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, and the joys of co-authoring.
I’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
It 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 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.
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