Introducing: A Future Untold

My new book on storytelling for systems change

Three mockups on a book on a white background. They are on a tablet, a paperback and a phone. The book is called “A Future Untold: The power of story to transform the world and ourselves” by Alina Siegfried

The day has finally arrived. I still can’t quite believe that this day is real. After 18 months of hard work, some metaphorical blood and sweat, and a fair amount of no-so-metaphorical tears, my first book A Future Untold: The power of story to transform the world and ourselves is published!

Like many book projects, it’s been a labour of love and there have been some bumps in the road. An unexpected delay to undertake a second major editing round comes to mind. But trust in the process has paid off, and A Future Untold is now available across all major platforms.

This isn’t a self-help book. It’s a collective-help book.

This isn’t a how-to book. It’s a show-how book.

This isn’t an instructional manual on how to tell good stories. I’ve rather aimed for an inspiring and entertaining rallying cry that urges humanity to return to the power of story to solve our most complex, systemic problems.

It’s a book of stories… about stories. My stories, others’ stories, stories that have unfolded along my winding, squiggly career across environmental advocacy, political communications, software startups, community building and social entrepreneurship. Parallel to my “real jobs”, I’ve been writing and performing spoken word for 12 years now, so naturally the book contains a few of my poems… complete with QR codes that link through to brand new video performances of each one. Trans-media storytelling for the win!

About three and a half years ago, I stood on a stage and announced my intention to write this book to an audience of about 400 people at the New Frontiers impact summit in Upper Hutt, New Zealand. During the previous few days I had been pondering the profound impact that human-centric storytelling can have to touch and move people — emotionally, cognitively, and physically — to action. Earlier in the summit I had performed a piece of spoken word poetry, partly as a way to welcome keynote speaker Johan Rockström to the stage.

I had recently read his book Big World, Small Planet, which is about planetary boundaries and ecological tipping points, which help provide context about the Earth’s resilience to all the various things we as a species are doing to her (For an accessible intro to planetary boundaries, the Netflix documentary Breaking Boundaries starring Johan and Sir David Attenborough is an excellent watch, and ultimately ends on a hopeful note). Having been inspired by the book, accompanied by both beautiful and devastating images from acclaimed photographer Mattias Klum, I had written a five minute poetic summary of the book spanning 75,000 years of human history and each of our incremental steps towards altering the climate.

After I performed the poem, it became clear that it had visibly moved many audience members — and tellingly, some were the archetypes of powerful folks who I was generally not used to performing to: business people, high level government folks, you know — people in suits. And some of them were crying. Old white men in suits, crying. Woah.

Here’s a video of that very performance:

I had a slowly unfolding epiphany over those few days that lead me to realise that the power of storytelling, narrative, and yes sometimes, spoken word was even more ubiquitous than I thought. I realised that an authentic and well-crafted story has the ability to reach everyone — not just those who already thought like I did.

Fast-forward to today and my book has a strong focus on the way that story underpins and directs our lives and beliefs. We believe stories about ourselves that have been forged in childhood; stories that may or may not be serving us well. We believe stories about others that are influenced by our values, our biases, our upbringing, and the cultural stereotypes that we are subconsciously influenced by. We are surrounded by anthropogenic systems that are firmly upon cultural narratives that we’ve all collectively agreed (or not, but the status quo remains) that this is the way things are.

The modern world is facing many complex, interconnected challenges, most of which threaten the stability of life on this planet — both human and otherwise. Climate change, poverty, rising inequality, polarisation, systemic racism, deforestation, loss of biodiversity… all are the result of broken stories; stories that have led us astray.

To solve these problems, I believe that we have to focus on telling new stories and shifting predominant social narratives about our relationships between ourselves, others, and the natural world around us. We need new guiding myths that comfort us, reassure us of our purpose, and act as a beacon of hope towards a better future.

Spiderman sitting in a brick archway, with a blurred city background, reading a book called “A Future Untold”
Spiderman sitting in a brick archway, with a blurred city background, reading a book called “A Future Untold”

Alongside the core thesis of a wide-scale return to the power of story to solve systemic problems, the book covers many story related themes:

  • The human functioning of our societies, communities, nations and world is underpinned by systems (Think: our economic systems of trade and financial exchange; our systems of eduction; the global, mostly industrial food system; government systems). These systems are all interconnected. To change harmful systems that aren’t working for us, we need to a) first recognise that a problem we are trying to solve is part of a wider system; and b) change the stories that lie beneath these systems.
  • Storytelling and story-listening as a yin & yang. We can’t do one without the other, and most of us are pretty bad at authentic, genuine, non-judgmental listening.
  • Coming to terms with how our stories of self and ancestral stories influence the way we see ourselves, and have come to shape our understanding of our place in the world — and what happens when we find our subconscious stories of self have actually been perpetuating harm through systemic racism and privilege.
  • Understanding when a story is ours to tell, and when we should step aside and let someone else tell their own story.
  • How the key to addressing rising polarisation is in understanding each others’ stories, and understanding how the power of story can be manipulated (intentionally or less so) to drive us apart.
  • The importance of collaborating with “strange bedfellows” — that is people who think differently from us who can bring unique perspectives to solving problems.
  • The story of my first epiphany about power of story, from a stage in the Canadian prairies 12 years ago… (yes, that’s a teaser. The epiphany I refer to in this article is #2).
  • A reclaiming of the word “myth” as a force for good, followed by ten new guiding myths for humanity that can shepherd us towards a future that is more regenerative, equitable, and just. These myths include shifting from the narrative of individualism to one of collectivism (“from me to we”); redefining our relationship with the natural world (“from tree to me”); facilitating the inclusion of indigenous knowledge and world views to solve systemic problems (“from west to the rest”); and thinking in much longer time frames than we have become accustomed to (“from now to forevermore”)

You can buy the book from all major platforms:

I want to thank a few people who were pivotal to this book being completed: Mandy McGirr, Mikey Leung, Ants Cabraal, Pekaira Rei Jude, Johan Rockström, Katy Grennier, Kevin Keane, Janel Atlas, Kelly Moneymaker, Kehan Miller, Martin Taylor, Peter Roband, and my wonderful and supportive parents Jost and Pauline Siegfried.

Thank you to book contributors: Sharn Maree Cassidy, Sonya Renee Taylor, Topaz Adizes, Devi Lockwood, Tony Green, Janette Searle, and Jee Kim.

Thank you to my founding patrons on Patreon: Bill Kermode, Hamish White, Alexa Forbes, Kevin Keane, Susan Basterfield, Erin Jackson, and Seed the Change He Kakano Hapai

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed the story, feel free to clap — remember you can clap up to 50 times if you like it a lot! If you’d like to support my efforts in writing about storytelling for impact, narrative change, and systems change, you can do so through Patreon.

Storytelling | Narrative | Systems Change | Spoken Word | Author of “A Future Untold”, a book on story & narrative to change the world | www.afutureuntold.com