What’s Your Story? (Part 2, Guidelines 1-5 for Writing Your Story)


Picture1Writing your change story isn’t a task you can delegate. Nor is it likely that you should make it a solo experience. It is going to take reflection, challenge, exploration, commitment, and a lot of hard work. Chances are, writing your story will be cathartic for all those involved in the process.

To help you in the process, I find it easiest to provide a series of guidelines. While many of my examples reflect personal change, the same guidelines will hold true if you are navigating your organization through a major transition. This week I am covering the first five guidelines. The remainder will be addressed in next week’s post.

1. Start with your why.

Where do you start? In my post “Don’t Start With a Plan” I referenced  Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, and wrote, You don’t start with a plan; you don’t start with “what” you are going to do. You start with what is in your heart. You start with WhyYour story needs to be written based on that why. The change you are writing about, the change you are facing, is big; it is tough; it has the capability of defeating you, your organization, or both. You can’t win that battle with intellect alone. You need passion; and you need courage and discipline. Unless the change comes from your heart, you are unlikely to reach the destination you have defined.

2. Write from the future.

Envision life when you are realizing the full range of benefits that your change has to offer. That is your destination, and that is where you begin to write your story. Make it real. What does it look like, feel, like, smell like, taste like, sound like? It is less about what you and others in the story are doing, and more about how you are being.

I am currently working with a client who is shaping a major personal transformation in his life. Example 1 is how his story should not begin.

Example 1: I got up this morning. The first thing I did was make some coffee, and sit down with the paper. Now that I have come out as a gay man and moved into my own place, it really feels good.

Here is what I mean when I say to write from the future.

Example 2: This morning I woke up feeling free. If I have ever had this feeling before, I cannot remember it. Today I am truly understanding for the first time what it means to live my life fully as who I am. 

3. Identify how you will know when you have reached your change destination. 

Yes, your journey requires putting certain things in place. You may need new systems, or a new financial plan. You may need to address certain legal or regulatory issues. New skills may be required. You may need to gain fluency in a new language, or find a home in a new location. People may need to not just act differently; shifts in mindsets might also be necessary.

Too often, whether as individuals or as an organization, these types of things become the milestones by which change is measured. However, installing the components of the change is different than realizing its full benefit. Know how you will determine realization of your change. Identify a small number (no more than 5-7) critical realization indicators along the path from the present to the future state.

In Example 1 above, coming out is an installation measure, as is my client moving into his own place. Both of these may occur, and yet he may end up just “feeling good,” not the end state he is seeking. Example 2 illustrates realization…achieving the full benefit of his change. Today I am truly understanding for the first time what it means to live my life fully as who I am. 

For my client this may be his measure of full realization. Other realization milestones along his path may include things such as coming to terms with the religious stigma he has felt as a closeted gay man; resolution of his relationship to his family and friends; and being at peace with his sexual identity.

As you write your story, you don’t have to know how you will achieve these things. In fact, it is unlikely that you will have more than a clue about what will be required for some of them. However, you do need to know what these critical milestones are; identifying them is one of the reasons that this is not an easy process.

4. Establish your time frame.

How long will this change take, really? You need to set a time frame for full realization of the change, as well as for the interim steps. If you leave it open-ended, you will find that progress is elusive; you are working toward a dream, not a future reality.

You’ve identified your critical realization milestones. What are their interdependencies? What is the sequence in which they should be achieved? Lay them out on a white board, or a piece of paper. In a future blog posting I will be talking about planning. Typically organizational changes will require much more in-depth plans than personal ones. However, even at the personal change level, you will need a plan.

Define a realistic length of time for achieving each of your realization milestones. Which ones can you be working on at the same time? When you put the times to them, are you achieving realization within an acceptable period of time? If not, you will need to either commit more resources to the journey (e.g. invest more of your time per week), or modify the desired realization so it is achievable within the time frame required.

5. Create a “sparkline.”

If you know of Nancy Duarte, you know how well she understands both the science and the art of storytelling. In her book Resonate she spends considerable time discussing how to create “sparklines.” In essence, the sparkline of a story is its flow from what is to what could be to what is to what could be

While Nancy is focused on visual presentations in her book, the process for constructing a sparkline is the same for your story. A sparkline creates contrast.

Let me briefly illustrate the sparkline in action with a story you know, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.

(What is): I have a dream

(What could be): That one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”

(What is): I have a dream

(What could be): That my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

What are you moving from? What are you moving to? Your sparkline will help tell the story of your journey.

Next week I will provide additional guidelines on writing your story. In the meantime, please share your own experiences. What are the stories that have worked to help move you through difficult change journeys? What about them made the difference? Do these guidelines resonate with you, or are there any that just don’t seem to work? Your thoughts, comments, experiences, are welcomed!

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