When I started inquiring into “The Nature of my Practice” for the Ashridge MSc, I was invited by our Peer Group tutor, Kevin, to think about non-verbal/non-word ways of expressing my work….and he kind of flummoxed me. I LOVE words. What else would POSSIBLY express how consulting work is for me? So I kind of rejected his invitation…. OK… so actually I wholly rejected it, with a flat, stubborn “nope. Not possible. I want to use words to express myself all the way.”
And so of course within 10 days of the rejection, I came across an image that seemed to show the nature of my work fairly perfectly…. Of course that happened. How else could it be?
The image above is of Antony Gormley’s incredible instillation/ sculptures on Crosby Beach, north of Liverpool. 100 figures are scattered over 3km across the beach, each one facing out into the Irish Sea. The tide sweeps in and the figures are wholly or partially submerged; part of a constantly shifting landscape, part of an ever-changing environment.
There are many images available of the sculptures, but this one shows a single figure, perhaps wading or perhaps waiting, connected-yet-apart from the other figures around.. something that resonates in how I feel when I coach, facilitate, consult…. Pah! Words ain’t going to work here….
The image speaks to me of deep rooted-ness in the face of ever changing circumstance. Stoicism and resilience in the face of oncoming tides. Industriousness and connectedness to nature. Quiet grace. It speaks of being alone-yet-connected in organisations. About being one part of a bigger whole.
After finding this image, I started playing with a tidal metaphor for my Practice. A slow start, way out on the horizon, a few tentative waves heading toward shore (it might look a little half-assed to the uninitiated, in all fairness) Then there’s a gathering of pace, purpose and certainty. …More power and energy as the waves sweep in. (If I’m really going for it, clients can get a little lost in my enthusiasm and energy, others surf it with glee).
What I love next is the notion of the slack tide (hideous words, but great notion) – the turning point where the tide is deeper, stiller and ready to move off, revealing what is left on the beach – this, for me is the point where I’m reflecting and learning, or where I work with the client to make sense of all that the incoming tide has brought.
My smart & wise friend and colleague Sarah told me about Spring tides (high waters, destructive, often) and neap tides (less energy, softer impact) and here I was given a way to think about calibrating my impact and energy (is this all a bit too Spring tide?).
The metaphor works for me on many levels – big organisations as oceans (containing sharks?) and smaller organisations as seas or even estuaries….all having tidal pulls. Racing, fast-paced tides which can overwhelm, or slow-creep tides whose impact you barely notice…
And in this, I see the Gormley statues in this image and think of how they interact with and interrupt the tides….and how, perhaps, I might just do the same….