The Healing Power of Stories

jason and emma 3 expo 2017

The Healing Power of Stories

Posted 23/11/2017

Stories, used well to bring health and safety to life, are so effective that I have written a book about it.  My book is called The Philosophy of the Red Shoes and it is a manual for site supervisors and HSE managers, to enable them to run sessions using the Acting Up process.  I’ve been working with Jason and his team for some years now and I am proud to be on the P2BS team as an associate.  Jason’s story is real, as is the story told by others on his team, but the stories I tell are not real; they are completely made up. So what is the benefit of making up a story?

Cautionary tales have been used for centuries to shape society, identify moral dilemmas and flag up important shared values.  Stories were used by Shakespeare to guide the Royal Court, by Aesop to show children what morality looks like; in Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens it is suggested that the whole of history, of society, money, in fact everything that isn’t chemical or biological is, in short, a simple set of beliefs into which we all buy.  It is no wonder, now that the efficiencies of the corporate matrix are demotivating the workforce and detaching us from our sense of worth, that businesses are turning to storytelling as a way to generate engagement.

But not all stories are born equal. There are inspiring stories and there are dull stories.  Anyone who has heard Jason Anker or Matt Hazelton tell their incredible stories will understand the potential for inspiring the audience and will realise that, with this open mind set, the workforce is in a perfect position to explore their own stories and examine how they show up in the story of their culture at work. Jason and Matt are forming the backbone to a movement that puts the human into the corporate context; their cautionary tales leave us all with the question: What if that happened to me?

Similarly, the fictitious stories I tell are visceral, rough, set against the backdrop of heavy industry.  They are about people’s behaviour and how it can impact on safety.  I write them so they immediately engage the audience, giving the ‘wow’ factor to get everyone in the room sitting up and taking notice, because the time for passive safety training is SO over. 

The story that I’m best known for is delivered by an actress in a bed sheet and red high heeled shoes.  She comes bursting into a room where a safety session is about to begin. Her name in the story is Gail.  Jason told me that the story of Gail is pretty much what happened to his marriage.

I have called the book The Philosophy of the Red Shoes because of the process that follows after the story stimulus.  The process is very simple. It generates conversation with the workforce and gets them rifting on themes such as:  the guiding principles of their behaviour at work, how they speak to each other, how they can be the change they want to see in the world, how they show up in their story, and what their contribution to the safety of the organisation they work for means to them personally.  

When the workforce hears each other speaking about this stuff, something shifts; they give each other permission to be the sort of person who can contribute, they start to see the impact of not showing up, they open up and ask what can we do together to make this business safer, happier, more efficient?

I consider what I do to be a blend of INSPIRATION + SCENARIO PLANING + CONVERSATION + SOLUTION-FOCUSED COACHING.  The book explains how I get this engagement and how to work a room.

I know nothing about Safety but I do know who to ask about it, and that’s the workforce. Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach him to use a rod and he’ll eat for the rest of his life.  It’s the same with safety.  If you roll out directives around behaviour and generate initiatives which have been made up by people who aren’t at the coalface, then you risk creating a culture of ‘telling’ and suffer the subsequent boredom which that ‘telling’ culture generates. People switch off.  (check out Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar H Schein).  But Give the workforce a conundrum to solve, give them a chance to speak in a non-self conscious way, engage them in a conversation that puts the onus on them to design their own safety and you will be creating an ‘asking’ culture which will see frontline knowledge playing itself out at a strategic level.  The Frontline really is The Bottom line.  

The Philosophy of The Red Shoes is a really simply skinny book.  It uses simple language.  It includes a workshop script, tips and guidance. If you’d like to see it in action, please get in touch with Jason or Abbi at P2BS.  Or directly to

I deliver leadership sessions with Jason and Matt, blending the Acting Up process with the powerful learning on offer through their stories, the life-changing consequences and the opportunity to be part of a caring safety culture that puts people at the heart of heavy industry.

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