The ABT Framework course turned one last month. Just like a child, it has grown and changed a great deal in a year. Last week we began the 14th round of the course. Here’s what the 10 one hour sessions now look like. For a fascinating comparison and demonstration of what I’m saying about the evolution of the course, have a look back at a year ago and the original content of the 10 one hour sessions.
ONWARD AND UPWARD!
The ABT Framework Course began on April 20, 2020 in response to our Story Circles Narrative Training course being shut down by the pandemic. We’re currently in the 14th round of the course and have learned a great deal as it has evolved.
The course gave rise to a 3 Step Development model. The model became the core of the new book, “The Narrative Gym,” published last fall. The book is now pretty much the bible for the course
The training is built around the one sentence ABT Narrative Template. Each participant submits their ABT (usually for a project they are working on) at the start. They then get their chance to work on it live in front of the class as an ABT Build exercise with me, then in greater depth in the half hour Working Circle that they host with four participants.
Overall, the course consists of three main elements:
1 PRESENTATIONS – 10 half hour presentations followed by the ABT Build half hour
2 ABT BUILDS – roughly 7 minute sessions, one for each participant, to edit their ABT live
3 WORKING CIRCLES – half hour sessions outside of the 10 one hour sessions for individual ABT development
Here are the topics for the 10 presentations. The second half of the sessions are usually presented by guest speakers.
SESSION ONE: TWO AUDIENCES
We begin with the fundamental goal of the course — to NOT “preach to the converted.” This is a pre-occupation of mine from literally forty years ago. Back when I was studying coral reefs in the 1980’s and already seeing the environmental problems emerge for them, I couldn’t figure out why PBS documentaries on coral reefs were narrated with a privilege, elitist voice that was clearly meant for the people who were least likely to be involved in the destruction of nature. There are two fundamental audiences — the INNER CIRCLE and the OUTER CIRCLE. The goal and challenge is to reach the Outer Circle. That is what the ABT is for.
SESSION TWO: THE SINGULAR NARRATIVE
This is the starting point for the 3 step ABT Development Model. It begins by going to the BUT element in the ABT. This is the statement of the problem, and the problem is the core of narrative. There are lots of attributes you want the BUT element to have, starting with ideally being a single problem, making for The Singular Narrative.
SESSION THREE: THE MONOMYTH TEMPLATE
Every good story at its core is little more than a problem/solution exercise. This become clear when you take a look at the Monomyth template. This gives rise to the concept of the Ordinary World versus the Special World.
SESSION FOUR: ARCHPLOT
This course is about narrative structure, for which we draw a fair amount of knowledge from Hollywood storytelling. This session delves into the divide between mass appeal ABT-structured Archplot, and art house smaller audience AAA/DHY structured Miniplot.
SESSION FIVE: NON-LITERAL THINKING
The second half of the course requires broader, less literal thinking. This begins with the concept of “the fool.” This is the person who is so far outside your inner circle that they are beyond even your outer circle. The concept was brought to us by famous historian of the American West and MacArthur Fellow Patty Limerick. If you look at “the fool” in terms of content you can dismiss this person for not knowing your field of work. But if the fool knows narrative structure, that person can be the most valuable member of your Working Circle because their mind is so free of clutter.
SESSION SIX: LISTENING
My long time improv instructor and co-author of our “Connection” book, Brian Palermo underscores the power and importance of listening to narrative. The ABT begins with the AND element which is the power of AGREEMENT. For it to be possible, you have to be able to listen to the world around you and yield to the experts who have come before you. This is one of the central element of improv training — developing the ability to listen. It is central to the ability to communicate.
SESSION SEVEN: SALESMANSHIP
Yeah, in know, if you’re a scientist and/or academic you probably find this entire concept off-putting. But like it or not, in today’s world, the title of Daniel Pink’s bestselling book is true, “To Sell Is Human.” Park Howell, the host of the podcast, “The Business of Story,” (now it it’s 6th year) brings this element to the course with his book, “Brand Bewitchery.” And believe it or not, it provides a smooth segue into the next session, which is the writing of research proposals.
SESSION EIGHT: PROPOSAL WRITING
My undergraduate marine biology buddy and Professor of Ecology and Evolution, Dr. Dianna Padilla, listened to Park Howell in the first round of the course and immediately said, “Yes. This is totally relevant to proposal writing.” She has had decades of writing and reviewing proposals, even serving as a program officer for the National Science Foundation. When she said narrative concepts from the business world are relevant, you know it’s for real. Also, she underscores the need to, “Genuflect to the Elders,” meaning the need to study, absorb and cite the proper literature for research that has come before you. It is central to writing successful proposals, and it is right there in the A of the ABT.
SESSION NINE: THE NARRATIVE SPIRAL
In another shocking development in this course, Dr. Nancy Knowlton (of the Smithsonian Institution and member of the National Academy of Sciences) listened to Park Howell talk about his concept of “The Narrative Spiral,” and immediately saw the relevance to her work on “Earth Optimism” and the entire history of the American environmental movement of the past century. She brings both the monomyth template and the larger scale pattern of the Narrative Spiral to make sense of the long term journey of the environmental community in general.
SESSION TEN: NARRATIVE SELECTION
A rather communications-challenged climate scientist once said to me, “Randy, you just think the ABT is a hammer and everything is a nail.” Imagine telling a molecular biologist, “You just think DNA is a hammer and everything in life is a nail.” Um, yeah, actually it is. And actually, Park Howell said long ago, when he first absorbed the ABT that it is “The DNA of Story.” Thus I titled my fourth book, “Narrative Is Everything.” It really is. This final session brings the entire course together for the grand synthesis as most, if not all, of the participants exit the course with a new realization of the overwhelming and ubiquitous power of narrative structure.
Plus having had fun.