JOHN A: Good day everyone. This is John A. Warnick, founder of the Purposeful Planning Institute. PPI is delighted to be with you today and to have Karen Corbitt, the founder of Generational Story. To share a little bit of the story behind the Generational Story, I think this is going to be a very exciting discovery for many of you. And that it will align closely with the ways in which you serve and help the families and individuals you’re working with. Karen graduated from Stanford. She’s always been interested in preserving history and heritage. But tragically, she lost her husband in a plane crash. And that really triggered her becoming acutely aware of just how valuable it is to capture personal and family memories on video. As her children who were aged one to ten, at the time, they lost their father, grew up with very sparse recollections of their dad. So Generational Story was founded by Karen on the principle that capturing the voice, the emotion, the personality of an individual is as important as the stories themselves. Making sure that those memories stay secure and accessible, ensures an individual story will become a timeless treasure for generations to come. So Karen’s the proud mother of five, and the grandmother of eight. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and Bellevue, Washington. And Karen, it is our tradition to ask our thought leader guest for the Purposeful Planning Podcast that they would share what we call your purposeful Odyssey. The story of your kind of professional meandering journey to bring you to where you are today, which no doubt needs to include kind of the what drove you to found Generational Story, and a little bit about the history of how you’ve been building it, before we get to our opportunity to hear more from you today about the importance of preserving legacy whenever we can.
KAREN: Well, thank you. So I guess we’ll start with just graduating from Stanford. Obviously, I was very interested in technology. It was just kind of a field that was bursting wide open. There were so many possibilities at the time that I was studying. And I did end up working in the industry in hardware. I also did a lot of software. I even taught at a junior college in the San Francisco Bay area. I was in Silicon Valley at the height of all the startups coming out of that area. And of course, with Stanford, there’s a lot of influence there. But what I noticed over the years was as cool and as wonderful. And as fast as things were moving in technology. There tended to be downsides. And I think when I first started into it. We didn’t look at any downsides of what technology could do to your mental health, how it could even split up families even in a way. And a lot of the things that I worked on, a lot of the projects that I worked on were so fantastic. It kind of didn’t have very much meaning after a few years. I remember as an intern, just working, for instance, on a two gigabyte hard drive for IBM. It was the biggest hard drive that had ever been there. That’s just like you have that on your phone. So it was a matter of what is meaningful to people. What does technology do that can actually benefit people? What is the thing that you can do that you can preserve and technology? What can we do with technology now, that wasn’t available previously, that will probably have a positive impact on the future, going forward for a very, very long time? And then as you said, I lost my husband when I had very young children. As they grew up, and they didn’t have memories, that was really hard. But the other thing is that as I was going through that journey myself — the thing that I pulled on — was knowing the hard things that my ancestors had been through. I had a grandmother who got rheumatoid arthritis to the point that it just crippled her and she couldn’t even feed herself but the determination that she had, she even taught herself how to paint just using her mouth. And we have paintings of that and how meaningful that is. You look at that picture doesn’t mean anything to anybody unless you know the story behind it. So the capturing of the stories, and the capturing of heirlooms, and the stories behind them can be meaningful to people moving forward. I know it’s made a huge difference in my life to know those stories. And I think everyone should have that opportunity. And that’s actually what science is proven through again, and again, starting in about 1990. They started doing a whole bunch of studies. And I really feel if I put my heart and soul into this, this is what’s going to make an impact in the future.
JOHN A: You allude to some of the research that’s been done around the benefits of storytelling, and capturing legacy. I think that too often we focus only on the words that capture the story, preserve the story will have to those who hear it, and we overlook the psychological benefits that accrue to the storyteller themselves. Can you share just a little bit more on that?
KAREN: So when you’re recording your story in any form, it doesn’t have to be through video. They actually have been able to measure a few things. They knew that made people happier, but how do they quantify that? Well, now they found out that it releases the feel-good chemicals, so you get the serotonin and dopamine rush a little bit from recording your story. And actually, anyone who hears your stories, you share that with family and friends, they find that and that brings up their levels of those feel-good chemicals as well, if you talk about what it does for the individual. The other thing that is measurable is when people start recording their stories and they did this in a study with veterans and they also did it in a hospital in Texas where people were recovering from an injury. And they had control groups. They had some people journal and some people do not journal and the ones that journal, they actually could measure that their white blood cell count went up. And they found that was the most effective thing and getting rid of that post-traumatic syndrome stress that veterans had. And in the hospital, they found that the people who are journaling got better quicker. But the other thing is, they found out that it improves your memory. So if you’re talking about somebody even who has dementia, if you’re able to talk to him about their stories, they start feeling a sense of self-worth again, and they feel they can remember more. They’re more motivated. But they even took just young adults, and they said, “Okay. How do we make people think smarter?” And they found that, if they could remember things that they’d done, if they wrote those things down or recorded them or did something with them, that their IQ tests improved by as much as 10 points. So if you need to buck up yourself, let’s just start recording your story. And of course, we know that talking to an older person, it just makes them happy/ You know that intuitively. So there’s just all kinds of health benefits where you just feel less stress. You feel less anxiety. You feel less depression. You start feeling happier. You start feeling more self motivated. You have a higher self esteem by just recording your story. And so if you are the financial planner, or the state attorney or whatever, and you can connect into those positive emotions, it draws you closer. You are better able to understand what your client’s needs.You draft plans that are more meaningful to them, that sort of thing. So there’s a lot of benefits.
JOHN A: You said it’s so well, Karen and I just add, I’ve been fascinated by something that came out in the American Medical Association Journal. A research study published there not quite 10 years ago, I believe, where they cataloged many of these same physiological, physical, and psychological benefits. One of the things that fascinated me is for the storyteller, the looking-back, leads to enhanced clarity about what you want to do in the future, and kind of enhances purpose and drive to kind of finish strong in life. But I think there are lots of barriers that get in the way. We can acknowledge how beneficial it is, but to actually commit to do the work, there’s so many ways that people get bogged down and don’t do it. You’ve either think, as you were talking about the application of technology, you found easy ways to make this not so daunting. Can you share a little bit about just how easy it can be?
KAREN: Yeah, so what we found, it’s just really hard for someone to put something down in writing. It’s just a hard thing for a lot of people. But if you’ve ever sat down to talk to somebody about their life, once you start talking and having questions and having a conversation, and they see another person sort of interested in what their story is and appreciating that story, lots of emotion, lots of feelings, lots of memories start pouring in that they want to share with you. And so, what we tried to do is create a conversational type interview thing. So it’s just based on questions. So on our platform, what you do is you go in, and you can do this either with a video conference call, or you can do it in person and just have your phone recording, and you’re just recording a conversation. So you can plan it out in advance, a lot of people do. And we have special tools for that where we have categories of questions. We have one that’s just called Getting Started that gives you five questions that most basic people would, but you can enter your own questions like, “Oh. I really want to make sure that he talks about his service in the war. I really want to make sure that we talked about the time they were in New York.” Things like that. So you have these things that you want to be sure that you talk about even heirlooms. It’s a really important thing to be passed on. And talking about those heirlooms and why people would want to keep them. If there’s a story behind it, that might be passed down through generations. If there’s not a story, it’ll end up at Goodwill. So you can go in advance and you just select these questions, and then when you start recording, you can always go off topic. You can always hit a custom question and go off topic. But you can go down those questions. And as you record one, you finish it up, you just do, What we encourage is just these short minute clips, and then you hit save. And so maybe not longer than five minutes on a particular topic is usually good for people digesting it later on. And then you go on to the next topic, or you continue with that topic. But that way, you can find more easily what it is that you’re interested in. So if you want to hear the story, or share the story of how you met your spouse, at a family reunion, you can just pull up that little tiny clip rather than an hour’s worth of clips. But then of course, talking about your college education might be important later on. And someone could pull up a little clip about that. And it’s a lot easier to remember. So what happens is you ask the question, they respond, you save that question, and it will upload automatically labeled under the question. You can go back later. And you can add anything you want. You can add a photo album. You can connect a photo album to it. You can connect a newspaper article over it, so that there’s more context that it makes this a very rich story. But it’s all stored in one place, automatically cataloged. It was done through conversation. What we like to say is that you can do the whole thing. If you needed to, in 30 minutes or less downloading the app, entering the questions, interviewing the person automatically uploaded. And if you did no more than that, you would have captured their personality, their emotions, and some of the most important stories behind their life. You can also go back in and edit it. The other thing you can do is you can upload your own family videos. So if you have a really cute video of playing with your children or your grandchildren, or when you went to Yellowstone or whatever it is, you can upload those videos as well. And then you’d be able to talk about those in a clip and so you’ve preserved your very most important memories in a very easy fashion to capture that story. But also, it makes it super accessible to anybody. They don’t have to go through a whole bunch of things.
JOHN A: I love the accessibility and the kind of a recent example where we had a family gathering that brought almost everyone except the son-in-law and grandson who were out of the country at the time, together for five days. And I don’t have anything recorded from my mom. We do have some recordings that a professional life historian did with my father, but they’re not on my phone. And I forgot to bring the DVD with me. So the fact that you can carry your kind of generational stories around in your pocket. And these short, easy-to-use, easy-to-locate clips, I think are a huge contribution, Karen. And I get how important it is to add on to curate to organize what we’re doing. But can you talk a little bit about the advantages of storing this online versus the DVD that’s in a file drawer in my cabinet in my office 600 miles from where we were meeting as a family?
KAREN: Yeah. First of all, it’s a matter of technology. So I mean, just a few years ago, DVD was the thing to have. When I first started this business, people weren’t very interested in the online. We have these 1000 year archival DVDs. They’re not ever going to be destroyed. They can’t get scratched. They’re really amazing as they are. But my kids or my grandkids, certainly when they look at that, they don’t know what a DVD is. And everybody has VHS tapes of their family and then it went to Hi8, and then it went to the USB. It will probably be replaced by something in the future. And you can also lose those. Like you said, they can get lost in the box. If you keep it online, that’s open to everybody. You can share or not share what we call an album, which is the collection of clips that you have. And an interesting thing about our collection of clips too is if there are some things that you don’t want to share with everybody, maybe you have some statements like survivors notes, or a special thing that you want people to hear maybe after you’re gone or something like that, you can mark those clips as private. And even if you share the whole album, the things that you marked as private, will not show up. But everything else they can get, like I said, is categorically looking for what they want. So if you can keep it online, it’s always updated. Now the problem with so for instance, when an ancestor in my husband’s family passed away, she had a collection of photo albums and journals and things like that, that they were like, “Okay, we’re going to try and get this online. We’re going to upload them. We’re going to get this all organized.” They did that and it was wonderful because nobody these days wants to actually carry around a lot of journals and photo albums. The problem is that you have to keep those accounts open. And you have to remember the passwords to get into them. And you still have to know where to find them. So what we’ve decided that we can do to improve that process, so that it’s always accessible is to create QR codes. That way, you don’t have to know what the password was to get to a particular album, you can take this QR code. You can put it on any heirloom, a family photo, or a headstone. And as the generations go by, people are just going to be able to read that QR code and it will automatically pop up in the latest technology, you’ll have all of that history. And also by doing that, if there are particular heirlooms that you’re interested in, and you really don’t want this particular heirloom, the vase from your great great great great grandmother from Hungary or something to end up in a goodwill. Then, you can put a QR code on that. You could talk about that particular heirloom and why it’s so meaningful and the story behind it, because it’s not so much the things that we own. It’s the memories that they conjure up that make them valuable to us.
JOHN A: Well said. I heard you mentioned that there’s capability to impose privacy settings. And in a sense, I think carefully about who’s going to have access to this and when you want to speak just a little bit more to that. And then I think, Karen, it would be good for you, if you don’t mind, to kind of share this. This platform Generational Story has really been designed for both families, individuals, and for the professional advisor, and consultant. And maybe you could talk a little bit about how individuals and families take advantage of it and how you’re suggesting advisors and consultants take advantage of it.
KAREN: Okay, so the first item was about privacy and maybe why you’d want to use that. So, for instance, I think sometimes there are things that people want to write about in a will. Maybe they’re giving more money to one family, because they’re taking care of the disabled son or something like that. And what we found is, particularly in estate planning or even financial planners, by being able to express those thoughts that maybe you don’t want shared at the time, but you do want shared eventually. This is kind of insurance. It cuts down on family arguments. it cuts down on lawsuits between family members, and also with the advisors or the estate attorneys. Because in dad’s own words, this is what he wanted to have happen. So you can’t take that. It keeps you out of the courtroom. So that’s one reason why you would want to keep it private. Other things might be that you have a special message that you want your granddaughter to hear on her 16th birthday. And so you don’t want to share that at that time, that’s going to be something that’s going to happen in the future. And then, the other thing is — okay, so then we’re moving on to why the financial and how this works between financial advisors, or estate attorneys and the client themselves — the way that we set it up was that there could be a dual sign in. And actually, right now we have multiple contributors. So let’s say that you were the estate attorney, or the financial advisor that wanted to do this. You set up the album, and then you share it. You put in the name and the email address of contributors — up to five or if it’s a legacy album, up to 10 contributors — all of those people can now be uploading videos, recordings. Of course, you could have as many as you wanted, if you give away your login information to somebody else, but they can all contribute to this album. So the financial advisor could get it started that maybe the son would upload a couple of videos or want to get some more stories to put in there for dad or something like that. And so you have this dual signing capability. When you sign in as the owner, there is the opportunity to enter your company name. So that when somebody opens up the album, it says, “Powered by John Warnick.” And so every time it’s a little bit of soft marketing. So every time somebody opens that album, they know that Johnny Warnick was the one who was sponsoring this album, that started this album. And so now you’re expanding your reach to all these family and friends that this particular story is particularly meaningful to. So you get that kind of advantage as well. Did I answer the question? Or do you have some more?
JOHN A: I think maybe a follow on would be helpful. Today, as this is published and released, we’re going to have many members of the Purposeful Planning Institute listening, but also the public gets a hold of these podcasts. And I can see that there are individuals and families out there as well as advisors and consultants who are going to Generation Story and be like, “What? I want to learn more.” So help us with a website or how you best want them to connect with Generational Story. Where should they go? And what can they learn when they go to where you’re suggesting they go?
KAREN: Right. So it’s www.generationalstory.com (all one word). So it’s a pretty easy website to find. And there’s a couple of things that I would really encourage people to look at. At the bottom of the page is a link to the benefits of your history. And it has links to many of the studies that I’ve kind of alluded to about how it helps the person who’s doing the recording, as well as their posterity to have that and to have that information available. So if you’re interested in capturing a story for any reason, or you want to talk your dad into actually doing this, there’s some really compelling reasons listed there to look at under the benefits. The other place I would go is to look at how it works. We have some introductory videos that talk about it as well. You’ll learn how to actually log in and you can see how simple it is. We think it’s very intuitive but you should just be able to get on and make it work. But if you have any questions, we’ll have tutorials there for you. There’s several different sections in there. So you can go to, if you’re a corporation, there’s a section that talks about how you might integrate that into your practice. If you’re an individual, it talks about the values that are accrued by recording the story. And if you’re even a nonprofit, for instance, you may have a historic town, and you want people drawn to that town. And one way to do that is to have tours or things where they can talk about the buildings, because people go to historic towns. You’re like, “Well, that looks really cute. I wonder if it used to be a bar, if it used to be a bank, or whatever, when you go in there?” Well, towns can actually take this and put QR codes on their door, and you can pull up a story exactly about what this was, or on the menu at a restaurant, so you can hear what the restaurant was about. And I am hoping that it goes beyond individuals, but it goes into preserving a lot of the historical things in our country and around the world that give us more of an appreciation. When you have a history, what’s been proven is that you become more compassionate to even people around you. Because when you’re thinking in the bigger context, and there’re real people that did real things. You’re not only developing your compassion toward those people and those places and filling a place in your heart for them, but it expands your heart, to your co-workers and to your family and to your resilience. And so that’s what I’m trying to capture in so many ways.
JOHN A: Well, I’m really excited as many many listening today to this podcast are, Karen. I can’t thank you enough. And I just want to also voice gratitude to Klea Harris, who is the PPI member who introduced me to Karen, maybe four or five or six months ago. And I look forward to the possibility that we’ll have some workshops with Karen and Klea. I think people will get an immediate sense of the potential power of this. But to be able to, in a workshop setting, ask questions about how I actually do this or what are the possibilities, I think that would be extremely valuable. So we’ll be talking more to Karen and to Klea about the opportunity to kind of combine their forces. Karen from the standpoint of the visionary and the technological force and implementer, and Klea from the side of someone who’s actually experimenting using this to great advantage with clients. So thank you again, Karen. And thank you everyone and look forward to having you come to another Purposeful Planning Podcast and not too distant future.
KAREN: Thank you so much for the opportunity.
JOHN A: It was great.