the beginning of a story matters

Table of Contents

Everything starts with a Story

Looking ahead at what’s to come, then looking back at what happened is a fun-yet-truthful endeavor. It turns out that, along the way, we we have been just where we needed to be for that time. It doesn’t mean we didn’t make mistakes; we made our share. It does mean that each turning point led us to new opportunities and new ways to create value for clients. Here’s a quick insider’s journey…

Like most new firms, Storyminers was born of necessity, opportunity, and desire. After being downsized from my eVisionary role at IBM Global Services, I wanted (and needed) to work. There was a growing demand for better customer experiences and better company operations, given all the digital developments of the era. Also, I felt an inner urge to see what kind of good I could wreak on the world with new tools that gave voice and volume using my people-centered and outcome-oriented mindset.

It was 20 years ago today (November 29, 2000) that the dot-com bubble burst. After rampant speculation and a NASDAQ gain of 400%, the high-tech market lost 78% of its value by October 2002, thanks to companies that had more bark than bite.

I was unnerved that year, yet I felt heartened. I knew that the tools co-founder Thom Milkovic and I were starting the business with had their roots in creating real value. The kind clients can measure. There was nothing speculative about the approach.

Before going on, I’d like to tell you about Thom. He’s a Renaissance guy born in our age. An artist, photographer, filmmaker, designer, UX expert, and copywriter. Thom has a way of stripping all the BS away from an idea then shaping it into something people want to be with, use, and enjoy. I always feel lucky when I get to work with him.

Thom and I pooled our resources, leads, and thinking, and sold six clients on six calls. We learned that the name, Storyminers, and the story about helping companies find their stories first worked. We were on our way.

Thom and I enjoyed helping several mid-market companies pivot their brands to take advantage of digital. We helped the first:

  • pure-play digital insurance brokerage launch in the southeast
  • privately-owned digital payment processor in the community banking space to attract additions to its leadership team
  • automated linen service for hospitals to expand into new products and markets
  • digital film house to circumvent Hollywood’s distribution monopoly
  • trial-prep software company to refine its product line-up

Then, we leaned into experience design because I saw what it could do for IBM’s clients and eagerly wanted that success again. It was hard. Clients weren’t ready yet to undertake customer experience and business design work (yet). We had to work extremely hard to earn our position in the customer-experience-with-operational-improvements space.

Next, Thom found love, focused on photography (we continue to collaborate occasionally), and moved to California.

Eventually, the business world woke up to Customer Experience, and Storyminers found itself well-positioned, busy, and with larger clients. With a new, now-signature, teams of specialists, we were asked to:

  • update a top-10 travel management company’s brand
  • rebrand and introduce new services at professional service firms and tech companies
  • evaluate the feasibility of presenting patient charts hands-free in hospitals
  • fine-tune the brand and culture at an international contract manufacturer
  • develop a signature client experience at a product development consultancy
  • launch a new brand, including service and customer experience designs for a print/ship/office franchisor
  • improve the customer experience at a national party store franchise
  • reimagine the car-buying experience for a multi-brand family automobile dealer group

The results encouraged us—and helped build our reputation. We advanced our methods on each assignment, shortened our delivery times, and brought about better outcomes for clients and their customers.

We practiced innovation internally and developed numerous new techniques to help clients find their next direction, then get there successfully. These include but aren’t limited to:

  • See What You Say
  • Human Prototyping
  • Undercover Tours
  • Culture Architecting
  • Case Stories
  • Storymining
  • Sounding Board
  • Virtual-First
  • Future Story

It was about half-way through all of this innovative work that we realized what our superpower was:


We realized what our clients already knew. We were in the buy-in business. Clients hire us to help them see which ways they can go, get everyone on the same page, and stay around to ensure that what they build for the business is on-brand and delivers value.

So we got to work on complex and highly impactful customer experience engagements. Organizations’ innovation teams asked us to help them find their ways forward, then make the paths clear. We also supported significant transformations. Company leaders asked us to stay on after the innovation phase to help with adoption. For every big brand we helped, we helped at least a few mid-market and smaller ones. Here are a few from Storyminers 2.0:

Piedmont Healthcare—elective surgery
Transitions Optical—retail store of the future
TELUS—future-state service design
The University of Phoenix—metro center student center experience

That’s great, but then the world changed again—big time.

As early as 2018, I was getting signals that a bottoming out was occurring within many professional services markets. Larger players began prospecting smaller companies. Prices started to erode, and more freemium business models gave rise to more do-it-yourselfers (even within larger corporations).

In 2020, the pandemic, the election cycle, and weather disruptions to global supply chains made doing business unlike any other year in recorded history. We are all impacted.

The customer experience part of the market wasn’t immune. I started thinking about which way to turn Storyminers. I had my ideas on what would be helpful, profitable, and fun, but I knew I had to turn to clients and future clients to get it right.

So, I started talking with them. Over 18 months, I had over 100 substantial and focused chats to uncover where our clients’ needs were most significant and where we could help the most.

Leaders offered ideas, fears, and advice. They complained. They almost always emphasized how amazing it would be if their teams, partners, suppliers, and future customers could align around their efforts. Coming up with ideas wasn’t the most significant challenge; it was getting their people on the same page.

This notion of helping leaders earn buy-in for the ideas that will mean the most for their companies’ and their employees’ futures was a no-brainer for us. It felt like we could return to that comfortable place where we are relevant in our efforts and rewarded for our work.

All we needed to do was tell a new story. Right?

Yes, but it wasn’t that easy. Being good at helping others develop their stories didn’t teach us to do it for our brand. Like our clients, we needed help. We had no lack of support from clients, specialists, friends, and colleagues. (I’m skipping a big part here because of how not easy this was. Maybe I’ll share in a future blog ;-)

Now, we’re well-poised to face 2021 with a full set of services, new supporting technologies, and a host of affiliate and service partners. We know where to play:

Still, we felt that we were missing one essential piece–a way to deliver on the idea that Storyminers helps people get comfortable with the future. We have already developed several leading-edge ideas to prototype experiences. Now, we needed something to prototype the operations of an entire business.

We knew there was a need to help clients both envision what’s next and relevant AND adapt their operations at the same time to deliver it. So, that’s what we built.

We call it Future Story.

A future story translates business strategy into operations, concrete, and tailored steps to help any company make things happen on-brand and tackle their transformations with success.

Future Story helps clients develop their ideas so they turn heads in seconds. Game-changing-yet-practical ideas that can quickly become reality. Future Story not only gives clients a peek at the future, it gives their customers and experience that’s so remarkable, they want to share it with their friends. Future Story isolates resistance (internally among staff and externally with clients) and builds support for what’s new. Wrapping around existing capabilities, Future Story gives organizations the freedom to think boldly about how those capabilities can be expanded.

What makes Future Story so unique and effective is that it uses a story to express the selected strategy. Whatever the form, written narrative, video, live-action, or animation, everyone can understand where the company is headed and their role in helping it get there. Future Stories have a fixed core but are open-ended to evolve with the journey and allow for employee participation (and buy-in) along the way. Future Stories are profoundly personal, and that’s why they work.

Storyminers' DNA

great results happen by design

Luck is highly overrated. Most positive results come from hard work done on purpose and by design. That’s where a good Game Plan comes in. When everyone gets and stays on the same page, organizations are simpler to run and they operate more profitably.
Our Game Plan is simple (and you can read it below). Dedicate the company to clients. Organize it to keep the promises clients value most. Keep the business side simple to run. Operate on clear principles. Keep learning. Be nice. Use Design Thinking to unearth solutions that benefit everyone. And, know your lane.
There’s one more thing. It’s the magic of Storyminers. Not the brand, services, product, methods, tech, or any of that. It’s the people. At the end of the day, people are what make great results happen. We’ve got great people—so you can expect great results!

Project Team

Focused on your most important outcomes

Each team member is smart, experienced, articulate, and specialized. Through an on-demand relationship, each follows Storyminers’ brand, culture, and work guidelines. They are a highly collaborative and easy-to-work with set of specialists who work fully dedicated to your desired outcomes. 

It’s great to have support you can count on during tough-to-navigate challenges like pandemics, digital transformation, new products and services, and changing client demands.

Access to designers, actors, sketch artists, analysts, coaches, speakers, and specialists of all kinds helps projects run smoothly. Of course, we have storytellers, film makers, writers, and creative directors too! 

David Ryback

David is an international speaker and 7-time published author with a focus on emotional intelligence. He goes deep with top-level executives and explores the potential for greater leadership and organizational growth.

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Chris Cook

Chris creates visual experiences for audiences. He makes sure that what’s on the screen adds visual energy to a speaker, a company, or a brand.

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Barbara Deskey

Barbara defines clients’ strategies and services through keen focus on customer needs and behavior. An ex-Deloitte Consulting Partner, she helps leaders fine-tune their best ideas to get results.

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Mike Wittenstein

Founder + Managing Partner

Mike defines the firm’s direction and voice, and works with clients. Visionary yet practical. Approachable. Quick, creative thinker. Ego in check. Four languages.

Storyteller, strategist, digital agency lead, IBM eVisionary, consultant, coach.
Four languages, 100+ cities, 800+ engagements.
Travels from ATL (Atlanta, GMT -5)
Husband, Dad, hiker, woodworker, traveler, civic volunteer.
Always curious. Sometimes funny. Polite in all cultures.

Management Consulting
Strategic Planning
Business Design
Service Design
Creative Direction
Customer Experience
Public Speaking
Thought Leader

The Tools

we utilize amazing partners. You can too.

Storyminers is a unique brand and business. We’re proud of that. The truth is, we run on many of the same ‘parts’ as others do and that you can too.

Here, we share them. Why? Our many suppliers and tool partners work hard so we can do well. Why not do the same for them? After all, we’re in this together!

Global experts help leaders navigate change

Certifications for customer experience tools and training

We encourage you to check out our tech stack and learn how we do what we do. If you’d like a warm introduction to any of our suppliers/partners, just ask!

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Get your thinking on the Same Page

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Social CRM that puts relationships first

Full-service, robust site hosting

The people platform for employee experience

Makes finding things predictably easy

Website content editor for everyone

Project Management that saves effort and time

Optimize your site

Run your speaking business like a pro

Get help from people who need work

Write thoughtful and effective emails

Visualize each customer’s experience

Turn your Mac into a live broadcast studio

Make sure you’re up to The New Normal

Raises your writing

Short and famous movie clip; big impact

Easily record your meetings in real time

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