I continue to be struck with wonder at the transformative power of Appreciative Inquiry. It doesn't matter how often I'm present to the experience of Appreciative Inquiry, the magic, the power, the spirit to move people toward each other to give of their best selves and share their aspirations never fails to deliver. The collective energy among a group of people who don't know each other at the start, irrespective of how many are in the room, who they are, what the topic is delivers expressions of hope, possibility and positive potential.
Affirmative topic of Generations Wiser Together
I've just come off designing an AI workshop and facilitated the same workshop with two very different groups. The goal of the groups was the same. We were inquiring into the affirmative topic of Generations Wiser Together. My client, WiseTribe.us worked tirelessly to bring groups together in two different towns. We aimed to attract as much diversity as possible.
In the one group, we achieved our objective of great diversity. We had a good mixture of ages – from 70+ to 17 year olds. A good balance of genders, and a good balance of Caucasians and African Americans showed up.
In the second group, in a smaller town, we were not as successful with attracting diversity. The group comprised all Caucasian women in their 40s, 50s and 60s, with an 88 year old and a 20 something.
Yet, in spite of the different group compositions, the magic of Appreciative Inquiry came through. We opened up space for people to converse deeply and at length with each other.
Following the classic AI interview protocol, we invited the group members, seated in a circle, to pair up with someone, requesting they look around the circle and find someone least like them physically. So we had younger black men paired with older white women, and younger white women with older white men. Regretfully, we had no older black men.
The connections that were formed in that initial discovery conversation set the tone for a continued evening of enriching discovery, deep sharing, surprise and delight, joy, laughter and demonstrations of great talent from group members.
Co-creating Wishes and Dreams
Demonstrations of great talent came in the second phase of our AI protocol when groups shared their wishes and dreams for a wiser world, when generations are living more wisely together. With the invitation to be as imaginative and as playful as they dared, groups in less than 30 minutes co-created presentations of their wishes and dreams. Words and ideas they had been sharing moved from the head and heart into the body. Embodiment of artistic talent through poetry, music, dance and drawing transformed the space and transfixed the groups witnessing each others' performances. Spontaneous applause and appreciation broke out after each group had performed.
We moved into identifying opportunities – what might we design that could bring the dreams and aspirations into reality? What ideas did member of the group have that could strengthen the bonds across the generations and help bring about a wiser world? Here was the chance for members to share what they had a passion for, would be willing to take responsibility for. They invited others to join them in their dreams.
Opportunities for a Wiser World
Opportunities for a wiser world ranged from bringing Eastern practices into one of the hospitals in town in the form of meditation and yoga, that would not only help patients who could take part in such activities, but especially for the staff who experience stress in their jobs in the hospital environment. Another suggestion was to take the produce being cultivated in an organic farm into restaurants in the town. One woman, a retired journalist, was excited to take the AI questions and ask them in her community to deepen connections among community members. Moreover, she was inspired to reach out to her journalist colleagues, hoping to bring some media attention to the intergenerational wisdom exchanges.
Another project that inspired a young woman was to assist older people in their “right sizing”. She had discovered that when she helped her father simplify his life by sorting through all his possessions, amassed over a life-time, their love, respect and appreciation for each other strengthened. She listened deeply as he told the stories associated with different objects before he let them go. She learnt so much about her father's past, valuing the experience, she felt so many other older people might also enjoy telling their stories as they simplified their situations for a new phase of their lives.
In our closing circle, where the participants are invited to share a high point of their experience and also what they might to take forward from the experience and implement for themselves, the insights and connections were truly touching. This is when the magic and transformative power of Appreciative Inquiry is evidenced. At the beginning, we were a bunch of strangers and in 3 – 4 hours. After a series of heartfelt conversation, we had deeply touched each other's lives, through a series of intentionally constructed affirmative questions that seek to discover the best in people, their communities and the world around them.