Writing

    Five Ways to Gain Story Fluency

    5 storyStory Fluency and Innovation

    Every time I blink these days I see another article on story. It’s something of a too popular buzzfad, but for good reason. Clearly, story is important in many aspects of marketing, communication, and innovation. The current literature tends to focus on understanding story, and, aligning a story with a brand, or an organization.

    There is also the related trend of story telling, ala The Moth. I’ve been involved this last year with a similar regional group, Indigan Storyteller here in Michiana, and its been a transformative experience. I’ve written a business novel (Jack’s Notebook) and I can tell you this, I’m still learning to create and tell stories.

    Story is a saw we can all sharpen.

    What doesn’t seem to be covered in the new literature is the concept of story fluency. I’m convinced that understanding, creating, and communicating a story is only done well if one has story fluency. For Five Ways to Gain Story Fluency, see my list below, but first…

    Can we agree that getting a story right — even a true life story — is difficult? If it was easy there wouldn’t be so many articles written, workshops and course offerings about How To. People are seeking story fluency, even if it’s not called that. A workshop can get you started on fluency, but only just. Gaining story fluency, just like guitar playing, only happens with regular practice. I know lots of guitar chords but smooth switching from one to another is not there for me because I don’t practice enough. The same is true for story. Like a song, a story has a structure and it’s important to understand that structure if you want to sing it/tell it well. My KILN partner Kate Hammer, Phd has an excellent method for analyzing context and creating story in her StoryFORMs tool. I would call StoryFORMs a story fluency tool.

    What is story fluency?  It’s the ability to generate stories, for various purposes, quickly and easily. In addition, it’s the ability to examine story options and pick the one that is most authentic and suited to purpose. Fluency means generating lots of story versions and variations. This divergent thinking is important because getting a story right means experimenting with story content, meaning, and, how to tell it. Simply put, it’s about the getting the right words in the right order. The convergent thinking piece of evaluating which specific way to tell a story is most appropriate, is critical. It’s critical because all the versions in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t select the most appropraite one.

    The link to innovation is this: a poorly told story about a new product, company policy change, a new service, a brand re-introduction, a process improvement, or even your personal life choices — is likely to fail. It’s quite sad to see a good idea flop at the last second because it hasn’t been positioned well.

    I’ll say it again, gaining story fluency only happens with practice. If you want to leverage the power of story, you have to practice.

    Like so many creative endeavors, many of us are prone to try to get things right with a story immediately out of the gate. It’s unlikely you will get it right the first time, and, our tendency is to criticize ourselves when we don’t. Of course, this negative mindset makes it less likely your second version will be full of life and self-expression. Like all things creative, it’s best to diverge first and converge afterwards…anyway, here are:

    Five Ways to Gain Story Fluency

    1. Build Awareness of Story. As you go through your day, asking yourself what’s the story related to the things you see and hear. What’s the story behind that brand of bread you toast? What’s the story of the radio show you listen to? What’s your own story? What’s your story related to exercise? There is a story behind everything, build awareness by paying attention. Listen to The Moth Story Hour.
    2. Understand the basics of story structure.  There’s more to story than beginning, middle, and end. Knowing how stories tend to work will enhance your own ability to create dynamic stories that conform to social expectations.
    3. When articulating a new story, try several versions with friendly listeners. This is the divergent piece, don’t be in a hurry to get it down pat in a day — you’ll learn something each time you tell a story. As you tell your story, notice what people respond to, notice where in  a story you get the “doe eyes.” Adapt and revise your story. Try again. With complex messages you’ll need to do this many times. Be patient, you’ll get there. Experiment, play.
    4. When selecting a story version, have clear criteria for selection, then choose. What do you need your story to accomplish? Is it brand awareness? Is it empathy? Humor? Is it a link to corporate values? Work through your criteria, then pick the story version that fits best. Be thoughtful and don’t rule out the radically different until you’ve given yourself time to get used to that very different version of the story.
    5. Practice storytelling before it’s an emergency. If you wait to create and tell a story until that moment when you are in desperate need, you’ll not be ready. Tell stories for the fun of it, all the time, and you’ll be ready when the moment comes. Try out various forms of storytelling, in writing, on stage, in small groups, one on one, via Twitter, video etc.

    So tell your story, and tell it often.

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    Indigan Storytellers Debut

    I had the pleasure of participating in the debut performance evening of the Indigan Storytellers group last Friday night. As Rocky Balboa once said “you shoulda been there.” It was an intimate evening of exquisitely told stories coupled with fine hand-crafted whiskey. The location was Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Michigan. The room was packed and a good time was had by all. I report on the event here for two reasons. First, because Storytelling as an art form is creativity of the highest order. Innovators of all kinds have much to learn about the craft as a method to elaborate new inventions, messages, and brands. Learning how to write and then perform a 10 minute story is an exercise

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    Reading Widely Means More Dots to Connect

    People ask me what I read. I think this question is inspired by my citing some arcane fact or that I make a weird connection now and then. I am a voracious reader, but I think what I actually read might surprise. Most of it is NOT directly about creativity and innovation (that’s a way to guarantee you’re boring!) Reading widely provides more dots to connect. Broadly, I’m thinking I’m improving my database by reading a lot of varied and weird content. There is some science to this; one can make more conceptual blends if one has more to blend. And, concept blending, new connections, are where innovation comes from. So, this is a snapshot of what I’m reading, for

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    Yes, I Tweet a Bit (Innovators Use Twitter)

    I was just named as one of the Top 50 Innovation tweeters by Innovation Excellence. A tweeter is one who uses Twitter. It’s a fairly informal sort of top 50 list — I don’t think there is a great deal of analysis around content or reach, but still, it’s nice to be recognized. I crossed the 10,000 follower line about a month ago, and weirdly, it felt like a real accomplishment. Then I saw that my friend and colleague Dr. Cindi Burnet (@Cyndiburnett) is over 50,000 followers and I didn’t feel quite so glamorous. And, you get out of Twitter what you put into it. I’m happy with my results at my current time-investment level. 10,000 feels like a “very

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    Dying is Easy, Starting Creative Projects is Hard

    I’m in Cincinnati visiting for Christmas and coincidentally have been invited to the First Annual Cincinnati Comedians Homecoming Show. I’ll be going to Funny Bone Newport, KY tonight and hope to see a few of my old colleagues from the early 80′s, back when I was doing stand-up. People often ask me what doing stand-up was like, so, here’s the story, but with a twist. I’m going to relate it to starting anything creatively challenging. In the late 70′s and early 80′s comedy went from a somewhat quaint and staid art practiced mostly in the Catskills and New York City to something more akin to rock and roll. The influence of Saturday Night Live and the late, great, seminal comics

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    Reach Out for a Lost Soul

    It’s time to reach out to the lost souls around us. No, this is not a blog about innovation. I would like to share an idea. If it resonates, please pass this along. Like nearly everyone I’m working through complex emotions related to yesterday’s events in Newtown, Connecticut. The sad truth for me is that I’m not shocked. This kind of event has become normal. Death by gunfire is an everyday thing in America. As an American I am simply ashamed. My mind is flooded with memories of countless assassinations and other insane killings of my lifetime. JFK, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Kent State, John Lennon, Columbine, Gabby Gifford — and so many more. As the years have gone

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    Top 40 Innovation Blogger? (Top 10!)

    Precious readers, greetings from the dark night, where I write, jet-lagged, arthritis-nagged, caffiene-jagged — but writing for you, once again, trying to provide insight, information, and ultimately value about this wacky idea of innovation. Please forgive the somewhat naval gazing aspect of this post. The good news for you is over the past year you may have missed some of my more interesting posts and the bullet list below provides some quick links to stuff you might find interesting. A request for help: Every year, Innovation Excellence, a premier portal for innovation content, has a popularity contest style “Top 40″ Innovation Bloggers of the year listing. I admit, I wish to be on the list. I wasn’t last year and

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    States of Innovation, Going Gonzeaux Tour – 2012

    I’ve decided to take the battle of Doing Innovation to the streets. Literally. Okay, it’s not a battle, it’s a conversation, but it’s definitely a road trip, and definitely about the Doing. I’m heading down to Orlando, FL to attend the Front End of Innovation Conference (FEI) taking place May 15, 16, and 17. Instead of doing the boring (and convenient) thing of taking a cheap flight from Chicago to Disneytown, I’m opting to drive through the heartland and a bit of the south — I’m going Gonzeaux (“GAWN zoe”) on my way to FEI. FEI is an amazing event, and, wouldn’t it be great if that innovation “conversation” was happening all over? And online? As I Go Gonzeaux I’m going

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    The Most Creative Blogger in the World

    Apologize in advance for the mis-leading title of this post, but I have a motive, and a point (and an ego). On a lark I decided to Google “the most creative man in the world”. Here is the somewhat surprising result. Juan Carlos Solon may not be the most creative man in the world (he’s a damn good illustrator) but he deserves credit for a good blog post title. I’d give the real title to Sir Jony Ive. – but that’s just me. Then, to be fair, went over to the fair sex and Googled “the most creative woman in the world.” Here is the rather silly top entry. The second listing was a bit better, if dated to 2010, a

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    Lindegaard's Free Open Innovation Book

    You have to love a guy who walks his own talk. Stefan Lindegaard (@lindegaard) is a well-known advocate for Open Innovation. I’ve been following him on Twitter for ages and have read several of his well written articles. We’ve actually met In Real Life at the Front End of Innovation conference in Berlin. Lindegaard has made his new book, Making Open Innovation Work available free to anyone who wants it. I’d call that open, and, an innovative way to market his expertise. He’s invited people like me (i.e. other gadflies in the innovation space) to help him distribute by letting people know. I’m happy to do this because it’s great content. So, below you’ll see some links to where you

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