Storytelling at Work
June 03, 2020
The Long Lost Parable of the Brussels Sprouts

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When I was 24, I lived on Martha's Vineyard, an idyllic island off the coast of Cape Cod. The island, with its endless beaches, blue skies, and perfectly winding country roads, was a dream come true.

One of the most extraordinary things about the island, however, had nothing to do with its natural beauty. It had to do with a bakery -- the Scottish Bake House, to be more precise, a cozy, little establishment owned and operated by the very Scottish Mrs. White. The only thing that transcended Mrs. Whites' scones and short breads was her extraordinary generosity. She always seemed to sneak in an extra cookie with each purchase. And then, one fine Spring day, as if that wasn't enough, she donated a full acre of her land to my friends and I to use as a community garden. Bingo!

Continue reading "The Long Lost Parable of the Brussels Sprouts"

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2020
The Sudden Glass of Orange Juice

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There is an expression in poker called "going all in" which I've always loved. It refers to the moment when a poker player pushes all of his chips into the middle of the table, letting everyone know that he is betting everything, holding back nothing. Either his hand is so good, he knows he can't lose or he's trying to bluff everyone out of the game.

Several years ago, I had one of those moments -- not in a poker game, but in my kitchen. At the time, I was living in one of Prem Rawat's ashrams. Our lease was up and we had a only a week to move before the landlord threw us out.

Continue reading "The Sudden Glass of Orange Juice"

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2020
When Your Last Story Is Told

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Let's assume for the moment that you are intrigued by the notion of telling your stories. So you begin thinking about your memorable moments of truth and begin writing them down -- at least the titles, that is. The more titles you write, the more stories you remember -- stories from your childhood, travels, work, relationships, quest for meaning, accidents, disappointments, visions, victories, breakthroughs, synchronicities, near death experiences, strange lights in the sky, and so on.

Let's say you top out at 85 titles. But let's take it one step further. Let's say you actually write your stories. But not only write them -- you tell them, too, until every story of yours has been told.

You could, of course, choose to tell your stories again to other people in other ways. You could choose to turn them into screenplays, novels, blog posts, songs, sitcoms, workbooks, iPhone apps, or webinars. But you don't. You feel complete, every story in you having been told.

So there you are with no more need tell a single story (not even the story of why you are no longer telling stories).

Like small puddles evaporating after a storm, your need to tell your stories has completely disappeared. Now there is only solid ground beneath your feet and a cloud floating by.

Your friends and fans, accustomed to your delightful story telling, are keenly disappointed, but you say nothing. You say nothing because you have nothing to say. You have no point to make. The words you would normally use to populate your tales have gone south for the winter. They are vacationing somewhere on a remote island, cocktail party chit chat for the night.

Your last story has been told.

Though you are fully awake and can see many things happening, you have no need to connect the dots, no need for a plot, characters, conflict, or resolution. Everything is what it is. You are what you are, breathing slowly, wanting nothing, enjoying the time before the first story was told.

You think of telling that story, but don't. You let it go. Like the milkweed floating by.

Or the leaf.

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2020
Inspiring Cows

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"Practice," it has been said, "makes perfect". Practice, indeed, is how human beings translate theory into action. Practice is how any of us get good at anything. Of course, there are a million of ways to practice. In a group. Alone. In a cave. In a gym. In your mind. Online. Off the wall. With a teacher. Without a teacher. The sky's the limit and even then there are pilots who can help. The following story is all about practice -- a version of it I never imagined I would try.

Here goes:

Some years ago, I was living in a commune on a 600-acre cattle farm in Virginia. We were three couples, two cats, and one child in a five bedroom house. We called ourselves "Ananda Household" (at least that's what it said on our checkbook), ananda being a Hindi word for bliss -- our go to word of the moment because all of us were students of the same teacher who, among other things, was helping us awaken to the source of bliss within ourselves. Or like, whatever.

Continue reading "Inspiring Cows"

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:23 AM | Comments (0)

May 25, 2020
MARC BLACK: When You Get Back

More Marc
MarcBlack.com
Oooh, I Love My Coffee

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:40 AM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2020
Practice, Practice, Practice

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"Practice makes perfect." -- Benjamin Franklin

"Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect." -- Vince Lombardi

"They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they'd make up their minds." -- Winston Churchhill

"My father taught me that the only way you can make good at anything is to practice and then practice some more." -- Pete Rose

"As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward." -- Vincent Van Gogh

"Practice puts brains in your muscles." -- Sam Snead

"An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he's in. He treats his failures simply as practice shots." -- Charles Kettering

Continue reading "Practice, Practice, Practice"

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:58 AM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2020
On Seeing Clearly

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Once there was a powerful, wise, and benevolent King who knew his time was coming to an end. Wanting to ensure that his Kingdom continued to thrive after his death, he called his three sons to his side.

"Blood of my blood," he began, "I know my loyal subjects are expecting me to pass my crown on to my first born -- and that is perfectly understandable, but I do not want my legacy ruled by assumptions and so I am inviting the three of you to enter into a contest to determine who the next King will be. I have designed the contest not to test your strength because I already know you are strong. Nor have I designed it to test your loyalty. I already know that, too. I have designed the contest to test your ability to see that which is not immediately apparent, since seeing clearly will be one of the most important skills you will need to rule wisely."

And with that he had his Grand Vizier escort the three boys down several long hallways and through a hidden doorway none of them had ever seen before.

Continue reading "On Seeing Clearly"

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:35 AM | Comments (0)

I'm From Woodstock. Yes, I Am!

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I'm from Woodstock. Yes, that Woodstock, the famous Woodstock -- the most famous small town in the world some people say. Former home to Bob Dylan. Jimi Hendrix lived there for a summer in the house right across the street from my place. Levon Helm lived just two miles away. John Sebastian still lives here, as do a ton of other musicians, artists, writers, healers, therapists, car mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and just about anyone else you'd expect to be living in a small town.

Other than winter lasting six weeks too long, I love Woodstock. I've been a resident for 25 years and I'm proud to call it my home.

Continue reading "I'm From Woodstock. Yes, I Am!"

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2020
Sheikh Waseem

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The first week of my two and a half year relationship with Al Siraat College -- a K-12 Australian school in the Islamic tradition, I facilitated a 90-minute workshop for the school's teachers and staff. The experience, praise God, was very well-received and a big relief that my somewhat oddball approach to "teaching" was acceptable.

The next week, just as I was about to begin a second workshop with the same teachers and staff, one of the school's Quran teachers, the very noble Sheikh Waseem, approached me.

If this was a movie the two of us were in, "central casting" had nailed it because Sheikh Waseem was, most definitely, the living embodiment of a Muslim man -- at least the one I had in my mind: bearded, long white robe, white turban, and the kind of seriousness that spoke of a deep commitment.

With a twinkle in his eye, he stepped closer.

"Mr. Mitch," he said. "You are my teacher."

Caught off guard by this unexpected comment, I smiled, slightly bowed, and replied, "Oh no, Sheikh Waseem, you are MY teacher."

Then Sheikh Waseem smiled, bowed in my direction, and spoke yet again. "Oh no, Mr. Mitch, you are MY teacher."

The two of us just stood there, looking at each other. Realizing it was my turn, I spoke again, "Oh Sheikh Waseem, I am very curious. Why do you say that I am your teacher."

"Because Mr. Mitch, last week, at the workshop, I learned something very valuable from you."

"And what would that be, Sheikh Waseem?" I replied.

"I need to have more FUN!"

Wikipedia: Prophet Muhammed, PBUH

35 sayings of the Prophet Muhammed
An excerpt from "A Thousand Muslims and a Jew"
Meanwhile... in Mexico

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:51 AM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2020
Up and Over Down Under

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Having been in Australia, working in an Islamic school for the past three months, living with a Pakistani family, I've had a whole bunch of people ask me "how's it going" or "what's it like."

I've said different things at different times, but the one thing that resonates the most for me is how I sometimes feel when I am watching a movie I totally love -- the kind of movie that absorbs me completely.

At one point during the movie-watching experience, I notice myself thinking, "I can't wait to watch this AGAIN", even though I am watching it NOW. That statement is not me dissociating from the moment, but more the acknowledgment of the power and the glory and the immersion of the moment -- and all I can say is that I want to STAY in that experience and, to a movie-goer, "staying" sometimes translates as "I want to see it again."

So that's my experience these days, along with long walks to the grocery store to buy hummus, sliced salmon, sardines, and rice cakes which somehow have become my go to foods.

So much good stuff happens in a day here that could easily "become a book", but I am IN the book and to write the book I would have to leave the book, which is a curious kind of yoga I'm not quite sure I've mastered.

A Thousand Muslims and a Jew would be the title, but I have no idea if it will ever get written or if it needs to get written. Right now, I am doing my best to be a character in the book, not the character writing about the character, if you catch my drift.

Bottom line, I am enjoying myself and feel blessed, guided and humbled by the outrageous play of life.

Al Siraat College
The back story
Teaching storytelling to second graders
Aussie interfaith wisdom circles

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)

May 18, 2020
The Dance of the Gnats

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The first time I was ever under the influence of a mind-altering substance, I spent the better part of the day in a Pennsylvania cornfield. After an unspecified amount of time adjusting to what was rapidly dawning on me to be an entirely different reality than the one I was accustomed to, I decided to lay down and, perhaps, for the first time in my life, have absolutely nothing to do.

This was the first time I had ever laid down in a Pennsylvania cornfield and I had no idea that the act of doing so was going to create the illusion that I was now six feet underground, having flattened the cornstalks beneath with my sudden need to be prone. It was, shall I say, my first experience of being dead -- or, if not dead, per se, than at least dying.

I felt like I was in my coffin, the lid not yet closed.

I could see nothing but blue sky overhead, a few clouds, and now, appearing from who knows were a gigantic swarm of gnats not more than three inches from my face.

"Bugs!" my mind screamed. "BUGS!"

My right hand, previously resting at my side, entered into a state of panic -- its fingers preparing to swat. There is no way in the world I was going to be attacked by a swarm of gnats here in this Pennsylvania cornfield -- not today during my cosmic experience. One swat, I was sure, was all it would take. Just one swat. They wouldn't have a chance.

But something, out of nowhere, stayed my hand. It would not allow me to strike -- only observe and then, become utterly fascinated.

There, before my eyes, just a few inches from the tip of my nose, thousands of gnats were dancing. Their movements, repeated over and over and over again, formed a kind of crystal in space -- a glowing, multi-sided geometric shape of great intricacy and radiance. Not a single gnat left formation. Not one. They just kept dancing, repeating the pattern over and over and over again. Not once was I attacked. Not once was I bothered or bitten. There was only one thing happening -- the dance of the gnats here in this Pennsylvania cornfield for an audience of one.

FOR YOUR REFLECTION: What is right before your eyes, these Coronavirus days, that you are getting ready to swat -- something uninvited and potentially bothersome that might actually be some kind of message for you, a gift to be enjoyed if you could only change your perspective?

Excerpted from this book
Photo: Jesse Gardner, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2020
What I Learned From Listening to Ravel's Bolero for 14 Hours

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During the course of a lifetime a human being goes through many rites of passage. Birth, for example. First love. The death of a loved one and enduring a Republican primary debate. For me, one of the most memorable rites of passage happened in college during my "pledge weekend" -- the weekend I was initiated into a fraternity.

I realize, of course -- especially in these politically correct times -- that college fraternities are rarely associated with anything remotely smacking of insight, awareness, or transformation. But for me it most certainly was -- at least on the rite of passage night I was initiated into Pi Lambda Phi -- an experience now permanently etched into whatever remains of my mind.

The initiation? To sit blindfolded in a pitch black room, next to 21 of my sweating classmates, all of us holding 17 marbles in our left hands while listening to Ravel's Bolero for 14 hours.

Continue reading "What I Learned From Listening to Ravel's Bolero for 14 Hours "

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:10 PM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2020
30 Storytelling Tips for Educators

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Storytelling is not just a bedtime technique to help children fall asleep, it is also a technique to help children wake up -- a powerful teaching tool that increases attention, insight, engagement, and learning that sticks. Here are 30 storytelling tips for educators -- ways to help them leverage the power of storytelling in the classroom. PS: Parents are also educators. Please DO try this at home.

Continue reading "30 Storytelling Tips for Educators"

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:06 AM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2020
Guns to My Head, Two Nights in a Row in a Seedy Boston Motel

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3:00 in the morning is not my favorite time of day. Too early to be late and too late to be early, it's a nether world, a place no one wants to linger. Kind of like puberty.

It was this time of the day/night that I found myself in at the Homestead Motor Inn, five months into my tour of duty as the long-haired night desk clerk. The bar had just closed and I was attending to some routine administrative tasks. That's when a very forgettable looking businessman made his way across the lobby and asked me for some change for the cigarette machine, a public service I'd performed at least a hundred times before.

He gives me a $5.00 bill. I give him two singles and 12 quarters, sit down on my swivel chair, back to the lobby, and return to the book I am reading -- Trout Fishing in America. Two minutes pass.

"Oh, one more thing, buddy," he asks.

When I turn around, he isn't all that forgettable-looking anymore. He's pointing a gun at my head. Beckoning me closer with his free left hand, he puts the gun to my temple. The barrel is cold.

Continue reading "Guns to My Head, Two Nights in a Row in a Seedy Boston Motel"

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:01 AM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2020
The Power of Presence & Curiosity

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Sitting here in my self-isolated, semi-lockdown AirBB bedroom, 30 minutes outside of Melbourne and 10,000 miles from home, I find myself with more time than usual to reflect on my life.

One cherished memory that surfaced for me yesterday was an extraordinary experience I had, several years ago, with a good friend, Erika Andersen -- both of us working closely together at Tim Gallwey's Inner Game Corporation in LA.

I was in the middle of an intensive 30-day writing project -- one that required a major dose of "self-isolation" -- and had gotten to the point where I was completely stuck, blocked, and tangled. Standing on a creative ledge overlooking the void, I needed help, big time. My perspective was shot. My ability to see the big picture was gone. And I was, shall we say, bummed and brutalized by my own fevered mind.

That was precisely the moment when the very gracious Ms. Erika walked into my cabin, smiled, sat down, and grokked my whole situation in a heartbeat.

There, on the floor, were wall-to-wall sheets of typewritten paper, each one representing 28 alternate endings of my still forming make-your-own adventure book I was writing for Atari under an impossible deadline, never having written a book before.

I had no idea where I was. I had no idea how to proceed. Absolutely nothing made sense.

Erika, God bless her, was cool, calm, and collected. Though she noticed the frazzled nature of my mind, she wasn't hooked by it. She just sat there, a calm presence about her and very, very curious. Instead of judging me, trying to save me, or avoiding my madness altogether, she just sat there, breathing, gradually expressing her interest.

One by one, Erika began asking me questions, leaving plenty of time and space for me to respond. Her progression of questions, coming from a realm of clarity I had no access to, changed the game for me -- each one a lifesaver tossed to a man overboard.

Overwhelmed as I was with too many choices and my own hairball of complexity, she simplified things for me, each question she asked drawing my attention back to the moment and my original fascination for writing the book in the first place.

Erika's patience helped me become patient. Her curiosity helped me become curious. Her willingness to hang in there with me gave me the courage and grace to hang in there with myself -- and for that, I will always be grateful.

Thank you, dear Erika! I learned a lot from you that unforgettable night. You are a blessing on this Earth.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: No matter how much one's creative work requires solitude and immersion, there are times when what's really needed is the guiding, patient, non-judgmental presence of a friend -- someone whose vibe has the power to work miracles. Is there someone in your life, these days, who might be good to check in with?

What Thomas Wolfe said about his own version of this phenomenon
Erika's website

The back story of the book I was writing then

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:36 PM | Comments (0)

The Island of the Fireflies

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The year was 1981. Ronald Reagan was the U.S. President. Lady Diana had just married Prince Charles. And I had just landed a job, in Los Angeles, with the highly respected consulting firm, The Inner Game Corporation, who was on the brink of landing a big contract with Atari, the $900 million dollar maker of Pacman.

And so, as negotiations heated up, Inner Game's chief negotiator, the very savvy Prentiss Uchida, decided to sweeten the deal by promising Atari that we would deliver, in time for their upcoming computer summer camp, an interactive, make-you-own-adventure children's book that would teach young teens how to learn faster, the Inner Game way, with much less stress than ever before.

I was thrilled to hear that Prentiss had closed the deal. That is, until I found out who was going to be writing the book: me -- especially since the deadline was only 30 days away and I had never written a book before.

Continue reading "The Island of the Fireflies"

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:08 AM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2020
The Riches Under Your Pillow

Excerpted from this book
Mitch Ditkoff

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:52 PM | Comments (1)

May 11, 2020
CHOOSING LOVE

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This just in from Burrill Crohn. Thank you, Burrill. So moving!

The spirit guide, Emmanuel, once said, "At every moment we have the choice between love and fear." Easy to say, harder to do. A constant, difficult practice, not an immediate panacea. And yet, there are those rare moments when a miracle -- the direct result of choosing love -- can manifest on the spot. Here's one:

It is the summer of 1964, in Jackson Mississippi. I am there working on an adult literacy program through the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), and The National Council of Churches, as part of the effort to overcome state imposed obstacles to voter registration.

This is "Freedom Summer" with hundreds of college students flocking south to work on similar projects. And while there is a great deal of love and idealism involved, there is also an overwhelmingly larger amount of fear: white Mississippians resisting change to their customs, resenting those who tried; some among us chased, beaten, jailed (and there, often, beaten again) just for being seen in an interracial situation; and -- its largest and most chilling manifestation -- the brutal murders of civil rights workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman hardly before the summer even began.

Continue reading "CHOOSING LOVE"

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:48 AM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2020
HOW TO USE A STORY TO SOLVE a TOUGH PROBLEM: The 18th Camel

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Storytelling is the swiss-army knife of transformational catalysts. Done well, it can be used to build community, inspire, delight, transmit tacit knowledge, share wisdom, educate, inform, change behavior, and spark elegant solutions. The following story (a re-telling of a classic tale), accomplishes many the above, but is primarily about sparking elegant solutions. When you come to the end, I invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on the questions that follow.

THE 18TH CAMEL

Once upon a time, in Egypt, there was a much beloved camel merchant named Hamid. Hamid was known throughout the land as not only a connoisseur of fine camels, but a kind-hearted, generous, and wealthy man. So, when, one hot summer day, at the age of 55, he had a sudden heart attack and fell off his camel, the entire country went into mourning.

Continue reading "HOW TO USE A STORY TO SOLVE a TOUGH PROBLEM: The 18th Camel"

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:35 AM | Comments (0)

WANT AN ELEGANT SOLUTION? Contemplate These Questions

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As an innovation provocateur for the past 33 years with these organizations, one thing I've noticed is that even the brightest of people spend very little time looking for elegant solutions to their problems. All too often, they go with the "first right idea" -- one that is often lame, ho hum, or just plain stupid. If you are faced with a challenge or problem these days that needs a fresh approach, pause for a while, noodle, and jot down your responses to at least some of the following questions. Fifteen minutes effort now is likely to save you hours of wasted effort down the road.

1. How can you frame your challenge, problem, or opportunity in the form of a question, beginning with the words "How can I?"

2. What are three other ways you can frame your question?

3. What is the back story of your problem? Its history?

4. What are your limiting assumptions about the problem?

5. What have you tried before that's worked? What hasn't worked?

Continue reading "WANT AN ELEGANT SOLUTION? Contemplate These Questions"

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:59 AM | Comments (0)

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ABOUT THE BLOG

Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

Order the book:

Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling for the Revolution is Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book about the power of personal storytelling to elevate the conversation on planet Earth. Provocative. Evocative. And fun. YOU have stories to tell. This book will help you tell them.
Storytelling at Work
"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
FAQ
Do you want to know more about the book before buying it? Click here for Mitch's response to frequently asked questions about Storytelling at Work – the perfect book for people who think they have no time to read.
The Workshop
Storytelling is an "unconscious competency" – an ability we all have that all too often remains inaccessible to us. Enter the Storytelling at Work workshop – a simple way to activate this powerful, innate skill.
Wisdom Circles
Want to establish a culture of storytelling in your organization or community? Looking for a simple way to help people to share their meaningful, memorable stories with each other? Here's how.
Podcasts & Videos
Click here to view and listen to a series of interviews with the author of this blog. Go beyond the written word. Listen. Feel. Elevate the conversation. Understand what the big deal is about personal storytelling.
Blogs 'R Us
If you like this blog, you might also like Mitch's other two blogs: The Heart of Innovation and The Heart of the Matter. Mitch is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.
Idea Champions
When Mitch isn't writing, he's captaining the good ship Idea Champions, a leading edge innovation consulting and training company based in Woodstock, NY. What their clients say.
© IDEA CHAMPIONS