Fire Phoenix

The Narrative Lab is an organisational development and applied research consultancy based in Gauteng, South Africa. The Narrative Lab team blends narrative practices, complexity thinking and facilitation to re:humanise the worlds of individuals, teams, organisations and communities. The heart of our work is found in running research and consulting projects that re:author, re:search and re:humanise the ways in which we interact, work and do business.

Established in 2007 by Aiden Choles, Sonja Blignaut and Raymond Salzwedel, and now headed up by Aiden, The Narrative Lab has a proud record of working locally and internationally, across a multitude of sectors in assisting small, medium and large organisations.

Our wonderful client base has allowed us to build up a consulting portfolio that includes work in coaching, team dynamics, large-scale facilitation, training, research, organisational development, change management, organisational culture, knowledge transfer, public speaking and writing.

The Narrative Lab is a Level 4 B-BBEE Contributor and a proud member of the South African Monitoring & Evaluation Association.

The lenses through which we see the world

Narrative Therapy

What is in a word? A world. – Michael White

Narrative therapy engages with a client’s world through the dominant stories at play in their life story. These are often problem-saturated narratives and the purpose of narrative therapy is to identify alternative narratives that allow for thicker and richer descriptions of who we are. Central to our work is the application of narrative therapy principles to re:authoring the narratives of self, teams and organisations. This work is about shifting the power dynamics between problem stories that dominate who we are and how we interact and those stories that represent more humanised alternatives. 

Key voices: Michael White, David Epston, Chene Swart

Complexity Thinking

The emerging body of work that acknowledges the complexity of our world and provides novel approaches to dealing with that complexity is deeply influential in our thinking and work. A complexity world view acknowledges that there are ordered and unordered contexts in which we operate, that there are adaptive challenges as well as technical problems and that there are contextual management practices we can use to act, probe and make sense of the complexity. 

Key voices: Dave Snowden, Ron Heifetz, Paul Cilliers

The 9 Fundamental Human Needs

Researched and pioneered by the Chilean economist, Manfred Max-Need, Human Scale Development is an approach that identifies the fundamental needs of humans and how we can provide satisfiers for those needs. Initially applied to the world of international aid and development, we apply Human Scale Development in our work to understand how de:humanization in organisational settings is inhibiting or destroying our basic needs. Our view of a re:humanised world is where individuals, teams and organisations have re:authored their world such that the needs of subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, idleness, creation, identity and freedom are restored.

Key voice: Manfred Max-Neef

Organisation Development

The stories of individuals are deeply connected to the stories of the organisation we’re a part of. And so the nature of our work has naturally moved us into the world of organisational development. An organisation is a unique ‘world’ and we’re passionate about how that world establishes itself and adapts in a complex world. We believe in the potential and promise of the organisation and eagerly promote the re:humanisation, health and effectiveness of our organisations and their collective narratives.

Key voice: Craig Yeatman, Umair Haque

Ontology of Organisations

If a world is opened up through a word, then it is important that we understand the worlds we find ourselves authoring. The philosophy of Martin Heidegger, as promoted by Dominikus Heil, helps us understand that one of our fundamental characteristics as human beings is to create and participate in works that create worlds. Our organisations are works that create worlds. Our narratives are works that create worlds.

Key voices: Dominikus Heil, Martin Heidegger

Participatory Narrative Analytics

Gathering and listening intently to stories is a research activity. Working with people in the re:authoring and re:humanising of personal and collective narratives is a participatory activity. The research world is divided between quantitative and qualitative approaches. We prefer to take a participatory approach to applied research that quantifies qualitative material by rooting our research in the stories told by respondents.

Key voice: Cynthia Kurtz

The context of our work

We’ve taken a standpoint on the state of our world. It is a world where problem-saturated narratives dominate and where healthy, perspective opening and possibility-generating alternative narratives are not given their place. This is an ethical standpoint. Shifting this power balance is ultimately what re:humanisation is about.

We’re disturbed by how individuals are disconnected from their ‘selves’ and are stuck in living out problem-saturated narratives. We want to help people re:author their stories.

We’re saddened by the state of teams in modern organisations. The typical team story is one of disconnectedness from each other, from team objectives and health. We want to be helping teams uncover their un-said narratives that limit their performance and co-partner in the re:authoring of new team narratives that improve effectiveness.

Modern organisations are experienced as places of subtle yet profound de:humanisation. They are not places of belonging and all too often resemble an un-community where humanity, passion, meaning and depth are missing in the organisation’s narrative. We want to participate in the re:claiming of humanity in the workplace and re:imagining the organisational narrative.

Narrative work and complexity thinking also have significance for the challenges we face on a societal level. Communities are struggling with local issues that rob them of humanity. We want to play a part in re:claiming humanity on a community level.

And so, through the promise of narrative work and complexity thinking, employees who are desperate to be heard by management are finding solace in being able to share their stories. Managers are discovering a new world of possibility as an array of novel solutions to their challenges arise through applying complexity principles. CEO’s are finding ways of sensing the pulse of their business through storygathering processes while also paying attention to traditional metrics. Traditional researchers are seeing that the quantitative-qualitative divide can be bridged by new narrative research methods. Institutions that disregarded the state of humanity are now seeing a turnaround in their productivity as they allow all levels of staff discover meaning and purpose in their work.