Storytelling Experiment: Day 5 – Listening

I’ve been sharing a 5 Day Storytelling Experiment that you can try yourself, and this final piece is about ‘Story Listening’.

We are all expert social creatures, who have grown up in dynamic story environments: some stories that reinforce and amplify each other, others of which oppose and deny. Sometimes our stories carry compassion and certainty, at other times violence and doubt.

Every day we filter and sort the narratives that surround us: what is important, what is growing louder, what is fading away. We filter through various contexts: is this story told by someone ‘important’, will there be consequence if i respond, or fail to respond?

But in all this noise, we rarely stop to listen, and to consider how to recognise and learn.

People typically describe their key challenge as involving time: there is too much to do in our noisy environments, and not enough time. But what if ‘time’ is a proxy for something else? What if there is a specific competence around Story Listening, and what if it does not even take much time at all?

Where, and how, do you listen?

It’s also easy to just end up hearing loud voices, but can you hear the quieter ones that you may need to empower and amplify?

It’s always tempting to add to a story, to respond to it, but consider this:

  1. Can you listen, but not respond with certainty?
  2. Can you respond with gratitude, or respect?
  3. How would you respond to give pride?
  4. Do you know any good listeners? Are you one of them?
  5. Do you just listen to loud voices, or actively find weaker ones?


  1. What is hard about listening?
  2. Do you just listen to stories that you want to hear?
  3. How do you tend to respond?
  4. What is a quiet story that you have recently heard?

Feel free to share your answers below, and check out the previous four days of the experiment, and the experiences that people have shared.

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Storytelling Experiment: Day 4 – Amplification

I have been #WorkingOutLoud all week, sharing a 5 Day Experiment into Storytelling for Social Leadership. This is the Day 4 activity, which considers how stories may be Amplified.

The Humble Leader

Instead of thinking about ways to push harder, or turn the volume up, i want to focus on one aspect: Humility.

It might not surprise you to know that i harbour a dark secret: I love Bon Jovi. And nothing better than cranking up the volume and unpacking my air guitar as i get ready for a night out. But volume is not the only way to amplify something.

Another way is to share our uncertainty and doubt, and ask for input.

We are effective within the arms of our community, and those communities are full of people who will willingly engage, to help us: through constructive challenge, generosity, connection, or knowledge. If we earn the right.

Humility is a willingness to relinquish control, without certainty of where the story will go. But it can be viewed as weakness, or failure.

It is to act without expectation of reward, to leave everyday seeking to have invested more in others than you take out yourself.

Sure, you can push a story harder, but can you find the humility to let go of it, and let others amplify it?

What do you think about humility?


  1. Give an example of humble behaviour.
  2. How is humility rewarded, or should it ever be rewarded?
  3. Can you learn to be more humble?
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Storytelling Experiment: Day 3 – Aggregation

This is the third in a series of 5 pieces that i am sharing that form a mini Experiment in Storytelling. Feel free to take part!

Consider your Communities as incubators and filters of ideas. Some stories fly within these spaces. Some form a grain that ideas coalesce around. We can call this process Aggregation: but ask yourself what causes this to happen?

Why do some conversations fade away, whilst others become a central discussion within a group?

This is a conversation about how things become talked about, which is really another way of saying how things become important to a group. Important enough to talk about.

Aggregation probably relates to the things we have discussed already in Days 1 and 2 but add another layer on top: ‘power’ provides a context, and the right ‘handles’ mean that people have the potential to individually engage. But Aggregation is where all of that individual potential comes together.

Consider these examples:

  1. Great Thunberg protests individually outside her parliament, and starts a global movement: how did her individual story become a global one? Where did this Aggregation occur?
  2. Women are paid less than men for the same job, but nobody really cared (or at least, nobody with the power to solve it did anything). Yet now the gender pay gap is a conversation. How did it become normalised? Did individuals always feel aggrieved, but lacked a space to Aggregate? What changed?
  3. It used to be usual to work in an office, but now it’s usual to work in cafes or from home: how did this normalisation occur? In what space did opinion aggregate, and which group made the decision that is was ok?


  1. Where does this Aggregation occur?
  2. Do you think you can do anything to support it?
  3. Can you think of another example to share?
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Storytelling Experiment: Day 2 – Story Handles

Day 2 of our experiment: yesterday i asked you to consider the types of power that you use within your leadership. But power does not push stories through a system: often they are picked up and pulled. So we need to think about the types of ‘handle’ that a story may have, and the way it can be carried.

Story Handles

Sometimes a story can be picked up intact, and carried forward. This type of story offers no chance to ‘make it your own’. Formal stories shared by an Organisation, and cascaded down through the system are like this.

Other stories are full of holes…you can put something of yourself into them (perhaps something of the power you explored yesterday, like your Authenticity). You can actively consider the type of Story Handle you will build into a narrative.

Let’s consider four Story Handles:

1. Some stories provide you with an opportunity to ENGAGE: for example, this one! You can add your responses as a comment, so you have the clear opportunity.

2. Some stories invite individual INVESTMENT, they have space where you can invest your own personal narrative and dimension. For example, if we have a conversation about mental health, i may share a story about struggling with depression in my 20’s, and that may open up a space for you to share a personal story too. Disclosure of vulnerability is one way to create space, but there are others. For example, if i give you a story that you can share on to your team, by making it your own, then you may invest in it.

3. The ability to take OWNERSHIP is an important handle: if we have a conversation about cutting back on single use plastics, you can take direct action yourself, and make that story your own. Consider how this relates to ‘Authenticity’, when we looked at power yesterday.

4. Finally, RELEVANCE is an important Story Handle (and often sits alongside Timeliness – but i am only sharing four ‘handles’ here). If a story shows a clear and authentic truth, and is relevant to your activity now, it is safe to carry forward. But beware that this presents a risk as some stories are silenced because they are not immediately applicable.


  1. Do you create enough space in your stories for others to invest themselves?
  2. Do you feel you create structured opportunities to engage authentically (or do you seek conformity?)
  3. Think of a story that you have picked up recently, and consider the ‘handles’ that it carries.

Maybe you can think of different types of Story Handles? Leave a comment with your reflection, or comment, below.

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Storytelling Experiment: Day 1 – Power

I am #WorkingOutLoud this week, prototyping a format of ‘5 Day Experimentsfor busy and aspiring Social Leaders. It’s not dissimilar to the approach i take in my book on ‘Social Leadership: My 1st 100 Days’, which also works on a couple of simple questions each day. Today i am sharing the Day 1 activity, which considers the type of power we use most often within our storytelling.

Stories carry power. Not all the same type of power, but different types. Some of these amplify each other, whilst others negate or deny. Consider these types of power:

  • Some carry formal power, broadcast down from on high, within a hierarchy [an order from above]
  • Some stories carry authority based in specific expertise [a diagnosis from a Doctor]
  • Some carry reputation based power, carried on the shoulders of past achievements [Sir David Attenborough talking about climate change].
  • Some stories carry a power BECAUSE they oppose a dominant narrative [Great Thunberg opposing climate change].
  • Some stories carry power that is held in their conformity to an established narrative [Veterans Day/Remembrance Sunday, a national story].
  • Some stories carry power through authenticity, the lived experience that cannot be cheated [Malala Yousafzai]
  • Some stories carry power because we choose to believe in them [Religious foundation stories]
  • Some carry power through data, evidence based stories [your bank balance]


  1. What type of power do you find most effective in your storytelling?
  2. Which type of power do you use most frequently?
  3. Which of these types of power do you never use?

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The Story that Died

I am running a five day activity around storytelling: it will explore why some stories fly, but others just die. I’m doing this because Social Leaders need to be expert navigators around the Landscape of Stories. They will understand that just because a story comes down from on high, just because it is expensively produced, and just because it is broadcast loudly, it may not spread, or be believed. Some stories are quiet, authentic, and circle the world.

Stories are not incidental to how we work, or lead, but rather sit at the heart of it. It’s fair to say that we are ourselves nothing but a collection of stories, some that we tell ourselves, some that are imposed or wrapped around us.

Indeed, the very culture that we operate within is, itself, just a series of stories, a common consensual delusion that we create, then inhabit.

I will #WorkOutLoud as i develop the five days of this activity, and you can take part if you wish.

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Four Trends in Organisational Learning

I’m working on a large scale L&D transformation piece, and sketched out four areas of focus: ‘Social Learning’, ‘Big Data and Analytics‘, ‘Augmented and Virtual Reality’, and ‘Learning Science’.

The Ecosystem of Social Learning

Social Learning is driven by the broader shifts in learning that i documented recently, as well as the evolving context of the Social Age: there are probably two key facets to consider, firstly, the way that knowledge is increasingly distributed and co-created, but that our ability to find meaning and take action with it is what counts the most, and secondly, that we are increasingly thinking of capability as a distributed feature. Not just one person knowing one thing, but rather a capability that is held in an interconnected matrix of people who hold diverse knowledge and skills, but are able to fluidly organise and operate at scale. That last piece is part of the principle of a Socially Dynamic Organisation: that it holds strength less in formal structure and control, but increasingly in a more fluid dynamic. Both formal, and socially moderated, structures of operation.

Big Data and Analytics is resonant for two reasons: firstly, for the potential to change everything, and secondly, for it’s ability to provoke overwhelming immune responses, precisely because it changes everything. Largely this can be characterised as the difference between talking about data, and actually being informed by it. It’s a field with no shortage of hype, but the reality is that good data is often hard to find, and even if you can find it, the ability to read it is not necessarily widely held. We should abandon the notion that AI will effortlessly consume this data and spit out fully formed meaning: instead, we need structured approaches to embedding data science roles throughout the Organisation, as well as proper conversation about how we read and respond to these data led stories. We are probably well into the gold rush for data scientists, but many of them are housed i bunkers or silos in Organisations that are woefully unprepared to face this new stark truth.

Augmented and Virtual Reality is a field with two tipping points: success will hinge not simply on the maturity of the technology, but also on the maturity of design principles. It’s a field of hype and fast fads right now, and beyond gaming, the benefits are selectively clear. If you are looking for the places that Organisations are most likely to waste money, this is a strong contender. This is a predictable path that we have trodden before: when technologists drive the pedagogical conversation, we tend to scrape our knees. Perversely, augmented reality probably offers the greatest potential for performance enhancement over time, but full virtual reality is the more developed offering, probably because it’s expensive to develop, but easier to conceptualise and control.

Finally, Learning Science is no longer the watchword of the nerds and geeks, but gaining mainstream interest, although again with some caveats. We like to talk about science, about evidence, about data, but typically right up until the time when we have to do something about it. Science is not a comfortable jacket that slips one the clothes you are already wearing: it may be itchy and irritating, and fit badly with existing outfits. Possibly a more useful language is to talk about moving to an evidence based practice. Science (and big data etc) are not the end point, but rather tools that may enable us to achieve this.

These four trends are just four out of many: the latest and greatest new thing is always more appealing than the old, but value will really only lie in integration: our ability to make sense of the potential, to integrate the new skills, mindset, and capability into existing roles (or build out new ones), and learn what we can leave behind.

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