The Importance of Resonance and Relevance in Storytelling

Welcome to 2023! The past few years have been quite an adventure. And what a story, or for most of us, a series of stories. But that tends to be the nature of life. Stories unfold. Sometimes with our direction, but often without our permission. Which would explain why so many people have recently told me that 2023 is the year they want to tell a personal story, one that can impact others, but they just don’t know where to start.

New Year's Day 2023, time to tell your story!

The first question that many of them ask me is: “What makes a talk memorable?” It’s not the easiest question to answer, as there are so many factors to consider when crafting and delivering a personal story. And while speaking skills are an important element, they are not the most important factors when it comes to impacting audiences. Begin your exploration here: Resonance and Relevance. Address these two words up front, in the Ideation phase.

Will the audience be interested in my topic,
and will they find my message useful?

People will listen to stories that capture their attention, when it’s a subject they want to hear about. First step is to ask yourself, “Why will the audience care?”

Don’t just think about the answer. Write it down. Make a list. That means you’ll need to know your audience. And if you’re telling your story to more than one group: general audience vs. scientists vs. academics vs. students, the answers will vary. And that’s okay. It’s a great way to discover new audiences.

Pull up a chair, it's time to tell your story!

Once you’re satisfied that your story will resonate with your audience, and you have shifted from the Ideation to the Narration phase, the body of your story needs to be relevant. Ask yourself, “What will the audience think, feel and do after they hear your story?” Each of your Story Blocks should be selected and written to accomplish your intended goals.

Will they feel inspired, have you added to their knowledge, shifted perceptions, challenged a preconceived notion, given them a new way to see themselves or the world around them? In short, is your narrative relevant to their life? What can they take away from your story that will help them going forward?

I do hope that all of you who have an impactful story to share do exactly that in 2023. Maybe it’s a keynote speech, or a talk on a TEDx stage, or maybe it’s for a local community group or at a breakfast meeting. Don’t worry about the size of the audience, as touching a single person is valuable. You never know how the impact will ripple out and touch others.

So if you have a personal story to tell, and need a bit of guidance along the way, send me a message and we’ll set up a complementary call to discuss your needs. I’ve coached hundreds of storytellers, from scientists to engineers, students and academics, creatives and business leaders, special forces and prison inmates.

Know that your story is important, and that it can change the world!

Hitting the bullseye for storytelling with impact

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Journey Jamison on The Moth Mainstage at the BAM Harvey Theater

The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.

In this story, as told by Journey Jamison, we are taken into a scene that few of have ever experienced, especially at the age of 15. But in a broader sense, I’ve heard many personal stories about how people reacted during an emergency, and you may have such a story to tell. The details that Journey provides bring audience members into her experience as the scene plays out.

But there’s also a larger story at play here, as Journey realizes how her training prepared her for that situation, and in turn, she was able to provide that same training to the victim’s family, thus bringing that wisdom full circle. Think about how story worthy experiences from your life contain such a circular narrative.

Transcript

When I was nine years old, my best friend died. We’d spent the entire day together at an amusement park and she’d been struggling to breathe. So when we got home her dad tried to get her as much help as she could, but it just wasn’t enough, and at three o’clock that morning, she died of an asthma attack.

It was always really hard for me to deal with because I’d helped her with her asthma before, and I just felt like I could have done something. So five years later, when my mother and I found ourselves at a grassroot gunshot wound first aid training, I was immediately intrigued. Now, some of you might be thinking, “Gunshot wound first aid, what?”

But I’m from Chicago, and the lack of resources in our communities makes that training so much more important. We don’t have any trauma centers on the South Side of Chicago where I’m from. So I knew the importance of this training and I paid attention. I sunk my teeth in, I got trained two months later, and I’ve been doing workshops all over the city. Yeah, I know how to apply an occlusive dressing with a credit card, but I was still just a regular teenager.

And so, the following summer, I was coming home from my very first day. I come home, I turn on the TV, I crank up the AC, just like any other day, and then I hear it. Back to back gunshots that sounded like they were right next to me, just back to back, to back. And I just thought to myself, “Is this real? Is this serious?”

You hear all the time about gun violence in Chicago, but I’d never come face to face with it like that before. So I jump in gear. I know that I have this training that I can help people, but I know that the first step to being a first aid responder is knowing that the scene is safe and prioritizing my own safety.

So I glanced out the window, and I’m staring almost like I can see through the window, and I’m like, “What is going on?” I’m seeing people who are kind of running away from a gas station and towards my apartment complex. And I knew I had the tools to help. And I never imagined going outside and putting myself in danger to help anybody.

But it turns out that I didn’t have to, because seconds later, my back door flies open, and a young man, 19 years old, comes in holding his neck. It’s bleeding. And he’s just saying over and over again, “I’ve been shot, can you help me, can you help me?” And without hesitation I just said, “Yes.”

And from that moment, it was autopilot. I lay him down on the floor. I’m asking him questions about who he is. I asked him first, “Can I call 911 for you?” ‘Cause we emphasize that a lot in our first aid trainings. That you had to ask for consent for people because they’re their own person, bodily autonomy.

So I asked him, he says, “Yes.” I get on the phone with the operator. They’re giving me a bit of a hard time, but I put my feelings aside and prioritize the safety of the wounded. They say they’re sending a person on the way. I say thank you. I go back to Peta. I’m asking him more questions about who he is, I want him to feel safe.

He tells me where he’s from – the same apartment complex that I’m from – Oakwood Shores. He tells me he wants to go to college, that he’s 19, that he’s confused. And then I kind of realize I’m taking this all in. I’m 15 years old. I’m home alone with a man who’s been shot in the neck, and I’m giving him first aid. I should probably call my mom.

So I take out my phone, and I guess you can call it a mother’s intuition, because as soon as I am about the press call, my phone rings. It’s my mom.

She’s like, “Hi Journey.”

I’m like, “Hi mom.”

She’s like, “What’s up?”

I’m like, “Mom, you are not going to believe this. There’s a man, he’s in my house, fire, gunshot wound. He’s on the floor, I’m giving him first aid.”

She’s like, “Are you serious?”

I’m like, “No mom, why would I lie about this?”

She’s like, “Okay, okay, okay.”

And I can hear the car unlocking, and the car starting up, and I’m like, “Okay, she’s on her way, good.”

So for a second there, it’s just me and Peta, and I’m trying to examine exactly what is happening. He has two wounds. An entrance wound and an exit wound. The bullet went through his neck and up through his jaw. So I’m trying to apply pressure on both sides to get his blood to clot so the bleeding can slow down.

A few seconds later, my mom comes. And you would think that she might be like, kind of hysterical, kind of crazy, but she’s not, because she’d been through the training too. And for a few moments, it’s calm. Peta is calming down, his blood is starting to clot, the bleeding is not so drastic, and it’s calm. And then somehow, some way, people start to flood into my house. Bystanders, I guess, who had seen what was going on.

And my mom, she does a great job at keeping Peta’s privacy. Keeping questions away from him so that he’s not getting more stressed out – shout out to my mom, she’s in the audience – and so we’re just kind of juggling this thing, me and my mom, we’re doing this together, I’m taking care of Peta’s body, she’s taking care of Peta’s surroundings, and then the police come.

And I feel like it’s not a secret that black and brown people are not trusting of law enforcement, quite frankly, it just makes us anxious. And my mom, she didn’t want that kind of energy in our house, she was trying to persuade them like, “There’s no crime scene here. Can you wait outside? It’s very crammed in our apartment.”

But eventually she gave up her battle when they threatened to arrest her. And so eight police officers crowd into our tiny apartment, just watching me apply pressure to this young man. And after the police come which, after the police come, after my mom gets there, the fire department finally gets there. Not the ambulance, but the fire department. So that just gives you a glimpse of what healthcare is like in Chicago. The ambulances don’t really come to our communities that fast.

So the fireman gets there and he’s coming in to check Peta’s vitals and I have my hands over his neck, and he says, “You need to take your hand away.” And I was so overwhelmed and I just had all these feelings of doubt and I just reluctantly pulled my hand away, and just as I thought would, he starts bleeding again.

And I’m just looking at the guy like And then another fire man comes in and he says, “Actually she needs to put her hand back there, you’re doing a good job. And I looked at him and I said, “Okay, I knew it.”

So I am continuing to apply pressure and keep my hand on his wound while they’re taking his vitals and preparing him to get in the ambulance. So then, a few, maybe five or six minutes later, the ambulance does come. They take him on a gurney. They take him away. And luckily my mom was able to get some information from his mentor who was there, so we could follow up with him later.

So my mom, she rushes all these people out of our house, and I go outside, and it’s so chaotic. The ambulance is there, the police is there, my neighborhood is there, the news station is there, and they’re kind of looking to me like this “Shero,” and I’m kind of very overwhelmed, and so instead of fielding questions, I took my story with me, and my experience with me, and I come back inside. I closed the door, I wash my hands, I grab my cell phone and my keys, and me and my mom get in the car. I zone out and I’m just replaying in my mind what just happened.

Then I snap out of my trance, and the car stops, and we’re at the beach. And I’m just like, “Oh my God, what is going on?” And she looks at me and she’s like, “Come on,” and I’m like, “Okay,” and we proceed to join a group of women on the sand doing yoga. And my mom just looks at me in her tree position, and she goes, “Self care.” And I was like, “Okay,” and I was just so grateful, that I had a mom who emphasized that a lot when I was growing up, and that I had the opportunity to really process what just happened in my life.

So, that happened, and then I resumed my life as a normal teenager. I go to camp. Conflict resolution camp, by the way. But I go to camp. I go to camp in Maine. And then I come back, and I’m in the car with my mom and she’s like, “Hey, I got in touch with Peta’s family, and, you know, he thinks you saved his life.”

And I never thought about it like that. For me, I was just in the right place, at the right time, with the right information, and I did the right thing. But to him, I saved his life. So that’s what it was.

So few days later, I see him. I visited him and I said, “Hey, look I know it was really cool that I was able to help you, but I was trained to do that, and I was equipped with the right tools, so how cool would it be if you were equipped with the same tools, and you can help your mom, or your brother.

And he’s like, “That sounds pretty interesting.”

And I’m like, “So do you want me to like, I can set up a training. I can set up a workshop. I’ll come to you.”

He’s like, “Aight, bet.”

So about two or three months later, we were able to train his whole entire family of about like 25 people ranging from three years old to 60 years old. And we trained his whole family in his apartment, and it was the most empowering thing for me.

And maybe some of you are saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry, this young girl had to go through that.” But it’s not something I feel embarrassed about or sad about. It was the most changing thing that I’ve ever been through. And it’s shown me the circle of change. You know, you go to school, and you learn about stories, and you learn about how there’s a plot, and that plot is like a hill, it starts the beginning, and then the rising action, and the climax, the falling action, and then the resolution.

But change, instead of it being a hill, it’s like a circle. And me training his family was this entire experience coming full circle, because I started at a training just like that one. And so maybe he could do something like I did, or I could do more things, but it was so empowering for me as a 15 year old girl to have that kind of experience.

So it changed my life for the better, and it showed me that I can change the world if I wanted to. And I guess it just kind of made me feel like I didn’t have to be afraid anymore of where I’m from and my community. I didn’t have to fear walking outside because I was empowered with the tools that I had. Sorry guys. And I thought about it, and I hear all the time, “Children are the future.”

And I’ll tell you guys, I’m a child, I’m a teenager, and it’s super intimidating. You know it’s like 400 years of slavery, an eternity of sexism, it’s intense, and you guys are like, and you guys are like, “It’s you, it’s you,” and I’m like, “Oh my God,” but this experience showed me that I don’t have to be the future, because I can be right now.

Thank you.

[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]

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Simon Anholt: Which country does the most good for the world? @ TEDSalon Berlin

I had the pleasure of attending a special TED event in 2014. TEDSalon Berlin was just a one day affair, yet it featured a number of compelling talks that served as examples of impactful stories on global issues. This post is an analysis of a talk given by Simon Anholt.

Watch Simon Anholt’s TED Talk. We all know that some countries are much more concerned with the fate of the entire world, but how can the level of a country’s goodness be measured? It seemed to be an impossible task to me, but Simon describes how it can be done, and it remains one of my favorite TED Talks.

Do you want to live in a powerful country, a rich country, a happy country, or a good country? Regardless of how you answer the question, the underlying point of this talk (in my opinion) is to encourage us to think differently about how we perceive countries around the world. Will your story shift people’s perceptions?

Transcript

(my notes in red)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the world recently and how it’s changed over the last 20, 30, 40 years. Twenty or 30 years ago, if a chicken caught a cold and sneezed and died in a remote village in East Asia, it would have been a tragedy for the chicken and its closest relatives, but I don’t think there was much possibility of us fearing a global pandemic and the deaths of millions. Twenty or 30 years ago, if a bank in North America lent too much money to some people who couldn’t afford to pay it back and the bank went bust, that was bad for the lender and bad for the borrower, but we didn’t imagine it would bring the global economic system to its knees for nearly a decade.

This is globalization. This is the miracle that has enabled us to transship our bodies and our minds and our words and our pictures and our ideas and our teaching and our learning around the planet ever faster and ever cheaper. It’s brought a lot of bad stuff, like the stuff that I just described, but it’s also brought a lot of good stuff. A lot of us are not aware of the extraordinary successes of the Millennium Development Goals, several of which have achieved their targets long before the due date. That proves that this species of humanity is capable of achieving extraordinary progress if it really acts together and it really tries hard.

But if I had to put it in a nutshell these days, I sort of feel that globalization has taken us by surprise, and we’ve been slow to respond to it. If you look at the downside of globalization, it really does seem to be sometimes overwhelming. All of the grand challenges that we face today, like climate change and human rights and demographics and terrorism and pandemics and narco-trafficking and human slavery and species loss, I could go on, we’re not making an awful lot of progress against an awful lot of those challenges.

So in a nutshell, that’s the challenge that we all face today at this interesting point in history. That’s clearly what we’ve got to do next. We’ve somehow got to get our act together and we’ve got to figure out how to globalize the solutions better so that we don’t simply become a species which is the victim of the globalization of problems.

Setting the stage is an important element of any idea-driven story. If the intent of your idea is to make things better, your story needs to describe the current state of affairs with regards to your topic. In this talk, Simon spends two minutes framing the status quo around the notion of globalization. His take is that, while it has brought us many benefits, our global society has struggled to implement solutions to critical issues.

Can you identify a key element that your story revolves around? One that will serve as a launching point for the journey you’ll be taking your audience on?

Why are we so slow at achieving these advances? What’s the reason for it? Well, there are, of course, a number of reasons, but perhaps the primary reason is because we’re still organized as a species in the same way that we were organized 200 or 300 years ago. There’s one superpower left on the planet and that is the seven billion people, the seven billion of us who cause all these problems, the same seven billion, by the way, who will resolve them all. But how are those seven billion organized? They’re still organized in 200 or so nation-states, and the nations have governments that make rules and cause us to behave in certain ways.

And that’s a pretty efficient system, but the problem is that the way that those laws are made and the way those governments think is absolutely wrong for the solution of global problems, because it all looks inwards. The politicians that we elect and the politicians we don’t elect, on the whole, have minds that microscope. They don’t have minds that telescope. They look in. They pretend, they behave, as if they believed that every country was an island that existed quite happily, independently of all the others on its own little planet in its own little solar system.

This is the problem: countries competing against each other, countries fighting against each other. This week, as any week you care to look at, you’ll find people actually trying to kill each other from country to country, but even when that’s not going on, there’s competition between countries, each one trying to shaft the next. This is clearly not a good arrangement. We clearly need to change it. We clearly need to find ways of encouraging countries to start working together a little bit better. And why won’t they do that? Why is it that our leaders still persist in looking inwards?

Simon describes one aspect of how the political systems operate by using a visual metaphor – microscope vs. telescope. The audience easily understands the difference between focusing on a cell vs. seeing the entire universe. Do you need to provide detailed explanation to make your point clear, or is there a metaphor that can accomplish the same thing in a shorter span of time? Also note how he uses questions as a way of transitioning into the next section.

Well, the first and most obvious reason is because that’s what we ask them to do. That’s what we tell them to do. When we elect governments or when we tolerate unelected governments, we’re effectively telling them that what we want is for them to deliver us in our country a certain number of things. We want them to deliver prosperity, growth, competitiveness, transparency, justice and all of those things. So unless we start asking our governments to think outside a little bit, to consider the global problems that will finish us all if we don’t start considering them, then we can hardly blame them if what they carry on doing is looking inwards, if they still have minds that microscope rather than minds that telescope. That’s the first reason why things tend not to change.

The second reason is that these governments, just like all the rest of us, are cultural psychopaths. I don’t mean to be rude, but you know what a psychopath is. A psychopath is a person who, unfortunately for him or her, lacks the ability to really empathize with other human beings. When they look around, they don’t see other human beings with deep, rich, three-dimensional personal lives and aims and ambitions. What they see is cardboard cutouts, and it’s very sad and it’s very lonely, and it’s very rare, fortunately.

But actually, aren’t most of us not really so very good at empathy? Oh sure, we’re very good at empathy when it’s a question of dealing with people who kind of look like us and kind of walk and talk and eat and pray and wear like us, but when it comes to people who don’t do that, who don’t quite dress like us and don’t quite pray like us and don’t quite talk like us, do we not also have a tendency to see them ever so slightly as cardboard cutouts too? And this is a question we need to ask ourselves. I think constantly we have to monitor it. Are we and our politicians to a degree cultural psychopaths?

The third reason is hardly worth mentioning because it’s so silly, but there’s a belief amongst governments that the domestic agenda and the international agenda are incompatible and always will be. This is just nonsense. In my day job, I’m a policy adviser. I’ve spent the last 15 years or so advising governments around the world, and in all of that time I have never once seen a single domestic policy issue that could not be more imaginatively, effectively and rapidly resolved than by treating it as an international problem, looking at the international context, comparing what others have done, bringing in others, working externally instead of working internally.

Simon presents three examples as an answer to the question of why leaders still look inward. Knowing that a problem exists is different from understanding why that problem exists. What’s the narrative behind your problem? What points do you need to share with your audience so that they gain a basic understanding?

Since idea-driven stories need to come from a place of credibility – people are less likely to accept an idea if the person presenting it is not an expert on the subject – Simon also takes this opportunity to begin sharing the fact that he professionally studies this topic by stating, ‘I’ve spent the last 15 years or so advising governments around the world’.

And so you may say, well, given all of that, why then doesn’t it work? Why can we not make our politicians change? Why can’t we demand them? Well I, like a lot of us, spend a lot of time complaining about how hard it is to make people change, and I don’t think we should fuss about it. I think we should just accept that we are an inherently conservative species. We don’t like to change. It exists for very sensible evolutionary reasons. We probably wouldn’t still be here today if we weren’t so resistant to change.

It’s very simple: Many thousands of years ago, we discovered that if we carried on doing the same things, we wouldn’t die, because the things that we’ve done before by definition didn’t kill us, and therefore as long as we carry on doing them, we’ll be okay, and it’s very sensible not to do anything new, because it might kill you. But of course, there are exceptions to that. Otherwise, we’d never get anywhere. And one of the exceptions, the interesting exception, is when you can show to people that there might be some self-interest in them making that leap of faith and changing a little bit.

So I’ve spent a lot of the last 10 or 15 years trying to find out what could be that self-interest that would encourage not just politicians but also businesses and general populations, all of us, to start to think a little more outwardly, to think in a bigger picture, not always to look inwards, sometimes to look outwards. And this is where I discovered something quite important.

In 2005, I launched a study called the Nation Brands Index. What it is, it’s a very large-scale study that polls a very large sample of the world’s population, a sample that represents about 70 percent of the planet’s population, and I started asking them a series of questions about how they perceive other countries.

And the Nation Brands Index over the years has grown to be a very, very large database. It’s about 200 billion data points tracking what ordinary people think about other countries and why. Why did I do this? Well, because the governments that I advise are very, very keen on knowing how they are regarded. They’ve known, partly because I’ve encouraged them to realize it, that countries depend enormously on their reputations in order to survive and prosper in the world.

If a country has a great, positive image, like Germany has or Sweden or Switzerland, everything is easy and everything is cheap. You get more tourists. You get more investors. You sell your products more expensively. If, on the other hand, you have a country with a very weak or a very negative image, everything is difficult and everything is expensive. So governments care desperately about the image of their country, because it makes a direct difference to how much money they can make, and that’s what they’ve promised their populations they’re going to deliver.

Simon expands on his expertise in detail by describing a study that he launched, and he also introduces the concept of brand – how people perceive things – in the context of a country’s reputation. As you’ll see, he uses ‘brand’ as a bridge to ‘good’.

So a couple of years ago, I thought I would take some time out and speak to that gigantic database and ask it, why do some people prefer one country more than another? And the answer that the database gave me completely staggered me. It was 6.8. I haven’t got time to explain in detail. Basically what it told me was the kinds of countries we prefer are good countries.

We don’t admire countries primarily because they’re rich, because they’re powerful, because they’re successful, because they’re modern, because they’re technologically advanced. We primarily admire countries that are good. What do we mean by good? We mean countries that seem to contribute something to the world in which we live, countries that actually make the world safer or better or richer or fairer. Those are the countries we like.

This is a discovery of significant importance – you see where I’m going – because it squares the circle. I can now say, and often do, to any government, in order to do well, you need to do good. If you want to sell more products, if you want to get more investment, if you want to become more competitive, then you need to start behaving, because that’s why people will respect you and do business with you, and therefore, the more you collaborate, the more competitive you become.

Now at the midpoint of his talk, Simon summarizes what his study found, that ‘in order to do well, you need to do good’. Ideas come from a combination of personal experience and scientific research. It doesn’t necessarily mean the idea is correct, but in a well told story there exists a logical progression which leads to the idea’s formation in the mind of the speaker.

This is quite an important discovery, and as soon as I discovered this, I felt another index coming on. I swear that as I get older, my ideas become simpler and more and more childish. This one is called the Good Country Index, and it does exactly what it says on the tin. It measures, or at least it tries to measure, exactly how much each country on Earth contributes not to its own population but to the rest of humanity.

Bizarrely, nobody had ever thought of measuring this before. So my colleague Dr. Robert Govers and I have spent the best part of the last two years, with the help of a large number of very serious and clever people, cramming together all the reliable data in the world we could find about what countries give to the world.

And you’re waiting for me to tell you which one comes top. And I’m going to tell you, but first of all I want to tell you precisely what I mean when I say a good country. I do not mean morally good. When I say that Country X is the goodest country on Earth, and I mean goodest, I don’t mean best. Best is something different.

When you’re talking about a good country, you can be good, gooder and goodest. It’s not the same thing as good, better and best. This is a country which simply gives more to humanity than any other country. I don’t talk about how they behave at home because that’s measured elsewhere. And the winner is Ireland.

According to the data here, no country on Earth, per head of population, per dollar of GDP, contributes more to the world that we live in than Ireland. What does this mean? This means that as we go to sleep at night, all of us in the last 15 seconds before we drift off to sleep, our final thought should be, godammit, I’m glad that Ireland exists.

And that, in the depths of a very severe economic recession, I think that there’s a really important lesson there, that if you can remember your international obligations whilst you are trying to rebuild your own economy, that’s really something. Finland ranks pretty much the same. The only reason why it’s below Ireland is because its lowest score is lower than Ireland’s lowest score.

About three quarters of the way into his talk Simon reveals the primary point of the story – the Good Country Index – and the results of his study. But results and reasons are different, so he then examines his findings in greater detail. For your story, what did you learn along the way? What did you conclude from your research?

Now the other thing you’ll notice about the top 10 there is, of course, they’re all, apart from New Zealand, Western European nations. They’re also all rich. This depressed me, because one of the things that I did not want to discover with this index is that it’s purely the province of rich countries to help poor countries. This is not what it’s all about.

And indeed, if you look further down the list, I don’t have the slide here, you will see something that made me very happy indeed, that Kenya is in the top 30, and that demonstrates one very, very important thing. This is not about money. This is about attitude. This is about culture. This is about a government and a people that care about the rest of the world and have the imagination and the courage to think outwards instead of only thinking selfishly.

I’m going to whip through the other slides just so you can see some of the lower-lying countries. There’s Germany at 13th, the U.S. comes 21st, Mexico comes 66th, and then we have some of the big developing countries, like Russia at 95th, China at 107th. Countries like China and Russia and India, which is down in the same part of the index, well, in some ways, it’s not surprising. They’ve spent a great deal of time over the last decades building their own economy, building their own society and their own polity, but it is to be hoped that the second phase of their growth will be somewhat more outward-looking than the first phase has been so far.

And then you can break down each country in terms of the actual datasets that build into it. I’ll allow you to do that. From midnight tonight it’s going to be on goodcountry.org, and you can look at the country. You can look right down to the level of the individual datasets.

Simon’s slides are very busy, with more data than can be comprehended in such a short talk, but showing the different categories and rankings provides its own sense of credibility to the conclusions being drawn. Simply showing a list of countries with overall rank would be much easier for the audience to read, but far less effective in making his point.

Striking a balance between presenting too much and too little data is always a challenge when deciding how much to share. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. It’s something you have to determine for yourself. If you have the time, rehearse with different versions of your slides before making a final commitment.

Now that’s the Good Country Index. What’s it there for? Well, it’s there really because I want to try to introduce this word, or reintroduce this word, into the discourse. I’ve had enough hearing about competitive countries. I’ve had enough hearing about prosperous, wealthy, fast-growing countries. I’ve even had enough hearing about happy countries because in the end that’s still selfish. That’s still about us, and if we carry on thinking about us, we are in deep, deep trouble.

I think we all know what it is that we want to hear about. We want to hear about good countries, and so I want to ask you all a favor. I’m not asking a lot. It’s something that you might find easy to do and you might even find enjoyable and even helpful to do, and that’s simply to start using the word “good” in this context. When you think about your own country, when you think about other people’s countries, when you think about companies, when you talk about the world that we live in today, start using that word in the way that I’ve talked about this evening.

Not good, the opposite of bad, because that’s an argument that never finishes. Good, the opposite of selfish, good being a country that thinks about all of us. That’s what I would like you to do, and I’d like you to use it as a stick with which to beat your politicians. When you elect them, when you reelect them, when you vote for them, when you listen to what they’re offering you, use that word, “good,” and ask yourself, “Is that what a good country would do?”

And if the answer is no, be very suspicious. Ask yourself, is that the behavior of my country? Do I want to come from a country where the government, in my name, is doing things like that? Or do I, on the other hand, prefer the idea of walking around the world with my head held high thinking, “Yeah, I’m proud to come from a good country”? And everybody will welcome you. And everybody in the last 15 seconds before they drift off to sleep at night will say, “Gosh, I’m glad that person’s country exists.”

Ultimately, that, I think, is what will make the change. That word, “good,” and the number 6.8 and the discovery that’s behind it have changed my life. I think they can change your life, and I think we can use it to change the way that our politicians and our companies behave, and in doing so, we can change the world. I’ve started thinking very differently about my own country since I’ve been thinking about these things. I used to think that I wanted to live in a rich country, and then I started thinking I wanted to live in a happy country, but I began to realize, it’s not enough. I don’t want to live in a rich country. I don’t want to live in a fast-growing or competitive country. I want to live in a good country, and I so, so hope that you do too.

Simon’s conclusion includes a call to action for the audience – to think differently about their own country from the standpoint of doing good – ‘good being a country that thinks about all of us’. What shift in perception do you want your audience to adopt after hearing your story? When they leave the theatre will they think of the world (and their place in it) differently?

[Note: all comments inserted into this transcript are my opinions, not those of the speaker, the TED organization, nor anyone else on the planet. In my view, each story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these analytical posts is to inspire a storyteller to become a storylistener, and in doing so, make their stories more impactful.]

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Heather Barnett: What humans can learn from semi-intelligent slime @ TEDSalon Berlin

I had the pleasure of attending a special TED event in 2014. TEDSalon Berlin was just a one day affair, yet it featured a number of compelling talks that served as examples of impactful stories on global issues. This post is an analysis of a talk given by Heather Barnett on a most unusual character – a slime mold.

Watch Heather Barnett’s TED Talk. From what seems to be an unusual subject we come to see our human experience differently. It’s not easy to take people on a journey from something unfamiliar to something universal, but Heather does so masterfully.

Transcript

(my notes in red)

I’d like to introduce you to an organism: a slime mold, Physarum polycephalum. It’s a mold with an identity crisis, because it’s not a mold, so let’s get that straight to start with. It is one of 700 known slime molds belonging to the kingdom of the amoeba. It is a single-celled organism, a cell, that joins together with other cells to form a mass super-cell to maximize its resources. So within a slime mold you might find thousands or millions of nuclei, all sharing a cell wall, all operating as one entity. In its natural habitat, you might find the slime mold foraging in woodlands, eating rotting vegetation, but you might equally find it in research laboratories, classrooms, and even artists’ studios.

Great opening lines capture the attention of an audience, and one of the most powerful ways to do this is by way of curiosity, which is what occurs when your topic is something that the listener or reader has never heard of. And while using technical jargon can be an impediment to curiosity when left to its own devices, Heather provides us with a vivid description of what ‘Physarum polycephalum’ is all about.

From a physicality standpoint, she holds up pinched fingers when mentioning ‘single-celled organism’, then spreads her arms shoulder width when stating ‘joins together with other cells’ and spreads her arms further when using the term ‘mass super-cell’.

These are subtle gestures, yet they reinforce the visual of how this organism operates. Watch her movements and gestures throughout the telling of this story. There’s much to learn here about stage presence that is both natural and impactful.

I first came across the slime mold about five years ago. A microbiologist friend of mine gave me a petri dish with a little yellow blob in it and told me to go home and play with it. The only instructions I was given, that it likes it dark and damp and its favorite food is porridge oats. I’m an artist who’s worked for many years with biology, with scientific processes, so living material is not uncommon for me.

I’ve worked with plants, bacteria, cuttlefish, fruit flies. So I was keen to get my new collaborator home to see what it could do. So I took it home and I watched. I fed it a varied diet. I observed as it networked. It formed a connection between food sources. I watched it leave a trail behind it, indicating where it had been. And I noticed that when it was fed up with one petri dish, it would escape and find a better home.

While we might have thought that Heather was a scientist – after all, who other than a scientist would talk about slime mold – we learn that she is, in fact, an artist, which tells our brain to shift gears and be ready for a different perspective on the topic.

Audiences want to know who you are, and why you’re so interested in the topic of your story. For experience-driven stories, those answers tend to be more obvious, but for idea-driven stories, you need to weave in those details.

I captured my observations through time-lapse photography. Slime mold grows at about one centimeter an hour, so it’s not really ideal for live viewing unless there’s some form of really extreme meditation, but through the time lapse, I could observe some really interesting behaviors. For instance, having fed on a nice pile of oats, the slime mold goes off to explore new territories in different directions simultaneously. When it meets itself, it knows it’s already there, it recognizes it’s there, and instead retreats back and grows in other directions. I was quite impressed by this feat, at how what was essentially just a bag of cellular slime could somehow map its territory, know itself, and move with seeming intention.

Imagine hearing this story without the benefit of Heather’s time-lapse photography. The story can be told, but the moving images make her description much more dramatic. Her use of images in the balance of her talk serve to increase impact. They say what can’t be easily described in full. Imagine how your words and images will play out in someone’s mind.

I found countless scientific studies, research papers, journal articles, all citing incredible work with this one organism, and I’m going to share a few of those with you.

For example, a team in Hokkaido University in Japan filled a maze with slime mold. It joined together and formed a mass cell. They introduced food at two points, oats of course, and it formed a connection between the food. It retracted from empty areas and dead ends. There are four possible routes through this maze, yet time and time again, the slime mold established the shortest and the most efficient route. Quite clever. The conclusion from their experiment was that the slime mold had a primitive form of intelligence.

Another study exposed cold air at regular intervals to the slime mold. It didn’t like it. It doesn’t like it cold. It doesn’t like it dry. They did this at repeat intervals, and each time, the slime mold slowed down its growth in response. However, at the next interval, the researchers didn’t put the cold air on, yet the slime mold slowed down in anticipation of it happening. It somehow knew that it was about the time for the cold air that it didn’t like. The conclusion from their experiment was that the slime mold was able to learn.

A third experiment: the slime mold was invited to explore a territory covered in oats. It fans out in a branching pattern. As it goes, each food node it finds, it forms a network, a connection to, and keeps foraging. After 26 hours, it established quite a firm network between the different oats. Now there’s nothing remarkable in this until you learn that the center oat that it started from represents the city of Tokyo, and the surrounding oats are suburban railway stations.

The slime mold had replicated the Tokyo transport network – a complex system developed over time by community dwellings, civil engineering, urban planning. What had taken us well over 100 years took the slime mold just over a day. The conclusion from their experiment was that the slime mold can form efficient networks and solve the traveling salesman problem.

It is a biological computer. As such, it has been mathematically modeled, algorithmically analyzed. It’s been sonified, replicated, simulated. World over, teams of researchers are decoding its biological principles to understand its computational rules and applying that learning to the fields of electronics, programming and robotics.

The best way to make a scientific point, especially when you’re not a scientist, is to reference published work from scientists who are subject matter experts in regards to your subject. Not citing bona fide evidence, and simply making claims as though they are facts, will often create doubt in the minds of the audience. You’re not an expert in the field, so why should they believe you? In this case, however, Heather cites three scientific studies that illustrate a central theme of her story – intelligence.

So the question is, how does this thing work? It doesn’t have a central nervous system. It doesn’t have a brain, yet it can perform behaviors that we associate with brain function. It can learn, it can remember, it can solve problems, it can make decisions. So where does that intelligence lie? So this is a microscopy, a video I shot, and it’s about 100 times magnification, sped up about 20 times, and inside the slime mold, there is a rhythmic pulsing flow, a vein-like structure carrying cellular material, nutrients and chemical information through the cell, streaming first in one direction and then back in another. And it is this continuous, synchronous oscillation within the cell that allows it to form quite a complex understanding of its environment, but without any large-scale control center. This is where its intelligence lies.

A classic shift in idea-driven narratives is moving from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’ – ‘what happens’ to ‘how it happens’. Other shifts may involve exploring the why, when and where aspects. This process of exploration is about moving the audience to ever deeper levels of their understanding. Taking someone on a journey is often related to space or time, but also applies to knowledge. Think about how you can unfold a complex topic, doing so in such a way that the listener can follow along. Each layer is a foundation for the next.

So it’s not just academic researchers in universities that are interested in this organism. A few years ago, I set up SliMoCo, the Slime Mould Collective. It’s an online, open, democratic network for slime mold researchers and enthusiasts to share knowledge and experimentation across disciplinary divides and across academic divides. The Slime Mould Collective membership is self-selecting. People have found the collective as the slime mold finds the oats. And it comprises of scientists and computer scientists and researchers but also artists like me, architects, designers, writers, activists, you name it. It’s a very interesting, eclectic membership.

Just a few examples: an artist who paints with fluorescent Physarum; a collaborative team who are combining biological and electronic design with 3D printing technologies in a workshop; another artist who is using the slime mold as a way of engaging a community to map their area. Here, the slime mold is being used directly as a biological tool, but metaphorically as a symbol for ways of talking about social cohesion, communication and cooperation.

From talking about the slime mold, the story comes back to Heather, and a collective that she created in order to further the understanding of this subject. The narrative then expands to include other people who are part of the collective and what they’ve done. Stories of other people is a Story Block which broadens the narrative beyond the speaker’s experience.

Other public engagement activities; I run lots of slime mold workshops, a creative way of engaging with the organism. So people are invited to come and learn about what amazing things it can do, and they design their own petri dish experiment, an environment for the slime mold to navigate so they can test its properties. Everybody takes home a new pet and is invited to post their results on the Slime Mould Collective. And the collective has enabled me to form collaborations with a whole array of interesting people. I’ve been working with filmmakers on a feature-length slime mold documentary, and I stress feature-length, which is in the final stages of edit and will be hitting your cinema screens very soon.

It’s also enabled me to conduct what I think is the world’s first human slime mold experiment. This is part of an exhibition in Rotterdam last year. We invited people to become slime mold for half an hour. So we essentially tied people together so they were a giant cell, and invited them to follow slime mold rules. You have to communicate through oscillations, no speaking. You have to operate as one entity, one mass cell, no egos, and the motivation for moving and then exploring the environment is in search of food. So a chaotic shuffle ensued as this bunch of strangers tied together with yellow ropes wearing “Being Slime Mold” t-shirts wandered through the museum park.

When they met trees, they had to reshape their connections and reform as a mass cell through not speaking. This is a ludicrous experiment in many, many ways. This isn’t hypothesis-driven. We’re not trying to prove, demonstrate anything. But what it did provide us was a way of engaging a broad section of the public with ideas of intelligence, agency, autonomy, and provide a playful platform for discussions about the things that ensued.

One of the most exciting things about this experiment was the conversation that happened afterwards. An entirely spontaneous symposium happened in the park. People talked about the human psychology, of how difficult it was to let go of their individual personalities and egos. Other people talked about bacterial communication. Each person brought in their own individual interpretation, and our conclusion from this experiment was that the people of Rotterdam were highly cooperative, especially when given beer. We didn’t just give them oats. We gave them beer as well.

How your idea and passion integrates into society can be an important part of your story. Outside of the laboratory, and beyond art or science, Heather engages people to learn in a very tangible way. They were involved, had to make decisions, but also had fun doing it. Is there a similar set of experiences that you can include in your story to demonstrate how your idea can affect the way people think and act?

But they weren’t as efficient as the slime mold, and the slime mold, for me, is a fascinating subject matter. It’s biologically fascinating, it’s computationally interesting, but it’s also a symbol, a way of engaging with ideas of community, collective behavior, cooperation. A lot of my work draws on the scientific research, so this pays homage to the maze experiment but in a different way. And the slime mold is also my working material. It’s a coproducer of photographs, prints, animations, participatory events.

Whilst the slime mold doesn’t choose to work with me, exactly, it is a collaboration of sorts. I can predict certain behaviors by understanding how it operates, but I can’t control it. The slime mold has the final say in the creative process. And after all, it has its own internal aesthetics. These branching patterns that we see we see across all forms, scales of nature, from river deltas to lightning strikes, from our own blood vessels to neural networks. There’s clearly significant rules at play in this simple yet complex organism, and no matter what our disciplinary perspective or our mode of inquiry, there’s a great deal that we can learn from observing and engaging with this beautiful, brainless blob.

I give you Physarum polycephalum.

It’s a powerful story that can begin with something we feel is insignificant – slime mold – and take us to a place where we are thinking about how humans interact with each other. After seeing this talk I began to view society differently. The chaos that occurs when we act too much as individuals, and the success that we can achieve when we work together.

There’s not any direct calls to action. Instead, this is a thought provoking narrative that offers a new perspective for the audience to do with as they wish.

[Note: all comments inserted into this transcript are my opinions, not those of the speaker, the TED organization, nor anyone else on the planet. In my view, each story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these analytical posts is to inspire a storyteller to become a storylistener, and in doing so, make their stories more impactful.]

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Stories Told and Stories Untold in Porto

The most appealing benefit of travel, in my opinion, is how each place visited has a story to tell, or in some cases, keeps a story untold. I’ve spent the past week in Portugal and have experienced a continuous stream of told and untold stories. A stroll down any street will reveal bits of a city’s history, art, and architecture, but never the full story. Such was the case with this azulejos tile mural on the exterior wall of the Carmo Church in Porto, Portugal.
Azulejos Tile Mural on The Carmo Church PortoThe Igreja do Carmo was built between 1756 and 1768 in the rococo or late Baroque, style by a disciple of Nicolau Nasoni, Jose de Figueiredo Seixas. The Igreja do Carmo has an outstanding azulejo-covered exterior with the azulejos added in 1912. The tiles were made locally in Vila Nova de Gaia and designed by the artist Silvestro Silvestri. They depict scenes of the founding of the Carmelite Order and Mount Carmel. by Portugal Visitor

The architect, the artist, the city where the tiles were fabricated – stories that intersected once upon a time to achieve permanence and grace as more than two centuries have passed, yet the conversations, the human details, have been lost and can only be surmised.

Hazul Street Art PortoIt wasn’t long after visiting the Carmo Church that I came across an example of Porto’s cool street art, and with a bit of research on the artist came to realize this was no random work of art. Hazul is somewhat famous in the city and beyond. Reading about Hazul reveled more of his work on Instagram. In the end I was able to discover more of the artist’s story, but still don’t know the story behind this mini-mural – what he was thinking – that remains a mystery.

Port Wine Shipping Boat in Porto, Portugal 2019Established as a protected wine region in 1756, the Douro Valley produces the renowned Port wines that are shipped down the river to be stored in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from Porto. While these shipments are now made by truck, in years past they were transported in rabelo boats.

In a strange twist of fate, the conflict between France and England, which deprived the Brits of their much loved French wine, led to their discovering Port wines, for which they developed an enduring passion.

From the vineyard workers, to the winemakers and those who navigated the river in boats stacked with barrels, they shared a common story based on their love of Port wine.

I’m blessed to hear stories from the clients that I coach and help them to uncover the hidden gems that they can share with the world. And when I’m traveling, there’s this feeling of appreciation for those who created the world I’m discovering, but at the same time, there’s a feeling of frustration due to the fact that I can’t speak to them directly and dig deeper into their story.

It’s a paradox, that no matter how much we know, there’s a measure of untold story that remains, so it’s up to all of us to be storytellers, to let the rest of the world share pieces of our magical life.

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