Meet The Story Curator Who Sees Your Words In Pictures


Dyan Burgess may be a publisher, but she prefers numbers and symbols to letters and grammar.


The term ‘storyteller’ gets thrown around all too loosely these days – much like many of these. But for Dyan Burgess, it is a fully legitimate title.

Not only do she and her husband, Matthew, create many of their own tales, but they have made their life’s work out of interpreting and sharing other people’s through their custom publishing family business, Words from Daddy’s Mouth.

You may also recognise Dyan’s creative work from our own Kick. Start. Smart. events around Australia last year, where she sketched the day’s learnings live from the audience.

After stumbling across Dyan’s awesome talents on Twitter, we had to find out more about how she became such a visual connoisseur.


On the path that led her here

“I’m a ‘process’ person with a background in mathematics and finance. Independent publishing and story curation became a natural transition after leaving the corporate sector to raise four children, particularly when a large part of the day is reading and telling stories to those young minds.

At school, I loved the challenges of mathematics and the calm of art. But art didn’t seem like a career choice at the time, so I chose to study mathematics. I was always interested in the technical side of drawing – it was always the logical space of art that resonated strongly with me.”


On the battle of the disciplines

“I struggled (and still do!) with grammar and spelling, so I compensated by drawing images of ideas that I found difficult to write. Almost all of my notes at university were numbers – I could hide my poor grammar behind formulas and equations. Then I began a career in banking and finance, so more numbers. Looking back, I realise that I’ve always been more comfortable with symbols than words.”


On blending skills and capturing moments

“When I became a mum, I became the family record keeper. I would scrapbook the many hundreds of photos I had taken of our family. It started out as an analogue process but with technology advances, more children, less time and less space, I moved to digital record-keeping in the late 2000s, which has ultimately formed the foundation for my business. The processes and systems I developed essentially weaved together all my talents, building bridges between mathematics, art, storytelling and family.”


On the passion that pre-empted the profession

“Initially, the books were a ‘hobby’ designed to share some of my art, while also capturing my husband’s words for our children. He’s a wonderful storyteller – and needs to be, as having chosen to not have a family TV, it was often the only strategy available to get our awesome foursome to sleep.

The kids demanded new stories on a daily basis, so Matthew started a collection of these stories. The list, with thanks to the Notes app on my iPhone, exceeds 600.”


On what makes a great story

“There is a great podcast that I came across called The Business of Story. One episode featured an interview with Randy Olson where he discusses the discovery of the ‘ABT Formula’. This was created when he asked the Southpark cartoon writers how they manage to keep coming up with great stories. Their formula is the simple application of ‘And, But, Therefore’.

Personally, I see storytelling as the vessel that enables the building blocks for learning. Each story is essentially a chapter of a larger book. When weaved together, what might otherwise be assumed to be un-associated chapters become steps for the reader to journey through and experience paradigm shifts, just as I have, throughout my life with the books I’ve read. As Steve Jobs mused, ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever’. This philosophy applies to storytelling as much as life as a whole.”


On identifying and developing her niche

“When people talk, I see pictures. There is not a time in my life that I cannot remember accessing images and drawing as a part of my everyday existence. It’s in my DNA. It was not until I started sharing my visual notes at conferences that I realised others didn’t do the same thing. I began to realise I could create value for storytellers and entrepreneurs by helping to share their messages in a succinct way.”


On learning on the job

“I don’t mind embarking on projects with a lack of knowledge – it helps me question why processes are done a certain way and to re-think those processes.

At times, my ‘beginners mind’ has allowed me to create outcomes that would not be considered if a traditional route was followed. I also love meeting amazing, friendly, energetic entrepreneurs every day and having the opportunity to listen to diverse experiences and share their stories. 

In 2016, I released Bake a Business Book based on my independent publishing journey, with hints, tips and checklists that helped me create my publications. This publication was inspired by Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto.”


On (wo)man vs. machine

“The online tools available to independent authors and publishers are continuously evolving. As most industries are finding, technology is replacing basic processes. I believe, however, businesses that understand and apply the complexity of the human touch will be the businesses that rise to the top. Businesses that master the human touch provide special value and experiences to the end user.”


On the potentially eternal power of print

“The 2016 release of Seth Godin’s 18-pound book (that’s over 8kgs) suggests there’s something innately human about wanting to hold, feel and read a book.

It will be interesting to watch whether predictions of ‘The Fourth Transformation’ come to fruition – that is, the hypothesis that with augmented and virtual reality we’ll be able to digitally replace many tactile experiences.

I like the fact we have countless options. I think I’ll always need paper for my visual note-taking, because the connection of pen to paper helps my brain to process. However, once created, I digitise the images for easier sharing; while the original images are stored in my bookshelf and re-referenced again and again. Whether the next generation has the same connection to physical paper remains to be seen.”



We would love to hear your thoughts