Positive Lives Blog

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Story Harvesting

What a rich word "harvesting" is! In itself a metaphor for richness, for yielding abundance, and of the notion of "in due season". Harvesting is both seasonal and opportune, not to be put off, and it is hard work! Team work, in fact.

So why Story Harvesting? Recently I ran a workshop for a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe and gave a presentation at an Adult Community Learning conference on Storytelling in Organisations. A question which I am always asked is "Where do you find your stories?".

More to the point, where do you find your stories? Whether you are harvesting stories within an organisation or, perhaps working with a coach, harvesting your own stories ... where do you look? What's the process?

The process is to listen through the lens of a chosen Theme.  Contract and agree the Theme with individual clients or with the organisation.  A Theme might be eg Ways of Working Together, or New Thinking ... whatever is needed right now in your organisation (or coaching practice or life). A Focus Group or World Cafe are ideal formats for exploring Themes and letting powerful organisational Stories emerge.

The "pitchfork" to start unearthing and harvesting personal or organisational stories is the Powerful Question. "What do we know about ... ?" or "What has made you the (courageous/questioning/doubting etc.) Story you are today?"

Then, explore further and go deeper with "What's the Wisdom (Danger, Risk, Possibility) of this Story?"

Whatever the Theme, you must have a really good question to go after.

This is not analytical nor cognitive work.  This is transformational work, and about Collective Change. Explore the power of stories to shape the reality we experience. Fans of Margaret Wheatley's extraordinary System Thinking will recognise that the answer lies in the community is at the heart of organisational story harvesting. Data gathering is fine and dandy and will happen regardless no doubt.  However, Innovation, New Thinking, and probably Survival require us to apply more creative approaches. 

Fanita English (an early proponent of Berne's work and the development of Transactional Analysis) talked of Story as Script. She said that "Script always has the element of learning or wanting or looking or hoping." She proposed three archetypes which preside over our stories and influence them, Goddesses of Survival, Passion and Quiescence (Peacefulness).

Michael Ray (Stanford Business School course developer) says that creativity "is essential for health, happiness, and success in all areas of life, including business".  But that we suppress our creativity with what he calls the "Voice of Judgment".  Indeed, it is said that children assessed to have genius levels of intelligences at the age of four retain only 2% of their abilities by the age of twenty.

The Voice of Judgement stifles Intelligence and Creativity in groups as much as it does for individuals.  We slip into "team think", censoring what is authentic and honest and preferring not to rock the boat or acquiescing to the most dominant voice in the group. There will also be a dominant Story within a group or team.  Listen out for it. What do you hear?


As ever, the age-old formula for learning is Story, Storyteller, and Story Listener (also Story Curators: see also recent Blog "A Beginning, A Muddle and an End"). Story Listeners come into their own; Story Listeners are not passive observers.  They are also Witnesses to the Stories in the "metafield", the unspoken energies and dynamics that are emerging as Stories, though not yet spoken.  These silent Stories are influenced by the systems we inhabit at work, through media contact, in our communities, families, relationships.  Ask your Story Listeners "What Wisdom (Danger, Risk, Possibility) did you hear?"  Allow them to report back.  Allow the Stories to emerge.

Story Harvesting has the power to transform the passive observers in your organisation into active participants "in ways that intellectual understanding can never achieve" as Peter Senge says in his remarkable book "Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future".

Stories can be the key to discovering, both personally and collectively, the most authentic and transformational answers to these questions:

  • Who am I (are we)?
  • How am I developing?
  • How am I trying to grow?
  • Who am I trying to be?
  • What am I trying to achieve?

When will it be the season for you to harvest your Stories?












The Story Listening Trance
A Beginning, A Muddle and An End


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