Story Now Interview: Artem Mushin-Makedonskiy – Moscow, Russia

At the National Storytelling Network, our mission is to advance all forms of storytelling within the community through promotion, advocacy and education.

New Interview Series…STORY NOW!

The theme of our 2019 annual conference was Story Now!

Now! From the boardroom to the classroom, and the page to the stage, personal stories and folktales are catalysts for change in every aspect of our lives.

Now! We are witnessing the power of stories to tear down the walls that divide us, build bridges between people and cultures, and connect us, human-to-human.
In this interview series we’ll talk to storytellers who exemplify this Story Now! movement.

Each month we’ll sit down with an NSN member or member organization, from around the globe, and go behind the scenes to explore how they are personally harnessing the power of storytelling to tear down walls, to be a catalyst for change and connect us human-to-human. Through one-on-one, in-depth conversations, we’ll discover the type of storytelling they do, how they do it, who their audience is and, most important, they’ll give examples of the real world, tangible results they get.

Kathy Greenamyre is NSN’s Community Relationships Builder. She will be conducting interviews and contributing content each month for our Story Now! Interview Series. Kathy is the owner of a video production company. She’s interviewed hundreds of people over the past 12+ years. Her passion is to discover the world (and maybe even learn how to fix it) through listening to, recording and spreading personal stories.

To kick off this series, our first interview is with Artem Mushin-Makedonskiy, a Russian-born business storyteller living in Moscow.

 


 

Artem Mushin-Makedonskiy – Moscow, Russia

Kathy Greenamyre: What led you to storytelling? Why did you choose to go into business storytelling, in particular? Was it something you always wanted to do? If so, can you share why?

Artem Mushin-Makedonskiy: I wasn’t aiming to be a storyteller – it feels more like my fate pushed me into it.

Let me tell you how it all started. I finished my bachelor’s degree in psychology and was working at AON – global consulting company. Our main focus was employee engagement and engaging leadership. 80% of the job was tedious analytics but I put up with it all for those 20% – live soft skills trainings. I saw several Russian trainers in action and each time I grew more certain – that’s what I want to do for a living.

I was studying for my trainer’s diploma for 9-months and finally my time had come – my first training, a huge manufacturing company — a group of 15 HR specialists — “Engaging Leadership” as a topic. My dream came true – at least that’s what I was thinking the evening before the training.

My main goal was to convince those people that a leader plays a major role in the lives of his or her employees. And that was the first thing I did – after greeting the group I said: “The leader plays a major role in the lives of the employees”. The applause didn’t follow. It was dead silent and then a man in his 40-s said: “Who sent us this 20-year-old? That’s all they’ve got?”

I would love to tell you that it went better, but it didn’t. They didn’t stand up for activities, didn’t pay attention to the theory or my instructions. Somehow I managed to make it through until the first break but I was already helpless and exhausted. I had no idea how I was going to carry on.

Luckily, I had a co-trainer for training, Elmira. She was a bit older, much calmer and quieter and had an aura of a true analytical expert – in other words, the farthest you can be on a scale from “me” to “not me” 🙂 After the break she picked a chair, sat down in front of the whole group and started talking.

“A while ago we received interesting results from an employee engagement survey in a big FMCG chain. In one of Moscow’s shops 70% of employees were satisfied with their social benefit package. And in the other shop of the same FMCG chain there were only 30% satisfied employees. We checked if the employees from the first store were simply better informed: in both stores we asked, What benefits are included in your social package? In the first store the employees replied: “Free parking, health insurance and cell phone, yay!” In the second store the reply was: “Free parking, health insurance and cell phone, yuck!” SO basically they had the same knowledge but different opinions”.

She paused for a few seconds and in that moment I saw 15 men and women on the edges of their seats – desperately wishing to know what made the scores so different.

Elmira continued: “After a month of thorough investigation we had nothing – it seemed that there were no objective differences that could possibly make such a big difference. But the luck turned back to us – after one of the meetings in the second shop we overheard two people talking about their boss. From this chat we discovered that this boss came to the store from a large European company and he previously had 14 different things in his package and now he has three. We rushed to the first shop and found that their boss was serving in Russian military forces before joining the company.”

“Russian military is known for its difficult conditions so you understand how he talked to his employees about benefits. As soon as we found out that difference we started working with the communication of the second boss and tried to make it a little bit closer to what we heard from the first one. The results were amazing – one year later the gap between the marks decreased by 20% — and no, not because the first store performed worse”.

As she finishes her story the group goes silent. Then, out of nowhere, the same man that said “Who sent us this 20 year old” goes: “My, I didn’t even think the leader has such an impact”. And I’m just standing there thinking to myself: “THAT’S WHAT I TOLD YOU RIGHT AWAY!”.

I was watching Elmira in action for the rest of the training. That day, when grief, sorrow and jealousy finally took their hands off me, I realized that I had a lot to learn.

That day I understood that what she was doing is called storytelling. And from that day, would it be to “Hollywood-ish” if I told you that this was the beginning of storytelling for me? Of course it would. And the reality is totally different.

For a long time I was telling this episode as my origin story and only recently I accepted the true origin.

You see, I honestly ignored that sign and many other signs life gave me. Even my lovely wife, who has been studying narrative psychotherapy (at that time in her master’s program) and has been telling me thousands of things about using stories to hear and help, got ignored. Well, not ignored — all those things just needed time to accumulate and I needed time to “grow into them”.

How do I know it? Well… I’m a man who ignored the love of his life for 3 years while she waited patiently for him, as if she knew that I would realize it eventually… and now I’m married to her 🙂

It finally clicked all of a sudden when I was given an educational goal — to write a two-day training program on my area of expertise and 2 hours before the deadline I didn’t even have a topic.

I sat down and thought to myself: “Artem, what do you really know in life? You’ve got employee engagement, you are a good speaker. Alright, let’s go for “engaging presentations” as a topic”.

And the funniest part: when I googled that phrase to search for content, google showed me hundreds of articles on storytelling! While I was looking at the screen and my wife’s words came through my mind: “Honey, it seems you always have a story on any topic”.

That’s when it clicked. And the rest is history. Because when it clicks for me — it stays on forever (ask my lovely wife) 🙂

KG: What exactly do you offer to clients in the business storytelling space? Give examples of some of your clients and what their needs are when they hire you.

AMM: There is one thing I never offer to my clients – that’s storytelling. Just kidding. But there is some truth to it.

There are three ways I get to work with customers.

First way, the least common: Some clients come asking for training in storytelling (for leaders, salespeople or trainers for the most part). But each time I dig deeper and ask them something like “What happened that made you realize you need such training?” Basically, I ask them to tell a story, but without the word “story” (thank you, Shawn Callahan, for this great advice). In some cases we go on with the training because it fits the client’s needs. But sometimes we shift to other things like private coaching or even some kind of consulting work.

Second way, the more common: Other trainings. Let me give you an example: a large international tobacco company came to me asking for training in communications. It turned out that the teamwork was lacking and the people were not great with each other. A simple, soft skills communication training wouldn’t benefit the client so I offered a communication + storytelling program. Then while giving storytelling skills I organized several story circles aimed at facing the conflicts, and speaking about it loud and clear. The participants were learning to tell a story and in the process grew stronger as a team because they understood each other better through stories.

The third way, by far the most common: People and companies come to me with a problem. In this case I play a role of a consultant and we build the project from scratch. I often use stories in these projects because all problems I’m dealing with are connected with people. Another example: a French-based banking group wanted to make their new employees more engaged and better informed about what the company does. I created a custom onboarding program which consisted of games, exercises and lots and lots of stories from employees, top managers, clients etc. In the process I always tell such clients about storytelling but I rarely position it as a cure for everything – rather I present stories as a way to solve their unique problem or meet their unique desire.

And after the project is finished and the customer is happy I come back and explain the whole range of storytelling capabilities – which leads to new projects.

KG: How do you market yourself / your business?

AMM: Mostly through conferences — Russia has lots of them. There is a fee to participate and if you’re talented enough, you get yourself noticed and collect contacts.

The second way is my precious little treasure — the Storyteller’s Deck. I’ve designed a set of 77 cards that help people find their memories and turn them into stories to tell in the right moments of life. That’s my main marketing tool because it’s not only cards in the box — I’ve also produced a short course called “5W of Storytelling” which has 5 answers to 5 questions that stop people from working with stories (at least in my experience):

  1. What a story is and what it is not?
  2. Why do stories work and why should one use them in business?
  3. When should one tell stories and when one shouldn’t?
  4. Where can I find more great stories (apart from the Deck)?
  5. Who is a storyteller and how can you become one?

There is one more thing, actually. My business cards that I give out to people are also a networking tool. One side has my contact and info, and the other has one of twelve story eliciting questions. That way when people ask me what I do I give them a business card and ask them to tell a story. Then I coach them a little bit and show what wisdom they can transmit from their story. Works 100% of the time 🙂

KG: You’ve interviewed a number of well-known business storytellers. Was it difficult to get interviews with these busy, high-profile people? Can you tell us who they are and what you’ve learned from some of them? And are those interviews available on youtube for the general public to watch or listen to?

AMM: I saw “Lead with a Story” by Paul Smith and I fell in love with the book immediately because it had a piece of a story on its cover and to know the ending you HAD to read the book. How do I know? A cheater I am. I peeked into the first pages but it wasn’t there — so I bought the book and eventually found the story closest to the middle. I think I would have bought it any way 🙂
After reading this book I devoured “The 9 Muses” by David Hutchens. I was clearly gaining momentum and putting knowledge to test in Russian reality, and to practice after the test.

After reading 6 books in Russian in one month I realized that THAT’S IT. Only McKee’s book was left but honestly, I found it too complex for the business world. I switched to English books and read on.

And then it hit me — why limit myself with books! I found Paul’s website and tried my luck – I wrote him an email and asked for an interview. At first he offered me a written answer to the question I wrote in my email, but I replied with several more and we agreed for a Skype call.

That interview gave me many more insights than the books! It was pure experience and I knew I had to continue!

Over the last year I’ve interviewed 30+ storytellers including, Doug Stevenson, Gabrielle Dolan, Karen Dietz, Kat Koppett, Lori Silverman, Mike Adams, Mike Bosworth, Paul Smith, Shawn Callahan, Margot Leitman, Terrence Gargiulo, Mark Evans, Doug Lipman, Kyle Gray, Lyn Graft, Rob Biesenbach, Casey Hibbard, Robert Dickman, Mary Alice Arthur, Paul Lanigan, Murray Nossel, Michael Davis, Anjali Sharma and Geoff Mead.

Most of them are already available on my channel for free – here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-aYTfIiOEMdtH1mY1jzmFQ (English translation available).

To my surprise 99% of those brilliant people were wide-open to an interview! I’ve had only 2 refusals because of their busy schedules – from Michael Margolis and Donald Miller.

As for the insights – for each interview I prepare a post with key ideas. They are on my Facebook page. Each interview is full of insights, and I don’t want to make any stand out so I’ll just give you the first five insights that came to my mind:

  • “There is a reciprocal relationship between listening and telling. Telling is like water and listening is like a bowl. The bowl the listener gives the teller defines the story” Murray Nossel
  • “The story you don’t want to tell is the story you should tell – because it will help the others a lot.” Michael Davis
  • “Leadership is a useless noun. Make it into the verb – leading – and you’ll help people focus on what leaders need to do instead of what they have to become. And one thing a true leader needs to do is create meaning for and with others. And that can only be done through stories” Geoff Mead
  • “To tell great stories you have to have conviction. It’s not about staying true to the details, the details can be embellished. What cannot be changed is the truth behind the story, the message you are bringing to people. That’s the place of your conviction in the story” Paul Lanigan
  • “At a conference I ask people that come up to tell me what they do for a living. After they reply I ask if they want to hear a story about a person doing the same job. Every single time I get a “yes”, because nobody can resist a good story.” Mike Bosworth

KG: You recently told me that one of your “government structures” invited you, as a storyteller, to create an online platform with best practices of governing the country. Wow! That sounds exciting! Please explain.

AMM: Yeah, that was awesome! It all began when the President ordered Agency of Strategic Initiatives (that’s a special government unit, let’s call them ASI) to create an online-platform with best practices of people ruling the country (like, creating a program to support entrepreneurship). Main goal of that platform is to make successful practices separate from their authors so that people in other regions of the country could introduce them in their regions.

The ASI hired lots of people who are great at building online stuff and they needed someone to help them with the content. They reached out to me and explained the task:

Them: Artem, we need to gather the practices and place them online.

Me: Alright. What’s the hardest part to the task in your opinion?

Them: Hm, I guess that they’ve got to suit several conditions: their results have to be measurable, and the process of introducing the practice in the other region has to be clear and detailed.

Me: Alright.

Them: Oh, and they have to be bright to motivate people to introduce these practices.

Me: Ok, so how about this – we’ll create a story about each practice and after people hear the story they’ll have the ability to check out the data and the steps of introducing the practice?

Them: Sounds great!

After that meeting we flew to Kazan and had a 2-day strategic session for more than 100 experts, government officials etc. Our task was to help them prepare descriptions for their best practices so that we could upload them into the platform.

Everything was going great, the teams were finishing up their work with the data, and I had everything under control. And then in the coffee break our client came to me and said: “Artem, we’ll need to change the stories they prepare. We want to see not only personal experiences but also some measurable results and it has to fit into 5 minute presentations.”

Great. I had literally 15 minutes to come up with the solution. I started digging through memory in panic and found nothing relevant on that matter. I took a deep breath and started looking around, naming the stuff I see to calm myself down: Chair. Table. Water. Wall, Power Socket. Hm, interesting, a power socket in the wall, a rare thing in the age of power sockets everywhere. I wonder who was the first man to come up with sockets in tables? He must have seen someone trying to reach the wall while falling off a chair and thought: “How many more people will fall? I’ve got to fix it”. And then he made a fortune from his invention. Eureka!

I picked up a pen and paper and started scribbling the structure of the presentation:

  1. Person – tell about a person who faced the problem.
  2. Society – what problem does that represent in society? What is our goal?
  3. Action – what have we done to eliminate the problem? What were the 3 main steps?
  4. B – back to the person, where is he/she now, how does he/she feel?

I scratched my head and added two more components: quantitative analysis of general results and the next steps in the development of this practice.

I explained the structure to 6 moderators and after the break they taught it to 100+ participants in their groups. Final presentations were a grand success – people who usually prepared a deck of 50+ slides with boring theory and numbers were now alive and talking about their passions! And the client was also very pleased with the qualitative analysis.

A few weeks later I found STARQE story structure described by Lori Silverman in “Business-Storytelling for Dummies” (which was essentially a copy of my structure but created 10+ years earlier) and thought: “Hah, geniuses really have similar thoughts.” 🙂

KG: What results have you seen from working with business people in Moscow and what have you learned? Has anything surprised you, and, if so, why?

My main insight with a Russian audience is that people use the word “story” referring to everything but the real story. Over the course of my training I developed a special tradition – I make a screenshot of company’s website (the “our story” part) and include it into the deck of slides.

In the beginning of the training we go through Shawn Callahan’s 5-story markers and after that we examine several websites AND the kicker is when we open the slide with the company I’m working in that day. It always brings insights to the people.

As for the results – I don’t have any hard cases (yet) but I can see and hear from people that stories really help them make their conversations meaningful and deep. And that makes my heart sing 🙂

KG: Is there any one area of storytelling that business leaders find valuable and are asking to learn?

AMM: We have an epidemic of public speaking. That’s why storytelling is often regarded only as a speaking tool. But I use it to show people the full potential, and after teaching them how to tell a story I show them the value of story listening. And that’s where the magic happens.

As Mary Alice Arthur noticed, people are currently using storytelling as an influence tool. And that’s true for Russia. But this desire for influence makes people open to new ideas – and that’s when I introduce the more advanced abilities of storytelling and story work – meaning making, teambuilding, defining the reasons and the purpose etc.

KG: Were you born and raised in Moscow? Tell us a little bit about your backstory. You’re fluent in English. Was English taught in your home or school?

AMM: I was born in Moscow, raised by my mum who was a real hard-worker. I never knew my dad – he left when I was little – and to be honest, I don’t know quite a lot about my own story. That’s one of the reasons I work with stories and help people tell and find theirs – I know how much pain there is in not knowing.

I always wanted to become a physics PhD when I was young. I was charmed by energy and its ability to travel and connect people, cities and even planets. But I really sucked at physics (and that’s a light way of saying it, really). I finished physics specialty school with the lowest grade possible to pass the exam and turned to another area – psychology.

A radical shift, isn’t it? Well, I was madly-for-one-day in love with that girl who enrolled into psychology pre-university course. I didn’t get the girl by I found something more precious – my alma mater, Psychology faculty at The Higher School of Economics (the name is strangely narrow, this University has a really wide spectrum of subjects and faculties).

After getting my bachelor’s degree in Organizational Psychology I began working in HR consulting (obviously). There I’ve met Elmira who you already know and the rest is, well… history 🙂

As for my English skills – first of all, thank you, now I’m blushing in the middle of a crowded café. Secondly, I have a memory of my mum presenting me a gift – a huge English learning set with books, games and other stuff. To this day I remember when I was 5 years old my mum not letting me play computer games until I learned the word “ladder”. Just kidding, she was very caring. Each summer I went to a summer camp abroad and learned language, I watched movies and did a lot of stuff to keep the skill growing.

KG: So in closing, Artem, how did you find the National Storytelling Network? What made you decide to become a member? As a new member of NSN, is there anything you would love to see us provide to help you grow your storytelling business in Russia?

AMM: I first heard about the NSN from the book “Wake Me Up When The Data Is Over” by Lori Silverman. I hesitated for a bit before joining because I was not sure if the benefits of being a member were worth it for someone living abroad. Turned out it’s totally worth it!

But what persuaded me to stay was the caring and supportive emails from Kathy Greenamyre – one of the kindest listeners I’ve ever emailed. Seriously, her emails were so warm I could literally feel it (or my PC was just breaking apart from converting another interview, but I think it was Kathy).

I’m also a part of the SIO group (and actually a Board Member now responsible for the monthly calls with experts).

What I’d love to see NSN provide is some help in getting to the USA because the price of logistics is just a nightmare around here given tough political situation, international sanctions and drop of national currency.

To contact and follow Artem:

Email: Amm.storytelling@gmail.com
Facebook: https://facebook.com/mushinmakedonskiy
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/storytellersnotes/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/yourstorytel/
Website: https://yourstory.tel/
Telephone: +7 (916) 590-23-24

 

 

NSN loves publishing items submitted by the storytelling community! If you’re interested in writing something for publication on the NSN website, newsletter, or Storytelling Magazine please contact the NSN office for more information.

 

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