A World Inquiry: The Impacts of Appreciative Inquiry across the World, with Ada Jo Mann – PS059

Episode Introduction

I'm excited to talk to Ada Jo Mann about her long relationship with Appreciative Inquiry (AI). She is a pioneer of AI going back to the early 1990s.  Ada Jo was one of the co-creators of the Global Excellence in Management (GEM) Initiative, a founder of the early AI Consulting Group, a co-creator of AI World conferences and AI summits around the world.  Ada Jo and I don’t only talk about the past. I jump straight into a current global initiative conceived by Ada Jo.  She begins by sharing with us her impetus to conduct a World lnquiry on Appreciative Inquiry.

Episode Overview – World Inquiry into Appreciative Inquiry

In this episode, I invite Ada Jo to respond to three questions that we’ve designed to bring many voices from around the world together to share stories of how Appreciative Inquiry has been impacting lives for almost 30 years.  It’s a hugely exciting initiative.  Our intention is to elevate the discourse of AI to a new level using social media to communicate and broadcast the breadth of Appreciative Inquiry and to highlight the growing numbers of applications through personal stories.

The World Inquiry invites folks from all over the world to share their experiences of how they have been touched by Appreciative Inquiry and help create a viral message of positive change.  We're asking folks to record their stories on video (using mobile devices), upload them to the web and be made available  on the soon to be  re-vitalized AI Commons.  They will serve as a rich, searchable database for doctoral students, AI practitioners, AI trainers and consultants, and anyone interested in first hand reports of the power of Appreciative Inquiry to create individual and collective positive change. 

Question 1: Finding Appreciative Inquiry

How, where, when and by whom were you introduced to Appreciative Inquiry? What compelled you most about it? What is it about AI that you connect with most?

World Inquiry - Ada Jo Mann

In listening to Ada Jo, you will learn about her amazing and fabulous contributions to the world.  She began her long career in international development as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad. Years later she helped create and then became the first Director of the Small Project Assistance Program, a 30 year partnership between USAID and the Peace Corps. After Peace Corps she moved on to USAID where she met and worked with David Cooperrider, creator of Appreciative Inquiry to whom she was introduced by Jane Magruder Watkins, another tour de force in Appreciative Inquiry. Ada Jo and David created the GEM Initiative, a seven year multi-million dollar grant from USAID to improve the organizational capacity of non-governmental organizations in all regions of the world using Appreciative Inquiry. GEM served as a living laboratory for the development of Appreciative Inquiry

Ada Jo, as so many others who “find” AI, reflects that it was like a “home coming.”  Questions she had been asking right at the outset of her long career were implicit in the world view of AI.  Questions such as

  • How might we build on the strengths of this community?
  • What if we were to include all stakeholders in the vision?
  • How can we include all the different perspectives in the design of this new program?

Question 2:  Appreciative Inquiry Impact on You

Where and how has AI made a difference in your life and work? How has AI changed things for you? How has AI brought out the best in you personally and or professionally? (In the way you work, do business, in your family, etc.) Please tell a story that  highlights how AI has had an impact on your life and/or work.

Ada Jo shares many stories in response to these questions. If you want to learn about some of the history of Appreciative Inquiry, listen in.  She also refers to a number of synchronicities that have touched her, and right at the outset of our conversation, she comments on how the interview I conducted with Tom Myers on Synchronicity as an Emergent AI Principle rings true for her.

Two key principles  of AI stand out for me as I listened to Ada Jo:  Questions are fateful;  and the act of storytelling.

Questions are Fateful

The questions you ask start the change.  We call it the Simultaneity Principle.  Ada Jo tell us that it was in fact a question put to her by another AI colleague, Neil Samuels at the end of an Appreciative Inquiry gathering that provoked her to initiate the World Inquiry on Appreciative Inquiry.  Neil asked Ada Jo if she'd followed up on all the work that she had done during the GEM project.  That question was the impetus to make it happen!

The Act of StorytellingWorld Inquiry - people networked

When we tell stories, we tap into the collective
unconscious. Storytelling is universal, it crosses all cultures.  The oral tradition is one of the oldest, and as part of the Appreciative Inquiry experience, sharing your own story with others opens up the possibilities for deep connection. For some people talking about personal strengths may be difficult, but telling a story of what's working well and how you were part of that comes out more easily and taps into all cultures.   When you experience that collective energy at AI Summit, it's truly magical.

Question 3: Your Innovations

One of the beauties of AI is that it can be adapted and re-imagined depending upon the needs of  the situation in which it is being applied. Have you had an opportunity to create innovations to the original 4-D process? What did your innovations look like? How have you used them? Please share an example of your innovations using AI.

Throughout this interview, Ada Jo's many contributions and innovations are woven into her stories.  A few more include the book she collaborated on with Diana Whitney, Jen Silbert and Dawn Dole called Positive Family Dynamics.  The book came about because participants in workshops and summits would say “I could use this with my family.”  Listen in to how Ada Jo describes the collaborative process of creating this book.

Other innovations include the founding of the AI Consulting Group which is no longer, but served a number of global consultants to collaborate and stay connected in the early days.  Significantly, AI Consulting sponsored the first AI Global Conference in Baltimore, MD in 2001.  The design of that first conference has remained as a standard for all future conferences and a precursor to AI Summits.

When I asked Ada Jo what she valued about herself, she talked about her strengths as an opportunity finder and creator of innovative designs and solutions together with her drive and organizing skills to get things done.   What a combo!  I certainly recognize the visionary who makes it happen. With Ada Jo, it's not an either /or, but a both/and!

The Poet – Creator of Heroic Crown Sonnet

As a final treat in this episode, I invite Ada Jo to recite her latest Heroic Crown Sonnet.  She explains what this special kind of sonnet is.  Her first composition about her time with the Peace Corps was very well received.  The one she recites for us is entitled the Appreciative Inquiry Crown.

Ada Jo has kindly allowed me to share her Appreciative Inquiry Crown.  What a joy to be able to read this sonnet – still a work-in-progress. Please open up the Positivity Lens Reveal  below to view.

positivity lens


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You'll get a thrill out of this Heroic Crown Sonnet whether you are experienced in Appreciative Inquiry, or reading about AI for the first time.  Ada Jo captures the essence, the spirit, the process and all the possibilities that can emerge.  Please enjoy!  If you'd like to be in touch with Ada Jo, her LinkedIn profile is available below and her email is provided in the footer of the PDF.

How to Connect to Ada Jo and Links Mentioned

Ada Jo's Website: Innovation Partners International

Ada Jo on LinkedIn: Ada Jo Mann

Ada Jo's Book:  Positive Family Dynamics

Articles by Ada Jo and Collaborators

Confessions of an AI-coholic

Collaborative Conversations, Creating Positive Family Dynamics

Ethiopia Summit

Liberia International Development In AI Practitioner

International Development GEM – A Positive Revolutions in AI Practitioner

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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Meaningful Conversations can Transform You and Your World

Episode Introduction

In this episode, my guest is Jacqueline Botting, the founder of  Jacqueline reached out to me after discovering Appreciative Inquiry, buying my book, Appreciative Inquiry for Collaborative Solutions: 21 Strength-Based Workshops, and engaging me to work with her fledgling non-profit startup. We have been working and playing together ever since. I invited Jacqueline to share her story of how and why she started

Episode Overview –  Meaningful Conversations Can Transform You and Your World

For Jacqueline Botting, it starts with a personal quest to search for greater meaning in her own life. Valuing the time in which we’re living, Jacqueline’s revelation is that we are dawning on The Collaborative Age. At this time, when we are experiencing enormous cultural and technological changes, we possesses tremendous potential to enhance our collective social well-being. Through carefully designed experiences, WiseTribe connects people of diverse ages, ethnicities, and professions to share strengths, dreams, possibilities  and convert them into action-based learning projects.

Search for Meaningful Conversations and Relationships

As you listen to Jacqueline share parts of her story, you’ll become aware that meaningful conversation and relationships are the big themes in Jacqueline’s story.meaningful conversations

It was the passing of her father, or the time that led up to his death that awakened Jacqueline to the realization that a successful life, or a life well-lived, is not only about getting ahead merely in the material or professional sense.  Jacqueline discovered in conversation with her father in the last years of his life that all he really wanted was to have meaningful relationships and conversations.  

Jacqueline became aware that she was running her life to a similar script as her father:  all the trappings, material things, good career opportunities and even marriage didn’t add up to make her feel whole or complete.

Her father’s vulnerability and their deep meaningful conversations moved Jacqueline to begin to examine her own live.  The confluence of many events – perhaps synchronicities – lead her to connect to people who were often much older than she was: and she was discovering similar stories, namely, towards the end of life, what counts is having healthy, high-functioning, meaningful conversations and relationships.  

Transformative Experience

In these conversations with older people, Jacqueline was not only tapping into their wisdom, but finding her own deep wisdom. She was learning that a life not well-lived resulted in a life of emptiness, a life unfulfilled. She felt compelled to recalibrate and re-think what it means to live in a human centric world that was beyond material possessions and status.


WiseTribe, the organization Jacqueline founded was born out of the idea of generations wiser together. And this is when I was brought in to help design a range of “products” to help market this concept.  Overtime, it became clear that these “products” were experiences where invited participants could share their personal stories, passions, dreams and possibilities for a wiser, human centric world, based on collective social well-being.

Discovering Appreciative Inquiry 

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) first became know to Jacqueline when when did a search for the term “collective actualization.”  She came across an article by David Cooperrider, thought leader of Appreciative Inquiry, and it was as if she had come home.  The worldview and practice of AI felt so aligned to WiseTribe’s vision and mission, she knew she had to learn more.  She wanted to create spaces and experiences for people to share the wisdom of their lives and their insights and interests to create something new.

Contrasting the Traditional Worldview with the Appreciative Worldview.

We are moving beyond personal mastery to collective mastery.  Technology has become a great enabler and democratizer.  You might like to open up the Positive Lens Reveal to read some of the distinctions between the old and the new ways of experiencing the world.  

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As you take a look at these slides, which worldview occupies most of your energy?   When we start to pay attention to our own worldview and those around us, we expand.  We are not alone in this world. We are interconnected.  The language we use creates the worlds we live into.   What if we were to consciously change our language so we together we create a new narrative.   People are not problems to be solved, but mysteries to be embraced.
meaningful conversationsmeaningful conversationsmeaningful conversations

The Experience of a WiseTribe Season 

Listen in to Jacqueline as she describes the WiseTribe Collaborative Season.  Briefly, it’s a four part experience.  The inaugural season was a partnership with Florida Atlantic University (FAU).

  1. Connect through Wisdom Exchanges
  2. Co-create in Solutionism Workshops using Design Thinking Process
  3. Collaborate among tribes over their projects
  4. Celebrate with a festival to showcase projects and learnings with artistic performances.

This four month experience is grounded in the principles and practices of Appreciative Inquiry.  Therefore stories, strengths, dreams, play, creativity, art, inspiration, heart and love, as well as commitment to being in relationship and doing good work are abundant.

We experience the value of play which unleashes imagination and spirit thereby leading to innovations that allow us to live in new ways.


In conclusion, I invite Jacqueline to reflect on her own strengths in bringing her vision to life.  It’s a joy to hear how clear she is about her talents.  Having been a thinking partner with Jacqueline, I am so proud to hear describe herself with such confidence and competence.  She has seized many opportunities and through her tenacity and persistence, vision and leadership, she is making a sustainable difference in people’s lives.

Finally, I was very touched when she expresses her appreciation for me and the role I have played in encouraging her and offering support and experience to achieve her dreams.  That's my talent.

It will continue to be a positive co-creative enriching experience for us both.

Connect with Jacqueline

Website: and

WiseTribe  on Twitter

Jacqueline on LinkedIn

Wisetribe on  on Facebook

WiseTribe on Instagram

Book Mentioned in the Episode

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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  • I'd love it if you can leave a quick review, on iTunes and Stitcher.

How Playful Collegial Collaboration Works from Kids to Executives, With Marge Schiller- PS53

Episode Introduction

marge-schiller-768x575Marjorie Schiller, Ph.D., has been consulting, teaching and writing about Appreciative Inquiry (AI) since the late 1980's. Marge is passionate about bringing Appreciative Inquiry into all educational contexts, with a focus on lifelong learning to enrich diversity in all its guises. Embodiment is another of her passions – how we walk the talk.  She expands on these three topics among many others in this juicy, story-filled episode.

A beautiful invitation was posed by Marge Schiller early in this episode:

If we were to hold our work lightly, with a positive energy such as play, imagine how much further we can go with the things that we really care about

Episode Overview – Collegial Collaboration

Marge teaches and writes about Appreciative Leadership and AI in Action. Marge is the co-author of Appreciative Leaders: In the Eye of the Beholder (a Taos Institute Focus Book) and has written commentaries and book chapters about many subjects and applications of Appreciative Inquiry. Her current book in the making is a collegial collaboration across three generations.  As Marge playfully describes the collegial collaboration:  there are perspectives from  78 year old land, 30 year old and 10 year old land.  It’s a children’s book about Appreciative Inquiry, with a working title of “Stan and 4 Fantastic Powers” co-authored by her twin grandchildren, an educational psychologist and a gifted illustrator.

To the question about how she considers her relationship with AI, Marge responds with:

Collegial collaborator… a constant learner … a respecter…. a connector.

Learning from each other, through all our multiple perspectives through the relational process of collegial collaboration is highly important to Marge.

When I asked Marge what she valued about herself, she admitted she’s very good at starting things.  In her life across politics, the media, corporations, teaching and writing, she has started many initiatives that still live on and you can hear a number of these as you listen in to this episode.  This is where the collegial collaboration works.  You find people who are equally committed to bring the positive changes you believe in.  Marge recognizes it takes a lot of effort to start things, and we need each other to bring our diversity into projects to make them work successfully for everyone.

Marge makes a distinction between mentorship and “collegialship” – collegial collaboration.

Collegialships are intergenerational, and “generation” means many things.  It’s not just about age. It’s about perspectives, experiences, learnings, contributions, technologies, spirituality and more, with all their accompanying levels, stages, generations and memes of development. Mentorship is not collegial collaboration because mentorships are unequal in their construction.  Only in a collegial collaboration, are contributions from all perspectives valued in the sense that each person has something to offer through their own life experiences.  Appreciating diversity is key.


Marge is a wonderful storyteller, with a talent for connecting at many levels.  She connects concepts to make up brand new words, as in “collegialship” above and in the charming story below.

It’s a fun story that reveals the inner knowing of kids.   Briefly, when her son was 7, he observed that “daddy work works, and mommy play works.”  What her son was describing is that daddy didn’t like his work, but mommy loved her work. Hence the term “plerk” was coined (play +work).  By the way, daddy left his job at age 38 and mommy 40 years later is still “plerking.”

The most enjoyable part of this story is the context in which it occurred. Hint: Feminist TV show anchor, Marge was keen to show she could be both a feminist and a mommy.  It’s a treat. Ever since, Marge has made it her business to ‘‘plerk through life” and find collegial collaborators who also plerk.

Falling in Love with Appreciative Inquiry

Another great story is how Marge was introduced to Appreciative Inquiry. She was in a meeting at NTL (National Training Laboratory in Bethel, Maine) with about 20 others, including Jane McGruder Watkins (Former Chair of the Board NTL) and David Cooperrider – the “daddy of AI” as Marge refers to him.  This group emerged as the pioneers in the transformational change process known as Appreciative Inquiry and continue to plerk together in a variety of flexible configurations – collegial collaborations.

Not long after this meeting,  Marge brought David Cooperrider into her organization and her long relationship with and leadership in the AI community had begun.  One of the classic AI case studies is the work Marge, David, Jane  and others did at Avon Cosmetics in Mexico on the affirmative  topic of “Men and Working Working Together.”

How to Introduce Appreciative Inquiry to Others

Start small – our conversations make the difference.  Marge talks about “little ‘a’” and “little ‘i’” – small experiences.  The big AI summits are hugely energizing and organization transformation occurs, yet it’s the one-on-one conversations, the relational process that sustains the effort.   Another tip is to find the appreciative leaders  – those with the right mindset and who know the value of good stories. If you engage in talking only about problems, little baby problems emerge.  So those who value stories and diversity, have expansive mindsets and are open to creating innovations are more likely to be appreciative leaders than the leaders who believe they are the smartest in the room and want it to remain that way.  Those kinds of “all knowing” leaders and Appreciative Inquiry may not be a good fit, and can present challenges.

Tips for Honing your own Practice in Appreciative Inquiry

We talk about the good old apprenticeship model.  If you want to learn your craft, you hang out and practice with those who are doing it well already.  This is where the terms “plerking” and “collegial collaboration” are manifested.  In my early days as a newly certified AI practitioner, I did just that, volunteering for projects with David Cooperrider, Marge Schiller, Linsdey Godwin, Jackie Stavros and others.  We each bring our own strengths and diverse backgrounds and experiences to each project, all of us learning and contributing.  The most exciting thing about those experiences is not only the learning that happens, but the strengthening of lasting relationships.  It’s a give and get model of growth and development.

Embodiment of Appreciative Inquiry

This entire episode is full of great stories, strategies and tactics about Appreciative Inquiry, and we kind of saved the best to last.  It just happened.  When we talked about appreciative leaders, it was perfect to talk about embodiment.

To be an appreciative leader is to truly embody the principles – the guiding values and practices of AI. You embody AI when you walk the talk and you move into the spiritual realm. Valuing the true, the good, the beautiful of the wholeness of life, the interconnectedness of all things, the wonderment of our cosmos, listening with our hearts and minds open, respecting the dignity of all human beings is being AI.  It isn’t just what you do, it is who you are.

To embody AI is personal work. You go through your own personal AI experiences to walk the talk.  You check in with yourself, “how am I doing?”  How am I living the principles?  How am I impacting others?  What positive differences am I making?

Kids as Teachers

The image and voice of hope is children.

Marge’s shares the story of how this insight struck her when she witnessed the impact a 4 year old had on the employees in a neighboring building during the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11th 2001.

Thanks, Marge for the legacy you are creating!

Links to Marge Schiller

Marge's Website: Positive Change Core

LinkedIn: Marge Schiller 

 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,

  • 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.

50 Women Experience The Value of Collaboration, New Jersey

Women's Collaboration Summit

It was such a joy to co-facilitate New Jersey's first Women's Collaboration Summit.  The joy, started several months earlier, when my collaboration began with two local business women:  Marybeth Gregg and Roe Couture Desaro.  We wanted to design an experience that would bring a variety of talented local women together to share stories and learn from each other and find ways to support each other.

Our design was framed in Appreciative Inquiry (AI) with the ambition to achieve the following

  • bring out the capabilities that exist in the room;  individual and collective strengths;  
  • unleash what else is possible – the positive potential of every person and potential synergies of the collective
  • provide uplifting experiences that energize us all to do more of what we do best

Collaborating for High Performance

The summit started with a discovery interview on the topic of Collaborating for High Performance with the following lead in statement to set the tone of the interviews, table conversations and whole plenary discussion

Collaboration refers to people coming together to produce something they all contribute to in a variety of ways. Because of the increased complexities and pressures in our world today at home, in the community and our workplaces, productive and meaningful collaboration is a huge topic of interest. Collaborations are often loose and voluntary, while teams are usually designed for specific purposes, such as sports teams, department teams, sales teams etc.

Whether it’s a voluntary collaboration or a designated team, we come together with different skill sets, personalities, and motivations, so it’s always dynamic. Effectiveness is enhanced when people know their strengths, their values, their purpose and can be real with each other.

So what is it that makes a truly high-performing collaboration?

We have all been part of a high-performing team or collaboration at some point, even a team of two! Let’s access those high point experiences of high collaborative performance. Let’s identify the strengths of our contributions and the contributions of others and, together, we can co-create ways forward, building on our existing strengths – our positive core – to design ways we can further strengthen collaborations.

We followed the classic AI interview design with the one-on-one personal interviews.  Next, we introduced  the table conversations, when the interviewees  shared what they had learnt from their interview partners. Then we engaged in a whole room discussion when we synthesized some of the common themes from across the table groups.

The Value of Collaboration

When we invited the participants to identify some of the themes that came out of all the high points stories of experiencing collaboration at its best, here is what was shared:

When we are collaborating at our best, we experience

  • Grace under pressure

    Value in Collaborations

    Images – Thanks to Kathleen Edinger of Teascapes

  • Being present in relationships
  • Passion
  • Embracing other's visions
  • Stepping out of our comfort zones
  • Being a leader and a follower
  • Willingness to be truthful
  • Personal Growth – reinvent ourselves
  • Entrepreneurial and resourceful
  • Change agents
  • Pioneers
  • Support self, others and community
  • Courageous, aggressive and assertive
  • Mentor and mentee
  • Sense of fulfillment
  • Inspiration

What is evident is that it's about “we” vs “me”.  It's putting the good of the collaboration ahead of personal ambitions.  A bit like a marriage in a way, when you put the good of the marriage ahead of the individual needs of the partners.  And the words in the above list that best capture that sense are:

being present in relationships; embracing each other's visions; being a leader and a follower; mentor and mentee – meaning we are there for each other to serve the whole.

I am privileged to be able to do this work –  to design and facilitate with the Appreciative Inquiry framework, I am always struck by the vitality and energy that is unleashed within the first minutes, and I am not surprised, because the foundational principles of Appreciative Inquiry guide the process.

  • The way we ask the question determines what we find
  • Words create our worlds
  • Whatever we focus on grows
  • Positive images create positive futures
  • Positivity: It's good to feel good

We have the capacity within us to influence ourselves and others everyday just by the way we speak and act.   As we increasingly pay attention to the value of collaboration, we inspire ourselves and others, just as 50 women experienced wholeheartedly during this recent summit.

Finding Energy for Positive Change will Boost your Productivity

positive changeWe’re educated to use our so called “left brain” to be analytical and solve problems and make endless lists and focus on things that need changing because they don't work.  Think about your meetings at work and other social interactions throughout your life.

This trajectory most likely started with how your parents taught you to be a good boy or girl growing up. It continued with your relationships with teachers at school, and then your bosses at work.

This meme seems to be the traditional way across most post industrial cultures.  We value our analytical brain, our executive brain, but that brain doesn’t run our lives when we are faced with fear or anxiety or the unknown, or when feeling discomfort or insecurity and especially when we feel vulnerable.

Recently, I was present in a meeting after a software roll out in an global bank.  They name these meetings “post mortems.”  Really!  The language is already ominous.  It smells of death.  The leaders of the meeting, by default, as most of us do, focused immediately on the things that went wrong and failed in the rollout.

Indeed, these things needed addressing, but the tone of the meeting within minutes of starting was spiraling downwards fast and people’s energy was deflating and eye contact dropping to the floor for fear of the blame game.

Energy Spiraling Upward

So, imagine if the team members (or the leader) had started the meeting with:

“We’ve just had a global roll out of a product we’ve been working so hard on together for months, and it went pretty well. In fact, it went great!

“Let’s start this meeting congratulating ourselves by spending a few minutes on what worked well from our individual perspectives and then we’ll address what we need to change.

What are we proud of in this roll out?  What good feedback have we had from clients?  What really worked well?”

The tone and the energy starts to pick up and spiral upward, a different set of chemicals fire within the brain and there’s energy to listen to each other, collaborate and increase engagement and productivity.  Solutions to problems and a willingness to address them begin to emerge without even having to drag them out of reluctant mouths.

RS_2005_04_29_0588The people in the room experience a different energy and begin to initiate changes from a place of engaged, solution-focused creativity and possibility.

Energy for Positive Change

This is one of the lessons of embracing change from a valuing or appreciative perspective.  You first discover and focus on what works and all the existing assets and then the weaknesses or faults begin to come into the conversation and they get addressed also – but from a very different place.  It’s a place of we’re-in-this-together:  we’ve just praised ourselves for what went well, and now we can together begin to address what we need to fix and improve on.

Appreciative Inquiry

In summary then, Appreciative Inquiry  (AI) as a change methodology looks for what’s already working well in a person or situation, not what’s broken. It takes a little practice to make that shift, as our default seems to look for what’s wrong in ourselves, each other and society at large.

One of the key principles of AI is ‘what you study grows’.  If you study deficits, you’ll find many, and if you study success, you’ll find a lot of it. Appreciative Inquiry is both a way of thinking and doing.  It provides a framework and a method to initiate positive emotions,  thoughts and actions that can produce outcomes directed with intentionality toward affirming life, heightening positive energy and uplifting the human spirit.

How do You View Change?

Focus on the changes in your own life.  If you stop to appreciate what you have already working for yourself, in terms of what has helped you to get to where you are today – it could be your past achievements, past successes, past and present relationships, your network, your skill sets, your personal attributes – you might just have a shift in perspective about what you might change, or how you might view certain changes that are happening to you.

What’s your default disposition to change? What kind of changes do you fear and avoid at all costs; and what kind of changes do you embrace with positive energy?

I’d love to hear from you as I'm developing an online course on change and I'd love to hear your perspective.


20 Positive Outcomes from a Strength-based Approach to Change

Change is Popular

Strength-based approach to changeThe topic of change doesn't go away.  Google the phrase books on ‘change‘ and 1,570,000,000 results come up.  Change methods results in 928,000,000 searches;  change management 474,000,000;  change leadership 493,000,000; strength-based change 51,200,000; strength-based leadership  4,150,000.  You get my point.

There are countless ways to approach change. Your values, mindset and experience will determine what fits for you.  We talk about winners and losers in change.  There is money to be made in change, especially if you are brought in to design or facilitate it.

Responding to Change

With regard to organizational change, where you sit in an organization is likely to determine how you might view it.  You could adopt any of the following perspectives and actions. You could:

  • Deal with it
  • Force it
  • Mandate it
  • Institutionalize it
  • Defend it
  • Implore it
  • Ignore it
  • Create it artificially – from a place of fear, threats, organizational weaknesses, fire and brim stone and forcing compliance
  • Invite it
  • Embrace it
  • Request it
  • Play with it
  • Recommend it
  • Create it transparently – from a place of possibility, opportunities, strengths, aspirations and foster commitment

Strength-based Approach to Change

When you take the perspective that every system – human or otherwise – has something that works already – it opens up the opportunity and the possibility to begin to address change from those perspectives.

Invite more of what works already so we can do more of THAT!

You know what?  People respond to that.  When a community discovers together what it does well already and openly celebrates, and acknowledges assets, successes, and its collective capabilities, it creates upwards spirals of energy and interest that fuel a spirit of WE can do this, Vs. IT can't be done.

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated ~ William James

There are a number of ways to invite people to be active participants in their own change. Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space Technology, World Cafe, Search Conferencing are such examples.  Creating a safe space for people to share the best of their past and co-create their dreams and pathways for a bright future speaks to creating change from a transparent place.  It requires trusting open, collaborative, generative and generous perspectives and practices.

20 Positive Outcomes

When you invite people to discover the high points of a past change experience where they focus on what works Vs do a post mortem on the weakness and failures, this is what can be unleashed:

1 stories of best performance

2 celebration of past successes

3 growing positive metrics

4 sharing most favorable feedback

5 energized activities

6 engaged communication

7 willingness to jump in

8 go that extra mile

9 volunteer mindset

10 abundance of ideas

11 increased support for each other

12 greater sharing of ideas

13 openness to customer feedback

14 greater collaboration around initiatives

15 more communication across the organization

16 increased transparency

17 greater acceptance of risk

18 sharing resources

19 leadership shows up where least expected

20 joy and play become part of work

The list is a just a start.  What else have you discovered?  Let's build the evidence for strength-based change to develop our communities and places of work.

Appreciative Inquiry – Overview of Method, Principles and Applications

10 minute read

My intention with this resource is to provide an overview of Appreciative Inquiry for people who are new to this strength-based, transformational, positive change methodology.

My Intention for this Resource

This resource is an overview of the change methodology Appreciative Inquiry. Topics covered:

  • What it is
  • How it is a strength-based, positive framework
  • What it can achieve through collaborative conversations
  • The 4-D process of Appreciative Inquiry
  • How it can be applied personally and professionally
  • The guiding principles
  • The importance of affirmative questions
  • The value of story-telling in Appreciative Inquiry

My wish is that you will be more curious and excited about the possibilities of this life-centric, positive approach to change after reading it.  And, there are many more posts and stories throughout Positivity Strategist if your interest has been piqued.

 What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Seeing with Appreciative Eyes

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a change methodology grounded in theories from the disciplines of organization behavior and the sciences of sociology and psychology, with a good dose of metaphyics. Those of us who practice AI refer to it as both a way of being and doing.

Appreciative Inquiry is a perspective on the world that invites us to see ourselves and the world through an appreciative or valuing eye.  We are made aware that how we use language, how we ask questions, and what stories we tell shape our own and collective destinies.

Appreciative Inquiry CertificateEarning my certification in Positive Business and Society Change Program at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in 2004 with Professors David Cooperrider and Ron Fry has been a high point of my personal and professional life.  It has enabled me to meet extraordinary people and contribute in ways I had never dreamed possible, adding to the body of work in this field.

Definition of Appreciative Inquiry

From the Handbook of Appreciative Inquiry, (link here) here’s a comprehensive definition:

Appreciative Inquiry is the co-evolutionary, co-operative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them … AI involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate and heighten positive potential … AI practice focuses on the speed of the imagination and innovation.  Instead of negative, critical, and spiraling diagnoses commonly used in our organizations … there is discovery, dream, design and destiny.”

Organizational Change

Appreciative Inquiry Summit

Organizational Change

Appreciative Inquiry is an affirming way to embrace human, institutional and organizational change.  As a change methodology, AI offers a life-centric structured approach to energize people in organizations to move in the direction of what they most desire.  Its framework focuses organizational members on their existing core capacities, strengths and successes; it invites them to to envision a desired future; it initiates collaborations to design projects and activities the members are willingly commit to.

This change methodology has the perspective that every system, human and otherwise, has something that works right already —things that contribute to its aliveness, effectiveness, and success, connecting it in healthy ways to its stakeholders and the wider community.   With the Appreciative Inquiry perspective, we can create positive change that can be sustainable, thereby expanding capacity for wellbeing and flourishing. Read more

The Source Of Great Leadership Qualities With Susan Mazza – PS020

Episode Overview

Susan Mazza, creator of the highly acclaimed blog, “Random Acts of Leadership” shares insights and stories on the topic of leadership with Positivity Strategist host, Robyn Stratton-Berkessel.  This episode is a personal conversation between two friends as they share experiences and exchange ideas about leadership. It's an example of a truly generative conversation.

Episode Introduction

Susan Mazza on Leadership QualitiesSusan Mazza is a force in the leadership space with her extremely popular blog, “Random Acts of Leadership“.  It has been named as one of the top leadership blogs, and Susan has also been recognized as one of America’s most trusted voices in this space.

Susan Mazza and I first met on Twitter in 2009 – it was actually my partner, Juergen Berkessel of Polymash who suggested I follow Susan on Twitter, since she was tweeting about leadership – a subject which is also in my professional portfolio, and within a couple of months, we three had a tweet-up in NYC.

Over these last five years our relationship has grown and strengthened. We’ve worked together, visited each other and what’s most rewarding to me is that we’ve become trusted friends.

Please enjoy a summary of our conversation and our collective insights below.

Distinct Voice on Leadership

The success of Susan's blog, “Random Acts of Leadership” has allowed Susan to discover her own voice and her distinctive perspective on the subject of leadership.  As a successful blogger, she speaks to people all over the world, who have chosen to engage with her.  Susan states that blogging has enabled her to become a better communicator and writer.

Aligned to that, Susan's blog increases the number of people she reaches and thereby it amplifies the difference she can make in the world by touching the number of people she does. That is important to her.  Susan is about making a difference.

Susan's distinct voice on leadership is about the everyday leader in each of us. Her purpose is to love people into their greatness to support and inspire them in becoming the most powerful and joyful expression of who they are.

POSITIVITY LENS for this EpisodePositivity Lens Notebook

Download Susan's suggested “positive activities” for this episode: Hint – it’s about identifying your own power sources as a leader.

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Connecting with Your Own Leadership

It was a personal situation that enabled Susan to connect to her own leadership.  She discovered that after a series of unsuccessful relationships with doctors, she finally took the stand to articulate the kind of relationship she wanted with a particular doctor by making a deal with the doctor.  She requested that he treat her as a whole and healthy person, and if he realized he would be unable to treat her, he was to let her know so she could make an informed decision.  He agreed.  They co-create a partnership and she was healed.

Valuing Leadership Qualities

When you listen into Susan's episode, you'll learn that leadership for her is not about a role or position, but it's about the everyday leader that shows up when you take responsibility to lead yourself.  The leadership qualities that Susan identifies and values within herself when she tells her story include the courage to speak up and ask what she wants in order to create her own story and carve her own journey of wellness.  She was no longer willing to buy into someone else's story or the world's story – which is what most of us do.  It's so easy to buy into the world's story about yourself and others.

Our Power Comes from Creating our own Story

When you're really clear about who you are and what you bring to a situtation at any given moment in time, as well as being clear about who you are choosing to be, you are standing in your power and creating your own story. We are ever evolving, so knowing who you are and who you want to become gives you a solid place from which to stand and you can make choices that are congruent with your being.

Coaches and mentors are pivotal in development.  Having a thinking partner and supporter to help gain clarity around your purpose and what matters to you are key to finding your own power and hence developing your own leadership qualities and capabilities.

Power today is based less on hierarchy, position and role, and more on connection and self-generative capacities. We lead alongside our co-workers, our vendors and our clients. Partnerships, strategic alliances and collaborations are business relationships which are more likely to lead to flourishing and prospering.  When you lead from the core of who you are, you're authentic and what matters to you and clarity of purpose remain your overarching guides.

Generative Development

Self-generation is a leadership quality.  You can generate your own power from within and you can generate power in others.  We show our leadership when generate development conversations that grow and empower others and strengthen relationships.

Adversity or negative situations also generate development.  When we are struggling, or when we feel we are not making a difference, or things are not going as planned or the feedback we want is not forthcoming, we need to go deep and generate that leadership from within so that we grow the capabilities we need to make a difference.

The Power of Aspiration

Underpinning our conversation on leadership qualities, power, experts and generative development was the concept of ‘aspiration', or said another way, the pinnacle of self-leadership is aspiration.  If something isn't working, or we're not attaining what we believe we are truly capable of, or deserving of, we have a choice.  We can let it go and more on, or we hang on to it and hold the dream, meaning we tap into our aspirations that propel plus even higher to the point of achievement.

Susan shares two particular stories in this episode: a personal one and a community story.  What underscores these two very different stories is the desire for a better state, if not an ideal state.  It was the aspiration to achieve that ideal state that empowered Susan in one story, and a community in the other, to not give in but to strive to make the desired state a reality.

By way of conclusion, we could say that a key leadership quality is aspiration – a dream, a vision, a desired future state.  When that aspiration stirs in us, what follows is the generative capacity to find the power and the resources – internal and external to bring the aspiration to fruition.

leading made simple, the source of great leadership qualitiesLeading Made Simple

Download Susan Mazza’s free report and unlock the secret of great leadership qualities! Request your FREE e-book, Leading Made Simple:  3 Ways Anyone Can Lead Every Day, and discover the key to increasing your impact, improving performance and cultivating leadership in others.

Links Mentioned In This Episode

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,

  • 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 Love, Passion and Joy Inspire Profits, With Sue Elliott – PS014

Episode Overview – How Love, Passion and Joy Inspire Profits

Conscious Capitalism, Law of Attraction, writer, speaker, editor-in-chief of magazines and personal development coach, Sue Elliott  provides a plethora of ideas, tips and strategies to bring more love and joy into all areas of your life. You’ll be energized and uplifted by her insights and stories.

Sue Elliot PhotoHeartfelt Communicator

Sue Elliott is Founder & Chief Joy Officer at Inspire Profits Inc. Sue is a communicator.  She’s a journalist, an editor, a publisher, an entrepreneur, a personal life and business coach, a facilitator and a really gifted human being.  She shares practical processes and simple techniques that make a profound, measurable difference in people’s work (and lives), to release blocks to excellence, joy and success.

Most businesses are about relationships. And when you improve those relationships — by improving communication, clarity and collaboration — everyone wins.  Below are some of the topics Sue and I touched on during our rich conversation.

Joy, Love, Passion

If you want to be the Joy Officer of your own life, listen in to Sue.  In her own story, she’s made sure she follows her interests, joy, and passions.  As a result, she’s been attracted to people who do the same.  There is a contagion effect from people who are excited about what they do in life. They attract other people plugged into a similar energy.  People, driven by what they love, have a relentless energy.  Sue is talking about the good passion and good energy that seeks to serve in positive, life-centric, supportive ways. When you listen to the episode, Sue had some great tips to pass on for this week's “Positivity Lens” segment.

Positivity Lens NotebookPOSITIVITY LENS for this Episode

Download Sue's suggested “positive activities” for this episode: Hint: it’s about paying attention to the signals in your body; being aware of who’s running your life in the moment and listening to your own intuitive wisdom.

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Values and Purpose

Clarity around one’s values and purpose, together with a relentless pursuit of learning and growth brings an energy into places of work that unleashes collaborations and community. Furthermore, an integration of what you love to do and you can pass onto others across disciplines enables everyone to grow.

Positive and Negative Emotions

Love and positive emotions expand us and open us up to others, widen our interest,  increasing productivity and creativity. Fear and negative emotions cause us to be singularly focussed, narrowing our perspective, increasing stress, and unleashing a hormonal cocktail that sets us off in directions that are potentially life threatening if allowed to build up over time when real threat is non-existent.

Sue teaches Law of Attraction and she cites how she can help help people shift up the emotional scale from extreme negativity on the one end to extreme positivity at the other.  This work comes from the Teachings of Abraham as told through Esther and Jerry Hicks.  (Link to book below.)


Trusting that we did the best we could with the resources we had at the time, or others did the best they could with the resources they had at the time is a way to forgive ourselves and others for past situations.  When we carry around old issues or grievances or grudges, it can compound resulting in negative energy that robs us of being able to redirect our precious energy and resources to more loving, joyful and productive means.  This is clearing work which can be freeing.


We summed up best leaders as those who

  • can reframe situations so that you move in the direction of what you are wanting to produce, or the solution that will serve all (for example, moving away from conflict to building collaborations and community)
  • live in a state of inquiry Vs having the right answers
  • invite all different perspectives to increase ownership and best solutions among all stakeholders
  • recognize and appreciate vulnerability is a power and a strength
  • self-awareness is foundational to being authentic, purposeful and values-driven
  • are present and can choose who to be in the moment

Conscious Capitalism

Conscious Capitalism is a business-transforming movement launched by Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey and Kip Tindell of the Container Store.  This framework fits with Sue’s own value set and modus operandi.  Businesses that engage in Conscious Capitalism out-perform “unconscious” companies on pretty much every level, including employee engagement, productivity, profitability and financial strength.


There are many forms of media. The news media tends to focus on news that feeds and strengthens our negativity bias. On the other hand, the enthusiast media focuses more on positive situation that do more good than harm.  Magazines such as hobbyist, envirnomental and self-help magazines provide ideas and strategies to help us grow, restore the environment to its natural state and serve to help people find better ways. We can potentially touch tens of thousands of people in the course of our lifetime, therefore, we have huge opportunity to make a positive difference to so many people.

Big Aspirational Topic

In closing, Sue mentioned an initiative she is involved in with a former Positivity Strategist guest Johann Gauthier and Bill Jensen called Great Workplace Declaration.  Get a sneak preview and be ready to participate in this global movement to contribute to increasing positivity in our places of work.

Links Mentioned In This Episode

Books Mentioned In This Episode:



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


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.

The NICE Reboot – Entrepreneurial Know-How, with Penina Rybak – PS013

Penina Rybak Image

The NICE Reboot – Episode Summary

Women, entrepreneurs, passion, courage, mentors, positivity are topics covered in this episode with Penina Rybak, speaker and author of “The NICE Reboot.”  This digital age is such a gift to women who live true to the feminine values of transparency, collaboration, and care. Access to thought leaders who can be virtual mentors and whose experiences and expertise is readily available on-line opens up unprecedented opportunities.  Penina outlines how, despite personal health issues and the tragic loss of her own mentor and best friend, rebooted her life to be the bootstrapped entrepreneur she is today.

Entrepreneurial Know-How

What it takes to be a female entrepreneur is the topic of my conversation with Penina Rybak. Penina is a speaker, author, speech therapist and entrepreneur.  She is CEO of Socially Speaking LLC and Director of The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship.

My observation is that Penina is tirelessly committed to her mission:

“To embed social entrepreneurship into the DNA of all entrepreneurship and to provide strategies, forums, seminars, coaching, and opportunities, to help more women successfully partake of both the Entrepreneurial and Tech Revolutions in the iEra which have intersected.”

I met Penina at a eWomensNetworking lunch recently.  We found resonance in our shared passion for spreading awareness about all the opportunities that exist in the world today in this social age especially for women in business. We’re both speakers, authors, workshop facilitators, have a good presence on all the social networks, and enjoy engaging in this space; we’re both app developers and mission-driven.  No wonder we clicked!

Personal Setbacks and a Reboot

Penina switched careers from a speech therapist to an entrepreneur in two short years.  Her story comes from her unraveling,  understanding and acting on the patterns that precipitated big changes in her life.

A series of personal setbacks, including her own near death experience and losing her best friend and mentor to cancer had Penina rebooting her life and renewing herself through a deep search into her own inner and outer worlds in order to re-engage with the world.

Change is like fireworks

Penina beautifully describes how change happens like fireworks, a series of events firing one after another, propelling us into and lining up new directions.  She promised her dying friend, she would step out onto the bigger stage to share what she herself was learning, launching Socially Speaking LLC to be a beacon in her profession as a speech therapist.

Then a few years later, she realized there was an even bigger stage. Her message was to be expanded. She founded The NICE Reboot and NICE initiative to be a guide for those who are embarking on their own change journey.

The NICE Reboot: A Guide to Becoming a Better Female Entrepreneur
In preparation for the bigger stage and stepping into the role of entrepreneur, Penina did was she does best. She read; and read; and researched; and networked; and connected.  As a result, within six months she turned this highly productive effort into a highly practical book to help all women reboot their lives.

All her learnings are now published as a resource she herself would have valued – a guidebook to entrepreneurship. The book: The NICE Reboot: A guide to becoming a better female entrepreneur.

NICE works for women & there’s so much more

Penina chose the acronym N.I.C.E. because of the play on words.

N – is for being NICE

Women especially are socialized to be nice; and it is a positive attribute:  it’s an acknowledgment of the strength of women’s soft skills and our nurture gene.  We are expected to be nice and most of us are.

I – is for being INFORMED

In this digital age, it’s essential we stay informed and all the tools and technologies are there to help us and make it far easier than ever before.

C – is for being COMPETENT

Today, if we can read and have access to the internet, we have no excuse.  We can become entrepreneurs, should we desire that road,  more readily with all the resources available than at any other time.

E – is for being ENTREPRENEURIAL

To have an entrepreneurial mindset is to think globally and appreciate the impact we can have.  The growth in social entrepreneurship is especially exciting and calling to many of us who have a desire to leave a positive imprint on the world.

Highlights of Penina’s episode

  • A painful time can become a most productive time
  • Women are extremely versatile and can reboot and are ready to reboot
  • Tools are so readily available; we are globally connected in unprecedented ways
  • The patterns can be found all around us.  Pay attention. Nothing is random.
  • Learn from those who cross our path to discover things about ourselves.
  • Live in the moment and worry less about outcomes.
  • Pay attention and find the connections.
  • Avail yourself of all the thought leadership and virtual mentors out there writing on blogs and engaging in social networks.
  • Go for diversity of experiences; meet and develop relationships with people different from you.
  • Pay attention to who crosses your path, as they inform the trajectory of your life.

The attributes of the woman entrepreneur

Listen to how Penina addresses the issues of how much, and how little we know, and the relevance of demographics.  She also talks about her attributes as a woman and what she values about herself and her most teachable moments.

The role of culture, generational values and capital

The millennials are doing their part expecting cultures of transparency, collaboration, participation, authenticity and teamwork in workplaces.  Many are more turned on by mission driven organizations and social entrepreneurship than big bucks.  They are here to serve. Reverse mentorship in some organizations is providing great value where young people bring seniors up to date with technology and leadership is shared.

Humor and Positivity

A sense of humor and a positive attitude can take you a long way.  Being optimistic to say “Yes” is to open up possibilities, opportunities, and diverse experiences.  Focusing on what will be your legacy and how you want to be remembered expands your horizons, provides a sense of purpose, offers clarity and helps you find your peace.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

Penina's Social Media Profiles

Books Mentioned In This Episode: