Tag Archives: Author Blog

  • The Sentence: The Transformative Power of Storytelling in Diagnosis

    In the diagnostic moment on story is told and another one is triggered. Hon. John Collier. No. 177. Royal Academy and Paris salon. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

    Imagine the following scene. You’ve had some symptoms that worried you. You’ve gone to the doctor who agreed that a diagnostic work-up was in order. You’ve had an X-ray, maybe a scan, and some blood work run. The results are back, and you are in the doctor’s office, awaiting the verdict. On the one hand, you’re thinking “It’s probably nothing. I’ve just been overworked recently.” On the other, you are asking yourself, “Suppose it’s something serious?”

    We have probably all rehearsed this kind of scene in our heads. What would we do/say/think/feel if the doctor were to say “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you have [name of dire diagnosis].” We might have a list of activities to tick off, people with whom to reconcile, places or things to do or see.  Just getting a diagnosis ends up dividing as Suzanne Fleischman wrote: “a life into ‘before’ and ‘after,’ …[a division]… henceforth superimposed onto every rewrite of the individual’s life story.” She wrote this after her own diagnosis of what was to be a fatal leukemia.

    Imagining this story is not hard, if we haven’t experienced or witnessed it before, because the diagnosis is so common a device in stories of all kinds. Diagnosis is, in itself, a story. It links together a set of phenomena in a usually linear manner, it generates an explanation, a plot line, and a denouement, in which a knotted bundle of threads gets untangled.  It is a trope, or a motif. The stories of diagnosis are told in a particular tone, with an expectation of a particular kind of outcome. This is why we can imagine the diagnostic scene. We’ve seen in before in many other guises: a sombre newspaper report about a celebrity learning about an unexpected cancer, a book in which the protagonist must wrestle with the knowledge of his newly-announced disease, a film in which the main character watches her life wind down after learning she has an early-onset dementia. The picture accompanying this post barely needs a caption. We can recognize this scene.

    Thinking about diagnosis as a story gives us opportunities. Any story can be retold, or reframed. There are many narrative templates, and not all are linked to devastating change.  Importantly, thinking of diagnosis as a story, we have an opportunity to release ourselves from the dominating grip of diagnosis-as-verdict, diagnosis-as-moment-of-truth.

    How about we move away from the contemporary tendency of narrative constructions, be they about diagnosis or something else, to focus on personal change. It is a tendency that my friend and novelist Damien Wilkins laments, as it “leaves out other ways of being in the world.” It’s not that transformation stories don’t have their place, but there are other ways of telling stories.  Save the powerful about-turns for when they matter, he argues: “the notion of personal change – change which is improving – is both disreputable and unmoveable, tarnished and resolute, art’s cheapest trick and its most generous gift.” [i]

    Narratives don’t always have to promise change.  If we hearken back to the Greeks, the dominant narrative form focused on observing what happened to people as they endured trials. The trials were administered by fate, and rather than transforming the characters, they revealed them. They ride on, and through, the chaos of life, with only fate as immovable.  In contrast to the change narrative (like the moment the doctor is going to tell us the name of some dreaded malady), it is not a moment where a power structure is revealed. The narrative affirms, rather than changes the character.

    Diagnosis: Truths and Tales focuses on revealing the prevalence of the change narrative to which diagnosis clings, highlighting its transformative power, and suggesting a re-narration that will make the experience of illness something easier to bear.


    [i] Damien Wilkins, "No Hugging, Some Learning: Writing and Personal Change," in The Fuse Box: Essays on Writing from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters, ed.  Emily Perkins and Chris Price (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2017).


    Annemarie Goldstein Jutel is Professor of Health at Victoria University of Wellington.

  • Negotiating Better by Negotiating like a Barterer

    Written by guest blogger, Brian Gunia.

    On a recent wintry weekend, for the lack of a better option, my daughters and I visited “Ridley’s Accept it or Else.” Our excitement over this museum of the odd must’ve been obvious, as the receptionist immediately offered a three-attraction combo ticket.

    “And what does that include?” I inquired.

    “All our weird and wacky attractions,” she said, “along with the marvelous house of mirrors and the exhilarating 4-D motion theater.”

    “Are all those appropriate for a six- and three-year-old?” I probed.

    “Oh yes, there’s nothing scary here.”

    I should’ve known better. But on this, our first visit to Ridley’s, I wanted to show my ragamuffins a good time. So I bought it.

    And I’ll admit it: We lapped up their weird and wacky attractions. From locks of Lincoln’s hair, to a shrunken head, to a T-Rex made of pop tart wrappers, we relished some of the world’s oddest oddities.

    But then came the marvelous house of mirrors. A pitch-black maze of mirrors from which several world-renowned explorers have never escaped, it wasn’t so marvelous for my three-year-old. It propelled her into a state of abject fear.

    And so, when we somehow escaped and approached the exhilarating 4-D motion theater, she wouldn’t even consider it. Nor could I blame her given the signs about sudden movements and sharp drops.

    Appropriate for a six- and three-year-old? The former maybe, the latter absolutely not.

    In sum, none of us really enjoyed the mirrors, and none of us even tried the theater. So I was irritated and wanted money back. And my daughters’ impending hunger and extreme fatigue made me want it now.

    Operating under the visceral influences of irritation, hunger, and fatigue, I must admit I adopted a negotiation style that my book explicitly criticizes: the monetary mindset. Specifically, I marched up to the receptionist, told her what I thought of her sales tactics, and demanded some money back. In so doing, I was treating this negotiation like a monetary transaction, making the unproductive assumptions that:

    • I wanted just one thing (a big rebate)
    • I was negotiating with just one person (the receptionist)
    • She wanted just the opposite (no rebate)
    • For me to win, she’d have to lose
    • Or else we’d have to compromise

     

    “Let me call my supervisor,” said the receptionist, followed shortly after the call by, “We can’t give you any money back.”

    Most people’s story stops right there. They adopt the monetary mindset, fight over a fixed pie, and march out of Ridley’s with little or nothing but frustration to show for it.

    To the receptionist’s extreme credit, though, she attached another statement to the last: “But we can offer you our latest book on Ridley’s oddest oddities.”

    Now, I doubt the receptionist was thinking quite so strategically, but this statement epitomizes the approach my own book actually recommends: the bartering mindset. In offering the Ridley’s book, she was treating this negotiation like bartering trade, making the much more productive assumptions that:

    • She wanted and could offer several things (e.g., my future business and the book, respectively)
    • She was negotiating with several people (my souvenir-hungry daughters in addition to myself)
    • I wanted and could offer several things too (e.g., to satisfy my daughters and visit Ridley’s again, respectively)
    • For her to succeed, I’d have to feel like a winner too
    • Which we could achieve by exchanging the book for no hard feelings about the initial scam

     

    In sum, the receptionist compensated for her earlier sketchiness by adopting a highly productive negotiation strategy that treated the situation like bartering trade, i.e., by assuming the bartering mindset. Awakened from the visceral influences of irritation, hunger, and fatigue by her sophisticated response, I shed my own unproductive monetary mindset, accepted the book gratefully, and publicly promised my daughters to return to Ridley’s soon. And don’t think they’ll forget it.

    Just a funny story to introduce my new book, The Bartering Mindset, which will help you grapple with many of life’s challenges—including the substantially more serious. I hope you’ll join me in learning to negotiate like a barterer.


    Brian C. Gunia is Associate Professor at the Carey Business School, Johns Hopkins University and the author of The Bartering Mindset: A Mostly Forgotten Framework for Mastering Your Next Negotiation.

  • Before the Country: The Native Renaissance and Our Search for a National Mythology

    With the recent reprinting of Before the Country, published over a decade ago now, we asked author Stephanie McKenzie to share how her book is still resonating with scholars interested in the study of the Native Renaissance in Canada.


    I’m not sure how others might understand what I hope is the continued significance of Before the Country, a study of the literary, political, and social context of the Native Renaissance of the late 1960s and 1970s and non-Indigenous mythologizing that followed on the heels of this movement. I hope my monograph has increased interest in this body of literature.

    The study is still very relevant to me and has spurred on further scholarship. Building on theories surrounding the study of oral literatures, I have now immersed myself in a consideration of the aesthetic markers in written literatures that grow out of oral traditions. This focus was at the heart of Before the Country when I turned to the theories of Milman Parry and Albert Lord to help make sense of writing produced by mature Indigenous voices during this Native Renaissance.

    There was little-to-no criticism during the time I was writing to help understand why the poetry of Chief Dan George, to offer one noteworthy example, carried such distinct markings of an aesthetic that was fresh in Canadian poetry when post-modernism was beginning to take hold. Recently, I have turned to Parry and Lord’s fieldwork in former Yugoslavia where they studied the gusle and guslar traditions and tried to define the formulaic characteristics of oral literatures. Living in Serbia for three months in 2017, I took gusle lessons and also produced my fourth book of poetry, Bow’s Haunt: The Gusle’s Lessons. I thought that, perhaps, pragmatic study of this instrument and immersion in a culture might grow my theoretical insights.

    I am belabouring an explanation of my own scholarly growth to highlight how Before the Country is still relevant to me and how I hope its assertions might still be examined by others. When I was writing Before the Country I was largely digging through boxes in the library of Victoria College at the University of Toronto. Many Indigenous texts of the late 1960s and 1970s lay buried in boxes with the exception of seminal works like Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed and Lee Maracle’s Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel.

    I believe that when Indigenous literature could no longer be ignored in the late 1980s and early 1990s and when academic units in Canada were scrambling to create courses and programmes for the study of Indigenous literatures, they immediately embraced what was before them – the writings of Tomson Highway, Jeannette Armstong, and Beatrice Culleton Mosionier, for example. They did not turn back to what I think is the most important body of Indigenous literature in Canada: the building blocks of what has become the most exciting creative writing in this country today.

    Perhaps the academy’s omissions were due to a lack of time. Most certainly, the omissions had to have a lot to do with the fact that a significant amount of Indigenous writing of the 1960s/1970s was out of print. This is still true today.

    I hope that a belief in the continued relevance of Before the Country leads to the following: the re-issuing of Indigenous texts from this time period; a serious revisioning of the Canadian literary canon, which needs to include these voices; a continued challenging of greatness in the study of poetry that still does not really account for notable aesthetics of Indigenous literatures during a foundational stage.

    I also hope that the greatest fault of Before the Country – the lack of fieldwork – will prompt scholars to reconsider the essential role of ethnography and anthropology in literary analysis. When I was writing this study, I simply spread books in front of me, read and critically responded to texts in isolation. On the one hand, I think this was healthy as it solidified the fact that Indigenous literatures do not have to be handled with kid gloves. They grow from ancient traditions (albeit arrested during the residential school period) which can hold their own. They deserve intricate criticism.

    On the other hand, though an understandable, if not virulent, avoidance of ethnographical research during the 1980s and 1990s, commensurate with the desire to efface a longstanding objectification of “the Indigenous,” is explicable, I don’t think this is healthy. It is important to understand what shapes voices and from where voices emerge. This is what the gusle has taught me and what Before the Country inevitably pointed to.

    With the reprinting of Before the Country, published over a decade ago now, I would hope that people would still consider this scholarship relevant, even if that means to challenge, refute, or reveal weaknesses in the book. There are many. However, I would hope that the book’s existence underscores the relevance of Indigenous literature of the late 1960s and 1970s and the reason behind my commitments.

     

    Stephanie McKenzie teaches in the English Programme at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Corner Brook. Listen in on Dr. McKenzie's recent podcast, Poetry and the Gusle, in which she discusses her recent book and shares her research on the gusle, a musical instrument that accompanies epic poetry in Southeastern Europe. For more information see www.stephaniemaymckenzie.com.


    Looking for more on the subject? You might also be interested in Cheryl Suzack's Indigenous Women's Writing and the Cultural Study of Law.

  • Putting the Devil in Context

    Elizabeth Lorentz was a young maid servant in early modern Germany who believed herself to be tormented by the devil, and who was eventually brought to trial in 1667. We invited Peter A. Morton and Barbara Dähms to discuss their new book, The Bedevilment of Elizabeth Lorentz, and how they give the reader the opportunity to grapple with Elizabeth’s testimony for themselves.

    Written by guest blogger, Peter A. Morton

    This book is the second translation of trial records from the city of Brunswick in the seventeenth century that Barbara Dähms and I have published with University of Toronto Press. The first was The Trial of Tempel Anneke: Records of a Witchcraft Trial in Brunswick, Germany, 1663. Both trials involved an accusation of a pact with the Devil. A question that naturally arises is what this trial offers that distinguishes it from that of Tempel Anneke. The short answer is that Lorentz's testimony reveals some of the richness and complexity of early modern ideas of the Devil and his relations with human beings.

    The first point to make about the trial of Elizabeth Lorentz is that it was not a witch trial. Although she was accused of making a diabolical pact, no one involved in the case suspected that Elizabeth was a witch according to the picture that drove the witch trials. And this raises the question, why not? It would not have been difficult for the court officials to interrogate Elizabeth about the common aspects of witchcraft, especially the use of harmful magic and attendance at the sabbat. The use of torture was an option open to them, if they had wanted to force such confessions from her. The same court did just that in the trial of Tempel Anneke just a few years earlier. Yet, according to the records, both the court and the legal faculty at the University of Helmstedt accepted fairly readily that Elizabeth was a troubled soul, and that her pact (if there was one) did not derive from a desire to harm others as was commonly assumed of witches. A second point is that the stories of the Devil came from Elizabeth herself, not from the questioning of the court officials. The officials based their questions on what Elizabeth said of her own experiences.

    There is here, I believe, a valuable lesson about early modern European beliefs concerning human relations with the Devil and his demons: There was not a single template applied universally to every suspicion of involvement with the Devil. As Stuart Clark long ago emphasized in his book, Thinking with Demons, despite the degree of uniformity in demonological thinking, the concept of human interaction with demons served a myriad of purposes and could be adapted to many circumstances. In the introductory essay to The Bedevilment of Elizabeth Lorentz I tried to convey some of the variety of ways in which concourse with the Devil was conceived of between the medieval and early modern periods. As I emphasized there, fitting Elizabeth neatly into any of these categories is problematic. These trial records will hopefully underscore the importance of not rushing to conclusions when we find the Devil appearing in historical documents.

    With regard to understanding Elizabeth's testimony, the reader of these documents is in somewhat the same position as that of the court officials. We have Elizabeth's behavior as it was reported by the family and servants of her employer, Hilmar von Strombek, and we have her own descriptions of her experiences. What we don't have is her presence before us, and so we must use the documents we have as best we can. The objective in preparing this book, as it was with The Trial of Tempel Anneke, was to present the reader with the documents as much as possible in the same manner as they would be encountered in the archive reading room. The opportunity is there for the reader to sift through the evidence so as to determine how best to make sense of the rather extraordinary tales Elizabeth tells.

    Readers in the twenty-first century are of course not likely to take Elizabeth's descriptions of the Devil as literally true, and so they will perhaps look for psychological origins of her testimony. This is an option the court considers as well. But understanding the trial records requires us to recognize that Elizabeth's testimony conformed with a belief in the reality of the Devil that was universally accepted. There was at that time no reason to reject the truth of her testimony of demonic temptation without some kind of strong evidence against it. For the court, the possibility that Elizabeth was "not of sound mind" was fully consistent with the truth of her stories of spiritual torment by the Devil. We cannot, therefore, simply label or explain away her claims of demonic encounters; to gain a sympathetic reading of the records we must, rather, "think with demons."

    Much the same can be said for the supplementary reading of the book, the preface to a book of prayers for Appolonia Stampke, a girl who believed herself to be possessed by the Devil. There are dramatic ways of imagining cases of possession: violent behavior, strange preternatural powers, and so on. Some of these ideas have their origins in the history of possession. But there is little of this in the behavior of Appolonia, although some of the scenes in the church must have been startling. The story presented to us by her pastor, Melchior Neukirch, is that of a pious girl struggling to maintain her faith against doubts implanted by Satan. Like the attacks on Elizabeth, Appolonia's actions need to be read carefully against their social and religious background.

    The editor and translator of this book hope that the records will offer a chance for the reader to work directly with the complexities and nuances in the responses of ordinary people in early modern Europe to evidence of the Devil in their world.

    Peter A. Morton is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Humanities at Mount Royal University and author of the newly-released book The Bedivilment of Elizabeth Lorentz.

    Barbara Dähms is a translator.

  • Strategic, Agile, People-Powered Change – The New Growth Imperative

    By Ellen R. Auster and Lisa Hillenbrand

    Now more than ever, businesses require Stragility: Strategic, Agile, People-Powered Change. And yet silos, hierarchies, and politics get in the way. Careers stagnate, growth stalls, and organizations fall short on delivering their mission. We know people need to be both empowered and agile but we don’t know how to skill up our organization to deliver it. From our book Stragility, here are three actions you can take and recent examples of firms that have put them into practice.

    Sense and Shift Instead of Lock and Load

    So often in today’s business world, we lock and load on the first feasible solution and sell it up the hierarchy. American Express' Chief Marketing Officer, Elizabeth Rutledge, is embracing a new model. Her team recognized the need to re-skill the organization and created an agility training and a certification program. They have developed agile methodologies and work processes and they are creating shared ownership enabling people to make decisions on the spot, without the need to send them up the hierarchy.

    Marketers are collaborating like never before and finding “human connection moments” with each other and customers. The changes are enabling AMEX’s 55,000 employees to deliver their new promise of “Don’t live life without it” and meet growth objectives. (Source: Keynote talk by Elizabeth Rutledge, Association of National Advertisers, October 26, 2018)

    Inspire and Engage Instead of Tell and Sell

    Telling and selling ideas is tempting but without strong purpose and compelling stories and programs, real change will never happen. Disney continues to create passionate “cast members” who delight their customers year after year by encouraging them to exemplify the Disney magic. Take for example a recent story of a deaf child who was able to sign with Mickey and Minnie Mouse cast members that was shared widely inspiring both cast members and customers.

    And their #Dream Big Princess campaign is inspiring girls everywhere to be brave and intelligent and to lead, instead of waiting for their prince to come.

    Change Fitness Instead of Change Fatigue

    Faced with a barrage of change, it’s easy for people to get overwhelmed. CIGNA decided to do something about it. They are tackling the three biggest causes of illness (and lost productivity): opioid addiction, loneliness, and stress. And they have begun each program with their employees. Already 96% of employees have gotten an annual health assessment. Here’s CIGNA’s opiod announcement from May.

    Lisa Bacus, their Chief Marketing Officer, explains the program at the ANA meeting in Orlando, October 25, 2018.

    For more ideas on how your organization can be more agile and more effective, pick up a copy of Stragility at Amazon.com or contact the authors at stragilitychangemanagement.com to request a customized workshop or consultation.

    BIOS

    Lisa Hillenbrand is the founder of Lisa Hillenbrand & Associates. She previously served as Global Marketing Director at Procter & Gamble. She specializes in marketing, strategy and organization change interventions that return brands to growth. She led the team that “re-engineered” Procter & Gamble’s company-wide brand building approach. Hillenbrand has delivered keynotes for the AMA, Marketing Science Institute, and Thomas Edison Foundation, and has consulted with and led top rated workshops for Google, Facebook, Estée Lauder, ConAgra, and many others.

    Ellen R. Auster is Professor of Strategic Management and Executive Director of York Change Leadership at the Schulich School of Business at York University. She has more than 25 years of experience as an academic and consultant specializing in shared leadership, stakeholder inclusive, value creating approaches to change that cultivate the capabilities needed for continuous reinvention and ongoing success. She has published widely in journals including The Academy of Management Review, Management Science, Sloan Management Review, The Journal of Business Ethics, Organization Studies, Human Resource Management, Research Policy, and written four books.

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