Storytelling at Work
September 27, 2021
Learning to Face Your Opponent

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Sometimes, in life, a single word or a single sentence can make a huge difference -- an unexpected communication that penetrates to the core of your being and then radiates from the inside out for the rest of your life. I had one such moment 35 years ago when I was a novice Aikido student in Los Angeles.

Here's what happened: In the dojo, while practicing a new technique with my partner, my teacher walks over to me, observes briefly, looks at me, and utters these eight words: "You have to learn to face your opponent."

I had no idea what she was talking about and just looked at her blankly. Then she stepped forward and gently rearranged the way I was standing, noting that I was standing a bit too obliquely from my partner -- a posture I had taken that was eventually going to require me to OVERCOMPENSATE in order to complete the move, an action that had the potential, she explained, to injure my partner and myself due to all of the unnecessary twisting and turning likely to happen.

In other words, the way in which I had positioned myself in relationship to my partner was off. I was not facing my partner head on. I was being too indirect, about 10 degrees "off to the side" and it was this indirectness, my teacher explained, that had the potential to cause injury. Whoa!

As I let her words sink in, I knew exactly what she was talking about. The wisdom embedded in her eight words cut to the core of my being. What she observed in me at that moment was a very penetrating expression of how I had been living my life -- especially my relationships. Somehow, I was a little bit off... too indirect.. a little out of whack.. skewed to the side. In other words, I wasn't really engaging others as directly as I needed to and it was my indirectness that was contributing to a whole bunch of negative consequences -- some very subtle -- that I had to deal with.

This is one of the amazing things about Aikido or any inner practice that a person commits to. You get to see where you are at and where you are not at. The feedback is immediate. It's humbling. It's confronting. And it's not always easy to take in. But if you are open to the moment and willing to learn from it, much lifelong wisdom can be gleaned.

I am still imbibing this teaching from 35 years ago delivered to me in less than 20 seconds. I am still learning how to be in right relationship to the people in my life -- not oblique... not indirect... not off to one side, and, at the same time not in their face. In Aikido, there is a word for this -- "Hanmi" -- the stance one takes in relationship to the "other."

With whom, in your life, might you need to adjust your stance? Who are you being too indirect with? Who might you be crowding? Who do you need to face? And what, if anything, can you do this week to take the healthiest stance you can take -- so both of you can practice and no one gets injured in the process?

MitchDitkoff.com
Storytelling at Work

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:30 PM | Comments (1)

September 23, 2021
Storytelling and Islam

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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

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:59 AM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2021
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.

"Wait here," he said. "Your father will arrive soon enough to explain the rules."

One hour passed. Then another. Then another still. And then, with no fanfare, the King appeared, trailed by his courtiers, physicians, and Queen. Silently, he approached his sons and bowed.

"Flesh of my flesh," he began, pointing to a large wooden door before him. "In a moment, I will enter this room and stand in middle. I will bring nothing with me -- only my love for you and my curiosity. Then, one by one, each of you will have his turn. Three times I will perform this experiment. The door will open and, starting with my first born, when it is your turn, you will enter. Your task will be a simple one -- to tell me what you see in the room. That's it. But you will only have a brief amount of time to accomplish this task. If you take too long, you will be disqualified. Understand?"

And with that, the Grand Vizier turned the boys around so their backs were to the door. Then he grabbed the hand of the eldest son, walked him to the door, opened it, and spoke one word: "Enter."

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The boy walked in. The room was completely dark.

"Well..." said the King, "what do you see, my son?"

"Nothing, father," the eldest son said. "There is nothing here, but you."

"Thank you, my son. Well said. Now turn around and when the door opens, exit quickly."

Now it was the middle son's turn. The Grand Vizier approached, took him by the hand, walked him to the door, opened it and spoke one word: "Enter".

The boy walked in. The room was still completely dark.

"Well"... said the King, "what do you see, my boy?"

"Nothing, father," the middle son said. "There is nothing here but you. And, of course, me, too."

"Thank you, my son. Well said. A most important distinction you have made. Now turn around and, when the door opens, exit quickly."

Now it was the youngest son's turn. Again, the Grand Vizier approached, took him by the hand, walked him to the door, opened it and spoke one word.

Like his two brothers before him, the boy entered. The room was still completely dark.

"Well", said the King, "what do you see, my youngest born?"

"Nothing, my father. I see nothing. And while I know I have only the briefest amount of time to reply, may I ask you a simple question?"

"Yes, my son, you may."

"In all your many years, as King, what would you say is the most important thing you have learned?"

"Hmm," replied the King. "An excellent question. Most astute. But my answer will only distract us from the task at hand. We have the next King to select now, don't we?"

But even as the King responded, the eyes of the youngest son began adjusting to the darkness. Where only seconds ago, only blackness prevailed, now he began seeing the faintest outline of things -- a chair, a small table next to it, and a candlestick.

"Oh father," said the son, "thank you for your sage counsel. You are, indeed, a man of high purpose. But before I take my leave, please allow me to tell you what I see: a chair, a table next to it, and a candlestick."

The King took a long, slow breath. Then he exhaled even more slowly.

"Well done, my son, well done. You see clearly. And because you do, you shall the one to inherit my throne!"

One contest. Three sons. Three different responses.

The first son, the eldest, spoke the truth. He saw nothing and said so, noting only the obvious presence of the King. The second son, also saw nothing, but had the discernment to acknowledge his own presence in the room. The third son, the youngest, was the only one who understood that seeing sometimes takes time and that first impressions aren't always accurate -- so he bought himself the time he needed by asking the King a compelling question -- providing him with the time needed for his eyes to adjust to light and see what was not immediately apparent.

And so it is with the wisdom inside us.

It is not always immediately visible to us. Indeed, it is often shrouded in darkness, hidden from plain sight. And where it is hidden, more times than not, is in our stories -- the faraway room within us in which the King abides. And the chair. And the table. And the candlestick.

If we want to see what's really there, we need to give it time. We need to get curious, ask our questions, and allow our eyes to adjust, even if, at first glance, it seems as if nothing is there.

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution

Photo #1: William Krauss, Unsplash
Photo #2: Ruel Calitis, Unsplash

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

September 11, 2021
Why Tell Stories?

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In the last 60 seconds, here's what happened:

168 million emails were sent, 700,000 Google searches were launched, and 60 hours of YouTube videos were uploaded, not to mention all the spam, banner ads, phone calls, Facebook posts, tweets, texts, and telemarketing calls that found their way to your doorstep.

A whopping 90% of all data in the world has been generated in the past two years alone. Think about this: Before the dawn of civilization, approximately 5 exabytes of information had been created. Now, that much information is created every two days!

The common term for this head-spinning phenomenon is "information overload" -- the inability to absorb and process all of the information we are exposed to.

And while the gory statistics change every nanosecond, the results are the same -- leading to what is increasingly being referred to as "Information Fatigue Syndrome" (IFS) -- a condition whose symptoms include poor concentration, depression, burnout, hostility, compulsive checking of social media, and falling into trance-like states.

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This describes the mindset of many, if not all, of the people you are attempting to influence on a day-to-day basis, be they customers, clients, friends, voters, volunteers, children, or your mother-in-law.

If you are committed to delivering a meaningful, memorable message to another human being, the burning question you need to be asking is this: "How can I cut through all of the background noise so my message can heard and remembered?"

Fear not. It's possible. According to neuroscientists, psychologists, theologians, sociologists, advertisers, linguists, and marketers, the answer is a simple one: storytelling.

Storytelling is the most effective, time-tested way to transmit meaning from one human being to another. It's been going on since the beginning of time when our first ancestors stood around the tribal fire. It's how civilizations pass on their wisdom to the next generation. It's how religions pass on the sacred teachings of their faith. And it's how parents, via the telling of fairy tales, transmit the values they want to impart to their children.

Here are just a few of the reasons why storytelling is so powerful:

It quickly establishes trust and connection between the speaker and listener.

It increases receptivity, captures attention, engages emotions, and allows the receiver to participate, cognitively, in the narrative.

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It communicates values, not just skills, decreases teaching time, builds community, ignites five more regions of the brain than mere fact giving, helps people make sense of their world, shapes perceptions via the subconscious mind, reframes frustration, paradox, and suffering, changes behavior, and provides a dependable way for people to remember, retrieve, and retell a meaningful message.

Think about a message you want to communicate to someone today. How might you do that via story, instead of overloading them with more information, statistics, and pep talks?

Excerpted from Storytelling at Work
My newly launched storytelling blog
PODCAST: Storytelling at Work

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:39 PM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2021
LIFE IS FULL OF SURPRISES

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Thirty two years ago I was walking on a street in midtown Manhattan with a friend of mine when I noticed a man, in a tuxedo, laying face down on the sidewalk. People, in both directions, nicely dressed, were walking by him. No one stopped. As I got closer, I could see that this man was Japanese, in a tuxedo, and bleeding from the forehead. As I bent to get a better look, I could smell the alcohol on his breath. Lots of it. Had he been mugged? I didn't know. But clearly, this bleeding man in a tuxedo was very drunk, in shock, and now beginning to moan.

"Call 911!", I yelled to my friend, trying my best to keep him calm, not wanting his bleeding to get any worse. The only thing I could think of, maybe from a movie I had seen years ago, was to keep him calm. So, I put my right hand on his shoulder, gently squeezed, and started telling him over and over again that "everything was going to be alright and help was on the way."

Nothing I did or said made a difference -- either because he was drunk, in shock, or didn't understand a single word of English. The more I spoke, the more he tried to wiggle away from me to the building just a few feet to our right -- trying, it seemed, to get the support he needed to stand. This, I knew, was a terrible idea as it would only quicken his bleeding. And so I kept on telling him, again and again, that everything was going to be alright and help was on its way.

But no matter what I said or how I said it, he kept making his way across the sidewalk to the marble facade on the building just a few feet away. And then, having moved beyond all my attempts to keep him still, he leaned against the wall and, wobbling, did his best to stand.

When this Japanese man in a tuxedo with a gash on his forehead stood to his full height, he immediately began to fall forward. That's when I reached out, in Good Samaritan mode, spread both of my arms wide and attempted to break his fall. And that's when he punched me in the face. I never saw it coming. BAM! A classic roundhouse. A sucker punch. My glasses went flying, both of my lenses popping out, me now bleeding from the bridge of my nose -- as the ambulance, sirens screaming, came screeching up to the curb, three paramedics jumping out and wrestling him to the ground, putting him in a straight jacket, then onto a stretcher and into the back of the ambulance, sirens screaming again as it drove away.

Crawling on my hands and knees, squinting and bleeding, I found both of my lenses and my frames, now very bent. Then I stood slowly, took the hand of my friend, and both of us, in silence, continued on our way.

More stories here
Photo: Dominik Leiner, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:39 PM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2021
You Are a Universe of Stories

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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.

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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

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:44 PM | Comments (0)

September 01, 2021
SHINE!

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This is Alex Romero. He shines shoes at the Denver Airport. I met him 30 minutes ago as I was making my way to Gate 54 and realizing what bad shape my shoes were in. That's when I asked him how much he charged and he told me "whatever you want to pay", which I found quite intriguing. So I took my seat, waiting for him to finish up with his other customer, and soon the shine began.

Rolling up my pant legs to my ankles, Alex asked me what it was that brought me Denver. I explained that I had flown in from Albany to attend an Intelligent Existence training, facilitated by Prem Rawat, on the subject of "noise" -- the all-too-common static in our heads -- and how we each have the ability to go beyond the noise to the place inside of us where real peace abides. Alex nodded. Then he went on to tell me that the noise in his head used to show up for him as worry, but now it has morphed into doubt.

As Alex continued shining my shoes, it seemed to me that he was some kind of shoe shine samurai. So focused he was! So dedicated! So present -- putting all of his attention into each and every stroke, each application of polish and cream, each change of cloth for each phase of the process.

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"Have you ever heard of Jack Kornfeld?" he asks me. I nod. "I listen to his YouTube videos and practice the meditations he teaches. Once I experienced myself as the eye of a hawk, but got a little nervous and so I stopped."

We both laugh. Then he tells me he also gets a lot of value from the online teachings of Abraham-Hicks. I show him an Abraham-Hicks app on my IPhone. Then I ask him if his job at the airport had been affected by Covid.

"For sure," he explains. "A while back the only store open here was McDonalds. No one was flying anywhere. So I got a job as an Uber Eats driver for three months, but it was too much wear and tear on my car, so I came back to the airport."

Two days a week, Alex explains, he sets up shop in Terminal A, three days a week in Terminal B.

Then he asks me, again, to tell him the name of the man whose training I had attended a few days ago.

"Prem Rawat," I explain. "He's a really cool guy. Very accessible. Very wise and with a great sense of humor. I've been his student for 50 years."

Alex nods again, continuing to work his magic on my shoes (which, curiously, I had bought in an airport about a year ago). I look down. Wow! I have never seen them look so good. It's almost as if I can see my face in them. Astounded, I ask Alex if I he's OK with me taking his photo so I can post it on my Facebook page -- a way that friends of mine might learn about the service he provides, just in case they ever find themselves in the Denver Airport. He agrees.

As I move into position to take his photo, I notice, to my left, a small sign Alex had posted between the two chairs where his customers sit.
"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take," the sign says, "but by the moments that take our breath away."

PremRawat.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:33 PM | Comments (3)

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.

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