Simon P Walker

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Front stage / Back stage

The notion of the 'front and back stage' is one of the most widely utilised of Simon Walker's ideas, informing ongoing practice in many organisations and leaders' lexicons.

Drawing on the symbolic interactionism of Erving Goffman (first articulated in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1962), front and back stage offers a rigorous psychological alternative to the language of introversion and extroversion.

From his own 'A Brief Introduction to the Theory of Human Ecology' Simon writes

......"Abraham Maslow suggested that the most basic of human needs is to be safe. All others are supported by this. Maslow was ahead of his time, because we now know that the experience of being unsafe, or afraid, leaves a long standing emotional memory in us- what is known as fear conditioning.
The theory of Human Ecology suggests that being safe, or perhaps, managing risk, is the most basic task we have as human beings.
One of the ways we do this, is by developing a ‘front stage’ and a ‘back stage’ to ourselves.
Our ‘front stage’ is the version of ourselves we show to the world. We develop it to retain the audience’s interest and good response (no one wants boos or rotten tomatoes thrown at them!). Most of us, most of the time, manage to get some polite claps, or even cheers from time to time.
Our ‘back stage’ is the bit of us we keep hidden away, concealed. Like a theatre, the backstage has a vital role- for script writing, rehearsals, props, costume departments etc- it helps to fund the front stage. We don’t tend to let the general audience see the back stage- only those we really trust.
By developing a front stage and a back stage, we give ourselves a way of remaining safe in a world that is basically unsafe. It allows us to keep what we need protected, hidden away from harm, and show what we need to be accepted, affirmed, welcomed in etc.
Front stage and backstage connects to the theory of self presentation developed by Erving Goffman in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Goffman’s work has spawned the disciple of social psychology referred to as symbolic interactionism, and Human Ecology exploits this idea in its basic theory.
Front and back stage is one of the most memorable ideas of Human Ecology theory. It is distinct from Jung’s notion of introvert and extrovert in a number of important ways- not least in that it is dynamic (we all have both a front and back stage, and move constantly between them)."