When I got home after receiving my lay-off notice from General Mills, I tossed my severance packet on the couch, joined my husband on the porch with a glass of wine, and started brainstorming names for the business I wanted to start.
After working on the naming challenge for about six weeks, I was telling our friend Doug Benson about my ideas and frustrations with each of them. We were loading gear onto our boat for an evening cruise and fireworks show. Doug carried a cooler on board, set it down, and said, “What about something really simple like Storlietelling?” (Storlie is my surname—a Norwegian name with a story.) In that moment, I knew I was about to plunge into a new venture. Meanwhile, our nautical adventure involved water play and a tranquil sunset. It concluded with panorama of fireworks that lit the sky and reflected in the shimmery lake.
A few weeks later, on August 1, 2012, I registered Storlietelling LLC with the State of Minnesota, marking a new beginning. Five years later, our friends joined us again for a boat cruise, sunset, and fireworks. We chuckled about Doug’s brilliance over Storlietelling. While we hadn’t planned it to be an anniversary celebration, the evening replicated our evening five years earlier and sparked reflections on the last five years—as well as the next five.
Initially, I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do; it took a while for my vision to come into focus. Many of my hopes and dreams revolved around finding more life balance—I was burnt out. I explored questions like: How might I achieve my career and financial goals through work that aligns with my passions and talents? How might I help organizations with these skills? How to make time for activities that I wanted to do more often (breaks in my workday for yoga classes, cycling, and eating lunch with my kids)? I dreamed about doing projects that would use my strategic planning and communications skills in collaborative work that taps into my creative skills. I wanted to spend time mentoring and volunteering. On the flip side, I thought of what I wanted to do less often and decided to “retire” from work that no longer energized me.
Many of my hopes and dreams for Storlietelling have come true. I spend more time on work that energizes me and less time on the work that I decided to “retire.” My work lifestyle seamlessly integrates restorative activities, like yoga and cycling, which in turn fuel my creative energy. But reality did not unfold completely according to my plan. Instead, it’s been a series of high and lows, twists and turns. Some of my explorations ran into dead ends; others yielded delightful outcomes. But overall, I’m doing what I set out to do five years ago.
Meanwhile, a new dream has come into focus: I am writing a book, with hopes of doing more work that involves story-based techniques in strategic planning, creative problem solving, and communications.
Making a Vision Actionable
The fifth anniversary of Storlietelling coincides with my preparations to participate in a panel discussion about visioning for Menttium (a corporate mentoring program, for which I volunteer). It also coincides with designing a story-based process to help a team translate their vision into a shared narrative and action steps. Both of these experiences inspire me to share a few ways in which stories can be woven into visioning.
Craft the Vision—Visioning involves tapping into both the head (left brain, logic) and heart (right brain, creativity, emotion). Iterative processes that move back and forth between right- and left-brain activities often prove useful. Stories can further enable this process by tapping into both heart and mind—and fostering connections between the two. Find a compelling story that helps people imagine a future where this vision becomes reality.
Explore the Vision with the Team—A facilitated session can help a team execute against a vision. The leader would kick off the session by introducing the vision and sharing the story. Then the leader and team collaborate to translate the vision into a shared narrative and action plans.
- Guided Imagery—Breathing exercises change energy flow and stimulate right-brain waves. Using yoga-like breathing along with a set of cues, each participant imagines him/herself in a story about a future state that is inspired by the vision. In quiet reflection after the guided imagery, participants write or draw their story.
- Snow Ball Pair and Share—Individual stories are laddered up to a Shared Narrative through successive rounds of pairing to share stories, then switching partners and joining other pairs and becoming larger groups. Key themes are captured on flip charts.
Translate Vision into Action—Complement the left-brain work of identifying the attributes and descriptors associated with the new mindset and behaviors by delving into stories that might unfold in light of this new vision. Explore stories from different perspectives: customer experience, productivity, employee satisfaction, company culture, and financial success.
- Mindset Required to Achieve Vision
- Behaviors You Will Need “More Of”
- Behaviors You Will Need “Less Of”
- Action Planning—If it’s important to your process, turn your ideas and stories into goals and action steps. Add tactics, timelines, and assignments to develop a concrete plan.
In answer to the Menttium question, I confess: as a solo practitioner, I never articulated a vision. However, I did a lot of reflecting, contemplating, researching, and journaling/doodling about my hopes and dreams. These efforts helped me set concrete goals and milestones for my business start-up. They have also helped me navigate rough waters, when I had to make tough calls.
“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight and no vision.”
― Helen Keller