Storytelling at Work
February 28, 2020
POLL RESULTS: What Kind of Stories People Want to Tell


Social scientists tell us that 65% of all our conversations take the shape of stories. That got me thinking about what kind of stories human beings like to tell. So I posted an online poll to see what I could learn, asking people to rate the following storytelling themes on a scale of 1 - 5 for how interested they would be to tell a story, from their own life, about that topic. 49 respondents, so far. Here are the results:

4.30 -- A small moment that taught me something big
4.14 -- A transformational moment with a Teacher, Mentor, or Master
4.10 -- Discovering my true self
4.06 -- The power of love
4.04 -- Amazing synchronicity
3.97 -- Standing at the crossroads
3.95 -- Tapping into my inner strength
3.93 -- The most remarkable moment of my life
3.93 -- Accepting what is
3.86 -- Letting go
3.84 -- The sudden appearance of unexpected help
3.82 -- The power of trust
3.82 -- The power of forgiveness
3.78 -- What I learned from my biggest mistake
3.71 -- The power of intention
3.69 -- A childhood experience I will never forget
3.68 -- Going beyond fear
3.68 -- Taking a leap
3.65 -- Divine timing
3.63 -- Expressing myself fully
3.63 -- What I learned from someone very different than me
3.60 -- Removing the mask
3.56 -- Choosing
3.56 -- Ask and ye shall receive
3.53 -- A mysterious connection with a stranger
3.51 -- What I learned from a child
3.48 -- Perseverance furthers
3.47 -- An unforgettable moment with my father
3.45 -- Being guided by unseen forces
3.44 -- Against all odds
3.40 -- A single, word, glance, or gesture that changed my life
3.39 -- The best gift I ever received
3.37 -- Everything happens for the best
3.36 -- Asking for help
3.34 -- True tenderness
3.32 -- Starting all over again
3.28 -- An unforgettable moment with my mother
3.28 -- Being called. Following my muse.
3.28 -- The biggest surprise of my life
3.27 -- When time stopped
3.27 -- A remarkable premonition
3.22 -- A missed opportunity. A chance not taken.
3.22 -- Being alone
3.20 -- It's all a matter of perspective
3.18 -- My biggest victory
3.15 -- An unusual collaboration
3.14 -- A story I've never told anyone
3.08 -- There is always a resolution
3.06 -- My earliest memory
3.02 -- Putting down my heavy load
3.00 -- Facing my opponent
2.95 -- Being saved
2.93 -- The most incredible dream I ever had
2.93 -- A near death experience
2.82 -- The power of immersion
2.73 -- My most embarrassing moment
2.71 -- Making my mark
2.69 -- An angelic visitation
2.63 -- Contact with the other side
2.53 -- Honoring my incarnation
2.39 -- The agony of betrayal
2.36 -- A past life memory
2.28 -- A family secret
1.93 -- My first kiss

Respond to the poll here
What stories will you tell today?

A culture of storytelling
A simple way to identify the seeds of your own stories
Photo: Ali Arif Soydas, Unsplash

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Paulo Coelho on Storytelling


Storytelling for the Revolution

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February 27, 2020
Stories Get You to the Heart!


Wonderful article here about Jane Goodall's perspective on the power of storytelling to make a huge difference in the world.

EXCERPT: "Early last year, at the same World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where Greta Thunberg ignited a powerful social movement, Dr. Jane Goodall made an important speech. When asked how to speak effectively on the subject of climate change with political and business leaders, she said, 'What you have to do is to get into the heart. And how do you get into the heart? With stories.'"

You are a universe of stories
Time to catch my bubbles?
Storytelling for the Revolution

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Storytelling and Islam






You have wisdom to share
Ten reasons why people don't share their stories
Why kind of stories do YOU want to tell?
Storytelling for the Revolution

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February 26, 2020
You Are a Universe of Stories


Astronomers, in 1996, attempted a very interesting experiment. They pointed the most powerful telescope in the world, the Hubble space telescope, into a part of the sky that seemed to be completely empty, a patch of the universe long assumed to be devoid of even single planet or star. This experiment was a somewhat risky one, since time on the Hubble telescope was quite expensive and in very high demand. Indeed, there were many highly respected scientists, at the time, who questioned whether "looking at nothing" was a wise use of time and resources. Nevertheless, the experiment proceeded.

When the lens of the telescope was finally closed, 10 days later, and the images from deep space were processed, more than 3,000 galaxies had been detected, each galaxy containing hundreds of billions of stars.

Eight years later, in 2004, astronomers decided to perform the experiment again, this time pointing the Hubble telescope towards a different patch of sky -- a section of the universe also assumed to be completely empty.


At the end of this second experiment, using advanced detectors and filters that allowed more light through than ever before, 10,000 new galaxies were discovered -- each one also containing billions of stars.

As a writer and storyteller, I have asked many people to tell me their stories -- moments of truth in their life... or rites of passage.. or just something interesting that happened to them. Not infrequently, the people I ask look back at me with a blank stare, explaining, in various ways, that they really don't have any stories to share -- that not all that much interesting has happened to them in their life.

Metaphorically speaking, I am directing their attention to a patch of their own night sky and what I hear back from them is that there is nothing there. To them, it is empty.

As a long-time researcher into the storytelling phenomenon, I know their conclusion is not even remotely close to being true. Each and everyone of us, no matter where we were born or what our life experiences have been, contain a universe of stories within us: Memorable happenings... moments of truth... rites of passages... unforgettable encounters... lessons learned... cool experiences ... and a whole bunch of off the grid moments -- small, medium, and large.

And yet, when we are asked to identify our stories, we often draw a blank -- not unlike those skeptical astronomers who assumed there was nothing to see in deep space.

You have stories. You do. Of course, you have stories! If your life depended on it, you could identify at least ten of them in the next few minutes. And if I offered you a thousand dollars, you could come up with a whole lot more.

Why then, are so many of us blind to our stories? Why do so many of us insist there is nothing much to see or say?

Three reasons: First, most of us assume that a story needs to be earth-shattering in order for someone else to be interested enough to listen to it, and because most of our stories are not earth-shattering, we forget them quickly or never see them in the first place. Second, we just don't take the time. Remember, the astronomers who pointed the Hubble Telescope into deep space did it for 10 days, not 10 minutes. And third, most people don't know where to look or how to look. The "technology" we use to detect and unpack our own stories is not very sophisticated.

Consider this: If you look into the night sky with only your own two eyes, the most you are going to see, on a good night, is 3,000 stars. There is no way you will be able to detect that the universe is actually 47 billion light years wide with an estimated 100 trillion galaxies, each galaxy containing hundreds of billions stars.

You and I, my friend, are also universes. We are. Inside of each of us are 7 billion billion billion atoms. That's a one with 27 zeros after it. And while we might not have 7 billion billion billion stories inside us, we certainly have more than a few, each one capable of lighting up the night sky. And not just for our own selves, but also for the fortunate ones who get a chance to listen to them.

If you want to discover your stories (each one, by the way, encoded with its own special kind of light), you will need change the way you look for them. And, of course, before you even begin to look, just like our Hubble Telescope astronomer friends, you will need to become CURIOUS.

One way to identify your stories
Storytelling for the Revolution
Photo #1: Greg Rakozy, Unsplash
Photo #2: Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash

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February 24, 2020
What Kinds of Stories Do People Most Want to Tell?

If you have five minutes to spare, I invite you to respond to this just launched poll -- my attempt to find out what kind of stories people most want to tell. I will post the results here in a few weeks. Thanks!


Storytelling for the Revolution

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February 21, 2020
You Have Wisdom to Share (and it's hiding in your stories)


All 7.6 billion people on planet Earth are composed of the same six elements: hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous. And all 7.6 billion people, no matter where they were born or what language they speak, are composed of 75% water, 23 pairs of chromosomes, and approximately 37.2 trillion cells.

That's the measurable stuff of which we are made. But there is also some unmeasurable stuff -- that which is not immediately visible, even under a microscope. And this unmeasurable stuff is a clue to why our species has been named "homo sapiens" -- the "wise ones."

Hmmm... wise ones... really? Given the sorry state of the world these days, the "wise ones" seems like a misnomer, but in reality, it is our true nature.

Human beings are more than just carriers of viruses, projections, and DNA. We are also carriers of wisdom -- the ability to perform an action with the highest degree of adequacy under any given circumstance. "Truth in action," you might say. What Solomon was famous for. And Socrates. And a whole lot of other sages since the beginning of time. But not only known sages. Nope. Unknown sages, too. And unknown regular people, as well. Like your grandmother, for example... or your grandfather... parents... teachers... friends... neighbors... coaches or, this just in -- YOU!

Sages, Masters, and Elders may be the most historically recognized "keepers of wisdom" on the planet, but they are not the only ones. The rest of us are also keepers of wisdom. The thing is -- we don't always know it. Our wisdom is often invisible to us. Unseen. Unacknowledged. And unexpressed. Not only do we see the glass as half empty, we often don't even see the glass.

Where is our wisdom hiding? More often than not, in our stories -- much like water is hiding in underground springs and gold is hiding in mines. But just because our wisdom is hiding, it doesn't mean it's non-existent. Everybody has wisdom inside them. Everybody has something meaningful to share, based on what they've learned from the own life experiences. And the simplest, most powerful way to communicate this knowing is story.

Story is how the wisdom of the ages has been transmitted since the beginning of time. This is how our ancestors shared the best of what they knew. This is how all spiritual traditions pass on their knowledge. And this is how the best communicators on the planet communicate what is truly worth communicating.

YOU just happen to be one of those people. Your hidden stories are treasures. There is great wisdom, meaning, and inspiration in them. They need to be told. Especially these days, when the daily narrative that rules our lives is often so dark and depressing.

Are you ready? Are you willing? (I know you're able).

PHOTO: unsplash-logoGift Habeshaw

Wisdom Circle Facilitator Training
Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling at Work

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February 13, 2020
Learn to Facilitate Wisdom Circles


If you are a big fan of storytelling and the positive impact it can have on human beings, this blog post is for you -- especially if you want to learn how to facilitate Wisdom (storytelling) Circles. Beginning in May, I will be teaching people, online, how to facilitate Wisdom Circles in their own homes, communities, and organizations. Here's what it includes:

1. TWO-HOUR ONLINE TRAINING: An overview of everything you need to know in order to masterfully facilitate Wisdom Circles. (I've distilled down 30 years of my facilitation experience (with these clients) and three years of facilitating Wisdom Circles in the US, Mexico, and Australia. Testimonials.

2. PDF OF THE TRAINING SLIDE DECK: Within 24 hours after the training, you will receive a PDF of the training slide deck. A great refresher and reminder.


3. THE WISDOM CIRCLE FACILITATION GUIDEBOOK: A 35-page PDF that elaborates on all the content covered in the training and a whole lot more. Includes a wide variety of tips, guidelines, checklists, tutorials, and resources.

4. TWO KINDLE DOWNLOADS: My two books on storytelling: Storytelling for the Revolution and Storytelling at Work. Includes 78 teaching stories and 140 pages on how to become a transformational storyteller.

5. THREE-MONTH REALITY CHECK: A 60-minute, online, follow-up session -- a chance to share your best practices and lessons learned with other graduates, ask questions, and dive deeper into what it takes to become a masterful Wisdom Circle facilitator.

6. MEMBERSHIP IN THE WISDOM CIRCLE FACILIATORS FACEBOOK GROUP: An engaging, online forum to learn from other Wisdom Circle facilitators and continue to develop yourself as a transformational storyteller.


7. MICRO-LEARNING FOR STORYTELLERS: Access to 52 videos, articles, and tutorials on the art and science of storytelling. Includes the work of Wisdom Circle Founder, Mitch Ditkoff, and other thought leaders in the field of storytelling.

8. 40% DISCOUNT COUPON FOR YOU TO GIFT ONE FRIEND: Upon completion of the training, the first person you refer to the training will receive a 40% discount.

9. EMAIL COACHING: An hour's worth of one-on-one email exchanges with Wisdom Circle Founder, Mitch Ditkoff. A simple way to get your questions answered and receive some one-on-one support.

10. MARKETING SUPPORT: A variety of templates, marketing copy, and links to help you promote your upcoming Wisdom Circles.

A WORD ABOUT THE TRAINING FEE: Some people interested in the Wisdom Circle Facilitator Training have financial constraints. I totally get it. They assume the $239 fee is too rich for their blood. This assumption, however, may be just a story they are telling themselves -- especially since the $239 fee can be recouped within the first month after the training.

Here's the math: If you charge $15 per person and average eight people per Wisdom Circle, you will earn $120 for each Wisdom Circle you facilitate, thereby recouping the cost of the training after your second Wisdom Circle. Whoo hoo!


What Actually Happens in a Wisdom Circle
You Have Wisdom to Share
Why Human Beings Tell Stories
The Art of Unpacking Stories
Storytelling as a Nest and Home Base



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February 12, 2020
TANGO: Language with No Words


What follows is a story by one of my friends, the very lovely and talented Deborah Ramsden. She read me the story today and I was very touched by it. Maybe you will be, too...

I've danced tango in New York, Portland, London, Italy, and Maui. I've tangoed with short balding tangueros in Buenos Aires dance halls until 3:00 in the morning. I've listened and danced to tango music for hours and years, until it lived in my bones and muscles and heart and skin.

Tango has become a part of me. My feet have gotten used to 3-inch heels and have learned to slide backwards on the floor behind me, carving out the space with just the inside of the ball of my foot, leading with my big toe, while leaning ever so slightly towards my partner.

Learning to wait was the hardest thing the first year, not to anticipate, to slow the breath, to calm my impatience and simply stand in my center, grounded on my axis, and yet be completely alert and ready to move at a moment's notice.

I am not the initiator, or the choreographer, so humbling at first, then frustrating as hell, and finally liberating, as I get to close my eyes, if I want, and be swept into the unseen space behind me.


And then there's the embrace, "abrazo" in Spanish, a close embrace dance we call it -- hands firm and light, heart to heart, connecting right through the center, arms encircling ribs and torso, cheeks touching, legs and feet sweeping, crossing, intertwined, sometimes kicking, and ultimately always walking in intricate patterns on the floor.

When it's good. I melt, I fly, completely lost in the presence of movement, breath and sounds that connect two human beings who may have never met before, gladly losing my boundaries in delicious oneness.

When it's not good, I try to breathe and find my ground, try to forgive my partner for his inexperience, awkwardness, or arrogance -- for not listening to the music or me, for forcing steps with no connection.

Five years ago, on the night of my brother's memorial service in London, I decided I had to tango even though it was after 11 pm. So I took the Tube to Covent Garden and walked the silent streets, wet with rain, with an address clutched in my hand, and my tango shoe bag over my shoulder.

As I entered the narrow, barely lit street, I could begin to make out the lilt of one of my favorite tango songs. Was it Canaro, Poema, or maybe Di Sarli? And then, with great gratitude I knew, at least for the moment, I had come home.

Watercolors: Deborah Ramsden
More tango

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February 11, 2020
Why Human Beings Tell Stories

Speak up2.jpg

Mention the word "storytelling" to most people and they will immediately think fairy tale, CNN spin doctor, or teenager explaining why they haven't done their homework. Good for entertainment and distraction, perhaps, but not much more. Guess what? Not true. Storytelling is the most powerful communication tool the human race has ever conceived. Why? Because it delivers the goods in at least nine different ways:

1. TO DISCOVER WHAT WE ALREADY KNOW: I don't know what your nationality is. Nor do I know what your religion, philosophy, or IQ is. But there is one thing I do know: You are a human being -- a member of a species known as "homo sapiens" -- a Latin phrase that translates as "the wise ones".

A quick glance at the evening news is likely to reveal otherwise, of course, but if you a dig deeper, you cannot help but notice that our species has learned a thing or two along the way. And not just how to use our opposable thumbs, make fire, and open 25,000 Starbucks. Like how to be compassionate, for example. Like how to be grateful. Like how to be of service to others -- all aspects of what it means to "know thyself."

All of us have had at least one "know thyself" moment. For some of us, this moment may have been sparked by the birth of a child. For some, it was a near death experience. For others, maybe it was meditation, meeting a spiritual Master, or being on the receiving end of a stranger's kind deed. For most of us, these moments are fleeting. Like dreams, they quickly fade from memory. But out of sight, does not necessarily mean out of mind. Invisible is not the same thing as non-existent. Our "wise one" moments are simply hidden from view. They are merely hiding. And where they are hiding is in our stories -- the life experiences we've had that, once told, give shape to insight, feeling, and deep lessons learned.

"Don't tell me the moon is shining," said Anton Chekov, "show me the glint of light on broken glass." That's why stories are so powerful. They give us a way to see the light of our lives reflected and a chance to share that light.

Tuning into our stories allows us to reverse engineer what we know -- to decode and decipher the hidden wisdom of our lives. Just like the atom contains protons, neutrons, and electrons, our stories also contain essence -- the invisible distillate of our life experiences. The microscope we need to see this distillate? Our own curiosity, much in the way an archeologist is moved to dig beneath the surface of things. But curiosity is only half of what's required. The other half? Speaking our experiences aloud! Because, more often than not, it is in the telling of our stories that light is shed on our wisdom. And the more that light that is shed, the more of our wisdom is unearthed. Now, we don't just know. We know we know.

Stories connect.jpg

2. TO CAPTURE ATTENTION: This just in: The attention span of the average human being is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish. According to Canadian researchers, the average goldfish can concentrate for nine seconds. The average homo sapien? Eight.

The reasons for our distractability are many, but the biggest can be attributed to our increasingly digitalized lifestyle. Bottom line, there's simply too much coming at us to stay focused on anything for very long. And so, we look for shortcuts. We tweet. We text. We check our Facebook news feed.

Knowing that you, dear reader, have only eight-second attention span, I am going to cut to the chase and give you one more reason to tell your stories. They capture attention! They help your audience (whether its one person at the dinner table or a thousand in a ballroom) unplug from their mental chatter and focus. Assuming you have something of value to share, it can only happen if people are listening. And a story, well-told, is the simplest, fastest, most effective way to do that.

3. TO CONNECT WITH OTHERS: What do most people on a first date do besides wonder why the person they are talking to looks older than their picture? They tell stories. That's how people get to know each other quickly. That's how we connect. Because in the telling of our stories, the other person gets a peak of who we are beneath the surface -- our values, our interests, and what moves us. Yes, on a first date, we might dress up. We might put on cologne or perfume. We might tell a joke or two, But the most effective way to get closer to the other is to tell your stories. Boundaries dissolve. Rapport is established. Doors open.

4. TO ELEVATE THE CONVERSATION: 90% of the news you are exposed to on any given day is bad news -- updates on death, destruction, war, corruption, fires, floods, and terrorism. That's why journalists like to say, "If it bleeds, it leads." Bottom line, human beings have what sociologists call a "negativity bias" -- a phenomenon that can be traced to our amygdala -- the survivalist part of our brain that is our built in danger detector.

If you hear something rustling in the leaves, your amydala interprets it as danger -- a possible tiger ready to pounce, instead of the gentle rustling of the wind. Get enough people focused on the negative and you have the state of the world today, everyone primed to expect the worst.

But it doesn't have to be that way. We don't always have to default to worst case scenarios. And that's where storytelling comes in -- your chance to change the narrative -- to tell stories that uplift, awaken, and inspire. I am not suggesting you ignore the bad news. No. I'm suggesting you consider your options. You can, of course, continue the habitual dissemination of the bad news or you can help break the trance by sharing some of the good.

5. TO TRANSMIT TACIT KNOWLEDGE: Years ago, when people wanted to learn a trade they would apprentice themselves to a Master -- someone who deeply understood how to accomplish a particular outcome in the most elegant way possible. Indeed, in Europe, the guild system was set up to facilitate this kind of knowledge transfer. Those days are gone. Few people, in the 21st century, have the time or humility to become apprentices anymore. Now we google what we need to learn. Or maybe download a three-minute video. And while there are definitely things that can be learned this way, the deep transmission of tacit knowledge (i.e. the hard-to-communicate-essence of a particular realm of understanding) doesn't happen this way.

Still, there does remain, in our world today, a classic technique of knowledge transfer that remains largely untapped. And that is storytelling. When a story is told -- assuming it is the right story, told in a compelling way, at the right time -- it has the potential to get to the heart of the matter quickly. And by so doing, it has the potential to spark great insight, awareness, and meaning -- an ancient "teaching technology" with the power to inform everything the listener does from that moment forward, and HOW they do it.

Indeed, since the beginning of time, storytelling has been one of the most effective ways the world's wisdom traditions have passed on their knowledge to the next generation.

Listening is a superpower.jpg

6. TO INCREASE LISTENING: Here's the paradox: No matter how powerful a story might be, it will have no impact unless there is someone listening to it. And listening, these days, is in woeful short supply. Most people who strike the appearance of listening, aren't. They are impatiently waiting their turn to speak. "Conversational endurance" is what I call it. And it seems to be getting worse with each passing tweet.

Is there any way to reverse this phenomenon -- any way to build the atrophied muscle of listening in this world? Yes, there is. And, if you are up for the paradox of it all, storytelling is the way to go. Because when you tell a story, assuming you tell it in a compelling way, the people on the receiving end get to practice listening. They get to experience what it is like not to interrupt. They get to experience what it's like not to counter with a fact, question, or objection. They get to feel something. In short, they get to practice the art of listening. And, as the old saw goes, "practice makes perfect."

My hope? The more people listen to your stories, the more their listening muscle will be exercised and the more able they will be listen to other people even in non-story situations.

My father was a storyteller. Not professionally, but in his every day life. Other than yelling and stomping around the house, storytelling was his preferred means of communication. My response, as an all-knowing teenager, was to ignore, deflect, or judge his storytelling. "Not again," I would think to myself. "Jesus, I've heard this story a thousand times before." Heard? Yes. But listened? No. More often than not, I interpreted my father's storytelling as either a bogus way to hog the conversation or a feeble attempt to teach me something I already knew. And while I was, even as a young boy, very much into learning, I was not into being taught.

Years passed. Many. It wasn't until I was 45 that I understood the game I was playing. Addicted as I was to shooting the messenger, I was missing out on the message -- one that was hiding in my father's stories.

Methinks my little story-resisting dance with my father is not all that uncommon. Indeed, it's a phenomenon that plays out everywhere -- not just from child to parent, but from generation to generation. Driven by our adolescent need to individuate, even the most conscious of human beings have a tendency to ignore the elders in their life -- dismissing them as old-fashioned, irrelevant, or just not cool enough.

This just in: NOT TRUE! The stories of our parents, their parents, and the generations who preceded them are absolutely relevant. Indeed, they are part of our lineage and the collective unconscious of planet Earth, having, embedded within them, great value and meaning -- if only we would listen. The indigenous people of the world know this, big time. And always have. It is how the wisdom of their cultures have survived, one beautiful story at a time.

So... the next time you see an "old" person, realize they are not just old, but are an ELDER, an influential person of your tribe or community infused with the wisdom that comes from experience, even if they are not officially designated as a "sage." They may not have the same politics, philosophy, or spiritual path as you, but they have something more important -- and that is the potential to be a catalyst of great insight, knowledge, and wisdom.

Forget about the package for a moment. Forget about your judgments and your previous relationship with them. Just listen. Honor your elders. They have a gift for you and the gift is wrapped in STORY. All you have to do is open it.

Storytelling is powerful.jpg

8. TO INSPIRE ACTION: Storytelling is kind of Swiss army knife. It has many different uses and can be applied in many ways. But ultimately, its purpose is to inspire action, even if that action is just a new way of thinking about something that will lead to an action in the world.

Bottom line, storytelling is a tool designed to spark change -- and the change begins in the listener's mind. Teachers, politicians, and spiritual leaders tell stories because they, ultimately, want their audiences to do something different -- to act in a way that is consistent with the message they are delivering -- whether that message is a plea for more kindness, perseverance, creativity, social responsibility, or self-esteem.

A story, well-told, activates people's ability to shift how they perceive what's possible. It's a tool, a lever, a way to move things. And how they move things is to inspire people to move things.

You have a story to tell. I know you do. Actually, you have many stories to tell. Some of them are expressions of memorable experiences you've had. Some of them are the retelling of stories you've heard or read that shifted the way you experienced yourself or the world. Both kinds of stories are pearls. Both need to be shared with the people in your life. Go for it!

9. TO SPARK INSIGHT AND WISDOM IN OTHERS: Human beings spend a lot of time in survival mode. Making a living. Keep a roof over their head. Finding food. You know, the basics. The amygdala rules, the default condition of our brain -- the part of our psyche that is on constant lookout for danger, more interested in surviving than thriving. And because this survival-seeking part of our species is usually dominant, we are not always alert to the more subtle promptings of the heart, the higher octave messages coming our way, variably known as hunches, insights, and epiphanies.

Something deep within us knows this. Which is why we go to church or temple on the weekends -- to take a break from the 9-5 and tune in to the timeless.

Stories have the potential to deliver the same kind of elevating truths we seek out in our religious practices. On any day of the week. At any time of the day. No dress code required. Because embedded in the stories we hear are a kind or radioactive isotope of wisdom -- insight sparking mojo with the potential to activate the sleeping sage within us.

That's one of the reasons why storytelling is so powerful. It democratizes wisdom. It takes the ancient truths out of the buildings we've constructed to worship God and makes them available to everyone -- no holy man or holy woman required. Just our willingness to share our stories. And everyone has a front row seat.

Everyone is a story.jpg

Upcoming Wisdom Circle Facilitation Training
Storytelling for the Revolution
Illustrations: gapingvoid

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2020
The Art of Unpacking Stories


Stories are gifts. When received, they animate, uplift, reveal, and inspire. Like any gift, however, stories need to be opened, not just received. Being given a gift is one thing. Fully enjoying the gift you've been given is something else -- and that requires removing the gift wrapping to see what's inside.

How do you remove the wrapping from a gift you've been given? How do you unpack the stories that are shared with you in order to discover what's contained within -- what most people refer to as the "moral" or the "message"?

There are many ways to do this. There is no one, "right" way.

Ultimately, it all depends on the setting, the timing, your interest, and how much permission the storyteller has granted you, as story listener. Nevertheless, there are some time-tested principles you may want to consider before responding to the stories you are told:


1. Pause and reflect
2. Trust your first response
3. Get curious
4. Ask questions
5. Double click
6. Relate the story to your own life
7. Go beyond the urge to analyze and advise


1. Pause and Reflect: When somebody gives you a gift, your first response does not, necessarily, require words. It's perfectly fine to savor the feeling of having been given the gift. The same principle applies to the moment of just having listened to a story. Nowhere is it written that you must rush to respond. It's perfectly OK just to let the story in and feel it in your bones. While your mind may want to respond immediately, something else inside you is content to savor the moment and how the story makes you feel.

2. Trust Your First Response: As the Zen Masters like to say, "first thought, best thought." The same holds true for story listening. Your first thought or reaction to a story usually has a lot of mojo associated with it. It's a clue, a catalyst, and an indication that a connection has been made. Indeed, the first response that comes up for you upon listening to a story will likely be a very meaningful one -- and possibly, time allowing, worth sharing with the storyteller. Your choice.

3. Get Curious: After listening to a story, see if you can tune into what it is that fascinates you about it -- what piques your interest, what grabs your attention, what you find especially memorable about it. This rising curiosity will often inform what you choose to express to the storyteller and how you express it. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it won't kill you or the storyteller. Quite the opposite. It will open up a rich vein of exploration.


4. Ask Questions: Take a cue from the Greek philosopher, Socrates -- he of the "Know Thyself" school of life. His approach to communication (i.e. the Socratic Method) has stood the test of time and is a powerful way to spark meaningful dialogue via the asking of provocative questions. If the story you have heard sparks a question in you, consider posing that question to the storyteller. Your asking not only builds rapport with the storyteller, it has the potential to spark a very nuanced response -- for both of you.

5. Double Click: If you have ever used a computer, you already understand the concept of "double clicking" -- the act of tapping on a folder or link to further explore your need for more information or knowledge. Similarly, you can double click after listening to a story. How? By requesting the storyteller to elaborate on a particular theme, character, image, obstacle, or plot point. Sometimes there is more to the story than the storyteller has let on. Double clicking is a gift you give the storyteller -- a way to further explore the meaning of what has just been shared with you.

6. Relate the Story to Your Own Life: Often, the stories we hear trigger memories, feelings, and past experiences from our own lives. The story we hear, in effect, becomes an alchemical catalyst to help us get in touch with aspects of ourselves that are begging for attention. Letting the storyteller know how their story affects you is a wonderful way to unpack the buried treasure of their story and, by so doing, facilitates a rich dialogue about what it means to be a self-aware, resilient, and open-minded human being.

7. Go Beyond the Urge to Analyze and Advise: It is not uncommon for people to ask an artist what their work of art "means". It is also not uncommon for the artist not to respond -- wanting their work of art to stand on its own, knowing, as they do, that "art appreciation" is a subjective experience and that overly explaining their creative expression can often leach the life right out of it.

It's the same with storytelling. Indeed, unpacking a story, for some people, feels wrong. They believe that a story, like any work of art, should stand on its own. And while there is something to be said for this approach, there is also something to be said for the process of unpacking a story -- as long as it's done with heart, skill, sensitivity, and presence. And please remember this: unpacking a story does not give you permission to analyze, therapize, advise, or "fix" the storyteller -- especially if the story told reveals some of their vulnerabilities, imperfections, or questionable choices. Your role, as a story listener, is simply to be fully present. The telling of the story, itself, and the non-judgmental dialog that follows will often be enough to facilitate whatever "healing" needs to happen.



-- "I'd love to hear more about 'X'. Can you elaborate?"
-- "The image of 'Y' fascinated me. Can you say more about that?"
-- "If you were going to give your story a title, what would it be?"
-- "I can totally relate. Something like this once happened to me."
-- "Are there any parts of the story you chose to omit?"
-- "What do you think the message or moral of your story is?"
-- "How did the experience you referred to impact your life?"
-- "What fairy tale or myth does your story remind you of?"
-- "What did you learn about yourself or life from this experience?"
-- "What advice does the hero of your story have for the rest of us?"
-- "If there was buried wisdom in your story, what would it be?"

Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling at Work
The Wisdom Circle Facilitation Training

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:51 AM | Comments (0)

February 03, 2020
A Thousand Muslims and a Jew


At last count, there were 7.7 billion people on planet Earth. The odds of any two people meeting, I believe, is something like 7.7 billion to one. And the odds of any two of those 7.7 billion people deciding to collaborate on a complicated, culture-changing project -- especially if one of them is an Australian Muslim born in Pakistan and the other is an American Jew born in New York -- is in the slim-to none-zone. But that's exactly what happened to me three years ago, a collaboration that took seven years to manifest, seven being a classic span of years noted 700 times in the Bible and God knows how many times in the Quran.

Like any story, the one I am about to tell has a very juicy back story which, technically speaking, is part of the story, depending, of course, on how far back I decide to rewind the karmic tape -- the seemingly invisible, below-the-surface prelude to what I would only later discover to be one of the most fascinating collaborations of my life.

Ready? Here goes:

Seven years ago, Fazeel Arain, the Co-Founder and Principal of Al Siraat College, a K-12 Australian School in the Islamic tradition, located on the outskirts of Melbourne, found his way to my Heart of Innovation blog. Unbeknownst to me, he had become a big fan of my writing, point of view, and sense of humor. After three years of tuning in to my various articles, stories, videos, tools, techniques, and quotes, Fazeel decided to contact me, curious to know if my organization might be available to be of service to his.


While I was tickled to be contacted by the very forthright Fazeel (a name, in Urdu, that translates as "knowledgeable"), I was also skeptical that anything much would come of it -- not because I didn't want anything to come of it, but because, historically speaking, educational institutions had proven to be highly unlikely clients of mine. Their budgets were low. Their risk aversion was high. And when you considered the fact that Fazeel's K-12 school was 10,000 miles away and was Islamic, to boot, the odds of anything real coming of this seemed microscopically small to me. So when, after our first conversation, Fazeel asked me to submit a proposal, my first reaction was to raise my metaphorical eyebrows and think "no way."

Having trained myself, however, for the past 28 years, to go beyond the knee-jerk, nay saying negativity that often accompanies the appearance of a seemingly long-shot possibility, I made my way over to my favorite cafe, ordered a cappuccino, and started to noodle. Four hours later, proposal done, I emailed it, fingers crossed, to the aforementioned Mr. Fazeel -- a man I had come to learn was a former Oracle IT consultant, father of five, and the husband of a brilliant woman named Rahat, a former civil engineer.

The plot thickens.


Fazeel loved absolutely everything about my proposal except the fee, which, he explained, was "too rich for his blood" or whatever the equivalent Australian/Islamic phrase was for "Ouch, our budget just can't handle it." Unwilling to discount my already discounted fees any more, it was obvious we had come to an impasse. And so Fazeel went his way and I went mine.

Two years passed.

Then, very much out of the blue, in the midst of attempting to guide Al Siraat through yet another "change process," Fazeel contacted me again. The more I listened to him wax on about the school's many challenges, the dizzier I got. Although I was quite familiar with the phenomenon of "change management" (a second cousin to getting your teenage daughter to clean up her room), it was not, shall we say, my cup of tea. Three decades of consulting with a wide variety of forward thinking organizations had taught me that "change management" was often a euphemism for "How would you like to spend the next few years banging your head against a wall?" And besides, I had several other clients to serve, a marriage to nurture, two kids, and a huge need to write my next book in whatever spare time I didn't have.

And so, I asked the very dedicated Fazeel Arain if he would be open to two of my colleagues taking on the project. He was. And so began an inspired, four-month, dialogue between Lynnea, Michael, and Fazeel.

Other than me recognizing my own weird tendency to be open to projects that had very little chance of materializing, nothing came of it. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

Another year passed. (We are now six years into the process.)


And then, one morning, while showering, I was hit upside the head with what I considered to be a brilliant idea. You see, Fazeel's school wasn't the only organization going through changes. Mine was, too. With the American economy in the toilet and my company's sales distressed, I decided to launch an online raffle -- a clever way, I thought, to drum up interest in our online, Conducting Genius training.

The offer was a simple one. Raffle tickets would be absolutely free. All a company had to do to was send us an email with "Conducting Genius" written in the subject line. That was it. And then, on index cards, we would write the names of the companies who had entered and randomly select three winners. The prize? A 75% discount on our training. Street value? $6,500. "Such a deal!" I could hear my grandfather saying from the Great Beyond.

One person entered. Guess who? That's right. The very bearded, tenacious, Allah-is-in-Control, Mr. Fazeel Arain.

Thrilled to learn he had won, Fazeel, understandably, assumed that I would be the one to deliver the training. I wasn't. Maxed with other responsibilities at the time, I handed the project over to one of my long-time colleagues, the very accomplished brainstorm facilitator and trainer, Valmore Joseph Vadeboncoeur.


The first three sessions went quite well. After Session #3, Fazeel asked if I would lead the fourth.

My first response? Ummm... I'm not sure how to translate it into Arabic, but in Yiddish, it was "Oy vey," an abbreviation of the slightly longer phase, Oy vey ist mir, a well-known expression of dismay or exasperation whose English equivalent was "woe is me."

My second response? "Sure, why not?"

Session #4 turned out to be an AHA moment for me -- the difference, as Mark Twain once put it, between lightning and a lightning bug. Until then, my relationship with Fazeel and Al Siraat had been mostly theoretical -- the concept of working together, but not the reality itself. In just 60 minutes all of that changed, me having the real-time experience of teaching five Islamic school Directors how to begin unlocking the creative genius of their workforce. These were not "Muslims halfway around the world." These were living, breathing, soulful human beings, each with a name, a face, a personality, and a sincere desire to expand their horizons -- Andrew, Shahzad, Esra, Rahat, and Fazeel

"Hey Mitch, how would you like to visit the school?" Fazeel asked me two weeks later.

A single image came to mind. Rocky. Fazeel, like Sylvester Stallone's iconic, street smart dreamer, was totally relentless -- a man on fire with purpose and possibility. He knew what he wanted and was going for it, against all odds. No matter how many times I ducked, dodged, or deflected, his invitations kept coming.

"Fazeel," I replied, "thank you so much for your kind invitation, but Melbourne... you see... is... uh.. a 22-hour flight away for me. We're talking two days of travel, three days on-site, and probably another three days to recuperate. I just don't have the time. Maybe next year."

Three months passed.

And then, as fate would have it (or was it Allah or Jehovah?), I was invited to attend a five-day conference, with my teacher, outside of Brisbane -- just a two hour flight from Melbourne. This news made Fazeel happy. He paid for my Brisbane to Melbourne flight, picked me up at the airport, took me to lunch, introduced me to his wife and children, made me chai tea (often), fed me chocolate, toured me around the school, asked me to teach a few classes, invited me to speak at the prayer hall, and proceeded to enter into an off-the-grid, non-stop, three-day dialogue about what our future collaboration might look like. He even offered me a full time position.

To quote Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore."

Bottom line, my three-day introduction to Al Siraat was a total delight -- mind opening, heart opening, door opening, intriguing, inspiring, fun, soulful, endearing, encouraging, provocative, unforgettable, and very educational. Until then, I had never had a single conversation with a Muslim. Though I had many friends from a wide variety of religions and spiritual paths, I didn't know a single soul from the Islamic world. My only exposure to Islam had been the late night news.

For want of a better phrase, let's just say a Red Sea parted for me. I got to experience, first hand, during my three-day visit, what Fazeel, Rahat, their Directors, Teachers, and Staff were trying to do, against all odds -- to create a model for what Islamic education could be in the future -- a heart-centered, values-driven, learning community that built character and prepared the next generation of movers and shakers to make a real difference in the world.


Beyond their hopes and aspirations, it was clear to me that Al Siraat had more than its share of problems, challenges, and disappointments. But so what? Life is not always easy. Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years. Noah had to build an ark. Muhammed lost all six of his children. And Jesus was crucified. Even baby chicks have to peck their way out of the shell.

What I found so compelling about Fazeel and many of his colleagues -- the mojo that moved me to spend three months of my life, last year, working at the school -- was the recognition of just how powerful an experience it is to be called. Clearly, Fazeel was being called. And so was Rahat, his wife. And Mufti Aasim, the school's Spiritual Director. And Esra, Shahzad, Sheikh Wasseem, Gulhan, Leah, Najma, Vis, Evla, Noori, Javed, Bilal, Naveed, Maqsood, Zev and so many others on staff who had come to a point in their life when it was time to take a stand.

The name of the force that calls a human being? It has many. And it was calling me, too, a Jewish man from Woodstock (with an Indian Guru) -- someone who didn't speak a word of Arabic and has never read the Quran. But peel away the superficial differences that seemed to be separating us and we were all on the exact same page -- the page of life -- no matter what language or tradition the words on that page originated from.

To be continued...

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Helping children understand the moral of a story
Fazeel's testimonial
PS: I am now a columnist for an Islamic newspaper in Australia

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:14 AM | Comments (1)

February 02, 2020
Storytelling as Nest, Home Base, Safe Haven, and the Fire Around Which We Warm Ourselves

Mitch Ditkoff6.jpg

Today, in the shower, shampoo in both my eyes, I had an epiphany or, if not an epiphany, an insight, aha, or revelation. Whatever you call what I had, something clicked. In a flash, I understood what very well might be THE reason why people love storytelling and, more specifically, why they love coming to Wisdom Circles.

And when I say "people", I am referring to a mixed bag of humanity, represented by the following professions: stone mason, nurse, insurance agent, poet, hypnotherapist, elementary school teacher, artist, Jungian analyst, cantor, organizational consultant, musician, writer, trauma therapist, social activist, healer, hospice worker, body worker, aromatherapist, entrepreneur, dentist, conference organizer, school principal, administrator, voice teacher, interfaith minister, community engagement facilitator, computer programmer, college student, medical equipment manufacturer, tarot reader, interior designer, sound technician, palm reader, financial advisor, website designer, psychic, and substance abuse counselor just to name a few.

The common denominator? Every person who's attended a Wisdom Circle has had the same basic aspiration -- to unplug from the hustle and bustle of their lives, connect with others, communicate something meaningful within themselves, and experience the best of who they are through the medium of story.

With absolutely no pressure, no hassle, and no need to perform.


Mark Twain probably said it best, "If you speak the truth, you don't have to remember a thing."

And that, my friends, is one of the beautiful things about a Wisdom Circle. Truth is spoken there. But not the kind of "truth" that requires religiosity, expertise, or self-promotion. No. The truth spoken at a Wisdom Circle is non-denominational, free flowing, and naturally abiding in the stories that are told.

What actually happens in a Wisdom Circle?
Learn to facilitate Wisdom Circles


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


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.

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