariusz Bocian and with colleagues and collaborators from Poland, Germany, Belgium and around the globe, the team behind the re-invention movie project searches to document the unfolding changes in our workplace.

They are currently looking for organizations that are looking for a different way to organize work in a meaningful way, being sustainable in a economical, social and human way. If you want to support the project, check out their website at http://reinvention-movie.com/.

Here is their first trailer explaining the motivation and idea behind the project: