I originally posted this on my old blog after attending the OD Network Europe (ODNE) conference in 2015. I am happy to republish it again here. What is your story?
Once upon a time a kind-hearted and determined woman called Abby 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?” So many questions, with so many answers to find.
As the fairy dust settled and Abby returned to her own magical Kingdom, her mind kept on returning to the theme of story. She knew that there’s a story to tell here. There’s a perspective that can be shared. Her perspective was valid; it was her truth. “I can own this, celebrate this, tell a story in my own unique way, learn from it and perhaps help others to learn from it too” she said to the wood pigeons outside her kitchen window as they busily pecked the crumbs and oats she’d put there for them earlier, oblivious to her rising certainty.
A few days later, Abby gazed at her computer screen. She began to feel the tension in her chest, indicating that her 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 mess 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 how it can be applied to pretty much any situation in life, as it’s so simple. Our breath and posture are continuously activated throughout our lives, whether we are consciously aware of them or not.
Abby paused and mentally took herself through the exercise. She checked in on 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 smile, and whom she loved dearly. Abby smiled. Her brain chemistry had now changed through her simple 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 attending the ODN Europe Conference. The overall conference theme was ‘learning from different perspectives’, and for me this idea came alive when we had a session looking at how the use of writing can be a powerful tool to use in OD interventions. Each of us has our own story to tell, just as much as an organisation, a team or a project has a story to tell. The stories we tell ourselves, and tell others, are informed by the stories other people tell us, and by the way our brains perceive 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, and our duty might be to help others to understand their story, change their story, view their story from a different perspective, or take their story onto the next chapter. Story writing can help individuals and organisations to better understand a situation, or help them to learn what needs to change to move things forward. There’s a wealth of different writing styles and voices which can be used to help shift ones thinking or perspective about a situation, such as the fairytale style above.
Storytelling and story writing may be considered an art, but for OD practitioners we are less concerned with getting the story written perfectly. Far from it. Ultimately writing stories in an OD context is less about detail or the quality of the prose. They are more about the messages that are gained from writing them, the learning and insights we acquire from this writing, and what we along with our client/team/organisation choose to do with this learning to change and improve things.
I therefore say – grab your pen, tablet, keyboard, crayon, whatever – and just start writing!