Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Leadership & Storytelling Part 13 of Many...

The Process Ring deals with how we work with information in our minds and store it. The Process Ring is composed of three competencies Indexing, Synthesizing, and Reflecting. All three competencies taken together capture the interplay of internal processes that result in learning. Stories are used as a way of codifying experiences. For example, the Indexing competency stresses the importance of consciously developing a robust array of descriptors for our experiences so that they can be easily reused in various settings. The bigger our indexing scheme the more we have learned from our experiences. A good index increases our capacity to learn in new situations by drawing upon past ones and integrating the news ones into a fabric of knowledge. Our capacity to communicate with others is also improved. Once our experiences have been transformed into easily retrievable stories that have been well indexed, and cross-indexed then we can be sensitive to other people’s experiences and converse with a greater range of nuances and understanding.


Indexing is how we classify our experiences. The better the index the easier it is find information. The problem with an index is deciding what descriptors to use to classify our experiences. Indexes are further complicated by the fact everyone will chose different “key words,” or descriptors to classify their experiences. If we cannot access our experiences due to an inadequate index or one that does not match someone else’s, our experiences become dormant. They are left in the proverbial warehouse of our mind available to our unconscious but collecting dust. Effective communicators and learners naturally develop extensive indexing schemes. They draw upon lots of different experiences and can recall these experiences in the form of stories.

Triggers activate indexes. Triggers are any kind of stimuli that results in a search of our experiences and in a recounting of it. An item in our index can be stimulated by a variety of triggers. Therefore we need to be vigilant in creating a vast index and become more aware of potential triggers. If we think in advance about what kinds of themes, ideas, perceptions, learning, or emotions, are contained in our experience we will be able to leverage this awareness by becoming sensitive to a multitude of triggers. For example, take a conversation. Thoughts and ideas are expressed one after another. Given the flow of a conversation we can be swept along without ever consciously drawing upon our experiences. We are using them in the background in order to understand what is being communicated but we are not bringing them to the forefront of our minds. This in turn limits our ability to infuse the conversation with greater depth and energy. Our experiences left running in the background by our minds generates a base level of understanding but will cause us to miss vital opportunities to increase our learning and communicate with greater depth. From our previous discussions we have established the complex nature of our experiences stored and recounted to others in the form of stories.

In order to be an effective communicator and learner you need to have a wealth of stories. You are mistaken if you think you do not know or have a lot of stories. Our lives are rich with experiences. The trick is we need to make ourselves aware of these experiences by focusing our attention on them. The Personal History exercise is a sample of how you can recapture dusty memories and shake them off.
Let’s step back for a moment and realize that this process of experiences becoming stored as stories, indexed for retrieval, and our use of them in conversations and learning settings happens all the time. Why not invoke this mental process? We can strengthen this natural phenomenon by increasing its frequency on a conscious level. To do this we must have a solid foundation built. A big well-organized toolbox of personal stories will get the job done.

The first step in building an index and developing an awareness of triggers is to reconstruct as many of our experiences. This will result in an active collection of stories, which we can then index and associate with some potential triggers. The next exercise presents a method for building a collection of stories, identifying some major themes, and anticipating potential triggers.

Exercise: Indexing – Personal History

In this exercise you will create a timeline of your life. One end of the timeline should be marked with “birth,” and the other should be marked as “present.” Think back upon the years of your life and start scanning them for memories that stick out. As you create your timeline use the following list of seven historical triggers to help you jog your memory.

1. Major Event
Were there any significant things that happened?

2. Influence
What things had a formative effect in shaping your ideas, beliefs, values, or attitudes?

3. Decision
Did you make any decisions that had an impact on your life or the lives of others?

4. Change
What changes occurred?

5. Success
What were your major accomplishments?

6. Failures
Did you make any big mistakes or experience any failures?

7. Disappointments
Were there any

8. Significant People
How did certain key people affect you?

Be sure you find the stories behind each of these triggers. If your memory surfaces more as a fact, then spend a moment with the memory and try to reconstitute all of the details surrounding it. This will transform your memory into a story. The richness of a story is what lends itself to indexing. Facts get lost.

Some people find it useful to do this year by year while others will start randomly filling in their timeline with memories as they occur.

Once you have your timeline filled in with stories develop a two columned list for each story that includes story triggers and themes. Your triggers will be any situation or time where you believe your story could have applicability. At the same time, examine your stories for themes. These are in essence things that you have learned and insights you have gained from your experiences. If you are aware of what themes can be found in your experiences it will help you index them based upon potential triggers.

All of these skills can be measured with the only assessment in the world that measured story-based communication skills (recognized in 2008 with an HR Leadership Award from the Asia Pacific HRM Congress).

Story-based Communication Assessment: Click Here...

I also have a book of self-development exercises to work on these skills with yourself or others. All of these exercises that map to the nine skills of the competency model

Book of Self-Development Exercises: Click Here...

I also recommend my book, Once Upon a Time: Using Story-Based Activities to Develop Breakthrough Communication Skills. It contains a collection of group process activities aligned with these story-based communication skills.

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