Seminar 7

Organizational Storytelling Seminar 7 took place on the 19 December, 2005, at Dorich House, Kingston University, Kingston, London and was led by the following speakers:

  • Raficq Abdullah MBE‘Words of Paradise – Birds of the Soul’
  • Dr Paula James and Dr Julia Courtney (Open University) ‘The role of the parrot in literature’
  • Dr Jamie Ward (Visiting Fellow, Kingston University) ‘The North – South divide in the Morrisons and Safeways merger’.
  • Professor Trisha Greenhalgh (UCL) ‘Narrative methods in quality improvement in the NHS’.
  • Chris Oliver (Queen Mary, UoL) ‘Reflective Inquiry

7th Organizational Storytelling Seminar

Flights of the Imagination

Monday 19th December 2005
Dorich House, Kingston University

Forty three participants were treated to a magical day in Dorich House Museum, home to the treasures of sculptor Dora Gordine and her partner Richard Hare, the diplomat and Professor of Russian Literature. Their collection of Russian art are set in this art deco tower individually designed and built for them in 1936 situated on the edge of Richmond Park.

Birds weaved through the tales and parakeets swooped down through the trees in the park outside to listen, a physical manifestation of the theme inside. The day was opened with poetry – ‘Words of Paradise – Birds of the Soul’ from Raficq Abdullah MBE, whose own poetry and translations from the Islamic poems of Rumi (‘Words of Paradise’) and Attah (‘The Conference of the Birds’) are renowned.

Paula James and Julia Courtney from the classics department at the Open University entertained us with the role of the parrot in literature, focussing on Coco in Wide Sargasso Sea, and Captain Flint in Treasure Island. The parrot makes many noises which echo in organizational life – its use in the narrative to reflect absent voices, or to vocalise the unspoken, to mimic and misbehave. Its role in carnival the colourful exotic is reflected in many office parties, behaving as a jester to play and parody. Also the parrot as a more menacing representation of omens, as are many birds, or even a metaphor for the colonisation of the exotic, a bird which is tamed, and taught to copy, with wings clipped – a prize for the rich consumer.

Jamie Ward, Visiting Fellow at Kingston University presented an amusing tale of the North – South divide in the Morrisons and Safeways acquisition, exploring the discursive construction of identity through interview material with Ken Morrison and also the stories of employees at the former Safeways. He opened this with his own poignant story of his lost and rediscovered family identity in the discovery of his grandmothers birth in the workhouse and subsequent adoption of her child as she went to work as a servant at a house in Manchester – coincidentally next door to the familial house of Diana Winstanley, his then PhD supervisor and the conference organiser.

After lunch and a tour of the tower, the afternoon resumed with Professor Trisha Greenhalgh’s detailed work on narrative methods in quality improvement research in the NHS. She provided a plethora of ways in which the use of narrative can enrich our understanding and learning in the health sector – to surface themes and issues within the organization, to engage with emotion not just cognition, raising humour and drama. Stories are embedded in context, they have ethical dimensions and bridge the gap between the formal and informal space in organizations. They are insightful, and performative as well as potentially subversive.

The day finished with Chris Oliver’s presentation on ‘Reflective Inquiry’ a methodology for action learning and working with organisations on their communication patterns. Her stories drew on an unusual domain – a community of Monks who had a history of profound conflict and for whom communication had broken down, with many exhibiting fears of disintegration of ‘the life’ and death itself. She worked with reflexive inquiry as an organizational consultant to heal wounded relationships within this community.

As with all stories, the telling and retelling of them embellishes and develops the narrative, and my recollection of the event may be partial, but leaves me with rich memories of a fine ‘Pandemonium’ of parrots and scholars.