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To members of the Findhorn Foundation:

Large Group Metaphor Process at the Findhorn Community

The management committee of the Findhorn Foundation has accepted our offer to take part in a Large Group Metaphor Process over the four afternoons of January 13-16.

The Large Group Metaphor Process is particularly suited to helping organisations and communities maintain their connection with higher level aspects such as group spirit, vision, identity, values and principles, while making practical decisions about planning, implementation, problem and conflict resolution.

James Lawley and Penny Tompkins will bring 5 other facilitators trained in Symbolic Modelling to Findhorn at no charge to the Foundation other than provision of accommodation, food, and transportation to and from the airport or train station.  

The Foundation will specify the context and desired outcome for the process.  We will facilitate the group through the process over four consecutive afternoons.

We have made the offer as a way both to support the Foundation during a time of organisational change and community development, and to pilot the process with a large group (of 80 people) who are involved in a common project. 

Benefits to Findhorn:

Metaphor is indispensable to language, cognition and consciousness.  Not only do individuals make use of metaphor to understand the world and to communicate, but groups also unconsciously adopt metaphors which define their identity, values, goals and therefore behaviour.  

The Large Group Metaphor Process enables individuals, teams and entire organisations to:
  • identify their hidden operating metaphors
  • make conscious choices about which metaphors are most appropriate
  • notice the emergent properties of the group
  • find ways for how differences between individuals and teams can be valued and incorporated within the unity of the whole.
By going through this process each individual will have a clearer sense of what is important about their contribution to the Community, their similarities and differences with their co-workers, and a language for addressing issues that arise therefrom.  

Teams will discover how to create joint metaphors that incorporate the essence of each individual and that can be used in visioning, decision making and problem resolution.

Ultimately the process enables the group self-model. That is to identify the systemic patterns of behaviour that influence the group to operate as it does.  The Large Group Metaphor Process is designed to bring the natural dynamics of the group into awareness so that the wisdom in the system can be brought into consciousness.  As a result the group will learn how to operate more effectively as a unit.

The Process:

The Large Group Metaphor Process is an emergent, 'bottom-up' approach which makes use of the principles of self-organising systems and Symbolic Modelling. It makes use of four interconnected processes:  autogenic (self-generated) metaphor, Clean Language, Clean Space and self-modelling.

Autogenic (self-generated) Metaphor - Metaphors used to be seen as 'merely figurative' and considered to be an inadequate way of describing experience. Today many cognitive scientists, linguists and philosophers recognise that "In all aspects of life ... we define our reality in terms of metaphors and then proceed to act on the basis of the metaphors. We draw inferences, set goals, make commitments, and execute plans, all on the basis of how we in part structure our experience, consciously and unconsciously, by means of metaphor." (Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By)

Clean Language - was developed in the 1980s by renowned psychotherapist David Grove.  Clean Language is a way of asking questions which neither contaminates nor distorts individual or group metaphors. The entire focus of Clean Language is to explore, develop and evolve metaphors created by individuals and groups from their perspective, within their perceptual time and space, and using their words.

Clean Space - was developed by David Grove more recently. It is a fascinating simple approach that uses physical space and emergence to model human perception and facilitate organic change. Penny Tompkins and James Lawley have extended the process for use with teams and other groups.

Self-Modelling - A process whereby an individual or group becomes conscious of the way they construct their reality, the patterns of their behaviour, and how their mind-body-spirit operates as one system.

How it works:

During four half-days each individual will identify a personal metaphor for the organisation or project and their role in that (depending on the topic chosen by the Foundation)*. Through Clean Language questioning those metaphors will be explored, developed and enriched.

Each team will then use their individual metaphors to construct a group metaphor. While this is happening, individuals will be facilitated to notice how the process of agreeing a joint metaphor is a reflection of their personal contributions. Depending of the organisational structure of Findhorn, teams will combine their group metaphors into departmental metaphors, and so on until one, or a small number of metaphors for the whole group or project emerge.

The Clean Space process will enable the whole group to partake in an activity to fashion a physical metaphor for the way the organisation is relating.

At various stages individuals, teams and groups will use their metaphors to resolve problems, make decisions and plan implementations.

Each day the Symbolic Modelling team will review what has happened and tailor the next stage of the process to the characteristics of this particular group. Note, as modellers we do not have an intention for any individual or the group to change, nor do we have any opinions about the way Findhorn currently operates or theories about the way it should be run — these questions are for each individual and the group collectively to decide.

Other Considerations:

The Group Metaphor Process has been used with a variety of groups, organisations and businesses.  It is featured on The Open University's 'Creativity in Business' module of their MBA Programme. So far the process has been used with groups of between 16 and 20 people.  At Findhorn we want to pilot the process with a larger group (of 80 people) who either work together or are involved in a common project.  

Everyone who takes part will need to be aware that the process and results will be documented and may be published.  Of course individual's confidentiality will be preserved.

A number of people at Findhorn were trained in the basics of Symbolic Modelling in 1999.

Both Penny Tompkins and James Lawley have extensive management and organisational change experience. Penny was co-Managing Director for 18 years of a company manufacturing oil-field equipment in Scotland with offices in the Middle and Far East. James was a manager in several large corporations with responsibility for implementing a £100 million project before becoming an independent consult in 1991. Today, they are UKCP registered psychotherapists, travel throughout the world training people in Symbolic Modelling, and are authors of Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling.

The other members of the facilitating team — Steve Callaghan, Wendy Sullivan, Phil Swallow, Caitlin Walker and Marian Way — all have extensive facilitation experience in a wide range of fields.

For more information visit: and in particular see the two-part article Metaphors of Organisation.

James Lawley, 11 December 2002

* In response to the clean question:

"What would you like to have happen?"

The Findhorn Management Committee have proposed:

“We intend to clarify/experience/explore/ground/learn/practise/
 how to co-create with nature, as a collective.”

This proposal will act as the starting point for the Large Group Metaphor Process.
James Lawley

James LawleyJames Lawley offers psychotherapiy to individuals and couples, and coaching, research and consultancy to organisations. He is a co-developer of Symbolic Modelling and co-author (with Penny Tompkins) of Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling, (with Marian Way) Insights in Space: How to use Clean Space to solve problems, generate ideas and spark creativity and an Online training in Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling. For a more detailed biography see about us and his blog.

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