Photo via IDEOU’s Twitter account

Learning about storytelling from IDEO

Last week I finished my first digital course at IDEO University — Storytelling for Influence. Five weeks full of ‘‘Aha!’’ moments, and a great learning ride.

I’m grateful for this experience and keen to share what I’ve learned along the way. I documented the entire journey during the course. I trust my memory, but I trust written thoughts even more.

What follows is the red thread of what I find worthy of sharing with you. This way, maybe you will join the lovely community of IDEO fellows.

The Starting Line

I had huge emotions. It was my first serious digital course. On top of that, it was in the IDEO’s playground. IDEO, OMG! They’re leading the design and communication industry, everyone knows and venerates them. Who doesn’t have a clue about their mindblowing work should definitely quit reading this story and skim through their website(s).

Be brave, Oana!

It was Sunday morning, and I needed to focus on my first homework. Everything looked so tough to achieve. Not because I was lazy nor that I wanted to do something else instead of facing this challenge. It is because I was afraid. Scared of being not good enough, terrified of not reaching the standards, anxious of being vulnerable. In the end, I was dealing with a course created by A-players of any kinds, and from the whole world.

I had my flat white next to me, so it was time to show up and join the party. I started with three drafts of stories structured after a framework suggested by the IDEOU team. I danced between different approaches and topics, but I chose the one tailored to Pixelgrade. In the end, I had this chance thanks to the their learning mantra aka developing and earning new skill sets.

Structure makes the world go round

The first win was a short and to-the-point sentence written by one of the amazing Teaching Assistants from IDEOU. It made my day! 🎉

Switching habits

I thought I got it right. I felt I knew how my story would look like on the finish line. Well, certainties don’t last when you attend this kind of course. I was in the middle of their game, and suddenly I remembered that constraints are liberating, as one of my friends would say.

After I was drained of energy I succeeded to finish homework No. #1 — Define your blueprint. Great feeling, and a boost of motivation to continue the journey. I was excited to find out what’s the next adventure.

Dig deeper into the structure

One particular thing I’m still admiring today is the fact that during the course reflection was mandatory. I, as many of us, am tempted to finish things and move my drive to the next big goal. To accomplish other missions. To achieve a wide range of results.

The course learned me to push the pause button. To leave enough room to explore more perspectives, to reread the story after a few days, to let the words rest. On one hand, I thought of it as a huge privilege. In the end, how many people tell you to stop and rethink the puzzle? Well, at least now I’m confident that this is the norm, the standard.

Read, watch, draw. Whatever helps your exploration process.

Give before you get is one of my mantras, so I tried to lend a hand and share some of my favorite resources regarding storytelling. I was proud to connect the dots and see that I’m familiar with some pros from this field: Brené Brown and Jacqui Banaszyinski were introduced in my life by the lovely people of The Power of Storytelling conference, while Wylie Dufresne became a must-read thank to Adela.

Give them a try!

Ask for genuine feedback

Next step: refine the story. At IDEO I (re)learned in how many ways I could ask for valuable feedback from peers. Because I know for a fact that my teammates feel more confortabile with the written form, I stuck with this option. I’m quite satisfied with the results.

These were the questions suggested by the teaching crew to ask to get insightful responses.

  • What was memorable?
  • What do you have questions about?
  • What moved or motivated you?
  • What, in your opinion, was the big idea?

I received a bunch of ideas and perspectives, even though they had some things in common. I admit I was a bit nervous with this experiment, but I was happy to see that my mates were open to be part of the process.

Feedback is a form of personal growth

One week later I was encouraged to provide feedback to two-three students from Storytelling for Influence. It was, once again, a chance to help out the community, and create strong liaisons with other people. Nonetheless, I received a particular scheme since not each opinion is valuable and it can mislead the receiver.

I chose two stories that were tightened to the customer service topic. Since I have a special focus in this area, it was pretty natural to stick with them. For the first one I used the inspire version of offering insights, and for the second one I had the chance to wear the provoke lens. It felt great to know that I can adjust the tempo of two other stories that can change the world for the better. Yaaay! 🍾

The great thing is that when you do good you get the same in return. At least that happens to me in general, and this course made no exception. Few days after writing comments to others’ stories, I got this message:

Teaching Assistant who also answered my Twitter messages

Final lap

I enjoyed how this experience kept the momentum over the five weeks of hard work. I deeply appreciate how it was structured, delivered, and packed.

In the final lap I was asked to record a short video with me, sharing this specific message: I am a storyteller. I avoided this exercise since a teammate from the course dropped the perfect link about finding the right hat (and name) when it comes to storytelling.

Be among the best

The last week was a bit blurry because we launched Osteria, our latest WordPress gem. I was fully involved in the process, so I had to stay away from all the chat around the course. The good news was that I was able to recover later on. On top of that, I felt proud when I came back on the story, and I felt I was still resonating with its essence. This test made me more confident about what I’ve created during this experience.

Small wins matter

I need small wins more than ever. They’re part of my way of understanding the world and improving it one step at a time. They give me fuel for the long game and make me grateful for how far I’ve headed.

I deeply believe celebration should be natural, not an act of bravery. A state of mind that brings people together and makes them stronger.

One down, much more to come!

I was thrilled to receive the certificate, even though at 28 years old I’m far more interested into how this experience shaped my understanding of what storytelling means than a piece of paper with my name on it. But the second is relevant as well. I would be naive to assume the opposite.

I will publish the final story on Pixelgrade’s Medium profile. I feel this is the right thing to do. Is tailored to my universe, but this team is a huge part of it. It all started with my desire to inspire them to act like true brand ambassadors, and accept the path as a challenge that they can influence for the better. Time will tell if my story influences them in the right way.

I’m a proud player at pixelgrade — design studio where we create WordPress themes that solve real digital problems.👋