Stories are all about memories

“Somewhere deep in my memory there had to be a frozen mountain lake that was slowly starting to thaw.” – Herman Koch in “Finnish days” (translated)

Yesterday, I listened to a radio interview with Dutch writer Herman Koch, who talked about his new novel “Finse dagen” (Finnish days). In his book, the author tells stories about the time he spent in Finland when he was 19, making a living as a farmer and lumberjack.

Being a perennial blogger and aspiring storyteller myself, one of the excerpts from the interview, in which Koch muses about memories, particularly appealed to me. “Writing makes you remember things of which you thought you didn’t know them anymore.” Memories are records of people’s personal experience. Records of trial and error, of success and failure. Past successes will help you (and others) to gain courage and confidence to move on, while past failures will warn you against repeating them.

Koch’s also talks about becoming an author. How certain pleasant or unpleasant events in one’s life can provide useful material for later use. Already at secondary school, the future writer was observing his teacher and thought: “One day, this guy will find himself in a book.” It’s almost like one can – or maybe should? – (pro-)actively and consciously record his/her memories.

About creating an ideal mix of facts and (a tiny bit of) fiction, Koch says that “reality is sometimes not believable enough.” So, sometimes we need to repaint our memories. As I wrote earlier on this blog: all stories deserve embellishment

Unfortunately (at least for the non-Dutch-speaking readers of this post) the interview is in Dutch. If you want to replay it anyway, you can find it here. Still, after listening to Herman Koch’s inspiring words, I’m almost sure what will be the next book on my reading list.

Three inspirational quotes from along the roads

Try searching Google for ‘inspirational quotes’, and you’ll get a gazillion returns with meaningless celebrity quotes, cheesy images, and prosaic memes. As you may remember from my ‘Cut the crap’ post, I’m not a big fan of banal graphic material taken from the internet. But then I started browsing my personal photo archive…

If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, you also know that I like travelling – city tripping as well as nature hiking. While making this photo trip down memory lane, I rediscovered the roads I walked along and the places I visited before. And, I identified creative opportunities to combine the power of an authentic picture with a sharp message into an inspirational visual.

Below are my three favorite creations (click on the pictures to enlarge).

I shot this first picture almost 10 years ago along the landwash of the French Île de Ré. At first sight, it’s a gloomy image. But when you put the right words on it, the fish corpse suddenly gets (well, kind of) lively and inspirational. In this case I added a quote by the English writer Malcolm Muggeridge, “Only dead fish swim with the stream.” The text teaches us that life is about taking risks, not about playing safe all the time. In a business context, it expresses a similar message to Steve Jobs’ “Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?” I just haven’t run into a buccaneer that agreed to be photographed by me yet…

My second photo features a popular (though anonymous) Wall Street expression: “Trees don’t grow straight to heaven.” It articulates that stock markets are volatile. Or, more general, that there are no wins without losses. No gains without pain. The picture dates from 2016, when my wife and I were on a city trip in Copenhagen.

No need to explain the origin of this third quote. Everybody knows the Lennon & McCartney song I borrowed it from. There’s no need to explain the meaning of the words either. Or to tell you why they are inspirational. “All you need is love, love, love is all you need.” We ran into this couple of kissing trees in the woods of the beautiful Belgian Eifel region, near the town of Sankt Vith. And my humble camera phone did the rest.

Feel free to reuse my artwork in your presentations. Or stick the posters on your office or bedroom wall.

An empirical evidence of Fubini’s law

Last week I wrote about the mysterious Mr Fubini, who created a law that describes the adoption of new technology. A faithful reader of my blog, however, remarked that it’s easy to formulate a theorem without any further proof. As a scientist by education (and a blogger only by vocation) I couldn’t ignore such a righteous remark. So, here comes an empirical evidence of Fubini’s law.

Maybe some of you remember my 2013 posting, “inspiration and perspiration”, in which I described the way my blog was getting shape at that time. How the topics to write about usually came while commuting to work on the tramway. And that, when an idea for an article popped up, it took me less than 10 minutes to create an outline on my Blackberry. Followed by about 3 more hours to elaborate, format, and publish the final article.

Well, in the meantime, technology has evolved and my good old keyboard-operated device has been replaced by a full-fledged smartphone. Yet, I still take the tram to work. My cell phone may have improved, but the traffic to and in Antwerp certainly got worse in the past years. If the weather allows (I’m not a big fan of turning up soaked at the office) I even get off the trolley car 2 or 3 stops too early, and walk the last mile – my fitness tracker corrects me that it’s about 3,000 steps – to work. That’s good for my physical condition, helps me think more clearly, and lets my creative juices flow.

There’s one big difference compared to 2013 (apart from me carrying a step counter): instead of typing down my thoughts, I simply record them now with the voice-recorder app on my phone, and write out the transcript when I arrive at the office…

Fubini’s law. Quod erat demonstrandum!

Please, note that I self-dictated a rough version of the above text on my phone while commuting this morning, then polished the transcript, and published it on WordPress. The whole process, including a healthy walk, took me a little less than two hours.

Storystorming

A few days ago, I joined a brainstorming session at work. To kick off the session, to make the participants acquainted with each other, and to get their creative and communicative juices flowing, the facilitator asked all people in the room to talk for three minutes about a remarkable incident or achievement in their respective careers. Actually there were a quite few nice stories told. About successes and failures. Some serious ones and some funny ones too.

While listening to the experiences, adventures and confessions of my fellow brainstormers, I started thinking about my own imminent introduction pitch. What past event was important, memorable or entertaining enough to share with my colleagues? And so I departed on a rush trip down memory lane…

brainstorm

“Brainstorm” (by Michael Zhang)

Would I tell them about the user interface I once developed for one of the world’s first video-on-demand trials? Or about the paper I co-authored and that was published in the prestigious IEEE Communications Magazine? Or rather about me traveling thirty hours to New Zealand to deliver a mere thirty minute long customer presentation?

After no more than a few minutes of reflection I decided to tell them about the clash I had with a translator while I was presenting to Chinese government officials (you may read the full story here, in one of my first posts on this blog.) Probably a good choice, because it allowed me to tell something about myself, my area of expertise and my passion for presenting.

Thanks to this brainstorming meeting, a lot of good and bad reminiscences, colorful anecdotes and long forgotten stories came back to my mind – into which I will surely tap for some of my future blog posts. So, why don’t you start exploring your own memories and maybe you’ll stumble upon some good material for your next brainstorming session or your next public presentation…

Click the links below for a few related articles and some of my own stories:

Inspiration and perspiration

“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” – Chuck Close

Ain’t it funny how time flies. This is already my last blog post before the summer holidays. Though I am neither a native English speaker (my mother tongue is Dutch) or a professional writer, blogging has been a good exercise, a positive experience and a great way to share my experience with an international audience – over the past 43 weeks I have counted 78 different nationalities among my readers!

It is often said that writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. This may be true in time, but (at least in my humble opinion) it’s this mere 10% of upfront creativity that’s shaping success.

  • Inspiration: in my case, new topics to write about usually come (don’t ask me why…) while commuting to work on the tramway. When an idea for a blog post pops up, it usually takes me less than 10 minutes to create an outline on my Blackberry and have a raw version of the text ready before I reach the office.
  • Perspiration: as almost none of my content exceeds the 500 words count, it usually takes between 2 and 3 hours to craft the final article, to author the blog and post it (or schedule publication) onto WordPress –  a great tool, by the way.

And there’s also a third parameter in the equation that is often overlooked:

  • Self-discipline: I keep a posts-in-progress file, with about ten (tentative) titles and working drafts on hand, of which I try to have at least two in an “(almost) ready for publication” state. This allows me to sustain a pace of releasing another piece of content each week.

For more advice on how to keep your blog content fresh, have a look at Mike Brown’s post on the Brainzooming blog.

What started 10 months ago as a casual writing exercise has become a new passion for me. So, to all visitors and readers of this blog: a big thank you for acknowledging my inspiration and transpiration by visiting the B2B Storytelling pages or the Belgian Network blog.

pen_and_paper

It’s time now to put my laptop asleep and refuel my inspiration. But stay tuned: the best is yet to come! I’ll be back in September with more stories, more best practices and more presentation tips.