29 / 5 / 2015 11.38am
By Abigail Hopewell
Once upon a time a kind-hearted and determined woman called Abby who won a golden ticket to enter the magical Kingdom of Roffey Park. It sat in the middle of nowhere – somewhere between Gatwick and Brighton - surrounded by fields, trees, ponds, barn houses and nature.
Once she arrived, she tentatively launched herself into getting to know some of the other golden ticket holders who’d travelled there from all over Europe. Together they listened to sages, witches, wizards and gurus talk about people, organisations, the past, the future, and the right-here-right-now.
Abby learned so many things she thought her head might explode! What was she to do with all of this magic and knowledge that she was learning? Where was she going to find the time to sit down, digest and make sense of it all? “What am I going to take back with me, to my Kingdom?”, she pondered to herself. “What am I going to share with others?” Many questions, with many answers to find.
She departed that magical Kingdom of Roffey Park full of inspiration, warmth, connections and material to digest. As the fairy dust settled and Abby returned to her own magical Kingdom, her mind kept returning to the theme of story and she knew that there was a story to tell here. There was a perspective to share. Her own perspective was valid; it was her truth. “I can own this, celebrate this - tell my own story, learn from it, and maybe help others learn from it too”, she said to the woodpigeons on the bird feeder outside her kitchen window, who busily pecked the crumbs she’d put there for them earlier, oblivious to her rising certainty.
A few days later, Abby gazed at both her computer screen. She began to feel tension in her chest, indicating that adrenaline and cortisol levels were rising in response to stress she felt from having to actually write something; knowing that others – her peers in other Kingdoms no less! - were going to read it and have opinions about it. Her inner demon started talking to her from on high, in that all-knowing voice of hers: "Oh Abby, you cannot write. It’s going to be a car crash from start to finish; all this writing and pontificating nonsense. No one is going to understand or care. You’re going to be criticised. Everyone will laugh at you. It’s not going to be good enough."
With anxiety mounting and confidence falling, she then remembered an exercise from Roffey Park. Whilst the exercise can help us increase our ‘presence’ - particularly when facilitating groups or situations where there’s conflict or unspoken tension - she realised it can be applied to pretty much any situation. Our breath and posture are continuously activated throughout life, whether we are consciously aware of them or not.
Abby paused and mentally took herself through the exercise. She checked her breathing, became aware of her posture and how she was sitting. Taking a few moments to get these in balance, she then visualised her breath travelling up her back as she breathed in, and down over in front of her body as she breathed out. With her out breath she thought of her goddaughter – a special person who made her feel warm, and whom she loved dearly. Abby smiled, her brain chemistry had now changed through giving attention to the breath, the posture, and a happy thought. Abby’s inner demon had calmed down. She started to write her story.
Storytelling was one of the main pieces of learning I took from the ODN Europe Conference. The overall conference theme was ‘learning from different perspectives’ and for me this came alive with a session looking at how writing can be a powerful tool to use in OD interventions. Each of us has our own story to tell, just as much as every organisation, team and project has a story to tell. Stories we tell ourselves, and others, are informed by stories other people tell us, and by how our brains perceive, filter and make sense of what is going on around us.
Stories create a narrative, a journey; they reveal the light and shade of our emotions, and can help us to identify archetypal energies which are played out in our lives. Stories become embedded in our sense of reality/truth. As OD practitioners it is our role to work with these stories/realities. Our duty might be to help others to make sense of their own story, or other people’s stories; perhaps help rewrite a story, or facilitate viewing a story from a different perspective. We may need to help move a story onto the next chapter.
Story writing (using a fast writing process, whereby, for example, people write fast and continuously for 10 minutes without censoring or self-judgement) can help individuals and organisations to better understand a situation, or help them learn what needs to change to move things forward. Writing a fairy tale is just one of numerous different writing styles and voices available for people to shift perspective about a situation.
Storytelling and story writing may be considered an art, but for us as OD practitioners – we are less concerned with getting the story written perfectly; far from it. Writing stories in an OD context is less about detail or the quality of the prose. They are more about the messages that are revealed from writing; the learning and insights we acquire from the writing; and what the client/ team/ organisation chooses to do with the learning.
I therefore say – grab your pen, tablet, keyboard, crayon, whatever – and just start writing!Books about writing that were recommended at the ODNEU conference