Tell me a story

Bill Law, the man behind Career Learning Theory and Community Interaction Theory, has recently been focusing on the use of narrative techniques in careers education. His most recent idea is the use of storyboarding as a way of exploring and understanding career choice.

In storyboarding, you sketch a sequence of key scenes in the development of your career thinking — key events and influential moments. You can also attempt to speculate on possible future stories as a form of creative envisioning and action planning.

Although much of this is primarily aimed at school-age careers work, it could be an interesting technique to use with more creative or visually-oriented students (English, Drama, Film, Media, Fine Art, etc.). It may also be a technique that engages the right side of the brain as well as the left.

Law identifies four key features of a rounded story:

  • Sequence — looking at how one thing has led to another, cause and effect. How did you get from there to here? How will you get from here to there?
  • Points of view — different perspectives on the same issue or event. How would this look to someone else? How will it look to you in the future?
  • Turning points — crucial moments when things could change and new directions could be taken. What other options did you have? What options do you have now? What options do you want in the future?
  • Change of mind — letting go of old ways of thinking, embracing new possibilities. How are you different now from the beginning of the story? How will you be different in the future?

He also lists five elements of a story which provide a guide to exploring how people have constructed their career identities:

  • People — Who has been influential in this person’s story? Who else could enter the story and change the plot?
  • Places — How has the background of the client influenced their story? What new locations will they encounter?
  • Talk — What has been said to this person? What are they saying to themselves?
  • Events — What has happened to influence this person? What do they consider normal?
  • Meanings — How have they decided what is important? How have they dealt with disappointment?

Much writing on narrative in careers work is extremely interesting but hard to translate into something practical (aside from the ubiquitous life-line exercise). I quite like the idea of storyboarding, but I’m not sure how it would work in practice with older career clients. Bill is quite keen to hear from anyone who tries to use the technique (

  • How many of the different elements and features of a story do you tend to notice in a client’s narrative?
  • Do you think that drawing a client’s attention to the narrative of their career decision-making will help them to gain greater self awareness?
  • Can you think of other techniques to help clients explore the narrative of their choices?

Further reading

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  1. #1 by Tristram Hooley on 24 November 2009 - 12:37

    I had a little play with storyboarding with a group of research students I was working with the other week. It worked pretty well and generated huge amounts of material to work with. The main problem was unpicking it all in the time I’d put aside for the session.

    I like using pictures as I think it helps to move people away from stock responses about their lives and makes them think about things in a fresh way. I’ve found that the additional things about identifying characters and sets etc help to realise these things in people’s minds and also give the advisor/tutor some reference points to anchor discussion around.

    So thumbs up from me on storyboarding!

    • #2 by David Winter on 24 November 2009 - 20:06

      Thanks Tristram

      Do you think it would work with every group of researchers?
      Did you have to overcome any initial suspicion of the method or reluctance – or were they already eating out of the palm of your hand at this stage?


  2. #3 by Bill Law on 17 December 2009 - 20:18

    This is really useful David and Tristram. Thanks.

    I’m working on what I hope will be a cleaner account of storyboarding. Should be available in a matter of days. I’ll announce it on my tweet –

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