Thursday, 20 October 2016

Book review - Shifting Stories, by Andrew Scott

[This is a review which I've posted to Amazon]

Andrew Scott is a skilled coach and facilitator (I have worked at an organisation which engaged him to facilitate strategic change) and in Shifting Stories he sets out a powerful approach – the ManyStory approach – which he has developed from his rich experience.

The heart of Shifting Stories is the recognition that we all tell ourselves stories about the world, and our position in it, to help us understand and deal with challenges and situations. (Sometimes these are tacit, unconscious stories, sometimes quite the opposite.) Andrew Scott helps the reader to understand how we can surface and articulate those stories, and by doing so, put ourselves in a position to create new stories and transform situations. This is not a pious and preachy book; it is well-structured and clear, with examples of how the approach can change individuals and groups as they resolve conflict and adapt to changed circumstances.

I would place Shifting Stories alongside other works which I have found to be insightful and helpful. Its identification of the importance of scripting reminded me of some elements of Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people. The recognition of the importance of people’s emotional response to change and to conflict, and of addressing this as a means to dealing with the substantive issues, has parallels in Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch: how to change when change is hard. I am not saying that “Shifting Stories” is a retelling of these ideas, or is in any way derivative. Far from it! Instead, it complements them, and its grounding in a British organisational context strengthens the message, for me at least.

I work as a management consultant supporting a specific sector – higher education – and can immediately see lessons from Shifting Stories which will enable me to be a more effective practitioner. It is definitely a book which I will come back to: the clear and specific guidance about implementing the ManyStory approach, and the examples of when it works (and, very commendably, when it did not work) makes it an important part of a consultant’s toolkit. I can imagine the same for those whose practice involves coaching.

And it should have a far wider audience. Any manager keen to develop their skillset and approach to management would do well to read this; any person with aspirations to organisational leadership will benefit from Andrew Scott’s understanding about narratives and their power to shape organisational behaviour and performance. And any person (that means all of us, I think) will benefit from the insights in the book about how to make sense of the stories we all use in our personal and professional lives, and how to create a better story.

Andrew Scott writes with a light touch and an easy style. The book is engaging and lifts the spirit with hope and possibility. The interesting discussion towards the end about what makes a good story is a fascinating point for the next step in the development of the ideas in the book. I’d be interested to explore how the notion of the hero (see Joseph Campbell, The hero with a thousand faces; and Christopher Vogler, The writer’s journey) might influence the development of storytelling as a tool for organisational development. But that is another book, not yet written. I’d commend the current book – Shifting Stories – as a good read, with a clear message about a powerful tool for individuals and managers.

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