• Rain Bennett

Ep. 42: Story Design: a Tool for Change with Denise Withers

Updated: Nov 28, 2020

This week’s guest is Denise Withers, a filmmaker, story strategist, and author of Story Design: The Creative Way to Innovate. Denise seeks to create world change through her stories & strategies.

In this episode, we discuss Story Design, the combination of storytelling and design thinking; how to use story as a sense-making tool; and how to continue serving our communities in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic.



Have you lost your job, had clients pull out of contracts, or been shut down by the government due to the coronavirus pandemic?

If so, you’re not alone.

Almost everyone I know has lost significant income during this crisis.

In the best cases, they’re barely staying afloat by making major adjustments and ruthlessly cutting expenses. In the worst cases, they’ve had to close their doors -- maybe forever.

When I preach the messages of the power of storytelling, it’s usually about how to use it to sell your products or services, how to grow or strengthen your communities, or how to more deeply connect with your audiences.

But did you know that storytelling can actually be used to problem solve?

This week on the show I talked to Denise Withers, a filmmaker, story strategist, and author of Story Design: The Creative Way to Innovate.

Denise is what’s called a “change strategist” and she has spent decades writing and directing science documentaries for Discovery Channel. Now she takes all the lessons she learned telling those stories and uses a process called “story design” to help people create change in their lives and businesses.

And that is exactly what people enduring the coronavirus crisis need to do:

Make change.

“We all have this narrative intelligence. We all understand at a really innate level how stories work. And we all have a lifetime of experience of stories stored up inside us… How do we unlock the stories that are hidden in everybody’s expertise?” - Denise Withers

Denise and I dove deep into this process of story design -- which is a combination of storytelling and design thinking -- to discover creative ways that people can pivot their businesses, how we can use story as a sense-making tool, and how to continue serving our communities in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

If you are one of the people who are feeling lost right now and are looking for a way out of the hole coronavirus has created,

this episode will show you the way!

Some highlights from our conversation:

  • How COVID-19 has affected day-to-day business

  • Controlling the narrative

  • Using stories as a sense-making tool. How to help our community make meaning from complexity.

  • Wild11: a worldwide wilderness conference that Denise was supposed to be a story coach for

  • Denise’s career start in mini-documentaries

  • Denise’s work with Discovery Channel

  • How to tell scientific stories for a lay-audience

  • The best way to engage people: draw them into a problem

  • Epistemic curiosity: a learning theory that applies well to narrative engagement

  • The best way to maintain engagement: continue to open new problem spaces

  • What being a “Change Strategist” means

  • Story Design: combining storytelling and design thinking to help leaders solve problems

  • Using stories as a prototyping tool

  • Why Denise is naturally drawn to nonprofit work and the public sector

  • Using stories as a research tool

  • How to unlock the stories that are hidden in everybody’s expertise

  • How & why stories are powerful to enact change

  • How to tell stories of the future

  • How to use stories of the past to make future change

  • Why stories make abstract concepts concrete and easy to understand

  • The difference between stories and narrative

  • Taking control of your narrative

  • Scenario planning

  • Strategic foresight: using trends to make strategic predictions for your business

  • Thinking of the hero of the story as a designer, constantly designing a solution to their problem

  • Using your COVID-19 quarantine experience as a chance to be creative in your business strategy

  • Using “What if?” in your business strategy

  • Helping scientists tell stories

  • The idea of how we listen to stories and how we analyze stories

  • Denise’s shift to design sprints & where you can find more information!

As always, I hope you enjoy the episode!

Peace and Love,



Find Denise on LinkedIn at

Follow Denise on Twitter @denisewithers

And visit her website:

For more storytelling tips and tricks,

Follow us on Instagram @sixsecondstories

Visit our website

Hosted by Rain Bennett (@rainbennett | Twitter) (

#podcast #thestorytellinglab #storytelling #valuesfirst


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