What You Need To Know About Appreciative Journaling – PS86

Introduction to Tim Slack and Appreciative Journaling

This is actually a re-introduction, as I've invited back Tim Slack of Appreciating People, based in Liverpool in the UK.  Our conversation focuses on two topics: appreciative journaling and positive education.  Tim updates us on some of the innovative work they’ve been doing in a variety of organizations, and in very complex government agencies including health care, education, correction services, faith-based organizations, and more.

Appreciative Journaling Guest Tim SlackMy curiosity for those two topics comes from the trailblazing work that Tim and his partner, Suzanne Quinney are doing with the transformational change methodology Appreciative Inquiry.

Appreciative Journaling – Appreciating People has created a series of appreciative journals for different clients to help them tap into their reflective capacities to enhance their learning and develop their appreciative muscle.

Positive Education – Tim will be attending the World Positive Education Accelerator (WPEA) in Fort Worth, Tx in June 2018. In the previous show, I interviewed Molly McGuigan, who’s the project lead for this global positive education initiative and I wanted to bring Tim in off the back of that because through his firm’s work in education in Liverpool, he’s helping to bring positive education into the school system. It will be valuable to hear how Appreciating People is bringing greater flourishing and well-being into the wider school system.

NEW FEATURE: Episode Transcript Links

Click on the below links to jump to the related topic within the full transcript below:

 Links to Resources

Tim's Website:  Appreciating People 

Appreciating People: Online Store called Essentials

Twitter Profiles: Appreciating People and Be More Awesome




Studio School, Liverpool, UK


Robyn:  A very warm welcome to this episode number 86 of Positivity Strategist. I'm your host and my name is Robyn Stratton-Berkessel.  I've invited my talented colleague Tim Slack, back to the show. Tim is the founder of the firm, Appreciating People based in Liverpool, in the UK. His co-founder is the equally talented Suzanne Quinney, who's also been a previous, popular guest on my show. So first let me hear from you, Tim. Welcome back!

Tim:  It's very nice to be back on. I love your stuff. It's really good and we strongly recommend it to all we train. “Go find the podcast.”

Robyn: That's wonderful. Well, I can't wait for you to share some of the cool stories that you've been working on since we last spoke. I think that was about eight months ago or so. I know so much has happened since then.

Tim:  I decided I'd listen to my own recording yesterday to make sure I wasn't repeating myself tonight.

Robyn:  Oh, that's great. And did you like your recording?

Tim:  I did, yeah.

Robyn:  It's good, isn't it? When you listen and you think, well that was good! Give yourself a little pat on the back. That's very appreciative. Tim.

Robyn:  So just to remind the audience that both you and Suzanne and your team, from my perspective, and, I think you're getting the recognition globally for this, you work in the most innovative ways with the transformational change methodology, Appreciative Inquiry that we both love and practice. During our conversation today, Tim, you're going to update us and some of the ways that you've been doing AI work in a variety of organizations and particularly in very complex government agencies including healthcare, education, correction services, faith-based organizations and more. And maybe we won't get to all of those today. So there's another opportunity to continue. But as a start, I just want to say that I see a common theme in the way that you and Suzanne engage with your clients that taps into their reflective capacities that enhances their learning.

Appreciative Journaling as a Game Changer

Robyn: 02:25 And that's with the use of journaling. So I'd love for us to dive a little deeper to explore the power of journaling. That's one focus that I sense will be of value to those people who are listening. The listeners might learn something more about journaling and even be inspired to take up journaling if they're not doing it already and experience the benefits that it brings. But there's another reason why I'm also excited to be talking to you at this time and that's because you're going to be attending the World Positive Education Accelerator in Fort Worth, Texas in June 2018. Now in the previous show which was episode 85. I interviewed Molly McGuigan, who's the project lead for this global positive education initiative and I wanted to bring Tim in off the back of that because through his firm's work in education in Liverpool, he's helping to bring positive education into the school system. He's got some really fabulous stuff to update us on with that and I think it's going to be valuable to hear how Appreciating People is active in bringing greater flourishing and well-being into the wider school system. So does that sound like a plan to you, Tim?

Tim: It does, but let's start with the journal first?

Robyn: And do you know why I want to do that, Tim, is because you bring it into your client engagements and I think it's one of your big differentiators and it's really powerful. So I know you've done it for a number of clients over a number of years, so you must have evidence that it's working and you've got more ideas in the pipeline. So yeah, go ahead and tell me what the impetus for that is and how it's impacting.

Tim:  Like all good Appreciate Inquiry stuff. This is a story really.

Tim:  It started in 2009, 10, I think. My wife, Suzanne (Quinney) was doing some groundbreaking work with men in a hostel in London, dealing with drug and alcohol misuse problems. And she was using a notebook saying to the client here's a notebook, write down the things that you already good at and you enjoy and what's important to you. And they tried it and it worked a bit. And then we thought it was interesting. The idea seems to work but let's look at it further. Then went online and saw all these books being sold as journals with all these flashy covers but nothing inside. Then we realized there was a gap in our training because we felt very influenced by Jackie Kelm which was, if you're going to create a good AI practitioner, they need to expand the appreciative muscle. and need also to create an appreciative mindset. We realized that journaling might be the way forward if it's a different form of journaling. So we coined the phrase appreciative journaling. One Boxing Day, a curious English habit around Christmas, I woke up very early in the morning and thought I need to do something. So in six hours, I wrote the framework for Food for Thought, which is our first journal. Also during that morning I also emailed Jackie Kelm and said, can I use some of your stuff? And as ever, she's incredibly generous said, of course, you can. And so we wrote this little booklet launched it at AI the global conference in Ghent [Belgium]. We began to use it in training and know others were using it. We had a big grant from the Healthcare Project in Liverpool because they saw it as a powerful tool for well being and then suddenly it began to expand. Others saw it, a school saw it and said, oh, I love it, can you do something for young people? And that led led to How to be More Awesome, which is the young person's journal and workbook, that could have went into next stage when we were using Awesome and Food for Thought and our training and what we found was Awesome, was more popular than Food for Thought with adults even though it was designed for young people. With young people, it was more popular because it was slightly wacky. It had jokes in it and other things in it as well as AI tasks and all those kinds of things. Others then heard about Awesome and the journaling and, like all good things it was fairly organic. And then we were approached by the National Waterways, a museum to say, can you do something for us? And that led to Number 1, which is a young children's workbook about curiosity and strength-based work in museums, but that has a journal in it as well.

21 Days of Journaling Makes a Massive Difference

Tim:  So that was our third thing you have to do. And also we realized in the work that we're doing with journaling and we knew and we knew from the evidence we use from Barbara Fredrickson, Martin Seligman, we knew from research on the importance of journaling that 21 days or 28 days of saying three good things make a massive difference. And we then realized by looking at this point, with the last three or four years, we've trained hundreds of people in the basics of AI. We realized there were two kinds of journaler: Those who love journaling and look at buying Food for Thought or, Awesome and were doing it again and again, and those who struggled with it. We realized that probably the best way to do it is to do it in a shortened way. So we said to people: What happens if we produce something with only 21 days in it for “three good things and add seven days of “gratitude.” That was the game changer because we realized that was all you had to do. Then alongside that, the school where we targeted and wrote Awesome came back and said we love Awesome, but it's not really what we want.

The Impact of Journaling Writing 3 Good Things a Day

Tim:  So we say what you want? They said, well actually we want a resilience program like Awesome, but wrapped around a student planner. So we said, OK, we'll design that in about two months working with the school, we produced it a year and a half so and we decided not to release it into the public domain until we tested it for a year. So for a year, one school has used this new version, the student planner addition. But in that version, it says the first 28 days is three good things. So the whole school did three good things for 28 days. That's 300 students. They then had a series of school assemblies and noticed the impact. The young people were more confident, were happier, and they realized over a year that the three good things didn't go away. Staff was saying to the kids and kids to the staff were saying “what's your good thing of the day?” So we've seen a cultural shift with that journal. So that's led us to then in Reflections building in a 21-day journal into our latest product. So journaling is part of our core training predominantly to help develop the creative muscle and the appreciative mindset.

Robyn: That's great. It is the evolution and I feel very honored that I have, other than the first one, Food For Thought, in my possession the others and I'm excited to talk about Reflections in a little while because that's the latest one. I'm just curious to know how do you get the commitment from people to do it? I mean, what do you sense to be their motivation to actually participate in this and write down every day for 21 days what three good things happen to them?

Tim:  To be fair sometimes is because we tell them to if we're honest with it

Robyn:  A compliant culture (laughter)

Tim:  but also we know, we hear people say, oh it's really good. We got the feedback. They see the evidence that journaling is a good idea and when we do the training, we tell the story of the school. We tell what happens, what we notice. And Suzanne has been working with this program called Learning for Excellence with this, with hospitals all over the country. She's now getting feedback how much people like this journaling because people ring us up and they buy another copy for a friend. So we know it's having an impact. And also as I said earlier, it's films like the great TED talk by Shawn Achor on the Happiness Advantage is a really good explanation of why things like journaling is really, really important.

Robyn:  We know through positive psychology and neuroscience, it's that mind-body connection. So the very act of putting a pen to paper and then prompting yourself to write about something that you can access that had a positive impact on you has an extraordinary effect on you.

Journaling Builds Resilience

Tim:  There's another side to journaling as well because early we realized that Martin Seligman's people were using it with the US military as part of building resilience going into Iraq and Afghanistan. So we knew there was another side of journaling which was about building resilience as well as their appreciative muscle is actually about coping with stress, dealing with difficulty. Certainly in our world – I'm the health world – nurses and doctors have a very stressful time. So we're seeing journaling as also having a secondary function or parallel function about helping people be more resilient and more and more positive about themselves and coping better.

Journaling as s Mindfulness Practice

Robyn:  And because it's about that quieter, more reflective state, it's also about being more mindful. We know the positive impacts of being more mindful where you begin to just focus on one thing at a time and be very attentive to and aware of what's going on for you in that present moment. Over time that has very positive implications

Tim:  That is interesting because both in Awesome, there's a mindfulness activity, and in Number 1 for Waterways and Canals, there's a thing called the mindfulness zone and we're encouraging children, young people to actually create a space on the waterways where they can practice their mindfulness. We have built those bits into the, into the resources as well.

Appreciative Journaling in Positive Education

Robyn:  I want to talk about Reflections, but maybe we'll come back to that because when you're talking about the young people, going on the waterways and inviting them to be more mindful. Let's switch now to the topic of positive education and what you're doing in the school, that Studio, right? So I'd love you to say more about that before we go back to Reflections – the book, I mean.

Tim:  There's probably three strands to this: One is that our journals are being used in schools across the country, even wider in Europe and America and Australia and India. So we'd have some examples on how those journals are part of the positive education process. And also, as you know Number 1, the one for the Waterways Museum is causing some excitement in the museum world.

Tim:  So we might, we might see other museums talking to us about developing something similar for the museum visitor.

Robyn:  That's why I's saying you are doing these very innovative things in Appreciative Inquiry, and how these other schools and institutions are finding out, it's not only through word of mouth and experience locally, but there'll be links on the show notes page, which is 86 I've already referred to that so people can actually buy these from your website.

Tim:  Yes you can, and we can also link you to our website also now is, for example, the article about the Studio school using AI. You'll be able to download from our website in our Section or the Download Section an article about the school.

Tim:  With regard to positive education, my current thinking is that there's a big issue or big challenge for us to separate what is positive education in terms of the curriculum, and what we're doing with that, with the education activities etc. all to do positive education in relation to how this school operates. So the way teachers operate with themselves, with their colleagues. Some of the work we've been doing in the Studio school, for example, is looking at teacher appraisal through an AI Lens, looking at leadership through an AI Lens, looking at Learning from Excellence – the hospital project – being developed into a school setting so that, so you are developing an institution that has an appreciative mindset as well as doing positive education in terms of its curriculum is so, so important. Positive Education.

Robyn:  So it's all stakeholders, the whole system. It's not just about the curriculum. And that's so interesting that you brought that up because I was thinking at the time when you were speaking about the students or the young people being impacted by using the journal, what about the teachers and the administrators?

Tim:  Well yeah, here's a fine example of it, the great SOAR tool is used by the school to develop a strategic plan

Robyn:  You're talking about Jackie Stavros, SOAR methodology.

Tim:  Yep, Yep. So SOAR – strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results or resource – it's used by the school in the journal as a personal development tool and the head teacher, the principal, and the senior management team are using it as a tool for developing a strategic plan for the school. So you have that going on and also in the school where I work they have coaches. Every student has a coach, and the coaches have been trained to use appreciative inquiry in their coaching. So Ai is permeating the whole school system. Now having said that, that's the good news. The challenge is that education system here still works in deficit, but what they're doing is blending in AI to actually change some of the thinking.

Robyn:  At the policy level?

Tim:  Locally, not nationally, but certainly locally, hopefully, hopefully,  the national level. But I think it's a long way to go, but I think is sometimes you know, you're using AI in its original format as the organizational development process as well as using AI as an appreciative mindset.

Cultivating an Appreciative Mindset

Robyn: Let's, stop for a minute and explore this appreciative mindset. And I also want to say in parenthesis that it's not just about organization development, but it's also about design. You know, how we design through this appreciative worldview or mindset. So when you mentioned that earlier, say a little bit more about what you're meaning by introducing an appreciative mindset, not only in the hospital system, you know, where you've been working, but also in the education and probably elsewhere,

Tim:  If you look at the education one particularly I said earlier, I've been looking at the school has a system for appraising an annual review for teachers. Now, there are certain requirements of the State or the institution to do that. So how do we build an appreciative mindset to those questions or those tasks? And the answer has been is to help staff preparing for the appraisal to have an appreciative conversation or protocol to use the s SOAR tool as a way of creating the way forward so they are going into their final assessment from a positive standpoint and you could argue with an appreciative mindset and that's where we've begun to look at. And it's very early days. I'm going to actually have a signing off tomorrow as a trustee, but it's there, it's been worked out with the staff, the senior staff.

Tim:  And the other thing with mindset is getting students and teachers working from positive ways in the classroom as well, and appreciative ways. And, as they have a school they've developed a Thanks app for saying “thank you.” And we're looking at developing a Three Good Things app with the school. So the students designed the app for us. So you can do Three Good Things as an app.

Robyn:  So this, the students are creating this themselves. Didn't they help design How to be More Awesome?

Tim:  Awesome. They co-designed it. Yes, we did. Lots of the activities were tested and created with them.

Robyn:  So coming back to mindset then, it truly resonates with me because it's going beyond just the process of going through the 5-D Cycle and all these different ways of helping an organization become more aware of itself and planning and so on. But it's also what is mindset? What's the frame that I'm approaching this from?

Tim:  I think two parts. One is I think it's about, it's about building, reframing into your day to day practice, how you reframed stuff. Secondly, it's going actually in from an AI perspective with a combination of the Anticipatory and Simultaneity Principle at the same time. I'm anticipating this is going to be a great teaching session or a great piece of work. I give an example of the power of Anticipatory Principle linked to this about mindset. We were working with the hospital staff in the Midlands and one of the consultant pediatrician I asked the question: “When do you use the principles?” She said, well, I used Anticipatory Principle when I meet the patients' parents, I say, oh, what'd you do? She said what I do if I'm going into a situation where I have to tell parents that their child is terminally ill, I go, “how can I anticipate this being a meeting where I'm working at my best? I'm sensitive. I am caring. I'm thinking the best way I handle this. And they can come out with the best outcome of a very difficult situation.” Now that's a mindset. When she told us this, the whole rooms when completely hush. It was one of those magic moments. But it really means about that, going in with that strength, that ability to be appreciative in a difficult place.

Robyn:  That's a great example, Tim. It brings the Principles to life, which means that you are, in our speak, “being appreciative.”

Tim:  I think that's, I think that's probably the most important thing. I think one of the things I noticed in myself is I struggled when I come across a person who was very negative or situations. I become ultra sensitive to it, which on occasions I think isn't very helpful. Because you're so trained up to be and so self-appreciative about it, you become a bit of a pain when you meet people who are very negative and you have to catch your breath and think about it. There may be very good reasons why they're negative.

Robyn:  I think another piece of the appreciative mindset is being in this state of inquiry always thinking about what's the inquiry here rather than going in there with what's the solution? What do I want to achieve? What's the answer here? But it's being open to there are endless possibilities?

Journaling as a Way to Strengthen Curiosity in Children

Tim:  That's why when we did what we called Number 1, the book, for the Waterways – the Canal – people, we had two big things. One is how do we foster curiosity in children because that's an important part of being open to multiple as possibilities, how curious you are. You want to inquire. Secondly, how do we blend in Appreciative Inquiry in a subtle way which isn't obvious? So if you look very carefully at the book, you'll see the questions are about reflection, about being curious, looking in a different way at experiences. That's how we blended it in, in a very subtle way. When we wrote it, we weren't sure. We were told how subtle it was often done it.

A New Wave of Appreciative Inquiry

Tim:  This brings me to something else with this actually, Robyn, which is, I think I've said this before to you, maybe there's a new wave around Appreciative Inquiry where the tools like the 5-Ds aren't as apparent as how you're operating, how you're working in any situation you're in. It's less about the big summit. They are still great and very important, but in all of our work, it's  the small steps that are making the big difference.

Robyn:  I totally agree with that. And I'm just thinking back to when I, (and you're aware of this because you've told me), but when I published my book in 2010 – eight years ago – it was the first book that took small workshops made them accessible for people to create just in small groups, focusing on an appreciative way of engaging in the traditional problems that people have. That was the first book that was written that wasn't about an AI Summit and heavily into theory. Then you come along and go even more micro. You've gone down to the individual doing reflection and making the changes. And even though we still have the tools that guide, it's not about them so much. It's about how we make the translation for ourselves.

Tim:  I think that's really, really very important because then the micros come together you get the change. You get the movement, the actual generativity. – what Gervase (Bushe) talks about and it continues.

Robyn:  So anything else you want to say about the contributions that you've made and the evidence that you're seeing in this positive education growth?

Positive Education

Tim:  I'm the only one comment would make, which I think I love the phrase positive education I think is a far better way of explaining what we're doing. I've just changed our language the way about what I talk tomorrow at the school. It'd be about, you know, bringing in positive education into all what we do. So I think the term is really helpful.

Robyn:  Yes. And what does that mean? What are people understanding by that?

Tim:  Well, I hate talking about myself, but my understanding is that, that the whole of our education approach works from a positive standpoint, be it the curriculum, be it the school, the system, the structures, everything. That's how it works.

Robyn:  So it's looking at strengths-based. asset-based.

Tim:  Absolutely. As you said multiple, multiple possibilities.

Robyn:  And engaging the people within the system so that they themselves are co-creating the future. They want the reality that they're in …

Tim:  It's all that – about co-creation, co-design, co-learning.

Why I Love Reflections

Robyn:  So now I want to come back to your latest publication that I love called “Reflections” with the subtitle, “Realizing the power of Appreciative Inquiry: an Appreciative Journal and Practical Resource Book”. Do you want to know why I love it?

Tim:  That'll be helpful. We love the feedback.

Robyn:  Well, I love it because of the simplicity of it, the practicality of it and the fact that you have so many outstanding reference points and quotes that, that make it very accessible. For example, the benefits of journaling, but then you give some resources as to why that's the case. If anyone's really interested they can go and dive a little deeper and go to the sources behind what you're saying.

Robyn:  So I think, I love that. I mean, I love the fact that it's simple, but there's depth there. I just love the idea that when you're inviting people to do their 21 days of journaling followed by seven days of gratitude, you're asking deeper questions. For example, when they write down what the three good things are for each day, you then ask against that positive event, why did this good thing happen?That's going deeper, right? And what does it mean to you? How can I have more of this?

Robyn: So I've been doing that, Tim, and it's very powerful because it requires you to begin to become far more reflective and think about the patterns shaping up over time. So you get begin to get a much bigger picture of what your capabilities are and what delights you and what good things that you're contributing to the world and receiving from the world. So it's, it's just super that you've done it that way. That's what speaks to me.

Tim:  Thank you. It's interesting as I listen to what you're saying is there were four things regarding Reflections when we to work on it. One was it's the first one where Suzanne and I have jointly written it. Normally I write it, then she turns it into English or edits it. This time we actually co-wrote it. Secondly, was the gestation of it was a conversation between me and Lindsey Godwin in a hotel in South Africa. I said we need to do something really practical and simple about AI. That then established Reflections and It took us two years after that. The other thing we're dealing with, one is that the journal is part of it, and the second thing for me was you do an AI training course; you go to workshops, and you do a lot of reading around it. What do you do on a Monday morning when you're back at work?

Tim:  How do you shift your organization, your thinking, the way you do things, and that's why the second part of the book has “here's what you do on a Monday morning.” The other way you want to look at was, and this is why the “Learning from Excellence” (LfE) is in it. How do you deal with moving away from a deficit-based or problem-focused approach? Hence the LfE stuff in it. So it was all those kind of combinations of practical tools going into the back: how do you, how do you do things on your first day? So it was designed for the practitioner at a very early stage of their journey at one level. The other joke for us was that we'd written the whole book, took it to our publishers who said, that's great too, I love the book, but you've actually two books. And they said, well you've written a book for the first stage practitioner, but also for the more advanced. So we took 40 percent of the book out and we have a new one being developed for next year.

Tim:  Because the way our publishers – Wordscape – are brilliant as they are and edited as well we did, we made it more and more lean and more focused on the individual. And the other thing for us was that we worked with Wordscape for six years now, is we have built a reputation for producing quality materials in terms of design. And that's what they do. Their ideas are fantastic and that's where the joy to work with them. Our book depot is getting bigger and bigger. This year we've had a lot of feedback saying is too good to write in.

Tim:  And secondly, one of my colleagues liked it, said it's great Tim, it's so lovely. It's so lovely to writing in, I'm using my best fountain pen. so to react to that kind of need, what we've done is we'll produce by March, just the 21 days as a separate mini booklet. So it could either stand alone as a project or you can use it to keep your main copy, pristine. So that's the one thing we're doing.

Robyn:  Well, I had a thought while you were speaking. You know, that I teach Advanced Applications of Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College an online course and I'm thinking that Reflections might be a good book for them to have because they saying we want the cookbook to know how to do to this? So, you know, there are all sorts of possibilities.

Robyn:  Very good. So, Tim, I will put links to many of your great resources and obviously to your online shop and of course.

Our Wrap Up

Robyn:  There are tons of things you could say, but we addressed two topics today; the journaling and the positive education and a host of other things that we spoke about. Is there anything else you'd like to say by virtue of wrapping up?

Tim:  We're now exploring a journal for women with mental health issues and we're now exploring a journal for women, for mothers with postnatal depression.  So there are more journals to appear the next few years.

Robyn:  Well that's just so wonderful because you know, you obviously have this, and I don't want to say it this way, that sounds crass, but there is a formula or a template, but you contextualize it.

Tim:  That's exactly right. We've actually now produced a standardized, “we know some things never change.” We need to be able to give the context, so the questions might change.

Robyn:  OK. That's the thing. You have a structure, you have a process, but you know, the context changes for people. So it's the same when we're using, if we go back to using Appreciative Inquiry and the 5-D Cycle and the Principals, they don't change. They're the same, and you make the translation, using the Poetic Principle, and you put it into your own context and you overlay your own perspectives on to it. And that makes meaning for you.

Tim:  I think in 2017 we produced four publications. That's heavy, but obviously, we're very chuffed with all of it. There were two years in development with the Waterways. We have some very interesting ideas coming forward and I'll bring this breakthrough now: we think we're about to start to work with the prison.

Robyn:  That'd be fantastic.

Robyn:  My heartfelt congratulations on the beautiful work that you're doing, and as I said at the outset, you know, I think you have this unique value proposition if I can use a business term, you know, you've got this, this differentiator that is setting you apart. And people recognizing it. So I'm so delighted and honored to have been brought up to date with this conversation. Thank you, Tim.

Tim:  Thanks, Robyn, delighted as ever!

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Positive Education 2018 – an Appreciative Inquiry Summit – PS 85

Exciting Global Gathering – Positive Education 2018

I'm excited in this episode to introduce Molly McGuigan, whose special talents and background enable her to be the project lead for a truly significant global undertaking on the topic of positive education 2018 that will extend way into the future.  The significant undertaking is the World Positive Education Accelerator  (WPEA) which is a four-day conference including a three-day Appreciative Inquiry Summit.  The event, taking place in Fort Worth, Texas June 25 – 28, 2018, is a massive collaboration of global players who've been actively bringing positive education into school systems all over the world.  There are many, success stories to be shared and many, many more to co-create.

Personal Stories

positive education 2018 Molly McGuiganTo start our conversation,  I invite Molly to share a little of her background and what the role means to her, and, with great interest, I wonder if there’s something in Molly’s personal history or upbringing, that points to the special excitement this project holds for her.  After all, Molly is a seasoned Appreciative Inquiry (AI) practitioner, having studied AI with Professor David Cooperrider and others in her MBA program at Case Western Reserve University.  She has extensive experience designing and facilitating organization development with corporations, small businesses, non-profits, and school districts.

Molly shares elements of her story, remembering fondly that as the youngest child of seven in her family, she was always included and encouraged to hang in with her big brothers.  “You can do this, Molly!” was instilled in her from a young age, and has stayed with her.  She found she had innate strengths that were noticed across a number of relationships including teachers.  Another story is how one of her teachers noticed she had a talent for playing the piano because she had an ear for it, rather than the ability to follow a music score!

Transcending Traditional Curriculum Design and Conference Design

We share thoughts about the importance of good role models and supportive people in our growth and development who positively impact our lives.  That impact at a young age informs the trajectory of our lives.  It can be positive or negative.  Hence, the excitement for an educational curriculum that includes a strong focus on strengths and well-being for all students alongside traditional academic subjects.

We could say the same applies to conference design.  The traditional conference with experts on stage sharing their wisdom to passive, seated audiences is no longer enough.  Attendees are saying, it's great to hear these inspiring stories from those on stage, and there are other ways to participate.  Through personal experiences, Molly, I and the collaborators of the WPEA are aware that conference attendees also have inspiring stories to share and dreams of better futures.  Our own voices matter.  Hence the theme of the WPEA is Turning Inspiration into Action.  People want to do it themselves.

With that awareness, the Accelerator is both a conference and an AI summit wrapped in one event.  It's likely to attract 1200 stakeholders from around the globe to elevate the strengths of Positive Education (see the PDF Infographic in LINKS below) and design initiatives focused on the educational transformation that will lead to students learning not only how to be productive but also how to lead flourishing and fulfilling lives.

This video is a compilation of the Positive Education 105 person Steering Committe, held at the David L Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College VT, rolling up their sleeves using the Appreciative Inquiry Methodology to plan for the Accelerator in Fort Worth Texas.

Aspirations for Positive Education 2018 and into the Future

Professors David Cooperrider, Case Western Reserve University, and Champlain College, thought-leader of Appreciative Inquiry and Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania, father of positive psychology share a passion to bring positive education into schools around the world.  They see this as one of the most important initiatives of our time and are invested in growing this opportunity, having already visited many places in the world to learn how to make this vision a reality. 

Listen in as Molly gives some background about the genesis of this initiative and what has been achieved already in Australia, Mexico, Dubai and elsewhere. See also the 2017 State of Positive Education PDF in the LINKS section below.

An area of focus in the lead up to the June Summit is the stakeholder mix in the room:  educators from all levels of education, from early education up through higher education, researchers who represent the best research, government representatives to consider policy changes in different parts of the world, and businesses and foundations that can share similar frameworks or ideas for education within their organizations.  Among these stakeholders, there's a focus and a dependence on networks of people for outreach to ensure connection with the right people and organizations.  Learn more about registration.

A vision is to have school groups, district groups, and other networked groups come to the summit and leave with their own initiatives and connections so they themselves can move from inspiration to action.

Hopes and dreams include keeping people connected post-summit; funding for a range of further initiatives; ongoing development for a positive education curriculum; and teacher and staff training; policy changes; expansive cross-sector relationships to name just a few possibilities.

With the generative, developmental nature of an Appreciative Inquiry Summit, the outcomes are in the hearts, minds, and hands of the participants and what they commit to take forward.

To find out more, please take at the WPEA website link below.

Stay Connected with Molly and Links to Positive Education

Molly on LinkedIn

Website of World Positive Education Accelerator

Register for the Summit, Fort Worth, June 25 – 28, 2018

Twitter: Positive Education (International Positive Education Network (IPEN)

Positive Education Infographic (PDF)

2017 State of Positive Education (PDF)

Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message!

Listen to Stitcher


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  • I invite you to share it using the social media buttons on the bottom of this page.

Feelings of Hope Keep Us Going in the Most Challenging Times

Feelings of Hope

The emotion of hope is one very strong way to boost your positivity.  To be able to imagine a better future, whatever difficulty you're in, you're on the way.  Feelings of hope are the starting place for taking positive action. Today’s show is the 5th in the series of five short episodes that I created to focus on specific practices to grow more positivity in your life – at home, at work, and in community.

I was inspired to put these 5 shows together because it was the holiday period and we were transitioning to a new year.  Just like life in general, every season has its ups and downs. When we’re under a little stress, there is the tendency to default to some old negative patterns.  For example, we can revert to scarcity – not enough time, money,  not enough – you name the resource; and, we might focus on our deficiencies – lack of talent, lack of support, lack of love, lack of education, lack of help etc.  

Flipping from What's Lacking to What Exits

My objective is to flip the lens from scarcity and deficiencies to focus on what you have already.  The most effective way to flip the switch is to tap into your positive emotions. And when you access those positive emotions you open up to possibilities and opportunities:  your strengths surface and you become more understanding of others. Your perspective widens and relationships are so much easier.   

If you’ve been listening to the previous 4  episodes Smile, Gratitude, Kindness, and Inspiration, and, from your own knowledge and background, you know that we have a negativity bias wired into us from way back when we were hunters and gatherers. 

You’ll know that the negative emotion of fear, while it is highly useful for our safety and learning, can get in the way of experiencing life when there is, in fact, no real fear, but imagined.  Negativity creeps into your self-talk and conversations with others causing discomfort, distress, and over the long-term, negativity impacts your health, potentially causing disease.  In addition,  you can fall into the blame game and feel you have lost everything.  In your despair, you have this sense of there’s no hope – you fall into a negative state of hopelessness and even helplessness.

As the last topic in this mini-series on Boosting Positivity, I’m focussing on the positive emotion of hope.

Hope – One of Top 8 Positive Emotions

Hope is one of the 8 positive states that Professor Barbara Fredrickson has identified in her 20+ years of research into positive emotions that increase our joy and well-being.  The other 7 are gratitude, serenity interest, pride amusement, inspiration, and awe.

It is hope that boosts your positivity when things have taken a turn for the worse.

Life is both suffering and joy.  Adversity can strike in the form of illness (yours or someone close to you); loss (a loved one, a job, a dream); or natural disaster (fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and mudslides); or you can just plain lose your mojo. You spiral downward, and possibly into despair.

It is hoped that ultimately lifts you to see other possibilities exist.  You acknowledge things can change.  Hope allows you to imagine a different future.  Without hope, you are frozen into powerlessness.  Hope is a yearning for something better.

My Personal Stories of Illness, Loss and a Natural Disaster.

In the episode, I share three stories from my own private life that illustrate how the most intentional and deliberate feelings of hope kept me from giving up. 

In each of these stories, there are common threads which I suggest are strong allies of “hope.”

  • Holding a positive image of the future
  • Being in community with others
  • Believing in the goodness of humankind

Story one is my story with my own illness and surrendering to the caregivers because they supported and encouraged my vision of a healthy future.

Story two is my dealing with loss.  The loss of a dream that I held for more than 20 years about my husband's and my future. I was unbelievably saddened and despairing of a change in my destiny that was not my choosing.   Over time and by working on a new vision of the future, I'm over it.  All is forgiven and I'm again free making new and different choices. 

Story three is my personal experience of hope during a hurricane, when our lives and home were at huge risk.  I can honestly say that I had the most palpable experience of hope during 3.5 days of living in a shelter.   I worked so hard to hold only positive images of the future. 

Appreciative Inquiry's Anticipatory and Positive Principles

In the worldview Appreciative inquiry, there are guiding principles which suggest that

“positive imagery evokes positive emotions and positive emotions move us toward a choice for positive actions.”

There are many examples throughout history that demonstrate this principle of positive image, positive future:  immediately, I think of the remarkable lives of Victor Frankl, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela.  These extraordinary and inspiring human beings, despite the most unjust and inhumane oppression and suffering never lost hope or gave into despair in their direst of circumstances. 

Quoting Howard Zinn:

“We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don't “win,” there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope. An optimist isn't necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time.To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.

If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however a small way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

How to Live with Greater Feeling of Hope

Where you put your attention is key.  Allow yourself to grieve or mourn your loss or pain, and then find within you the resolve to begin to shift your attention from “what’s wrong with my world?” to “what’s right with my world?”  History has shown that those people who had faith and an image of a positive future are the ones who were most able to surmount the worst possible odds.  

Where does this image of a positive future come from?  It comes from accessing the memories of the times in the past when things were going right.  You tap into your own strengths and successes from the past to help you move toward something better in the future.  To rediscover the source of your dreams that are within your heart, that is your source of hope.

Practices to Strengthen the Positive Emotion of Hope

* It starts with a belief.  A belief that whatever the hardship of the past and the present, you still have a life ahead of feelings of hope - white dog pleadingyou. A belief that you will grow from the adversity. When you believe it, you will see it.

* Make an inventory of your skills, your talents, your strengths.  

* Recall a memory of how you overcame difficulties in the past.

* If you’ve lost your dream, set some new goals and be bold to imagine a new vision or dream for yourself.

* As you get clearer about your goals and write them down, notice how they might become more real for you.

* Invest in connecting with the people and resources that inspire you.

* Hold that image – your dream of a positive future.

What are Your Stories?

I’d love for you to share your stories of hope.  You can post your stories below, and you might be inspired to record a message on the Speak Pipe app that you’ll find on the podcast home page and that link is

Link with Robyn

Find out more about my journey to positivity

On LinkedIn

On Twitter

On Facebook

On Google +

My TEDx Talk – all about positivity through playful inquiry

Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.


Listen to Stitcher


Listen on Google Play Music

Subscribe Via RSS

If this episode was helpful or enjoyable to you,

  • I invite you to share it using the social media buttons on the bottom of this page.
  • I'd love it if you can leave a quick review, on iTunes and Stitcher.

How Generative Questions Can Transform Young Lives

Episode Introduction

In this episode, I’m speaking with one of my heros in the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) space, Dr. Jackie Stavros.  Jackie is perhaps most celebrated for her creation of SOAR, a strengths-based strategy framework, grounded in Appreciative Inquiry.  For that reason, she really needs no, or, very little introduction.

Jackie happily talks with me about her AI back story – how both her dad and first boss asked generative questions to have her consider how she might be the author of her own life from a very early age.  That early influence, being asked great questions, primed her to embrace AI with great ease when she was more formally introduced to it as a graduate student.  Next, I invite Jackie to talk about the SOAR framework, and the impact of that strategic planning framework around the world.  Finally, we talk about her newest book (sneak preview here), and the joys of co-authoring.  

Episode Background

Generative Questions Jackie Stavros Head shotI’ve had the privilege to work with Jackie on a number of projects and, from personal experiences, she is wonderfully generous and kind, thoughtful, hardworking and innovative. Jackie’s passion comes across as she connects with others helping them to discover their strengths and create individual and collective opportunities, so they can produce results for positive change and flourish with confidence!

Jackie, is a full-time professor for the College of Management at Lawrence Technological University, and has been there for 17 years.  She says it’s been easy because her values and the university’s values align, so coming to work is fun.  Not only is Jackie researching and teaching all levels of students, from undergraduate to doctoral, she’s also out there in industry teaching, training, coaching and consulting, and writing books.

Her Dad Asked Generative Questions

Her dad, through his generative questions inspired Jackie to create her own solutions and  to take some responsibility for her own future.  Through his kind and attentive nurturing, she was able to find solutions to her own inquiries.  One example resulted in getting a job at 15, teaching kids to swim because at that time swimming was one of her strengths.  Her first boss, who gave her that job also asked truly generative questions.  Between these two caring influencers in her early life, she was able to earn money at a young age to get her to college until she earned a scholarship.

Appreciative Inquiry in Life

When Jackie finally met Professors David Cooperrider and Ron Fry to begin her doctoral studies, learning about AI and its focus on generative questions, it felt so natural.

Jackie talks about the power of Appreciative Inquiry in her personal life, especially as a wife and mother.  She shares one beautiful story that illustrates the strength and stickability of Appreciative inquiry.  A potentially hard conversation with her daughter opened up a whole new inquiry framed in Appreciative Inquiry that served the situation really well. Some days later, she overhead her daughter use the exact same approach with her younger brother to produce the same positive, expansive outcomes.   It was one of the quiet fist pumping moments and a mouthing of “yes”, I imagine. 

SOAR – the Strengths-Based Strategic Planning Framework

Generative questions - SOAR book coverIt was so exciting to hear Jackie talk about the genesis of SOAR.  It was conceived around her kitchen table with a client, the Senior VP in the automobile industry.   As a result of her client not wanting to use the same “old” tools to produce the same “old” results in strategic planning meetings, Jackie asked many “what if” questions which led to a drawing on the back of a napkin that became SOAR.

The acronym SOAR stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results.  It is the strengths-based approach to building strategy with all organizational stakeholders having a voice in identifying and articulating their values, visions and mission statements, setting strategy, and strategic initiatives.  As SOAR is a whole systems approach, all stakeholders are invited to participate in planning the strategy.  The experience serves also to build collaborative teams who co-create actions to bring about results people care about.

SOAR is grounded in the principles, process and practices of Appreciative Inquiry.

Alongside the growth of AI around the world, SOAR is right there tracking along side.

Being and Doing – Living the AI Principles

What is clear throughout this conversation with Jackie is her living in the Principles of Appreciative Inquiry.  As Jackie shares her stories, she very frequently refers to certain principles to illustrate how they are so integrated into the being of an AI practitioner.  The principles live through us in how we think, act and feel.  

Towards the end of the espisode, when Jackie excitedly talks about her new book, Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement, she illustrates so perfectly why she prefers to co-author in her writing.  She's living the Principle of Social Construction – we generate meaning together through language and our social relationships.  When I asked about the value of co-authoring, Jackie's response:

We socially construct everything.  I don’t like to write alone because it’s just me and my ideas. Being in conversation with my co-authors you just create something you never even imagined. 

Jackie talked with great energy about valuing the diversity and inclusive nature of co-creating anything.  I'm so excited about the new co-creation – their new book coming out in May!

Such an inspiration!

Stay Connected with Jackie

Jackie’s Website:  Soar Strategy

Jackie’s Bio Page at Lawrence Technical University (LTU) College of Management

Jackie on LinkedIn

Jackie on Facebook

Links to Mentioned Papers and Books

AI Is Not (Just) About The Positive  – Gervase Bushe in OD Practitioner

World Positive Education Accelerator – Global Positive Education Summit June 2018

Stavros, J. M., Godwin, L.N., & Cooperrider, D.L. (2016). Chapter 6: Appreciative inquiry: Organization development and the strengths revolution. In J. W. Rothwell, J. M. Stavros, & R. L. Sullivan, Practicing organization development: Leading transformation and change (4th ed., pp. 96-116). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.


Sneak Preview of New Book and to Pre-order

Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.


Listen to Stitcher


Listen on Google Play Music

Subscribe Via RSS

If this episode was helpful or enjoyable to you,

  • I invite you to share it using the social media buttons on the bottom of this page.
  • I'd love it if you can leave a quick review, on iTunes and Stitcher.

What are the New Literacies for living well in the 21st century?

Episode Introduction

In this episode, my esteemed guest, organizational designer and systems thinker, Sallie Lee walks us through six new literacies that in the 21st century everyone needs. Some think that these literacies are most appropriate for leaders of organizations, but they will work in any set of circumstances in our complex world.  These new literacies were published in a chapter of the book, Lawyers as Changemakers: Integrative Law Movement (2017), by J.Kim Wright.  It also stands alone as a paper, entitled Leadership/Citizenship Literacies for the 21st Century: Solution and System Stalking

Episode Background

new literacies - Sallie LeeSallie Lee has spent her career in organizational design, serving as a thinking partner, facilitator, coach and strategist for a global client base ranging from 5-person to 500,000-person organizations. She is known for bringing vision, clarity of purpose, and innovation to all her work in organizational design, leadership coaching and workshop facilitation  all over the world.

As an internationally acclaimed Appreciative Inquiry practitioner and trainer, Sally helps leaders stalk solutions to questions such as

“How do we design organizations so we get the results we want? How do we design our work together with a focus on our relationships?”

Early Influencers

As a child, Sallie remembers that she found herself facilitating her family members and identifying the patterns in their family dynamics.  She admired her uncle who traveled the world as an international banker, and followed his example to creating her own opportunities to experience different cultures around the world.

As she grew her own career in organization development and design, Sallie pursed  different methodologie and genres.  When she discovered Appreciative Inquiry over 20 years ago, she described it as an answer to a prayer. Her facilitation took on a whole new career… lifted her out of the lethargy… it was life changing.

Solutions and System Stalking

The paper Sallie references in this episode is littered with alliterations, as you quickly learn from the names of the six literacies.  Her subtitle, “Solution and System Stalking” is such an alliteration..  I inquired about the word “stalking.”  Listen in to hear Sallie’s response. In a nutshell, the solutions we seek are already within our systems and we have to ferret them out.  I love this quote from her paper:  

“A true invitation to collective dialogue builds on the belief that the answers to important questions walk into the room in the form of participants and emerge in combining their intelligence and intent.”

Defining Literacies

In doing my research before interviewing Sallie, I came across this definition of “literacy” from the National Council of Teachers of English website: .

“Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups.”

Literacies change with time.  Each generation develops sets of skills, competencies and tools that are central to our survival in our respective times.

In the 21st century, with our increasing complexities, where traditional regimes are struggling to stay relevant, we no longer listen to  one dominant voice, or conform to one dominant homogeneous culture, new leadership and citizenship literacies are required if we are to muddle our way through to the next meme.

New Literacies for the 21st Century

Reframing Reality

The literacy to be able to step outside our individual framing of  the world, to seek to understand another’s framing  and potentially stepping together into a bigger frame.

Managing Multiplicity

The literacy to see wholeness, to appreciate our world is teeming with diversity.  To get to the best we can be, we need to embrace multiple perspectives and dance with diversity.

Connecting the Collective

The literacy to invite others into dialogue and have processes to tap into all the voices that can contribute experience and wisdom to promote cooperation and collaboration.

Forecasting the Future

The literacy to be able to imagine and design what the future is calling for and to anticipate and project ourselves into novelty and possible futures.

Designing Dynamics

The literacy to be able to bring out the best in our humanity and all living systems to include those who may be outside the culture so they can contribute, innovate and celebrate.

Please listen to Sallie describe, give examples and share stories about each of these highly relevant 21st century literacies.

Among the Best Trained People on the Planet

For those of us who are grounded in Appreciative Inquiry, we recognize how AI is a foundational mindset with its  principles and practices that enable us to live, teach and facilitate such literacies within ourselves, our families, workplaces and communities.

We are among  the best trained people on the planet to bring these literacies to life.  We have these skills and literacies to be of service to others.  We are trained in designing the types of conversations that bring out the co-creative capacities of togetherness, interdependency and collaboration.  We recognize our world is socially constructed through our language and our relational processes. 

We need to step up and step into these literacies to model what good leadership and citizenship can accomplish together.

Four Beautiful Assumptions about Humankind

The above life literacies are founded on a set of positive assumptions about humankind, and with such a solid foundation, we know what we can do together.

We’re not as selfish as we’ve been taught to believe we are.

    • We have a huge capacity for good, as history shows.

Humans have the ability to learn what we need to learn.

    • Neuroplasticity is real – we can sculpt our brains and change the way we think.

We are interconnected and interdependent.

    • We are all in this together. We are living systems, everything is relational – we cannot disconnect from that.

One of our greatest gifts as humans is our insatiable curiosity.

    • We are information eaters – data grows as does our appetite.

Connect with Sallie

The best way to connect with Sallie is on LinkedIn, especially if you'd like a copy of her paper, Leadership/Citizenship Literacies for the 21st Century: Solution and System Stalking.

A second paper:  Positive Problem Solving: How Appreciative Inquiry Works 

 Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.


Listen to Stitcher


Listen on Google Play Music

Subscribe Via RSS

If this episode was helpful or enjoyable to you,

  • I invite you to share it using the social media buttons on the bottom of this page.
  • I'd love it if you can leave a quick review, on iTunes and Stitcher.

Positive Questions will Grow Positivity in your Life – PS 75

Episode Introduction

After a short preamble about my excitement at achieving episode 75 in my podcast –  which is a milestone – and a quick update on my summer, I tell a story about demonstrating the power of positive questions as a way to bring different perspectives into a topic .  Many of you know that I’m an adjunct professor at Champlain College in Burlington, VT.  I'm a very proud faculty member of the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry teaching in the online Positive Organization Development (POD) course which is part of the Continuing Education MBA program.  I teach Advanced Applications of Appreciative Inquiry.  My students are working full time in jobs from all over the US and also overseas.  I love it and they love it too.

Positive Questions Expand our Perspective

The topic we focus on is “trust.”

My students were keen to talk about “trust” in their organizations.  They felt there was more “distrust” than “trust.” As we dived into the topic more, we explored the role of organizational culture, leadership, leaders' styles, communications, teamwork,  the relevance or not of geographic location, relationship dynamics, values, behaviors, and so on.  

Appreciative Inquiry Interview on “Deepening Trust”

Below is the interview that I invited one of my students to participate in during the call to demonstrate the power of positive questions in this Appreciative Inquiry interview format.  You will hear this in the episode.

You can feel, hear, and see an open, trustworthy environment when you enter it. People are friendly, interested, busy, upbeat, smiling, and open with each other. They will tell you that they are listened to; their ideas count; they have policies, processes, and systems that help them do good work. They give and receive timely feedback, they encourage each other to be creative, be different, and demonstrate their own leadership at all times.positive questions - two people at waters edge

  1. When have you felt both trust and trusted in life?  Think of a time when you have experienced real trust in a relationship.  It may have been at work, or at home or in a sports team.  What was that like? Tell the story what was going on?  Who was involved? What was said?  What behaviors were evident? What emotions did you feel?  
  2. How did you contribute in this story of “trust” in a way that you're proud of?
  3. What do you appreciate about how the others participated.  What did they say/feel/do?  
  4. If you had a magic wand and had three wishes about building trust in your current situation, what would they be?

After the interview, the student felt that she could easily do this with her own team at work to begin to re-build trust.  She said how the interview reconnected her with her time of experiencing trust in the past and boosted her confidence because she's been there before.  It was clear her energy had shifted and she was excited to use these questions so she can re-create this experience for her colleagues.


A Gift for you: Appreciative Inquiry Interview on Resilience

As another example of positive questions, here's an Appreciative Inquiry Interview on the topic of Being Resilient in PDF format that you can immediately apply without reproducing a thing.

positivity lens


Downloadble resources and tools

Enter your details for instant access to this content

You will reconnect with a time when you experienced being resilient or witnessed resilience in another.  In acknowledging your own experiences, you will find strengths that will help you recognise what capacities and resources you have that will support you to build resilience for any potential set-backs.

Links to Other Examples of Positive Questions

Here are other examples in different contexts.  Each post has a list of questions you might find helpful:

Ability to Dream Influences your Destiny

How Positive Emotions Make us Better Problem Solvers

Appreciating All Generations – Intergenerational Dialogue

Appreciative Inquiry Workshop and World Cafe Blend – Farms in the City – Jersey City

Appreciative Inquiry for Collaborative Solutions: 21 Strength-based Workshops

In my book, you'll find “how-tos”  and examples of positive questions in workshop formats that will help you engage in conversations to open up perspectives on topics of significant relevance today.

Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.


Listen to Stitcher


Listen on Google Play Music

Subscribe Via RSS

If this episode was helpful or enjoyable to you,

  • I invite you to share it using the social media buttons on the bottom of this page.
  • I'd love it if you can leave a quick review, on iTunes and Stitcher.

How To Tap into Human Energy in Relational Spaces – PS73

Episode Background

A colleague in the field of Appreciative Inquiry, Mille Themsen Duvander, who lives in Denmark, emailed me asking if she could interview me for the final phase of her  PhD research project.  Her research project is an inquiry into the field of AI practitioners and she’s developing an emerging grounded theory about the organic growth of AI practitioners.  I was happy to have such a conversation, as I fit the subject group.

For more than 80 minutes, our conversation flowed over and around a number of subjects.  It could have flowed longer, but for other commitments.  I recorded the conversation, not  sure if I’d make a podcast episode out of it.  We had a couple of choices – I could “can” it; publish the uncut version; or edit and release.  I chose the latter and produced a  30 minutes show.  I captured pieces that I considered might  be of greatest interest to listeners. I hope I got that right.  Mille is delighted to come back in the future  to share her findings with us,  after she has submitted her dissertation.

Human Energy 

We touched on a range of subjects, including intuition, empathy, humanity, the relevance of experience to reach understanding, deepen connections and relationships .  A topic we often came back to was energy. Human energy and what does mean, we asked, and what is our capacity to influence that.

As a result, I started to google the term “human energy” and “relational energy” and I list below a few of the resources that came up.  You also might enjoy them.

  • An academic paper published in The Journal of Applied Psychology, Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance (full citation below). The four authors conducted four independent studies, “seeking to establish relational energy as a valid scientific construct and evaluate its impact on employee engagement and job performance.”

Upon reviewing the data, it became clear that participants resonated with different types of energizer stimuli. While not all individuals were energized by the same means, motivational arousal emerged as the common crux of the experience of relational energy….our data revealed motivational arousal as the most prominent and consistent feature of relational energy….Drawing from this finding, we conceptualize relational energy as energy which comes from another person, which captures the energizing toward the accomplishment of work tasks. Thus, we define relational energy as a heightened level of psychological resourcefulness generated from interpersonal interactions that enhances one’s capacity to do work… To be clear, we are not implying that relational energy is a different “type” of energy, but rather use the adjective “relational” to identify the level at which energy (or energetic activation) exists or is enacted.

Further Quotes on Human Energy

  • Wayne Baker, one of the authors of the above paper also wrote this excellent article, The More You Energize Your Coworkers, the Better Everyone Performs in Harvard Business Review.  

To understand how this works, think of people in your workplace who buoy you up, who lift your spirits. What do they do?  What do they say? Some people are energizing because they give off positive vibes. As an employee in a large company told us about his boss, “She energized me because she loved her job and was in general a very happy person.  She always came in with a smile on her face which created a positive atmosphere.” Others energize us because they create genuine connections. In conversations, for example, they devote their full attention and listen carefully.

Spend some time in most any organization and you are sure to hear people talk about the level of energy associated with different people or projects. In some instances, an initiative may be characterized in terms of the energy “around” it. In others, a team in which ideas flow freely and its members build effortlessly on one another’s work will be described as “high energy.” In still others, a particularly influential person may be known as an “energizer” — someone who can spark progress on projects or within groups.

  • From Forbes, The Hidden Source of Energy at Work (Sebastian Bailey)

Energy, like emotion, is contagious.  There are people who exude energy, making others feel more alive and enthused simply by interacting with them, and then there are the energy drainers who deplete energy reserves. Naturally, we gravitate towards the energy boosters. And recent research shows that bosses who energize reap the rewards in terms of employee engagement and performance.

With ‘relational energy’ it's the everyday interactions that matter, not showpiece presentations.

Links to the Articles on Human Energy

Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance

Owens, Bradley P., ORCID 0000-0002-5948-4973 . Marriott School of Management, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, US, [email protected]
Baker, Wayne E.. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, MI, US
Sumpter, Dana McDaniel. College of Business Administration, California State University, Long Beach, California State University, Long Beach, CA, US
Cameron, Kim S.. School of Business, University of Michigan, MI, US
Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 101(1), Jan, 2016. pp. 35-49.
US : American Psychological Association
ISSN:0021-9010 (Print); 1939-1854 (Electronic)

The More You Energize Your Coworkers, the Better Everyone Performs

What Creates Energy in Organizations

The Hidden Source of Energy at Work

Connect with Mille and Robyn

Mille Themsen Duvander on LinkedIn

Robyn Stratton-Berkessel on LinkedIn

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What is an Appreciative Voice in Your World?

When Your Voice is Silenced

Has there been a time in your life when you felt you lost your voice, or you had no voice, or your voice was not listened to?  Your voice was silenced. At such times, it seems your voice does not count. As a consequence of feeling discounted, there is a sense of also being invisible. You might say you feel even powerless.

I’ve felt like that in some meetings; in some face-to-face situations, with certain people, even in personal relationships, when I felt my voice didn’t matter.  My contribution wasn’t important.  My thoughts and feelings were dismissed or were patronised.

I’ve also been in conversations when I did not honor the voice of the person I was with. My behavior signaled their voice did not matter, and they, too  felt discounted, unimportant, invisible.  It happens in groups, in teams, in social gatherings.  As an example, in networking or community gatherings, the person you are speaking with has no eye contact with you and no animation in their face, until they spot someone they do want to engage with, and you're abandoned.

Being silenced can occur when you're in company and you're telling a story, then suddenly you're interrupted by a person with a story of their own because they believe they have a more interesting story that trumps yours. There is a big difference between being interested and being interesting.

While the shrill voices seem to be getting shriller, what might we offer to redress the balance and bring some of the quieter, gentler or lost voices into the conversation?

Might an Appreciative Voice be an Antidote?

I want to offer some reflections on how cultivating an appreciative voice not only strengthens you and expands your world, it also strengthens others and expands their worlds.

This topic comes to me following my participation at the AI Homecoming David Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College in Burlington VT, co-hosted by the Center and The Taos Institute.

Appreciative Voice - age diversityOver three days, we workshopped together. We shared stories, asked questions, inquired into each other’s experiences, listened to, and discovered a host of innovations that practitioners and researchers are bringing into, and growing the practice of Appreciative Inquiry all over the world.  We listened to voices that had been at the edge and in the center;  those that are new and young, and those that are wise and seasoned.

As we experience the worldview of Appreciative Inquiry we are able to be deeply appreciative with ourselves and each other.  Our practice is to come from “inquiry” which opens us to intimacies and vulnerabilities because we consciously create a safe space to be in conversation and contemplation with others.

What is Life Giving about Appreciative Voice?

In a nutshell, the appreciative voice seeks to include and understand .  “Appreciative” is valuing, so a voice that is appreciative comes from an intention of seeking to value what it will hear;  it continues to inquire and is curious about learning more.  An appreciative voice is present to listen respectfully.  It is grounded and spacious, and non-judging.

An appreciative voice provides safety for others to speak their truths.  It is invitational and watchful.  An appreciative voice is unhurried and patient.  It can reframe situations to be helpful and resourceful.  It is flexible.  The appreciative voice is inclusive. It acknowledges diversity and identifies opportunities to offer possibilities to hold the space for transformational shifts to emerge.

Appreciative Voice - young girls talking on beach

The appreciative voice seeks to make meaning of the world in dialogue and in relationship with others.  The appreciative voice can expand knowledge, and build potential shared understanding.

For sure, the appreciative voice helps participants develop their own thoughts and feelings in a way that helps them see themselves in new ways.

A question that lingers is:

What happens when we refrain from using our appreciative voice?

My grandmother stressed to me: “It’s better to say nothing at all that say something negative or hurtful.” And that has been my default operating system.  Yet, in our society today my sense is that by being silent is not always the most helpful way, because if we choose to keep silent and not exercise our appreciative voice, we are not serving ourselves or others, and therefore not able to make any positive difference.

In using our appreciative voice, by framing our opinions as inquiry, we open up the space for dialogue and learning, providing the opportunity for more voices to be heard.  As Mo McKenna shared in her interview:  We do no harm in asking people what’s working for them. In asking what works for them, we are using our appreciative voice and open up the possibility for building understanding.

Appreciative Voice Guided by Principles

The appreciative voice is guided by principles that result in practices.  If you're keen to learn more, please tune into my podcast, Personal Reflections on Appeciative Voice – PS72.


Come up for AIR and Experience your Energy Soar – PS 71

Episode Introduction

My brilliant guest hails from Toronto, Canada. Maureen McKenna, affectionately known as Mo, is a woman of huge talent, energy, dynamism. She is highly acclaimed in her field of organization, community development and coaching, and is a leader in Appreciative inquiry not only in Canada, but globallycome up for air - Mo McKenna.

In this show, Mo shares stories about how she started in this field, where it’s taken her and where she’s headed, living to her strengths of curiosity and openness daily.  Mo has worked in just about all sectors: corporate, government agencies in education and healthcare.  Mo shares many of her inspirations in the links section below.  

Episode Background

I was keen to interview Mo Mckenna, as in my last few shows, her name kept entering into the conversation.  She was praised by Deacon Richard Manley-Tannis,as his mentor, episode PS 65 How an Intimate Conversation can Strengthen the Collective.  The show preceeding this one,  PS 70, Say Yes to Everything Results in Fun and Meaning with Wick van der Vaart from the Netherlands refers to Mo as great asset to AI Practitioner and an inspiration.  

Fortuitously, Mo and I finally met in person a couple of months ago in Cleveland, OH at Case Western Reserve University. We were co-facilitators at the Fourth Global Forum  – also a podcast episode – Ps68, Business leaders, Professors and Students Expose Flourishing Enterprises  

And it doesn’t stop there.  These synchronicities keep amplifying. We are both members of the Council of Practice with the David L.Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain college in Burlington VT. in the capacity of Field Practitioners.

Come up for Air

come up for air - framework

Mo is highly creative and innovative.  One of her creations is the AIR framework.  As she tells a story of its successful application in a hospital setting, I see it as framework for a conversation that guides people to a mutual appreciation of their past and helps them envision and plan an ideal future. The relational aspect of this framework facilitates understanding and generates new energy that is akin to when you come up for air and feel a huge relief, especially if you’ve felt silenced, misunderstood or not acknowledged for too long.

Concepts we Explore in this Episode

Appreciative Inquiry High Point Experience

In following the structure of an Appreciative Inquiry interview, I invite Mo to tell a high point story when she was fully engaged and delighted with her work.  She tells the story of working with The Toronto District School Board (TDSB).  It’s a terrific example of applying AI in a large system that invited all stakeholders to inquiry into “Student Success” while providing the Board members the opportunity to work on a real issue of strategic importance and learn about the process of AI at the same time.

High Performing Teams

Mo's own story harking back to her days at Xerox, and her reference to a study by Google finds that psychological safety is an enabler of high performing teams.  With Appreciative Inquiry, we invest time up front on inquiry – we don’t go straight to task.  We go back and learn from the past and get to know each other more deeply, becoming aware of each other’s needs.  That relational process creates psychological safety.

Learning Partners

We talk about the difference between being an “expert” and a “learning partner.”  As an outsider to a client system, we come in to be a learning partner, not an expert consultant. The client system has the expertise which is local knowledge of their own context and content.  We, as outsiders come with a process and a structure to guide the client to outcomes they want to accomplish.

Leadership Rises Up  from the Quiet Corners of an Organization

Mo and I share examples of how Appreciative Inquiry brings out the leadership is us all.  The psychological safety that an appreciative inquiry provides opens people up to each other's stories to listen more deeply, trust more openly and take risks.  People are encouraged to be more courageous, and Mo quotes her mentor, Jane Magruder Watkins:

You do no harm asking for what's working.

Links to Other Resources Mentioned in this Show

The newly designed, Appreciative Inquiry Commons

New York Times Article, What Google Learned from its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

Bliss Brown Seminal Appreciative Inquiry Summit, Imagine Chicago 

Professor Amy Edmondson TEDx Talk, Building a psychologically safe workplace

Gervase Bushe Article,  Appreciative Inquiry with Teams

Angela Ahrendts TEDx Talk, The Power of Human Energy

“Passionate, positive human energy can provide a counterbalance to the disruptive negative forces of an age of unprecedented change. Through it comes confidence, inspiration and the power to transform things for the better.”  

Connect with Mo McKenna

Mo’s website





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It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

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Say Yes to Everything Results in Fun and Meaning – PS70

UPDATE: I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to have this conversation, with Wick van der Vaart.  He is an inspiration to all of us in our Appreciative Inquiry community and beyond.  At the time we were having fun doing this interview, Wick was on vacation in France.  He didn't let me know, but I learnt very soon after that Wick was experiencing severe headaches.   This recording went live at the end of July.  It saddens me deeply to say that Wick passed away from a brain tumor on October 15th 2017.  His story is beautiful.  You will be inspired.

Episode Introduction

This interview is with an Appreciative Inquiry colleague from the Netherlands, Wick van der Vaart.  Wick founded a learning institute in Amsterdam. His Institute offers, among many other courses, a two-year certified post master program in the Social Psychology of Interventionism which includes the teaching and practice of Appreciative Inquiry.  In 2016, Wick became the editor-in-chief of AI Practitioner, International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry.  These two major contributions he makes to the world came about because, as Wick tells us in this interview he has a habit to say yes to everything.

Say Yes to Everything

say yes to everything - Wick van der VaartWick's first story about his predisposition to say yes to everything came out when I asked him if he found Appreciative Inquiry, or if Appreciative Inquiry found him.  Some years ago, he traveled to the USA from his homeland to enrol in a program at the National Training Laboratories (NTL) in Bethel, Maine.  He had signed up for the Organization Development Program only to find that course had been cancelled. As a replacement, he was offered a place in the Appreciative Inquiry Program which was taking place next door.  And, following his natural inclination, he said “yes.”

Wick summarizes this fortuitous happening as

I walked into the wrong room and Appreciative Inquiry found me.

Appreciative Inquiry as a Different Lens

As a lover of learning, and researcher at heart, Wick also went on to do the traditional Organization Development Program and when I asked about the difference between the two, he shared that Appreciative Inquiry was more fun and the relationships he established in that course have become some of his dearest colleagues and partners today.  The lens of Appreciative Inquiry reflected a worldview his parents impressed on him – to do well in the world and for the world.  Wick discovered that the approach of Appreciative Inquiry accomplishes all the expected goals of the traditional organization development approach – productivity, profit, and specific strategic imperatives – and so much more.

Over and above the traditional worldview that traditional organization development offers, where the dominant discourse is money and power, the Appreciative Inquiry worldview focuses on doing good by doing well.  Profits are made as businesses need, but from a culture nurtured by a flourishing mindset where leadership is holistic, the workforce is thriving and the environment is respected.  In such workplaces, the whole self is valued, and the relational space between people enables deliverables and productivity and profits to happen alongside the positive connections between people. Appreciative Inquiry produces high quality relationships very quickly. 

The AI Practitioner – International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry

say yes to everything - AI Practitioner JournalHere is another of Wick's “say yes to everything” stories.  In 2016, he said yes to taking on the roles of editor-in-chief and co-publisher of the esteemed international journal of Appreciative Inquiry, the  AI Practitioner (AIP).  Anne Radford had founded in London about 20 years ago.  Through Anne's leadership and shepherding, it remains the leading journal on current research and applications of Appreciative Inquiry in the world.  The co-publisher is the David L. Cooperrider Center in the Stiller School of Business at Champlain College, Vermont.  AIP is a peer-reviewed journal. Each issue has guest editors who prepare and widely distribute a “Call for Articles” for their issue. Nearly 300 people from around the world have contributed as guest editors and authors to AIP in recent years.

Favorite AI Principle

I like to ask my guests which of the AI Principles is their favorite.  After thinking long and hard, Wick offered, the Anticipatory Principle, and you'll hear that it took my breath away as it also happens to be mine.  I asked why, and Wick's story demonstrates this principle that states “image leads to action,” and, more powerfully, “we are pulled toward the images we hold of the future.”

Wick has participated in two ironman events.  Training and participating are not easy.  He has to work hard to continue the training.  He applies the Anticipatory Principle to help him continue.  As he trains, and during the event, he holds the image of crossing the finishing line.  This is what propels him forward. This image of the future empowers him to keep going.  This image of crossing the finishing line gives him the ability to find the will and strength within to help him achieve his dream.

In support of this Anticipatory Principle that inspires Wick and me, I quote these beautiful lines that I found on Wick's website:

“You must give birth to your images.

They are the future waiting to be born.

Fear not the strangeness you feel.

The future must enter you long before it happens.

Just wait for the birth,

for the the hour of the new clarity.”

– Rainer Maria Rilke

 Connect to Wick van der Vaart

Wick’s Institute: Institute for Intervention Studies

Wick's email:  [email protected]



AI Practitioner,  International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry

 Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.


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If this episode was helpful or enjoyable to you,

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