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


Downloadble resources and tools

Enter your details for instant access to this content

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.


Listen to Stitcher


Listen on Google Play Music

Subscribe Via RSS

If this episode was helpful or enjoyable to you,

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

Ability to Dream Influences your Destiny

When it comes to bringing positive change into your life, it might start as a wish, or an aspiration, or a dream.  We know from history, some of the biggest dreamers have created the most lasting positive social changes. The ability to dream allows for anything to be possible.  Imagining a desirable future is what keeps us going,

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

In the work I do as a change agent, whether as a coach with individuals or a consultant in a community or an organization, early in the process I seek to inspire every individual to see themselves in a new dream.

Ability to Dream

Ability to Dream Accepting we have the ability to dream big and bold, how to act on your dream is what comes next. Appreciative Inquiry, the transformation change method I teach and practice provides a beautiful framework to bring dreams to life – not only individual dreams, but also collective dreams.

Collective Dreams

Some of my most personally rewarding, professional experiences are in designing and facilitating teams or community groups to dream their future.  They may not be aware that's what they are doing at the start of an project, but as they follow the process, that's what they discover – they all have dreams of how they want their work to be, their communities to be, their worlds to be.  From a place of deep listening to one another, people discover a sense of union with each other and that there is also something larger.

Appreciative Questions

David Cooperrider is creator of the transformational change methodology, Appreciative Inquiry. Professor Cooperrider has worked with the Dalai Lama, Heads of States from all over the world and with top business leaders. He explains:

Appreciative Inquiry is a way of designing questions that allows us to dream and devise big ideas together, instead of focusing on problems.  It can quickly bring out the best in people and has been adopted by businesses worldwide.

Dream is in fact the 3rd step in the Appreciative Inquiry methodology.

As an example, in a planning session, here are some of the questions, I might invite participants to engage in:

  • What is important to you about being here today? 
  • What does this project means to you and the community?
  • How might you bring your strengths and talents to this project?
  • What opportunities exist and who will benefit?
  • What most excites you about this project?
  • What three wishes do you have for this project?

Inner Work happens before the Outer Work

These questions tap into peoples' values, their gifts and talents, their aspirations, their emotions, and their dreams (wishes).  In these conversations, people listen and learn.   As they find interdependencies, they tap into their creativity. The possibilities of being able to share a dream is more likely than they may have at first considered.  In fact, they are doing inner work while they are also committing to outer work.

 If you are interested to learn more about how I do this work, please take a look at my Services Page.

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)


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.


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)

positivity lens


Downloadble resources and tools

Enter your details for instant access to this content

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

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

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

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

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


Listen to Stitcher


Listen on Google Play Music

Subscribe Via RSS

If this episode was helpful or enjoyable to you,

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



Your Positivity Is Key to Embrace Change

If you're a regular reader of my blog, I  hope by now you are as excited as I am about positivity and the science of positive emotions.  Over time and with practice, positive emotions influence your thinking and your actions. Your relationships, your productivity, creativity and health stand to improve if you work at increasing the ratio of positive emotions up to 5:1 and even higher.

I can’t stress enough that positive emotions are the nutrients that nourish you. You can change your mind for the better.  Over time you accumulate all the micro-moments of positivity to help you deal with negativity and other day-to-day set backs and even painful, life-changing events.  Positivity helps you deal with adversity more effectively as it comes up in your life.  You build your resiliency muscle.

Micro-moments of Positivity

I recommend you seek out the positive moments in your day and there are likely to be many micro moments, as they are often so fleeting and so very subtle that they can go mostly unnoticed; you take them for granted and you may not even notice them.  It could be the chuckle of your baby, or the woof of your dog, your cat rubbing up against your leg to remind you to feed her, the smell of coffee the first thing in the morning, or the taste of that first cup of tea, the glowing light of the sunrise, the color and, the scent of flowers in your vase, the good morning from the bus driver.  Just pay attention and you will begin to notice all the positive things that impact your day.

Positive emotions help you prepare for the future, they help you  become a better version on yourself. The more positive emotions you experience, they broaden your thought action repertoire, and over time, they build your positivity resources.

Positivity Resonance

Positivity resonance is about the micro-moments of positive connections and experiences.  Positivity resonates back and forth between people and the more you become aware of these micro-moments of positivity, the more embodied they become.  Here’s a chance for you to build one of the lesser known principles of Appreciative Inquiry, the Principle of Enactment as outlined in an earlier post.  It’s taking the action and doing the practice.

In terms of positivity practice, here are some more examples of actions you can share with others to spread the micro-moments of connection: – sharing a smile, enjoying laughter, performing a kind gesture, watching a sunset together, playing a game, telling an engaging story. What you are facilitating is the synching up of two brains so they can become unified and can act as one.

Positivity is Key – Practice Daily

Positivity is a practice. It’s a movement toward what you desire and aspire. You cultivate it for yourself through the language you use, the habits or behaviors you exhibit, the interactions and relationships that you have, and how you invest your time. As you bring more positivity into your life, the accumulative effect is that it slows the rhythm of your heart, opens your mind, and softens your demeanour over time. It’s a rich and broad system that makes up positivity.

Positivity Ratio

In the opening paragraph, I refer to the 5:1 positivity ratio as being a worthy daily practice – seek to experience 5 positive emotions to 1 negative emotion to strengthen your positivity ratio.  In her books, Positivity, Love 2.0 and on the website,, Professor Barbara Fredrickson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has tools to help you bring more positivity in your life. After years of research and science, there is abundant evidence that positivity is key to opening you to an expanded worldview and increasing your personal and social resources. It's most certainly a worthwhile investment to build your positivity ratio.

Fredrickson’s list of positive emotions that she invites you to monitor each day include:

feeling amused, awe, grateful, hopeful, inspired, interested, joyful, love, proud, and serene.

How are you increasing positivity in your life?  Let me know what works for you and what shifts you are seeing in yourself and your relationships.

How Positive Emotions Make us Better Problem Solvers

Positivity is your power. It operates like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. Negativity has a power.  In fact, negativity has a stronger pull on us in evolutionary terms.  Both positive emotions and negative emotions serve us. All emotions have a purpose.

What comes to mind when you hear,

“Don’t get so emotional”, or, ‘don’t go all emotional on me; “ or “he’s so emotional.”

Or, you hear people say, as I’ve heard said,

“She’s being so emotional! And I’m just saying the truth!  I’m a realist.”

Both Positive Emotions and Negative Emotions Serve

All emotions serve us.  You can be real and positive simultaneously — AND, you can also be real and negative simultaneously . Neither is inherently good or bad. They just are; and they serve us for BOTH our survival AND our flourishing.

Neuroscience teaches us that negative emotions and positive emotions activate different neural connections in the brain. They release different chemicals and overtime they influence our biochemistry and change us at the cellular level in different ways.

Below is a very personal story. The purpose is to show how negative emotions set us off on one course of action that impact our brains and bodies;  and positive emotions set off a other another response. You’ll also observe that you can’t shift out of a state of negativity and despair until you begin to experience a shift to positive emotions towards hope.

If you’re feeling negative there’s most likely one solution you’re stuck on and it's hard to shift from that place of stuckness.  When you experience positive emotions, you're more fluid and you'll find you are open to many more different possible directions that will help you with solutions to help solve your problems.

The brain lights up differently to different responses. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in the brain shows that different neural pathways light up when subjects experience negative responses versus positive. fMRI is a relatively new procedure that measures the tiny metabolic changes that take place when a certain part of the brain is activated.

Positive Emotions help with Problem Solving

Positive emotions light up the part of the brain that helps us see the big picture. To help people do that, you first induce some kind of positive experience, such remembering a past experience that was joyful or warming, or listening to music, or seeing pictures of loved ones; or you remind them of something that’s special to them or they want, then you are more likely to open them up to connect in a more resourceful way to the issues at hand and help with problem solving.

This is why accessing positive emotions is foundational to creating positive change.

Personal Story

My sister Skypes me in tears. She apologies for not being in touch but she's been in a really bad place and she’s calling to let me know she’s quitting her job. She blabbers in between sobs, that she's coping, she's bad feelings: she's overwhelmed, and feeling totally incompetent; she feels she's letting the side down; she feels a failure and wants to give up. She blurts out she's going in to work the next day to tell her boss she's quitting.

I'm in shock. She loves her job, after having a tough time starting out in life. She’d hated school. She got into the wrong crowd; did drugs, got expelled from one school. But she loved animals and started working at an Animal Hospital and Shelter.  She loved it. She adopted cats and bred cats for years.

After several years being a vet’s assistance, she decided she wanted to become a nurse. But she didn’t have the educational qualifications to enter nursing and in those days – in the 1980s nursing training was actually conducted in the hospitals. So, she hired a math and English coach; got all the references she needed, passed the entry exams and thus began her nursing career of 25 plus years.

Years fly by and she ends up an Emergency Room nurse. Several weeks before this call when she's sobbing that she's quitting her job, she'd been offered a special job in a shiny new wing of the hospital. It was an honor to have been invited to apply and she was successfully awarded the job and therefore, she was being acknowledged very highly in being chosen to work in the shiny new hospital wing.

And now – three weeks into it, she wants to throw in the towel. She's feeling so bad that there's only one way out for her – quit – it’s the flight response of that old reptile brain. You fight or you flee. She has no fight left, as she's emotionally drained and physically and mentally exhausted.

I knew that to get her to shift from feeling totally powerless to finding some personal power was the only way that she could begin to imagine a different future.

Coaching Family is a Challenge

It was a tough call for me, because I think many of you will agree, coaching a family member is not easy. There’s a lot of emotional baggage you both carry around with you. Yet, my sister was in serious pain and it pained me to see her that way. I wanted so bad to help her.

So after acknowledging how she was feeling, and showing that I had been truly listening by reflecting back some of the words, and feelings she had been expressing, I asked the following questions bit by bit, allowing her the space to respond in her own time in between sobs, gasps and silences :

  1. In five years time, how do you want to look back on your almost 30 year nursing career?
  2. You’re so proud of your achievements, how do you want to remember all these efforts and successes in the future?
  3. How do you want people to remember you?
  4. What have you imagined about your own retirement and your own retirement party?

I could go down this line of inquiry because I know her history and I know that many of her friends were beginning to retire and they loved to party.

I started to notice a shift in her body and face – the crying stopped, long pauses of silence, some feeble sounds of acknowledgement about what she had achieved and how important her work was to her, because she really did love her work and the people she worked with and cared for.

Then like a bolt, she said, “I know what I can do”…..and she came up with her own solution.  She would go to her boss the next day, not to quit, but ask to go back to her old job, which was still open to her. She had FORGOTTEN about that option.  She was so overwhelmed, that the negative emotions that had shut her down and closed off options.

The solution was always there, but the negative energy she had spiraled down into had prevented her from possibilities thinking.

In hearing this story, you could add some of your own perspectives as you make sense of this story. Here are two common ones.

Fear of failure

Fear of failure is self-sabotage that prohibits us from taking action. If you think back to your own early childhood when you might have been fearful of raising your hand to contribute your ideas in the classroom situation because you if your were wrong, you were chastised and made to feel bad.

Those kinds of past experiences come up when you are in a negative state. Those memories of past pain tell you to stay safe. The hormone cortisol is released when under stress. And if you’re constantly stressed, the release of too much cortisol over time can lead to serious health issues.

And coupled with the biological responses, you have the psychological response from the old stories you tell yourself to keep keep you “safe”. Those little voices in your head that come from somewhere: “Play it safe. Stay Put! Leave the courageous acts to others!”

I’m reminded of a thought-provoking quote from Dr Mark Goulston “to be only safe, you’ll end up sorry.”

Fear of the unknown

Equally pervasive is another kind of fear, and it’s related. It’s fear of the unknown or fear of others; and it’s far more subtle; therefore, you may not be as aware of it; yet, it does stand in the way of your personal leadership and your ability to embrace any kind of change.

In the workplace, fear of the unknown and fear of others may be evidenced when a new person joins the team, a new leader is hired, or a new company takes over yours. You close off to new inputs and so  you are not allowing yourself to be open to change.

This fear comes from the need for self-preservation. You may fear others who may not be like you, or who have different perspectives that you don’t yet understand. This fear absolutely gets in the way of building relationships, and slows down progress.

In Summary

To sum up, here are some facts about the different purposes of both positive and negative emotions that come out of this story. When you are in a negative, depressed, anxious, fearful state, you close yourself off from seeing there are many possible directions you can go in, or choices you can make, or options you can consider.

You have to be able to access the positive feelings before you can have any positive thoughts, let alone take positive action.

Positive emotions expand your awareness and help you come up with, different possibilities for action.

Positive emotions get people to see the big picture.

Once you induce something positive into a situation,then you're more open to find solutions and be a shining example of an agent for positive change.

Human Problems Are Not Fixable

Seeing the World Anew!

Why have I become an advocate of the life-affirming, change methodology Appreciative Inquiry? It's appropriate for our forever changing, complex world.  It offers a framework that is inquiry-based, rather than prescriptive or consultant-driven. It seeks to affirm, inspire and accelerate anticipatory learning to bring out the best in each of us, propelling us all to greater accomplishments, achievements at the individual and collective levels.  And, most importantly, it works!

Appreciative Inquiry  (AI) is a perspective on the world that invites you to see yourself and the world through an appreciative or valuing eye, instead of a self-critical way.  How you use words informs your beliefs about yourself;  and the stories you tell, the narratives you construct shape your own and our collective destinies.

Zero in on the Problems

In a nutshell, Appreciative Inquiry is a strength-based, generative approach to change and development, which starts, from what already works in a given context, and seeks to discover strengths, existing assets and positive potentialities. This differs from the traditional approach, which zeros straight in on the problem, so prevalent in our organizations, institutions, and families. Grounded in theories from the disciplines of organization behavior, and  the sciences of sociology and psychology, there's a good dose of metaphysics thrown in. Those of us who practice AI refer to it as both a way of being and doing.

Reframing Human Problems

Why is zeroing straight onto the problem not helpful in all cases?  It implies things don’t work, things are broken. If it’s a bike, a computer, window, a machine of any kind, that approach is fine. But when it comes to human beings who are incredibility complex with all kinds of influences and ideas and different biological makeup and emotions, it’s not helpful. All of you have unique character traits, attitudes, beliefs and traditions, so the problem solving approach doesn’t apply.  Human beings are not problems to be fixed.

Appreciative Inquiry Framework

As a change method, AI is equally effectively at the individual, organizational and societal levels.  It offers a structured framework and process to help you understand

1. how you tell stories and construct narratives, which addresses:

  • how you make meaning of our own stories and the stories of other people
  • how you make sense of your live, and by extension
  • how you make sense of your world
  • how you interpret things

2. AI helps with relationships, making you more aware of:

  • how you relate to yourself
  • how you relate to others
  • how you relate to the world itself

2. AI helps you become more conscious of:

  • how you use language
  • how you focus your attention
  • how you create the results you get
  • how you label things
  • how you deal with change
  • how you envision our future
  • how you choose to live your life

To summarize,

  • Appreciative Inquiry is the discovery of the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them.
  • It is an art and practice of asking unconditional, positive questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend anticipate and heighten positive potential.
  • Instead of negation, criticism, backward-looking problem solving through root cause analysis and spiraling diagnoses, there is discovery, dream, design and destiny.
  • Appreciative Inquiry is the art of asking unconditional, positive questions to strengthen the system’s capacity to anticipate and heighten positive potential. (Source the AI Handbook)

The Direction of Your Inquiries

I invite you to start focusing on the direction of your inquiries, your conversations, your stories. Before you even open your mouth to engage with another, your world view – starting with how you think, what your believe – will show up in the words you use that tells others how you see yourself and them, because how you see them is how you will describe them.

If you see your world as kind and forgiving, you will describe it that way. If you see it as tough and unfair, you will describe it that way.  Whichever way you see, you’ll live into that story.   

We can start shifting our focus from the problem view of human kind to the appreciative view.  To quote William James:

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

Change your Story, Change your Life

If you want to change something in your life, a way to start is to change your story. Start telling a different story. You can live yourself into a new reality by deciding on a different ending to your narrative. You can give your power away, or you can take your power back. How you construct your own narrative will determine that.  It’s true for individuals, organizations and countries. That’s what Nelson Mandela did, what Martin Luther King did, what Mother Theresa did, and what many artists and actors do.

Rewrite a New Ending

You will know people in your own life who are rewriting their narratives because they can. You know them personally, or you know them through the media. They want to change their own life, and some even want to change the lives and destinies of others – particularly if they are in a leadership role.  They consciously start to construct a new narrative with new words and a new vision.  In the entertainment field, I bet you can name a number of singers and artists who have changed their lives because they’ve changed their personal story – Madonna, Lady Gaga,Taylor Swift come to mind: three famous women artists across generations.

Universal Touch Points

Storytelling is a powerful way to deepen connection and understanding.  It is through telling your story to others that you transcend differences as you discover the universal touch points of what it is to be human. When you are open to others to truly connect, you find your intersect points, and from that shared place of common humanity you begin to share dreams and aspirations, addressing problems in different ways.

As you talk to each other, you set the course for action. If a conversation is filled with uplifting stories of success and joy, you are more likely to pitch in with your own stories of success, and others will do the same. As you construct meaning in relationship with others, you begin a process of shared understanding. You begin to share perspectives, and the stories begin to mingle and form a collective that you begin to share and spread.

Appreciative Inquiry can Change your Story

Those of you who know me, read my posts or listen to my podcast, realize that the world view and practice of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) informs who I am in world.  Personally and professionally Appreciative Inquiry has changed my life for good.  I have learnt the significance of inquiry, generativity and curiosity as powerful ways to engage in conversation and connect deeply with others. A way to truly listen to others is through careful choice of words and questions. It enables us to honor all our various experiences, our differing perspectives, and encourages us to tell our stories, and even begin to shape the direction of new stories.

As a personal and organization change methodology,  Appreciative Inquiry's strength-based and positive framing of language guides you to find the best in situations.  You share stories of what works, not what’s broken and what makes you feel uplifted, not pulled down. With deeper understanding and application of the guiding principles, you become more aware and pay attention to the stories you are telling yourself and others. As a result, you’ll begin to notice a shift in your energy and your relationships.

You are a Storyteller

Whether you acknowledge it or not, you are a story teller and you depend on a regular narrative to help you navigate through your days. You tell stories everyday: at home with your family, at work with your colleagues and clients, at play with your mates, and in romance with your lovers. Who you hang out with informs your narrative, your story –  what TV shows you watch, what clothes you buy, the food you eat and all that you regularly do informs your world view and IS your story.

Significantly, the stories you tell yourself get lived out daily. They guide your beliefs and choices, thereby impacting your thoughts and actions. As you become more conscious of your own stories and the stories of others, you begin to notice different perspectives and potentially reach new levels of understanding. You begin to make sense of complex issues, and together in relationship with others you can create new stories.

So what are your stories? Do they ignite you and uplift others with greater energy, increasing your levels of satisfaction and joy, supporting you in upward spirals, or the opposite, sending you and others off on a downward spiral associated with energy loss, dissatisfaction, and feelings of life being sapped.  Why not give it a try:  change your story, it may change your life.


Change your Words: Create your Best Year Yet

Now, it’s my assumption, since you’re interested in reading this post, change is on your agenda.  You see a need for it and you have your reasons.

Whether you're in the business world, the world of healthcare, or education, or any of the professions, you'll hear language such as re-engineering, reinvention, repurposing, disruption and these terms come in and out of vogue.  Bottom line is: change is viewed as necessary if we are to survive as a planet, a nation, an organization, a family, or an individual – so from a whole systems perspective, we recognize change is here to stay – and has been constant throughout the history of the planet.

So, it would seem a smart thing to make change work for us and be agents of positive change rather than resist and you’ve heard it before – be a dinosaur!

With very many people, mention “change” and the very idea of change provokes feelings of concern, resistance, and anxiety. Yet, in others, change is associated with excitement, adventure, opportunity. It depends on the context and the purpose, and, THEY change all the time. When working with others, being sensitive to how they view change is important to your success.

Some Words Resonate and Some Don't

Let’s step back for a moment and review some words and meanings associated with change across a whole lot of contexts and disciplines.  How do YOU perceive change and how do you think others perceive change?  It’s worth having a big picture view before getting into the details.  And it’s good to have a baseline of where you’re starting from.

Think about all the words that are synonyms for change. You’ll find words that work for you and those that don’t. Some you might see as positive and some as negative, and some are neutral, and some may have no real meaning for you at all. All are legitimate and relevant.  Sometimes, it might be useful to change your words.

Free Worksheet

Worksheet stack - 250pxYou might enjoy downloading this worksheet and do the exercise for yourself to determine your take on the words around “change.”  What words do you perceive as negative, positive or neutral. This worksheet is one of many worksheets in my online leadership course, Be an Agent for Positive Change.  You can find out more by clicking on the banner above.


Making Choices to Reframe the Usual Suspects

Even if you’re a wee bit resistant or skeptical, or are in relationships with people who are, just imagine if you could begin to view change as something that you could embrace even when it’s not desirable. You can learn you way into being positive and making choices to reframe the usual suspects through a practice that will help you make a shift towards the good, the possible, even when you are feeling discomfort, or insecure or vulnerable.   

I’m not being Pollyana here. I’m an Australian, with an anglo-saxon cultural imprint of skepticism. In fact, as I was learning this change methodology called Appreciative Inquiry (which changed my life professionally), I challenged my professor with “is this all American have a nice day and have a smiley face hype?”  I was struggling to get my head around the principles and sciences of positive change.

And now look at me!  I’m a positivity strategist – an agent for positive change. I am teaching it, speaking about it, writing about it, coaching and consulting in this life-centric, life-changing methodology, Appreciative Inquiry, which has been called a positive revolution in change.  

Change your Words to Change your Life

The language we use and the stories we tell ourselves inform who we are and how we live our lives. And the role of emotions in changing your brain, your behaviors and your mindset is key to helping us change in positive ways.  Paying attention to the words you use, your emotional responses to the topic of change itself can lead to the changes may give your stories different endings and lead to positive results.

Baby steps, Courageous Actions – The Principle of Enactment

This Principle of Enactment is one of the four lesser known Principles of Appreciative Inquiry.  This is a concrete Principle because it’s about action. For those of you who like to get into action, this one will be extra satisfying for you.

Courageous Actions Comes from Baby Steps

The Principle of Enactment implies it’s fine to start change with baby steps;  to try on new behaviors and test them out to see what works and what doesn’t.  It means bringing new ideas and behaviors into your way of being and doing.  Once you start to make little changes, it's more likely you'll begin to make necessary adjustments and the change begins to get more deeply integrated into who you are; and guess what!  Your behaviors and thinking change also.

Practices of Enactment

There is inner self talk and outer enactment.   Three basic practices for you:

1. Just start!  Even if you fail and want to give up, if it’s in your vision for who you want to be, you’ll find a way. Be gentle with yourself.  Stay open to possibilities without judgement.

2. Experiment!  You have to feel it to know it!  That’s what enactment is.  It’s being in action  – you feel the energy, the results, the power, the love at a cellular level.  It washes over you in a good way.

3. Trial and error works.  Start small; and with a tiny taste of success, you’ll see it grow.  When we enact in the present that which we so desire for ourselves, and is aligned to our vision and purpose, we take risks because, you know what,  to be only safe, you’ll end up sorry!  The Principle of Enactment enables a life filled with life of courageous actions.

Personal Story of Enactment

Let me illustrate with a personal story.  It’s about my yoga and meditation practice.  I wanted to be really good at both.  They were both important to me.  Yet, for years I struggled to make them part of my life. I found yoga too slow; and meditation, as I understood it at the time, didn’t work for me because I could not “empty my mind”.  Every time I sat on the mat, my mind was racing and I’d get very agitated that I couldn’t do it and I kept “failing”.  So I stopped trying.  Years passed.  I kept up with all my high energy aerobic fitness program, biking, running kayaking etc. I’m proud to say I even completed a triathlon.

Convenience Builds Routine

One of the issues I had with starting a yoga practice is that I didn’t have a center close by and therefore couldn't start a routine practice and see any improvements. I need to see and feel results.  I had no way of embodying the practice so it could became part of who I am.  Until, I had a BFO – a blinding flash of the obvious!

Four years ago I found an app, called Yoga Studio and it changed my life.  I love this app.  I practice Yoga every second day and sometimes when my schedule or the weather doesn’t allow me to go outdoors to walk, I practice it daily.  I now enact my yoga practice, and it’s part of me.  If I miss more than two days, I’m not a happy chappy!  By following the program in this app,  I started with the basics and I worked my way through the program.  I now can do it with my eyes closed and really get into the zone.

Opening the Mind

With regard to my meditation practice, that change came earlier.  As I learnt more and more about  embracing appreciative, strength-based, positive methods of change as a professional, the biological and neurological scientific research that supported the benefits of meditation resonated strongly as I integrated those disciplines into the spiritual traditions of meditation practices.

I stopped being my own worst critic and started a beautiful meditation call Loving Kindness Mediation.  I still practice.  And being able to “empty the mind”, doesn’t stress me anymore, because I’ve learnt there is so much more to a meditation practice than “emptying the mind.”

What's your story? How does this Principle of Enactment show up for you? What's something that you started in a small way, but has led to a practice that you are now grateful for?

Invest in Developing Strengths – Why Bother?

Before I even started school, I remember annoying my grandmother, mother and father because they thought I asked too many questions.

“Curiosity killed the cat” was one of the many proverbs my grandmother delighted in repeating to me, every time I poked my head into something new, or asked “Why?” It silenced me, as I was upset by the idea of “killing cats.”

My mother, too, after endless “Why?” questions, in frustration would sigh, “Because I said so” or “’Y’ is a crooked letter that can’t be made straight.” I had to pause to think hard about trying to straighten the letter “Y” and wouldn’t dare ask, “Why does it need to be straightened?”

Even my father would tell me, “Mind your p’s and q’s.” I couldn’t fathom that one.

Curiosity and Love of Learning Energize Me

In spite of these early reprimands, it seems my curiosity, love of learning, and desire to seek out new ideas have been my constant guides. These days, whenever I am in a new territory, I am called to go further to explore what’s around the corner, over the hill, or beyond the horizon.

I am truly satisfied when I discover for myself what I can learn and what new ideas come up that stimulate possibility-thinking and what-if scenarios.

After all these years, I know now that curiosity, love of learning, collecting ideas, and seeing the big picture are my best attributes, or my signature strengths. I know I am most satisfied when I am playing or working to these strengths.

Our Weaknesses Attract More Attention and Investment

It’s a relatively new, and thankfully a growing trend, to focus on and develop strengths. Yet, the old paradigm of ‘overcome weaknesses first’ is played out every day in most of our homes, our schools, our institutions, and our places of work and worship.

The behaviors, the processes, the decisions that are weak or problematic in some way, are the first to grab attention. You focus on the things that “need fixing.”  What happens as a result is those behaviors, thoughts, feelings, decisions, and processes that are working well and bring you successes don’t attract the same attention or the investment of resources.

Do you think it’s a fair generalization to say that you invest energy, money, time, intellect, and emotion into things that don’t work for  you more than you  put energies into those things that will give you an easier and a much-better return for your efforts and investments?

The Task of Leadership

Key question: Are you better off investing in and developing strengths? – defined as innate talents that can be more easily and speedily developed – than dealing with weaknesses that can be worked around and will take more effort, time and resources and always be a struggle?

The late management and leadership guru, Peter Drucker’s quote is relevant more than ever:

 “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths, making our weaknesses irrelevant.”

Strength-based approaches to human and organization development and positive psychology, defined as the study of strengths, excellence, resilience, and optimal functioning in general, focus on people’s talents and gifts.

Your talents and gifts are your strengths. When people are performing in roles in which they play to their strengths, studies show that performance and satisfaction increase, productivity improves, and they have greater chance at achieving their full potential.  That’s from the book Now, Discover your Strengths, by Buckingham & Clifton (2001).

This is a radical departure from the long-held view that to help someone perform at his or her best, you work on improving the person’s weaknesses. This view is evidenced by the fact that in 2001 only 20 percent of employees in companies across the globe feel their strengths are in play on a daily basis or  “have the opportunity to do their best work”.  Good news is, in 2014, that statstic has jumped to an average of 30%.

Are you helping grow that statistic?  I sure hope so.  I know as an agent for positive change, I am.