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authoring a hero's journey: finding meaning through story


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We live, learn, and remember through story. Our brains weave each experience into the overall narrative that shapes who we are. Yet seldom do we step back to examine or consciously shape the overall story of our lives. As designers, many of us have a desire to change the world. And yet, as Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” If design is change, if we want to use design to effect change, shouldn’t we first think about changing ourselves by designing our own story? For the stories we tell ourselves can change the way we see the world and, by extension, change the world itself.

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authoring a hero's journey: finding meaning through story

  1. 1. authoring a hero’s journeyfinding meaning through story
  2. 2. Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves – Carol Pearson Carta Marina by Olaus Magnus (1490-1557)
  3. 3. we mold memories about the past and shape daydreams aboutthe future into archplots to give them vivid shape
  4. 4. life is normal,predictable
  5. 5. then the hero wants something (aka object ofdesire) be a presenterlife is normal,predictable
  6. 6. leading to the dragon gap between current &desired reality here be dragonscurrent reality future reality
  7. 7. the hero sets out on a journeycurrent manner of new manner ofbeing | doing being | doing
  8. 8. experiencing progressively greater risks will I choke? OMG, I’m committed… does anyone really care what I think? what should I talk about? how can I get an abstract accepted? at times things will REALLY suck simplified hero’s journey modified from Kathy Sierra’s Where there’s passion, there are stories
  9. 9. creating meaningful change as they overcome each obstacle naked/not naked quit/don’t quit face pain of rejection, risk of acceptancenever presented, ok I’m a presenterwith that
  10. 10. once they succeed in crossing the dragon gap, theyachieve a new normal(at least until the next stage of the journey)I’m a presenterlife is normal, predictable once again
  11. 11. why risk it?(who in their right mind wants to face dragons)
  12. 12. Frequently, in the life of a priest, fifty years experience is one years experience repeated fiftytimes. You get the same solutions to fall back on... Wisdom is to be sensitive to this situation,to this person, uninfluenced by any carryover from the past, without residue from theexperience of the past.– Anthony de Mello, Awareness life is normal, predictable
  13. 13. we each, in our own way, want to make adifferencefinding meaning in the story that is our life
  14. 14. any seriouscreativerequires seriousmeditation ofdeath@gapingvoid The Top 5 Regrets People Have on their Deathbed
  15. 15. If only I’d had the courage to fulfill my dreams, living a lifetrue to myself, not the life others expected of me
  16. 16. If only I hadn’t worked so hard, stuck on a treadmill
  17. 17. If only I’d had the courage to express my feelings Meanest Indian, flickr
  18. 18. If only I’d stayed in touch with my friends,spending more time with the people I love Kash_if, flickr
  19. 19. If only I’d let myself be happier,laughing properly,allowing silliness
  20. 20. If only. Those must be the two saddest wordsin the world.– Mercedes Lackey
  21. 21. « lemarchandde la mortest mort »When his brother died, a French newspaper mistakenly ran anobituary of Alfred Noble referring to him as the merchant ofdeath. A pacifist at heart, he didn’t want to be remembered asthe merchant of death. He wrote himself a new obituary bycreating the Nobel Prizes.
  22. 22. why wait untilyou’re dying?What do you want your lifeto represent?How do you want to beremembered?
  23. 23. One day I sat down and wrote two versions of my obituary. The first was the one that I wanted to have. I thoughtof the obituaries that I enjoyed reading, the people that I admired. They were the adventurers and risk-takers…They lived life with a greediness for new experiences, and gumption, and a gung-ho attitude that defied the attemptsof naysayers and nigglers to pigeonhole them or put them down. These people really knew how to live. The secondversion was the obituary that I was heading for – a conventional, ordinary life – pleasant and with its moments ofexcitement, but always within the safe confines of normality. – Roz Savage
  24. 24. a hero is driven by a controlling ideathat shapes the meaning of their story
  25. 25. it’s not your job title or job description that’sgets you moving
  26. 26. unless something compels us, we’re notgoing to risk the dragon gapcurrent reality future reality
  27. 27. controlling ideaa single sentence describing how and why life undergoeschange from one condition of existence at the beginningto another at the end
  28. 28. purpose enables us to overcome fear, conquerdragons, and persevere despite the naysayers
  29. 29. a job title is one aspect of WHAT you do WHAT HOWchicken pickerblackjack dealer WHYnight desk clerkprogram managerlegislative assistanttechnical writerusability specialistproduct designermanagerdirector How great leaders inspire action, Simon Sinek
  30. 30. a job description is (sort of) HOW you do it WHAT HOWresearch WHYfacilitatelistendesignwriteexploreteachtell storiesdiscover stories
  31. 31. WHY do you do it? WHY are you here? WHY doyou get out of bed every morning? WHY shouldanybody care? WHAT HOW WHYbring more empathy,emotion and designinto a world dominatedby rational machinethinking, helping to freeinner designers, artists,and storytellers
  32. 32. purpose gets your elephant movinginspiresprovides meaningshapes strategic choices rider our emotional brain (95%)sparks imaginationfocusesallows for emergence elephant WHY our rational brain (5%)
  33. 33. purposecontrolling idea dream
  34. 34. And of course, it was then, and only then, thatthe outside world started paying attention.@gapingvoid
  35. 35. because purpose attracts Tatters:) flickr
  36. 36. find your purpose Write your obituary based on how you are living your life right now, assuming no risk. Give your inner critic a time out. Answer the question “What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?” What do you want people to remember or do as a result of your life story? Write a second obituary assuming you are living that life.
  37. 37. even with purpose, it can be hard to get yourhero movingthat’s where an inciting incident comes in
  38. 38. I have a bad backthrow out back 3rd time in 3 months
  39. 39. 2 pager on sunsalutations in Canadian Living
  40. 40. What does it mean to be fit?
  41. 41. I am fit
  42. 42. a turning point revealing theneed to change Scott Hudson, flickr
  43. 43. something happensto get you moving
  44. 44. cog in the machinenot a keyemployee
  45. 45. boss from hell Always. Everyone. Everywhere.
  46. 46. What does it mean to makesomething customers would love?
  47. 47. designerof experiences
  48. 48. yearning totravel
  49. 49. no time, money, familyobligations… no travel
  50. 50. hey, freeMandarin lessons
  51. 51. What does it mean toexperience another culture?
  52. 52. explorer seeking experiences to learn to see
  53. 53. incite yourself set a trigger book a date say yes announce it jump in the deep end
  54. 54. beware the resistancewhispering (shouting) in your hero’s ear
  55. 55. fear of dragons kicks your lizard brain into high gear
  56. 56. a hero develops a growth mindset I I determine my world. I am responsible for me. I can choose. I statements allow me to be in control, put the focus on my awareness, make mejimmyharris flickr independent, assume my ability to choose
  57. 57. a hero plays with assumptions nattu flickr
  58. 58. a hero acts
  59. 59. if you let your lizard brain have it’s way, you convert yourself from hero into victim needing savingRefusal of the summons converts the adventure into itsnegative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or "culture," thesubject loses the power of significant affirmative action andbecomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes awasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless.– Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth Lel4nd flickr
  60. 60. a victim has a fixed mindset . they The world happens to me. They are responsible for... They prevent me from… They statements assume power is in them, put the focus outside myself, make me dependent, assume my subordinance
  61. 61. a victim is chained by their assumptions
  62. 62. a victim reacts
  63. 63. Editors are not the enemy; critics are not theenemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle isinside our own heads.– Steven Pressfield, War of Art
  64. 64. Put this program into action, a thousand times:a) identify the negative feelings in you;b) understand that they are in you, not in the world, not in external reality;c) do not see them as an essential part of "I"; these things come and go;d) understand that when you change, everything changes.– Anthony de Mello, Awareness
  65. 65. a hero’s quest is NOT a neatly plotted plan
  66. 66. by this pointin your life,youshould…
  67. 67. controlling ideaI distrust plot for two reasons: first, becauseour lives are largely plotless, even when youadd in all our reasonable precautions andcareful planning; and second, because I believeplotting and the spontaneity of real creationarent compatible. A strong enough situationrenders the whole question of plot moot.– Stephen King
  68. 68. clear predictablepresent futureA B step 1 step 2 step 3 step 4 step 5
  69. 69. planning assumes a predictable future based on past experiencesa capacity for prediction we don’t possess seanmcgrath, flickr
  70. 70. life is messy
  71. 71. ? ? unexpected obstacles will appear ? ? ?assumptions may be wrong final destination is unclearA ?
  72. 72. the hero learns, grows, and changes alongtheir journey, altering both the journey andthe final destination
  73. 73. since you can’t predict the future, you need toprototype, play, experiment to learn unpredictable future A fuzzy goal B Gamestorming, Dave Gray
  74. 74. the only way I can get anythingwritten at all is to write really, reallyshitty first drafts– Anne Lamott
  75. 75. future story (obit)shitty first draftsA B
  76. 76. great stories aren’t written according to a plan Illustration by Kim Sokol
  77. 77. Doesn’t that sound neat, to implement a story, ratherthan implement a plan? I don’t know about you but Iget tired of implementing plans. Plans always feel likethey keep you in a box. A story is something else. It’spulsing. It’s breathing. It’s alive!– Madelyn Blair
  78. 78. pose what if questionsWhat if vampires invaded a small New Englandvillage? Salems LotWhat if I had only 37 days to let to live?Life is a Verb, Patti DighWhat if ______________________
  79. 79. heroes learn to seechanging the world by becoming aware
  80. 80. CFOhow do I see this person? NOT seeing
  81. 81. I’ve got a thankless role withthe diciest risk/reward ratio ofany job short of a Navy Seal.How will youhelp memakemoney orreduce costs? seeingHow does this person see themselves and their situation? Todd Baker << technowannabe flickr
  82. 82. Large Plastic BagGrand CanyonMute AleutianPretzel Man
  83. 83. This wasn’tLarge Plastic BagGrand Canyon MuteAleutian Pretzel Manthis was a real person with a name anda history and stories that make himlaugh and cry. He was a who, not awhat, just like me. – Patti Digh Say Hi to Yaron
  84. 84. when you’re listening or observing, payattention to how you’re reacting, what you’rethinking, how you’re judging
  85. 85. If there’s a messageto my work, it isultimately that it’sokay to be different,that it’s good to bedifferent, that weshould questionourselves before wepass judgment onsomeone who looksdifferent, behavesdifferent, talksdifferent, is adifferent color.– Johnny Depp
  86. 86. how do you learn to see? to find the story?ask questions to understand
  87. 87. What do they THINK & FEEL & FEAR? what really counts major preoccupations worries & aspirations What do they What do they HEAR? SEE? boss environment colleagues friends influencers colleagues friends what work offersempathy (magic if) What do theywho are they? what if I were in their situation? SAY & DO? attitude in public appearance behavior towards others PAIN GAIN fears | frustrations | obstacles wants/needs | measures of success | obstacles
  88. 88. curiositywhy? why is it the way it is? mikebaird flickr
  89. 89. playexplore the possible Stuart Brown, Play is More than Fun
  90. 90. conversationsmixing different voices with your ownThe family is shaped by the direction in which it points its conversation. It can focus on itsmemories and basically keep on saying: “this is the way we are, this is what the differentmembers of the family have done and are doing.” Or it may treat itself as a base from which itsmembers set out to explore the outside world, and to which they return with something new tosay, so that conversation is constantly enriched by outside as well as inside happenings. Webecome the prisoners of our families, our genes, our memories, only if we wish to be prisoners. Itis by conversations with others, by mixing different voices with our own, that we can turn ourindividual life into an original work of art.– Theodore Zeldin, Conversation
  91. 91. artmake objects that talk and then listen to them
  92. 92. experimentationbreak boundaries and pursue unexploredavenues of thought -ilonQua- on Gosia Janik, flickr
  93. 93. experience the futureexplore life as it might be Patricia Moore, Experiencing the Future
  94. 94. asshole! (assumptions leads to judgment) man in suit sitting in chair lines and relationships (assumptions get in the way) (see past assumptions)flip focuschange the frame to change the meaning mom? (flipping focus reframes meaning) Asurroca, flickr
  95. 95. Open your eyes and focus on whatever you observed before – that plant or leaf ordandelion. Look it in the eye, until you feel it looking back at you. Feel that you arealone with it on Earth! That it is the most important thing in the universe, that itcontains all the riddle of life and death. It does! You are no longer looking, you areSEEING…– The Zen of Seeing, by Frederick Franck Neal, flickr
  96. 96. This power is in the focus. The act of observing, inand of itself, makes a difference, in the materialworld. Learning a new language, for example, isrelatively easy; its just that you have to stoppaying attention to your current language to createthe new circuits.– Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz
  97. 97. becoming aware is about learning to see pastour assumptionsour judgmentsthe lenses we use to frame the world
  98. 98. all authors need to heavily edit their work
  99. 99. Our experience quite literally is defined by our assumptions about life. We makestories about the world and to a large degree live out their plots. What our livesare like depends to great extent on the script we consciously, or more likely,unconsciously, have adopted.– Carol Pearson, The Hero Within
  100. 100. an edited backstory gives a more powerful foundation for the future story shinealight, flickr matzoball stambler, flickr Rex Pe, flickryearbook designer athlete teacher
  101. 101. if you’re not happy with your backstory, edit ituntil it provides you with the emotional weight youneed to support you on your journey Pink Sherbet Photography, flickr
  102. 102. If the writer reinvents character, he mustreinvent story. A changed character must makenew choices, take different actions, and liveanother story – his story.– Robert McKee
  103. 103. freewriting…Remember back to [youth | last year…] toa time when you were doing something fun orexciting. Don’t think. Just write for 5 minuteswithout taking your hands of the keyboard.
  104. 104. to wrap
  105. 105. When organizations, causes, brands or individualsidentify and develop acore story,they create and display authentic meaning andpurpose that others can believe in, participate with,and share. This is the basis for cultural and socialchange.– Pamela Rutledge
  106. 106. each piece of art* you create along yourjourneyenlarges your realityenlarges the reality of your audience (calling their belief systems into question)infuses itself into the myths that shape our understanding of the world*podcast, blog post, tweet, story, presentation, meeting, infographic, conversation, workshop, garden…
  107. 107. that’s why Plato tried to have storytellers expelledas dangerous people who wrap seductive, emotionally charged ideas in story
  108. 108. if you focus on your hero’s characterlearning to see& discover a controlling idea for your life storypurpose & meaningthe plot will write itself
  109. 109. the hero is already within youstop waiting. start writing.
  110. 110. NOW compound interest simple interest
  111. 111. writer’s block?just start!(remember, shitty first drafts)
  112. 112. Treat it like an adventure. An adventureworth sharing.@gapingvoid your life story
  113. 113. the hero is within you by learning to see you become author of your life story you will encounter dragons each dragon you slay creates meaningful changeto recap with purpose powering you you push forward on your quest one shitty first draft at a time you won’t be alone because purpose attracts creating change
  114. 114. The Hero with a Thousand Faces & The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell Getting Things Done When You Are Not In Charge, Geoffrey Bellman Your Brain at Work, David Rock Story, Robert McKee Art & Fear, David Bayles & Ted Orland Life is a Verb, Patti Digh The Story Factor, Annette Simmons @gapingvoid Tell to Win, Peter Grubercredits Start with Why, Simon Sinek The Power of Story, Jim Loehr Awareness, Anthony De Mello Stephen King, On Writing Bird by Bird, Ann Lamott Seth Godin, Linchpin Switch, Dan & Chip Heath Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander Influencer: The Power to Change Everything, Kerry Patterson First Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, Robert Kegan & Lisa Lahey
  115. 115. @joyce_hostyn jhostyn@opentext.comstay in touch