Book Review: Generative Scribing

Generative Scribing: A Social Art of the 21st Century by Kelvy Bird is, as the title says, a book about generative scribing, which is a visual practice and an art form, functioning in the moment, across boundaries, as a device for social seeing.1 The primary value of generative scribing is in-the-moment collective sourcing and reflection. Through scribing, a group can see a course to take and find their direction. The scribe aids the group to induce a greater vision and turn it into action.2

Generative scribing activates and makes visible the unseen—yet felt—inner life of the social field. This means that scribing only takes place within a group of people. It doesn’t depend on one scribe’s view, but on the input of many views. The drawing has the power to influence and to transform the thinking in the room.3 With the aid of seeing together, a group can more clearly choose and chart its path. Views become shared and problems become solvable.4

The book is intended as an approach to the practice of generative scribing and is divided into five sections:5

  • Be: Bringing forward your most authentic self. Being matters.6 When we draw, disconnected from interior knowing, we represent an interpreted reality and miss the opportunity to create from inside out.7 Scribes need to stay open and connected to the flow of meaning that wants to be mapped. Staying open, while listening and drawing, is a key skill and a real challenge.8 By staying open the scribe becomes a channel for what wants to come through, for something that wants to be seen.9 Scribes contribute to social fields by showing up from inside out.10 By being in touch with themselves at the truest level, scribes are in a position to meet the truth in the room through what they draw.11
  • Join: Engaging across boundaries. Boundaries dissolve when we activate our deeper humanity.12 Scribes meet intuitive knowing—beyond the literal understanding of words and concepts. Relaxed, scribes can receive and join as conduits for the flow-through of meaning.13 The meaning doesn’t come after the interaction. It comes alongside and involves listening. Listening is a through line to any generative practice.14
  • Perceive: Noticing with a broad, systems view. Seeing is how we perceive our way into thinking and structures, to reveal dynamics and shift outcomes. To see is to comprehend.15 Moving through uncertainty, we experiment. With experimentation, we experience and perceive. Through perception, we orient and choose. And through choosing, we direct our action.16 It is far too easy to inadvertently close our minds to what is actually going on. A closed mindset serves no one.17 If something is not clear, slow down.18 The framing of the mind influences the organization of the drawing. What others see influences their understanding of the structures in play.19 Reframing allows us to see things from multiple perspectives.20 It is directly related to seeing with fresh eyes.21
  • Know: Discern coherence to inform choice. In any moment, when we want to understand, we can inquire into the underlying order by asking: How does this make sense?22 Trying to see the greater context enhances our perspective.23 In generative scribing, we can impose structure and/or we can inquire into what is seeking new form. Seeking coherence demands trust. And trust encourages us to consider that this drawing or that conversation is exactly what is meant to unfold in this particular moment. It is a piece of the greater context that is becoming known.24 Scribes have to choose what to draw. Part of this is subjective, based on listening skills; part is objective, based on ordering ability; and part is generative, based on connecting with source.25 Listen deeply to the space between the words for what wants to be seen. If nothing comes, nothing is yet meant to come.26
  • Draw: Giving form to content. Drawing is a weaving together of multiple inputs from the social field. Through our drawing we have the power to represent the possible, and to help initiate it into the present moment. Scribing helps the unborn to birth, and brings a new reality to life.27 We draw what we must draw, in the present moment as it unfolds, in the right time.28 Generative scribing is a drawing process with which we open to the unknown to bring it to life.29 If our craft or practice is something other than scribing, then we can apply a generative approach to that too.30

To summarize, this is a book for all who care about how we exist together, and who want to explore our interior functioning, both as individuals and as a group.31 Generative scribing is fluid motion. The book can be read in the same way. It is written in such a way that it encourages the reader to jump around at will to find what is most needed.32 Kelvy Bird’s writing and drawing resonates deeply with me. This is the kind of book you don’t stop reading!

1 Kelvy Bird, Generative Scribing: A Social Art of the 21st Century (PI Press, 2018), p.1.
2 Ibid., p.5.
3 Ibid., p.5.
4 Ibid., p.10.
5 Ibid., pp.12–13.
6 Ibid., p.49.
7 Ibid., p.50.
8 Ibid., p.53.
9 Ibid., p.56.
10 Ibid., p.61.
11 Ibid., p.63.
12 Ibid., p.67.
13 Ibid., p.71.
14 Ibid., p.77.
15 Ibid., p.87.
16 Ibid., p.92.
17 Ibid., p.93.
18 Ibid., p.97.
19 Ibid., p.100.
20 Ibid., p.102.
21 Ibid., p.103.
22 Ibid., p.120.
23 Ibid., p.122.
24 Ibid., p.123.
25 Ibid., p.124.
26 Ibid., p.127.
27 Ibid., p.133.
28 Ibid., p.142.
29 Ibid., p.143.
30 Ibid., p.146.
31 Ibid., p.11.
32 Ibid., p.14.

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