Mapping the Field

Our stories as a lighthouse and campfire

Michael Margolis said: “There is a fundamental shift happening in the web: We used to connect with friends. Now we connect with people we don’t know”. That’s how the story of Katja, Eva and myself starts…

We didn’t know each other at all. Somehow, a few months ago, some tweets, retweets, mentions started “flying” via the @beyondstorytell Twitter account,…”oh, we like so much your conference initiative and content”…”ah, I see that we share so much in common in our field of work”… Then we had a skype, some email exchange, beautiful sharing of our aspirations…. and that’s how the idea of the below interview popped up. Enjoy it!


What image comes to your mind when you think of our title „Re-Authoring Futures“?

Katja: It’s the picture of a vibrant neuronal network that constantly grows and illustrates the interdependencies between Storyteller, Story-listener & external influences.

Eva: I see people gathering together in a creative exercise that allows them to regain ownership of their stories. In doing so, they re-signify both their past and present and shape the world they want to create from a place of clarity and empowerment. 

What does it mean to you? 

Katja: A daring step forward, to be honest. We as Story-experts should make sure that the people we teach and educate in the process of mastering their stories, experience close guidance and maximum freedom at the same time. Our energy should be focused on these two aspects of story work.

Eva: To me, it means placing stories at the heart of our human existence as a means to truly understand our existence. At this particular time in history, stories are no longer just about religious and political leaders explaining the world to their hungry audiences. Real time access to information together with a culture of collaboration and co-creation grant us the opportunity to create and own our different versions of reality and build bridges between them. I see our mission as Storytellers and Story workers as a way to help individuals to dig deeper into their narratives and help groups to build connections and find common ground to build upon.

Why do you think that this topic is important to talk about right now? 

Katja: As we’re looking into a new movement of enlightenment the stories we collect and tell need to reflect the complexity of the times ahead. In collaboration & communication. The stories we develop need to function as a lighthouse and campfire, especially in a VUCA-world. In a time where the essence of story itself seems to be in doubt and loses its trustworthiness (Fake News, sugar-coating, spin doctoring, etc) it should be our intention to bring it back to its original intention: bring people closer together and ignite change. 

Eva: Over the past few years, we have discovered that fact checking is not the cure to fake news. People crave stories that make sense of what is happening around them and will embrace a lie against all odds as long as it connects to their deepest longings and fears. Therefore, we need to re-learn how to make sense out of information. This includes mastering the arts of listening, questioning and mapping, rather than accessing information sources. In a volatile environment, were we receive a new headline every few minutes, we urgently need to reconnect to bigger truths and lasting stories, for those are the ones who will aid us in our growth and evolution. 

What does Re-Authoring Futures mean in your field of practice? 

Katja: A critical discourse about Corporate Messaging and different thinking patterns about all audiences internally and externally. Showing to our clients the impact of stories two or three steps ahead. 

Eva: An open debate that leads to a profound change in how we communicate and build relationships. Building connection between mission, vision, values, strategy and action, both on an individual and collective level.

What would you like to see happening at Beyond Storytelling conference 2018?

Katja: A broader debate about the opportunities that arise from practicing storytelling in internal and external communications. How to turn employees into true brand ambassadors with the use of stories and how to find, develop and tell stories that target the audience of the future. 

Eva: An honest debate on the past, present and future of storytelling and story work in Communications (beyond Marketing). The consolidation of the European Professional Storytellers and Story Practitioners Network. The creation of a hub where professionals, students and organisations can meet, discuss and work together.


Eva Snijders is an internationally renowned expert in the fields of Communication, Public Relations and Organisational Change. She is well known for her work in organisational Storytelling, where she assists companies in creating coherence between their past, present and future.

Katja Schleicher is an international expert in Internal, External and Intercultural Communication. She is fluent in three languages, holds two passports and a European heart. Katja travels across borders constantly to bring people and ideas closer through communication. She speaks at conferences about communicative misunderstandings and how to initiate change through communication.

Mapping the Field - The Swarm of Birds

I met Cornelia several years ago when, as keynote speakers, we shared the stage at a "Learning supported by Technology" conference on a topic related to the Future of Work and the Future of Workers. I admired the brightness of her thoughts and the openness of her mind regarding future possibilities and since then we are connected with mutual appreciation.

Cornelia Daheim is a foresight expert and consultant, founder and director of Future Impacts Consulting in Cologne, Germany. Since 2000, she has been leading foresight projects for several industries and policy fields. In the recent years, her topic focus is on the future of work, energy, mobility, future of food and societal change. In 2003, she founded and has since acted as Head of the Millennium Project’s German Node. She is also the President of the Foresight Europe Network. This is a network of Foresight practitioners, which promotes foresight work, builds strong bonds inside the foresight community and designs foresight projects. 

So the time came when a winter day, I decided to visit her in Cologne and ask for an interview on the topic of our conference: Re-authoring Futures. Please enjoy!

 A big thank you to Melina Garibyan @charmeundmelone from the Story Atelier @StoryAtCologne for shooting and editing the above video with a lot of care and fun.

A Conversation about Re-Authoring Futures with Chené Swart

In the young history of BEYOND STORYTELLING, Chené Swart continues to be a source of inspiration for me. Connecting to her and getting to know her work has been one of the great gifts that I received in this time. In this conversation, we got together to explore the background to her re-authoring practice, her book and our thoughts around re-authoring futures.

Chené is one of our key noters and will host a workshop on a project where Re-Authoring practices have been applied to the future of tourism and travel.

Enjoy the read:

Jacques Chlopczyk: Chené, how did you get to Re-Authoring? Why did the word capture you?

Chené Swart: For me the word, Re-Authoring, of all the language in the narrative field still surprises people, make them think and strikes a chord with people’s imagination. Sometimes words have lost their meaning or words have been captured.

Re-Authoring was one of the words, that – in the big narrative landscape – still had some Oooomph in it. Just as a word alone. It felt untainted. And it felt that there is still some possibility to inhabit it with one´s own meaning.

JC: So what does Re-Authoring mean to you?

CS: Firstly, re-authoring means for me that something is amiss. It makes clear that the world is not what it can be in terms of the future. We all live in a context that has something in mind for us, that shapes how we are in the world. Re-Authoring means that the context needs to be named and that we need to understand the influence of the context. And that our writing in this world sometimes happens as a protest towards this context. Sometimes it needs to transform systems, it needs to ask questions about why certain words are used.

Secondly, re-authoring means that there is an agency and authorship that can happen. It assumes that humans and communities are able to impact the stories that are told by and about them – the stories that shape their way of being.

Thirdly, re-authoring lens and practices has the potential to enable us to see the world in a new way, and therefore also our place in the world. We could start actively participating in the world by writing in the world. But it is not a writing that is an individual affair. Re-Authoring is always in community. It presupposes that there is a whole community who is willing to write this world with you and is willing to come alongside you in supporting you in this writing.

JC: What came to my mind when you spoke is that the world is also never finished. Re-Authoring also alludes to continuous transformation. There is no end state, and the world is never at an end. That life is never at an end.

CS: And that in a certain time and space we also dip into this world to re-author. We are not re-authoring everything always. If we have the passion for something, something that matters to us and that is the place we do it in community. My dream is that if everyone does their part, collectively we will have something on the move for a different future. But a future that is always on the move again. It is not static. You said something about taking back the pen…

JC: With the circle I have the image of the spiral. That is an image – we are always somehow moving in circles. When we have one challenge, gift, burden done, there is the next one. To use psychological language, if we managed one developmental task that is handed down to us by our communities or organisations there will be another one. It is about this continuous life circle.

What I also found interesting: the tension between re-authoring and future. The power of the title of the conference is the tension field. Because it assumes that the future is already written. So, if you re-author something that means there is something already.

Even when you talk to a person or work in organization and they say to you: I don´t have an idea about the future – they always do. Re-Authoring entails mining or bringing to light the unspoken – hopes & dreams – about the future. I like the title also because of this tension field. That you already assume that everything and everyone has an image of the future, even if they cannot explain it.

This also concerns the relationship between past, present and future. When we say re-author the future we need to do it in the here and now. And you can only do it, if you understand on which shoulders you are standing and what has been handed down to you. You need to understand how did you get where you are. What is the trauma or burden I carry but also – what are the gifts that I am carrying.

Re-Authoring is also about the resources and gifts that are in my past and that I can take into or leverage from into the future. Re-Authoring is very resource oriented: It acknowledges that we all have weaknesses but invites us not to spend time with focusing on that too much.

CS: It is about the moments that take us forward. The moments that we want more of. In a recent workshop somebody stood up and said when he thought of the moment, the memory of the moment was even stronger than the moment itself. Re-Authoring taps into the richness of the moment and beyond. As if the moment transcends time. And the moment now is even stronger than the memory of the moment. That was really powerful for me.

In re-authoring futures, moments are the ground for these futures. These moments also expose our intense humanity. In that moment when the past shines bright and even a little spark of the future ignites it is as if we see humanity in its intense beauty.

JC: It also ties back to the idea of wholing and healing in working with stories. There always are critical voices and we invite them in and say that this is also part of the system and context we move in. Thus, Re-Authoring is breaking taboos and is also inviting the difficult voices to be heard. Because it cannot happen without doing it, because the voices will keep being stronger or they will keep nagging if they are not invited.

Interesting point in our discussion. When we talk about moments, we have the moment in which we ask a group or a person about the moments: a moment that you would like more of, or that took you forward … We have an overlay of the present moment of which you ask the question and the space you are doing it and the moment you are doing it in and at the same time the moments transform when you invite the past to crawl up on you. This makes the moment special: when we become so aware of the past. And the past speaks louder now than it did in the moment we experienced it, because it happens in a certain context. This makes the moment of transformation.

How do you create these moments that matter? How do you create a moment in which a memory of a past moment that you want more of becomes even stronger and transforms and shifts something?

CS: In conversations with Tom Carlson we spoke about presence (according to Gumbrecht). When you are in presence, you can call out of the shadows of time all the moments and you really unshackle moments out of the shadows of time. And I think even to the point that they can then be brought forward into the future because they are no longer bound to time. They are here, now we can imagine what it means for the future. We can see the future in a certain sense. Leonhard Cohen has a line in a song in which he sings that there is a crack in everything where the light can shine through. For me those presence moments are the moments in which the pen is all of a sudden back in our hands.

JC: What contributes to these moments from your practice and your experience?

CS: All the presence elements: nature, beauty, art, community. They are all portals of presence. Senses, all the senses. Sometimes oddly enough, when people are put into relationship with the context, that also becomes a portal into presence. When all of a sudden people discover “this is not my idea alone”. There is a whole world crafted in patriarchy – this becomes a portal of presence. Because all of these ideas are then unshackled from their factness and truthness. People say, no – those are ideas that are 2000 years old. I don´t agree and I don´t like it. This is the moment when the pen comes back into your hands, like the magic wand.

JC: Presence in this sense is about being in contact with oneself and the context. Both sides at the same moment. You are one and fluid at the same time. It is a thing between knowing who I am and also being able to step out of this role. I am suffering from this discourse, this is the point where I can say I change or I relate myself differently to the world.

CS: I think of a tent that loses the pens that grounds it. Where I unearth the tent – It is not scary or factual or important. It also becomes fluid. Re-Authoring is really about our relationship to all things. It is giving us back the pen in the relationship to all things.

JC: So, why does this concept capture you so much?

CS: What we are talking about right now. It is inviting the portals of presence into my practice and facilitating the movement between meaning and presence. We live in a meaning culture, where everything has to mean something. Where you are punished, when you are not learning from events that happen to you. Did you learn something from this disaster or health crises?

We are constantly bombarded with making meaning. Our whole research industry is based on meaning making – interpretation. For me Portals of Presence is what I am focusing now. I am seeing how that is redefining time, identity, community because people are connected in ways that they never thought was possible.

It has everything to do with the future that they can now imagine. In one of the groups I worked with somebody stood up at the end of the day and said: I feel that I am connected to a community now. So, the future of community has been created in the sharing of moments. And this is the first thing, right in the beginning, when I went to USA and had conversations with Peter Block.

He wanted to use narrative ideas in his flawless consulting III workshop and we piloted a narrative half day experience. In the final reflections people said where these ideas took them was that it opened up new possibilities. Passion, inspiration and new possibilities come to people through re-authoring ideas and practices. And that means that when those moments are re-membered it is as if we can remember our future. We put membership to the possibility of our future together.

JC: Remembering transforms past, present and future at the same time. It dissolves the time arrow that says time is a straight line. I just remembered Hundertwasser saying the straight line is a godless line. I think this is a departure from a meaning culture and an invitation for presence.

As far as I understand Gumbrecht, the meaning culture is the one that controls all, is detached. This is the spirit that guided the last 600 years and made time a straight line. And this invites unhealthy developments: you don’t think in loops but you think in arrows. As if your actions do not have consequences in the long run.

Image courtesy of Adrien Ledoux via Unsplash

Re-Authoring Futures – Interview with Michael Margolis

One of the most inspiring voices in corporate storytelling and a great source of inspiration for us shared his thoughts on Re-Authoring Futures. Michael Margolis runs Get Storied: a platform, community and consulting company advising organizations and communities on narrative strategies and supporting them to better tell their story. Enjoy!

From Forecasting to Transformation – A Conversation on Working with the Future

One of the great pleasures of programming a conference like Beyond Storytelling is the opportunity to get into conversation with inspiring thinkers and great practitioners. In the preparation to Beyond Storytelling, I had the opportunity to have a longer conversation with Sohail Inayatullah to explore the role of narrative work in moving from forecasting to transformation in working with the future.

Sohail is one of our key note speakers and holds a masterclass on the Causal Layered Analysis on June 10th – right after the conference.

Jacques Chlopczyk: A lot of planning and forecasting in organizations was and probably is based on a classic view of the future of western modernity. This worldview imagined the future as something that can be predicted, planned for and controlled. What today is described in terms of VUCA challenges this view. Now the future seems a place of unpredictability.

Sohail Inayatullah: Regarding the term VUCA, I personally use accelerating rate of change. VUCA  is fine but seems like the latest buzzword. More signifcant is to bring agency back in the equation, not remove it as VUCA tends to do. Change is heterogenous, moreover, some places are slower, other places are quicker. Certainly, we are all impacted. Sarkar calls it galloping time. He asserts that in this type of time, impact and influence are exponential since old systems are falling apart. The ability to change the future increases, not decreases.

JC: How do you see the so called mega-trends in this, i.e. digitalization, resource scarcity?

SI: The trends I focus on include: The rise of women, the rise of Asia, the challenge to the big man theory of politics, the rise of the peer to peer movement, or disintermedation. But more important than trends are emerging issues. These are novel issues that challenge what we consider the normal, while trends can often restate the norm.

Novel issues challenge what we consider the normal, while trends can often restate the norm.

JC: Given these changed assumptions about predictability that go along with that galloping time?. What approaches to working with the future do you observe in your work with clients across the globe?

SI: When I look at my clients, I can observe different approaches to working with the future. Some of my clients work from a stance of command and control. Their basic motivation for doing future work is risk mitigation. These clients like very conservative scenario planning, the Shell model for example. They like the double variable scenario matrix, as this easily lends itself to technical solutions. It is excellent for managerialism but far less interesting for those who wish for a new future.

The work with these clients focuses primarily on the drivers for trends and developments and the development of scenarios for which they can plan and prepare. This is necessary, and we can prepare for different scenarios, but this often evokes a false sense of safety. In fact, these clients often move from one maze to a bigger maze.

Focusing on risk mitigation often creates a foul sense of safety – we move from one maze to a bigger maze.

The second type of client is interested in understanding different approaches to work with the future and build up know-how with the latest tools. This is driven by the motivation to be up-to-date with in terms of capabilities in working with the future.

Capability in this context means moving from technical training to strategy to deep adaptability, i.e. ensuring what ever future will emerge, they and their organizations can thrive. This is as much an inner process of clarity on the personal and shared vision - the world you wish for - as a focus on what resources one needs to create the desired future.

The third type of clients also strives for being prepared, yet they understand the limitations of modernity and the limitations of their own rationality. They thus assess risks, develop their own capability, but focus more on emergence and vulnerability. They know they live in Gaia and creating a desired future requires co-creation with different stakeholders, including Gaia. There is a spiritual dimension here, if you will, a sense that there is the known world and the unknown world.

They are open to the fact that our capacity to act in the future also rests on our ability to redefine who we are and our purpose within the larger systems that we are operating in: global economics, limited resources and a need to integrate in these interwoven systems. It is a more contextual, holistic view on their role in creating the futures they want to live into.

Our capacity to act in the future rests on our ability to redefine who we are and our purpose within the larger systems that we are operating in.

JC: You have been working with futures for a long while. How has your approach evolved over time? How is this accelerating rate of change reflected in your work?

SI: Working with futures has been a lot about quantitative forecasting and then qualitative interpretation. That is the basis we started and – of course – still start from. But my core interest today lies in what are the interests, world views, mythologies and metaphors people bring into the future. That means that we are less concerned about a particular forecast, but more by what meaning our clients make of it and what that means for the image of the future they develop for themselves.

So at the beginning, we were always concerned with going from zero loop learning, which is information about the future, to single loop learning, which is what do you do. The question was: “What do we do on Horizon 1? What do we do differently on Monday morning?”

The next step was double loop learning. We focused more on the unknown and supported clients in building up strategies to deal with situations that are new to them. The guiding question changed to “What don't I know in a new situation? How do I learn about what I don't know?”.

And then the narrative part came into our work, because it became apparent to us that underneath people's knowing or not knowing was a particular story about reality, particularly about the future. So, our work is always concerned with taking what people say as a matter of fact and then going beyond the fact, going to possibility. We developed frameworks that enable us to move from forecasting to transformation.

In a situation of dynamic change, it is not just enough to forecast the future as our forecasts are likely to be incorrect, but rather to have comfort with what we dont know and understand that how we see the world is complicit in the world we see, the world we create. We are part of the uncertainty, not merely watching it with disinterest.

In a situation of dynamic change, it is key to have comfort with what we dont know and understand that how we see the world is complicit in the world we see, the world we create.

JC: How does that look in practice?

SI: In terms of methodology we use the Causal Layered Analysis framework. The approach distinguishes four levels of analysis. Level 1 is understanding the official description of the situation. It is about the data. We also call this level “Litany”, as the problem statements often seem like newspaper headlines. They are stated as singular, externalized facts.

Level 2 is the systemic causes that can explain the data that we see. What are the factors that can explain the data? What patterns are constituting the “facts”? What function does this description of the problem have for various stakeholders and interests?

Within the 3rd level of analysis, we look at the discourses and the worldviews that sustain these systemic causes. We try to get a multifaceted view on the situation and explore the assumptions and theories that lie behind the decisions and actions that make up the systemic causation of the situation.

On the 4th level, we look at the guiding metaphors, images and stories that epitomize and inform these worldviews. This level refers to the unconscious, hidden interpretation of reality, which can be an asset, or it can be a hindrance. Here, our guiding questions are: “What is actually my metaphor? Is your story serving you?”. And it is important to me that this doesn´t become an ontological debate.

My interest is if there is a story helping that organization and takes them into a desired direction. If it's not, then they need a better story. Of course people are attached to their worldview, but through the creation of alternative futures, the agency or capacity to influence comes back.

JC: This approach combines the quantitative element of forecasting with qualitative work that aims at transforming the underlying assumptions about the future. So how is the relationship between forecasting, quantitative elements and transformation in this process?

SI: Recently, I worked with the head of an international police force in south-east asia to develop a strategy and set-up for the future. The quantitative part is that by 2020/2030 there will be new crime types. There will be new crime types around 3D-printing. We will see crime types around genomic data theft which will go up by 30 %. We start off with the quantitative.

But if we want a different police force or a different police organization then we'll have to ask, what will it look like? Traditional organizations are hierarchical, vertical, command controlled. They don't handle complexity well. So, what will a new one look like? The organization itself needs to be complex, adaptive and continuously learning. Now how do we link that? That is where the metaphor comes in. We need a new image that carries ourselves forward.

The core metaphor of the police force was the toothless tiger. Merely telling them that the world was more uncertain is not only useless but a disservice from our side. Giving them more information about the future given their core metaphor would also not be useful. Commanders would turn off since the future now was challenging but not actionable.

Using CLA, they changed the metaphor to the guard dog. The guard dog was embedded with citizens thus it favoured community engagement and community policing. The guard dog had real bite, thus could ensure that dangerous elements were met head on. Finally, the guard dog anticipated crime, i.e. foresight. The data now had a context in which it was sensible.

Once we find a new guiding image and a new story, we need to ensure that culture links to data. When we change metaphors, it is important to have the right measures that indicate if we are heading the rights way. It is important to ground the new stories, the new metaphors in new measures as well. If we do not develop those as well, we are just adopting the measures of others. So in a sense, quantitative data is both the start and the end of this process.

JC: Could you give an additional example that shows this process at work?

SI: We ran a project with a big bank recently. And they have been funding large infrastructure projects. And eventually it came up that their measurement was number of roads, kilometers that were paved. And underneath that was a world view that was car centric. The inner metaphor was 'I love my car'.

That works until you get horrible pollutions and climate change. Through the process, their metaphor shifted from 'I love my car' to 'I love my neighborhood'. What that means strategically is that the bank will now fund projects that create community, that enable peer-to-peer networks, that are carbon-neutral, that are green. And that also means that the KPI will change, to track and ensure that the bank is going from car-centric to community-centric strategy. This is a kind of a CLA strategy and action. By changing the story, we can change the possible future.

Dive deeper with the Causal Layered Analysis Masterclass: More information.

Picture on top: Cédric Servay via Unsplash.

Mapping the Field – Interview with Joe Lambert

Joe Lambert is internationally renowned in being the founder and pioneer in Digital Storytelling in the 90's in the USA. Since then he spread the word of the power of Digital Storytelling throughout the entire world. His books, "Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community" and "Seven Stages: Story and the Human Experience" give a deep insight into finding the own story and creating its artefact with digital media. His work is highly appreciated in political and social communities.

In this video, Joe Lambert talks about what "Re-Authoring Futures" means for him and in his professional work.

He is Keynote Speaker at the conference and will talk about the power of SPECULATIVE DIGITAL STORYTELLING for finding and re-inventing the narrations around the identities of individuals, communities and societies.


Our Workshop Radar. To navigate through Hamburg

Heidelberg lies in the past and is still very present. Hamburg is coming up and also vividly challenging my presence and my thoughts. I see people around me trying to map the field of what we call "Re-Authoring Futures" - our conceptional lighthouse facing the ocean of narrative reconnaissances. And the more I listen to them, the more I am convinced that it is all about "learning to be a Jazz musician", as Michael White, the wonderful and truely inspiring Australian family therapist once noted while he was riding his bycicle. The maps he was creating were just a tool to set out to uncharted territory - mapping the unmapped.

Anyway I provide you with this map to show you the field our workshops this year are going to explore. Not to mention the shining keynotes and the in-depth masterclasses.


It is just a line-up converted to a map and it will never compete with the reality of being there and joining us. So get your Early Bird Tickets NOW!

Thinking and unmapping the landscapes of my consciousness, I stumpled upon the mission statement of a blog experiment called ZENARIO. I wrote it down about five years ago, and now when the BEYOND STORYTELLING PROJECT is bulging the sails of this vessel I cannot withhold it from you any longer:

"We have learned to focus on personal deficits in ways that speak of failure rather than accomplishment, that produce social hierarchies (experts who often appear to know more about people’s lives than they do themselves), and that erode our sense of communal interdependence and common purpose. The project is based on the belief that the success of money and benchmark driven organizations has become its limitation: because the old organizational model based on the tools of control has no answer to human hopes, values, interests, and needs. On the other hand organizations are forced to dump these tools and empower their employees in order to stay innovative, agile and productive in complex environments. Machines produce sameness. Human systems like organizations create diversity. The narrative approach helps to co-construct unity in diversity. An ambitious project.“

Mapping the Field – Interview with Mary Alice Arthur

Joanna Sell did a wonderful interview with Mary Alice Arthur on BEYOND STORYTELLING 2018. Mary Alice shares her thoughts on what Re-Authoring and working with stories mean for her. A beautiful call to connect and create the field for new and better stories to emerge.

Mary Alice Arthur held a powerful key note at BEYOND STORYTELLING 2017. Her harvest of our first conference on the 6 uses of story is a wonderful entry point for everyone interested in working with stories. Check out part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Mapping the Field – Interview with Chené Swart

Chené Swart has been working with Re-Authoring Practices for years. Her book, "Re-Authoring the World" introduces re-authoring practices into the work with organizations and communities. In this video, she talks about what this means for her and why it is important right now. At BEYOND STORYTELLING 2018 she will host a workshop together with Griet Bouwen and Marianne Schapmans. She will also hold a key note.



The power of Story-Work

It was back in 2015 when a group of us, as experts in the area of narrative work, decided to share our wisdom on how we work with stories in organizations and also to join our forces to support the creation of a global storytelling community. We thought that the appropriate vehicles for this would be the publication of a book and an annual conference, where participants could also share their own work with stories. The book would cover the impact of stories in a range of almost all attributes of an organization’s life and growth like change, leadership, learning, culture, community building, etc. Both the book and the conference have been brought to the world in 2017 and have been given the name “Beyond Storytelling”.

Since then, a lot happened in our lives and to our planet. The rising of dichotomies, more uncertainty, pressing personal and systemic struggles and much more. At the same time, the idea of telling your authentic story was taking more space, especially in the organizational parlance as an antidote to deal with the above-mentioned challenges. This led to the overuse and sometimes to the abuse of the term “storytelling”, especially in specific corporate functions like sales and marketing.

However, still, a core question remains valid: How stories could become an elixir that ignites individual and systemic transformation? How could we leverage the magic power that stories carry so that lingering effects could emerge towards a greater good?

There are many examples where working with stories beyond storytelling becomes the magic wand that illuminates the individual/organizational/societal field of change and initiates a re-authoring process for a desired future. Here are just a few of them that I use to work with:

1.) Stories as polarity resolutions. If we imagine a terribly crazy world with a lot of negative disruption as one pole, then the opposite pole may be a human configuration of conscious visionaries that are rising and collectively work for a better world. When one pole seems to dominate our present and future, building on the other pole may bring a required balance. This is what Otto Scharmer and the Presencing Institute are currently doing with the HuffPost collaboration project, on "Transforming Capitalism".

Or approaching a hot polarity by bringing in your personal story it may open a space for a middle ground discussion to emerge, which may make meaning for both poles’ supporters. This is what Brené Brown tries to do when she shares her childhood family-hunting tradition story as a mean to talk about responsible gun ownership in the US. This is also what the Social Project “Stories for Europe” offers by inviting all the voices and individual stories to be listened, ranging from favoring the European idea to the realm of Euroscepticism.

When someone tries to eliminate or devaluate the stories that identify the one pole, a substantial resistance is provoked and stretches the polarity to its edges. It is like trying to separate the two different sides of a coin. This doesn't seem to work because a story is attached to each actor’s identity. Working with stories can guide us to support landing safely in the middle ground of an intricate and highly polarized field.

2.) Visionary story-work. I use this approach in my coaching practice. A person starts with their own story, and then they combine it with a bigger vision/mission/message, which reflects their call for this world. In a social level, the “Stories for Europe” project is capturing this. Sharing our own authentic stories which are related to moments that we felt connected to a “European idea” may help us re-author and co-create a better future for Europe. The inquiry process becomes appreciative when you explore questions like for example: "What was a moment in which Europe appeared beautiful in my eyes? What if Europe´s political aim was to be beautiful?"

Working with a visionary story can also happen the other way around: I start by imagining a mission or a desired future and then I weave my own story into that future. I actually include myself and my existing environment in it, but in an imaginary way. An example could be to take any Foresight Scenario referring to a big subject (e.g. climate change, food and energy supply, etc.), which resonates best with me and tell the story of myself and my life in it at that time. The narrative of the prediction-data-based scenario changes totally and integrates an emotional loading with the inclusion of the "first-person tell" stories. What makes it impressive though is that the more attractive these stories are, the more will guide people towards respective actions in the present in a caring for the desired future way. In both cases, this approach may help us to create a strong future brand story of ourselves/company/work, etc.

The core question which could be explored here is: How will the future transform me? The metaphorical image which shapes a new narrative is a game-like one: I am experiencing my future life in a virtual reality chamber. The more I practice with it in an appreciative and optimistic way, the better it gets. And this is one way that our future is transforming us.

3.) Story as an intervention. This taps into the idea of how I would like and what it takes for people to meet in their humanity in the hearing of my story. Sharing our authentic story, how we share it and to whom, are important aspects in our effort to illuminate a field and create an impact. Self-confidence, power, powerlessness, drama, joyfulness, etc, are all expressions of our behavior and are related to how we tell our story. However, the most important aspect is from which inner state we share our story. Because this dramatically changes its impact. The inner state has to do with our level of presence at the moment as we are telling our story and the transformation process that evokes both within ourselves and in our listeners in the “here and now”. Creating awareness about the importance of the inner state that a story is told is an essential part of working with stories.

A Story holds such a power and as Michael Margolis nicely said: “…this stuff is dynamite, it can also do damage...” For example, the inner state and intention are what differentiates storytellers from populists. We could possibly agree that there is no innocent story. However, thinking in terms of narratives that shape the identity, foster the interconnection, and enhance the pride of a nation, could we imagine how different would have been the impact of “Make America great again” if diversity was included in the creation and experience of the story? It would even be more articulating if the word “again”, which implies a hidden blame, is excluded.

This brings into my mind a beautiful poem of the fabulous Nayyirah Waheed

"some people

when they hear

your story.



upon hearing

your story.



this is how



Mapping the Field – Interview with Sohail Inayatullah

We are proud to announce Sohail Inayatullah as one of our key noters today. He holds the UNESCO Chair in Futures Studies at the Islamic Science University of Malaysia (USIM) and a professor at Tamkang University (Taiwan) and an associate Melbourne Business School (Australia). He has worked extensively with governments, international corporations, and non-governmental organizations around the globe to re-author their futures. Here, he talks about what Re-Authoring Futures means for him:

Re-Authoring Futures – What's in a title?

A title for a conference should entail tension – it should carry questions and paradoxes that stimulate our conversations, imagination and creativity. A title should create a field that is worth exploring. 

The future is the stories we tell

Coming from narrative practices and ideas, the title „Re-Authoring Futures“ has at its core the understanding that our futures are created by the stories we tell about it. From this point of view, the future is not fixed as something with a finite goal. The future in this understanding is an open field in which we are the authors and co-authors that write and co-write this story.

We are all authoring the stories we live into constantly, knowingly or unknowingly. Some of these stories are based in our context – our community, the markets and society. Some are hidden and not known to us but shape our lives in very profound ways – by impacting what we believe is possible or impossible.

Indeed, these beliefs and ideas are spoken about as facts – both physical, social and historical – that are shaping our lives and organizations. Within the hidden nature of these beliefs and ideas we give meaning and daily experience their impact on our lives and our organizations as we unknowingly author and co-author organisational futures.

Choice and agency – Taking back the pen

The plural of „futures" in “re-authoring futures”, indicate the possibilities and choices that are inherent in this view. We also chose this title, now, because, in recent years, we are witnessing the justification of decisions through the small but powerful word „alternativlos“ (without any alternatives). This German word implies that there are no choices.

That the path of action taken only follows given facts, a given logic and rational. And these „alternativlose“ stories can also be found – very often – in organizations. Because of a chosen path in the past or some constraints in the environment, things seem to be impossible to change.

Assuming that the choice we take is „alternativlos.“ it is the affirmation that we do not really have a choice. For the organization that is affected by this „choice,“ all power is taken away. The very notion of futures implicates multiple options, alternatives and yes, choice and agency. The notion of authorship implies that an organization, a community or an individual can take agency to impact the stories told and the stories lived and created.

The prefix "Re-„ is important to us in many ways: It stands for consciousness and engagement. It acknowledges that everyone, every organization and community is part of a context with a set of taken-for-granted beliefs and ideas that supports and invests in the stories that are told by and about them and others.

These taken-for-granted beliefs and ideas make people, teams or organisations the problem as it situates problems inside people or organisations. These internalised problem stories become thin descriptions about the  potential and the possibilities that an organization or communities can live into and choose from. „Re-„ is about making these taken-for-granted beliefs visible and through living and telling alternative preferred stories change and re-write the context along the way.

The roots of Re-Authoring Practices

The title also has a history and roots in a specific field of practice. The word “re-authoring” grew out of the work of the two originators of narrative therapy, Michael White and David Epston. Re-authoring conversations enable people to separate their lives and relationships from knowledges/stories that are impoverished descriptions of who they are and encourage people to re-author their lives according to alternative knowledges/stories and practices that have preferred outcomes. Our colleague Chené Swart, who trained as a Narrative therapist in South Africa, translated these re-authoring ideas into her work as a coach and consultant in the organisational and communal fields with her book, Re-authoring the World: The Narrative lens and practices for organisations, communities and individuals.

Today re-authoring ideas and practices are seen as “ways of being and working with individuals, organizations and communities that seek to ignite the beauty, dignity and honour of their lives” (Carlson 2017) . In this re-igniting of dignity, beauty and honour, we are invited to again become the primary authors of our lives and re-author (take back the pen in) our relationship to the preferred moments, narratives and communities that have shaped our lives in ways that move us forward. The work focuses on moments that matter, the context that informs it and practices that dignify people’s lives. Taken into the organizational world, it is about creating possible futures that are viable in an economic sense while taking into account the way an organization is connected to its constituents and communities of concern.

Re-Authoring Futures – BEYOND STORYTELLING 2018

The transformational nature of the re-authoring lens and work invites individuals, communities and organisations to individually and collectively take up the pen as authors and co-authors to shape the futures they want to live into.

The heart and soul of re-authoring practices is to co-create moments that transform our past, present and future. At BEYOND STORYTELLING 2018 we want to do that for our field of practice and explore how re-authoring practices are realized in different fields. What do we see and do differently in adopting this particular view? How can we imagine and build futures that are worth living into – for our organizations, communities and brands? What does Re-Authoring Futures mean for you?

** Thanks to Chené Swart for co-authoring this piece with me **