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How Kristin Crafted A Viral Portfolio Piece After Switching To Interactive Storytelling

 
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Meet Kristin Anthony — used to struggle with some really tough questions: "What am I doing?" "Do I want to continue doing this?" "What is it that I'm trying to do in the world?"

Kristin was a learning technologist, part of a talented team that were becoming front end engineers.

But, what Kristin wanted to know was what are they passionate about,... what energizes them?!

Let's break it down:

Who? Kristin Anthony

Problem: COVID-19 hit and Kristin started asking deep existential questions about what it is they should be doing with their life.

Solution: Join Interactive Storytelling Accelerator (my coaching program that shows you how to find fulfillment through interactive storytelling, not elearning design).

Did it work? Yup. Kristin launched “Brink of Burnout”, an interactive story that went viral on Linkedin and is getting ready to follow it up with another!

One of the biggest things I helped Kristin with was just being able to get consistent feedback, which allowed Kristin to continue to move, continue to iterate and produce a quality portfolio piece.

In this video, Kristin and I will discuss:

  • What was life like before Kristin joined the Interactive Storytelling Accelerator program.
  • How Kristin kept up motivation when working on the portfolio piece in their spare time.
  • Kristin's reaction to the comments and feedback for the interactive story.
  • AND... advice for anyone considering the Interactive Storytelling Accelerator Program.

TRANSCRIPTION

Anna:
Hello, everybody. Anna Sabramowicz was here. Thank you so much for joining me. I have a special guest today, Kristin Anthony, one of the members of our Interactive Storytelling Program. Kristin recently launched their own interactive story, and I thought, "Strike while the iron's hot. Get them on this call before they get too famous and then doesn't want to talk to me anymore." I was like, "Let's do this." Thank you so much for being here, taking the time.

Kristin:
Yeah, no problem.

Anna:
Okay, so it's funny because I always ask people, I'm like, "Before the Interactive Storytelling Program, what was life like?" like it was some sort of drudgery, right, like we changed it completely, but for you, you've been rocking it for a while. I'm thinking you should just give us a little bit of just the flavor of what's been happening before. You've been busy.

Kristin:
Actually, the Interactive Storytelling Academy came at a really interesting time for me. I joined my current company and I'd been there for about a year and a half. COVID-19 hit and I was finding myself really just struggling with, "What am I doing? Do I want to continue to be doing this? What is it that I'm trying to do in the world?" I actually went and got some career coaching right around the time when I found out about this opportunity. Some of the things that I uncovered with my career coach are just, "What is it that Kristin really needs to thrive?" It was things like I'm a maker and I really need to understand the why of a thing before I can do it successfully.

Kristin:
At the same time, I was in the process of switching teams at work in order to be more of a learning technologist and less of a learning experience designer. While all of that was happening, I was thinking about, "Okay, what is it that I need to be practicing? What do I want to focus on?" One of the things that I had on my list for a really long time was a game development and specifically I was thinking about things like game writing because I figured there's always going to be somebody who's light years ahead of me in terms of actually making a game, but game writing is something that I felt like I could contribute no matter what kind of team I was on.

Kristin:
Then I found out about the Interactive Storytelling Accelerator and it really hit for me on a lot of those areas because I was thinking about, "Okay, this is something that's going to help me to practice game writing inside of a community instead of Kristin just trying to do something and not knowing whether or not I hit the bullseye." Yeah, it came really at the intersection of a lot of change personally.

Anna:
I like when you first started talking. There were so many creative ideas that you had. I think one of the challenges was, "Where do I begin first?" because, like you said, you are a maker. You've proved it, but also, "How do you direct that creativity, that vision, and make it manifest into something that other people also find useful?" because I think we can do a lot of creative stuff that it never ends up seeing the light of day because it's not helping. For us, it's just another toy.

Anna:
That's what I really wanted to get into is you took action. You're an inspiration as far as I'm concerned because I know you said a couple of times, you were like, "Oh, I didn't move as fast as I wanted to. This isn't the momentum," but for me, the fact that the interactive story that you crafted is for you, you're working on it in your very own time, finding those pieces, trying to find motivation. We'll talk about that as well. How do you keep yourself motivated to keep going? First off, let's talk about your interactive story. Who's it for? Who are you trying to influence? What problem is it solving? Everything.

Kristin:
Yeah. My interactive story was Brink of Burnout and it really was coming out of all those things that I just talked about, my getting career coaching, really wrestling with my relationship to work in the light of COVID-19 and the fact that people are out there dying. We've talked about this in the accelerator before. I think about just kind of the whole world is having this memento mori moment. We're remembering that we're mortal.

Kristin:
Brink of Burnout to me was really about helping people to realize in my relationship to work, where is it that I have agency? I think that burnout is something that feels really complex and it is, but at the same time that sometimes the right answer is to flee because there are things that you actually can't change. There are cultural issues. I think sometimes we forget that we actually do have a lot of agency, particularly in the tech sector, in the white collar world. We have a lot of agency about the way that we work. We give up that agency when we do things like answer emails immediately, or stay on chat all day, or constantly have our email working, or things like that. What I wanted to help people to realize was where is it that I have this wiggle room? Where is it that it had this agency about these things that can really bring me down and can really lead to burnout?

Anna:
I like it because what you said is that we have places where burnout can feel complex. Burnout can feel like it is almost an unsolvable problem, but this idea of agency, how small actions can empower you to take larger actions later on and make you feel like you have more of that autonomy in a place where you thought you had none.

Kristin:
Yeah.

Anna:
I thought that was fun, but there was other things with your interactive story that you did. Okay, crafting a story is in itself an awesome task to behold, but then you were like, "Okay, I can't just do that. I'm going to do something extra, extra level." Tell us about the rest of that magic.

Kristin:
Yeah. As a learning technologist, and this is a place where I've been going for a number of years, one of the things about my particular team is that we're actually becoming front end engineers. I really wanted this story to be at the intersection of all of the things that I wanted to be doing in the world. That includes coding. It includes making something accessible and includes something that's gameful. I don't like gamification, but gameful, it includes having something that works on mobile devices as well.

Kristin:
What I did was to actually use Twine, which is an open source, interactive fiction creator. I used a lot of CSS and a little bit of JavaScript in order to basically bend Twine to my will and make it do what I wanted to do. It's also xAPI enabled, so a person's decisions are being tracked anonymously so that there's a backend that sees, "how many people have chosen this? How many people have chosen that?" Then at the end of the story, it'll actually tell you the percentage of all the people who have played through it, how many people have chose and what you chose.

Anna:
That is so awesome. That is the kind of stuff. What I think is so cool is those are only the things that you see in like major, major game development companies, right, where they're like, "Okay, by the way, 50 million users chose this." You're like, "I'm never going to be able to do that as an independent designer." Here you are soup to nuts, right? You and, well, you collaborated with a graphic designer illustrator right, or did you? You did, right?

Kristin:
No, for these images, I actually went and purchased a bunch of kits that I found online, but I am in the process of collaborating with the graphic designer.

Anna:
Oh, that's awesome. It's funny because they worked out. I don't know. I think that we always look at illustration as the be-all end-all, but it's amazing how scalable something like these kits, like you said, can be. I have a couple of comments that have been posted about your story.

Kristin:
Sure.

Anna:
I want to read them to you. I want everybody to hear this. Okay. This is one. "This is great. Love that it integrates that life outside of work really, truly matters to your overall wellbeing and ability to perform when on the clock." Here's another one. "I love the characters and colors. It successfully convinced me to take a Sunday afternoon off." Here's another one.

Kristin:
Awesome.

Anna:
"Great interactive. I scored high and yet I do none of these things myself. I need to take my own advice apparently." "This was excellent. I found myself really invested in helping the main character make some healthy decisions, such a beautifully simple design." Then the last one, "I really enjoyed this interactive story. I like the element of helping someone else with a problem and helping ourselves at the same time. Thanks for sharing." [crosstalk 00:00:09:51].

Kristin:
Those are awesome.

Anna:
Yeah.

Kristin:
Those are really awesome. I think they really underscored the things that I learned through the accelerator, things like keeping it simple. One of the things that particularly caught my imagination through the accelerator was this idea of using the third person. Having looked at a bunch of simulation games, I was like, "Well, why aren't we using the second person? Everybody uses you," but you all were really, really great about convincing me personally about that, that psychological distance is really important. I think it came through in those comments that they felt that being able to help Gabby, but they also saw how they should be taking that advice as well. That's awesome.

Anna:
It's awesome because usually when people post interactive stories, they're like, "Oh, what did you do here?" They were asking all this technical stuff, but here people are actually thinking about themselves. You're impacting the human in them.

Kristin:
Yeah.

Anna:
Not just the technical instructional designer, so that's awesome. I love it. Okay. You basically told us that what really made you join was the fact that you were at this professional and personal kind of crossroads, lots of decisions. Okay, cool. When you joined, was there anything that surprised you or made you kind of take you back? Anything?

Kristin:
Probably the most surprising thing was, I think I went into it thinking of it as more of a writing cohort. Right now, at least, we're in kind of a large group, which has still been really helpful for sure, but I think that was probably the biggest thing. Other than that, it was that I had to make a Facebook account because I did not have one before. That was a surprise.

Anna:
Okay. That's good. I mean, if you're trying to be productive and creative, then definitely social media, yeah, it's a very something you would be very strict with yourself about. Totally.

Kristin:
Yeah.

Anna:
Okay. As far as the elements that you found personally or professionally most beneficial after working through interactive story and us in the group, were there things that you really enjoyed?

Kristin:
Absolutely. The biggest thing was just being able to get consistent feedback. One of the things that I feel like I'm constantly learning is that as a beginner, quantity really trumps quality to a degree, which isn't to say that I think that this was not a quality piece because the feedback got me to quality, but it was just continuing to move, and continuing to iterate, and being able to get that feedback consistently was hugely beneficial.

Kristin:
The other thing that I'm really enjoying right now is being able to go through the masterclass because the other thing that I am learning about myself is that I really value precision, particularly as a beginner. I think the masterclass is working us towards being really precise about the language that we use when we talk about interactive stories, what good looks like, how we know that a thing is good, looking at examples and really, really dissecting them. That's incredibly useful for me, not only going through it kind of for the first time, but I think just going back, being able to have that kind of precision in language is really beneficial. Then the other thing is all of the worksheets, I think, have been incredibly helpful to not have to start necessarily from a blank page, but really being able to start from, "Okay, this is what I'm trying to do right now," having some examples there.

Anna:
Cool. I know that I could sense that about you, and also you've expressed it in the group. It has actually pushed Ryan and I to be like, "Okay, Kristin's saying this and it means that. We got to be more precise. We got to be more specific," because you're absolutely right. That's the only way we can actually set some goals and metrics around what that's going to look like. I love that, but one of the things that I found was really cool is that this is crazy. You'd be like, "Oh, I kicked some butt over the weekend and I made sure," you implemented changes. You were like, "I made some updates. Check them out." We'd be looking at them, right, and it was quite a lot of work. You'd get feedback throughout the week and then you'd implement over the weekends. How do you keep yourself motivated? You're working on your own project? How do you do that?

Kristin:
For me, it's really been about being disciplined and having a schedule. I use a Bullet Journal. I don't know that I use it correctly, but I use a Kristin Style Bullet Journal. It's really important for me to have a list of tasks that I want to do every day and to be able to check those off. That is really how I get through the entire universe of things that I want to accomplish. With the interactive story, it really was a lot of Bullet Journaling. I take in the feedback. I'd throw a temper tantrum and then I would look at it again and realize, "Okay, there's good stuff here," and make a checklist. Then I'd have that big checklist, but, I know I couldn't accomplish all of that in one day. I'd do it just a little bit at a time. That was really the most successful thing for me is just having that list of daily tasks.

Anna:
It's interesting. You said that whole idea about temper tantrum because I remember there was one coaching session. You weren't there, but you posted, so we were like, "Let's give her feedback because I know she's going to kick butt on the weekend again." Then after I finished that session and then you implemented. I was like, "If I got that, I'd be like smashing stuff, like, 'You guys don't understand what I did.'"

Anna:
I don't think most people understand or will understand how much you actually iterated on that interactive story and how much feedback you actually integrated. I would look through it and I'd be like, "Wow, look at this. We said something that wasn't working. Then Kristin took it to this level and made it this." It was so cool seeing that evolution and maybe it's better that you weren't there on that session because you were able to absorb it from a distance.

Kristin:
Yeah.

Anna:
I did reflect on the fact that you didn't stop. Obviously that's a blessing and a curse, right, because you can say, "Oh, I can just keep going with this," right? "When do we ship? When do we stop?"

Kristin:
Yeah.

Anna:
"When do [crosstalk 00:17:23] in the arts." How was that like? When did you say, "This is it"?

Kristin:
Yeah. One of the things that I've noticed over my career and learning experience design is that around the three to four month mark, I'm like, "This needs to get out the door and away from me," because I start to really lose steam. I'm just like, "I don't want to look at this anymore."

Kristin:
When I look at Brink of Burnout, particularly on mobile, completely my fault, because I didn't develop with mobile in mind from the very beginning, but mobile is kind of wonky. I thought, "This is good enough. It really is. It's good enough for me to put it out there and get some feedback." That's something that I know we talk about in the accelerator as well is getting to that good enough point in every iteration. I think those were kind of the things that were guiding me. A, I'd been working on it for probably three and a half or so months, and B, I was thinking, "This is good enough. It's good enough for me to put this out there, get some feedback and then I can go back and iterate on it if I want to or need to."

Anna:
Yeah. Yeah. It's a fantastic piece. Obviously it's having a really positive impact on people's lives. Question, what advice would you give to yourself when you were just beginning if you could go back in time? What would be that advice?

Kristin:
Yeah. I've been thinking about this and I don't know that I would do anything differently than I did, which was to take a lot of notes and to ask a lot of questions because I went into this with the mindset of, "Okay, every time I do another one of these, I want to be able to go a little bit farther down the path kind of on my own steam, practicing the things that I learned about the last time."

Kristin:
I took a lot of notes about, "Try this. Do this when you're here. Do that when you're there," and sort of made a checklist for myself of things to check and sort of, I don't know, sections to have and phases. That's probably a better word, phases to go through in terms of iteration that I think are going to serve me well, as I continue to practice. That's been my whole goal is to really absorb it so that every time I can go a little bit further and a little bit further and a little bit further with a higher quality. That would probably be my advice, is take a lot of notes and ask a lot of questions.

Anna:
That's awesome. It sounds like you have this phased approach. "If it's your first one, do this. Then keep in mind that the next one you can add complexity if you want, but don't overwhelm yourself." Well, I mean, you did four different elements. You challenged yourself. Yeah. I'm excited to see what's next.

Kristin:
Awesome.

Anna:
If somebody wants to connect with you, or work with you, or learn more about what you're doing, where do they go? Where should they reach out?

Kristin:
Yeah, absolutely. Probably the best place to reach me is my website. That's knanthony.com. I'm also on Twitter. I am @antkris and I'm also on LinkedIn, also antkris.

Anna:
Awesome. I will put the links to all those links you mentioned underneath the video. Also, is that where people can go to experience, on your website, Brink of Burnout?

Kristin:
Oh, yes. I actually need to post it probably to the front page, but yes. You'll be able to find it there.

Anna:
Awesome. Well, this was fabulous. I hope everybody got a lot of value from this and just a cool perspective on how to challenge yourself. Hopefully it inspires you to check out the Brink of Burnout and also maybe craft your own interactive story. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you, Kristin.

Kristin:
All right. Thank you so much.

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