Challenge beliefs and open new perspectives with Myth Turning
A field report of using a Liberating Structure called ‘Myth Turning’ that is still being developed.
Liberating Structures are a collection of interaction patterns that allow you to unleash and involve everyone in a group — from extroverted to introverted and from leaders to followers. In this series of posts, we show how Liberating Structures can be used with Scrum.
During the most recent meetup of the Liberating Structures User Group in the Netherlands, I had the pleasure of testing out ‘Myth Turning’ with Maryse Meinen. Myth Turning is a Liberating Structure that is in development, meaning that it hasn’t yet been fully specified on to five design elements that make up each Liberating Structure.
This post is a report of a test we did with this structure, and the feedback we gathered from the participants. Its also a good opportunity to show the depth of Liberating Structures; the 33 listed on the website are just potential configurations of the five design elements. There is a whole universe of possibilities, riffs, and mash-ups, and the community is continuously developing and testing new ones. Myth Turning is one that is very appealing to me for reasons I describe below.
The purpose of Myth Turning
Myth Turning exists to gently challenge the beliefs and assumptions that guide the decisions we make, either as individuals or as a group. It invites creative destruction by putting those beliefs to the test in a way that opens up new perspectives and possibilities.
Some examples of beliefs that can be put to the test are “I believe that when making a decision, everyone should agree”, “I believe that in order to make a bigger impact on an organization, I have to climb the corporate ladder” and “I believe that people always resist ideas they didn’t come up with”.
[Myth Turning] invites creative destruction by putting beliefs to the test in a way that opens up new perspectives and possibilities.
Questions for Myth Turning
Myth Turning invites participants to ask powerful, open questions to challenge a belief of a person or a representative of a group willing to do so. We provided the following questions to the groups (taken from Fisher Qua and anja ebers):
- What would need to happen for you to stop thinking this was true?
- Where do you see the assumption or belief confirmed?
- What is a sign that others are questioning the belief?
- When did you start shaping this assumption/belief?
- Who else believes in this?
- Who lends this belief their authority?
- How does this belief serve you?
- What are you getting out of this belief or assumption?
- What if you are wrong and the belief is no longer relevant?
- What have you done to reinforce the belief?
- What have you done to debunk the belief?
We printed the questions on cards, each card holding one of them, effectively creating ‘question decks’. We asked everyone in the group to randomly pick a number of questions to maximize randomness.
How do you identify beliefs?
One of the challenges we faced while preparing was how to help people identify beliefs in the first place. They are not usually ‘top of mind’ in the sense that you can easily express them. Thankfully I found a nice worksheet created by anja ebers that is helpful here. Below, I will describe how we used the sheet.
How we facilitated Myth Turning
- As a preparation, we handed out the worksheets to all participants. We gave participants 1 minute to complete the sentence in the starting area. After 1 minute, participants exchanged worksheets with someone else. After six exchanges, we asked participants to look over the beliefs on their current sheet (which includes ideas from others) and mark the ones they related to or recognized (10 min);
- We invited people to individually select one belief that they are willing to question, making sure to state it as “I believe that ….”. For this we used the invitation “What is a belief or an assumption that has shaped or guided you in your professional journey, but that you are starting to question, may be a false notion or may be holding you back?”. We made sure to emphasize that it should be a belief that they actually still held (2 min);
- We invited people to form groups of 6–8 people, making sure that they were standing in a circle, leaving enough space to move and turn. We provided each group with a deck of questions and invited people to distribute them randomly. We asked each group to select a person to start. They moved into the center of the circle and stated their belief (“I believe that …”) (2 min);
- While the person in the middle kept their eyes closed, the outer circle started moving clockwise (forward motion). This continued until the person in the center said “STOP”. The person from the outer circle they are facing asked the open question from one of their cards or came up with one of their own, and the person in the circle answered as quickly as possible. This was not a conversation or a debate. We continued this for six or seven rounds (10 min);
- You can repeat this for other people in the groups, each moving to the middle (20 min);
- Individually, reflect on what you discovered during Myth Turning. What are things that should be explored to let go of this belief, or to make it feel safer? (5 min);
- We tried Myth Turning in smaller groups as well as one large group. The participants experienced the smaller groups as more intimate, engaging and personal, although the larger group was visually more impressive to look at;
- We experimented with a riff where the person in the middle would not state their belief, but simply answered the questions. Although this worked for the person in the middle, the people in the outer circle felt less engaged because of this;
- We liked how Myth Turning makes use of forward motion to instill a sense of progress and advancement. Its a nice metaphor;
- Participants noticed that even if they did not stand in the circle answering the questions, they found themselves reflecting on, and challenging, their own beliefs with the same questions nonetheless. For example, a question like “What have you done to debunk the belief?” was considered as quite thought-provoking;
- We really liked how Myth Turning purposefully avoids a debate or conversation about the questions. The person standing in the middle simply answers the question. We noticed that it was important to adhere to this structure;
- We felt that Myth Turning is exceptionally powerful in light of what is happening in our society. People seem to be pushed further and further into their own ‘bubbles’. Take beliefs about the climate crisis, anti-vaccination, fear of foreigners or the shape of our planet (sphere or flat). Although you can debate them, the interests are often so vested and the fear of losing identity so strong, that discussions only polarize. Myth Turning seems like a good way to challenge these beliefs in a way that avoids this polarization. After all, whether or not to actually change a belief after Myth Turning is entirely the prerogative of the person in the middle; they are neither asked nor required to draw conclusions in front of others about how they feel about the belief now that they know all this;
- When preparing, we decided to let the outer circle turn — not the person in the middle. Although this is an option, we felt that turning the outer circle was safer and less dizzying. We also purposefully asked the person standing in the middle to close their eyes while the outer circle was moving to increase the randomness of people asking questions;
Examples of where to use Myth Turning
Myth Turning is one of those structures that you know is powerful when it works. But it also seems hard to find opportunities where it makes sense. Our group came up with several possibilities:
- Use it to question beliefs that are central to organizational culture. This requires some work to first identify those beliefs first, as they are often so implicit that we’re not aware of them;
- Before a change initiative, identify beliefs shaping how work is done right now. Gently challenge these beliefs and let people draw their own conclusions;
- Myth Turning can be used to coach leaders by challenging their beliefs about what kind of leadership is needed and how people need or want to be managed;
- Myth Turning can be used to challenge the beliefs you have about yourself. This makes it deeply personal. One participant suggested it for dealing with “Imposter syndrome”;
Combinations with other Liberating Structures
- Nine Whys can be used to identify beliefs that people have about themselves. Questions like “Why is that important you, personally” can help to identify underlying beliefs about that work;
- After Myth Turning, a more thorough debrief with What, So What, Now What is helpful when you do it with groups and the beliefs they share;
- 15% Solutions seems like a good follow-up to help people identify next steps to gently let go of beliefs that they are ready to let go of;
We loved Myth Turning. It seems like a powerful way to help people change their beliefs in a way that opens possibilities instead of polarizing them. After our test, I feel confident enough to use this in other environments. I’m curious to hear about your experiences when you try it out. What happened? What was made possible after Myth Turning? What didn’t work?
Interested in learning many different Liberating Structures in an intense 2-day workshop? Check out our agenda for upcoming Immersion Workshops. If you’re aiming to join, book early — they are exceptionally popular. And join the Dutch User Group to learn more about Liberating Structures.