The Re-authoring approach
Although storytelling is one of the fashionable words in some organisations, leadership and marketing fields, narrative re-authoring work goes further than storytelling.
What is Narrative Re-authoring work?
Narrative work is about ways of being and working with people that seek to ignite the dignity, beauty and honour of their lives. As the primary authors of our lives we are invited to re-author (take back the pen in) our relationship to the preferred moments, narratives and communities that have shaped our lives in ways that move us forward.
Why does this work matter?
Narratives are powerful because they shape, maintain and create who we are, how we relate to others and how we see the world and our place in it. As we re-author our relationship to the narratives of our lives, we are transformed and we become participants in shaping our relationship to all things as well as “the way things are.”
What is the effect of Narrative Re-authoring?
The transformational nature of the re-authoring lens and work invites individuals, communities and organisations to individually and collectively take up the pen as authors and co-authors as we re-write our lives and systems into preferred ways of being that shape our world.
“Having never heard of Narrative Practises before, I honestly never expected much. However, what it turned out to be, was one of the most defining moments in both my life and career. In just two days, my perspective of my life, my relationships with family, my relationships with friends, my career goals and my relationship with the world as a whole, was completely transformed. As a leader, I now know what is expected of me, and more importantly, I now have the confidence to brush aside all previously preconceived ideas and beliefs, that were unbeknownst to me, hindering my progress. Narrative Practises is something everyone should be exposed to.” Justin Miller, Director Operations, NCC Environmental Services (Pty) Ltd, Cape Town, South Africa
“Many books offer ways for us to improve the world. However, in skimming the surface with ‘tips’ and ‘tools’, few succeed in offering direction for the transformative change we need now more than ever. In Re-authoring the World, Chené Swart offers us a courageous approach that reaches deep into the fabric of our shared realities – the stories we tell about ‘the way things are’. She gifts us with a practice which is central to a resilient future for humanity: the ability to edit and re-tell the stories that shape the foundation of our communities and organisations. The purpose? To engage together in real and practical ways of creating more spacious possibilities for our common futures.” — Alexander Fink, social work and youth work practitioner and instructor in Leadership Education and Development at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
“Chené’s work bridges the very tricky boundary between narrative therapy and organizational development methodologies. She has decoded and therefore made accessible the power of Narrative therapy for executive coaching, culture building and change management. This is a massive contribution for which I am deeply grateful. Chené is changing the larger community's dominant narrative of scarcity, one narrative at a time.” Christine Cavanaugh-Simmons is President of CCS Consulting, Inc. and runs an international consulting company from Royal Oaks, California
“Based on my 20 years of experience in the field of organizational development, the skills that Chené brings are unique and rare. There are narrative therapists who work at the level of individual counselling, but it seems few who have the skills to bring this into an organizational context. Her work has powerful effects in re-writing and re-authoring the narratives of individuals and organizations.” Charles Holmes is a citizen of Vancouver, a skilled facilitator, educator and convenor of dialogues that change the world.
“Chené has built a committed following in Cincinnati by her elegant way of facilitating the work and presenting the Narrative ideas in a simplicity that is easy to understand and also profound in its impact. I fully recommend her work. It is life changing for individuals and institutions.” Peter Block is a citizen of Cincinnati, an author, consultant, and speaker in the areas of organization development, community building, and civic engagement for the past 40 years. He is also the recipient of the Organization Development Network's 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Re-authoring Workshops and Apprenticeship Journeys
Through Transformations, Chené offers workshops that apply re-authoring practices in a variety of contexts. These workshops invite participants into these ideas and practices through experiential learning processes. Because she believes in the power of this work to transform lives, Chené also offers two year apprenticeship journeys both locally and internationally to those who want to facilitate these workshops and apply these ideas to their different contexts.
Chené presents workshops in leadership, stress management, consulting, coaching, diversity work, strategic work, women’s empowerment, conflict management, change and resilience, cultural transformation and teambuilding.
For the curious ones to read more
The Re-authoring approach sees human beings as storying beings who have three very important capacities with which we navigate our lives: meaning-making, embodied knowings and story-making. As human beings, we connect the dots of our lives through our meaning making capacity as well as through the rich storehouse of knowings that reside in our bodies. These threads of meaning and embodied knowings are expressed through language that again informs the narratives we tell about who we are (identity), what our relationships are like (community) and how we see the world (reality).
But these narratives do not exist in an individual bubble or fall mysteriously from the sky. They are crafted in a particular cultural and societal context governed by taken-for-granted beliefs and ideas that inform the narratives we tell about ourselves, teams, communities and organisations. Examples of these taken-for-granted beliefs and ideas are the dominant belief in the scarcity of life, the competitive nature of mankind, the inevitability of war, and the belief that only certain elites are authorized to “know” and declare what is true.
The re-authoring approach makes visible and helps us realise how these societal beliefs and ideas are influencing and shaping our lives as it asks profound questions about them and provides ways of working and being that creates distance from these ideas and beliefs. Dominant problem-saturated narratives flow from and are supported by these societal beliefs and ideas that often make claims about what is normal, good, right, development and successful in a particular time and context. Some of the dominant problem stories we tell sound like: “I am always alone”, “We never work together as a team”, and “We are a violent nation”. These kinds of stories are thin descriptions of our lived experiences and are informed by taken-for-granted ideas and beliefs from our different contexts and societies; they often tell us, “This is just the way things are.” Not so!
In the pursuit of handing back the pen in the hands of individuals, communities and organisations, we look through the lens of dignity and careful curiosity that grows from a willingness to be moved and touch by what we hear and experience. Participants are invited to name the narrative or to create or name a metaphor or image because in a word or an image, lies a world! In our questions, ways of working and being with participants we explore how their relationship with these problem moments or narratives are influencing their lives, what ideas and beliefs are supporting them and what is the nature of the history of these problem stories in a way that participants are not the problem, but the relationship to problem moments or stories is the problem.
The work continually looks for moments, embodied knowings and relationships in our history where the dominant problem moment or narrative was not true, was not the whole truth or was not present. Those different or exceptional moments, embodied knowings and relationships become the seeds for exploring the counter moment or narrative. We then give this counter moment or narrative a name or an image and we further explore the ideas, beliefs, hopes, gifts, dreams and community that can support this counter moment or narrative.
The re-authoring approach seeks to address and confront us with our relationship to authorship, as it invites us to live a life where our participation in our narratives and in the world, really matters. As we re-write the narratives we once held to be the truth – and the only truth – about our lives, our communities, our organisations and our world we shift the future of our own lives and the communities we form part of. Re-authoring work invites us to live a life where our participation in the world really matters.
The re-authoring approach is influenced and informed by the Dialogic OD Mindset, Narrative Therapy ideas, Critical Pedagogy, Presence and Meaning cultures (Gumbrecht) and Interpersonal Neurobiology.
Photo by Harriet Kaufman