Re-authoring the narrative of an organisation
In my work there is a fundamental belief to integrate multiple disciplines to enrich the quality of the work I do. In this endeavour, I have integrated business innovation and start up principles with human centred design and social sciences. This principle extends to other kinds of disciplines. On the urging of my boss, Carolyn Curtis, the CEO of The Australian Center for Social Innovation I started to explore Narrative therapy. We were not sure where it would be most useful but it ended to be quite a fantastic discipline to work with organisations. It was started in Adelaide as an alternative to traditional psychotherapy. However, over the years it has been adapted to many different contexts. My goal is to explore and integrate in my work around strategy and innovation. Narrative Practice helps in being curious about your work, in being respectful and humble towards the individuals and organisations you are working with and helps you focus on the bright side of their work. On finding the alternative story and changing the narrative and belief of the organisation. For more, please check out the amazing Dulwich Centre, the founding place of Narrative practice in the world. So, what is this?
Narrative therapy seeks to be a respectful, non-blaming approach to counselling and community work, which centres people as the experts in their own lives. It views problems as separate from people and assumes people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments and abilities that will assist them to reduce the influence of problems in their lives There are various principles which inform narrative ways of working, but in my opinion, two are particularly significant: always maintaining a stance of curiosity, and always asking questions to which you genuinely do not know the answers.
How is this relevant to the work in organisations? The biggest learning is to see problems separate from people. Every organisation has what they would called a “problem story”.
We are not good at this.
We always deal with fires.
Our staff are not happy.
There are budgetory issues.
An on and on….
The goal is to find the “alternative story”. The alternate story helps you to connect to the other side of an individual or in our case an organisation and find the “bright spots”. What have they been good at? My enquiry into organisations starts with the belief that
“all organisations are good at innovation. There are always instances when things have been done well and you have achieved some amazing things”.
This positive questioning and a curiosity towards the good side of organisations changes the conversations I have. The language is different, the stories are different. The whole of narrative practice is very good in the use of creative tools to make their work better. One such tool that is has helped me is what is called the “Re-authoring map”.
click the image for a large size
The map is divided into two parts. The Landscape of Action at the bottom is around details and circumstances of events in time and sequence. In the course of a workshop, I would say, tell me instances of innovation (which I define as new+better) in your organisation. Whether it is about service innovation, practice innovation, technology, funding, human resources etc. When did that happen, where? We then start mapping them along the timeline at the bottom from present, to past to recent past. My colleague Ryan Hubbard has been fantastic in helping me design these experiences and actually create the map and build the story live in front of the participants.
The fantastic visuals were drawn by my colleague Ryan Hubbard, and thats yours truly
At the same time, I want to focus more the why? What are the circumstances in which this has happened? Why did it happen? The idea behind this is to identify the Landscape of Identity which is at the top of the re-authoring map. The Landscape of Identity consists of Values, Hopes, Dreams, Purposes, Beliefs, Principles, Skills, Knowledge and Learnings of the organisation. What you then start seeing is what is called the “unique event”. The pattern of identity that drives the actions. In the case of our work with one organisation they never saw all their innovations in the last year in one place all focussed around their clients and their staff. There were clear values and skills that created these innovations. This is the start of changing the narrative from a problem story to a innovation story. We are already innovative. We are well on the way in our journey. That is a powerful step forward for change. This is actually verified by behavioural scientists and change management experts on how to create change in organisations. The goal is to understand the identity (values, skills and knowledge) and extend that to the future. How can we create the contexts in which innovation can happen again because it has already happened? Innovation is a adaptive challenge, and understanding and building on adaptive capability is the key. And to that we can say, here is some best practice around the world and how you can go about adding some technical knowledge to it. I am keen to explore other ways to integrate narrative practice into my work and would like to thank the amazing people behind this work like Micheal White, Cheryl White and David Denborough and lots of others who have been working in this field for a long time.