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We need an interaction metaphor

August 21, 2008

I have been working for the last three days for a US Government client on what has been a fascinating project. We collected over a thousand self-signified stories about conditions relating to work place stress and other factors. What made it a great project was a excellent internal project team, highly participative staff in the interpretation workshops and an intelligent and thoughtful executive review board this morning. It’s good when things come together like this. During the presentation of results we were talking about how to achieve change and at one point the traditional perspective was put forward: decide what you want to achieve, communicate it clearly then execute. I argued that this approach ran into dangers. Top down communication has been done many times in many organisations and employees receive even the best intended ideas with a degree of cynicism. I argued that the data showed that what was needed was communication through action. Not promising to do something, but doing it first. One of the team expressed the idea very well. She suggested that we used the communication metaphor too much, assuming that all issues were either about listening or telling. Instead she argued we needed an interaction metaphor in which we communicate by action and more importantly interaction. Praxis makes perfect as we used to say.

There is a fair amount of talk about story-listening and story-telling and much of it is useful. However, interaction is about collaborative story creation, something which I think has more inherent value.

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