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Episode 17: Using Storytelling to Drive Industry-Wide Change

Stephen Satterfield, a writer, producer, media entrepreneur, and host of High on the Hog—a Netflix documentary-series that traces the origins of African-American cuisine—joins this episode of CHANGE@WORK to talk about leading an industry through change. Listen as he and host Chris Thornton discuss the importance of storytelling, the role it plays in creating transformation, and how it lends a voice to those who are often overlooked.

Transcript

This transcript was automatically generated with artificial intelligence. It’s in the queue to go through a review with human eyes!

00;00;00;00 – 00;00;33;28
Chris Thornton

Hello and welcome to Change@Work, a podcast about the ever evolving world of work and the human behaviors that drive it. I’m Chris Thornton, principal here at Daggerwing Group. We’re consultants who take a slightly different approach to change and how we work with our clients. We’ll explore some of the things we’ve learned, what to do, what not to do, who we are as a team and as individuals.

00;00;34;01 – 00;00;56;28
Chris Thornton

Joining us today is Stephen Satterfield, a writer, producer, media entrepreneur, focusing on all things food, culture and so many other things. He’s the host of High on the Hog, a Netflix documentary series that traces the origins of African American cuisine. Stephen is also the co-founder of Whetstone magazine and the founder of Whetstone Media. Stephen, Did I get everything because you do so much?

00;00;57;00 – 00;01;14;25
Unknown

Yeah, that’s all correct. Okay. Anything else in there that we should have added? There’s a lot within there, so I think it’s a good start. All right. All right. Well, I’m so excited to talk with you today. Before we start digging in, we just want to get to know you a little bit, dig quite a bit of research on you.

00;01;14;25 – 00;01;57;20
Unknown

And there’s a lot out there, Stephen. It’s all good. It’s all good. So one of the really interesting, interesting things about you is that you became a wine expert at a fairly young age. Is that right? Yeah, that’s correct. I started studying when I was 19, sommelier at 21. Sommelier 21. Yeah. So it was sort of by accident in that I originally left college my freshman year to go to culinary school, and I decided that I didn’t want to cook professionally, but I wanted to be in the world of food.

00;01;57;20 – 00;02;36;05
Unknown

So I decided to take the path of hospitality and restaurant management. And I think the scope of my ambition back then might have been to like be the general manager of a Ritz Carlton, like somewhere in the Bahamas. Yeah. And, you know, maybe I’ll open my own place in Atlanta or something. So there wasn’t like necessarily a massive or clear vision, but I was already deeply into food at that point, enough to leave undergrad and go at first, yeah.

00;02;36;07 – 00;03;16;18
Unknown

As part of that curriculum. One of my first classes was Introduction to Wine with a man named John Eliason, who was, in addition to being an instructor at the school in Portland, was a garage winemaker and was like the first ones to help me understand wine as an agricultural product instead of mostly like a class product, which is how I previously understood it, which, you know, made it an object of estimation and curiosity for me, you know, so that when I was enrolled in that class, I was really interested in what I was learning and I kind of just ran with it.

00;03;16;20 – 00;03;45;27
Unknown

I love that. What’s your favorite wine or wines that you’re drinking right now? Do any come to mind? Right now, I’m I’m on a champagne diet. You know, I, I love effervescence and I’ve always been like that. And as a moody drinker, you know, as a way to start a meal bubbles and especially in the pandemic, when things felt so grim so often.

00;03;45;27 – 00;04;19;19
Unknown

That’s my self-care. I like it. But in addition to champagne, I love drinking really soft red wines, mostly from the Beaujolais region and France. I love the Gamay grape. It’s so beautiful, expressive, floral, versatile. Any red wine that I can chill and has low tannin, that’s sort of my zone. Thank you for that. Champagne diet. Sounds great. Yeah, really good.

00;04;19;26 – 00;04;47;16

Unknown

I’m happy to be here watching you on High on the Hog, which, you know, it’s produced, it’s edited, but I think at least it felt like your true self was coming through. And in those moments, you seem like a learner, somebody who’s ready to learn constantly. Am I reading you correctly or not? That’s true. I love learning. What are you learning right now that’s new for you right now?

00;04;47;16 – 00;05;15;21
Unknown

What I’m really deeply engaged in, honestly, is like learning to be an entrepreneur, you know, learning to be a responsible business owner. Next year will be our fifth year since we started the magazine. And, you know, I think at that point, for any business, you know, you move into a space of that’s less novel to you and more kind of ingrained.

00;05;15;25 – 00;05;58;21
Unknown

And so I think the growth that we have experienced is, is really exciting With that growth as the leader of the organization, it is kind of sobering and scary. And so I think a lot about how I can be better at what I’m doing so that the people around me can be better at what they’re doing. Because I think, you know, we have so many gifted storytellers, creatives that we’re working with who have never been in a position of having the proper resources to match their vision.

00;05;59;13 – 00;06;25;07
Unknown

And, you know, I think not entirely, but, you know, to some degree where we’re providing that with a lot of people that we’re working with, and I’m addicted to that. And and part of that being the sustainable thing requires me to be learning a lot about how to run a sustainable business. So it’s not the sexiest thing I’ve ever studied, but I really like it.

00;06;25;08 – 00;06;47;02
Unknown

You know, I like learning how to stay in the game so that we can keep making the work we want to make. Yeah, we’re going to get into the impact that you’re having broadly, and then we can talk about the impact that you’re having on people personally. Before we do that, we’re getting toward the end of the year as we’re recording this.

00;06;47;07 – 00;07;13;28
Unknown

Don’t limit yourself to the upcoming holidays. Think across the entire year. Okay. What holiday has the best meal for you? I mean, in my household. It’s gonna be Christmas for a variety of reasons. My mom is is fanatical about Christmas, you know, in a way that I am not, okay? I am fanatical about my mom.

00;07;13;29 – 00;07;45;17
Unknown

And so there’s a lot of overlap in that. So as a result of that fanaticism, my dad, who is the fantastic cook he throws down for our whole family, extended family, friends and family, people who just need a place to go and eat. It’s all kind of people coming through that sounds really incredible and special. Let’s go ahead and transition and talk about the professional side of things, if that’s okay.

00;07;45;19 – 00;08;10;23
Unknown

I view you as at the at the forefront of creating change in the food industry and food media. So what I want to talk to you about today is how to lead an industry through the throes of change and transformation. And that feels huge. And maybe that’s not how you view yourself, but I see the impact that you’re having and that’s the way I view you.

00;08;10;26 – 00;08;44;28
Unknown

So where do you even start with such a big task to transform food media? Well, I appreciate you saying that, Chris. I think a lot of people have the experience of whatever their own calling is. You know, the work capital T Capital. And this is what that looks like for me. I don’t know if I’m going to be doing this version of the work forever.

00;08;44;28 – 00;09;15;07
Unknown

And I think even the version that I’m in right now is multifaceted and non-linear. But the way that my work is interconnected and part of a larger vision of the world that I’m pursuing. Like, that’s what I’m that’s what I’m doing. And so that in a more, I guess, granular or specific way is manifesting through food media. Yeah.

00;09;15;09 – 00;10;05;06
Unknown

And I have always I mean, I’ve been deeply impacted by media. I’m 37. I’m going to be 38 next year. And I think people of my age are in a unique micro generation who really grew up in a two dimensional tactile. Yeah. Yeah. And what I think that informs about my work, you know, starting a print magazine in 2017, well after the so-called crash of the industry, has everything to do with the fact that the most culturally enduring images of my youth were from Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, High Times.

00;10;05;07 – 00;10;40;02
Unknown

Yeah. And going to bookstores as well, you know, going to the magazine section in bookstores, and then again, also living through the onset and ascent of social media. And so to me, you know, for people who are interested in influencing the world, bending the world in some way, media was always going to be at the center of it in some way because ideas need people to spread.

00;10;40;07 – 00;11;05;13
Unknown

And so, yeah, that’s how we got here. I listen to and I had some strong ideas about how the thing that I loved could be improved. And so I just started working on that. How do you describe what stone to people who ask, What do you do? Well, I say I run a media company and it’s all about food.

00;11;05;15 – 00;11;37;20
Unknown

And then they’re like, that’s cool. And so, yeah, I mean, I think it’s I think, to be honest, like, it is still kind of hard to talk about my work really well, just in the sense of like. Yeah. I mean, even saying that I run a media company is, is the thing that I figured out that I can say that is the most succinct that will, you know, give me that gets me to the next question at a cocktail party.

00;11;37;23 – 00;12;00;27
Unknown

But running a media company like is that really what I’m doing? I mean, yes, I am. But it isn’t always it doesn’t feel like that’s what we’re doing. You know, like I really feel like what we’re making is something that we feel is missing in the world. When people ask me, you know, what else does Stephen do?

00;12;00;27 – 00;12;32;16
Unknown

Because many people know you from high on the hog and watching you. And when I describe the magazine, I. I will describe it as well. It’s about food, but that’s a launching off point to talk about the culture in which that food is raised and the people that make up food that harvest, that food, that plant, that food, the systems in which they work, like you’re you’re telling the story of food and the people that are connected to it.

00;12;32;16 – 00;13;05;25
Unknown

And in usually usually we haven’t heard those stories before. Yeah. So the way that we talk about that is we use the word origin, which is kind of, I think probably the most central word to our brand, our DNA, I guess. And what that means is origin is a worldview, not about site specific city, but it is about cultural reclamation.

00;13;05;27 – 00;13;40;23
Unknown

Yeah, and what I mean by that is we have particular alley in the West, in the United States, conveniently truncated historical periods that we focus our attention on. And so what ends up happening are the stories that are told about where things come from become a way of reinforcing systems of power and people and power. And this is one of my this is, you know, part of the stump speech.

00;13;40;26 – 00;14;11;11
Unknown

But you know, I always say that stories are the most pervasive force in our society because everything else that comes after story that descends from story, whether good or bad, is driven by and composed of all of the stories that got us there. The way that we understand our most intimate relationships, our place in the world, racism, everything.

00;14;11;11 – 00;14;52;14
Unknown

It all comes down to the stories that we absorb, right or or not, that that we let fall off of us, repel off of us, or the ones that we bring into our communities and the stories that certain communities rely on for their own existence, identity and place in the world. So to me, as a as someone who is really like in the business of story, the read how we got here, how I got here is because I knew that the stories that I was reading were bullshit.

00;14;52;16 – 00;15;23;21
Unknown

They were so clearly bullshit because they have no history. There were absent of historical analysis there and anyone with any real curiosity could look at the way that we were talking about food, which is the most central universal experience of human beings since the history of human beings. And all of media decided that we should talk about it in terms of chefs recipes in restaurants.

00;15;24;21 – 00;15;59;14
Unknown

It’s. It’s mind blowingly myopic. I felt that way for a really long time. And eventually I got to a point where I couldn’t I couldn’t deal. And I wanted to make something that more closely reflected our worldview around where do things come from as a means of getting to systems of power, understanding labor, understanding history and heritage, and frankly, getting a better story as a result of that.

00;15;59;14 – 00;16;32;12
Unknown

So even as a consumer, right, like I think that we’re making better work because we’ve moved beyond this extremely myopic and rigid formula about the way we get to talk about food or understand food. Yeah. So when we look at storytelling or when you look at storytelling, what stories excite you to tell? What are the ones where you’re like, I we have to tell that one is, are there some attributes that stick out for you?

00;16;32;14 – 00;17;02;01
Unknown

I think the narrator is what I’m looking at And is the narrator the best person to be telling this story? Because I think the quality of the story is going to be dramatically influenced by that Perspect. That’s a pretty broad answer, but that’s the first thing that that I’m looking at. I’m also looking to see what is the place of this story in the world.

00;17;02;03 – 00;17;28;03
Unknown

Does it belong to a set of similar stories that have already been talked about or document it in ways that I don’t think that we can improve upon? That might not be for us to touch or hold. I’m looking for stories that help me understand human beings. So we talk another, more clinical way of talking about origin.

00;17;28;03 – 00;18;08;06
Unknown

This is, say, food, anthropology. So we look at food from an anthropological perspective, which allows us to get to talking about people. Right. So food is another way of talking about human beings. Yeah. And I’m looking for stories that help me better understand the human experience and other human beings that I’m sharing this experience with. Stephen We do storytelling all the time in our work, and I’m wondering what the impact you’ve seen when someone finally has their story told, when no one has listened to them before.

00;18;08;08 – 00;18;44;00
Unknown

Is there anything that comes to mind? It’s so powerful. I don’t even think I can articulate how powerful it is. I think I’m still understanding the magnitude of that power, and there is such an intensity of emotion and obligation, you know, to be a vessel for a face of a kind of story that has been sorely lacking and needed.

00;18;44;02 – 00;19;18;04
Unknown

The way that people have expressed to me that they’ve been touched by high on the hog, you know, a story of black Americans contributions and in food, but really more about the story of us. You know, again, just a story that really sheds light on the full range of the human experience, the the tragedy, the horror, the triumph, the resilience, etc..

00;19;18;06 – 00;20;02;09
Unknown

And even though that breadth of emotions is something that we all experience universally, of course, we don’t see that represented universally. So who gets to feel that feeling of affirmation again? Looks a lot like who gets to be in charge of everything. And so I have been so overwhelmed and moved by this realization and and gravity of understanding the power of seeing yourself in a story in a way that you’ve not seen yourself before.

00;20;02;11 – 00;20;35;15
Unknown

And I can say for sure that is deeply informing how we are constructing all of our stories going forward and really being more intentional about inclusion just to honestly afford more people that feeling. Yeah, because it really is that radical. There are in the work that we do in change, it can be so easy to look for the easy story, right?

00;20;35;16 – 00;21;06;21
Unknown

Like, Hey, there’s the story that I’m looking for, as opposed to putting the work in to find finding the story that needs to be told that hasn’t been told. And the power in that is something that I know we can all learn from. Well, recently within this year, I sat across from an individual and I was moved to tears by that person’s story as they shared what had happened to them, what they were going through, what their hopes were, what their disappointments were.

00;21;06;23 – 00;21;35;13
Unknown

And while I was overwhelmed by it and that doesn’t even compare to what the person’s lived experience was. Right. It can. And I’m wondering what advice you have for us, those who are listening to stories and ready to share stories and to not cross a line, too, to retraumatize people as they share their burdens. Now, this person shared freely.

00;21;35;13 – 00;21;57;00
Unknown

I didn’t even know what I was going, what I was asking. Right. Just a simple question of what’s your experience been like? Unlocked a lot for them. Is there any advice that you have for us to make sure that we don’t cross the line into retraumatizing them and having them share? That’s a very important question. I don’t believe I’ve ever been asked that question.

00;21;57;03 – 00;22;38;07
Unknown

I really try to think a lot about desired outcomes or set another way, like what is the point of this? Yeah. I think that in an interview context, power dynamics always have to be at the front and center of everything because they’re at the front and center of everything already. And when you ignore that reality, then I think already you’re kind of closing yourself off to certain ways of thinking or certain sensitivities, right.

00;22;38;07 – 00;23;04;05
Unknown

Where you need to actually stay close to because you need to stay close to your responsible bility of providing comfort for the person that you are in dialog with. If the subject is not surrounded in that type of care and that something is divulged that ends up in an emotional space, that probably is is a red flag actually.

00;23;04;06 – 00;23;30;21
Unknown

Okay. In my opinion. Yeah. Yeah. Like, because what it means is the person probably got into a situation where they thought it was going to be one thing. And then the way that the series of questions went, it ended up being another thing. Yeah. Right. And so. And you. I know that you’re good at this just because of how you’ve been handling this conversation.

00;23;30;24 – 00;23;56;15
Unknown

Right. Checking in. Getting specific, giving me ways upfront to say, like, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. Like, we already know. Like, there are ways, verbal and nonverbal, where we can talk to each other and say, like, you’re good here. No pressure here. You can do that, too. And then when you do that, and then someone gives you something emotional, like, honestly, you’ve done it.

00;23;56;18 – 00;24;19;11
Unknown

You know, you did it. You did a good thing, I think. Okay. I think that it’s good in terms of I mean, I cry all the time, you know, And I think that, like, if someone is going to cry in front of someone else, like again, provided that environment has been created and provided they don’t say like, actually, can we not share that?

00;24;19;11 – 00;24;43;24
Unknown

Right. They’re probably going to be thinking about that on the way home when they’re walking their dog, doing whatever. You know, and and I think that that provides space for real reflection. Like, what was I doing crying in front of Chris? Like, what was it actually about? You know, and and people who hear that real emotion, it’s like, we’re so used to fake shit.

00;24;43;24 – 00;26;50;29
Unknown

Like you hear someone with real tears. You’re now thinking about.

More in the Series

Chris Thornton is a Senior Principal and member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Chris serves as a source of strategic counsel for Senior Executives with client firms, advising them on how to help clients achieve Executive alignment, transform their cultures and equip and enable people managers to lead and embed change. An expert in the people side of change with both client-side and consulting experience, Chris has worked with leading companies including Nestlé, Pfizer, and GE Aviation to do change right and make it stick. He is also an active speaker on business transformation, a driver of innovation in Daggerwing’s breadth of change consulting services, and the host of Daggerwing Group’s podcast, Change@Work. Chris and his wife were featured in the New York Times for their love of pie.
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