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Tap the Energy of the Unknown and the Unconventional

Leveraging the power of storytelling to benefit your career requires that you first understand the underpinnings of any story. The top three structural components of every captivating tale are (1) predictable narrative arc cycles, (2) relatable, complex characters and (3) built-in conflict that needs to be overcome.

But there are two more critical principles that the world of storytelling has to offer that can keep you open to possibilities at work. If you master them, you will become more innovative, creative, flexible, adaptive and resilient.

So, think like a writer by staying attuned to these two dynamic lessons:


A storyline must be unpredictable and counterintuitive – often, the answer a team seeks at work is as well. New ground cannot be gained, and new problems cannot be solved, just by doing the same old things. Why? Because the only way to guarantee a different conclusion is to change things up. The world is accelerating so quickly, and technology is changing so dramatically, that the familiar or historically significant is no longer enough.

Think differently by searching for unpredictable and unexpected answers everywhere (fortunately, it’s never been easier to search and discover). Borrow brilliance from how companies outside your sector solve similar challenges; try to spot trend waves that are beginning to crest; anticipate unfulfilled customer needs and wonder about how to fill that void. Sometimes, the best way to uncover the new is just to let go of what no longer serves you. Some tightly held notions in your work world may be part of an old story – a storyline that started out as true might have reached its natural conclusion.

So, turn to unconventional thought and watch how a non-traditional approach opens new doors and delivers the surprising solutions that will identify you as a bigger vision employee and amp up your success.

Test this one thing today:

To shift your perspective and help discover the unconventional, try three of the many techniques writers use to inspire new thought:

  • Asking Why not? to liberate yourself to take action after letting What if? kick your imagination into overdrive.
  • Reversing yourself by inverting whatever your typical style is to see where the opposite approach may take you.
  • Playing the “It’s this-meets-that” mash-up game is a way to stimulate thinking when you’re working on a new idea.


What role does the unknown play in storytelling? Well, it affects almost everything! No story can happen without the protagonist venturing into uncharted territory. To achieve any quest, protagonists must necessarily leave what they know behind. Not always entirely, but they must spurn familiar terrain at least in part to move forward and discover what’s next.

So, whether you choose to tiptoe or stride into the foggy unknown at work, you must do so because that’s where the new resides. And although it’s never easy, without discovering the new and confronting its associated challenges, you will literally be stuck in the same old story.

That said, the unknown always carries with it what most of us try to avoid – risk, fear and doubt. But writers can’t let that triple threat stand in the way of their protagonist’s forward motion or there would be no story. Because fear and doubt strike everyone – even the most confident protagonist is often afraid and unsure, especially in risky situations -knowing how writers make their characters take action anyway can help you at work:

  • Fear heightens a character’s senses to make them feel acutely aware and alive, which helps them reframe their fears as exciting rather than terrifying.
  • It isn’t about being totally fearless because there are times when every character should be afraid. Instead, it’s about not letting fear stand in the way of taking considered actions or making calculated decisions.
  • When characters actively deal with fear, it makes them vulnerable. And vulnerability is what makes people more relatable, which deepens relationships and contributes to success.

Test this one thing today:

Pick one new thing to do each day for a week. Nothing grand, it can be as tiny as testing a new tea or cold-brew coffee. Just be sure to sprinkle a little newness into each working hour and watch it build from there. Small steps will help you to get comfortable with the unknown and stay in the present, rather than projecting into the future.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our Spring 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Deborah Burns’ story has always been about invention and reinvention. She’s lived those two keywords throughout her career as a women’s media Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), a leader of brands like ELLE Décor and Metropolitan Home, an industry consultant and throughout a creative pivot that led to the award-winning memoir, “Saturday’s Child.”

The experience of becoming an author illuminated the path to her second book, “Authorize It! Think Like a Writer to Win at Work & Life.” Now, Deborah combines her business and creative expertise in professional development workshops that improve outcomes and help everyone invent, reinvent and live up to their career potential.

You can connect with Deborah on LinkedIn or at her website. You can also read all of Deborah’s previous Featured Contributor blogs here.

Originally published April 27, 2021.

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