At the end of Invisible Grail’s first year, Louise Clifton reflects on what we’ve learned about ourselves, how narrative is becoming increasingly important in today’s world, and how, arm in arm with higher education, we are learning to make the intangible tangible.
It all started with a cup of tea in the Royal Academy on an (as yet) unremarkable day in March 2017.
John Simmons “Paul, I have an idea…”,
Paul Gentle “John, this will be groundbreaking.”
This idea was the first glint in our eyes of Invisible Grail. The idea was to examine what narrative means to people working in higher education; to explore the potential of imagining, creating and applying narratives to people’s purpose, work and professional aspirations.
In life, timing is everything. And the time was ripe for a new way to think about the stories that people, and their universities, wanted and needed to tell. Media backlash, unrelenting scrutiny of the purpose, value and worth of degrees and universities themselves, and Brexit were (and remain) only a smattering of the challenges facing higher education.
We set out not to fix these problems, but to build capacity, empathy and gumption to tackle the big and small questions that people face every day. Such as navigating complex political relationships, fostering leadership narratives, or helping to create and develop local and organisational strategies that build engagement and momentum.
Back to March 2017. Paul and John returned home, and the idea was left to percolate. Slowly, over the next three months, a team of leadership and communication experts was assembled: Paul, John, Jamie, Stuart and Louise. These five people would shape Invisible Grail, not only in what we offered, but in our ethos and approach.
And what has transpired has surprised us all.
Rather than focusing on our processes and products, our daily routines are shaped by an emerging narrative centered on honesty, openness and compassion. These have become our mantra. It has led to the idea of our ‘gift culture’, that we lend our expertise for free through all the media available to us. The point being that our cause is greater than our balance sheet.
If we were to cherry pick some of our defining moments, we might choose our first bespoke project: a pioneering programme with Professor Jane Longmore, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Chichester, and 30 heads of her academic and professional services in helping create a close-knit leadership community that will shape the University’s future over the coming years.
Or we might look to our first big reveal at the Staff Developers’ Conference in November 2017, where colleagues indulged us with their questions, time and interest as we unpicked our proposition for the sector.
Or indeed, the flourishing relationships with the most intrepid people we have worked with, our alumni of our open programmes.
But it would be an error to say it’s been easy. It has required a lot of nerve and grit (something we’re beginning to have in spades.) Things didn’t always go our way, we had to cancel some programmes and adapt when projects fell through. But we’ve learnt, evolved, survived and flourished, thanks in no big part to the ardent belief of our courageous bespoke clients and intrepid participants.
Now as we hurtle past our first 365 days in action and beyond, we’re taking stock of all the ways we’ve started to make a difference, starting with this reflection that you’re reading right here, right now.
We’re big believers in using writing as a way to understand and distil ideas, impressions and keep some kind of grasp on making the intangible tangible, however meandering or lumpy it might be. Find your narrative and make your intangible tangible with us as we embark on the next 365 days. The only thing that’s certain is that it will be quite the adventure.
Louise Clifton is one of the founding Director’s of Invisible Grail. As the Director of Marketing, Communications and Operations she looks after projects big and small; from our brand story to delegate joining instructions.
Find out more about what we do and why:
We are a small team of leadership and communication experts. Our purpose is to help people in higher education make the intangible, tangible. To find the narrative that will energise and galvanise people around a common purpose and shared vision.
Our programmes range from a one-day workshop to a three-day residential. At the core of all our programmes is the belief that words, and using them to create simple, compelling stories, helps us and our audiences understand things better.
Creating a bespoke project isn’t about finding a template to fit a problem. Instead, it is thoughtful approach to a challenge or opportunity.