Ben Zoldan in Stories | June 20, 2017 | No Comments

I’m not F***ing this up


At Storyleaders, storytelling stands at the center of what we do, but it doesn’t stand alone. Let me share.

Storytelling is in the word, and there are many out there that “teach” storytelling. You can take an online course, learn some skills, some structure, and apply what was learned.

In 2010, I was piloting Storyleaders workshops with mostly friends and family. In these early workshops, we “taught” the structure of a story – the arc, body language, build an inventory of stories, and we would send people on their way. I had a friend, Joe, pull me aside at the end and said, “Ben, you’re on to something, but you’re still wearing your old Solution Selling shell.”

I didn’t want to hear that, so I dismissed him. And then, over and over again, I heard the whispers, “You know when someone is being real or not.” “…when they’re being genuine.” “…when they care.” Or, “…when they’re using a story to get what they want.” “When someone is selling you.”
I also heard, “You can use a story to manipulate.” And worse, “…for bad.”
For a period, that spun me out.

But some patterns emerged. I was able to detect when a story was being used for an “ends” or an outcome. It didn’t feel right. Worse, I found myself doing it, and I felt that same dirty, salesy feeling I had from my past. I was able to see how this beautiful, sacred thing could become no different than any other sales pitch, another checkbox, another trick that is entirely detectable and manipulative. We can “use” it to undermine our integrity as human beings.

Using storytelling with an intended outcome does not facilitate a culture where values are lived and experienced. Then, I realized something even bigger. When someone went all in, shared things that most people would be scared to reveal, I was all in with them in return. 100% of the time.

My aha was simple – Joe was right. I was putting my old “9 boxes” around storytelling. I was onto something, but I was still wearing my old Solution Selling shell.

And today, I think about a quote that stuck with me since the very beginning of this journey:
Those who tell the stories, change the world. –Plato.

But it can’t be from simply learning a structure, or a process, or even crafting a set of stories – as if they’re tools. It ain’t that easy. If the people who are really putting their handprints on the world are the ones who are sharing their stories, it’s about those early whispers:
How real are we?
How much do we care about others?
Are we wearing that shell/are we being vulnerable?
Are we going there?
Are we trying to tell a story to get to the outcome? Our agenda?

I’ve learned that the values we teach and practice together, such as empathy, vulnerability, courage, individuality, creativity and reciprocity are far more important than learning how to tell a story. It is through the values we hold close that the stories emerge, which have an emotional connection to someone else, have meaning in our lives, and become the foundation for building authentic relationships. Building authentic relationships should be the aim, and it is out of those relationships that any form of influence feels good.

This is why at Storyleaders, storytelling doesn’t stand alone, and there is no reason why our values should stand alone either.

These behaviors are very difficult to turn on and off, require practice and a conscious decision to do otherwise.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that when we focus on those values, stories come out naturally, the way they’re supposed to.

So the question here is:
How transactional, inauthentic, demanding, outcome driven and predictable do you want to live your life?


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