Category Archives: Storytelling

Good stories and storytelling tips

David Marquet: Happiness at work on a nuclear submarine

When David Marquet took command of the nuclear submarine USS Santa Fe, he knew he needed to change a lot of things. It was the worst performing submarine, was never ready for its missions on time and was basically the laughing stock of the US navy.

David came in with a plan to improve the results on the submarine and thereby make its crew happier. By accident, he found that he had to do it the other way around: Make the submarine a happy workplace and results would follow.

The new plan worked, and the USS Santa Fe became the best performing submarine.

In this speech from the Arbejdsglaede Live! 2013 conference, David Marquet explains how he did it and how you can create a happier workplace too.

Turtles all the way down

Here’ one of my favourite stories:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the Earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.

At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.”

The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?”

“You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down.”

Here’s the story of the story at Wikipedia.

1 bullet

Craig Nathanson tells this very moving story:

Early one morning, Robert awoke, made his wife of 41 years some banana bread, took out the garbage and called to cancel a doctors appointment scheduled for the next day. He wrote a note to remind his wife to pick up the dry cleaning. All things considered, it seemed like a normal day.

Robert had ?retired? four years earlier after nearly 40 years doing what he loved in the banking industry. After retirement, his life took a challenging turn.

While he remained friendly and encouraging to others on the outside, on the inside he was suffering a deepening depression. After retirement, Robert couldn?t find anything to replace the meaning and fulfillment that work provided him. And this void was slowly killing him.

So on that ?normal? morning, Robert cleaned up the kitchen after finishing baking his wife the banana bread. Then he drove himself to the parking lot of the bank where he had worked all those years. After carefully parking and locking his car, he walked into a local store and handed a note to the clerk behind the counter. Then he walked outside and shot himself in the head. He ended his life with one bullet at 1pm on a blazing sunny day.

Robert was my dad.

Craig Nathanson is The Vocational Coach and focuses on how people in mid-life can do what they love at work. That’s happiness at work right there. I admire his courage in telling this story so that others may learn from it, and it’s great to see some advice and tools specifically for people in mid-life.


When even the Harvard Business School turns on to storytelling, you know its gone mainstream. Which is entirely a good thing. I’ve been using stories a lot in the work I do, and I really enjoy the way an audience will go quiet and lean forward in their chairs when you say “I’d like to tell you a story…”

“Here is our company’s biggest challenge, and here is what we need to do to prosper.” And you build your case by giving statistics and facts and quotes from authorities. But there are two problems with rhetoric. First, the people you’re talking to have their own set of authorities, statistics, and experiences. While you’re trying to persuade them, they are arguing with you in their heads. Second, if you do succeed in persuading them, you’ve done so only on an intellectual basis. That’s not good enough, because people are not inspired to act by reason alone.

And that’s where stories come in, with their ability to talk to the non-rational parts of our minds:

The other way to persuade people?and ultimately a much more powerful way?is by uniting an idea with an emotion. The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story. In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener’s emotions and energy.

For an excellent introduction to storytelling read The Springboard by Stephen Denning.

Doing nothing

From Quitting the Paint Factory, a beautiful essay by Mark Slouka, from the November 2004 issue of Harpers Magazine.

When I was young, my parents read me Aesop’s fable of “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” wherein, as everyone knows, the grasshopper spends the summer making music in the sun while the ant toils with his fellow formicidae. Inevitably, winter comes, as winters will, and the grasshopper, who hasn’t planned ahead and who doesn’t know what a 401K is, has run out of luck. When he shows up at the ants’ door, carrying his fiddle, the ant asks him what he was doing all year: “I was singing, if you please,” the grasshopper replies, or something to that effect. “You were singing?” says the ant. “Well, then, go and sing.” And perhaps because I sensed, even then, that fate would someday find me holding a violin or a manuscript at the door of the ants, my antennae frozen and my hills overdue, I confounded both Aesop and my well-meaning parents, and bore away the wrong moral. That summer, many a wind-blown grasshopper was saved from the pond, and many an anthill inundated under the golden rain of my pee.

Via Boingboing.

The weight of a snowflake

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a coalmouse asked a wild dove.

“Nothing more than nothing,” the dove answered.

“In that case I must tell you a marvelous story,” the coalmouse said. “I sat on a fir branch close to the trunk when it began to snow. Not heavily, not in a raging blizzard. No, just like in a dream, without any violence at all. Since I didn’t have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,471,952. When the next snowflake dropped onto the branch–nothing more than nothing — as you say — the branch broke off.”

Having said that, the coalmouse ran away.

The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on peace, thought about the story for a while. Finally, she said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”

I found this beautiful story in Synchronicity by Joseph Jaworski.

Book review: Impro for storytellers

Keith Johnstone is the inventor of theatresports and in Impro for Storytellers, he writes about the importance of stories in improvisational theatre. He argues, that without interesting storylines impro simply degenerates into a loose collection of gags and becomes a lot less interesting.

The funny thing is that I bought this book thinking it was about storytelling, when its focus is actually on impro theatre, but I still enjoyed reading it and I learned a lot from it.
Continue reading Book review: Impro for storytellers

Storytelling in action

If you’d like to see a really good storyteller in action, now’s your chance. On six evenings in may, Svend-Erik Engh and guest speakers are telling stories in Kongens Have in Copenhagen. I heard him twice last year, and he’s really good.

You just show up at the appointed time, and the stories roll. He’s got mats to sit on and blankets for everyone if it gets cold. And it’s free. Read more about it here.

Storytelling, visualization and happiness at work

I’m arranging a seminar on storytelling, visualization and happiness at work. It will take place in the new Arena space in N?rrebrogade 14 B in Copenhagen on friday the 25th of april from 16:00 to 18:00. We’ll start with an introduction to storytelling by Henrik Kristensen, an introduction to visualization by Ole Qvist-S?rensen and I’ll talk briefly about happiness at work. Then we’ll invite everybody to discuss the topics, and how they interrelate.

Participation is free, but you need to sign up by sending me an email at

Short story

This winter I took a class in creative writing. I’ve never written any fiction or poetry before, so I thought it would be a good challenge. It was, and one of the results was a short story called “the mechanic” about a regular guy called Benny, who discovers a mysterious and unsettling talent. Here’s the entire story, let me know what you think. It’s in danish, though.
Continue reading Short story