Blog Post

Creating an Invitational Space

"We are all basically dreamers and storytellers. In the creation of both art and science, everything in the mind is a story." E.O. Wilson

It’s Saturday and I’m home in Adelaide after spending the last fortnight on the road at various conferences and workshops.

My final stop was 4 days at the Don’t Forget the Bubbles Conference (#DFTB18), in Melbourne. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what made this conference such a success, why I learnt so much, and cried so often and found myself laughing from my belly. I came away from #DFTB18 acutely aware that something very important had happened to me and part of it was neuro-physiological.  It wasn’t just the great catering and all those warm hugs. Dr Damian Roland generously blogged (en-route home to the UK from an airport terminal in Hong Kong) about the core conference needs for delegates. I agree that all these components need to be in place.

#DFTB18 embraced story in a powerful and creative way, through plenary presentations and an informal story event in a comfortable pub on a Sunday night. As I hosted this story telling event I could almost see the audience rewiring their brains. It was like a pulse moving from chair to chair.

"Stories not only teach us how to act – they inspire us to act. Stories communicate values, through the language of the heart, our emotions.  And it is what we feel – our hopes, our cares, our obligations – not simply what we know that can inspire us with the courage." Marshall Ganz

When storytellers do what they do so well, engage us in rich, dramatic and emotive stories, the social networks in their brains light up quickly, but the same social networks light up in the brains of the people who are listening. Then physiological and chemical changes happen, we start to form a shared picture and soon we share values. The physiological connection is how we develop compassion and the ability to critique and be brave. This happens when we come together and we are able to create safe Invitational Spaces. It’s the same reason we like being with others. We want to be neuro-physiologically  engaged. When we came together at #DFTB18 we created this Invitational Space that enabled speakers to present at their best and the audience to engage so readily.

Dr Fiona Kerr explains how this happens in this very short video recorded for newday Summit (another wonderful conference).

So you might ask, why doesn’t this happen for us at work? The answer in part is because we spend most of our time at work with a highly activated sympathetic nervous system (fight and flight).  If we spent some time calming ourselves, or up-regulating our parasympathetic nervous system, (tend and befriend) we would find ourselves experiencing more dynamic resonance. But this is the stuff of a whole other blog.

I’m going to call this extra something the Invitational Space.

This space includes things like: the shape of the invitation to bring our whole selves into a place; the encouragement to interact with authenticity; the demonstration of bravery and vulnerability and stories that inspire us. All this sets us up for conversations that matter. I think it is this Invitational Space that we need to create in order that we can bring the components to life. Sort of like making a cake: butter, eggs, flour and milk are all needed in the right mix. Too much flour and the cake is dry, too much milk and the cake is soggy, not enough egg and the cake won’t bind together, no butter and and the cake isn’t moist and dense. All very important. But without a mixing bowl, a cake tin and some heat nothing beautiful happens. I’ve taken Damian Roland’s diagram and added the components of an Invitational Space below.

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