STORY CIRCLES is the creation of scientist-turned filmmaker Randy Olson.

It is the result of his 25 year journey from science to cinema then back to science, as related in this three books, “Don’t Be Such A Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style” (Island Press, 2009), “Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking” (Prairie Starfish Press, 2013), and “Houston, We Have A Narrative: Why Science Needs Story” (University of Chicago Press, 2015).

His third book concludes with the recommendation of increased focus on narrative as the best way to improve communication. The specific means of achieving this is what he proposes with Story Circles.

Here is the concept behind Story Circles.

Randy Olson



Narrative is at the core of all effective communication, yet is endlessly challenging. A command of narrative requires "narrative intuition." This is what Story Circles addresses. Because it is so challenging, it takes a commitment to repeated training sessions.


Story Circles is a training regime that draws on the analogy of the narrative part of the brain being like a muscle that needs conditioning.


Story Circles works towards instilling narrative intuition within individuals, with the ultimate goal of creating a “narrative culture” within an institution if enough individuals take part in the training.


The three major benefits of Story Circles are:


At the core of Story Circles are several simple narrative tools developed by Randy Olson such as the Narrative Spectrum and the Dobzhansky Template which are used in every session. In the beginning participants need their notes to use the tools. By the end they no longer need notes as they have developed an intuitive feel for each tool.


The repetitive “workout” structure of Story Circles sessions moves the knowledge from just being memorized (cerebral) to being intuitive (visceral). This can’t happen in a single session — it takes repetition.


The group stucture of Story Circles results in the establishment of a conditioned behavior as participants begin to see that narrative development requires interaction.  The net result of Story Circles is that afterwards participants know how to form their own story circles to begin working on a proposal or project concept.  This is particularly important in work settings where people spend most of their time working alone.

Ask a scientist about Hollywood, and you’ll probably get eye rolls. But ask someone in Hollywood about science, and they’ll see dollar signs: moviemakers know that science can be the source of great stories, with all the drama and action that blockbusters require.

Written with an uncommon verve and enthusiasm, and built on principles that are applicable to fields far beyond science, Houston, We Have a Narrative has the power to transform the way science is understood and appreciated, and ultimately how it’s done.