Nick Owen. (2004). More Magic of Metaphor: Stories for Leaders, Influencers and Motivators. Carmarthen, Wales, UK: Crown House Publishing Ltd.
Owen’s first volume, the Magic of Metaphor includes 77 stories for teachers, trainers and thinkers. It is in its sixth printing and has been published in five languages. I must confess, despite my life’s experience in each of these categories, that I have not read it. But I have read the current volume, about to go into its second printing, and come away quite impressed. It wasn’t the stories so much, some of which were familiar and some couched in older cultures that, while still present in the world, are used to help us “see” a situation and a context related to leadership. Rather, it was the treatment of the stories that I found powerful.
This volume has an introduction and a series of chapters that lay out the integral and spiral dynamics orientation of the author’s approach. There is a forward by Chris Cowan, who Owen studied with in Santa Barbara. The chapter on preparing stories and metaphor for leadership development ranges from meaning making, the uses of anecdotes, stories and metaphors to setting the stage for the book’s journey of leadership stories. We are guided by a young magician who has been given a magic carpet, Al Sayyid, to guide him in his explorations. Through his conversations with the magic carpet the young magician lays out spiral dynamics and integral interpretations of each story.
To guide the reader in selecting stories to read or share Owen has also provided a cross referenced guide to the stories by themes ranging from “The Integral Leader” and “The Present and Aware Leader” to more specific attributes like, Coach, Inspirer and Strategist.
Here is an example of a story and the material Owen has developed in relation to it:
An electrician who lacked confidence went to a life coach for help. He wondered why other electricians did better than he did. He wondered why many of his classmates at school and college had more successful careers and lives than he had. He blamed the world for not giving him opportunities, and he supposed he didn’t get opportunities because he didn’t deserve them.
The coach asked, “What stops you noticing all the opportunities that exist around you?”
He replied, “Fear of failure.”
“So what would you like instead?”
“Notice,” said the coach, “how this loop in your thinking is creating your stuckness. Now may I ask you a question as an expert in what I do, to a man who is an expert with electricity?”
“First of all, I really need to know from you, do you really want to shine? Will you be OK with that? Can you fully commit to this switch? Or perhaps you really do prefer to live a life safe and protected, like a man in a darkened room?”
“Yes, I want to change. I want the confidence to make changes.”
“On a scale of one to ten, how much do you want that?”
“OK. So imagine a wooden board into which are screwed three light-bulb sockets. Each socket is connected to a common cable that is plugged into the mains. In the first socket is a ten-watt bulb; in the second is a hundred-watt bulb; and in the third a thousand-watt bulb. Switch on. Now what’s the difference?”
“The first bulb glows the dimmest; the third bulb glows the brightest.”
“Now considering that the same two-hundred-and-forty-volt energy cable brings equal power to each socket, how do you explain the difference in output between the three sockets?
The coach remained silent. Slowly a glimmer of recognition glowed in the electrician’s expression, and then a huge smile spread across his face and illuminated his eyes. The coach looked at him with a quizzical brow. “Well?”
“Now I have an answer to your question about what’s stopping me,” he grinned. [“]The short answer is ‘no one but me’. My life is like the ten-watt bulb. It’s me who’s resisting opportunity.”
“Yes, it used to be like that. And now?”
“”And now it can change. First I’ll plug in a hundred-watt version, then I’ll go for a progressive upgrade.”
“So before you generate some strategies for success, just remind yourself that life, like electricity, consists of pure energy. This same energy—or call if life force or spirit if you prefer—flows through all of us equally. There is no end to this supply, and only you can cut this supply off through your own resistance.
“And now that you’ve stopped blaming the external world for your situation, and have accepted full responsibility for yourself and your actions, you can plug into the abundance, wholeness, beauty and completeness of the universe. It flows within us, and through us, every moment of every day.”
Top quality coaches and therapists frequently use metaphor to generate change in their cliets. Metaphor is a powerful and effective leadership tool because it works naturally within the habitat of the listeners and allows space for them to take ownership of the meaning of the message and lead themselves to the desired result. Once the electrician understands how the metaphor’s message connects to his reality, a reality in which is in an expert, he can confidently repair the short circuits, change his behaviors, adjust his values and naturally deepen his consciousness and awareness.
Matching the reality, values, and language of the people with whom we communicate is unbelievably powerful. When the coach matches the world of the electrician through the metaphor of power, light and resistance, change can be quick, easy and elegant. Now that’s what I call a transformer at work! This is a real WIN-WIN-WIN.
The following valuing and thinking systems will engage with this story:
- RED: will appreciate the creativity of the coach, and the new opportunities the electrician has to be more assertive.
- BLUE: provided the coach has the required qualifications, BLUE will appreciate a master at work.
- ORANGE: will note the elegance and efficiency of the strategy: “Could I use this strategy among all my other tools and techniques to get more of what I want more easily?”
- GREEN: will appreciate the new opportunities for growth and development, and the nonconfrontational methods of the coach.
- YELLOW: will approve of the elegance of the metaphor, and the systemic, integrative approach that works within the natural patterns and designs of both the electrician and of electricity.
- If you take the time to find a person’s “buying pattern”, you will never need to sell to them.
- All behaviors and all valuing and belief systems are patterned. Work naturally within these patterns for effective results.
[Al Sayyid, the magic carpet, comments:]
“Possibly. Are you aware, Young Master, that the word ‘therapy’ from the Greek therapeia, means healing. Healing can take many forms: physical, mental, social, cultural, psychological and so on. The etymology of the verb ‘to heal’ derives from the old English word haelen, which also means ‘to make whole.’ And that is the job, ultimately, of all great leaders: to create a wholeness, an integrity, within the community over why they exercise their influence.”
Extracted from ‘More Magic of Metaphor: Stories for Leaders Influencers and Motivators’ by Nick Owen, published by Crown House Publishing Limited 2004. Copyright © 2004 Nick Owen.
All sixty stories are laid out this way and are used to convey something about leadership using a Spiral Dynamics and integral perspective.
Nick Owen is director of Nick Owen Associates Ltd., a London based professional development organisation. Nick has pursued successful and eventful careers as writer, journalist, educator, professional actor and theatre director, as well as many years facilitating transformational change among business and education professionals and their organisations. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the INSEAD/CEDEP business school at Fontainebleau, France and at the de Baak Management Centrum in the Netherlands. firstname.lastname@example.org.