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How Generative Questions Can Transform Young Lives

Episode Introduction

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

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

Episode Background

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

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

Her Dad Asked Generative Questions

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

Appreciative Inquiry in Life

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

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

SOAR – the Strengths-Based Strategic Planning Framework

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

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

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

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

Being and Doing – Living the AI Principles

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

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

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

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

Such an inspiration!

Stay Connected with Jackie

Jackie’s Website:  Soar Strategy

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

Jackie on LinkedIn

Jackie on Facebook

Links to Mentioned Papers and Books

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

World Positive Education Accelerator – Global Positive Education Summit June 2018

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

 

Sneak Preview of New Book and to Pre-order


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

Episode Introduction

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

Episode Background

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

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

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

Early Influencers

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

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

Solutions and System Stalking

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

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

Defining Literacies

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

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

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

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

New Literacies for the 21st Century

Reframing Reality

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

Managing Multiplicity

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

Connecting the Collective

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

Forecasting the Future

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

Designing Dynamics

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

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

Among the Best Trained People on the Planet

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

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

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

Four Beautiful Assumptions about Humankind

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

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

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

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

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

We are interconnected and interdependent.

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

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

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

Connect with Sallie

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

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


 Let's Stay Connected

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

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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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How To Tap into Human Energy in Relational Spaces – PS73

Episode Background

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

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

Human Energy 

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

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

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

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

Further Quotes on Human Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links to the Articles on Human Energy

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

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

The More You Energize Your Coworkers, the Better Everyone Performs

What Creates Energy in Organizations

The Hidden Source of Energy at Work

Connect with Mille and Robyn

Mille Themsen Duvander on LinkedIn

Robyn Stratton-Berkessel on LinkedIn

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:

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Personal Reflections on Appreciative Voice – PS 72

Episode Introduction

This show is a little different from my usual format because I’m flying solo, except for a special guest, Mary Jane Dieter who shares a story illustrating a challenging exchange with a neighbor that resulted in good outcomes because of how she chose to speak with him. It’s a story that illustrates appreciative voice.

In this episode, I focus on how we can grow and strengthen our appreciative voice through the principles and practices of Appreciative Inquiry and what it can do for us individually and collectively.

Episode Background

To learn more about the inspiration for this show, please check out my blog What is Appreciative Voice in Your World?  

I participated in the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Homecoming at the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College in Burlington Vt.  We were around 40 – 50 people mainly from US and Canada.  Most of us were familiar with AI

We gathered in response to the following invitation.

Invitation to the AI Homecoming

AI was made for these turbulent times.  This year our theme is one that can’t be ignored: voicing the appreciative–in conversation, in media, in public forums, in organizational life, in community. How do we create space and opportunity for conversations across divides, across borders, across values and visions that can help create the world we want to live in? How do we contribute? How do we create space and opportunity to co-create with others?

Inquiry into Appreciative voice

The first question put to us was:

What voices are coming through?

This question had us go deep very quickly.  

We reflected that it’s easy to block out messages coming through channels we don’t want to hear because our technologies allow us to. This enables us to live in echo chambers or bubbles,  meaning we stay with what we know and close ourselves off from hearing the perspectives of others who are not like us.

Living in the bubble limits us from exercising our appreciative voice.

When we come from inquiry we open up to listen to others  and when we live in inquiry we are less likely to jump to judgment.  You’ll hear that Mary Jane Dieter’s story is a great example of being true to her voice and at the same time curious and open to a different voice.

Four Compelling Questions

  1. When has your voice made a positive difference?
  2. When has your voice as part of a group made a positive difference?
  3. Recall a movement that made a positive difference in the world?
  4. When has an individual voice made a positive difference in the world in business/technology/education/ or any domain?

These questions focused our inquiry and they are typical of an appreciative inquiry.  As you listen to this show, you’ll find out how these appreciatively framed questions work in bringing out the best in us.  AI is one of the fastest and most enduring way that I know results in high quality human connection.  

Asking Appreciative Questions is Easy

We can all do this.  It is not hard to learn how to ask questions that focus on what works in a situation.  Many things go wrong, there is evil, there is hardship, there are natural disasters, and entangled in the chaos there are things that also offer redemption.  

Bob Marley’s lyrics in his Redemption Song say it all.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery

None but ourselves can free our minds

 

Appreciative Inquiry Guiding Principles

Appreciative Inquiry Principles offer us a framework to practice our appreciative voice so we can bring more of it to the world.  The guiding principles that help us connect with others in ways that serve not only ourselves but others, too.  

Constructionist Principle: Words create worlds

Appreciative Voice sunflowers - communication skills trainingPrinciple of Simultaneity: The very first question starts the change

Poetic Principle: What we focus on grows

Anticipatory Principle: Image inspires action

Positive Principle: Positive affect leads to positive action

Wholeness Principle: We are in this together

Narrative: Stories transform us

Enactment: Embody what we want

Readings

“The self is a style of being, continually expanding in a vital process of definition, affirmation, revision, and growth, a process that is the image, we may say, of the life process of a healthy society itself.”  

Robert Penn Warren

Self-love is the foundation of a sane society, our responsibility to ourselves — and to our selves — is really a responsibility to one another: to know our interiority intimately and hold our darkest sides up to the light of awareness. But part of our human folly is that we do this far less readily than we shine the scorching beam of blameful attention on the darknesses of other.  

Maria Popova referencing Erich Fromm

The full article by Mari Popova of Brainpickings is The Terror Within and the Evil Without: James Baldwin on Our Capacity for Transformation as Individuals and Nations  

One workshop can be transformative. One single positive experience, when we discover a latent talent or potential strength or experience a gesture of caring, can be transformative. In fact, the very first question asked, and the way it is asked, begins the change process. When we open ourselves to our best selves, envision possibilities, and get in touch with our strengths, a paradigmatic, seismic, quantum shift can happen in the blink of an eye.

Robyn Stratton-Berkessel, Appreciative Inquiry for Collaborative Solutions. 

Books

 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:

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

Episode Introduction

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

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

Episode Background

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

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

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

Come up for Air

come up for air - framework

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

Concepts we Explore in this Episode

Appreciative Inquiry High Point Experience

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

High Performing Teams

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

Learning Partners

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

Leadership Rises Up  from the Quiet Corners of an Organization

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

You do no harm asking for what's working.

Links to Other Resources Mentioned in this Show

The newly designed, Appreciative Inquiry Commons

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

Bliss Brown Seminal Appreciative Inquiry Summit, Imagine Chicago 

Professor Amy Edmondson TEDx Talk, Building a psychologically safe workplace

Gervase Bushe Article,  Appreciative Inquiry with Teams

Angela Ahrendts TEDx Talk, The Power of Human Energy

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

Connect with Mo McKenna

Mo’s website http://www.returnonenergy.ca

Blog https://wordpress.com/post/momentsbymoment.com/1845

Twitter: https://twitter.com/momckenna

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/maureenmckenna%20

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maureen.mckenna.106

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.

Innovative Ways that Inspire Human Flourishing for All

When did you last come away from an experience that had such an impact on you that you were filled with a joy and a hope that transformed you?  You witnessed human flourishing and unity with others. You felt inspired by the conversations and connections. You felt alive and energized. You experienced a sense of wholeness, oneness and community cursing through your body and a peace and infinite hope for what else is possible.

I am filled with gratitude that I just came away from such an experience.  The event was the Fourth Global Forum held at The Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit, at Weatherhead School of Managemhuman flourishing - diversityent at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH.   Over 300 people were tasked to Discover Flourishing Enterprise: The Key to Great Performance.   We came from 29 different countries by invitation, from free will, to contribute our minds, our hearts, our skills, our knowledge.  We were curious and open and hopeful.  We shared stories, dreams and aspirations.

Diversity underpins Human Flourishing

We were a hugely diverse gathering of people: business owners, leaders and entrepreneurs, multi-millionaires and start-ups; professors and students; octogenarians and millennials; of spiritual traditions, or none.  We honored our diversity and our shared common belief: human flourishing exists at all levels: at the individual level, organizational and whole systems level.   We shared our stories, listened and asked questions. We dreamed together about what we can bring to life. We co-created designs and prototypes of possible futures;  and we rolled up our sleeves to develop deployment plans to turn our dreams and their prototypes into action.

Business as an Agent of World Benefit

human flourishing - AI Practitioner CoverIt was my first time at a Global Forum, even though through my Appreciative Inquiry Certification at Weatherhead, I became familiar with and practiced at interviewing business leaders on the topic of Business as an Agent of World Benefit (BAWB).  For this event, I volunteered as an Appreciative Inquiry facilitator.  To my absolute delight, I was invited to co-facilitate the working group from AIM2Flourish with Professor Lindsey Godwin, my hero and dear colleague from the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College in Burlington, VT.

Appreciative Inquiry in Practice

To read more stories about the transformation that seemingly unlikely partnerships are delivering in the field of human flourishing,  please check out the special edition of the AI Practitioner  a publication of almost 20 years that focuses exclusively on the applications of Appreciative Inquiry across the globe.  This is a very generous gift from the owner, Wick van der Vaart, who co-edited this edition with David Cooperrider.

AIM2Flourish

human flourishing - AIM2Flourish Logo

AIM2Flourish was born out of the Third Global Forum in 2014.  Since then Roberta Baskin and Claire Summer (who as of June, 2017 now leads AIM2Flourish)  and a handful of business leaders and professors have taken the dream to made it flourish.  They have worked on an AIM2Flourish curriculum for university professors to link their students to enterprises that are not only doing well in the conventional business sense, but also doing good for their employees, their customers, the communities in which they operate, committed to human flourishing for all, including the planet.  Moreover, the really unique and cool contribution that AIM2Flourish offers its partners is to invite the participating business schools and their students to identify the enterprises whose innovations and contributions to the world are also addressing any one of the 17 the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Human Flourishing - Sustainable development goalsThe business students – the leaders of tomorrow – move beyond learning in the classroom into the field of real business.  Imagine the impact on them and the enterprises they interact with.

U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

I was human flourishing - prize trophydeeply honored to co-facilitate the AIM2Flourish working group comprising students, professors and business leaders from a number of South American countries.  This group included AIM2Flourish Prize Winners.  Their awards came from sharing the stories of the businesses who were helping to contribute to human flourishing by addressing some of SDGs.   The working group was brilliant and energized and committed to grow the AIM2Flourish mission by modeling leadership for 21st century and strengthening flourishing relationships across the plant.  I was struck with awe and filled with gratitude to watch them and hear them embrace the human flourishing - deployment planAppreciative Inquiry process with aid of their cell phones to translate English text into Spanish and then back into English to share their insights, dreams and plans.

And even though we had a language barrier, we communicated and shared delight and joy at our mutual understanding of each other.  We felt connected, united and impassioned by our shared commitment to amplifying human flourishing across the world.

 

Abundance of Talents, Generosity and Innovations

At this Fourth Global Forum every participant was a gift and there was an abundance of talent that spoke to our positive core of human flourishing, and wish I could name everyone, as every single person deserves credit. However, here's the line-up of outstanding keynoters and presenters, including David L Cooperrider, Chris Laszlo, Barbara Fredrickson, Tom Robinson, Jonathan Halpern, Jeff Hoffman, Shinzen Young, Jennifer Deckhard, Peter Senge, Julie Reiter, Fred Tsao.   Jon Berghoff was the masterful lead facilitator with his brilliant group of associates who made it such an outstanding event. Fun and practical improv tips were delightfully lead by Betsy Crouch and Zoe Galvez, co-founders of Improv HQ.  The talented graphic recorder was Jo Byrne,  Here is a sample of her talent.

And, I got to meet the charming Chuck Fowler, whose generosity and vision for a flourishing world started this all off.

Please, if you get the opportunity to attend the Fifth Global Forum in 2020, treat yourself to an experience that will fill you up and sustain you at many levels.  You will  enter into communion with those who care deeply about human flourishing and are actively leading positive change.

Opportunity to Hear Flourishing Voices in my Podcast Episode

There's also a podcast episode where you can hear the voices of participants at the the Fourth Global Forum:
Business Leaders, Professors and their Students Expose Flourishing Enterprises


The New Human and the New World – What does that Mean to You? – PS 64

Episode Introduction: The New Human and the New World

In this episode with Dr Lynda Klau, I continue on the theme of exploring neuroscience and why it is such a hot topic and creating an explosion of curiosity in all kinds of fields. It’s become significant beyond medical science into in the field of day-to-day human development and spirituality, helping us understand how working with knowledge of our brain, along with our mind, body, heart and relationships are creating the new human and the new world.

Lynda shares with us why she is so excited about neuroscience and how it’s impacting her, her clients and the world, and, how together we have the potential to co-create the new human and the new world.

It couldn't be more appropriate for Lynda to chat with me on this topic because she is the founder and director of LIFE UNLIMITED:The Center for Human Possibility. She is called to do this work in helping herself and others evolve to higher levels of development. She is a licensed psychologist, coach and speaker with over two decades of training and experience, working with all kinds of people. New human. Portrait Lynda KlauIn her practice, she draws from a formidable toolbox of cutting-edge modalities: mindfulness meditation and the present moment, breath and voice work, guided imagery, communication and relational intelligence, and so much more. She’s so well researched across many disciplines, Eastern and Western traditions, and offers a truly holistic, integrative perspective to her clients. I ‘ve personally know Lynda for 15 years, and I know her to be the real deal.

A Calling to Help Evolve the New Human

As a start to our conversation, I express my curiosity about what might have been some of the threads in Linda’s earlier development and professional experiences that have lead her to shift her work to include the study of the brain – including her particular orientation, interpersonal neurobiology – and why it’s so significant at this time. She shares an intimate story of experiencing a profound shift during a workshop when an acute awareness of self-love, love for all, and an overwhelming sense of participating fully in life struck her. It was such an epiphany that she knew in that moment she wanted to dedicate her life to helping others find that inner spirit. A guiding vision for her own life to live in this place of deep connection to her unconditioned self was established. Over time she has come to bring her work to help create the new human, as she coins it.

Who is this New Human?

The new human has evolved to show characteristics such as kindness, compassion, love. The new human is connected spiritually to herself and others. She experiences the joys of silence; feels safe and whole; is trusting, aware and values the importance of choosing.  She knows the power of her new brain to help her choose her life.New human - women contemplating on cliff

The New World

What’s so simple yet so significant about Lynda’s message is that it’s not enough to be an individual to have made the choice about living life as a new human and being fully present to life. What is even more uplifting is people taking their new awareness and choosing to be together, to collaborate and co-create the new world. This shift is one from just needing to survive to flourishing.  An understanding how our brain, mind and relationships can be differentiated and integrated to develop this new human is what will bring on the new world, where we will flourish.

From Fear to Freedom

On Lynda’s website you can learn a lot about her perspective on making the transition from fear to freedom. It’s been told many times that fear is the driver of the instinctive old brain which is located low in the back of skull and the emotional /social brain, the limbic located in the the mid-brain. The new brainlocated in the front of the skull, the neocortex is there, in conjunction with the mind and relationships to help us evolve ourselves and support others to do the same in a collaborative way. We can make this a shift becausewe now have the capacity to pause, reflect and choose. We can be free.  When we know we can choose, we use our whole brain capacity, and our whole self, transitioning through the emotions of fear to to integrating the front part of the brain with awareness of being able to make different choices.

Fear in our modern world is not provoked by the orange and black striped big cat in the jungle. It comes in the form of burnout, overload, stress, overwhelm, relationship breakdowns – we are back surviving as a way of living, instead of being aware of our how we have the brain, the body, mind and heart to truly flourish.

Transformational Moments Invite Us to Do the Work.

Opportunities that make us recognize what holds us back and keeps us small come in different ways. Being open to them is what creates the change. Transformational moments can drop into our laps AND we still have the do the work. As Lynda explains so clearly, that is the choice part. Seeing the opportunities in adversity is a choice.

When you choose to embrace life and accept all that comes as an opportunity, you are more open to co-create;  the universe steps in and you begin to see many synchronicities and serendipities.

Everything thing is an opportunity to grow – at all levels. When you collaborate with like-minded others, you begin to build a world that works for everyone and supports everyone.  The transformational change methodology of Appreciative Inquiry is one way to facilitate meaningful collaboration and co-creation.

Second Chance to Choose our Lives

Please listen in to Lynda as she shares with me the crux of her perspective, grounded in the new sciences. Namely, our new brain,  mind and relationship intelligence allow us to exercise our mindful self to stand in a different place from all the conditioning of our past. The new human recognizes that we can be free of that old, habitual response. We now have a second chance. Growing up, it’s likely we lost our connection with our innate self. We were dominated by what we were told we were and what the world is. Our evolved brain, mind and body allow all that’s within us to surface, so we can observe beliefs and thoughts with compassion and curiosity. We feel the emotions in our body, and with this elevated level of consciousness we are aware that we don’t have to identify with any of this old stuff. We are open to everything-within and without as we shift from avoidance to awareness.

Everything holds an Opportunity for Learning, Healing, Growing

I wanted to conclude these show notes with a quote that Lynda references in the show. It speaks to her message of the new human living into a new world:  To love the questions, to be curious and to live into both.  The point is to live everything.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Maria Rainer Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

How to Connect with Lynda

Lynda's website DrLyndaKlau.com

Lynda on Google+

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Lynda on LinkedIn

Lynda on Twitter

Let's Stay Connected

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Communication Skills Training for High Performance

8 minute read

My intention with this post is to illustrate how solutions to many of our organizational problems to do with leadership and human relations are embedded in the organization itself.  Employees have the solutions to most problems.  What we focus on grows is the principle addressed in this post. There are examples from the corporate world to improve communications and build cultures of ownership, as well as examples from elsewhere.

There is a key principle in the organization change methodology, Appreciative Inquiry that posits powerfully, what we focus on grows.  So when your organization offers communication skills training, what does the trainer focus on, or what is the trainer asked to focus on? As a big generalization, it's most likely the focus is on the need to fix poor communications across the organization.  Or, the lack of communications, or negative communications, or stressful communications that permeate the culture, thereby impacting relationships inside and outside the organization.  When that kind of climate infiltrates the organization, productivity is impacted, customer retention and innovation decrease, and creativity and vitality start on a downward spiral. 

Existing Paradigm “if it ain't broke don't fix it”

Unfortunately, it's often not until situations get to that low level, when the pain really starts to hurt, that there's a cry for “we need communication skills training.”   That pain signals an urgency to “fix what's wrong with a training solution.”   Such a response is the classic view of traditional management: “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.”  It takes a “burning platform” to initiate any change. I contrast that with my dear grandmother's favorite saying:  “a stitch in time saves nine.”

Let me share a few stories to illustrate how communications and more broadly organizational culture is impacted by understanding this Appreciate Inquiry principle of what you focus on grows.

CEO Steps From the Dark into the Light

The CEO of a multimillion dollar, international company was in the office building elevator one day to go down to lunch from his executive suite on level 77.  Several floors down three employees stepped into the same elevator all very engaged in a conversation. They paid no attention to him – the CEO – standing in the dark at the back of the elevator.  As the elevator door closed with its three new occupants, he quickly became aware, their conversation was a series of complaints and grievances about the company of which he was CEO and founder.

This company had become a global company through a number of recent mergers, and the three employees in the elevator were complaining about impossible workloads, their unavailable bosses, slow systems, volumes of work and unhappy customers. They were focusing on their grievances and airing them in a public place without paying attention to who else might be in the elevator with them, and possibly listening.

When the elevator reached the the ground floor, the CEO stepped out from the dark into the light, expressing concern about their conversation.  It was extremely upsetting to him to hear his employees speak this way.  He wanted to hear more about their experiences.  He asked them to reach out to his assistant and get on his calendar that afternoon.

Growth Mindset or Fixed Mindset

Before I continue, two questions:

Communication Skills Training Questions

  1. From your own world view, how do you think this story might continue?  From your own experience, if this had been you in the elevator and your CEO was standing at the back, how might this story continue in your organization?
  2. If you were the CEO and you heard your people speak about the organization in this negative way in public, what actions might you have taken?

Here’s what happened. They enter his office a few hours later.  He welcomes them to his office and serves tea.  He personally serves them tea.

  • He prides himself on being a gracious host and a fair person.
  • He says how grateful he is to hear their reality – how they're making sense of the current situation
  • He listens to their experiences, and acknowledges they are very different from what he hears is going on
  • He seeks to understand their perspectives
  • He admits shock and agrees he partly owns the problem
  • He requests their and everyone’s ownership in finding new ways to address the concerns they raise
  • He says he needs them and every member of the organization to co-create the future of the organization that he believes is possible and if everyone works together and communicates openly and honestly, it will happen

Communication Skills Training to Re-focus the Corporate Culture

He acted immediately.  The CEO took full responsibility.  It was time to re-focus and align the corporate culture.  He called in the HR Manager, requesting that communication skills training focusing on professional behaviors be sourced and made mandatory for every member of the organization at every level, from C Suite executives to mail room clerks.

I was fortunate to be hired as the change consultant by the CEO and the HR Manager to design a day long communication skills training focusing on professional behaviors and lead a team of facilitators to deliver the workshops in every department across the entire organization both nationally and internationally.

AMP - communication skills trainingWhat was different about this communication skills training from conventional training is that it was designed with the principles of Appreciative Inquiry.  This training was a highly interactive, experiential, strategically-focused workshop where the participants interviewed each other about the most positive communication experiences they had experienced in their lives – in this organization or elsewhere (a benchmarking exercise).  They identified what good communications and professional behaviors look like, sound like, feel like, smell like.  The workshop design focused at first on discovering the best of what exists in the organization already, when communications are at their best, because in the quieter corners of the organization there exists exceptionality and evidence of most effective and helpful communications.  By focusing on what works, the employees were able to co-create a new narrative around communications for high performance that came from their own world.  They did not fall into the narrative of trying to dissect the causes of poor communications and who's to blame.

It certainly wasn't training where the trainer stands at the front of the room presenting to a deck of slides, talking abstractly and theoretically about communications, contrasting bad and good communications, showing checklists of does and don'ts, and facilitating role plays.  There wasn't an “expert” at the front of the room telling them what they should do, who neglected to honor all the positive attributes that existed ready.

Taking Ownership for Implementation

After the employees had discovered best communication experiences through paired interviews, they formed small groups to share all their different stories of communications at their best, thereby identifying collective strengths, best practices and helpful resources.  Next, with all this new found data, they used their imaginations to envision their organization in the near future when all their collective strengths, capabilities and assets would be put into practice.   They were animated and excited about what they knew to be real and possible.  In the final part of the workshop, the participants self-selected into working groups to plan how to implement this vision they had co-created. They came up with specific projects and identified strategies, and goals, resources, timeframes, and resources that would result in improved communications throughout the company.  Communication skills training in this participative workshop format is sustained as the working groups continue to meet post workshop to bring the projects to fruition.

Collaborative Outcomes

What happened in that day long process and was repeated across the entire organization went beyond communication skills training.  Designing training with the Appreciative Inquiry approach, you can expect all of the following outcomes in addition to finding solutions for the “presenting problem”:

  • Highly engaged participants inspired by their own and their colleagues personal, and professional and organizational stories
  • Deepened appreciation of the collective strengths across the organization, with specific examples of golden innovations that already exist, perhaps in quiet unknown corners, or in other departments
  • Shared understanding about what more is possible and what success could and should look like in their department or organization
  • Seeds of ideas that can develop to become more widely integrated across the organization and with clients and vendors
  • A variety of initiatives and projects the participants come up with themselves during the workshop because they want them to happen and will safeguard them because they are invested
  • New knowledge networks and relationships
  • A work product that spreads the story possibly in multimedia format – video, digital, print – to communicate to those who were not physically present – to customers, vendors in newsletters or on the website
  • The potential for a truly transformational change
  • By osmosis, training in interviewing skills, listening skills, assertiveness skills, leadership, visioning, strategic planning are all experienced in one “communications skills training” workshop.
  • Based on all of the above, a sustained contagion effect that positively reinforces a culture where people can say, “we did it ourselves.”

In a nutshell, this collaborative way of communication skills training enables employees to find resources within themselves to bring to the situation.   Furthermore, when they feel supported by others, including coworkers and bosses, it leads to creating a nurturing and inviting environment where they feel safe at work resulting in greater quantity and quality of service.  Teamwork is enhanced, communication is improved, as people truly listen to one another and respect each other. They experience moments of care from others.  As a result, the focus shifts to more open conversation, where shared values get brought into the open and developing individual and organizational strengths becomes a focus which ultimately moves the organization towards resilience and a more empowered workplace.

One of my areas of specialization to is build custom training programs framed with the Appreciative Inquiry worldview.  My book, Appreciative inquiry for Collaborative Solutions, (2010) John Wiley has 21 such workshops.

What you Focus on Grows

I digress briefly to further illustrate this Appreciative Inquiry principle, what you focus on grows  with some examples not only at work, but more broadly in life, at home and at play.  communication skills training - meditating woman

Are you aware of what you enjoy focusing on?  What are the pleasures and treasures you experience when you invest your full energy – your emotions, your thoughts and actions on activities and with people that matter to you that bring you happiness AND meaning.  When you experience these meaningful and totally absorbing activities, you’re in the zone.  You’re so engrossed or absorbed that you lose track of time.  You are in the flow state that is a luscious state of feeling at one with the activity.

Musicians, writers, photographers, painters, poets and dancers know this experience, as do scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, athletes,  students, and lovers.  In fact, we all know it.  It’s the great gift of being fully present and in the moment with the activity.  It implies you have a degree of competence or a aptitude for the activity and at the same time there’s a degree of challenge that keeps you engaged.  Because it it were too easy, you’d be bored and move on to focus on something different.  If it were too hard, you'd be stressed out and you'd feel de-energized.

How would it be if we could get into that zone more consciously?  Imagine being able to communicate with greater consciousness because you know to focus on what you want Vs what you don't want. What if you could create that sense of heightened and engaged performance in the workplace a high percentage of the time?

Celebrate What's Right

A side story to further illustrate what you focus on grows:  Dewitt Jones, a photographer and motivational speaker, formerly with the National Geographic Magazine, created a beautiful video, Celebrate with What’s Right with the World.  I use it in my Appreciative Inquiry trainings. The entire video speaks to this topic of what you focus on grows among other fabulous messages.  I’d like to highlight two specific stories in Dewitt’s video.

puff balls communication skills trainingOn one particular photo shoot, he bookmarks a scene he wants to come back to to photograph.  It’s a wide open field as far as the eye can see of yellow dandelions.  They are so densely packed it looks like a yellow blanket.  When he finally returns to it a few days later, all the yellow flowers have gone.  It now looks like a drab green field of weeds.  Dewitt chooses not to focus on the loss of the yellow flowers.  He focuses on the new image nature has provided him.  His focus turns to transparent “puff balls” that are laid out before him.  His vision of the photo he had in mind was gone.  Did he get annoyed with the scene, himself or nature?  No, he didn’t focus on what went wrong, or what lost or what had gone.  He focused on what he now had. Glorious puff balls that when the sun rays shone through them they offered him beautiful images to photograph that he had previously could not not have imagined.  He focussed on what was to be celebrated in this new situation, not on what he had lost.

Another memorable scene took place in a tiny Irish village – Dewitt was on assignment to photograph an elderly woman who was a legendary weaver.  He was in awe of her craft and her generosity in allowing him to wander around and take as many photos as he wanted on whatever subjects took his fancy.  He tells the story that he thought he’d be smart and asked her what she thought about when she was weaving.  She looked at him, and, in a very humble way replied:  “I don’t think of anything.  When I weave, I weave.”  Such a beautiful example of being graciously in the moment, in the zone and focusing on what she was best at doing.

The Craving to be Appreciated

sunflowers - communication skills trainingTalking about a field of yellow flowers, I am reminded of traveling in Tuscany in Italy and being awestruck by fields of Sunflowers.   If you’ve ever gazed across a field of sunflowers, you know how breathtaking it is.  You feel like jumping for joy.  Their big, bright yellow heads all face the same direction to form a bright yellow blanket of sunny faces. That’s what’s so special about sunflowers, They actually turn their heads to face the sun.  They follow the sun from dawn to dusk.  They  grow in the direction of light and warmth, just as we humans.  As sunflowers turn to the sun for light and energy, so too, do we humans grow and light up with great energy in a field of abundant, sunny appreciation and positivity.  We literally light up when basked with appreciation.  I am reminded of the quote by American Psychologist William James:

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

So if we focus on what serves us well and is energizing to us, we flourish.  With more positivity in our lives, we are likely to create a life that enables us to flourish rather than languish.

Communication Skills Training

Recently,I had the privilege to work with a very large, global corporation, who wanted to bring greater diversity and inclusion into their workplace culture. To make that a reality, we did some fabulous work to identify what topic would focus the conversations and gather the best stories of diversity and inclusion that were  already being lived out  in the organization.  Through an appreciative inquiry process,  we worked out the best topic to focus on was “Freedom to step outside of our comfort zones.”  Why?  Because what they had already found out from the conversations they’d had during the research, data gathering phase is that when people in the organization were free to be themselves, they felt included and their diversity was accepted and celebrated.  So by shining the light and focusing on the best stories of diversity and inclusion enabled acts of diversity and inclusion, which then facilitated greater acts of diversity and inclusion and it began to  grow more diversity and inclusion, because, as I mentioned earlier – this Appreciative Inquiry Principle of what you focus on grows states that the topics or subjects we choose to put our attention to, or study, are fateful in the sense that  they not only determine what we learn, but they actually create it.

Through our Appreciative Inquiry and positivity lens , we consciously seek out that which we want more of, not less—hence what we focus on are the solutions and outcomes we wish to create. There are many examples of this principle in all walks of life, from raising children, to evaluating employee performance, to attending to health and wellness.

Do we place our attention and energy on the behaviors and outcomes we want in our children, co-workers, and diet and exercise regimes in order to create that which we desire, or do we place our attention on the things we want less of?

When we place sincere effort on the attributes we want to see, and can let go of those that no longer serve or support, we have greater chance of success in achieving our desired outcomes.

Greater Harmony in Relationships

Heres’ another example: If you wanted to reduce conflict in a team, and you invested effort into inquiring about their conflicts, the causes, the situations and how often they arose, the conversation would be all about the conflicts.  The team members would be replaying scenes of conflict in their minds.  Would you be helping them to move beyond the analysis of their conflict towards envisioning the possibility of building relationships with greater harmony when conflict was absent? Unlikely.

Teamwork Communication Skills TrainingIf the focus of the inquiry were to shift to  times when the members truly listened to each other, when they were respectful and supportive of each other, when they were present to each other with compassion, their minds would replay very different scenes.  They would be reconnecting with times when they were there for each other with interest and care.

So, when you inquire into deficient situations, you learn more about the causes the deficit – in this case causes of “conflict,” and it doesn’t help anyone learn anything about what it’s like when conflict is absent. When you study someone’s conflict, what opportunity do you have to learn about their “respectful, compassionate relationships?”

Similarly, if you studied “fear,” what would you learn about “connection”?

How deeply programmed are we to focus on the problem side of life Vs the developmental side of life?  In our workplaces, how do we see our employees and our leaders? It is all embedded in the beliefs we have which are reinforced through our language. The language we use shapes our narrative and therefore our reality.

Let me leave you with a question to ponder:  what are you growing in your organization – where is your focus?

I hope I have inspired you with some ideas and strategies about how you can increase greater participation and ownership in your investment in training in  your workplace through paying attention to where you focus your attention.  The more your focus on what you want to create in the world and what you value, the more you will create it.  When we seek to look for the best in ourselves and others, we are likely to find it. Appreciative Inquiry searches for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them.

My Gift To You:

How to Enliven Communication Skills Training

A highly participatory, interactive way to improve communications

Communications-Skills-Training-Workshop-3D-Cover

As a result of this free training workshop template, you (and your participants) will be able to:​

  • Describe excellent communication from many different perspectives
  • Identify the behaviors that demonstrate excellent communication skills
  • Demonstrate communication skills for high performance
  • Commit to activities that will continue develop skills
  • Contribute ideas for projects to improve communications across the organization

This free communication skills training is a workshop design that establishes what communication looks like when it’s at its best by tapping into individual and collective strengths and entrusting participants with positive results. It’s a benchmarking exercise that discovers what is already working well in your organization and other organizations, and what else needs to happen (or change) to deliver high performance.

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.

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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


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Shifting Power – Exciting Possibilities through Appreciative Inquiry With Tim Slack – PS55

Episode Introduction

Shifting PowerMy guest, Tim Slack is filled with energy, ideas, gratitude and generosity as he talks about his experiences with Appreciative Inquiry.  You’ll hear many references to people Tim admires, and whose work, contributions and essential being have been a positive influence in his work as a  master practitioner of Appreciative Inquiry.  Tim, along with Suzanne Quinney co-founded Appreciating People. They are recognized as UK leaders in the application of the power shifting approach of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) in communities, organizations and government agencies.

Tim lives and works in Liverpool in the UK, not far from Penny Lane, of Beatles fame, and, he reports, the tourists still flock there!

Episode Overview –  Shifting Power with Appreciative Inquiry

In this episode, you will hear from Tim, how extensively and innovatively he, his partner Suzanne Quinney and their associates are applying the transformational change method of  Appreciative Inquiry (AI) in the world. In our conversation, we offer that Appreciative Inquiry is undergoing a sea change – a transformation – of its own. Tim and many other AI practitioners continually contribute to the growing number of  practical and life-changing resources, expanding upon the traditional resources of Appreciative Inquiry across the globe.  We talk about the transformative impact of AI at the individual, community and organizational levels. Tim gives examples the resources he and his team have created and the groups he’s been working with: kids in schools, surgeons and nurses in hospitals, women returning from combat in the military, curators in museums, students in universities, the homeless, LGTBQ community, clergy and members of churches and more.

Did You Discover Appreciative Inquiry or Did Appreciative Inquiry Discover you?

I like to ask my guests about their initial experience with AI because growing evidence reveals that when we have our first exposure to AI, it feels so natural to us, that it seems we have “come home” and the entire worldview, principles and practices makes perfect sense to us as a way of being and working.

Tim scored the double jackpot – he discovered his future wife, Suzanne, and AI together. It was Suzanne who introduced him to AI.  They have been co-creating and lighting up the world ever since.  Together, they embarked on a long learning journey with and about Appreciative Inquiry from some of the best teachers and practitioners.  They developed professional relationships which over time developed into strong personal friendships, collaborations and ongoing co-creations.

Influences in Appreciative Inquiry

It delighted me to hear Tim offered that my book, Appreciative Inquiry for Collaborative Solutions: 21 Strength-based Workshops was very influential in helping him see the many practical applications of AI.  He also included Jackie Kelm’s books, Appreciative Living and The Joy of Appreciative Living as examples which take AI outside of academia and big organizational development summits into small group work, day-to-day practices and personal transformation. (Links below are offered below.)

Appreciating Church – The Book

Tim shares the story about how the Appreciating Church project originated.  A range of different church communities undertook trainings in AI, but the continuity element was lacking, meaning people experienced training and it stopped there.  So Tim and his colleagues created a longer term process so that the participants had resources to be able to apply it themselves in their own communities and beyond.  The program has been getting stronger and stronger over two years and in January 2017, the book, Appreciating Church will be available. This is an exciting addition to AI's body of work.

The opening lines of the book, dating back to the 14th century, quote St. Julian de Norwich (known to be the first woman to write a  book in the English language):

And all shall be well, all shall be well… for there is a Force of love moving through the universe, that holds us fast and will never let us go.”  St. Julian de Norwich (c.a. 1342-1416)

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-6-02-50-pm

Click on the image to view a PDF outline of “Appreciating Church” – the book

Listen in to learn more about this very exciting work, what’s in the book and how it could be recontextualized to other communities.  Hint, it’s about a God of Abundance, not pain and fear or scarcity, and how we can use our strengths collectively.

With 210 people already trained across the participating churches, Tim talks about the shifts that have already occurred and the impact this work is having, as it expands.  He also pays tribute to Jane Magruder Watkins and Ralph Kelly in embarking on this work.

 

Appreciative Inquiry Resources AKA Essentials

I find it delightful to plug into Tim’s perspective.  The “resources” he continues to create for the AI community – trainers, practitioners and their clients are referred to as “essentials.” Check out the Essentials page on the Appreciating People website.   They are truly beautiful and valuable – content-wise and aesthetically.

AI – A Sea Change?

We talked about the shift that we are witnessing in the applications of AI.  The sea change lies in the acknowledgement that AI is not just about big systems and organization development.  There is a desire to find out more about “the self” and desire to apply Appreciative Inquiry for personal growth and change.  Living in times of chaos and turbulence, we are looking for resources to help us be more grounded, to give us a framework that offers us hope and possibility, enabling us to tap into our inner strengths.  AI does this.  A recent survey I conducted confirms this trend.

Journaling

The value of journaling to support the “appreciative muscle” came out of the work Suzanne Quinney had been doing with the hostel residents (Suzanne describes the power of this work in an earlier conversation I had with her.)  The questions, the inspirations, the prompts in the journals allow the person to document their thoughts, reflections, insights along their journey.  Tim has created a number of journals that are specific to different contexts.  For example, “How To Be More Awesome” for students; “Food for Thought” for people who want to strengthen their appreciative muscle. The process of journaling can help in building resilience.  Questions are drawn from Appreciative inquiry and activities from the field of Positivity Psychology, such as daily gratitude, mindfulness and wellness activities. Tim is a big advocate of multiple learning modalities, including art and humor.

Shifting Power – Ensuring all Stakeholders ARE IN

During  our conversation, one of the tools Tim mentions is the ‘ARE IN’ check-in process, created originally by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff who created “Future Search” which was based on the original Search Conferencing Participatory Planning and Design methodology. (Open the Positivity Lens Reveal below to learn more)

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One of the challenges in bringing the whole system together to explore an organisation’s development plans is to ensure you have got the ‘right’ people there.

ARE IN could be a useful mechanism to ensure buy-in and ownership – which is a precursor to shifting power – give voice to all.

This acronym is a useful reminder when planning a large scale, whole systems change experiences.

The ARE IN tool, was developed by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff, as part of the ‘Future Search’ methodology.

They recommend that a whole system event or process should include participants who ‘ARE IN’, i.e. those with:

A uthority to act (e.g. decision making responsibility in an organisation or community);

R esources such as contacts, time or, money;

E xpertise in the issues to be considered;

I nformation about the topic that no others have;

N eed to be involved because they will be affected by the outcome and can speak to the consequences;

This check list implies you have people in the room who can make decisions and who can ensure change is sustained beyond the planning stages. 

What is Excellence?

Tim leaves us with hints of what Appreciating People are beginning to work on – looking at excellence in surgical procedures in hospitals. He concludes by pondering if the next question we could be asking, after the seminal AI question “What’s already working well” is

“What is excellence?”

A banquet of food for thought!

Links and Mentions

Tim’s Wesbite: Appreciating People

Tim’s email: Tim Slack  [email protected]

Tim’s Blog Posts: News from Appreciating People

Tim’s Twitter: @AppreciatingPeople

Tim’s LinkedIn:  Tim Slack

Interview with Suzanne Quinney: Social Innovations by Appreciating People, with Suzanne Quinney

Interview with Jackie Kelm: Three Steps to Appreciative Living, with Joy Engineer Jackie Kelm

St. Julian de Norwich – Amazon Page

 

Books Mentioned in the Episode


Let's Stay Connected

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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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