Circle of the 9 Muses: A Storytelling Field Guidefor Innovators and Meaning Makers
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More About This Title Circle of the 9 Muses: A Storytelling Field Guidefor Innovators and Meaning Makers


The action-based guide to powerful, influential organizational storytelling

Circle of the 9 Muses captures the best practices of the world's most influential story consultants and knowledge workers to help you find, tell, and draw value from your organizational stories as impetus for action. This rich toolbox is loaded with fun, graphical instructions and dozens of unique, replicable, and facilitated processes that require no special training or expertise. You'll discover your organization's hidden narrative assets, use different templates and frameworks to tell the stories of your past, present, and future and then draw team members into rich meaning-making dialogue that translates into action. These activities can be exercised in endless permutations, and expert advice steers you toward the right activity for a specific purpose, including managing change, setting strategy, onboarding, defining the brand, engaging supporters or customers, merging cultures, building trust, and much more.

Organizational storytelling is a powerful managerial tool and an essential change management technique. This is about your influence as a leader. Knowing the right story to tell and how to deliver it effectively gives you and your organization enormous influence, and helps connect employees to strategy by providing understanding, belief, and motivation in their personal contribution. This book is the ultimate field guide to becoming an influential storyteller, with concrete, actionable guidance toward all the storytelling fundamentals.

  • Identify your organization's "narrative assets"
  • Craft an elegant, well-constructed organizational story
  • Capture, bank, and share stories with extraordinary engagement
  • Facilitate a dialogue to draw out meaning and induce change

The growing interest surrounding organizational storytelling has many change agents focused on "trying to tell better stories," but goals are useless without a plan of action. Circle of the 9 Muses helps you weave narrative wisdom into organizational development activities, engaging employees and driving change.


David Hutchens is an author and creator of learning experiences for organizations around the world. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Learn more at


Introduction: Dispatches from a World of Stories 1

Scene I: A Small Club in Nashville, Tennessee 1

Scene II: A Cave in the South of France, 1994 3

Scene III: A Conference Room Somewhere in Paris 4

It All Began with a Sheep 7

What’s Inside 10

Stepping into the Stream 17

9 Muse Story Recipes 23

Branding Recipes 24

Team Building/Relationship Building Recipes 25

Leadership, Strategy, and Change Management Recipes 26

Organizational Development Recipes 26

Part I: Fundamentals 29

Chapter 1: The Four Core Stories 31

Identity Stories 34

Vision Stories 35

Values Stories 36

Stories of Change and Learning 38

What Are Your Core Stories? 39

Three More Cores! 42

Where Do I Go Next? 43

Chapter 2: Host a Story Circle 45

Decide How You Will Frame It 47

Find or Create a Third Space 50

Decide Who Needs to Be There 52

Set Ground Rules 52

Put Participants in Groups 54

Begin the Session and Manage the Time 55

Your Role as Host 56

Ready to Get Started? 56

Where Do I Go from Here? 57

Chapter 3: Story Prompts 59

First, Some Don’ts 61

Plant the Suggestion 63

“Tell Me about a Time   ” 63

Story Buckets 64

Extreme Prompts 65

Emotional Prompts 66

Aspirational Prompts 67

Go Wide Open 68

Go for the Heart 69

Stories Beget Stories  71

Where Do I Go from Here? 71

Chapter 4: Capturing Fire 73

First, Pick a Story to Work On 75

Clarify Your Intent 76

Your Turn: What Is Your Intent? 77

Connect Your Story to Universal Plots 78

Your Turn: Choose a Plot Archetype 86

Other Story Structures: FWA 88

Declare Your Intent 89

Other Tips and Techniques for Better Stories 90

Technique 1: Throw ’Em Right into the Action 90

Technique 2: Add Emotion (“The King and the Queen”) 91

Technique 3: Add Sensory and Motion Information 93

Technique 4: The “MacGuffin,” or Gleaming Detail 94

Technique 5: Play with the Timeline 95

Technique 6: Make It Shorter! 96

Your Turn: Provide Some Final Polish to Your Story 97

Bringing it All Together: Geoff ’s Story 98

Where Do I Go from Here? 99

Part II: Branching Out 101

Chapter 5: Twice-Told Stories 103

Explain the Process to Your Story Circles 105

Begin the Story Circles  106

Close the Story Circle Experience and Select One Story to Retell 106

Create the Story Theater and Begin! 107

The Critical Epilogue: Name the Bigger Story 108

Modifying the Exercise for Diff erent-Sized Groups 110

Capture it Visually! 111

Another Delivery Option 112

Where Do I Go from Here? 113

Chapter 6: Summoning the Muse (Story Listening and Sense Making) 115

Meaninglistening and Storymaking with Your Team’s Stories 120

Roll the Dice! 121

Listen Better 123

Taking It Deeper: A Geography of Meaning 124

Option: Use the Archetype Cards 127

The Power of the Spontaneous Invitation 127

Meaning Making and Individual Conversations 128

“For Lack of a System”: A Story from Lori Silverman 129

Where Do I Go from Here? 130

Chapter 7: Story Circle Variations (Riffs, Jams, Jazz Licks, and Sitar Solos) 131

Visual Story Mining 133

Stories in Words 135

The Client Sets the Frame 137

Invite the Witness 138

Story Distilling 139

Audience Carousel 139

Getting Personal: Stories and Signifi cant Experiences 140

Show and Tell (“Relics”) 142

Capture Family Legacies 142

Chapter 8: Leadership Story Archetypes 145

The 16 Archetypes of the 9 Muses 149

Putting the Archetypes to Work 155

Identify the Frame for Conversation 155

Present the Archetypes 155

Place Participants in Groups 156

Have Participants Each Identify Three Archetypes and Write Them on Sticky Notes or Index Cards 156

Present Your Cards 157

Analyze and Discuss What Just Happened 157

Taking It into the Future: The Transformational Question 158

Using Archetypes as a Directed Listening Framework 159

How to Apply Archetypes to Your Stories 160

Where Do I Go Next? 161

Chapter 9: Future Story Spine 163

Where Did the Story Spine Come From? 165

Get Ready for This Exercise 166

Introduce the Story Spine 166

Start with the Climactic Event: “Until Finally” 166

Identify a Single Event That the Group Will Focus On 167

Complete the Story Spine! 168

Where Do I Go from Here? 169

Chapter 10: Visual Timeline 171

Identify the Story You Want to Tell 172

Establish the Start and End Dates 172

Draw a Line That Tells the Story! 173

Reflect for a Moment 174

Fill in the Story Details 175

Draw out the Meaning 175

Applications 177

Other Options and Ideas 178

Where Do I Go from Here? 179

Chapter 11: Fractal Narratives 181

Let’s Start with an Example: Values Stories 183

Storytelling and Institutional Memory 184

Other Fractal Story Frameworks 186

Where Do I Go Next? 187

Chapter 12: Fractal Narratives and the Hero’s Journey 189

The Manager of a Thousand Faces 191

An Introduction to the Hero’s Journey 192

Introduce the Hero’s Journey 195

Connect Stories to the Stages of the Journey 195

Option: Ordeal Storytelling and Prophesying Your Ending 197

Where Do I Go from Here? 197

Chapter 13: Story Element Extraction 199

The Classic Version: Working with a Few Stories 200

Going Deeper with Story Element Extraction 202

Distribute the Stories 203

Collect Ideas 203

Cluster the Answers 204

Name the Clusters 204

Describe the Attributes of the Clusters 205

Transfer, Group, and Name All the Positive and Challenging Attributes 206

Assess and Reflect 206

Chapter 14: Creative Tension Pictures 207

What’s Going On Here 209

Options for Creative Tension Pictures 210

The Fast Version: Visuals Speak 211

Build it, via the Think with Your Hands Methodology 212

Where Do I Go from Here? 213

Chapter 15: Strategy Is a Story 215

A Journey of Heroes 217

Example: A Strategy Narrative “Message House” 220

Share the Story 221

Strategy Is a Storyboard 224

Option: Cast the 9 Muse Archetypes in Your Storyboard! 226

Where Do I Go Next? 227

Chapter 16: Innovation Storyboarding (and Storyboarding Frameworks) 229

Classic Innovation Storyboarding 232

The Fast Version 235

Other Storyboarding Frameworks 236

An Example: My Creative Process Storyboard 236

Building the Exercise 238

Now Begin the Activity 240

Where Do I Go Next? 241

Storyboard Your Offering Using Presentation Software 241

Chapter 17: Step into a Story: Story Field Trips 243

Identify the Special World 246

Issue the Call to Adventure 249

Cross the Threshold 250

Bring Back the Elixir 252

The Stories Keep Working on You! 253

Chapter 18: Digital Storytelling 255

Comic Book Applications 256

Movie-making Applications 258

Slide Applications 259

Photo Book and Storybook Applications 259

Image Resources 260

Appendix 263

The “Icon Cheat Sheet for Left Brainers” 264

The 10 Story Types, the Seven Basic Plots, and the 36 Dramatic Situations 266

Booker’s Seven Plots from The Seven Basic Plots 267

Polti’s 36 Dramatic Scenarios 267

Bibliography 270

Contributors, Partners, and Friends 274

About the Author 290

Connect with David 291

Index 292