Book Review – From Contempt To Curiosity

Caitlin Walker has written a brilliant book recounting her own 15 year journey with Clean Language as applied to groups – a compilation of stories illustrating the models that she developed along the way which she now groups together and calls Systemic Modelling. This work builds on the work of others as well – the originator of Clean Language, David Grove, and his original modellers, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, with whom Caitlin trained and learned. She acknowledges these and many others who assisted her in her consulting practice, Training Attention, along the way. There is a nifty appendix of the major influencing works at the back.

The title of this book hints at the fact that the places that Caitlin took up work using her models were usually starting from a place of high dysfunction, disarray, miscommunication with silo’ed and competitive subcultures or inappropriate reward systems. Her aim in each new engagement was to bring her learning, tools and Clean Language to create the lasting conditions for change – collaboration through questions, curiosity, modelling and metaphor. It is a compelling journey of hope.

Each story elaborates how she had her cohorts broke new ground in the application of Clean Language in a specific group setting. The breadth of settings includes schools, business, IT, recruiting offices, and university. Each chapter covers the context, constraints, the current situation, the desired outcomes, the training provided, the documented progressive learning and experimentation, as well as cautionary tales of each endeavor. The Systemic Modelling techniques are introduced chapter by chapter as she developed and refined them: (not in any particular order) Clean Feedback, Clean Scoping, Clean Set Up, Developmental Tasks, 5 Senses, Drama to Karma, Metaphors at Work, and When You’re ____ at Your Best. There are wonderful illustrations throughout to help clarify concepts that are introduced and there is no shortage of sample Clean interactions so that even a novice or someone not familiar with Clean Language can get a solid grasp of the possible applications by the end of the book.

I have read most of the Clean literature and this new book is a fantastic addition to the catalogue. Addressed equally to the Clean Facilitator as to the potential customer interested in Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling for groups, the stories are accessible, smoothly written, and also compelling. Indeed I think this book has a very broad audience. Consultants, executives, and coaches involved in organizational development, communication, culture change, and engagement issues will find this an inspiring guide to a refreshing, revolutionary way to create the conditions for change in group and business settings. What I (and many of my colleagues may) appreciate with Caitlin’s approach and the rich contribution of David Grove’s Clean Language applied here – is the intent to lay the foundation, train folks, and have the resulting behavior changes remain sustainable – basically, for the Clean Facilitator – to work oneself out of a job successfully. Caitlin shares all the stories, even ones that over time, did not quite sustain as well as she hoped – since even those were fertile material for analysis. Why did they not stay sustainable? What were the systemic issues at play? Turnover in leadership? Amidst those are some fabulous success stories and you will relish them all.

I desire nothing more than fostering workplaces and school learning environments in which folks exhibit curiosity towards one another, exploring problems and solutions in a safe way, taking collective ownership and pride in their work. Other authors and thought leaders have addressed well the need for learning organizations in works such as Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline or created models such as Chris Argyris’ Ladder of Inference. And while I admire those models, none spoke to me with the hope that they could be widely disseminated or fairly easily learned by a broad cross-section of people and industries. Caitlin has given us a concrete, laid out foundation for systemic change at an organizational and group level, based on concrete practices and the foundation of Clean Language. As I work towards my own vision for success as an agile coach with IT groups and organizations, I am very committed to sharing, utilizing and, training on these models.

The book is sturdy with all glossy paper. It won’t mind getting a spill of water or wine on it. Those who like to annotate in pencil or pen straight in their books may find that annoying, but I like the quality of the book. I hope to take it around and share it liberally with folks who are interested. There will soon also be an ebook as well as audio book available. Most major Clean Language literature books, by contrast, are not available in either of those formats.

Thank you Caitlin Walker, and all of your collaborators, for bringing these stories and your journey to us in such wonderful detail.

Explore posts in the same categories: Book Review, Clean Language, Dialogue, Effective Meetings, Listening, Organizational Change

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