Storytelling at Work
January 31, 2019
A Simple Way to Identify the Seeds of Your Own Stories


No one knows, for sure, exactly how many species of fruit there are on planet Earth, but with 7,000 species of apples, alone, it's fair to say there are hundreds of thousands -- most of which you and I have never tasted. Inside of each of them is not only a sweetness, but a seed -- or many seeds -- nature's way of ensuring the proliferation of that particular form of nourishment. The seeds come in all shapes and sizes, but no matter what shape or size they may be, if you want to get to the seed, you will need to get past the rind -- or in some cases, the shell.

And so it is with story. Stories also have seeds, the embryonic life force contained within them, but getting to the seeds of a story is not always easy.

To begin with, the rind of a story, especially your own story, can sometimes be difficult to penetrate. Secondly, our stories often contain more than a single seed. The first one may be easy to find, but the second or the third may not. And finally, the person trying to locate the seeds doesn't always have the motivation, tools, or tenacity to get past the rind. And so, the story just sits there -- like piece of fruit in a bowl. It may have color. It may have shape. It may have texture, too, but it's essence remains unexplored.


In modern-day parlance, the seed of a story is called the "moral" -- the key point, lesson, or message. In most fairy tales, the moral is relatively easy to identify, which is why we tell them to children. The Three Little Pigs? Hard work and dedication is often the difference between life and death. Little Red Riding Hood? Obey your parents and don't talk to strangers. Cinderella? Go beyond obstacles and seek your highest dreams.

But your stories and my stories don't always reveal their essence as tidily as fairy tales. The messages contained within them are often hidden from view. Effort is required to get to the core, but it is an effort well worth it. Why? Because contained within the seeds of our stories is the distillation of our deepest insights, knowledge, and wisdom. Our stories, bottom line, are a kind of secret code. Encrypted within them are clues to the mystery and meaning of our lives -- a kind of hieroglyphics of the soul. Yes, the meaning of the stories we tell is sometimes obvious and requires no deciphering. But other times, some inner archeology is needed -- committed digging, poking, and prodding into the hidden chambers within.

If this kind of self-inquiry interests you, it is my pleasure to offer you some digging tools -- tools, in the form of questions, to help you make your way past the rind into the place where the seeds of your life experience abide.

These questions can be asked of two different kinds of audience. The first audience is you. After writing or telling a story, you can simply ask one of more of the following questions to help you get to the core meaning of your story. The second audience is everyone else. But remember, if someone tells you one of their stories, you will first need to ask their permission before asking your questions. Some people, after telling their story are not comfortable being asked questions about it. To them, it may feel like an invasion of privacy or too much of an intellectual exercise. So before asking any of the following questions to the storytellers in your life, be sure to get their permission.

If they say, YES, you're on your way. If they say NO, thank them for sharing and move on. But all is not lost. If you are really taken with the story you were told (or read), you can ask yourself any of the following questions to get to the seed within.

Ready to dig?

1. If there was a "moral" to the story, what would it be?
2. How would I describe this story in 25 words or less?
3. How would I explain this story to a five-year old?
4. What are three things I learned about the hero of the story?
5. What do I find most fascinating about the story? Surprising?
6. How has the story given me pause or changed my outlook on life?
7. What part of the story do I want to know more about?
8. If I were going to rename the story, what would I call it?
9. What elements of the story require more reflection on my part?
10. How can I apply the message of the story to my own life?

Excerpted from this book
Not excerpted from this book
The author of those two books (and this blog post)

Photo by Joshua Lanzarini on Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at January 31, 2019 03:48 PM

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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.
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.