Adam Woodhall, respected friend of 6heads, experienced sustainability consultant and early morning rave dancer, led the most recent 6heads members meeting. He writes about his experience below.
Why is it important to understand the narratives that underlie the stories we tell ourselves and each other?
This was the question that I posed at a fantastic 6-Heads event which I had the privilege of facilitating. The workshop was structured using the classic four stage storytelling structure of ‘Exposition’, ‘Rising Action’, ‘Climax’ and ‘Resolution’.
We first discussed why we need to understand the narratives we are telling ourselves and being told, particularly the unstated and underlying ones? It was concluded that this was because this exploration helps us explore the assumptions and ideas which sit beneath the stories we tell ourselves. It also means that we can be clearer when the narrative has replaced reality.
The next question posed, “Why change?”, was a seemingly obvious one, but very important. This is because change, whether it personal, organisational or societal, is always going to be challenging. Therefore even positive change can be avoided. This is because even though it may not truly serve us, the existing narrative is what we know and feels comfortable. If we want to be part of transformation, the narrative needs to include an understanding why we want to change, so we can overcome the resistance.
The workshop became particularly animated at this point as I asked the participants to discuss examples of narratives that are blocking change. There were many discussed, to give a flavour, here are a couple. I shared a personal narrative which was that when I was younger, I believed that there was a very clear right and wrong. This led me to find it difficult to see where compromise could be achieved. On a societal level, an example was how many leaders of Australia, the developed country most affected by climate change, are increasingly denying that it is happening. Amongst many reasons for this, part will be that the narrative of economic growth and security is so powerful that it is easier to deny the reality of climate change, than change their story.
We then considered the story of the clothing company, Patagonia, an example of a narrative which was empowering positive change. The attendees looked at a single web page which highlighted their story.
The key observation was that there was a very clever communication on this page. The information could be interpreted as suggesting two perspectives:
- Patagonia was part of the problem, but trying to break out of it
- They were already part of the solution, having worked out how to go beyond the ‘want > make > waste’ paradigm.
The workshop climax then took all we had discussed and considered how an underlying narrative can be developed to support positive change. An example would be from my own personal experience of seeing a very clear right and wrong. As I grew, I started to realise not only does everybody have a different perspective on what is ‘right’, but also by creating this dichotomy the person that I was unconsciously most likely to make ‘wrong’ was myself. I now therefore work on being positive about other people and organisations. This helps me not only understand what is good in their story, but also makes it easier to be positive about myself.
The resolution of the workshop gave the participants space to consider how hearing all the narratives being shared had made them feel. The feedback was that it made them feel empowered and they felt motivated to go and make positive change in their lives, organisations and our society.
One particular area where action was encouraged was to get involved in 6-Heads. I shared that I had developed my narrative by delivering this workshop; from a relative newcomer to London, to somebody who was increasing my profile and network here. So thanks 6-Heads for helping me change my story!
Perhaps this track from the musical Mathilda sums it all up (thanks Auden):
“Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
So they say, their subsequent fall was inevitable.
They never stood a chance; they were written that way –
Innocent victims of their story.”
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