Graham Williams and Dorian Haarhoff Q&A
I recently had the most pleasant experience of having Graham Williams, pictured at right, nominate himself and his partner, Dorian Haarhoff, to participate in a Q&A interview. I loved the self-nomination, not only because I knew the pair would be motivated to respond quickly (they did!), but also because I was eager to learn more about The Halo and the Noose. Graham and Dorian are also my first Q&A participants based in Africa.
Bio: Graham Williams and Dorian Haarhoff run the corporate story resource web site The Halo and the Noose. They bring a unique blend of business experience, acumen and insight into the role and manner of using storytelling and listening, poetry and metaphor in business life. And impart new outlooks, skill and confidence to others. Part of their mission is to bring healing and possibilities to businesses. The site offers credible, quality resources to an elite readership.
Graham was previously a senior executive with Shell, is a thought-leader for the Institute of Management Consultants, and his formal disciplines are psychology, economics, consumer behaviour, and business economics.
Dorian, pictured at left, is a poet, writer, and mentor steeped in story. A former professor of English, he is a speaker, entertainer, and writing coach.
They are based in Cape Town, South Africa.
The Halo and the Noose, their first book, was published in 2009 and offers an innovative approach to the stories that beat in the heart of an organization. It addresses techniques and practical applications. At a deeper level the book shows a way of being in business and doing business.
Peter Block, author of Flawless Consulting and partner in Designed Learning: “This is the best book about business and leadership that I have seen in a long time. It is fresh, interesting, needed and written to reach out and touch the toughest part of each of us. This is not just about storytelling, but more importantly, about how we can all change our story and create a future distinct from the past”.
Ralph Windle, author of The Poetry of Business Life and founder/ director of The Creative Value Network: “The authors set out their complex and important themes with an impressive directness and clarity. They achieve this by the simple, persuasive device of practising what they preach. For the narrative moves between argument and story in a seamless way which argues a deep but unobtrusive scholarship in the literatures, cultures and traditions of many societies. The book should be seen as an exciting further step in the long process of re-connecting business life to the mainstream of human history, experience and potential”.
The Halo and the Noose was followed by Story Matters @ Work which deals with applications of story in various corporate functions, at various levels. Mindfulness and imagination are shown to be two key ingredients for effective storytelling and listening.
Much of their time is presently being spent on interventions with leading organisations wishing to better use story in order to forge emotional connections with their brand. They assist companies to achieve a triple bottom line — to do well, to be well and to care for the environment.
Graham and Dorian invite you to connect and converse with them at The Halo and the Noose.
Q&A with Graham Williams and Dorian Haarhoff:
Q: Why The Halo and the Noose?
A: Our Orientation for The Halo and the Noose begins: “Stories can free us or trap us. They are like the two-edged sword. It depends on the telling, the motive for the tale and how we interpret the meaning. They can open us to new possibilities or keep us choked by or strangled in existing paradigms and orientations — whether these are about belief systems, values, religions, thinking styles, business and life journeys, strategies or behaviour patterns. Writer Dan McKinnon advises, “A halo has to fall only a few inches to be a noose”. The reverse is also true. We acknowledge him for the book’s title. We also dedicate the book to those readers who seek the liberation of the halo and wish to escape the entrapment of the noose……….”Q: What do you love most about stories?
A: We are enchanted by the power of story to move people, the way that story has the ability to attract, engage, inform and enlighten. How this small container can trigger such huge, and valuable conversations. How stories promote attentive listening. How they stimulate a thinking environment (as advocated by Nancy Kline), and also provide a place of safety to encourage deeper sharing in the workplace. How they activate our imagination. And imagination creates reality for intention can create form. As Einstein reminds us, imagination is more important than knowledge. This touches on how we can create a fictional identity. We can become the stories we tell about ourselves. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes points out: “Most (stories) are not used as simple entertainment……..but used in many different ways; to teach, correct errors, lighten, assist transformation, heal wounds, re-create memory.”
We try to do all this in a subtle, non-intrusive manner.
We get excited when the storyteller emerges in another. The way we find our own voice and our own unique way of telling. We’ve come a long way since corporate story was limited to scenario formation, case studies and “war stories.” The way we tell can lead us into living a passionate life, personally and professionally.
We also like the way story has emerged since its origins and appeared throughout history in all cultures, religions and societies; how cross-pollination has taken place through Rumi, Idris Shah, Buddha, and social media; how myth, folklore, metaphor and images are embedded in the psyche. Of course for each country there is an accent too on difference, and in each country story is penetrating medicine, psychology, and the corporate world at a different pace and in different ways. In each corporation story is attracted to different functions and levels to different degrees!
So we like the challenge of the story-Rubik-cube: deciding and designing what approach and which stories for which purposes.
Q: Are there any current uses of storytelling that repel you or that you feel are inappropriate?
A: Inappropriate practices can of course harm the profession. There are both doctors and quacks in the exploding world of corporate story-ing. We think that quacks tend to focus on entertaining, winning, impressing. Quacks use stories to manipulate colleagues and clients. Doctors are more into sharing, expressing, conveying and capturing wisdom and insight — and blend the art/science of story with real business understanding and acumen.
Perhaps there is a gentle way of encouraging those who make noise not music, to look inside?
There was once a small boy who loved banging his drum all day and every day. He refused to be quiet, no matter what anyone else said or did. Various people were called in to do something, to find the answer to this disruption, to solve the problem.
The first told the boy that he would surely, if he continued to make so much noise, perforate his eardrums. The second told him that drum beating was a sacred activity and should be reserved only for special occasions. The third offered the villagers plugs for their ears.
Someone gave the boy a book to read. Another suggested meditation exercises. Yet another offered more harmonious musical instruments. Nothing worked.
Eventually a wise old woman asked of the boy, “I wonder what is INSIDE the drum?” (Idris Shah)
Benjamin Franklin: “People are best convinced by reasons they themselves discover.”
Q: What future trends or directions do you see for corporate storytelling? What would you like to do in the emerging story world that you haven’t yet done?
To lapse into linear time for a moment, we expect that the storytelling movement will continue to grow exponentially, that cross-country and cross-culture collaboration will increase.
To different degrees, corporations are already deriving the benefits of using story to present their corporate history and values, inspire employees, enliven training, formulate scenarios, engage and emotionally connect with customers through depth marketing, elicit metaphors, sell products and services, co-create marketing launches, capture knowledge-management information and wisdom, build community and internal relationships, harness diversity, build social and emotional intelligence, develop mindfulness and imagination for innovation…………..This story net will spread wider and deeper. And more and more educational institutions will offer storytelling and story-listening programmes.
As the movement grows we predict calls for professional standards, controls, and conformance. In a sense, this is disturbing because story demands freedom and should be driven by personal ethics.
As to what we would like to do — fewer “quick fixes” in the form of workshops and limited coaching and mentoring — and more depth interventions that lead to the instilling of a sound corporate story culture and practices.
Q: If you could share just one piece of advice or wisdom about storytelling with readers, what would it be?
A: Never tell a story you do not love because nobody else will like it. Share the stories that move you and allow time for discussion: insights gained when groups share their own understanding of the story and apply it to their work situation, are invaluable.