International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry


Shifting Paradigms with Appreciative Inquiry

In the August 2021 of AI Practitioner we have three enlightening articles for Voices from the Field, each one providing a unique window into Appreciative Inquiry. Faith Addicott presents the Constructionist principle as part of her ongoing series titled ‘Our Principles in Action: Appreciative Inquiry for Justice & Belonging’. We are then introduced to Vera A. Hofmann and her work, which considers the shifting narrative across business and society as it continues to move us toward a new paradigm. The third article, by Jan Driesen, examines four key factors that impact the successful application of AI throughout the organisational change process. It is my pleasure to present all three authors to our AI Practitioner readership.

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Shifting Paradigms with Appreciative Inquiry

Vera Hofmann, founder of Dare to Imagine (2020) and driven by the question “Why do we humans do what we do?” She helps individuals and organizations as facilitator and business coach to become aware of the paradigm shifts we go through. Her online program, ‘Shifting Paradigms with Appreciative Inquiry’, starts in October 2021.

Recently a friend and colleague posted an interview where we talked about fear, patriarchy, money and how they might singly or in a connected way shape how we perceive reality and react to it. Listening to our conversation once more reminded me that we are indeed living in interesting times. Times that give us the chance to not only witness but actually shape and negotiate a lot of fundamentals anew.

What do I mean by that? I believe that we stand at the cusp of a new paradigm. A time where the way we do business, how we live and work together in communities and our society, as well as, how we a) see and recognize and b) take the needs and boundaries of our home planet into account is changing rapidly and fundamentally. That conclusion in itself is nothing new. You probably have heard the term paradigm shift before. Maybe you are even tired of buzz words like these. I challenge and invite you, however, to bear with me and these words for a little longer. Usually when words like that re-appear over and over and create ripple-effects it is worth looking a little closer: what do we actually mean when using the term paradigm shift? What does the concept and its parts have to do with you and me? How are the developments that are described with that term connected with the things that you and I do, like Appreciative Inquiry (AI), personal development, facilitation of group processes and change in organizations?

When we look up paradigm shift, we find different definitions. A Wikipedia search gives us an interesting one from Thomas Kuhn. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions he writes: “Paradigm shifts arise when the dominant paradigm under which normal science operates is rendered incompatible with new phenomena, facilitating the adoption of a new theory or paradigm.” And even though he explicitly puts this definition in the context of science, it highlights the parallels to what we see happening around us in different spheres. Whether we look at our global money system with the rise of alternative currencies and blockchain technology, the dissolving of traditional hierarchies and the connected challenges around how we live and work together (just dropping in the keywords of diversity, equity and inclusion, also discussed by Faith Addicott in her series on AI and Justice in this column) both in organizations and larger societies, we’ll find plenty of major shifts happening in parallel.

Having conducted research for about a decade, I would summarize the following major developments under the umbrella term “paradigm shift”:

  • Moving from centralized to decentralized power
  • Appreciating diversity in and around us
  • Shifting from a fear- to a purpose-, trust- or even love-based economy
  • Shifts in value creation and its recognition in times of artificial intelligence
  • Planetary thinking in decisions that we make as consumers, policy makers and in business

That’s a mouth full. There are many articles and books written about each of the bullet points above, so I won’t go into detail. Furthermore, this is not a journal on future research. So, you might wonder what it has to do with you, me and AI. A lot, I would say. I argue that any of these developments can be best accompanied and supported by creating awareness and increasing the capacity for change in the respective system(s). And we as AI practitioners have an enormously powerful tool at hand that will help our fellow human beings both understand what’s going on to co-create the developments and, most importantly, accept responsibility and accountability for the role that each of us plays in these developments.

Again, I couldn’t possibly capture all of these developments and how we can relate AI to them in detail within this article. What I can do, however, is pick one central realization that is, in my opinion, at the heart of the paradigm shift. If we manage to get our head and heart around it, we might have an entry point for all other developments. What central development am I referring to? The one about shifting from a fear- to a love-based economy.

What I mean is not that I see (or want) us all to be hugging and kissing each other in the near or far future. I also think that there will still be competition and other troubles between us humans and our businesses. What I mean by a love- (or trust-) based economy is that we both realize for ourselves and then for others that work and value-creation don’t have to be suffering per se and that there’s enough for all of us. That we don’t have to secure our existence, but that our existence is (for many) already secured.

What I came to understand is that many of us consciously or subconsciously assume that money (or any other compensation) is only earned if we suffer in the process of value creation (Taranczewski). Many assume that if we don’t threaten ourselves or others, we become lazy. So we operate from fear. But we know from research that creative thinking and the creation process that follows functions better when we are in ‘flow’: we use our talents in a task in a way that brings joy. We know as well that people both function best in organizations and are more open to change in psychologically safe environments.

So how do you help your clients to create safe spaces where they can gently transition from a fear-based culture to a culture and environment of trust and care for each other, where they can do what they love to do? How do we create safe environments that invite us to overcome our fears and step into a value-creation process based on love? We make sure, both for ourselves when we are creating products and services, and for our clients that we are operating from a “conscious space”. What do I mean? In my view, it is a space where we understand where our fears come from, accept them without judgement or projection, and transform them into self-awareness, understanding and loving acceptance.

Easier said than done, I know. But there are ways to do that. I’m quite sure that many of you have plenty in your (coaching) repertoire. However, for those who still would like to learn one more, let me share with you one of my favourites that takes you, in its speediest version, only fifteen minutes.

When the dreadful emotion catches you, take a break and acknowledge the fact that you are in fear: anger, frustration, procrastination, you name it. This already takes courage. So, congratulations if you made that first step!

Take a piece of paper and a pen. You have to pin that feeling down on paper with handwriting, otherwise your mind will find a thousand ways to let you tiptoe around it, just for you to avoid feeling what you need to feel. Why does your mind do that? Our minds are usually afraid of feelings – at least unpleasant ones – and want to protect us from being overwhelmed. Thank your mind and send it on a mini-vacation.

Set the timer for ten minutes. Write everything down going on inside you, without further ruminations. Be especially curious around the feelings that you find. Give these feelings a name. Then ask yourself:

Where is that feeling localized in my body? (The neck? The legs?)

  • How big is it? (A tiny cramp in the chest or filling the whole torso?)
  • Does it move?
  • What temperature or color does it have?
  • Is there a picture or metaphor that would describe it well?
  • You want to ask your body questions that allow it to go beyond the first reaction of fight, flight, freeze or fawn.

And now the breakthrough question: where in your life did you first encounter that feeling? Our body has an incredible memory and stores relevant information, so it recognizes the feeling again. When we ask our body gently to guide us back to the situation when we first encountered the feeling, it will in most cases do that for us, if it feels safe enough.

This is usually the moment when I start to cry. After that contact-making with the wisdom of my body, building up the understanding and trust, my body feels safe enough to go back to and work through traumas that have kept me in the same thought-feeling-loop for years. And for me that process very often goes hand in hand with tears. The more I do these kinds of exercises, the more I get in touch with traumas that I did not even experience myself. I have the notion that it’s the generations, and – in my case often the women – before me who entrust me with the healing of their traumas. My body allows me to get in touch with the bruised, terrified, tortured ancestors to sooth their pain, to comfort them, so they can share their hidden wisdom with me.

The last step is sitting with the emotion and gently holding yourself in that situation. Writing everything down helps me a lot. Or reaching out to a trusted person who can help me create comfort again and make sense of what I just experienced. It’s here where the healing takes place. It’s here where our level of awareness increases drastically, where the understanding both for ourselves and the way others (re)act in similar situations grows. It’s here where compassion and collective consciousness rises. It’s here where we make the shift from a fear to a care-, trust-, purpose-, love-driven culture.

Sound a bit touchy-feely or woo-woo? Yes.

Sounds a bit scary? Yes, to the mind it does.

Does it work? In my experience it does. But find out for yourself.

I am more and more convinced that in order to make that transition from a fear- to a love-based way of being and working, we have to individually and collectively heal the traumas that we have been carrying around for generations. We need to reconnect with and then work from outside of that space where the soft and sensitive parts of our psyche can operate best – a place of safety, enough-ness and trust. There is where we, as facilitators, play a key role. We are invited to embrace and work through our own mess first. And then to hold those around us in a loving and fear-free way so they can dissolve their traumas for themselves.

In that process of being okay with and learning from the mess, of allowing for and re-integrating the polarities in us, the rough and the beautiful emotions, the purity and the dirt, in short: allowing our whole being to be there – as the Wholeness principle of AI suggests – we can stop projecting our own pain and fears on others. That’s where the paradigm shifts. From acting and re-acting out of fear and trauma towards decision and actions we take from a place of trust, care, purpose and love.

I wish you and me all the courage and trust we need to make the transition from fear to trust, purpose and love happen.

Intro by Keith Storace
Keith is a registered psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) and associate fellow with the Australasian College of Health Service Management (ACHSM). He has designed and implemented health and wellbeing frameworks across the community, health and education sectors. Keith’s current focus is on developing his work in Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) to assist individuals in moving from self-doubt to inspired positive action.


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