‘What are the types of people who come on your courses?’ asked a prospective Dark Angels student a couple of days ago.
With last week’s course fresh in my mind I was able to reel off the following list: an archaeologist turned business consultant; a writer of web content for an oil giant; a professor of mental health; a business coach and trainer; a marketing assistant with a firm of fund managers; the owner of a small branding and communications consultancy; an arts curator currently on a Clore leadership programme; and three freelances, one a writer, one a corporate video producer and one a PR agent.
Ten people with extraordinarily different personalities, professional backgrounds and levels of writing experience. A group for whom five nights together in a remote Highland farmhouse might easily have had the makings of an Agatha Christie mystery. But murder was there none. Quite the opposite in fact. They got to know one another and stayed up late drinking, telling stories and singing songs. During the day they listened appreciatively to each other’s writing and supported one another when the going got a little rough. They cooked together and collaborated in pairs on joint writing projects. They embraced fondly, some even shed a tear, when it was time to part. And nearly a week later the emails continue to circulate.
So what actually happened? Was it really just a week long lock-in, a love-in, a bonding session for a non-existent team? No. What happened – what always happens on Dark Angels courses – was that we offered them the freedom and encouragement to discover the connecting power of words. They used words to dig deep into ideas, to reach for half-buried feelings, to say what they really, really meant about their lives, their loves, their work. Through this newly polished lens they could see the words of the world they had temporarily left behind for the lazy, lacklustre, tepid half-truths that so often pass for communication in businesss. And through that newly polished lens they connected with one another, heart, mind and imagination.
That’s the point of Dark Angels and they all got it. To choose the words that make the real human connections, in business, at home or anywhere else. When he came to the final chapter of Howard’s End, EM Forster could have written it just for us. ‘Only connect.’ It’s all that matters – and now there are ten newly fledged Dark Angels that know it.