The Power of Story Telling

The Power of Story Telling

Stories and storytelling help shape our identify, as we listen to others’ stories, about us, our history, our upbringing. It is how we are socialized.

Stories are a simple but also complex way of passing on details about lives, perceptions, cultural values. We grow up with fairy tales, the big bad wolf in Little Red Riding hood, Sleeping Beauty. Maybe some of the messages are not ones that some of us value, but they somehow represent the culture we live in. They can pass on stereotypes, of women for example, and how they should look etc.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The same happens in organisations. Culture is passed on through stories. For example, stories about other people who have been successful or not in the organisation. We become socialised into a different culture through stories. It is more often an unconscious process.

Equally, stories are things we create to explain our lives. They are useful therapeutically. They offer us an explanation of why things are happening, help us make sense of our world and what is happening. Equally people can recreate their lives through storytelling.

We share our stories to help others understand. This has been very helpful in my life in teaching and coaching. People can relate to a story rather than just a list of facts.

In creativity, and training and development facilitation, I have used story telling in working with vision. I was very much influenced in my early work by the work of Marjorie Parker. In the 1980 ties a new MD was appointed to one of the Norwegian plants, Karmoy Fabrikker (KF) which was coming out of a period of crisis, and Ms Parker was invited in to work with him. As a result of early discussions, a vision was created for a future state of Karmoy. This was based around a garden metaphor that was drawn up by a local artist and was then presented to the workforce to inspire them to design their interpretation of the vision for their parts of the organisation.

This is a great example of a story being created to inspire. The vision was not just a set of figures, but a story of how things would look once the vision was realised.

This process can be very helpful in change processes, or creative problem solving. I have worked with this for example, asking groups to describe the situation as it now in their own words. Then they recount stories of what is wrong. Then asking them to describe what it would be like if it was working perfectly. Again, a story is created to describe this. It is then possible to create a story about how what needs to change etc. Metaphor often helps here, as does the technique of building a storyboard and drawing rather than using words to describe the before, after and steps along the way.

I believe that what is mysterious is the way we can tell a story, listen to others and then leave it to the unconscious to work through. Often resolving the dilemma etc. It is difficult to say exactly how our minds, our brains work at the neurological level, however they are constantly processing, matching with what we know already, looking for mismatching etc.

Turning this unconscious thinking into actions is probably the most challenging! For example, many organizations state that they wish to change their culture and specify actions which they believe could do this. I believe the work needs to start with minds/brains, or hearts and minds as we often say. Actions result out of this. We need to believe the stories we are being told in order to take action. I am reminded  here about the current spate of storytelling around vaccinations, and how easy it is to spread false stories. This in itself is testament to the power of storytelling.

As a leader, do you know what stories are being told around your organisation and understand how this may be shaping culture. If you sense a change is necessary, help to create new stories, co-operativly with oher members of your team, staff, and other leaders.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached  in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders,  Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. 



Is procrastination healthy for creativity?

Is procrastination healthy for creativity?

Is procrastination healthy for creativity?

Recently I read an article which seemed to imply this.  The main theme of the article being that a certain amount of procrastination is good for creativity.  My immediate reaction to this was that procrastination was being misinterpreted. I had always understood procrastination to mean something negative. This is confirmed by checking out dictionary definitions. The Collins dictionary defines procrastination as ‘to put off or defer (an action) until a later time; delay’.

ProcrastinationAdam Grant in his TED talk discusses procrastinators and concludes that moderate procrastinators were more creative whereas high or low ones were not so. Of course, there is a problem here in determining whether our procrastination level is low, moderate, or high! However, when you listen to Grants talk, it becomes clear that what he is really talking about is incubation and not procrastination. The same is true of the original article I had read that sparked this trail of thoughts.

So, what is the issue you may ask?

I have on numerous occasions coached someone who was a procrastinator, in that they left things undone until they became urgent. I have done this myself, and in fact am doing it right now in that I promised myself I would write this blog last month and have put if off several times.

Some people have a tendency to procrastinate and this mostly comes from a negative place.

  • They may be perfectionists who put off things because the result needs to be perfect, and they may be afraid of taking the task on for this reason.
  • They may just not want to do the task because it bores them or they dislike aspects of it.
  • Or they are just too busy to get going on it.

All these reasons are undoubtedly genuine however, I would doubt whether any of them would result in a more creative approach given some delay in tackling the problem. Procrastination can create anxiety and that is not conducive to creativity.

The second is that just delaying the task is not good enough to improve creativity around it. What Grant and others have confused is the state of procrastination with that of incubation.


Incubation is a part of the creative process and is particularly valuable in a creative problem-solving approach. However, there is an important point to consider here that sets it apart from procrastination. Incubation requires a prepared mind.  This means that the incubation occurs after some thinking or work has been done on the issue at hand. Then a period of incubation can allow the unconscious mind to process ideas, and this will eventually be brought into the conscious mind.

So, what is happening in this period of incubation?

Professor Gilhooly refers to the importance of forgetting during incubation. I have experienced this many times as a facilitator of creative techniques. When someone takes on another activity totally unrelated to the issue they had been working on, they continue to incubate unconsciously and consciously focus on the new task. This can result in a kind of forgetting process and when they come back to the issue fresh insights can arise. Alternating techniques can also work to produce this, as can introducing an element of play, or even a walk whilst problem-solving.

How often do we prepare something such as a speech, then when we are doing something else, like taking a shower, fresh thoughts come into our mind to improve on what we had prepared? This is the process of incubation.

Turning procrastination into Incubation

We can therefore turn procrastination into incubation by taking some action on the task. Any action will start the process of our minds working on it while we continue with our lives. The result will be richer for this.

However, a final warning, that if you do not start the process rolling with some work, then the task will end up in that pile of procrastinated tasks and put even more pressure on you.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached  in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. 




Positivity, Playfulness, Passion, Persistence and Creativity

Positivity, Playfulness, Passion, Persistence and Creativity

Positivity, Playfulness, Passion and Persistence. What do these mean in terms of creativity?  This is a framework I came across when studying creativity back in the early nineties as part of my MBA and it resonated with me. The 4 Ps are characteristics or behaviours that are conducive to creativity. They can equally apply to developing a creative climate in an organisation or as a checklist for ones own level of creativity.

Let me take each one in turn.Positivity, Playfulness, Passion, Persistence and Creativity

Positivity – this is an attitude of mind, where opportunities are perceived rather than problems. When we are being positive, we can look at issues in a way that is open to possibility. This can mean reframing the issues as opportunities, rather than seeing them as problems.

If we are negative, then we build up barriers and see little hope. We often talk of seeing a glass half full or half empty and this is a useful analogy for positivity.  Another example of how this can play out is when some people habitually respond with a ‘yes but’ to suggestions made. If we do this, then people will stop involving us in new projects. We will be putting up barriers to any change.  Instead of using ‘yes but’ when faced with discussion of change why not try ‘yes and’, and to introduce any further thoughts you may have that you think have been overlooked. This confirms that you are open to new ideas and at the same time are aware that there may be issues that have not yet been aired.

The next of the 4 Ps is Playfulness. It may be helpful here to reflect upon how young children use their imagination when playing. For example, observe how a basic cardboard box can become a vehicle or a house. Young children  do not have the censor, that adults have learned to adopt, which tells them that this won’t work etc.  In a work situation it can be also about being flexible as well as introducing an element of fun. A playful attitude will enable openness to new ideas and taking risks. Risk taking is crucial to creating something new.

The next of the 4 P’s is Passion. This is very much related to motivation and commitment. If you are passionate about something you are likely to lose yourself in its pursuit and can get into that state of flow that Csikszentmihalyi talks about. Being motivated and committed to what you are doing also enables you to be persistent in pursuing a result. Our passion for something keeps us interested and committed to the process and this is important because we will inevitably face times when progress can’t be made, when we face obstacles to the change we want to happen.. This leads us into the next of the 4 P’s, Persistence.

The final of the P’s is Persistence. This is characterized by trying again and again to achieve something. Trying to solve that problem or move forward to implementation for example. Persistence is a trait demonstrated by many artists who work with their craft consistently until they feel satisfied with the result. It is about not giving up when we hit obstacles or receive negative responses from others.

As a checklist for individual or collective creativity, I hope that you will find this useful.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached  in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. 

Adaptive versus Innovative creativity

Adaptive versus Innovative creativity

We often hear talk of adaptive creativity versus innovative creativity, and in this blogpost I will reflect upon the differences and implications of the two types. Everyone has the capacity to be creative, and everyone expresses creativity in their own way. Some of us express our creativity by taking something already in existence and make small changes to it. This is adaptive creativity. Others may be inclined to develop something totally new. Both are creative. ‘Adaptors desire to do things better; Innovators seek to do things differently.’  In organisations, probably the most frequent type of creativity is the adaptive type. For example, when Apple or Samsung update their mobile phone ranges, or Nikon and Cannon, their cameras. Occasionally companies have a need or desire to take bolder steps and create something completely new in the market.

This requires innovative creativity in order to think ‘outside the box’.   This can equally apply to individual creativity. The person who takes inspiration from a well-known artist and copies and builds upon their style to paint, or take a photo is demonstrating adaptive creativity. On the other hand, the person who develops their unique way of painting, or of any creative activity, is expressing innovative creativity. Michael Kirton developed an adaption/innovation theory to explain these differences. The theory is based upon two assumptions. The first is that creativity, decision making and problem solving are outcomes of the same brain function, and the second assumption is that everyone can solve problems, take decisions and be creative. What differs is their style. Kirton developed an instrument, KAI, to measure and define where someone falls on the spectrum of adaptor to innovator. This is useful for pulling together teams for work on creative projects. As with all differences in style, conflict can arise between people at either end of the spectrum. Adaptors may see innovators as too risky, argumentative, not focused, whereas adaptors can be seen as too methodical, and rule bound. However, both styles are needed for diversity of thought and balance. So in creative problem solving, the adaptor limits the scope of their ideas to solve problems. The innovator would go for the wild ideas, which when developed would be ‘out of the box thinking’. However, I believe that it  is  possible to develop our style of creativity, with the use of creative techniques. There are a couple of other factors to consider here that I believe influence style:

  • The first is that differences may be as much about our own limiting beliefs as about style. Sometimes we put up our own boundaries and limit the extent to which we allow our ideas to roam freely. If we give ourselves permission to think more widely then more ideas may flow. Creative workshops which encourage people to use techniques to expand their ideas can be helpful here.
  • Secondly. the more adaptive person may be limited by the role they have at work, for example, working in finance. Whereas the innovative person may be in a role that allows more freedom to express their ideas. On the other hand, people may choose their work domains to reflect their style.

So, to sum up, everyone can be creative:

  • Some people express creativity in an adaptive way, others are more innovative.
  • This may be due to their individual style.
  • It may also be due to their limiting beliefs or the roles they have taken on.
  • It is possible to expand our style and experiment with different ways of being creative, especially if we give ourselves permission to do so.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached  in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. 

Reflections on creativity in 2020

Reflections on creativity in 2020

What a year it has been. Crazy and scary with some hopeful signs. Covid 19 for me was  probably the most impactful occurence in 2020, and the one that has caused the most disruption, particularly in Europe. In this blogpost I review its impact on creativity from a personal perspective and offer some takeways that may help with your creativity..

Together with Tracy Stanley, I have been recording podcasts all year under the umbrella title of creativity snippets. These have come from the book, Creativity Cycling that we jointly wrote, and from our blogs on creativity.

We have looked at some of the changes that were occurring as the world faced the health and economic impact of the spread of COVID. For example, the shift in Europe to more home working has led to an extensive use of online platforms for meetings and conferences. We looked at how we could apply some creativity to these in order to raise energy and continue to develop teamwork.

My experience has been that many people have found creativity harder during this period of Covid 19. It may also be that the anxiety around the pandemic was creating a huge wave of procrastination. A ‘rabbit caught in headlamps’ type of situation.

So, what are my personal reflections of the effect of covid 19 on creativity in 2020?

I have found it difficult to work on creative projects this year. We were in a lockdown situation in spring, which meant little opportunity for inspirational inputs from outside the home. This illustrated to me how important it is when encouraging creativity to be able to change one’s surroundings and have a variety of stimuli to inspire.

This lack of inspiration occured in all of my creative pursuits. With writing, through developing a habit of daily practice, I was able to keep up some form of writing. This was  sufficient to allow some space for creativity to grow.

What I found helpful through the emotionally draining times was discovering and listening to  podcasts. One of the most inspiring was that produced by Brené Brown.  Her ‘Unlocking Us’ series of podcasts touched on creativity, neuroscience and play. One of her references that resonated with me was to a blog produced on the Medium platform by Tara Haelle. She  who wrote in August last year about how our surge capacity is depleted and why we feel awful. She took us through the stages of grief, because in lots of ways this is what we were all dealing with. I particularly like this quote from her article:

Our new normal is always feeling a little off balance, like trying to stand in a dinghy on rough seas, and not knowing when the storm will pass.’

Another podcast I  enjoyed listening to was that of Elizabeth Day interviewing Alain de Botton as part of her ‘How to Fail’ series. Alain was talking about how to cope with anxiety in a time of Coronavirus.

So, to summarise my learning about creativity in a time of anxiety, I would offer these points:

  1. When we are worried, anxious, preoccupied with things, we don’t have the mental capacity or space to be creative.
  2. We need at times to stand firm and spend time without purpose until we can regain our strength to move forward.
  3. We need to be kind to ourselves and others around us and not strive too hard.
  4. Allow the space for creativity to re-enter.
  5. Develop small daily habits that can enable creativity to grow.
  6. When possible get out to seek inspiration and then renew and regrow as people.

With these thoughts, I wish you all a healthy, successful and much better 2021!

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. 

Six barriers to being more creative.

Six barriers to being more creative.

In July, I wrote about the benefits of creativity and offering ideas on how to be creative.

Today I will reflect upon the barriers that get in the way of us being creative.

1 Negative thinking –  prevents us from seeing opportunities because it changes our perception about the world around us. We see a glass half empty rather than half full. It is of course the same glass however it is how we perceive and frame it that makes the difference in terms of our attitude and our behaviour.

Negative thinking can be seen often in the answer of ‘yes but’ to new ideas.

If this is you, try a ‘yes, and’ next time and consider what merit there might be in the new idea before stepping in to offer the negativity. Positivity is about seeing opportunity and having hope, even when things do not look so good.

2 Imposter syndrome  – is a syndrome where people feel that they should not be there because they are not good enough. This is more typical of women, and can result in less confidence in ourselves to propose new ideas. This happens because we don’t believe we have the legitimacy to do so. It can lead to a heavy amount of self-judgement.

To overcome imposter syndrome, it is important to be able to recognise it, and then to work on self-confidence to overcome it. With self-judgement we live with the critic always sitting on our shoulders and looking on, influencing our thoughts.

3 Not being open to new ideas  this can be due to negative thinking, however, it may also be due to the assumptions we develop over time. I am reminded here of the ladder of inference developed by Chris Argyris, where assumptions form a step on the ladder to fixed attitudes.

We need to challenge our own assumptions when we start to review problems or evaluate new ideas.

One way to do this is to try a simple exercise. Draw three columns. In the fist write the heading facts, the second, feelings and the third assumptions.

Then take a situation where you may have felt that the outcome could have been different. Firstly draw out the facts as you saw them and in the timeline you lived it. Next to each fact, note the feelings you had at that stage, then the as a result of those feelings what assumptions did you make?

Look back over the this and check out whether any assumptions were made based on feelings and not fact and how this influenced your actions. What can you learn from this?

4 No time to spend on creative pursuits – Often this is because we don’t put enough value on play in our lives. We have a need to play and with play a more creative side of us opens up. Take that time out and have a play – even if it’s a playful walk. Recapture that spirit of enquiry, observe closely what is happening around you. When we play, we bring our imagination to the fore and let all sorts of possibilities take place. Look at young children when they play with cardboard boxes and the range of ‘things’ that this can become; a train, a car, a house for example. Somehow as we grow older, we lose this ability and start to value a logical, rational way of thinking.  This can inhibit our creativity.

Take time out to just stand and stare, to look at things mindfully, and then see what thoughts arise.

5 Not taking risks  – The fear around risk is that we may fail. However, if we never take a risk, we may never live life at our best, and we may never know if we would have failed. In fact, failure can often lead to greater success if we can be positive around the learning from it.

This fear of failure is prevalent in organisations.  Failure is often punished and the consequences of this is a reluctance to start or try anything new or different. This is detrimental to creativity and innovation.

6 Rigid goal settingI am not a fan of setting SMART goals. I accept that there are times when it works well, however it can be too rigid to allow the flexibility and breathing space that creativity and innovation need.

Planning and goal setting are important activities that keep us moving forward. However, none of us can really predict the future, although some try, so whatever we plan cannot cover all possibilities. We cannot plan for every eventuality as Mintzberg stated.  What would be helpful and inspirational for creativity to flourish is to develop a vision  to guide us, and then to create intentions from this. This will allow us to be flexible and open to new opportunities as and when they happen. The vision is our guiding light here and the goals are intended and can be changed if the need arises, for example due to external change or new opportunities occurring. So, we craft our own strategy towards emerging goals and stay aware that life happens, and we may need to adapt these goals.

I hope that these ideas have helped you to reflect upon any barriers you may have to being more creative.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley.