We need new moves to move our people

The fall of Babylon; Cyrus the Great defeating the Chaldean

The need for story and embodiment in leadership training and development

In a VUCA world that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, where change is increasing exponentially, people feel overwhelmed, unsafe and resistant to more change. Their brains react with threat responses: wanting either to fight (I will not comply), flee (I will avoid it) or freeze (I don’t know what to do), and so we disconnect (Leave me alone).

Yet as organisational development practitioner, coach, change manager, leader and facilitator, you know that shift is not just inevitable, it is desirable. How do you get your people to shift with the shifting times?

In order to thrive in such a world we need to be more adaptive, innovative, engaged and integrated. To achieve this, the brain must function optimally, not in survival mode but in creative mode.

Yet audiences, trainees, participants and teams have become more and more distracted, demanding and opinionated. Some are resistant to new input and tired of change. Others want highly customised, personalised and individually relevant input.

We need new moves to move the people we serve.

Lectures where information is simply transmitted, like feel-good motivational talks, and games like paintball and potjiekos competitions (team cook-ups), all lack one or both of the essential ingredients for programmes that maximise the potential for shifting your clients or participants. These two essential ingredients are learning design and creative participation.

Learning design is the art of turning information into a carefully sequenced and well-crafted learning experience. Here the content does not dictate the design, but the facilitator decides how best to shape the content so that people accept it. Often stories, pictures, audio-visual stimuli, like props and videos and interactive techniques, are employed to unfold the material and enliven the presentation. Speakers, trainers and teachers who add this component to their material significantly increase the potential for shift to happen, since it creates more brain connections for participants and draws them into the ‘story in the room’ (the content presented).

Creative participation is the art of creating structures that invite participants to contribute their ideas, thoughts and actions to the material. This kind of experiential process allows participants to bring their own ingenuity to the conversation and discover tacit knowledge that they did not know they had. Programmes and interventions that use games, interactive processes, conversations and liberating structures also greatly enhance the potential for shift, since people are able to connect their own stories to the story in the room.

With the explosion of the internet, everyone can be an expert, everyone can personalise and customise their programmes, profiles and preferences and everyone can choose what information they want to allow in their headspace. In addition, given the shaky state of world economies and the uncertainty created by political shifts and health threats, people are increasingly weary of solutions that would waste money or cause more uncertainty.


Old-fashioned lecturing does not work any more. On the one hand, lectures are content-driven and the content dictates the design and flow of the presentation. On the other hand, the content tries to be a one-size-fits-all solution that is not customisable and adaptable for every individual particularity. Furthermore, lectures do not leverage the power of human connection and emotion as a way to drive messages home and make them ‘stickable’.


Motivational speakers liven up presentations by turning them into more of a show. Through showmanship they artfully present their content using stories, emotion and clever presentational gimmicks like props, visual aids and performance skills. In addition, motivational speakers are high-impact but low in time investment. And while the really good speakers are expensive for the time they put in, a once-off payment is still cheaper than a process that unfolds over time and consumes both time and money.

Yet traditional motivational speakers cannot bring about shift that lasts. They get a high rating from people attending their talks, but a very low rating in terms of creating real shift. What is lacking is the ability to help people connect their own individual stories to the story in the room. A grand show still offers a one-size-fits-all solution that cannot shift the individual. Many may enjoy it, but only 5% will experience something like shift.


Team-building exercises and gamification programmes step into this gap by offering game-like solutions. A game is not meaning-driven, it is structure-driven. Within the confines of the game, people have some control to manipulate the rules to their advantage. A game can be individualised. A physical game, like soccer, is also good for connecting people and building relationships, something that often enhances emotional connection by awakening competitiveness or by leveraging people’s feeling of belonging. However, unless games are structured around meaning that can bring about change, people often leave a team-building experience feeling ‘warm and fuzzy’ but without a lasting shift that will be seen in the workplace.


If lectures, shows and games do not offer lasting solutions that can bring about shift, there must be a fourth option – and that is a solution we simply term Shift. For Shift to occur the talk, workshop or intervention must both be designed for learning to happen and involve participants’ creative participation. This means there is maximum potential for understanding the material as well as for participants to apply it to their own contexts and contribute to creating meaning and significance.

When you want to increase the potential for Shift to happen, story-strategy helps you retain perspective of the big picture while improvisation skills help you navigate your actions in the moment. Between the two, you create the conditions for Shift in the lives of your team members, workshop participants, customers, employees and, of course, yourself.

Join the next Strategic Narrative Embodiment training course

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The heart of Strategic Narrative Embodiment (SNE)

September Muse Letter

There is a war going on – a war for your heart and your soul, for mine. A bit melodramatic?

I wake up in the morning with an unreasonable fear lodged in my chest. What if I lose? Lose what, I ask myself?

  • The battle against boredom and overwork.
  • The fight to stay fit and healthy when all I want is another doughnut and a good long sit in the sun.
  • The struggle against loneliness, as I long to be with my family but despise them for crowding my headspace.
  • The strife I feel when trying to get friends to come over – do I even have friends? And then the fear that they won’t enjoy it here; so why bother?
  • The war against entropy, in my money matters, my house, my garden, my paperwork, when at the same time I would rather turn a blind eye and read another novel.

I am not one of those people caught up in the rat race: I refuse! I have been there and bought into all its frenzy, and I didn’t get the big house and the two cars, the housekeeper and the swimming pool.

In fact, my rat race brought my family and me to the brink of bankruptcy as we ploughed all our resources into ‘making it’ and failed.

Now that both my husband and I have jobs in education – with a good enough income to survive, but not to get rich, or even get ahead – ­we are much happier and have much more time for our kids, each other, the garden, the house, the friends, and the paperwork.


  • We long for action.
  • We yearn for significance.
  • We pine for the opportunity to express our innermost selves.
  • We wish with all our hearts that someone else would wash the dishes, do the garden, organise our papers.

We now have the time, but no motivation to do all the things on the list. So, and I will only speak for myself here, I sit around wishing for action, for someone to come visit, for some external impetus to get me off my butt to go, go, go! Of course the moment the impetus comes I resent it for stealing my peace and dictating my responses. When is sitting in the sun ‘being mindful’ mad when is it laziness? When is being present with my children healthy and when is it an excuse not to engage with something else?

How much more divided can I get?

This is the war that is destroying my heart and soul.

Inside the race, I feel controlled, diminished and taken advantage of. Outside it I feel useless, insignificant and without value.

Where is the third side of this coin?

That is the essence of my quest through war-torn territories: the search for the third side of the coin – not just in this current struggle, but in all struggles that seem so two dimensional, so binary, so colourless:

Does this mean we should take up more colourful and complex struggles like the one between the students and the government with the Universities and the parents and the whole of South Africa’s history in between?  The same one that colours all organisational and leadership interactions, whether we know it or not: the struggle between those who have and who can and those who have not and can’t – along with all the colours of our rainbow nation getting involved in the mess?

I think so.

This is the heart of the SNE lens: between the strategic plan and embodied reality, you find the narrative, the story, which can integrate opposites, transform ambiguities, dance with contradictions. Between the head that plans and the hands that act, lies this treacherous landscape of the heart, the landscape of stories. Stories long to heal the broken heart. They yearn to bridge the chasms between warring opposites and mend the rifts between binary dichotomies.

Join me on this quest to mend broken hearts – especially those broken by the race for more money, opportunity and power.

Meet me at the next Pig Catching session to help process the grief of your broken heart.

Date:     7 OCt 2016
Time:    7am for 7:15 to 10am Pig Catching
10:30-12:30 Research conversation or maybe we simply continue with the session. NOTE: We will start at 7:15 sharp to make the most of our time.
Facilitator: Petro Janse van Vuuren
Cost: R250
Venue: 305 Long Ave Ferndale
Dress: Comfortable clothes you can stretch and move in
Refreshments: Coffee, tea, muffins and fruit on arrival.
RSVP: by  Wed 5 Oct.

Other Pig Catching dates this year:
9 Dec
Please diarise!

Join our group on Facebook<http://playingmantis.us10.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=bd2144f97d4741293f68d899e&id=5904ae36ee&e=ef28aa4955>:

Bring your curiosity, your open minds and your questions.

About Pig Catching:

Pig catching is what coaches and facilitators do when we chase the moment of insight that brings shift and transformation in our clients.

Please note: No pigs get harmed, our pigs are purely metaphorical and they have wings.

S.T.O.R.I… – A strategy using story principles for Trainers and Facilitators

AIN BannerWhile both improvisation and facilitation works best when the process and the outcome is open-ended, this does not mean it cannot be structured. How many times have you heard a facilitator or trainer say ‘trust the process’. One of the most important reasons for this trust is that, if the right ingredients are in the room, insight, transformation and learning is inevitable.

The S.T.O.R.I… model summarizes these necessary elements and demystifies the enigma of the process.

In recent years much has been written about the structure of myth. If you have read the Bible, or studied Greek mythology, or heard fairy tales from your grandmother, studied some Shakespeare at school, or just seen a few Hollywood films, you would recognize this structure right away. It is the dramatic structure underlying almost all stories and serves the purpose of taking the main character in the story on a journey of self discovery and personal growth.  Through identification with the hero the reader or spectator can learn about life. And gain understanding into their own journey.

If you use these same elements, your trainees or workshop participants can also undergo their own journey as you structure the learning process according to these principles. But just in case you think this will be a revelation, you will probably see that your process already follows this structure. That is because the structure of myth simply follows the pattern through which the human brain naturally opens up to new ideas.  Your trusted process works because these elements were probably already there. Only now you can identify them and be more intentional in planning them.

Below is a summary of the story stages.

In the mean time, if you are coming to the Applied Improvisation Network’s annual conference; we will be working with this model and the principles of Applied Improvisation to present to you a three day Train the Trainer workshop so you too can add more interaction, creativity and ZING when you train and facilitate.

Here the S.T.O.R.I… model

S       Situation and a Summons—Call to Adventure

Every participant comes into your training room with his/her own current reality or situation. Your workshop in some way has promised them something that can get them unstuck or propel them forward. It presents to them a summons. Every trusted process helps people see their current situation in a new light so that they feel summoned to new possibilities.

T       Threshold full of Terrors—Facing the guardians

And just as they begin to play and engage, they become fearful of what others may think, or of what would happen if they made a mistake. Especially in Applied Improvisation, the facilitator needs to take great care in creating a safe to fail space so that these giants of inhibition and fear can be vanquished. Trusted processes involve various exercises and techniques that help people feel safe with each other and the facilitator.

     Obstacles and OBSTACLES—The Journey

Every trusted training process involves games and exercises that stretch participants beyond what is comfortable. They provide tests and trials, or challenges that develop skill and insight. Yet these are only the obstacles (no capital letters). Yet all these activities are metaphors for the OBSTACLES (capital letters). These are the mindsets and paradigms that keep participants from breaking into new ways of thinking and doing. The trusted process seems simple on the outside, but brings participants to the brink of self transformation.

R       Reward and Return—Committing to face the reverent

When participants break through their paradigms, they typically come face to face with their own restrictive mindsets, their nemesis. Successful recognition of these brings reward and awakens a need in participants to commit to something new. The trusted process builds into it some kind of reward system and opportunity for people to make personal commitments. These serve to motivate them to return to their current realities where the old mindsets might rise again like reverent ghosts returning to haunt them.

      Integrating a new Identity—Transforming your world

No process is complete unless it supplies a follow up programme that can support people back in their work-life contexts to remember what they experienced during their adventure with you. All participants need support to integrate their learning into their way of being, their identities.

‘…‘   And the story never ends

Then just as you worry that only one or two people from your workshop really shifts, or that a single 3 hour training programme cannot possibly accomplish such deep transformation, you remember that the story never ends. While you can design and structure your workshop as a story, each participant is on their own journey over which you have no control. Their journeys might have to take them back to a threshold to vanquish more fear giants, or to face another shadow that returns to haunt them. Your only job is to be open to where people are in their journeys and support them by designing a worthwhile adventure.

If it is not happy, it is not the ending. And if it is happy, it is a new beginning. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Catch Playing Mantis and Raymond van Driel at the Applied Improvisation Network’s annual conference in Austin Texas!!

For train the trainer workshops in South Africa, click here.

OR contact Petro in Johannesburg, Burgert in Cape Town and Raymond in the Netherlands.

For more info on The Applied Improvisation Network Click here.

For more info on the AIN conference Train the trainer workshop Click here.



Relational resistance: Why should they trust you?

Demonstrating the magic

Picture of the lion Aslan

So, you have painted a picture of the possibility and opened a gap between the participants’ or client’s current reality and the ideal. Out of that gap arises five types of resistance, because to get to the ideal, they will have to change. You have begun to deal with personal resistance, but now you realise that some of them do not yet trust you. Sure, they can see that it is in their interest to change. They even see that it fits their own convictions to do so, byt why should you be the one to guide them across the gap? Why you?

The only reason why Frodo was able to go on that first leg of the journey to the land of Mordor, was because Gandalf told him to do so. Why does Cinderella do what the Fairy God Mother told her to do? Because it is the Fairy Godmother who told her to do it! But how did Gandalf get Frodo to trust him? And the Fairy Godmother Cinderella? By demonstrating their magic.

Yes, it helps to rattle off an impressive CV and it helps to list your credentials, but this is not half as powerful as turning pumpkins into carriages. You see, demonstrating magic simply means, letting your audience see ordinary things in a whole new light. What they thought were mice are really white horses and what they thought was an ordinary looking ring is turned into a powerful magic heirloom.

But this alone is not enough.

The magic provided must be personalised: the more it is personalised, the more pernanently resistance will dissolve. Cinderella could not go to the ball until she wore a dress perfectly fitted to her body, in a colour most flattering to her. And Frodo could only take up the ring knowing that only a hobbit like himself, who is resistant to its power, and only an heir of Bilbo, who knows how to have empathy with the weak, could do it.

Here are three of the most used ways in which I see people help the others to trust them by revealing their magic.

1. By revealing their knowledge and expertise

2. By sharing personal experience

3. By relating to the audience’s experience

But how personalised is it?

Let’s look at them more closely.

1. Demonstrating knowledge and expertise

How many times have you heard someone say from the front of a room something like: The Harvard School of business has proved that 93 % of a certain group of people do something a certain way, but in fact it is the 7% that is left that are successful.  Then you reveal the logic behind this finding giving facts, statistics and logical argument until, like that 7% your audience also sees the light.  If they buy the logic, they will buy you.

And then they go home and their friends or partner have a counter argument, how personalised was the magic? Can they rebuff?

2. Share your personal experience

The typical story here says: in 19 so and so, I faced this or that challenge, today I stand here having overcome, these are the simple things I did, the action I took,  to make it work.

This time you were the yahoo in the story and by trial and error, you saw the light and now you can share your innovations with the audience.  your magic. Your listeners believesyou, because you are living proof.

But how do they fit your solution to their personal context and reality? IS your identification with their pain strong enough and personalised enough?

3. Relating to the audience

The template fir this technique typically goes: you know how you sometimes do x, y, z only to discover a,b,c? How many times do we have to bang our heads against this same thing?

By citing typical behaviour and experience common to all human beings, you show how your listeners themselves intuitively know that these are the steps to take in spite of the doubts and questions they may have. You can do this with great humour as you typify universal experiences and satirise people’s common reactions.  . Again you have shown yourself to be the one to trust because you know them and you can even clarify their own muddled experience and make sense of it.

The better they can see themselves in your story and relate it to their own, the better the chances are that you have won them over for good. But what if you get it wrong?

I have to admit, I struggle with this one often, especially if I am not face to face to the audience, but writing a sales page for a training or coaching product. Speaking the language of the listener (client) is often the most tricky for me. This is because,  I do not blieve I have the right to presume anything about another person before checking with them about where they are. Too much helpful advise is given by people who have not listened to where the client is at. All the above methods are top down ways of working and might come across as patronising and self aggrandising. For starters, at the very least let someone else give your CV, not yourself. CV’s are important, they give context and gravity to who you are and help to build trust, but not if you have to deliver them yourself.

Far more important, though, is to allow the participants to try out your magic for themselves. Yes, tell them where it comes from and what your own background contributed to it, and then let them apply it to their own situation. The singularly most effective way to do this is to let them try it out.  Devise a taster of the tool, model or ideas to help them experience and make sense of it for themselves. Once you have done this, let then talk about it with their friends. A central principle of this way of working is SHOW, don’t TELL. Let them do the telling and so convince themselves that what you are offering fit their needs exactly. They have tried it, it works, you are not a liar and can therefore be trusted.

A story example

There is a powerful scene in C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ where the lion and mentor Aslan tell Peter that he will be a king. Peter does not trust Aslan in this. He says that he could not possibly be  a king, that Aslan must be mistaken. Aslan does not know how much of a coward he, Peter, is, Aslan does not really understand him, Peter, at all. While they are still talking an enemy wolf attacks Peter’s sisters, Lucy and Susan. Peter runs to attack the wolf and his friends want to assist him, but Aslan holds them back saying “This is his fight”. He allows Peter to fight with the wolf and kill him overcoming his own doubt.

Of course Aslan does not send Peter into the battle without a sword, but it is in using the sword that Peter makes it his own – in fighting his own battle, that he overcomes his doubt in Aslan.

However, it is not always possible to introduce the magic and personalise it in the same breath. Sometimes people need another step to know this will work for them. This is when they ask: “Who else is using this? Are there others like me who is also doing this or trying this out?” This is essentially a question about the ‘tribe’ that I will be part of when I buy in to these tools, ideas or models. More on this in the next installment answering the question: Who is in this with me?

Why a ‘just fine’ facilitation is not good enough – and how to get it unstuck

Solitary Confinement Cell door
Stories teach us about five types of resistance that a storyteller must take the main character through in order for him or her to transform. If you want to turn a frog into a prince, and not just dress the frog up in princely garb, you must guide that frog through. And your strongest ally in this journey is information. People need information – five types of information, matching the five types of resistance:

1. Personal Resistance – Why me? How is this relevant to me?

2. Relational Resistance – Why you? Why would you know how to help me?

3. Social Resistance – Who is in this with me? Do I belong with them and they with me?

4.  Practical Resistance – How is this going to work? What is the process and the strategy?

5. Cosmic Resistance – What happens when things don’t work out as planned? If it or I fail?

When you are the speaker, facilitator or coach, you are the story weaver and your client or audience is the princely frog.

I spoke this morning at the Knowledge Resources Organisational Development Conference about these five types of resistance. I devised an ingenious interactive process to illustrate it and cleverly used The Shawshank Redemption and The Great Escape as metaphors for breaking through (or out of ) the prison of resistance.

But it bombed.

No, it did not bomb, it actually went just fine, but it did not wow the way I dreamed it would (being so clever and all J). ‘Just fine’ is just not good enough.

Why did it not work?

At first I thought it was because I failed to get two thirds of the audience over the first kind of resistance. Read the rest of this article on my personal blog.

Improvisation class 5 – Stories

By Luci and Burgert

The focus of last nights class was story.
As the participants trickled in and we moved our chairs into the habitual circle De Wet shed a little natural light on his story by telling us about his drumming days with a band called Jesse Jordan. I googled “Jesse Jordan Band” this morning…they are on Wikipedia. I am impressed. On their album “Flipside” ( were you still with them when they released this one De Wet?) there is a song titled “ There goes my mind”. This track title has inspired this morning’s blog.

As mentioned, the theme for last night was “ Story” . Normally when people think of stories or re telling stories they make an effort to alert their mind that mental files will need to be pulled up ASAP and that no dawdling or “ absentmindedness will be tolerated. The internal judges stand at the gates like rodeo cowboys ready to bring in that wild idea before it sees the light of day…

This process is not conducive to the spirit of Improvisation. As you step onto the stage with someone… say these words…” There goes my mind”, and then, you play…

Herewith a short list with descriptions of games we played:

Todododo – a word association game with a rhythm.
Word association – simple word associations around the circle
Random sentences – One player thinks of 4 random sentences that another must relate together in a story.
Automatic story – one player has to ask yes/no questions about the storyline of an unknown story that the other player has in mind. What the questioning player doesn’t know is that the person answering the questions is only saying yes to questions starting with a vowel and no to questions starting with a consonant.
What happens next? – In this game one player stands in the middle of the circle and acts out a story that the rest of the group make up one sentence at a time. After each sentence the player asks “What happens next?”
Voices from the grave – 3 Players tell a story of how they all died at the same place at the same time.

Voices from the grave may sound somber and at times the subject matter does twirl on the dark side but it is a wonderful tool for “co creating” a new reality.
Cindy gave an Oscar worthy performance as the disgruntled blind nurse, whilst Manuela provided a critically praise worthy portrayal of a depressed psycho therapist at the end of her tether. Charl gave, excuse the pun, “life” , to the chirpy car salesman and together these three caused for immense entertainment with the rest of the group…thanks for sharing what’s left when your mind goes…

Key concepts:

Free association: Free associated ideas create the material from which a story can be constructed.
Reincorporation: Reincorporation is the recycling or re-using of ideas or situations from earlier in the story. By reincorporating ideas and situations you make sense of the random ideas generated by free association.
Platform: The who, what and where of a scene. Success of a scene often depends on a solid and clear platform.
Breaking routine: A good story that will engage an audience is a series of routines that are broken creating new routines.

More thoughts on story:

Stories are how we make sense of the world. We link random events together to form stories. This is a great skill, but it also has a dark side. The dark side is that we make up stories about ourselves and others that are not the truth. Then we tell ourselves these stories over and over until we believe them to be true. Here is an example of how this happened on a flight from Dubai to Amsterdam. Last year Luci and I went to Amsterdam to present our Improv cooking for couples workshop at the Applied Improvisation Network conference. During our flight from Dubai there were a few men of Middle Eastern appearance standing around in the open space by the bathroom. They were talking and the one young guy looked somewhat nervous. Luci saw them and started making up a story in her head about the men being terrorists and that they were going to hijack the aeroplane. She became very nervous and couldn’t focus on the movie that we were watching. I saw this and asked her what was going on. She showed me the men and told me what she thought they were up to. I told her that what she just told me was mostly a story and that the likely hood of the men being terrorists was very small. So I asked her what other story she could construct about the men that could also be the truth and that was not so scary. So she made up a story about the nervous looking young man that was on his way to get married and that the other men were there to support him. This story calmed her down and made her smile, and we could enjoy the rest of the movie. Who knows what the real story was. The fact is most of our experiences are only stories that our brains construct by linking random facts together. It is important to be aware of this function of the brain. The brain does this as it does not like uncertainty so it would rather create a story to create some form of certainty. However as soon as we start believing the stories our brains make up we become less present and unable to notice facts that do not support our stories. Being aware of this function of the brain is very useful. Firstly, next time your brain starts to make up a story you can be aware of it and just notice that it is your brain making up a story and stay present to notice the truth of the moment. Secondly, you can use your brain’s ability to make up stories to create very entertaining improvised performances.

See you all next week!

Improv Class 5 – Make up your own story

Story was the focus of this week’s class. We started the class with an exercise from Imago Relationship Therapy. In this exercise each participant gets the opportunity to say in a few sentences what they need to say to be fully present. One of the others must then mirror that persons exact words back to them. The exercise is not so much about saying what you need to say to be present, but being listened to fully without judgement. When we listen to people like this we help them to become fully present. In essence what we are doing is accepting them and showing them that they are welcome and worth being listened to.

The next exercise was a game call Todododo in which we had to make word associations keeping a rhythm. This illustrates how much easier it is to come up with ideas if you stop trying so hard. This is why in Improv we say “be average”. If you stop trying to be perfect and get everything right , it helps to lower anxiety and your brain can relax and function better so that your creativity can surface. After that we played another word association game in which we just made associations around the circle. This game illustrated how our minds automatically make links between random words. In the next game everyone paired up with one other person. The one had to come up with 4 unrelated sentences that the other had to connect together to create a story. Relating random events together is what makes a story. At first it sounds like a difficult task but as I mentioned earlier the brain does it automatically. Our brains are wired that way. Relating events together and making up stories is how we make sense of the world.

Then we played Automatic Story. In this game one player has to ask yes/no questions about the storyline of an unknown story that the other player has in mind. What the questioning player doesn’t know is that the person answering the questions is only saying yes to questions starting with a vowel and no to questions starting with a consonant. The person asking the questions is therefore making up the story without knowing it. This game illustrates how easy it is to make up our own stories. Isn’t it interesting how in life we also often think that someone else is in control of our tale, while we are actually the authors of our own life stories?

The next game that we played was What happens next? In this game one player stands in the middle of the circle and acts out a story that the rest of the group make up one sentence at a time. After each sentence the player asks “What happens next?” To improvise a good story in a group there are 4 important guidelines-

• Free association: Free associated ideas create the material from which a story can be constructed.

• Reincorporation: Reincorporation is the recycling or re-using of ideas or situations from earlier in the story. By reincorporating ideas and situations you make sense of the random ideas generated by free association.

• Platform: The who, what and where of a scene. Success of a scene often depends on a solid and clear platform.

• Breaking routine: A good story that will engage an audience is a series of routines that are broken creating new routines.

I believe that if we want our lives to be good stories we must become aware of routines that are limiting us and break them and create new routines. And when the new routine starts to limit us we must break it again. Routines can be anything from a mindset, to a hab it to a physical space. The harder it is to break the routine, the higher the risk and the better the potential for a really good story.

As a footnote: Sandra Lee Schubert co – facilitated a writing program for 10 years where participants would weekly share immensely personal pieces of some aspects of their lives. In a conversation, her co-facilitators asked why they had to be so personal. She asked, “ Why not? “There is a deep, deep desire to be heard. People want to stake their claim in the landscape of story. Intimacies are shared because we want to take the power back. Why should someone else define your story?

Personal Success Story Notes

Designing a Personal Success Story for your life

One of the most powerful means for designing journeys of transformation lies in the structure of myth and story. Every story is designed so that the central character undergoes positive life change. Every other character and every event in the story works together for this purpose. In response to the transformation of the hero, his/her community and even the landscape undergo their own transformation also. It all starts with one person and his/her story.

With this in mind it becomes possible to use story structure as a way to look at your own life and see how it can help you to work with your own personal success.  Take a look at the diagram and table below as a starting point. Be mindful of the twighlight zones.

If you want to understand this better take a look at our 8 week face to face story course.

Classic story structure: diagram:

Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, or Act one, Act Two and Act Three. Yet it is the transition between the acts that are the most interesting and fruitful for change and successful transformation of the main character.

Journey diagram
Journey diagram

Classic story structure:  table (to help you with your homework)

  • The five stages of classic story structure
  • The 6 steps for developing your personal success story.

Two of the stages are italicised. This indicates what I call a “twilight zone”. They are also indicated in the diagram. A twilight zone is a crucial stage for transformation and often is neglected or fumbled because of its complex and paradoxical nature. It is in handling these stages with care and confidence that will make your story successful and stand the test of time.The table shows:

Stages of a journey Steps of personal success story
1. Call to Adventure: Who is the protagonist and in what way is he stuck in his ordinary world with no way of changing it?What opportunity arises for him to change? 1. Get a Great GoalIn what way are you feeling stuck and frustrated? What opportunity do you have to change this?Set a goal that is realistic and actionable and helps you with knowing what to do now.
Preparation for the Journey:What fears do the hero need to overcome/ doubts does he need to settle?Who (mentor) helps him with this and with what (magic tool/weapon)?How does he show his commitment to the journey? 2. Manifest your Main MotivationWhat values drives your choices and which of these support your goal? Can you link it to your identity i.e. what you believe is true of you. What other desires clash with these values?
The journey:What tests and trials does he need to face and how does he plan to overcome them?Who are his friends and who are his enemies in facing his challenges? 3. Put together a Personalised PlanWhat are the most important obstacles in the way of your reaching your goal?What plan can you put in place to help you overcome them?  E.g. restructure your space and resources and identify small habits to replace old unwanted habits.
4. Set up Social Support systemsHow can you get your friends and family to support your goal?How can you eliminate or minimise contact with people who do not support you?
Ordeal and reward:What drives him to his near downfall? How does he face and overcome his nemesis?How does he become aware of the big picture? What immediate reward does he receive for his victory? 5. Achieve Authentic AwarenessThis step is almost impossible to design. It does not always hit when you expect it and it seldom works out how you planned. When you come to a very low uncertain place, you are close to it. Yet often you can dip far lower than that first low. Most importantly, when you are there, in anger or sadness and despair, listen for the still small voice of truth inside you that reminds you of the big picture.Reap the rewards of your perseverance, of reaching your goal even if it turns out so very different from the one you set in the first place What sacrifice do you need to make so that you can focus on what really matters?.
Return home:How does he cross back into his ordinary world? (usually some ritual involved or a chase)How does he prove his sacrifice/death regarding his old ways?What new response to old problems does he model?How does this embody an elixir that heals his community and his land? 6. Turn over and travel with the tide Ritualise your new behaviour so that it can become automatic. Now go through the actions as you have planned them, draw on your support system and keep behaving yourself to success simply following the current you have created. Beware of streams that pull you off course and fight back but let yourself settle in to a new normal.

You can join our 8 week face to face story course for a fun personal success story adventure!

For those of you who had joined one of our Personal Success Story workshops, here is a question to engage with in comments to this blog:

Share with one another what sacrifice you may have to make to reach success? In what way does this relate to the sacrifice your character had to make in the story?

Your success depends on your willingness to go on a journey and make sacrifices for what is truly important to you.

Keep Them Safe Stage 3, part 2 –The journey continues

KTS kids cleaning up Jonkershoek
KTS kids cleaning up Jonkershoek


kids not only had to be convinced to come. They also had to be convinced to stay.

And so, even though they adapted and improvised on the fly,  PITCH teams stuck to the broad outline of the programme because it was designed with this purpose in mind. Kids were motivated by a go cart rally, an arts project, a performing arts competition and a sports day.All these were carefully timed and the weekly programme specifically shaped to keep building the dramatic tension that would keep everyone interested until the very end…

The Perfect PITCH  programme was its own perfect pitch. Once kids got caught up in the excitement, there was no falling back.

This article gives a broad overview of the entire 4 week programme as the central 3 stages of the journey for the kids in the Keep Them Safe holiday project.  These stages are:

Stage 2: Preparing for the Journey

Stage 3: The Journey itself

Stage 4: Ordeal and Reward

To recap: Every journey that you design for the purpose of transforming people will have 5 stages. And most projects like this one will include at tleast 2 such 5 stage journeys. At some point these 2 journeys will begin to overlap.

For us in the KTS project, the 2 journeys would begin to overlap as soon as the second journey also hit the third stage: the journey itself.

The KTS project focussed on 5 areas of activity:

  1. Sport
  2. Entrepeneurship
  3. Arts and Carafts
  4. Performing Arts and
  5. Compassion days

The first 4 areas were running as workshops on Mondays, Tuesdays Thursdays and Fridays. Kids could choose which workshop they wanted to join. These were aimed mostly at older kids and youth, but eventually everyone took part, since there was not enough of the older ones to go around.

On Wednesdays everyone would do compassion day. This meant that they would go out to serve their own community in some way: visiting the elderly and ill, cleaning up the park, planting trees or painting a building or play equipment.

 Appart from compassion days, every workshop was designed as a journey to keep kids engaged. All of them followed the same basic pattern:

Week 1 Prepare for the workshop activities

Weeks 2 and 3: challenges and events

Week 4 Final competitions and reward ceremony.

Week 1: Rotating workshops

To help kids overcome their doubts and fears, the first week was set up so that they could do a different workshop every day. This way they had a whole week to decide where they wanted to commit for the rest of the programme.  They could get to know each facilitator and the requirements for each workshop so that they could find their place. They would receive an introductory experience that would prepare them for what was to come…

Weeks 2 and 3 were designed to keep everyone engaged. An exciting goal was set for each week end to focus the energy and keep them amped.

Week 2: Go Cart Rally

The adults’ journey began when they first began to raise awareness in their communities for the kids by organising pre holiday events (see previous posts). As the kids’ journey kicked in everyone was now in the same stage of the adventure.

At the end of week 2 on Saturday 26 June we hosted a great go cart rally. Every community built their own cart, decorated it and found businesses to sponsor them. They created cheerleader outfits from recyclable material and worked out some cheers to egg on their teams. Almost 100 people from every community were transported to a central place in Jonkershoek Stellenbosch.

They were judged on the number of laps they completed in 45 min, the presentation of their cart and stand, their cheer leaders and their general team spirit.

Week 3: Community Arts productions

At the end of week 3 a 30 min performing arts production had to be completed and performed to the parents as a dress rehearsal. At the same time, a 1.5 by 2 meter canvas had to be finished with art and graffiti around a particular theme.

To re-focus all the energy from go carts to arts, we sent guest facilitators in to look at what the groups have been doing and help them improve their standard. This proved an essential ingredient. Without it I am not sure all the communities would have had a product to show. This strategy was planned as a ‘fairy godmother’ strategy. The mentor appears to help the hero over a slump. This kept all engaged and focussed for another week.

Everyone now faced the Ordeal and Reward of week 4., the last week of the programme.

Keep Them Safe Stage 2 – Preparing for the Journey

KTS leaders regrouping at a team building session
KTS leaders regrouping at a team building session


internal doubts plagued them.  The task was a mammoth one and few felt they could make a difference by themselves. Where would they find the time and money? They weren’t trained for this kind of thing? How will they ever be able to keep it up and sustain such an output?

Because of this the Stb municipality, TUG and the Asset Builders Network joined together to run the Keep them Safe project. Its aim: to equip community leaders for the task of running their own holiday programme for kids during the Fifa World Cup.

And so the backbone team, workshop leaders and pitch teams embark on the enormous task of organising 12 holiday programmes in 12 communities across Stellenbosch. 200 adults 10 000 kids and young people. Their first task: to test their abilities by organising one Compassion Day Programme before the actual programme kicks off.

Peter Block author of Community – the Art of Belonging, teaches the importance of allowing people to raise and share their doubts and reservations. Unless room is given for people to identify and share their concerns and fears, they are unable to move beyond getting excited about something and taking action to make that thing happen.

Doubts and reservations should always be allowed into the space and accepted for what they are. Sales people will also know that if you can accept and work with the potential buyer’s reservations and objections, you are more likely to make a sale.

This marks the first of three elements that make up Stage 2 of the story:

Preparing for the Journey

  1. Refusal of the call: When the internal doubts and reservations are too strong and the protagonist does not feel like he/she has what it takes.
  2. Meeting the Mentor: The introduction of a guide that sees the potential in the protagonist and is willing to offer training and mentorship that would enable them to meet the challenge.
  3. Crossing the Threshold: Protagonist must perform a clear action that proves his/her commitment to the adventure.

As the protagonist sorts out his fears, objections and doubts, he becomes more and more ready to make a commitment or not. While many questions were answered during one on one conversations, we also formalised this stage at our Taster launch. We divided the group according to their area of interest: Performing Arts, Arts and Crafts, Entrepenurship, Sports, Education and Community Wellness.

Next we facilitated in each of those groups a conversation around doubts and reservations as well as the solutions the group could come up with together to address those problems.

We knew that if the questions are not heard and answers do not satisfy, the commitment is not there. In the same breath, if those doubts remain after your utmost attempts to overcome them, you do not want the person’s commitment anymore, because their heart is somewhere else. Let me explain.

For Keep them Safe we had two main objections: Where will the resources come from? How are you going to ensure sustainability?

Our answer to both was the same: How can you help us with this problem? Those who could not volunteer their time, see where they could find resources or did not see themselves  commit to the dream long-term, were not the right people for the job.

In fact, our entire strategy focussed on balancing the dream with the cost.

IF the potential partner buys the dream, they will pay the price. This was also our sustainability plan: If a community could find the resources (time, money, skills, equipment etc) within themselves they will be independent from outside funding and resources and therefore will be able to find it time and time again for every holiday programme to come. Their independence makes it sustainable.

Now make no mistake, many said ‘we are from a poor community, we have nothing to offer’ and we would say: we will help you find what you need’. We offered training in project management, leadership and fundraising. We also offered training and support for workshops and programmes. We provided guides and mentors for every lack.

By the time Keep Them Safe was over, every community would have a trained team that would co-ordinate and run their own holiday programme with resources from their own community. We called them PITCH teams.

At our Taster launch we therefore included an entire programme of introductions where partners and organisations presented their offerings of training and support. It was a dialogue between the fears of the teams and the offerings of the guides.

Finally, we needed all teams to prove their commitment and so we issued their first challenge: within the next two months they would have to run a Compassion Day programme once in their communities. They had to identify a need within their community and organise the kids and youth to address that need with resources from within their own community – or resources that they found themselves outside the community. Again we would provide training and guidelines.

To summarise, the second stage of every story is the preparation for the journey. IF you are planning a programme or project here are the questions you need to answer:

  1. How will you air and validate your target audience’s doubts and reservations? How can you clarify the cost of the commitment?
  2. Who are the Mentors and what training can they offer? How will theymaximise the strengths of the target audience?
  3. What clear action do protagonists have to take to prove their commitment?