Stories and Sea Shanties

KayakingThere’s no denying that we all look a little bit younger in this photo: only five years ago, but so much changes (and i don’t just mean the receding hairlines and expanding waists). Rich, Cath and I still go kayaking regularly, but we’re more experienced now, better able to deal with difficult situations, able to travel further, more easy in our routines and habits. We share our stories of expeditions past and plans for the future. Our successes and our failures.

I came across the photo on Facebook, part of a timeline that documents my own journey: looking back provides a narrative of days out, adventures had, friends made and journeyed with.

I love how Facebook creates an emergent narrative: with little apparent effort on our parts, it documents the minutiae that create the whole. The narrative writes itself over time. It’s this idea of micro contributions leading to organisational narratives that i think can happily sit within any good learning design: create spaces and opportunities for people to documents their personal stories, to co-create team stories and build overall organisational stories that play out over time.

Levels of Narrative

Our relationship with stories is complex: we use them to share information, to contextualise knowledge, we agree with them or reject them. They are used in formal and informal contexts and are open to anyone to tell and retell, shape and reform. The power of a story hinges on its amplification, on how magnetic it is, on how far it travels. Take this story: once i publish it, it will be read online, amplified through Twitter and LinkedIn, maybe commented on or retold in different curation sites and through various communities. My role at this time is to tell it, but once it’s published, it goes beyond my control, released into the community to be understood, rejected or adapted as they wish.

In open source software we talk about ‘forking‘ the code: taking an element of it and developing it down a different track. Stories work like that too: next week i’m running two workshops and some of the participants will agree with what i say, others will adapt or reject it. It’s the retelling where we make sense of it, where we make it relevant to us and, accept, adapt or reject it, we still learn.

The stories we tell whilst out on the sea are based on shared experience: ‘do you remember when...’ we say. Shared experience can lead to stories we co-own and co-create. But other stories we simply learn from: when i was mentoring Shyamla in India a couple of years ago through the programme at the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, we each told stories about our communities, about our everyday reality, to let us learn a little more about what our world looked like. Her stories influenced me strongly: little vignettes into a different world, seeing the photos and hearing her thoughts is a very personal and immediate insight into the hopes and dreams of an individual. We then created our own shared story as we carried out our mentoring journey over a year, a more formal structure (and now we maintain a friendship that carries our story forwards again in a more personal space).

These stories, the ones we co-create in a kayak or in a mentoring relationship, are tight, small, personal. Other stories are wide, public and shared: stories of change and love and loss.

Organisations are increasingly interested in co-created stories, storytelling approaches that involve their communities, recognising that older, broadcast models are less relevant in the Social Age.

Stories are powerful, engaging, pervasive: gone ones last whilst others fade away (although in an age of digital permanence, maybe less faded than we might like).

Someone showed me some training materials they had sat through yesterday on ‘Negotiation skills‘. Half a page explaining a model, then space for you to parrot back what you’d just read. Inspiring? Not so much. It felt old, didactic, someone else’s story, the exercise being to pass rather than to be effective.

Involving narrative and storytelling approaches in our learning can be far more engaging: building personal narratives of change over time. Stories that may be written in small chunks, but play out over broad spans: these stories let us chart our development, our learning, our successes and our mistakes.

Everyone loves a good story: we reflect on and revisit them over time and it’s in that revisiting that we really see how we’ve changed. What we’ve learnt.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Learning Design, Narrative, Stories, Storytelling and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

52 Responses to Stories and Sea Shanties

  1. Pingback: Stories and Sea Shanties @julianstodd | E-Learn...

  2. Pingback: Stories and Sea Shanties | Aprendizaje y Cambio...

  3. Pingback: Assailing the Castle of Resistance | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  4. Stories interwoven into stories….too good….I will follow you. You deserve freshly pressed.

  5. Brennan Reid says:

    An fresh approach to storytelling. Thanks Julian!

  6. newlondonwriters says:

    Good article, write for us at

  7. nicciattfield says:

    I love storytelling too, and this is a lovely post.

  8. TheWeekdayPreacher says:

    Great perspective! It’s easy to feel like everything we say and do is lost in the overwhelming mass of information and activity being presented to us daily through digital media. Thank you for pointing out that it’s never lost but just added to the infinitely complex narrative of the “whole.”

  9. peterjfoster says:

    It’s good you have shared a fragment of the story of your life and thoughts.

  10. Just a great post!
    Author, Agathe Von Kampen 🙂

  11. Lena says:

    Great post. Just found your blog and appreciating it very much today.

  12. Sue Archer says:

    Absolutely love this! “It felt old, didactic, someone else’s story, the exercise being to pass rather than to be effective.” Too true. I would love to see story woven into learning more often. I’m experimenting with this on my own blog, and enjoying it very much. Thanks for a great post!

  13. goodkhanagra says:

    Reblogged this on goodkhanagra's Blog and commented:

  14. Povonte says:

    Great Blog! Loved hearing personal story.

  15. Pingback: The Road to Agility | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  16. livinfiger says:

    Reblogged this on Buzz in town.

  17. Reblogged this on Soliloquies ~ writing about writing, reality, and the narrative human experience and commented:
    A great piece on stories and experience.

  18. Pingback: Unlocking Innovation in Teams | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  19. Pingback: The Innovation Factory: tangles and lines | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  20. Pingback: Unearthing Organisational Stories: finding the narrative | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  21. Pingback: Reflections on #mLearnCon: learning from our social lives | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  22. Pingback: Who shot the Sheriff? Why stories matter | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  23. Pingback: Unleashing Creativity: getting fit for the Social Age | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  24. Pingback: For the love of books | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  25. Pingback: Learning Technology Map 2015 | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  26. Pingback: 4 Aspects of the Agile Organisation | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  27. Pingback: Monarchs and Monasteries: Emergent Communities in the Social Age | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  28. Pingback: Styles of Storytelling | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  29. Pingback: Storytelling through Change | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  30. Pingback: Organisational Dinosaurs: how big they are, how dead they’ll be | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  31. Pingback: Core skills to navigate the Social Age | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  32. Pingback: To Quest | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  33. Pingback: Frontier | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  34. Pingback: Sparks | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  35. Pingback: The blowing of boundaries | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  36. Pingback: The CEDA Model: checking the vitality of Social Learning communities | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  37. Pingback: The Need to Explore | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  38. Pingback: Confounded by the Unknown: Without a Paddle | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  39. Pingback: Tall Tales in the Woods: Tempo of Storytelling | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  40. Pingback: Change Curve: Lighthouses | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  41. Pingback: Story Flow | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  42. Pingback: Prototyping the Landscape of Trust | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  43. Pingback: Learning Leadership: Understanding Fear, Silence, and Constraint in the Experience | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.