The use of Creative Imagination and its value in Action Learning

A psychotherapists view of action learning

To improve listening skills

I have been facilitating and participating in Action Learning sets for around six years now and still experience a sense of wonder when we hear a question being asked that seems to speak to the heart of the enquiry. The questioner has stopped for a moment paying attention to their own thoughts and instead tuned into the presenter.

Whilst facilitating an Action Learning Set recently, a group member asked me how I listen? She was referring to the way in which I listen to the presenter, process the information and then ask an imaginative question. I found I couldn’t answer quickly and instead offered to demonstrate my own approach to listening. This led to a wonderful hour where we stepped out of the normal form and function of the group and I held a short training session on listening whilst making use of the creative imagination.

Listening with imagination

My group became interested in the experience and we all listened, occasionally pausing the presenter to check in with where our imagination was sitting. Each of us had different images. I invited the group members to sit with the images and see what developed, trusting the process.

From this we explored the questions which emerged. The presenter remarked upon the quality of those questions and the insight that arose from them. My sense is that as we listen in this way we have to put our whole being into it. It’s just like when we first learnt to ride a bike we had to absorb all of ourselves into the experience.

For me this kind of Action Learning, using a more creative state of mind, is only possible if we take away the limitations of any structure, and participants are no longer focused on seeking instant answers to the questions. Only then can they rest in the spirit of enquiry.

If our creative imagination is allowed to be free in action learning, to tune out of our usual way of listening, this process taps into our more intuitive self. In this place, our intuition becomes a bridge to help us listen to our deeper imagination.

Imaginative listening and action learning

So how might this be developed within Action Learning? A great starting place might be to train set members in how to work with the creative and embodied imagination. This concept was first developed by Jungian psychoanalyst Robert Bosnian based on principles first developed by Carl Jung. In my experience, we can develop the use of creative imagination listening skills through training and this could help set members understand and tune into the pulse of a different wisdom inside each of us.

This will help us to step away from our internal programmed knowledge; as Reg Revans said:

“It is recognised ignorance not programmed knowledge which is the key to action learning.”

Reg Revans, Revans, R. (1983), ‘Action Learning: Its Origins and Nature,’ in Pedler, M. (ed.) Action Learning in Practice. Gower, Aldershot, pp 5-13.

When we listen to anyone we are often creating bridging points between the person we are listening to and ourselves.

In an action learning set I can see how working with a more embodied approach would help us to listen and stay present in a more layered way to the presenter. It would allow us as listeners to develop more balance.

The value of exploring our thoughts in this imaginative way allows space for new thoughts, new possibilities and fresh ideas to truly flourish. These new listening skills allows us to hear things that aren’t necessarily being said, and often the driver for change lies in arriving at and understanding these hidden thoughts.

Becky Wright – Director New Leaf Life Design

ILM approved trainer Professional Development Programme in Action Learning Facilitation
MSc Counselling, MBACP Senior Accredited, FRSA






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