Re-Authoring Futures – What's in a title?

A title for a conference should entail tension – it should carry questions and paradoxes that stimulate our conversations, imagination and creativity. A title should create a field that is worth exploring. 

The future is the stories we tell

Coming from narrative practices and ideas, the title „Re-Authoring Futures“ has at its core the understanding that our futures are created by the stories we tell about it. From this point of view, the future is not fixed as something with a finite goal. The future in this understanding is an open field in which we are the authors and co-authors that write and co-write this story.

We are all authoring the stories we live into constantly, knowingly or unknowingly. Some of these stories are based in our context – our community, the markets and society. Some are hidden and not known to us but shape our lives in very profound ways – by impacting what we believe is possible or impossible.

Indeed, these beliefs and ideas are spoken about as facts – both physical, social and historical – that are shaping our lives and organizations. Within the hidden nature of these beliefs and ideas we give meaning and daily experience their impact on our lives and our organizations as we unknowingly author and co-author organisational futures.

Choice and agency – Taking back the pen

The plural of „futures" in “re-authoring futures”, indicate the possibilities and choices that are inherent in this view. We also chose this title, now, because, in recent years, we are witnessing the justification of decisions through the small but powerful word „alternativlos“ (without any alternatives). This German word implies that there are no choices.

That the path of action taken only follows given facts, a given logic and rational. And these „alternativlose“ stories can also be found – very often – in organizations. Because of a chosen path in the past or some constraints in the environment, things seem to be impossible to change.

Assuming that the choice we take is „alternativlos.“ it is the affirmation that we do not really have a choice. For the organization that is affected by this „choice,“ all power is taken away. The very notion of futures implicates multiple options, alternatives and yes, choice and agency. The notion of authorship implies that an organization, a community or an individual can take agency to impact the stories told and the stories lived and created.

The prefix "Re-„ is important to us in many ways: It stands for consciousness and engagement. It acknowledges that everyone, every organization and community is part of a context with a set of taken-for-granted beliefs and ideas that supports and invests in the stories that are told by and about them and others.

These taken-for-granted beliefs and ideas make people, teams or organisations the problem as it situates problems inside people or organisations. These internalised problem stories become thin descriptions about the  potential and the possibilities that an organization or communities can live into and choose from. „Re-„ is about making these taken-for-granted beliefs visible and through living and telling alternative preferred stories change and re-write the context along the way.

The roots of Re-Authoring Practices

The title also has a history and roots in a specific field of practice. The word “re-authoring” grew out of the work of the two originators of narrative therapy, Michael White and David Epston. Re-authoring conversations enable people to separate their lives and relationships from knowledges/stories that are impoverished descriptions of who they are and encourage people to re-author their lives according to alternative knowledges/stories and practices that have preferred outcomes. Our colleague Chené Swart, who trained as a Narrative therapist in South Africa, translated these re-authoring ideas into her work as a coach and consultant in the organisational and communal fields with her book, Re-authoring the World: The Narrative lens and practices for organisations, communities and individuals.

Today re-authoring ideas and practices are seen as “ways of being and working with individuals, organizations and communities that seek to ignite the beauty, dignity and honour of their lives” (Carlson 2017) . In this re-igniting of dignity, beauty and honour, we are invited to again become the primary authors of our lives and re-author (take back the pen in) our relationship to the preferred moments, narratives and communities that have shaped our lives in ways that move us forward. The work focuses on moments that matter, the context that informs it and practices that dignify people’s lives. Taken into the organizational world, it is about creating possible futures that are viable in an economic sense while taking into account the way an organization is connected to its constituents and communities of concern.

Re-Authoring Futures – BEYOND STORYTELLING 2018

The transformational nature of the re-authoring lens and work invites individuals, communities and organisations to individually and collectively take up the pen as authors and co-authors to shape the futures they want to live into.

The heart and soul of re-authoring practices is to co-create moments that transform our past, present and future. At BEYOND STORYTELLING 2018 we want to do that for our field of practice and explore how re-authoring practices are realized in different fields. What do we see and do differently in adopting this particular view? How can we imagine and build futures that are worth living into – for our organizations, communities and brands? What does Re-Authoring Futures mean for you?

** Thanks to Chené Swart for co-authoring this piece with me **