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Turnstone: modelling the behaviour you want to see

Here is a story of a constellation* conversation between Jeremy and Marco in which we interchanged roles as coach and coachee throughout, while thinking about a future collaboration that we are excited to pursue.  It was a brilliant experience at the time we were doing it; in the echoes of the thinking and feeling experienced later, and in the memories already laid down and accessible.

(* Constellations are a form of exploring a topic in three dimensions - objects are placed on a surface in relation to one another, to ‘represent’ aspects of the topic. It’s like creating a map that allows exploration of the thinking and emotional topography).

Marco started with the invitation for me to find an object which represented me, and then place it on our canvas.  A tomato was nearby and instinctively I picked it.  In the moment of selecting it I was drawn to its colour, the texture, the shape.  There was something about the relatively resilient skin over the soft interior that was important, as was the fact it was something organic – it grew from a seed and would eventually, by one means or another, be consumed.  I like the ambivalence of it too – that old chestnut of ‘is it a fruit or is it a vegetable?’ seemed to hold some meaning for me.  The shape invoked a capacity to move in any direction and the capability to stay on course once in motion, or take a meandering path, depending on the environment.

A partial picture of our constellation during which we 'increased the surface area' of our understanding of each other's thinking and feeling

Did all of this arrive in my mind right at that moment.  Honestly, most of it …. yes, it did!  What I have been interested in since is what meaning might be of interest in all of this.

The same applies to Marco.  His selection was the felt material which he positioned relative to the tomato as you see in the picture.  I remember him saying at the time that he liked the look, feel and shape of the piece.  There was something about the shape and arc of the curve in relation to the tomato that felt important. Its location was significant with the circular form echoing the spherical form of the tomato.  There was a strong sense of both similarity and difference in the relationship between the forms that we had chosen and, although we did not name it at the time, I have been left with the strong impression of how both are important to us.  I remember Marco saying that he was not quite sure what he sensed about the significance of his shape’s straight sides, particularly the long one, although there was a sense of it not being transparent or permeable, hiding everything behind it.

Something fascinating happened when Marco asked me to find something to represent our combined wisdom, effectively the resource that we have at our disposal in our work with clients.  I remember in my selection this time I had an immediate sense of meaning as I made my selection.  It was a blue USB memory stick.  I shared my sense of this to Marco in that the meaning I was making was based on the obvious metaphor of the memory stick representing our combined wisdom, our accumulated lived experience and skills.  As I was turning the blue plastic in my hands, I noticed a sadness based on the fact that the ‘gold mine’ of our combined gifts was inaccessible given it was not plugged in.  Nonetheless, I positioned it on the canvas as you see in the picture, broadly aligned with the centre of my tomato and Marco’s concave felt.

We talked about the relative location of each of us, and the separate presence of our combined wisdom.  There was something about how the shapes collectively appeared to be like the schematic diagrams of how light is focussed or scattered by a lens.  The word ‘focus’ came up strongly for both of us.  How we have the capacity to utilise each other’s wisdom and focus it upon whatever needs it at that time.  There are all sorts of other interpretations of the position of our representations relative to each other and what it might mean about how we actually do work together. Some are quite challenging, raising questions that simply would not have been reached in normal conversation.  For example, am I like the lens in our eye, focussing wisdom to Marco who makes meaning from it?  Am I blocking Marco’s access to the combination of our wisdom in some way, or am I acting as gatekeeper to it?  Do we work so well together because we are able to intensify each other’s capabilities?

We might well return to these and although our canvas no longer exists in the real world, it is immortalised in the picture shared above.  However, what happened at the time completely distracted us.  While contemplating our canvas I picked up the blue USB stick.  While fiddling with it, I pulled of the cap off……….and we both had a genuine shock when it turned out to be a mini highlighter pen.  My immediate response was one of horror as I had invested so much into the meaning of the memory stick as being symbolic of our wisdom.  That was all gone, and it was deeply unsettling for a short while.  I can’t remember the conversation in the seconds that followed apart from the fact that both of us noticed our response to the experience as being one of surprise.  We realised that there is a truth about our combined wisdom represented by this USB stick cum highlighter pen.  Its application leads to surprising outcomes.  We model this in our work and in our WARES, short unscripted recordings about something on our mind, shared with others to connect with their own pool of wisdom.  We have applied it in working with others in coaching and conversation.  Yeah, surprise is absolutely both an outcome and a benefit from the unleashing of our combined wisdom!

We took a moment or two away from the hot house of this thinking, which is absolutely necessary if you are really immersed in the experience.  Coming up for air provides an opportunity to refresh and revitalise.  On our return to the discussion Marco asked that I identify something to represent our stakeholders, those who we will engage with in our collaborative venture.  We were doing this work in a kitchen in disarray because of some DIY I was doing, so I found myself drawn to picking three small tools: a drill bit, a driver bit, and a spanner bit.  I have no idea what caused me to pick three, why these three, or my choice on where I positioned them on our canvas.  By the way, this was behind the straight edge of the pink felt which representing Marco, a space which earlier had been felt as being hidden to us.  Why place stakeholders in this spot?!

There was a pause as we reflected on the location and choice of these representations for our stakeholders.  Marco invited my thoughts and what came up was that all our stakeholders had a purpose.  They are purposeful people and for some reason this triggered a sensitivity around what role we could have with people who are already so purposeful.  What was our purpose in working with them?  There was a moment in which we recognised that we were both doubting what we offered.  This doubt came from us attaching too great a significance to the word purpose, and how purpose connected with our stakeholders, yet somehow not to us!

Again, this was unsettling.  The only thing that bought this into being was the language we attached to our chosen objects and their arrangement on our canvas.  Even so there was a risk of interpretation of this representation holding some truth for us, a truth we would not have noticed without exploring our system as a whole.

We needed to change our language and it came to us how we had lost sight of the belief that our combined wisdom was connected to our capacity to surprise through the exploration of hitherto uncharted thinking and feeling.  This is our purpose, and all those people we have worked with have their own unique experience, having been its beneficiaries.  Changing the word from stakeholders to beneficiaries, and reconnecting with the truth of the value of surprise, generated by thinking in different ways, completely altered our perspective.  It created possibilities and options that we explored in a follow-on conversation that was fuelled by our canvas, but no longer adding to it.  We can return to that another day, but for now its job was done.

We both work with techniques like this, and many others, that are all about unlocking new ways of thinking and feeling for the people we work with.  However used to them we both are it is astounding to experience ‘focussing our curiosity’ on ourselves.  It’s not easy.  Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, and always challenging.  Ultimately, it leads to new ways forward.  Oh, and don’t forget the surprises!

The story above is effectively the origination of something Marcos and I are really excited about.  It is a group experience we are calling Turnstone (there is another story about where that came from).  If you are interested in knowing about Turnstone, as it moves from drawing board to reality, please do connect with us here on LinkedIn, or contact Jeremy or Marco through the links shared here.


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