The art of inviting the new - Laura Martin on Listening

This blog post was created by Laura Martin, on of our supporters at BEYOND STORYTELLING 2018. Enjoy:

The quality of the story depends on the quality of listening. And listening is inviting and holding space for the story to emerge.

A story wants to be invited with a gentle and honest invitation. This invitation is a question - a question like a door through which the storyteller is entering his or her own story. And depending on the question the path of the story leads to different places - the way we ask questions shapes the story that is to be told. What if we would put more emphasis on the questions we asked?

In Rhea Wessel´s workshop about constructive journalism we listened to stories of turning points in our life. The death of a beloved one, a painful illness, or a traumatizing moment – difficult stories that we live through; painful to remember and hard to talk about. “What gave you confidence during these times? What is the most valuable gift that you got out of the situation?” With these questions we invited different layers to the story and looked for moments of personal growth and new findings about own purpose. And we heard moving stories – stories about moments of vulnerability and loss that opened space for discovering own braveness and reconnecting to own strengths and about heroes and angels that accompanied us through tough times.

But it is not only about the invitation. Once invited the story needs space – to grow and unfold, to dive deep and reach high. This space is created by the listening. Listening like little grandchildren waiting for granny´s good-night-story to be told – with wide open eyes, and ears, and hearts. Not to lose any word that is being said and ready to experience the story with their whole beings. No distraction, no side-thoughts. This kind of listening which goes far beyond content is creating and holding space in our busy world for the story that wants to emerge. Without mastering listening on that level, we will not hear the great stories that are waiting to be told.

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In Jodie Goulden and Raquel Ark´s workshop about listening we collected these attributes of a great listener.

And now thinking about the future – which future do we invite by asking questions like “how to solve the “refugee crisis”? Or “which country is wining this year´s football world cup?” And what future could we invite by asking differently. “What is giving us hope in these times of disruptive change and how can we create more of that in our collective action?” “What is it that we as humans are learning in these times and where do we have to adjust our routines to integrate these insights?”

And then if we would really listen with all our attention, all our curiosity and all our empathy – creating and holding that space for the new that is wanting to be heard. I´m sure we would feel a glimpse of it, of these other future possibilities that want to be invited and be given some space.

How can we use our human capacity of collective sense making to master today´s challenges together? What are we learning in these times of disruptive change about our very own inner longing and how do we integrate it in the solutions we create?

My key questions and learnings:

  • Which stories could we invite by asking different questions right now in the present? Do we ask for how to solve the “refugee crisis” or how to

  • What kind of stories do we invite to emerge? Do we ask for the most aufmerksamkeitsergende facts?

  • The quality of the story depends on the quality of listening.

  • A question that shapes the door through which the storyteller is entering his or her story.

  • And a story needs space – to grow, to unfold and to dive deep.

Social Presencing Theater meets Storytelling: Re-authoring futures through the body

Sarah Bhandari, one of our supporters shared this wonderful reflection on the workshop by Ivanina Reitenbach und Nadja Roder-Winkel:

What does it mean, this small innocent word “beyond” that implies a whole paradigm shift and another age to come?! What is Beyond Storytelling?

The term “storytelling” itself already expanded its horizon of meaning drastically in recent years. Today it includes not only an ancient tradition of wisdom and knowledge transfer within communities but also corporate branding strategies and marketing campaigns. Sometimes romanticized, sometimes abused, the term “storytelling” flatters in trendy new clothes through all spheres within society and thus is about to lose its value by inflation. Has it become one of todays’ buzzwords in our for-sense longing world? Anyhow, there is no need for bitter- or sadness, evolution keeps on flowing and consciousness growing. So, what is the new emerging now, “beyond” the story telling?

This overarching question was the call of the conference and invited for exploration. The contributors were providing their individual and unique answers, without anyone ever explicitly indicating to having found the truth. Instead of telling a new, next story to believe in, the space for answers was held open. Open to find one owns’ answer, to experience one owns’ answers.

My personal answer got highly inspired by the workshop led by Ivanina and Nadja.

In a smooth and fluid combination of meditation and movement, of silent, peer and group reflections, We become aware of our body – and the abundance of sensations within. Invited to go further, We expand our focus to the outer world – the ground, the air and these other highly sensitive entities, (called persons) - all together in that same space. In a nonverbal interaction of encountering by position, gesture, eye contact, We practice to simultaneously sense our inside and outside. A room full of stories. Silently told by going away, sitting down, approaching, accompanying, breathing deeply, relaxing, opening. Bodies speaking to each other in their own language, feelings arising and sinking, minds trying their best to be mindfully.
I understand:

I: ‘I’ is much more than I’ve thought. ‘We’ is much more than We’ve thought.

II: ‘We’ are influencing each other all the time.

III: there is always a silent story underneath.

Next level. In groups of four, We individually visualize a realistic challenging situation in our life and express it through a body position. The others respond to it – equally through a body position.
Bodies having conversations again, this time with a topic. And honestly, these were horror stories. Crampy, closed, frightened, stiff, etc. Did my position really cause these positions?
Having experienced the effects triggered by one owns expression of the challenging situation, one now can adjust the original position towards the challenge and transform it.
Ok cool, looks better, feels better, better thoughts follow.

I understand:

IV: others reflect my position in their individual way.

V: I can adjust my original position, which effects my inner attitude.

Next level, We are getting warm in this practice. Same group, same realistic challenging situation. But this time, We gained resources – Curiosity, Compassion and Courage. Coming back to the last adjusted position, I let each virtue be embodied by a group member and place them where it feels right according to me. That’s how it feels to be an empowered ‘I’, my virtues/the group members serving me, all controlled by me. Great. But now, my “virtues” become alive, meaning that each of the group members places themselves where he/she feels to be at the right place as this specific virtue in this challenge system. Moments of adjusting movements until everybody has found a new spot that feels right to all within the system. The energy changes completely. Everybody is invited to say one word or sentence, that translates the current sensations into words. ‘I am here’, “I see you”, ‘safe and alive’, ‘I am strong’, ‘there is joy’, etc. The power of these embodied words weave a flying carpet and the limitations of roles dissolve: I and the WE is getting empowered simultaneously, reflecting back, spiraling up. WOW. We are flying in coherence and limitless.

I understand:

VI: it is less fun and less energy, if I control the others positions

VII: bodies can find consensus very quickly without exhausting discussions/ or compromises

VIII: coherence within myself and the group feels BEYOND.

Thank you Ivanina and Nadja. This was both healing and encouraging.
Our bodies told ourselves new stories and inner collective wisdom was expressed almost without any words spoken. We need more of that. Everywhere, let’s go beyond!

A Reader's Travel

First it was not more than a vague idea. About a book that is able to prolong and enspirit the conversations we will have during and after the conference in Hamburg on a different level. Nothing heavy, nothing academic, but something very human. Something that can provoke, surprise and make us laugh. A pillow book, one can open and crossread between night and day dreams.

Then the team jumped up the READER TRAIN and the project picked up pace. We started to collect, to choose, to sort out and to outline a bigger picture. And over time the monomanie in our heads has started breathing.

Now that the conference is already an event we have to turn around to see it on our timeline, we feel that the READER´s time is just coming – as it is being passed on and read now also outside the participants circles. And as our baby starts coming around – from New Zealand to Canada, from India to the US – we think that the time has come to offer it as a PDF, publicly and free for everyone who is interested and caring. Here is the link for download!

By the way: I found my feather last week. Of course, in a rocky terrain. Have a look. The new READER will be co-written with this feather.


StoryUp your Artifact – Open Session Harvest 2018

The open sessions at BEYOND STORYTELLING offer a space for exploration of topics, themes and methods that is filled by our participants and colleagues. The topics and themes for these sessions are proposed on site – to accomodate what is emerging during the conference and enable spontaneity.

This year, Astrid Nierhoff and Mélina Garibyan, from the StoryAtelier, offered another take on their "StoryUp your Artifact" process, inviting everyone to partake in a process reflecting our theme "Re-Authoring Futures" and co-creatively developing a short visual artifact from this.

Here is what the session was about in Mélina´s words:

During our open session „StoryUp your Artefact " at the Beyond Storytelling Conference in Hamburg we invited participants to join us for an artistic live body performance. The prompt was to think of a precise moment in life where they „re-authored“ their future, to build their story and to break it down to its core-sentence. We asked the participants to record an audio-file of their core-story and to embody it in a collective body sculpture. 

The session offered participants a moment of awareness for an important, changing moment or special people in life, that planted a seed to grow.

The performance was recorded on the roof-top terrace of the Design Offices in Hamburg and edited „on the spot“ by Mélina Garibyan.

The StoryUp-process is made to create a dynamic and connecting group experience, where each participant can concentrate on important events in life, to explore different creative forms of expression (body performance, writing, acting, singing, drawing) to express the idea, to receive constructive feedback within the group and to create a collective story through the collage of all stories in the editing of a short video.

And here is the wonderful result:

At BEYOND STORYTELLING 2017, they also offered a "StoryUp your Artifact" session. Check out the small interview and the movie they created in 2017.


Hamburg - one month later

First, it had the shape of an idea. Then, it became a location, a structure, a content. At the end, it was “a place to gather”, the relationships we have been able to build. When I am re-membering the conversations, the laughter and the secret insights carried by and made possible through this community @BST18 it feels painfully far away from a reality I am thrown into again – not having found my feather yet.


Europe. What a sparkling and sad name. The bewitching Phoenician princess, kidnapped and violated by conquerors, murders, dictators, slave traders and transnational companies to serve their inhumane interests. Protected and encouraged by illiterate and blinkered politicians in Rome, Munich, Vienna and Budapest who stand up to defend the prosperity gained on the back of others, proudly erecting the walls of a new fortress called Europe and cutting the last rescue bridges for refugees.

The wonderful and sharp-witted writer Christoph Ransmayr has recently called Europe “the heart of darkness”. In his speech he tells a story about his quest for the last Gorillas in the border region between Uganda, Ruanda and Kongo. A small wispy girl in a shredded dress, barefoot in the middle of nowhere, hefting a massive water can through the wildness without an obvious destination passes the travel group while changing the tires of their truck. This was the first encounter of being seen from far away. The second one was finally with a silverback, after hours of an arduous ascent, not less mysterious than the first one. He “looked at us, so long and deep down into our souls – or whatever Europeans might hold in their chests – that we suddenly felt like one of them.”

It is a different story about Europe. It’s a sliver of a story about the power of community.

Going Beyond Storytelling – An interview with Petra Sammer

As a group, the BST core team is of course interested in how people experience our conference, what they take away from it and what they would tell others about it. To look back at BST18 we asked Petra Sammer to share her thoughts and insights from BST18 “Re-Authoring Futures” with us.

Petra Sammer held a key note at our first conference in Heidelberg focusing on visual storytelling and the power of images. We did the interview through Skype and edited it a bit for readability. It became longer than anticipated, but I believe it is a good read for everyone interested in the atmosphere and the themes present at BST18.

The interview also introduces an event curated by Petra Sammer, “Plot 18” outlining the intention and ideas behind the event.

Going Beyond Storytelling – An interview with Petra Sammer about insights from BST18 and what makes the conference special

Jacques Chlopczyk: You have been twice at BEYOND STORYTELLING, in our first conference as a key note speaker and this year as an attendee. What made you come again?

Petra Sammer: When I came the first time to BST, as a key note speaker, I had the expectation that it is an ordinary conference. But I discovered quickly that one can better describe it as an experience. It is a completely different format compared to usual conferences. And I really enjoyed it.

How would you describe this experience?

The astonishing thing for me is that a bunch of strangers come together, and when they enter the room at BST they turn into friends.

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a bunch of strangers come together, and when they enter the room at BST they turn into friends.

What is really not happening, is promotion or selling of one´s own ideas trying to make a point. This does not happen at BST. Everyone is focused on stories. And this makes it unique.

A lot of conferences are structured in the same way, BEYOND STORYTELLING breaks these rules

Yes, we try to create a special atmosphere with BEYOND STORYTELLING, focusing on high quality input, but also space to connect and learn from and with each other. Is there anything else that distinguishes BEYOND STORYTELLING from other events from your point of view?

The variety of formats! This seems banal, but it isn´t. Somehow, I feel that a lot of conferences are structured in the same way: you have people talking from the stage, maybe a plenary session. BEYOND STORYTELLING breaks these rules. It has workshops, break-out sessions, discussions in small groups and a process that keeps it all together.

What really struck me, was the end of Day 1. I never attended a conference where 100 people were having a real conversation together, this is unbelievable – but it is working. I do not know how you do it, but it is working.

This inspiring flow of the day differentiates you very much from other conferences.

BEYOND STORYTELLING raised my awareness for the different ways that people work and approach story

You are an expert in the field of Storytelling and in your outstanding career as a marketeer you worked with a lot of different brands and companies supporting them in telling the right kind of stories that create a spark with their audience. We are bringing people together with very diverse backgrounds, but a common denominator: They all work with stories in some way or another. What struck about this?

BST opened my eyes that there are so many fields. Before, I thought Storytelling is about film, literature and my area of marketing and PR. Participating in BEYOND STORYTELLING raised my awareness for the different ways that people work and approach story.

This also helped me also on a very personal level: Through BST I became more patient with my clients. I learned that there is a beauty in understanding that there are different approaches to use story and different ideas what storytelling is and can be. I became much more tolerant and patient with different versions of storytelling.

Is there a special moment that stands out for your from BST18?

The key note from Joe Lambert. He invited us into a mental journey to the future – very interactive, funny, but also a moment of stillness and reflection. And it was a wonderful moment of collaboration: He asked us to take away all chairs and we move step by step into the future – along with his thoughts.

What also inspired me – and validated my own views – was the importance he placed on movies or visuals in the telling of stories. Today, visuals are so fundamental for the way we communicate. Not only in external communication and branding, but also in internal communication.

And what I saw here is someone extending this visual turn even further working in coaching and personal development. He showed a wonderful movie from one of his workshops in which an attendee developed a movie to work through her experiences with her parents. And this usage of film, to work through difficult memories, traumas or experiences was wonderful.

What are particular insights or questions that you take away from the conference?

To somehow summarize my key learning: the discussion how stories shape our views of the world. This may sound simple, but it isn´t. For me as a marketeer, I am very much accustomed to see story as one tool among many to sell a product.

But at BEYOND STORYTELLING, I got in touch with immense power that stories have, how they are vehicles to shape the way we see the world, beyond being just a tool for marketing. This was embedded in your overall theme “Re-Authoring Futures” and therefore in many discussions.

Do you recall any of these discussions?

I had an exchange with Michael Müller on the “Monster in the House”. It´s a plot structure, very common to horror movies. The protagonists are trapped in a house with a monster. In this situation, there are only two options: fight or flight.

He makes a good argument that complex topics like Digitalization or Globalization are understood as a “Monster in the House”-plot. And if you approach a problem in such a way, you think inside the box. This is a powerful insight to understand why some discussions are the way they are: We story them in a way that is not helpful in finding new, creative solutions.

Another line of thought that emerged during these two days is that there is a responsibility on the corporate side to tell better stories. Not so much about their companies but even more about the future of our societies. About how they want to transform the future and what´s their contribution. I dó not think that they are aware of this responsibility.


there is a responsibility on the corporate side to tell better stories

What do you mean by that?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a workshop with a German public television agency. Public television is very much under attack these days and we were searching for new ways to present them to the public.

We talked about the stories they tell about themselves. And we quickly discussed their purpose. They responded that they are important for democracy because they guarantee free speech and keeping different viewpoints and opinions visible.

But this didn´t show up in their press releases. They didn´t talk about how the future would look like without them and what kind of future they are standing for. So this was key at BT: tell the stories about the future you want to live into, not only your own or the one of your company, but the future of our societies and out planet.

BEYOND STORYTELLING is an easy trip to experience and learn a lot

Given these inspirations, why you think it is worthwhile for marketeers to participate in BEYOND STORYTELLING?

First of all – to learn about how to tell stories. Storytelling will not go away, it is at the core of our profession: creating good content.

The second is the connection between story and change. How you use story in your company! How you use story to increase the worth of your company, how to be smarter, how to work more collaboratively! There is only a tiny little step between telling new stories and creating change in your environment.

The third point for me is about learning the different ways of working with story. Story listening for example. At first this was a bit strange for me: “Ah, they call it story listening now…”. But I leaned at BT what you mean by this. Listening to someone’s story gives you so much more information than just the story. Before we react to the story, you should listen deeply, not only as a marketeers but also as a leaders.

Last but not least, BEYOND STORYTELLING is an easy trip to experience and learn a lot. You do not have to read a book. It doesn´t feel like working. It is an enjoyable experience. You just go there, spend two days with interesting, smart and funny people, friends, and you learn so much!

On September 13, you are hosting the event „Plot18“ in Munich. What can people expect from this event? What is it about?

It is about “marketing meets film” and “business meets creativity”. Two communities and industries, that can learn so much from one another – both talk about storytelling and both talk about visuals. And “Plot18” brings these two together.

It is about showing to business people what movies can do – from innovative and low-budget production techniques to new ways of telling stories. For instance, one of the sessions focuses on empowering people to do good content with just a smartphone in an easy, innovative way.

And we also want to show what is possible in the world of corporate film. As a creative, you do not want to give away all of your creative freedom. But corporate film is no longer only about product placement. Today, there are so much more possibilities: New projects and new approaches. The best ones, like “Crafted” from Haagen Dazs are made without any interference by the company. And we want to show these projects too.

We will also touch on developments that shape the field we are working in at the moment. Developments like Virtual Reality, agile movie production or Experiental Storytelling. Developments that you need to take into account if you work in this field, otherwise others will have done it! So, join us there.

Beautiful, we already booked our tickets. Thanks for this interview!

More information on:

·       Plot 18: http://whattheplot.com/

·       Petra Sammer: https://www.petrasammer.com/


Re-authoring futures through the body

I was delighted to join the workshop of Ivanina Reitenbach and Nadja Roder-Winkel and experience at first hand how "Social Presencing Theater", a social art form for transformation and community connection, meets storytelling. I had the opportunity along with other participants to connect our personal stories with core human qualities like curiosity, compassion and courage beautifully by using our bodies.

You may have not been there but you could still enjoy a series of beautiful scribes that the two workshop facilitators have created.



Shaping a Future Story of Telekom - Reflection on the process in the Workshop

„Let’s pave the way into the desired future of Telekom!“
This was the call to the participants of BST18 in Hamburg, to join our Workshop.
Dr. Rainer Klose of Telekom AG and me had prepared a Live Session: a real Change-assignment of Telekom was supposed to be worked on with narrative methods. Rainer’s team would give feedback afterwards: in how far can the participants’ ideas be implemented? Will narrative methods co-create the real change-process?

The 3rd slot for the workshops saw us under a blue and sunny sky with very hot temperatures – but the energy of the participants of BST18 was just so great! So we were heading with high mood into our Live Session for planning a real change-project with narrative methods.
The change-assignment was: Telekom AG wants to have 30% women in middle and top management until 2020. Therefore the change department of Telekom, faces two challenges:

  • How can we ensure that male decision-makers employ more female applicants?
  • How can we receive much more female applications for leadership positions?

Both questions aim  at the the mindset oft he employees as well as at the structural conditions such as providing in-house childcare and so on. But in our workshop we wanted to focus solely on the mindset and wanted to shape a “story”, that might be able to reach the employees’ values and mindset and to trigger an impulse for change.

The goal was obvious, but as in many change processes the path that had to be taken to reach that goal was not known yet.

In our Workshop we offered 2 narrative guardrails through this unknown path between the presence and the desired future: 2 groups worked with “the Hero’s Journey”, 2 other groups ware asked to work with metaphors. After 30 minutes they introduced their ideas to each other and we reflected on the chances, risks and differences of the two narrative approaches:

  • The 5 steps of the Hero’s Journey gave a brilliant structure for shaping the change-process. They helped – so the feedback in the reflection phase – in designing ideas for interventions, that might address and reach the mindset of the employees. One group hat the idea of collecting positive experiences of women in leadership positions, to spread them, and to include all employees into a participatory process of listening to the stories. Step by step they should change their role from listening to telling and into further developing the narration. This would mean to reach ownership on an own future story – and this is the most significant step for changing the mindset and the believes about what might be thinkable and desirable in future.
  • The 2 groups working with metaphors first should think about what metaphor might fit best to how they perceive Telekom in the presence. Then they were asked to change that image into a state of being, that makes the desired future of Telekom (=30% female leaders in 2020) thinkable, possible, and desirable. The ideas of both groups were quite different, but helped in both groups to derive ideas out of the change in the metaphors and the future-metaphor, that might help to reach the desired future in the real organization.

The results of one of the groups working with the „Hero’s Journey“ and the 2 „Metaphor-Groups“ can be downloaded here; here you find a german version of this text.

The reflection about the two narrative guardrails into the desired future I would have loved to continue much longer – it was exciting to discuss about the chances and differences in the 2 narrative approaches. All participants agreed, that both approaches gave a helpful structure for shaping the change-process. Rainer Klose took the ideas of the teams back to Bonn, into the change-department of Telekom – now we are curiously waiting for their feedback and if narrative methods could be implemented into the real change-process.

To put it in a nutshell: The Live-Session wasn’t only loads of fun and a confirmation, that narrative methods are a splendid and very helpful tool in change-processes – Rainer and me were able to listen to the many creative ideas of very professional, special people from different professional branches and nations. Thank you so much to our participants of the workshop „Shaping a Future Story of Telekom“!

Warm regards,
Christine Erlach


Speaking Change through Re-Membering Moments

This is a text shared by our colleague Franziska Kohn, who supported our conference on site. It captures something very essential to working with stories: the dynamic between re-membering, telling and listening and how this can lead to change. In small or large steps.

Listening to a moment can help the person speak change

As I was walking to the metro station in the morning and found myself soaking up the atmosphere of the vibrant street in a nice quater in Hamburg, I passed a small Turkish grocery store. I was actually on the look out for a bakery to grab a bite to eat and maybe a coffee on the go. Being greeted with a warm 'Good morning' made me briefly pause and notice that they had Brezen – something typical from southern Germany and one of my favorite bakery stuff. Turning around, I went into the shop and got a freshly baked, warm Brezen and a Coffee and was sent on my way to the conference with a nice 'have a wonderful day'.

I would have never expected this moment to be shared in the next few hours at the conference with a small group of people I had never met before – Just as I had never expected to enjoy really good tasting Brezen outside of southern Germany, which is something really rare to get and precious for me. I loved having two unexpected experiences collide to create something even more meaningful.

What world in a word ~ what story in a moment

So, I got to share this moment. It was an exercise one on one – simply taking the other person to my moment, talking for seven minutes about it. I cannot recall the exact question, it was related to what travel means to us. And for me travel is related to exploring and excitement. And this moment in the morning I felt this excitement. So I got to walk into this moment once again, telling my story, and most importantly, being listened to. Another person, a listener, being there, listening with curiosity, attention, presence – and by that creating space and time for the story to unfold, for me to walk into it, to work with it.

I'm not going to share now the whole seven minutes, because I can talk a lot and do not want to make this never-ending reading (plus the story behind the story is a longer rumble). Yet I'm gonna share briefly what happened within this seven minutes of purely being listened to, starting with a deep breath.

Sharing the moment allowed me to „walk“ back into the excitement I felt, which was actually the core of this moment to me. It also took me to other moments where I felt this excitement, as well as when I did ... yet actually expected it to be there because I needed it to fuel me, to refill my energy tank so I could keep on working with inspiration. It took me into my story where I was starting to question my abilities and actually felt guilty and ashamed for not being able to refuel and thus being of value and support to others...at least not with the potential I know I have to offer. The excitement I felt in this moment I shared, showed me that my excitement is still with and within me; it's not gone or lost because of me. I perceived it lost, yet it was there the whole time, only clouded by another story. And now I'm reconnecting and rewriting the story that is really mine. Stepping into my story allowed me to work with my story.

And then I took a few more deep breaths.

Sharing and telling one’s moment, one’s story – as well as listening to someone else’s story this way, is a gift. It creates engagement, a connection – between the teller and the listener, and also within oneself. And sometimes, well actually most of the time, also helps us to connect to the bigger picture. It helps us reflect on the moment, connect it to other moments, step into our story, set it in context, empower us to own it and rewrite it...organically instead of forced. A moment, a story which touches us and speaks to us does not fall out of the blue. It is there to be payed attention to. And when we do, insights and inspiration shows up.

step into your moment, your story

being listened to with curiosity, attention, presence


Telling my story, is beyond story telling, its about being listened to*. This gift of a listener being present and giving attention is a huge gift. And wholy moly, yes this all happened within seven minutes. And then changing roles. And I could gift the gift of listening.

*It might sound so obvious and logical that telling a story and being listened to go hand in hand, and one cannot go without the other. Yet, for a story to be heared, truly heared, it requires time and space. It requires curiousity, openess, non-judgment, allowing it to just be told without being interrupted. It only wants to be listened to without focusing on your response, on stepping in, on adding your thoughts, assumptions, or jumping in to fix something or provide a solution. It is 'just' to be present and listen. 

And remember, every story is worth being listened to. It takes practice to listen this way. Listen to someone’s moment today, and notice what happens.

I am standing on the shoulders of

Griet, Chéne, Marianne, Raquel – inspiring, powerful and amazing women, who empower so many to weave their stories and listen to them, making me experience listening on a whole different level, connecting story-telling to listening, enabling re-authoring; and my wonderful listener, a woman from France whose name I forgot (shame on me); and maybe also on my own shoulders for breathing (; and many more wonderful, supportive shoulders.

The Magnificent Seven

"I am looking forward to seeing you again. I have so much to learn from your new Self", I replied to Astrid, one of our conference contributors, when she sent me the following confession.

The ultimate success factor of a conference is that you leave different compared to how you entered. This is the case of Astrid's valorous story of personal transformation and immense learning as it took place during the Beyond Storytelling Conference 2018 in Hamburg. She decided to share it with all of us as a precious gift. Enjoy!

The green snake.JPG

"I kind of feel sorry for you right now“. The woman who says this is sitting in the workshop I am running. I am fully aware at that very moment, that I totally fail to match the needs of my audience, a blend of 18 men and women. But never have I got more ashamed in public. The man sitting next to her adds a few minutes later: „Maybe you are in the wrong story“. I somehow manage a wrap-up and keep on smiling. 

Half an hour or so later, a whole load of pain, of disappointment and anger, hits me. I have to leave the keynote speech I had long been looking forward to, unable to hold back my tears. The shame of having been ridiculed in public and having faced such disrespect is overtaken by the blames I put on myself. I know about my tendency to be too theoretical and academic. Thus, I had put a lot of efforts into designing a very practical workshop. It had all started very well: the introduction, the opening exercise with aha-effect, the word-clouds…until the very moment when I „just“ wanted to set up a concept-frame before moving on. I saw myself getting stuck in there, heard myself talking too long and ways too complicated, failed to throw out the right rope for them to catch and to transfer to experience. When I suggested starting with the creative challenge, designing a campaign for sustainable stories, my audience went on strike. 

I feel so small and ridiculous, sitting there in the last corner of the terrace and fearing anybody may have seen me. This is when the first of them approaches me. No samurais, no gamblers nor outlaws, but a community of mentors, coaches, facilitators and storytellers, the best of their kind and a community of friends. People I was not intimate with, offer to share their intimate stories of failure, lay an arm around my shoulders, take a long stroll outside with me, give me extensive feedback about the workshop and generously offer their mentorship.

These are the Seven Magnificent Learnings I was gifted with: 

1. Don’t let anybody make you small, even in the face of failure and adversity. But It is your duty to hold your space and to mark your red line. You are a thousand times more worth than your performance. 

2. It is so important to fail. Just so important. You took a risk leaving your comfort zone and you failed. That’s ok. Let go of that composed attitude and allow your emotions. That’s ok, too.

3. Don’t waste your energy in fighting your flaws but instead nurture your talents. Your talents will outgrow everything. Use the power of rituals: wash your face with cold water, think about a moment of success. Take the energy from that moment with you and then only return to the present. 

4. Free yourself from those technical supports which are only there to cling on and to reassure you. All of the sudden, you will see and feel your audience very differently. You will go with its vibes and the flow. You will be much more able to improvise and to adapt to their needs and desires. 

5. All that you say may be perfectly right and well researched. But none of this is worth a penny if you fail to get the transfer right to your audience. Give them a clear frame with clear announcements and a clear vision about where they are heading to. 

6. Walk the talk! Do what you preach! Story!! 

7. Trust your audience. Nobody wants to get content delivered here, only frameworks: Why not starting right away with the challenge? 

I thought I knew those things before. But never had I felt each one of them so physically embodied by my recent experience. With each conversation, I was growing bit by bit back to my full size and achieving an internal transformation. When I left the conference on Saturday I was a very different person.  



The night before leaving for Hamburg, I had a dream. A prophecy had told me I had to get bitten by the Great Snake and the doomsday had come, where I was to walk into the swamps where it lived. My mother, who lives as an angel, was walking with me. She was sad, but she knew it was my fate and was determined to stay by my side until the end. We arrived. Our feet sank up to the calves in the muddy waters. Big brownish snakes were crawling everywhere, but no-one attacked. There was a cabin. I first wondered if I was supposed to get in there and wait but thought: what the heck, I’m not going in there and wait until starvation. Let’s just go. We arrived at the end of the swamp, where there happened to be some kind of information center. I was watching a man, probably a keeper taking care of animals. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, she appeared. A giant, bright green snake with two sharp teeth. I looked into her eyes and thought: O, here is my destiny! Then she bit me. The mark she left on my right hand was huge. I knew I was going to die, but for now, I also knew: no snake could do me any harm anymore. I had the power to grab her and to throw her away. I was the elected, the one who was scared. I had time to make calls, to say goodbye and felt I was letting go of my old self when I woke up, startled. 

The morning after the workshop, it hit me. The bite by the snake can be the symbol of ill words and deception by another person. But especially green snakes are also the symbol of personalgrowth, inner transformation and a reconnection to what is true to you. It is a call to take care of what is emerging here, to embrace the new beginnings, with steadiness and serenity. To re-author the future. 

Sherlock Holmes and the Things of Tomorrow

“Egal, was die Zukunft bringen mag. Eines ist sicher: Es wird einen Mord geben!!!“

Mit diesen Worten hat Christian Riedel seinen Workshop im Rahmen von BEYOND STORYTELLING eröffnet. Was folgte sah in meinen Augen – ich war nur Beobachter – nach einem Heidespaß aus.

Über die Zukunft zu sprechen ist schwer. Das, was wir kennen, unsere gewohnte Welt, erzeugt Gravitation: wie über etwas nachdenken, das wir nicht kennen?

Der Workshop von Christian Riedel näherte sich dem Nachdenken über die Zukunft auf spielerische Weise und mit einer unbeschreiblichen Leichtigkeit. Über das Spiel, den Hintergrund und Anwendungsmöglichkeiten hat er einen ausführlichen Text geschrieben. Vielen Dank an Christian Riedel für seinen tollen Beitrag!

Der Originalpost findet sich auf seiner Homepage: growthbystory.de.

Vertical Booktable at BEYOND STORYTELLING 2018

Naturally, we do read a lot as a team. And providing access to the books that have and continue to inspire our work and thinking is an important thing to us.

At the same time, organizing a book sale at a conference comes with some complexities. Therefore we decided to go a different way at BEYOND STORYTELLING 2018.

To make the books we like and think are important for our work visible, Wolfgang Tonninger created a vertical booktable for the conference. Visit it here:




Die erste Feder ist angekommen...

Der folgende Beitrag wurde von Christine Morthorst verfasst – einer geschätzten Kollegin, die vor Ort die Umsetzung der Konferenz begleitet hat.

Das Kernteam sitzt zusammen, auf einer wunderschönen Dachterasse im Stadtteil Hamburg-Elmsbüttel und feiert den gemeinsamen Erfolg der letzten beiden Tage. Sie freuen sich über die erste Feder. Aber dazu später mehr. Sie sind müde, beseelt und energiegeladen zugleich. Es war eine gelungene Fach-Konferenz mit etwa 100 Teilnehmern aus mehr als 30 Nationen. Die Stimmung war vom ersten Moment an außergewöhnlich.

Außergewöhnlich waren auch die Beiträge, Keynotes und die Diversität der Workshops.

Als 'Story Telling Neuling' war ich ein wenig aufgeregt wie es wohl werden würde. Als ich ankam, herrschte die typisch angespannte Stimmung vor einer Konferenz zwischen Euphorie, weil man das erste Mal den wunderbar gestalteten Begleit-Reader der Konferenz in den Händen hielt und Nervosität, ob alles wie geplant klappen würde.

Schnell wurde klar, dass es eine tolle Konferenz werden würde. Es gab drei gehaltvolle Keynotes, 17 Workshops und eine Open Session in der Teilnehmer für Teilnehmer Workshops angeboten haben. Die Konferenz wurde gerahmt durch eine persönliche Learning Journey, interessante Gespräche, eine tiefe Verbundenheit, viel Energie, gutes Essen und stille Momente. Momente der persönlichen Reflexion, der Innenschau. Eine fantastische Mischung. Zwei wirklich gehaltvolle Tage.

Meinen persönlich inspirierensten Moment hatte ich während eines Workshops mit Meike Ziegler. Sie kreiert CREATUALS  - ein Kunstwort aus CREATIVE + RITUALS.  Mit einem Creatual erzeugt sie wunderschöne, kraftvolle und verbindende Momente für besondere Meilensteine wie offizielle Eröffnungen, die Einführung von Produkten oder Themen in Organisationen oder für soziale Events.

In ihrem Workshop nahm sie uns mit auf eine außergewöhnliche Reise zu ihrer verstorbenen Großmutter, für deren Beerdigung sie ihr erstes Creatual entwickelte. Hin zu Creatuals für Teams, die ihre individuell kreierte Happiness-Tinktur auf Schmetterlingsraupen träufelten und ein wenig später die Geburtsstunde ihrer 'Happiness' mittels einer Geburtskarte ihres Schmetterlings miterleben durften. Bis hin zu dem wirklich hoffnungsvollen Projekt des 'Table of Hope', bei dem mit und für Menschen aller Länder ein 'Table of Hope' kreiiert wird, mit jeweils einem Stück Holz aus dem Tisch eines anderen Landes, auf dem die Wünsche und Hoffnungen der dort lebenden Menschen geschrieben stehen.

Nach dieser sehr berührenden Reise durften wir im Workshop selbst Hand anlegen und Ideen für ein eigenes Creatual entwickeln. Zunächst war da in unserer Gruppe nur ein Impuls. Eine fragile Idee, hier und jetzt etwas verbindendes für die Teilnehmer der Konferenz zu gestalten. Und dann bekam die Idee Flügel, nahm immer konkretere Konturen an, bis ein erster Prototyp unseres Creatuals für die Konferenzteilnehmer stand. Es hatte etwas mit einer Feder und einem goldenen Strang, der uns verbinden sollte zu tun.  

Und dann passierte das für mich magische. Normalerweise enden solchen Ideen mit Ablauf der Workshopzeit. Nicht so auf dieser Konferenz. Denn die Idee lebte weiter und fand ihren Weg in eine der Open Sessions. In einem zweiten Prozess voll gelebter Co-Kreativität nahm das Creatual plötzlich Form. Mit einer Gruppe von Menschen, die unterschiedlicher nicht sein konnten, teilten wir unsere Assoziationen, diskutierten, hörten Einwände, veränderten und dann war es klar. Mit dem Titel: Birds of feather flock together, wollten wir die Teilnehmer mit der Idee nach Hause gehen zu lassen, eine Feder zu finden, mit der sie eine Geschichte schreiben und beides, die Feder und die Geschichte allen Teilnehmern der nächsten Konferenz zur Verfügung stellen. Weshalb eine Feder? Weil eine Feder Teil eines Ganzen ist. Weil sie für Freiheit, Leichtigkeit, Weichheit, etwas Schönes steht. Weil Federn, Ideen Flügel verleihen können und weil Federn weite Entfernungen zurücklegen können.

Und so endete die Konferenz mit einem Creatual, entstanden auf der Konferenz für die Konferenz. Mit einem Gefühl von tiefer Verbundenheit, Zufriedenheit, einer angenehmen Erschöpfung und der Vorfreude auf das nächste Jahr!

Das hier ist übrigens meine Feder;) Gefunden in einer grünen Oase auf dem Dach eines kleinen hübsch gestalteten Vogelhäuschens.


Woke: Finding Home in the Story of Our Collective Future – The alternative Key Note by Joe Lambert at BST18

Joe Lambert and his colleagues Elizabeth Woodward and Brooke Hessler from the StoryCenter were three of many wonderful contributors to BEYOND STORYTELLING 2018. The masterclass we ran with him and Brooke Hessler before the conference was an early highlight.

Being there with us and listening compassionate to the field made him change his keynote a bit, providing a surprising and inspiring twist to what he planned to show and tell. But he was generous enough to share his transcript for the key note he had planned. And I believe that it is very much worth sharing, as it taps the core themes of "Re-Authoring Futures" and BEYOND STORYTELLING as a conference.

Our gratitude reaches across the ocean, and we are looking forward to meet and work together again. Here are his words:

Woke –
Finding Home in the Story of Our Collective Future

A very brief introduction to my work.  As was suggested, for 25 years I have helped people, usually in groups of 10 or so, make films like this one.  Well maybe not all like this one, as I will share today, many of the stories we share are a bit more personal, a bit less of a call to action, than this one suggests. 

I start with this story because in my country I believe we are living on the edge of something quite stunning, a tipping point of sorts between two narratives about the future of the United States.  The seriousness of this could be overstated, hyperbolized for rhetorical impact, but I don't think anyone watching our country from the outside can quite believe how quickly it seems to be disintegrating, at least at the top of our Federal Government.

To tell the truth, most of us are just carrying on. I have been spending the last several weeks listening to survivors of California's Wildfires last year.  And like listening to survivors of any scaled tragedy, you hear loss, and you hear resilience, you hear very, very individual vulnerability, and you hear collective will, almost celebration, of how valuable people become to each other in tragedy.  The person covering for me on the wildfire project while I'm here in Germany had his million dollar eco-retreat burn up on Sunday under a pile of molten lava in Hawaii.  It seemed somehow fitting that one refugee of the nexus between mother earth and our built landscape would be listening to other survivors stories. 

So I come here thinking about stories of collective action, of collective resilience, of exhaustion and the need to compartmentalize one's fear and sorrow, the need to close your eyes for a bit in serene reflection, but also the need, to paraphrase Samuel Jackson,  to wake the fuck up.  To stay awake to how quickly this floating boat of modernity can come crashing down, with nature, with economics, with terror and counter terror.   I'm not that worried, but it really is not the time for soft tales of goodness, or cynical dismissal of all efforts to derail these horrific descents into barbarism that the Trumps of the world are suggesting for us.  We have to stay awake, and make stories that shake up this paradigm, and prepare for the next.   

This is where I am today. And it is my deep pleasure to chat with you here in Hamburg. I will start in an odd place.

I'm not sure what story means anymore

For someone who runs The storycenter, who has spent his life in the world of story and storytelling, that is perhaps an unfortunate confession.

I can't speak my principally german and european audience, but in English, in our mainstream usage, I believe story has become too broadly defined, we all agree that story is the DNA of our culture as humans, or we wouldn't be here.

But is this just our discomfort with the analytical, is this a warm and fuzzy, more human face for our marketing and advertising, is story a way to thumb our noses at specialized language in the social sciences and suggest whatever you are doing, you are mainly just listening to stories people tell about themselves and others, is story a synonym for trust?    

Of course any term can be re-invented a thousand times, in all sorts of categories of endeavor, but I am going to suggest something, in a conference called Beyond StoryTelling, here in Germany which has the wonderful linguistic tradition of creating such fabulous conceptual integrative word-concepts, we need your help. 

We need a new word

Story also for has always meant something for us closer to a three step process.  Three verbs. Listen - Reflect - Tell


In that Listen in English means much more than hearing and attentiveness, but what buddhists would call "Present Mindedness."    I am not sure what you might call this kind of witnessing with full focussed attention.  At StoryCenter, we say Listen Deeply. 

And storytelling as we mean it  also includes a component of "Thinking After" implied by the German word Nachdenken, I think, of taking what has been heard, reflecting upon it deeply, letting an the complexity of what is being said to one to sink in.  It is more than understanding, it is both attention and a heart-felt appreciation for all the emotional components and potential meanings of what you have heard.

Then telling is allowing your story to be informed by the depth and thoughfulness of your reflection, and how you have heard either feedback, but as importantly, how you have held and been present to all the other stories being shared with you in a process. 

Storytelling in the way we mean it is a practice, like meditation and yoga.  It has endless permutations and specific spaces to connect to, it can foreground greater skill and refinement, or it foreground restoration and wholeness.  It can be practiced as a daily five minutes of reflective writing, or in week long or month long retreat.  It has all the flavors of all our cultural roots, our intellectual traditions, but it also connects us all.  Certainly there is a word like this in some language, that encompasses process and product, conscious focus, relaxed intuition, creativity and purpose, the simple need to know and a much larger telos. 

Any suggestions? In English, I like woke.  An expression coming out of our African American community and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Woke is about that sort of present minded full awareness out of which come powerful stories that speak truth to the endless spin, the fake news, the polite protected power, stories that can go deep inside what needs to be said, the silences that need to end, can call on us to make ourselves alive with our own agency.

So what we mean by story in a way that has a ring of uprising to it, of resistance, in large forms as in movements for social justice, but also in the small forms of the fight for dignity in dehumanizing or simply troubling complexity.  

It is not story.  Not really.  It is realization. It is a new insight.  It is woke.

Anytime you are asked to speak first on the second day of a two day conference, 9 time zones from where you usually sleep, you know being awake is not easy. 

Ponder that while I move toward the meat of my presentation today, about the idea of using story for forecasting and planning,  a type of scenario storytelling.

When we look back on ourselves, ten years from now.  What we will say about our choices?

This is a game many of us play, looking forward to look backward, looking forward to make sense of the present.

From techno-utopian visions to scenario storytelling

Those that know me, or read my work,  know I took great power from a book my father gave me when I was young.  Edward Bellamy's utopian fantasy, Looking Backward.  How many of you know this book? 

It is sort of a Socialist Rip Van Winkle tale of someone awake one hundred plus years in the future (written in 1888).  For a fan of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, my adolescent boy was into this early leftwing steampunk.  Bellamy's book was enormously hopeful, looking at the best of what we can do, might do, in making an optimum future.  And as all of us here understand, stories can and do make a difference.  Hundreds of Bellamy clubs formed, nearly a million of these books sold in English and other languages afterward, and many, many people sourced their activism and commitment to social progress through the introduction to this story.

Of course these ideas were in line with the optimism of nineteenth and early 20th century socialism.  Before a century of crimes, mass starvations and human rights disasters in the name of the socialist ideal.  Before the wars of the twentieth century, and the ascendency of consumer capitalism as our dominant paradigm, with all its attendant positives and negatives.  The idea of overcoming the tragedy of a early industrialism with the technological innovations of the end of the nineteenth century must have felt enoromously seductive.

To be frank I revisited this feeling as a techno-utopian in the late 80s and 90s.   In "inventing" digital storytelling as a mechanism to engage people in digital technologies, I honestly thought we could use easy-to-use digital media production and internet distribution to unwind the negative effects of mass media on society.  Can you believe it?   As such I was happy to join forces with Apple, Adobe, Hewlett Packard, countless web branding and marketing firms, and a generation of rising stars in the tech, design and communications industry like Lynda Weinman of software training company, Lynda.com or Craig Newmark of Craigslist, Brenda Laurel of the girls computer game company Purple Moon, and Will Wright of Maxis/Sim City fame.  These were folks in my neighborhood in San Francisco, and it was a heady time of invention and optimism like the end of the nineteenth century.  

So when I was asked to give a talk at a conference called Beyond Storytelling, my first thought was to return to that era.  The word Beyond suggested the vision of the step ahead.  Where is all this story stuff really going? 

I mentioned to Christine that for several years, 1998-2004 or so, I was a collaborator with the Institute for the Future.  How many of you know this organization? They are America's longest running future forecasting organizations.   Their role is to present major technological and social trends as 10 year forecasts prepared for large multinational corporations and government organizations.

Let me show an example of the kind of work they were doing as we brought Digital Storytelling to their scenario efforts.  

During that period of techno-optimism of the 1990s and early 2000s, IFTF sought to expand their offerings to more local or grassroots groups like youth, educators, communities of color and others.  We were particularly well suited to the idea of bringing forecasting and future thinking to these folks, and helped create several workshops with those constituencies in that period.  And the stories were good discussion points, but frankly, that work had no future, pun intended.  It was not core to IFTF's identity, and we did not see assisting people with imagining how their future might look with self-driving cars or wearable technology, given the crumbling of schools, the increased police harrassment and brutality, gentrification, income inequality, addiction, health crisis, etc with the folks were most working with.  The present was enough. 

Add into that were books like Taleb's Black Swan, that called the entire prognostication process out, and suggested playing the game of guessing the future, was a fools errand.  So we didn't track this work, and neither did our friends at IFTF, although they continue to assist with assisting big organizations to consider all the issues in the world.

So I beyond the word beyond, I'm not quite sure why I decided to bring futures thinking and story together again.

But as I pondered this, I thought, well ..... I live in Oakland and so maybe it was this movie:


How many of you saw it?  

The Oakland filmmaker, Ryan Coogler, is given a Marvel big tent film and he makes a film about afro-futurism.  Actually about a past that became a fantasized future, a past where colonialism somehow left a group of Africans untouched.  And they made a futuristic uptopia deeply invested in traditional african moral and cultural awareness. I will not say that this movie could not have come out of any other place in the world, but afro-futurism is definitely an Oakland kind of thing. 

And of course, while story is often about memory and the past, it can also be about aspirations, intentions, goals and plans, big sweeping visions we have for ourselves and our organizations.

Past and Future in working with Story

When I lead the workshops in local communities, as I did with folks yesterday in our workshop here, I asked people to start with a story that encompassed the moral center of their childhood.  The root of what they thought to be what was best about who they were, and where they belonged.  And of course some folks struggled to find a positive root, because our lives can have many difficult, unhealthy and complicated roots from which we spring.  But I asked them to imagine that place, where they knew that there was a place of resiliency, of moral courage or survival in the face of difficulty, and deep knowing that comes form that, that acted as at least a bit of a grounding for them.  For some it was experiences with parents or mentors, for others it was community, and others just a place, or a connection to something other than fellow humans.

Stories like this one.

Most of us with stories about where we are going are not particularly cognizant about how we intend to carry the luggage of our past with us.  One of the things about modernity, and advanced society, was the idea you could sort of leave, at any point, and cut ties.  I did that, I am from the South, but I rarely ponder my southern roots.  But when I am honest. I know I stand on this enormous history of Southern white resistance to the dominant culture of enslavement, impoverishment and exploitation.  I am a son of organizers against that domination, whose parents were advocates for a more progressive, more equitable South, and even though they didn't fundamentally shift the narratives of that history,  I carry that in my story every day. 

So I don't believe you can successfully uproot, I think can use story to negotiate a new relationship with the weight of your rooted past, and with the strength of that, tell a story about your future that can hold some part of that past.

For many of you, and your work with large organizations, I believe the idea of knowing how you hold your past, and how you see a future beyond the next quarter, beyond the next fundraising drive or campaign, is critical.  What I want to suggest is having the kind of discussions that integrate the moral and ethical connections you have with your assessment of your past as individuals, to link to a calling that defines your collective futures. What might that look like?

From Individual Pasts to Collective Futures

I was recently introduced to the work of Ari Wallach, whose LongPath organization has a clear-headed and straighforward approach to futures thinking that relates both to the ideas we have in story, and to what I would think is a more ethically sound perspective toward using scenario and futures thinking to assist us in our process.  In brief summary he believes all of us suffer from a paradigmatic "sandbag" approach to problem solving, expediency for the sake of long term solutions that fails to hold a multi-generational possibility for problem solving that keeps us from asking the hard question,  the telos as he calls it, the for what purpose question. 

As I asked our storytellers to look at their own stories Thursday to project a future.  I presented one of the prior graphics of social, cultural and technological drivers that I thought were relevant to most of our lives, and I asked them to write a new story, about their life in 2028, assuming health, and a non-uptopian, but an equally non-dystopian, prospect for them and their lives.

Then I asked them to share a singular image, object or representation of what would tie their past to their future, and where that would be found in the life on a given day in the future. 

We didn't have the amount of time we working of a story that we would have in a normal workshop, and we certainly were not able to bring these stories into a discussion about how this might affect their personal or professional planning efforts with their organizations, but the results were interesting enough. 

To end, I wanted to share a final story. 

Sometimes when we think about our future we see the seeds in our present.  We were blessed for several years to have on our staff a quiet young man named Tommy Orange.  He was as gentle and careful a facilitator as you might ever want to meet.   He was also a wonderful writer. Here is a piece he did with us looking at the way history might be told.

Please visit the home of the StoryCenter on the web at www.storycenter.com - a place of inspiration and resources!