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?
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 Storytelling
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 REVEAL
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
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.