The First Annual Story Field Conference

The Evolving Storycology Project

Tom Atlee reports from 2015...

an 'imagineering' article

What began eight years ago as a "story field conference" has evolved into a multi-media, interwoven, ongoing blitz of visionary stories emerging in all corners of society from a highly collaborative, co-creative, chaordic network of hundreds of visionary storytellers. They are novelists, actors, screenwriters, producers, publishers, performers, musicians, artists, historians, psychologists, scenario consultants -- even dreamworkers and city planners. Their purpose was -- and is -- to shift the cultural narrative of the US and the world towards more positive futures. And, uncannily, they seem to be succeeding.

They call it a "storycology" project because they don't think in terms of isolated stories. All the stories together create a story ecology, just as all the animals and plants in a forest create an arborial ecology. Thus they speak of a storycology. They also speak of a "story field" -- almost like a magnetic field, only it is narrative rather than magnetism that gives the field its life-shaping power.

Their first storyfield conference of August 2007 was a freewheeling affair of about 170 storytellers and experts in social evolution and sustainability. Using an "open space" format, they created their own discussions and working sessions, out of which came the idea for the Storycology Project -- envisioned actually more as a movement or network than a project. During the next year, the network got off to a fast start with dozens of collaborators using quickly created and disseminated modalities like blogs, online videos and podcasts, short stories, songs, story-sharing and visioning activities -- both online (even in SecondLife) and in person). Meanwhile, the longer-runway modalities like novels, movies, online games, and comics -- were being intensively developed in the background. When those major productions began to appear in late 2010, the way had been well prepared by their early-bird brethren, and they spread through the culture like wildfire. The eagerness of consumers for this new media stimulated the creation of even more initiatives. This year, more than a third of the major motion pictures of the season have connections to the Storycology Project.

Behind the scenes we find the Storyfield Funding Collaborative -- a coalition of several dozen wealthy people -- mostly dot-com milionaires and billionaires -- and three foundations, spearheaded by Google's Larry Brilliant. They've been leveraging the movement with targeted support for promising initiatives and enticing contests to channel storytellers' efforts into collaborations and what they call "imagineering" work. They consider a story to be "imagineering" if it is so realistic and compelling that real people can and do live it out in their actual lives. 

To build long-term viability of the movement, the Storyfield Funding Collaborative is also expanding their program of popular funding based on's powerful grassroots fundraising efforts. They also have ties to Evolutionary Life, the rapidly expanding movement for evolutionary spirituality that took off with the publication of Michael Dowd's Thank God for Evolution! shortly after the first Storyfield Conference. Evolutionary Life's leaders see this story field work as a human manifestation of what they call The Great Story of Evolution. To them, the co-creation of positive stories for society to live into is a form of "conscious evolution."

With thousands of stories, songs, and games now in the public mind thanks to collaborative nature of the Storycology Project, we see the characters and events in one story showing up in other Storycology stories, often in the background, in the past or future, or seen from some other different perspective. These loosely integrated stories -- produced by diverse collaborating artists -- carry the idea of William Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County and Garrison Keillor's fictional Lake Wobegon to unprecedented lengths. Add them all together -- and they cover a period of decades into the past and some 80 years into the future -- and we see an entire virtual world evolution forming up -- a challenging, appealing, unfolding world of daunting complexity and compelling possibility. 

The Storycology Project's innovation of collaborative intertwining stories has generated an entire fan subculture that tracks and shares interlinkages among stories, and tries, with varying degrees of success, to model their lives on the characters and events described in these stories. The resulting clubs, community programs, new enterprises, activist movements, evolutionary politicians, emerging social phenomena and technologies, and first-person testimonials traceable to these stories mark the ultimate success of the "imagineering" genre: The stories are coming to life, for real. 

This is no accident. Most Storycology stories are set in the future, and look back to more current times. They are designed to inspire people to live into them by making it clear how the positive future they depict came about, and bringing to life the heroes and anti-heroes, the teams and gangs, who played roles in that unfolding. The stories and characters are not all upbeat, by a long shot. They include the challenges, doubts, failures, sins, and complex humanity of often ordinary characters who are playing believable, livable roles in how things unfold towards unexpectedly positive outcomes. Towards this end, we find negative characters and events often ending up generating positive outcomes -- a theme derived from the fact that most evolutionary leaps arise from crises. Inspired by the evolutionary spirituality movement, many of these stories explore what it means to be a conscious evolutionary agent in a complex, nonlinear, rapidly changing world in crisis -- as well as chronicling the lives of players who are swept along and buffeted around by the swirl of critical events, playing their roles less consciously, but nevertheless -- as we discover -- significantly. Nobody is actually a bystander in the evolutionary drama these stories depict. Everyone is a participant, like it or not, aware or not.

We've described the fictional future stories. But not all Storycology stories are futuristic or fictional. Many are contemporary -- including not only fiction, but journalism, and documentary stories clearly depicting the seeds of the futures that haunt or bless the imagineering stories -- or highlighting the struggles we denizens of the present have with today's challenges, often from an evolutionary perspective. Some of the more interesting stories so seamlessly blend fiction and fact, past, present, and future, that we don't quite know where to categorize them. But they do pull us in.

An intriguing grassroots facet of the Storycology movement is the Storyseed Social Network, which links 1.5 million people into activities where they share stories, generate story ideas, and imagineer themselves into action groups -- both online and in local clubs. They started spontaneously as subnetworks of online social networks like MySpace and Zaadz, but came into their own when open source programmers, funded by the Storyfield Funding Collaborative, developed special software to help them co-create -- and connect around -- compelling characters and stories. Some of their productions have themselves been published or broadcast beyond the Web, but their primary importance is otherwise. Their co-created worlds of storylines and characters have become primary sources and inspiration for the professional Storycology storytellers. And perhaps most remarkably, they are the leading edge of people taking these stories seriously as an effort to create a new world in reality. They are the growing legions of activists inspiring and organizing others to live into and out of these stories.

Nothing quite like this has ever happened before: Ordinary people, professional storytellers, and experts of all sorts, are now actively working together to create thousands of stories that can bring about a better world, and together they are inspiring millions of others to those stories to create that world. The fact that a growing number of new-era politicians, educators, and corporate leaders are beginning to make Storycology activities central to their own efforts suggests that our world is about to shift into a different gear entirely. Evolution is turning into a whole new ballgame.


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This conference is being organized with support from the Kellogg Foundation and the Co-Intelligence Institute.
Illustration credit: Dana Lynne Andersen, in
From Lava to Life: the Universe Tells our Earth Story by Jennifer Morgan -- Courtesy of Dawn Publications