Essential Skills for 21st Century Survival (Part 6)

This is part 6 in a 12 part series. The first five skills were Pattern RecognitionEnvironmental ScanningNetwork WeavingForesight, and Conscious Awareness

Essential Skills for 21st Century Survival (Part 6)


The following video by Jonah Sachs, creative director at Free Range Studios has prompted me to get back to completing the next installment in this Essential Skills series. He does a beautiful job revealing the secrets of effective and high-impact storytelling.

Jonah Sachs at Compostmodern ’11 from AIGA San Francisco on Vimeo.

One of the concepts Jonah presents is that of a “myth gap.” He defines ‘myth’ as the combination of Explanation + Meaning + Story. Historically, myths are the vehicles of culture. They provide a context and framework for the world, hopefully imparting wisdom, insight and guidance as to how we should live our lives. (ie – myth of Genesis). But sometimes, society falls in a myth gap.

Like now.

Another way of saying this is that the cultural narrative is broken.

Most of us are acutely aware of this current state of affairs, especially in the broader context of systemic change. We see that our institutions (education, finance, politics, economy) are not equipped to serve us any longer, and we’re clawing around for a story (or stories) to describe the “new way of doing things” that can be agreed upon by society so we can move forward.

As Jonah notes in the video, it’s marketers and designers who are closing this myth gap and infusing our culture with the new stories we can choose about how to live our lives and exist in the world. It’s a powerful message, and one that seems pretty accurate to me.

People are disillusioned and lacking trust, and a new story infused with simplicity, aesthetics, beauty and grace will go far. I think many of us are looking for something resonant to believe in and stand behind, something that is in alignment with our deep desires, passions, values and principles

So what are some stories shaping culture today?

Well here’s a few that I’ve been listening to and weaving into the architecture of my own mind:

  • Makers, hackers, prosumers, and cultural creatives are the driving force of the new economy.
  • It makes practical sense to support local economies, buy food that’s grown regionally when possible, and build resilience by creating infrastructures designed to weather uncertainty.
  • The “future of money” is about cooperation over competition. We’re llearning how to intelligently share resources, build value together, and display integrity in thought, word and action – which is then reflected in a boost of social currencies like reputation, influence, trust, authority, and access to opportunities.
  • Mindless consumption is uninspiring, and ultimately a distraction from engaging in the types of behavior that actually lead to sustained happiness. These include: spending time with people we love, having goals and actively working towards accomplishing them, and cultivating gratitude daily for having the opportunity to experience Life.

These are just a few narratives that keep me inspired and motivated these days.

What stories are guiding you towards a more meaningful future?

In today’s polarized and fractured narrative landscape, the winners are those who can get above the noise and weave new mythologies that act as a beacon of light for the path ahead.   As a wise man once said:

“Those who tell the stories rule society.” ~ Plato

Below are a few resources to help you on your journey to becoming better storytellers and mythmakers.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

“A concept is a brick. It can be used to build the courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.”Brian Massumi – Introduction to A Thousand Plateaus

Some Storytellers I Like:

– Notthisbody
– KS12
– Compathos
Coalition of the Willing
– Cowbird
– Epipheo Studios
– Workbood Project
– Motherlode

A few storytelling curators on twitter worth checking out:



The Hero with a Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell on comparative mythology
slide:ology – the art and science of creating great presentations
Resonate – present visual stories that transform audiences

Further Resources:

Center for Digital Storytelling
7 Tips for Storytelling
Digital Storytelling: A Tutorial in 10 Easy Steps
The 17 Stages of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth – infographic
Storytelling for Knowledge Management in Projects – slideshare
Influence through Storytelling – slideshare
The Social Life of Visualization: Part 1
Transmedia Storytelling – wikipedia
Story-Based Communication Skills – on scribd by makingstories
With Clarity and Beauty, the Weight of Authority – NYTimes
The Pull of Narrative – In Search of Persistent Context – john hagel
Lost in Translation – language profoundly influences the way people see the world
The Future of Social Networks is Storytelling
The Hero’s Journey – video on big think

header image via

jonah sachs video via @mgusek555

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Venessa MiemisVenessa Miemis is a Media Studies graduate student at the New School in NYC, exploring what happens at the intersection of technology, culture, and communication. Connect with her at and on Twitter @venessamiemis.

Venessa Miemis




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