The Power of Articulation
One of the things I have noticed consistently in my work is the power of articulation. That is, something changes when we talk about things out loud, with others present.
That was brought home to me many years ago, before I was consciously thinking about stories. I was working with a technology team, and as an evening exercise (and bit of fun over a few beers) I produced some paints and challenged them to paint their vision.
As so often happens on these occasions, they painted something that one of them knew how to draw, and then made the metaphorical link to their vision. In this case, it was the Starship Enterprise. It wasn’t particularly meaningful to them, and felt like a bit of a waste of time - but entertaining enough for an evening on a residential programme. But then, one of the team, rummaging in my stationery kit, found some post-it notes in the shape of speech bubbles. They fell upon these with great enthusiasm, and initially wrote silly and ribald comments on them.
But then someone wrote something really aspirational on one - in the past tense, as though it had been accomplished: “Jim, just want to report that we have migrated all the legacy systems onto one integrated platform!” Others joined in, and suddenly they had an articulated set of aspirations: things they really wanted to accomplish. They talked about these long into the night. The next day was dedicated to more immediate practicalities, and then they had to return to work.
A year later, they invited me to facilitate another awayday for them. I asked them to bring their vision painting with them to help with the review of the year. After much hemming and hawing, one of them admitted that he thought it was still in his garage - where he’d put it on returning from last year’s awayday, and where it had languished ever since. And indeed it was, so he brought it along. What astonished all of us was that although it had not been looked at in the meantime, and no smart objectives, key performance indicators or other bureaucratic mechanisms had been applied to the aspirations, they had nearly all been met in the intervening year. I put that down in large part to the power of articulation. Having said them out loud, and heard each others’ commitment to them, these aspirations became part of the team’s understanding of what they were about; and they were duly delivered.
I think that anecdote demonstrates the power of articulation. If we can help people to say clearly what a more helpful story will be for them, that is of immense - indeed transformative - value.