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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Ways of Rekindling Life’s Enchantment, with Michelle Strutzenberger – PS61

Episode Introduction

A couple of months ago, I received a beautiful email from this show’s guest, Michelle Strutzenberger, announcing she was embarking on new starts and opening up new possibilities.  After 15 years at Axiom News, where she’d worked as journalist and curator, she was moving on. Among her aspirations was to focus her talents in the area she had wanted to develop further: children’s book authoring.

Michelle’s email touched me – she’s magical with words.  And, I have been a fan of Michelle’s work and Axiom News.  Over the past years, Michelle had written a couple of pieces about my innovations in Appreciative Inquiry.  We had this personal connection.  Our lives had touched.  On the one hand, I was surprised and sad that she was would no longer be with Axiom.  And on the other hand, I was admiring that she was following her heart by venturing into new territory.  As I didn’t want Michelle to disappear from my life, I reached out and we agreed to record our chat as a podcast.

Episode Overview – Rekindling Life’s Enchantments

Life's Enchantment, Michelle StrutzenberbergerIn our preparation call some weeks before recording the episode, Michelle and I touched on a number of possible topics for our recorded conversation.  Towards the end, Michelle offered the topic of “rekindling life’s enchantment.”  It spoke to me and felt right as a topic to explore together.

In this episode, we start on topic, and then meander through the conversation in a free-flowing, organic way. We, in fact, cover a number of topics including Michelle’s 15 years with Axiom News as a generative journalist.  We reflect on what makes journalism generative.  Michelle introduces her new book, The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River that is seeking a publisher right now.  I inquire into the the craft of writing and how it calls to Michelle.  

We then circle back to our topic “rekindling life’s enchantment” towards the end of the show when Michelle offers some delightful way to intentionally reconnect with magic, whimsy, mystery in our lives.

What Might “Rekindling Life’s Enchantment” Awaken in Us?

Michelle recalls the enchantment she and her twin created for themselves when they first arrived in Canada as immigrant children.  Even in times of uncertainty, they discovered the gift of being awake to, and seeing the spark, the allure in the conditions they found themselves in at different times.  Despite bouts of heartache, and sadness and fear, they were open and alive to the delight of life.  The enchantment – the magic and mystery and charm and whimsy – emanated from the reality of living life fully.

Intentionally Creating Conditions for Life’s Enchantment

If you find yourself somewhat numb and in a rut, or feeling fearful or threatened by your current circumstances, you can intentionally set out to create conditions that will find yourself delighting in life again, or reconnecting with your whimsical side.  In fact, it is most likely that when facing adversity, the greatest opportunity to defend against the adversity or suffering is to rekindle enchantment and find new delight in life again.  

The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River

Michelle’s second book, The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River features the wonder, excitement and adventures of four children as they unearth a most surprising treasure – the secret talents of their neighbours.  The book is very much inspired by the spirit and intention of asset-based community development, the work of Peter Block and John McKnight of Abundant Community in creating abundant communities and the worldview and practice of Appreciative Inquiry – both participatory change methodologies that shine the light on strengths, capabilities and imaginings of what is possible.  

Please visit the book's website to read a Portion of Chapter 10: A Heart Cleaned Out in a Hurricane

Building on Strengths and Dreams

In creating her book, Michelle’s own strengths and her ability to dream come to life.  Her story explores what might be possible when communities thrive and where people lift each other up, honoring their gifts and talents.  It invites what’s possible when we see the gifts in each other.  What delights is that by lifting up everyone’s gifts in a community, wonder, adventure, excitement is sparked.

Influence of Generative Journalism

Linking back to our topic “rekindling life’s enchantment”, I asked Michelle if she always saw the world this way.  She has no hesitation in expressing her gratitude for her work as a generative journalist at Axiom News.  This type of journalism complemented her own natural talents and worldview as a writer.  Take a look at Michelle’s post listed below to learn more about generative journalism.

During her 15 years at Axiom News, the team with founder and CEO, Peter Pula pushed up against watchdog journalism, sparking new possibilities about how journalists go about their work.  As generative journalists, the inquiry is about people’s strengths, assets and what else is possible.  They seek to find ongoing dialogue and partnerships to generate change and deepen relationships through a soul connection.  

A Meandering Conversation – A Calling to Create

Together we touch on other a number of other subjects such as the creative act of writing. If it’s a calling, it implies one just has to do it.  For Michelle it’s, in fact, the creative process – the act of bringing something new into creation – which calls or compels her.  To quote Michelle:

A sense of calling…

A calling is something you discover, not something you choose.  It’s about responding.

Circling back to Our Main Topic – Rekindling Life’s Enchantment.

After meandering far because I followed my curiosity into Michelle’ significant contribution to the world, we circle back to our topic, “Rekindling Life’s Enchantment”.  

Michelle offers a number of ways to find the delight, mystery and reverence akin to a sense of life’s enchantment.  Not only can we create the enchantment through our own experiences, as she and her twin did, and most children do, she offers that we can be nourished by the enchantment of others through their art, poetry, writing, music and a variety of performance media.  

A surprising twist that makes beautiful sense is when enchantment comes to us because others find us enchanting. For example, a child responds to us with wonder; or, in early stages of romance when life’s wonder opens up.

Michelle offers also that we can rekindle life’s enchantment in the knowing that God always delights in us.  When we have that faith, we are not dependent on others.  Our spirit is freed and allows us to delight in all that is around us.  

How to Connect with Michelle

MIchelle's website about The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River

Michelle on Twitter

Michelle on Facebook is Newshemayim

Michelle on LinkedIn


A Tiny Selection of Michelle’s Writing

Decoding a Generative Story

What if Marginalized Neighbourhoods Crafted Their Own Handmade, Place-based Economies?

Young Man Journeys to a Meaningful Life, Disability and All

Books Mentioned

Header Image

Norman Rockwell ‘Land of Enchantment' mural 1934

Attribution:  Plum leaves on Flickr

Let's Stay Connected

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Why Your Workplace Culture Needs Play

“Play” lights me up. Why? It brings out such values as curiosity, learning, development, collaboration and being in co-creative relationships with others. Play speaks to the human side of business. It’s fun, developmental, positive and when freely initiated it’s self-organized. Play is a developmental and life-long activity.

Recently, I had the good fortune to spend some considerable time immersed in the topic of play, in my voluntary capacity as Chief Curation Officer, and speaker for TEDxNavesink on the topic play. There were 24 talks and entertainments on this topic across all stages of life, as well as a wide range of contexts, and expressed through a number of lenses: psychologists, researchers, technologists, gamers, writers, musicians, kids, educators, an anthropologist, a spiritual teacher, a toy designer, a venture capitalist, an improv artist, an artisan beer maker, and an organization development professional.

There were many takeaways from the TEDx Play event, and in this post, I focus on one big one: the distinction between free play and managed play.  As an organizational development professional actively working to bring the values of play into workplaces, free vs managed play resonated.

Free Play vs Managed Play

Free play equates to making it up as we go – improvisation – as many kids still have the freedom to do. They hang with other kids and they’re left to their own devices: lots of learning in that kind of play.  On the other hand, managed play is being part of an organized activity where there are coaches, parents and others with expectations: lots of different learning in that kind of play.

Free play is where we’re given free rein to use our imaginations, our inventiveness, our resourcefulness, and find our innate leadership, and followership.

Workplace Culture and Play

Thanks to Lisa Nielsen for the image.

Thanks to Lisa Nielsen for the image.

In workplaces, we could say free play is where we’re given free rein to use our imaginations, our inventiveness, our resourcefulness, and find our innate leadership, and followership.  We have opportunity to experiment and try, try again. Determination, tenacity and courage are developed.  With free play, creativity rises to the top and failure is a non-issue. It simply means we keep adapting until we  get the results we want.  We’re usually challenged and stretched in such contexts, and if not, we move on because we’re bored, are no longer learning, contributing or having fun. In the world of Open Space, we call that “The Law of Two Feet.”

On the other hand, managed play is where we participate by following predetermined or someone else’s rules.  There are authorities who guide us and correct us if we step too far outside the bounds and it’s perceived we could potentially cause harm to ourselves or others.  We learn to play inside the rules, to play safe and not show weakness or vulnerability.

When we bring the play ethos into business contexts, both free and managed play are relevant for different purposes and contexts – creative agency vs. the military, for example.  Leadership with an eye on shaping the organizational narrative and culture will decide which leaning will serve the whole system best.

Play is a developmental and life-long activity

Play is how we grow. Play shapes who we become.  We create performance in play.  We make room for it in our childhood (yet, that may be increasingly debatable), and we need space and time to continue to develop our playful selves as (working) adults. Play as development flourishes when these three attributes are present:

  • self-determination
  • co-creation
  • positivity

Play is how we grow. Play shapes who we become.  We create performance in play.  We make room for it in our childhood (yet, that may be increasingly debatable), and we need space and time to continue to develop our playful selves as (working) adults.

Co-creating experiences in workplaces where these three attributes get lived out is my best work.  They produce performance I might now refer to as free play which can light up all the players.  There are multiple participatory methodologies that facilitate such playful cultures of ownership, innovation, and shared leadership: namely Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space Technology and World Cafe.  All to be expanded upon at another time.

I’m curious, in your workplace, how does play factor in?

N.B. I originally wrote a version of this post as a guest blogger on Switch and Shift.

The Greatness Zone and Positivity, with Jay Forte – PS011

Episode Overview – The Greatness Zone and Positivity

Jay ForteMy guest and conversational partner is this episode is Jay Forte.  Jay is a business and motivational speaker, coach and author.  Jay is President and Founder of The Greatness Zone – an organization that provides talent and strength-based tools to help people live extraordinary lives, and, organizations achieve exceptional results.  Jay is the creator of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation course at Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL where he’s an adjunct professor.

Jay is a fellow podcaster -his podcast show is The Greatness Zone and he has another one about to be launched next week, called Ready for Life.

Through the lenses of positivity and our own greatness zone, we talk about the importance of living a purposeful life and how to create that for ourselves.  It starts with developing a sense of self-awareness and how we go about our daily lives.  Taking time to notice the world around us and how we fit it can start by becoming aware of our strengths, and what gives us joy which leads to discovering the best of who we can be for ourselves and for the world.

Energizing Work

Delivering, training and coaching the Greatness Zone is optimistic and positive work that energizes Jay.  His goal is to share what’s right with the world rather than what’s wrong.  He works to help people find their strengths. When people find the right road that helps them find their abilities, talents and values, they tap into their own greatness zone.  All of that is most energizing.

From Misalignment to Alignment

Greatness Zone work is  extra energizing because, Jay admits he was misaligned for most of his own life.  He was of the mindset, that the world does a good job of reminding us that a lot of things go wrong most of the time.

He stumbled into the greatness zone,  because, at that time he was not on the right  road:   he was on someone else’s road: starting with parents, then employers and partners. He experienced pessimism and negativity. He lacked passion, even though he was good at what he was doing professionally, he was not standing in his own authenticity.

The Greatness Zone

The-Greatness-Zone-LogoJay defines it as a place where you are aware of the best in you and you bring that self to the world. To find your own your Greatness Zone, Jay provides a process and series of steps that help you identify your own road to a rewarding, fulfilling life.  It’s a process of self-discovery that leads to clarity of your abilities, passions and values. When you can identify them, that’s when your Greatness Zone shows up.  This quote says it:

Frederick Buechner:

“Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world's greatest need.”

Jay teaches that we need to identify our own road and  our place in the world.

Millenial Generation

In his course, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, designed for freshman, the focus is on tapping into the greatness zone by taking students on a journey of discovery: of themselves, the world around them and their fit.

He teaches his students to come up with three adjectives that describe themselves and their behaviour and then write a statement that suggests who they are in the world, as a “branding statement.” This is a measure of success that is a great outome – they show up in the world differently at the end of the course than at the beginning.  Better than any grades, he suggests.

When you have this clarity of yourself, the world opens up and so much more becomes possible;  and the world seems a more supportive, caring place.

Ready for Life

This is a new program and podcast which Jay will be launching early November. It's geared to bridge the conversation between parents and children, so kids find their own blueprint and begin to think about what might be after college.  Some tips about the course's intention:

  • We come packaged to be game changers and most people don’t know what they’ve got
  • If you’re aimless you are not optimistic.  Some clarity about what inspires you opens you up
  • You only change when you notice what is amazing and remarkable about you – what your built-in genius is
  • World gives you back when you are in your authentic place – there's a mutual exchange

Positivity and The Greatness Zone

At the core they are the same.  They are about self-love, self-awareness, noticing the little things that really do have a big impact. Jay talks about an inventory of greatness, and I talk about a reservoir of positive emotions.  Both facilitate a deep sense of knowing that our contribution to the world makes a difference, and we do have impact in all that we do, that we, and the world are full of countless possibilities and opportunities.  We need to trust and act so we can expand our horizons.

When coming from the place that “I matter and can make a difference,” we can participate in a way as Buckminster Fuller describes:

“What is it on this planet that needs doing that I know something about that probably won't happen unless I take responsibility for it.?”

How thrilling is that!


  1. Buckminster Fuller – “What is it on this planet that needs doing that I know something about that probably won't happen unless I take responsibility for it.?”
  2. Frederick Buechner – “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world's greatest need.”

Links Mentioned In This Episode

Books Mentioned In This Episode:

The Fullness of Being Alive

Fullness-of-being-alive-300x270When asked by Bill Moyers “what is the meaning of life?” Joseph Campbell replied, “I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”

The Fullness of Being Alive

How so absolutely real is that!  After visiting India and Nepal, and being immersed in the experience of other cultures brought “the experience of being alive” up front and personal. I saw and felt both the rawness of poverty co-exist alongside the comfort of wealth, and latest mobile technologies being used along side women filling vessels from community water pumps.   It's those in-your-face contrasts that jolt us into the fullness of being alive.

Read more

Shift Technology Mindset from “I don’t need an iPad” to “I LOVE my iPad”

My-iPad-225x300From “I don't need an iPad” to “I LOVE my iPad”

How often I am witnessing that shift!  And, I wouldn't mind $100 for every time I've influenced a friend or colleague to invest in an iPad.

It's a year since the iPad came on the market. At first, I admired it vicariously via my partner, who is an early adopter with most things technological, especially computers, cameras, music and bikes.  Once I got my fingers on it,  (I did resist for a week or so), I changed to “I want one.”

Since then, I am increasingly loving my iPad.  It goes where I go: into every room in the house, the car, the plane, the boat, the doctor, the dentist, the hair salon, the beach, the park, the local coffee shop, bars, restaurants, and workplaces, of course.  My iPad is with me, everywhere.

Read more

Immersive Learning on Tablets

Ipad-shotSerendipitously, on three occasions in as many days, I have been in the presence of three 3 year olds (just love all those 3's).  Each time, I was filled up with joy watching them engage with content on their iPads.

First time, we were at dinner with a couple when their three year old pulled out the iPad, tapped into one of her favorite apps and was immediately engrossed as she tapped, swiped, dragged and, from time to time, sat up, tilted her head confidently to reflect on the objects she was engaging with.  Her fullest absorption in her iPad totally attracted the attention of older people in the restaurant,  amazed at her competence with the tablet device.

Read more

Embracing Change as a 7 Year-old

800px-SS_Normandie_at_sea_view-300x175When I was 7 so much change happened.  I traveled by ship from Sydney Australia to Genoa in Italy, because of my father’s work.  He had been posted to Athens, Greece for a 5-year term.  I only remember parts of that long 6-week journey.

It was the “old days”, when life aboard a luxury liner in first class was still akin to what you read about in novels at the beginning of the last century and what we see in movies, such as the Titanic:  opulence, elegance, indulgence, style and sophistication.

A Princess in my own Mind

I was 7 going on 37 – full of romance and imagination.  I was a princess in my own mind afloat this luxury liner setting out in the Pacific Ocean, crossing the Southern Ocean,  the Indian Ocean, up the Suez Canal into the glistening Mediterranean Sea.  I was 7, which I have since learned is a significant age in human development.  It sets the psychological thermostat for how you internalize beliefs about yourself and your relationship to others and the world.

Read more

Fun Creations

How cool!  How delightful! How simple!

How important?

“It's one thing I'm really good at.”

Fun creations. To be doing something you are good at and having fun and involving others in co-creating fun. That's participation, collaboration and engagement and playing to one's strengths!   The New York Times is talking about Matt Harding who seems to have fun doing what he's really good at.  The article brings attention to a number of the positive attributes that living in 2010 is all about: having the internet to share one's own creativity; involving our global village life-centric ways that unite us through music, laughter, activity, play.

Read more

What is the world calling for?


Tipping Point of Consciousness & Service

What the world is calling for is much clearer than it has ever been.  We have started to think more consciously of ensuring the future for generations to come.  There is a collective ground swell to serve.  In the second decade of the 21st, the world really has changed.

The citizens of this planet reached a tipping point in just about every domain, resulting in more people speaking up for greater compassion and understanding across cultures;  workers and shareholders alike calling for greater transparency and integrity in financial markets;  consumers are seeking products and services that conserve our natural resources and health. Read more