Book Club: Story Driven by Bernadette Jiwa

The subtitle of Story Driven tells you pretty much exactly what you need to know about the content: You don’t need to compete when you know who you are. Targeted and professionals and entrepreneurs, Story Driven is about stopping to articulate goals, purpose, intention, and actions that are foundational to your business. Jiwa argues persuasively that when you can clearly understand who you (and your business) are, that becomes your competitive advantage and the story you need to tell to attract customers, clients, followers.

This book reminds me of Simon Sinek’s Start with Why because she asks you to really focus on who you are, what you value and stand for, why you want to do something, and how you can use that to develop a powerful sense of your identity, as a person and entrepreneur. Story Driven is divided into two main sections – her discussion of narrative identity and how to craft it followed by a number of case studies of stories organizations tell. What I like about this section is that it includes a wide variety of examples from across areas; whereas, Sinek tends to get stuck in Google and Apple worship.

Jiwa provides a structure for framing a story that includes reviewing your backstory or journey to now; articulating values, purpose, and vision; and then developing the strategy, which she defines as “the alignment of opportunities, plans, and behavior: how you will deliver on your purpose and work toward your aspiration, while staying true to your value” (43). As a mid-career faculty member experiencing some burnout, I like this framework for some deep personal reflection about my path to now and into the future. On pages 134-142, Jiwa provides very useful prompts to give structure to this reflection.

Jiwa’s focus on articulating identity and aligning goals, self, and actions to tell a coherent story make a lot of sense in terms of faculty life, especially when we come to personal crossroads such as mid-career malaise, the end of a research agenda, or a time of burnout. My returning to what attracted us to academia in the first place and mapping our stories, we can better see where we’ve been, how we have been enacting our values (or not), and how we might continue with clearer purpose. She asks, “What’s at the heart of your story? What’s the reason you got out of bed this morning?…It’s the deep, often unspoken, desire to change something you care about changing and the belief that it’s possible. [But] sometimes we forget why we started…” (32).

I enjoyed this book and this way of thinking about my professional experience as a story-driven narrative that I can control when I know where I’ve been, what I value, and what I aspire to. Agile Faculty may find this a useful exercise that can be done in parallel with writing user stories and before creating a backlog. It never hurts to be reflective before acting, not just after.

Published by

RPR

I teach Professional Writing and Rhetoric in the Department of English at Elon University. Specifically, I teach courses in professional communication and rhetorical theory, publishing, project management, and workplace research methods. My research interests include collaboration strategies in the classroom and workplace, written artifacts that mediate collaboration, and Agile project management strategies. @RPR_Elon on Twitter

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