Category Archives: story telling

Rejecting Story Creation in Life

It is very much mainstream thinking these days that during our lives, we create our own stories. We should feel free to make these stories more engaging. After all, that is all that will be left of us after it is all over. The assumption is that living this way is in some way superior to not creating a living story.

Galen Strawson challenges this assumption. He argues that story based living is not a universal experience and should never be thought of that way. At least some people would prefer to live without piecing together the strands of their experiences into a grand or even less than grand narrative.

Galen is a philosopher and he poses his challenge on that level. I will think about it more in terms of strategic thinking. There is a point here — imposing a story on a series of events and trying to order future events around that story is dangerous. This  has blinded many people to the consequences of their actions. Images of the great and mighty in their “proud towers” just before the first world war come to mind.  They did not see the enormous consequences of the decisions that they took so casually. Those consequences did not fit into their story lines.

In other words, strategic thinking leaves open the possibility that our stories  do not fit reality as it unfolds. We test our assumptions rather than simply accept the story as it is.

At the same time, things do happen for reasons much of the time, if not all of the time. And if there are reasons for events, there is causation. And causation is the germ of story creation.

For many days, nothing happened. And then one day something happened. Why did it happen? No one was sure at the time. What did it mean? We would find out.

One relies on strategic thinking to cope in this setting. And for that reason, I would be cautious about turning off story based thinking as a life strategy.

Have You Done the Ten Bulls Meditation?

The Ten Bulls is a very old series of scenes. I first bumped into them during my university days, when I picked up the book “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones”.  At that time, I was just getting started thinking about zen. Why did I reach out for it? I suppose that I felt a lack of perspective in my life. I was searching for something. But I did not really know what it was.

The other short stories or fables in the book are nice, but the ten bulls  stuck in my mind for over forty years. I have found myself remembering certain images or lines from the poems, especially in times of intense emotion.

This is what you find from Wikipedia

Ten Bulls or Ten Ox Herding Pictures (十牛; Japanese: jūgyū, Chinese: shíniú) is a series of short poems and accompanying pictures used in the Zen tradition to illustrate the stages of a practitioner’s progression towards the purification of the mind and enlightenment,[web 1] as well as his or her subsequent return into the world while acting out of wisdom.

I did not really understand them at first. They were just beautiful. And I was skeptical that one could use them to gain transcendence and enlightenment. It was just too easy. But they were certainly about transcendence, and that itself was intensely interesting for me. I needed to transcend aspects of my life that I felt held me back.

BTW, you can access the entire Ten Bulls on the web. Here is one link — in fact, there are quite a few.

Over time, I began to realize that for a western mind, the ten bulls is less about achieving transcendence than about experiencing the path that life offers — if you are open to it. In other words, the goal is not to be always in the tenth, most enlightened state (an ego trip). It is instead, to appreciate each step as a story in itself. Doing that allows you, in a sense, to transcend the ten bulls. In this sense, the ten bulls is like any work of art.

You can build appreciation for the ten bulls journey rather easily. Read the stories and absorb them unto your memory. Then each day, sit and close your eyes. Either ask someone to read each poem to you —allowing a space of ten breaths between each. Or, better yet, speak out loud what you think about this particular adventure.

Each time you do this, you will find that it is easier to get beyond yourself. The self is enhanced therefore by feeling connected to a larger reality.

Give it a try!

StoryTelling Workshops

the starting point for great strategy is in narrative. That is because without narrative, there is no movement. Without movement, there is no future.

But how do we see and build narratives that produce great strategy? We must become story tellers. Not professional novelists. But professionals at living out the stories that we create.

Where to get started? We get started by understanding some basics about life stories. Here is one link that discusses this important theme. I will be collecting more. I use this as an anchor for the first section of my strategic thinking curriculum.

Learning from the Kardashians

I am not a big fan of the Kardashian family. They embody something that I find a bit repulsive. The urge for celebrity without achievement. And by achievement, I mean achieving something that adds value to others. Instead, the Kardashians seem very happy to focus on using media to add value to themselves. This, I find to be manipulation.

But ok. One has to admit that they are pretty good at what they do. Mathew Ingram points this out. And I would add one point more. They are not afraid to be different. Indeed, their entire act is to stand out from the crowd. To be noticed.

Most of us don’t do this. In fact, I know very, very smart people who have a phobia about being different. And yet, they are unique despite themselves. And this uniqueness is something we cultivate when we start thinking strategically about our lives.

Here is the thing: pursuing uniqueness is an attitude. You need to cultivate it. The more your do that, the better you get at it and the more unique you become. To be more precise, you are already unique. With practice, you will be more in tune with those special qualities. You will feel more confident that they give you meaning in life. And unlike the Kardashionas, you can use that to add value to others. Not just become a celebrity.

That Pesky Self Again!

Are you a person who worries about yourself? Apparently, you are not alone. Research suggests that humans spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about themselves. It is mostly ego related. Am I who I should be+ Am I a success? And on and on.

Here is a post, for example, that suggests you look even closer to get a more “accurate” self-assessment. What is wrong here? Simple. The self is not the main event in life. The self is only part of a larger story. And the more you focus on the self, the more you miss that larger story.

The real challenge is to fit the self into fantastic stories that are unfolding that you want to be remembered for playing a part in. That is a strategic challenge. And that is what this strategic model does with the self. BTW, one section of the course is devoted to “self” or “identity” issues. Interested? Let me know.

We Do Not Need Perfection!

The ultimate strategy leads us headlong into a great story. Which, of course, means that we need to be able to recognize what goes into a great story. We need to be able to create these things.

So how to do that? Well, one thing should be kept in mind. Stories are not about the ending of the story. The great triumph. They are not about perfection. They are about the process of getting somewhere. Presentation Zen brings this out in discussing the storytelling platform “The Moth”. It is worth reading.

What is the Starting Point?

One of the most far reaching insights that I have  had is that experience and interpretation of experience occur separately. In other words, we live at least 2 lives at the same time, experiencing things and making sense of what happens as it happens.  And we are only episodically aware of these parallel tracks. This is why we do not remember what actually happens. We remember our interpretation of that experience.

This is what makes the idea of “goals” so fascinating.  We formulate goals as matters of interpretation. We believe that achieving a goal will make our experiences in the future somehow better. And this is necessary to find meaning in life. But there is a hitch here as well. Experiencing the achievement of a goal is not the same thing as loving the pursuit of the goal. Winning is a different experience than wanting to win. This can lead to some frustration.

There is a way out. Goals are great as benchmarks. But they are just starting points for the story that follows. And the challenge to finding meaning in life is to become sensitive to making those stories great. That doesn’t just happen on its own. We have to make it happen. And that is the heart of great strategy.