Strengths and Clean Language Workshop #3

The Strengths and Clean Language workshop met weekly for a year, and then had 2 months off. Meeting again I was full of ideas that seemed to fit really easily. The workshop was Mike, Tomasz, Sarah, David and Richard.

I found a draft of this post from early 2107, and published it in December 2017.

We started off with the quote from Miles Davis. I’d been at a SCiO Systems Thinking Open Day, and I stole this image from Arthur Battram. Arthur’s presentation on the links between Miles Davis, Jazz and complexity and systems thinking was delightful. And he has a jazz hat. Arthur’s book is great too.

Organisational Metaphors

On the train home from SCiO I was reading Images of Organisations, by Gareth Morgan. This book discusses how Organisations, can be seen through the lens of eight different metaphors at the same time. Each metaphor will reveal and hide different behaviours and systems.

Gareth’s book is referenced in Open University Systems courses, O’Reilly’s Cloud Technology book Architecting Microservices, on Clean Language coaching websites, and is one of’s recommended books. Too say that it’s influence is wide and varied is an understatement. It’s also usually less than £3 on ebay.

I’ll borrow Venkatesh’s overview of the metaphors that Gareth Morgan uses from

Organization as Machine: This is the most simplistic metaphor, and is the foundation of Taylorism. Any geometrically structuralist approach also falls into this category, which is why I have little patience for people who use words/phrases like top down, bottom-up, centralized, decentralized and so forth, without realizing how narrow their view of organizations is. The entire mainstream Michael-Porter view of business is within this metaphor.
Organization as Organism: This is a slightly richer metaphor and suggests such ideas as “organizational DNA,” birth, maturity and death, and so forth. I really like this one a LOT, and have so much to say about it that I haven’t said anything yet. I even bought a domain name ( to develop my ideas on this topic separately. Maybe one day I’ll do at least a summary here.

I introduced Gareth’s metaphors and the Miles Davis quote.

We’re heroes in our own story

Sarah commented ‘We’re all heroes in our own story. The way we look at things makes sense of thing so that we’re central in the story, and our actions make sense. Our (Clifton) Strengths may influence the story we tell. It story may also influence the metaphors we use to  understand and talk about the organisations we’re part of.’ Hero’s of our own story is something we’ll come back to. And as Miles says, if you understood my story, you’d be me….

Sarah also noted how she is interested in the perspectives of some metaphors, like the political system metaphor, but doesn’t like to get involved in politics, it wears you out.

We (well I) jumped to clean language here. I’m particularly interested in Clean Scoping Questions. The scoping questions are used to see if a Clean Language approach, usually revealing uncomfortable behaviour patterns, is wanted by the coaching client. Rather than face their own patterns, the client may just want a “diversity certificate”, or similar.

A quick overview is

What do you want to happen?

What needs to happen so that <answer to what you want to happen> is automatic?

What is happening right now?

The answer to what is happening right now usually contains unhelpful patterns of behaviour. Before looking at the patterns, we talked about how asking the question “What needs to happen so that what you want is automatic”, could be (uncleanly) asked in the context of Gareth Morgans metaphors.

So, “thinking about the situation using the brain metaphor, what do you want to happen?”

Or “thinking about the situation using the organism metaphor, what would you see and hear when <what you want to happen> is happening”.

I think we may try these questions in the group to see what occurs.

As a group we’re all familiar with the unhelpful reflex patterns of behaviour described by Barry Oshry, and the alternative ‘balcony’ behaviours that we can use if we see the reflexive patterns in time.

In her book “From Contempt to Curiosity” Caitlin Walker describes using the Karpman Drama triangle to describe a set on unhelpful behaviours “Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer” that are seen in Clean Scoping. These patterns map really well onto Barry’s TOP / MIDDLE / BOTTOM behaviours we describe in Balcony and Basement terms.

Sarah suggested that people’s Clifton Strengths may influence the organisational metaphor they prefer to use – they’ll see the world in a way that sees their strengths positively.

There were some similarities between the Karpman Drama triangle behaviours, and the basement behaviours of TOP/MIDDLE/BOTTOM, Richard noted an overlay of balcony behaviours onto the Drama Triangle, making it a hexagon. The drama triangle seems to describe behaviour more easily the TOP/MIDDLE/BOTTOM, but Barry’s Model is a lot richer.

Each of the patterns on the Karpman Drama Triangle maps to Basement behaviour of TOP’s MIDDLEs and BOTTOMs. We noted how you can see Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer behaviour in TOP, MIDDLES and BOTTOMs.

A TOP who take responsibility because they feel they are removing their help from someone is engaging in victim behaviour. MIDDLES who side with one person over the other may be PERSECUTING one side of the other, before moving to victim and rescuing.

We had a good workshop, getting new approaches that increase our variety, allowing us to describe more situations and behaviours.

If you understood everything we said, you’d be us.





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