AI Practitioner has not had a readers’ survey in over ten years, so we decided to create one in September/October last year. We had, for the size of readership, a good response and what is even more important, thoughtful replies about what is going well, what readers want more of, and suggestions for future possibilities. All of this is useful data for the upcoming year, and we hope to discuss it at a future board meeting. The summary of the report can be found here.
“Give sorrow words … The grief that does not speak Knits up the over wrought heart … and bids it break” … William Shakespeare
Grief … a word that for some is even more dreadful than the word ‘death’. It is a natural reaction to loss. It is natural for people to feel sad, angry, fearful, betrayed, abandoned, lonely, sick, confused and more, sometimes for a rather prolonged duration or with acute intensity. That said, deep transformation also unfolds in the wake of loss, trauma and grief. Alongside the angry cries of “Why me”, also appear the invocations like “What does this loss ask me to do/be”, “Where does my life turn from here”, “How do I preserve/cherish deceased’s life/presence”. There are several ways grief and trauma invite one to grow larger and deeper than who one is at the time of loss.
This issue takes a constructivist approach to the complex phenomenon of “Grief”, hoping to offer a generative way to uncover the paradoxical gift of “Growth” beneath the dense layers of difficult emotions associated with grief.
Honouring the promise and potential of Constructivism, Appreciative Inquiry, Positive Psychology, Generative Metaphor, Art Therapy, Self-transcendent healing and all such generative approaches … This issue of AI Practitioner invites you to share your wisdom about “Grief and Growth” in contexts such as family, workplace, caregiving, aging, ambiguous loss, disaster, and in any or a combination of the following forms –Concept; Construct; Application Process; Story. We would encourage you to avoid too much content, and instead focus on the generative lesson and potential.
GUIDELINES FOR SUBMISSION
Please submit a proposal-cum-synopsis for what you want to write about. It should
be MAX 250 words long, and outline following –
Proposed Title & Form (Concept; Construct; Application Process; Story)
Abstracts of what you want to share through the proposed article; and Keywords
Please mention on the cover page – Corresponding Author name & contact details; and Authors’ Bio (MAX 60 words each)
Please convey your willingness to:
declare originality of your article, and acknowledge/credit the quotes, citations &
art-work, with due consent, as & how applicable
improve/modify the article (including length) as per editors’ feedback
sign an agreement for publication with the ‘AI PRACTITIONER’ Management, once your full-length article is accepted for publication
10th Jan 2020 Proposal-cum-synopsis (as per guidelines above) submission
25th Jan 2020 Editors’ notification of accepted proposals
25th Feb 2020 Submission of Full-length article
10th Mar 2020 Editors’ notification of accepted articles
25th Mar 2020 Submission of Final Articles (modified as per Editors’ feedback & suggestions) along with tables/graphics/images, if any; and Authors’ bio (MAX 60 words each) & photo
AI PRACTIONER is a scholarly, non-commercial journal that seeks to generate and disseminate learning on strength-based approaches to change, with special emphasis on Appreciative Inquiry. The quarterly issues are mostly theme-based. May 2020 is designed on the special theme of “Grief & Growth”. The journal offers a platform for articles, case studies, research work, focussing on what gives ‘life’ to a person, a system, an organisation, a community when it is most alive, most effective and most constructively capable. The authors make voluntary, non-remunerative contributions. Please discover more about journal at – https://aipractitioner.com
May 2020 Issue Editors
Apart from being researchers and practitioners of constructivist grief care, both the editors have meaningfully reconstructed their lives, transcending own grief, and taking it up as their life mission to help those in loss and trauma emerge wiser and stronger.
Neena Verma, PhD is a scholarly practitioner and educator of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). She specializes in Leadership, Team & Transcendence Coaching. She is passionate about developing process frameworks that promote application of AI, Positive Psychology and Jungian Depth Psychology for individual, group & organizational development. Apart from Coaching & Consulting for deep, generative & systemic change, Neena is acknowledged for her service as “Transcendence Coach” and “Grief & Growth Apostle”. Neena has served on International Advisory Council of successive World AI Conferences 2019, 2015 & 2012. She is ICF-PCC credential Executive Coach; NTL Professional Member; Certified MBTI & HOGAN Professional. She serves on the Editorial Board of ‘AI Practitioner’ (AIP – International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry). Apart from contributing articles & appreciative book reviews at the journal, Neena has designed & lead-edited Feb 2013 & Nov 2016 issues of AIP.
Robert Neimeyer, PhD is a Professor of Psychology, University of Memphis, where he maintains an active clinical practice. He also directs the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition, which provides training internationally in grief therapy. Neimeyer has published 30 books, including “Techniques of Grief Therapy: Assessment and Intervention”; and “Grief and the Expressive Arts: Practices for Creating Meaning”, the latter with Barbara Thompson. He serves as Editor of the journal ‘Death Studies’. The author of over 500 articles and book chapters and a frequent workshop presenter, he is currently working to advance a more adequate theory of grieving as a meaningmaking process. Neimeyer served as President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) and Chair of the International Work Group for Death, Dying, & Bereavement. In recognition of his scholarly contributions, he has been granted the Eminent Faculty Award by the University of Memphis, made a Fellow of the Clinical Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association, and given Lifetime Achievement Awards by both the Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the International Network on Personal Meaning.
We look forward to co-creating a rich & insightful May 2020 issue of AI Practitioner on the theme ‘Grief & Growth’.
We invited those at WAIC2019 to share their thoughts and experiences in the form of short snippets, woven together below.
What did you learn or became aware of you didn’t know?
There were so many positive incitements to fresh ways of thinking, seeing and being.
I became aware of the transformation stories of many people, of the impact issuing from AI which these processes have around the world. I also liked the recognition given to the strides emerging in Latin America.
So many positive incitements to fresh ways of thinking, seeing and being.
The K5 keynote helped me see the potential for networking in the UK.
What is possible for you now that wasn’t possible before the 2019 WAIC?
I can re- think and strengthen my network and relationships based on the multiculturality.
I have discovered accelerated learning on new paths. The speed with which I was able to obtain breadth of knowledge in just four days is something that is rarely obtained in everyday spaces.
The opportunity to get to know different perspectives voices, and dreams coming from different hearts in different places, as well as the scope and ways of life from AI, have led me to make an important decision regarding my personal and professional life: I have decided to fully dedicate myself to enable processes from AI, adding to these processes elements of plastic expression. It is thus that I offer my services to those communities with whom I develop proposals for Appreciative Inquiry and Dialogues.
Gervase Bushe’s keynote gave me resources that I can pass on to a key person I work with because it will help them understand the difference between problem-solving and generative questions.
I learned a comprehensive new map of applications for AI; and addressing my concern about new and different ways to address and promote sustainable change, beyond the 5D cycle, in different areas.
What changed because of what you experienced at the conference to allow that to happen?
My confidence level increased as I shared the work I carried out with those communities affected by the 2017 earthquake in Mexico. It allowed me to receive feedback from several appreciative co-creators. As well, going into other AI action areas, for example: being able to offer civil organisms, foundations and schools, different approaches regarding community development. [Looking at] other ways to revalue relations and that recognize all possibilities before focusing on the problems allows for sizing their scope and growth.
I have gained so many new ideas and insights that I will use in my life in all its aspects.
I was able to get in touch with practitioners of great experience and with different idiosyncrasies. Through them, I could discover the singularities and similarities in what we do, both in organizations and with people.
What particular story that happened to you during the WAIC would you like to share ?
The most superb story from WAIC2019 for me is about my own awakening, my self-awareness, that is, the people, the stories, as well as valuing and understanding what being appreciative means. It is taking the whole and giving it other ways of living the experiences and taking from them the best in order to co-create my own story and inspiring myself from the best, and thus being able to expand this way of being.
It opened a new level of trust that reinforced my intention to position AI in Latin America as a philosophy to build kinder relationships and dialogues.
I now see AI not only as a platform for change through dialogue, but a very high-level strategic platform for re-design reality.
What came alive for you at WAIC2019?
I left feeling more confident to find more opportunities to use AI after WAIC.
We all are together to achieve a world mission, all together for great goals.
I am thinking of holding things more lightly, of coming from a fun place, when facilitating.
It really empowered me to keep going on creating a much more appreciative world. You can see how the community is real, in the sense of applying a methodology, and the values underlying that methodology.
It became much clearer to me that we are biography – individual as well as a collective story – narrative and the living out of our discoveries!
Neena Verma, Ph.D., PCC is a scholar-practitioner of AI-based OD. She is an ICF-PCC credentialed coach, specialising in leadership, systemic and transcendence coaching. An accredited sensitivity trainer and certified AI practitioner, she has developed a number of coaching and OD models. As well as extensive editing experience, including the February 2013 and November 2016 issues of AIP, Neena has authored two books and numerous articles.
I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness Mother Teresa
From the soulful poetry of Rumi, to the joyful the Dalai Lama’s joyful implorations, and the existential prose of Nietzsche to just about any human being, I am always seeking inspiration and guidance to learn, embody and practice compassion. That said, on the practical (not my strength) grounds of the organizational realm, I sometimes find myself struggling because my compassionate endeavour is influenced by what Mother Teresa says – unwavering if naïve – yet always so deeply fulfilling and humbling.
An emotion, value or act, whatever be one’s construct of this phenomenon, compassion is a fundamental human reality, as much as suffering is. But do we talk of the two in the cold, professional organizational realm of business mandates and performance agendas? The atmosphere just does not seem conducive. One doesn’t talk of suffering at workplace, more so if it relates to personal life –illnesses, losses, traumas, relationship breakdowns, and definitely not grief. But what of the hurts and suffering one collects at workplace? We don’t talk of that either. We are expected to be stoic, professional and to “act strong”. Maybe sometimes we shouldn’t. We are expected to not “act weak” by allowing expression to our suffering. Maybe sometimes we should, because vulnerability is not the opposite of strength. Often an authentic expression of vulnerability allows unfolding of real strength.
It was thus with such faith that compassion has a sure and sacred space in organizational realm, that I was searching for a book on compassion at work that would combine scholarly rigour with practical knowledge. And I found this amazing one by co-authors Worline and Dutton.
What an ‘AWAKENING’ Title
What does a courageous book with an evocative title like this do? It invokes and awakens.
In their one-page introduction, the authors set the tone of their deep and powerful work by making a simple assertion – “suffering at work is a hidden cost to human capability” – and that to work with “full human effectiveness” organizations need to “awaken compassion at work”. Simple but not simplistic. It must have been a challenging task for authors to make a case for compassion in the organizational context. It seems apt thus that they begin by presenting the so-to-say abstract phenomenon as a four-part concrete process of – noticing the presence of suffering at workplace, interpreting and making sense of the experience, feeling empathic concern and acting to alleviate suffering.
The authors call for a break in the silence around suffering at work before explaining the why and the how of compassion at work. Making a compelling case for the strategic advantage of compassion at work, the authors walk you through a gamut of organizational contexts where compassion enables a sense of human aliveness, such as innovation, collaboration, talent, learning, quality, engagement. The explanations make a logical appeal, but it is a simple affirmation – “human ingenuity” that organizations need to enable various things, asks for acknowledgment of “human pain” – that calls you to the deeper layers of the book.
At its heart
The four-aspect phenomenon of compassion at work is what sits at the core of this book. The process begins with noticing – a deep act and process of inquiry, an essential “portal to compassion”, but hard to practice. There are subtle clues to be discerned and acknowledged, for which a supportive organizational climate is just as essential as individual members’ perceptiveness. Clues that need to be recognized, brought out of the closet, allowed space and expression, and made sense of. The authors share a stirring “Found Poem” that they have composed from the interviewees’ description of compassion at work, uncovering assumptions about suffering at work …
There was a real norm in our department of modesty and always presenting a good face. Keep your skeletons at home. You’re not supposed to have a personal life. You are supposed to take care of business.
Interpreting or making sense, in authors’ view, is about making generous interpretations about others’ suffering – about “withholding blame” that other people’s suffering is of their own doing, about offering space with “dignity and worth” for alleviation of their pain, and about coming with presence – just “being there” if nothing else. Interpreting calls for the “positive default assumption” that people are basically good, whole and worthy of compassion. The authors call you to maintain “fierce compassion”, an unwavering commitment to making generous interpretations, so as to be able to take the path of empathy.
Feeling empathic concern, the authors contend, is a choice – a conscious act of perceptive engagement, attunement into other’s world of pain while still maintaining one’s own capacity for empathic listening with mindfulness. And then comes the part that sets this book apart – “compassion moves”, the real-time improvisational acts that enable alleviation of suffering.
There is no naïve assertion that these compassionate actions are without existential dilemmas. There are downsizings and lay-offs that organizations must hand down with stoic professionalism. And there are dark underbellies of organizations where the unnoticed employees who sweep, make copies and do other such menial jobs, quietly keep an organization well-oiled. What about noticing the suffering they silently endure and rise above to keep serving the organization, whether or not any one stops for a moment, exchanges greetings, gives them a warm look that says they matter and asks “Is everything OK”? The acts of compassion must extend to this invisible, steadfast human force at work, if an organization is sincere in its intent to awaken compassion at work. This is what makes the authors assert that “compassion competence” is must.
The architecture of compassion
For organizations to awaken compassion at a systemic level, they must shape compassion competence as a collective emergent pattern of noticing, interpreting, feeling and acting that leverages positive deviances and spreads like a positive contagion. The authors outline factors like speed, timing, immediacy, breadth and the magnitude of customized resources as contributive towards compassion competence.
They explain the what and the how of the social architecture of compassion – the structures, the processes, the human networks – that must come into place to enable compassionate actions. They elucidate the power of organizational culture to clarify, declare and foster humanistic values, and of organizational designs to enable greater compassion competence. Not one, two, three or ten – there are as many as twenty-eight (I hope I counted right) design principles to enable compassion competence across a wide spectrum of organizational life.
The authors help leaders interested in cultivating compassion competence with a skill set for generic scenarios, and some nuanced capabilities for leading with compassion in crisis situations. The authors culminate their offer with a grounded explanation of what comes in the way of living and enabling compassion in organizational contexts – obstacles of all kinds and levels – of people, leaders, structures, processes and cultures.
I must pause here to say that the last section of the book took me most by surprise. I was happy enough to read the authors make a research-based yet realistically convincing case for compassion at work. Part IV of the book is an even richer gift – pragmatic personal and organizational blueprints of compassion. Chapters 11 and 12 are treasure-houses for HR and OD professionals, coaches and just anyone interested in cultivating and enhancing compassion competence at individual and systemic levels. There are assessment scales, design principles, change frameworks and more.
There is an abundance of case studies and stories, rich with meaning and moral, something that may not be easy to find, articulate or practice in organizational realm. The book warms its way to the reader’s heart and then convinces the mind that an emotion as deep and layered as “compassion” is for real, even in the unlikely context of workplace. Via a narrative of action words (notic-ing, interpret-ing, feel-ing, act-ing), the authors inspire compassion pursuit at various levels – from “feeling compassion” to “actioning” it. The active voice of the narrative influences one to move beyond abstractions of compassion towards its tangible practice at work.
In my view, it is neither fair nor feasible to make a critical commentary just so a book review is deemed objective and complete. And I wouldn’t do that. That said, I hope to learn from an expanded edition or subsequent work more about how to work with the emergent pattern of collective noticing, interpreting and feeling, and what role systems can/should play to facilitate growth of human capacity to notice suffering, feel compassion and act upon it. Given the times we are living in, not just in organizational context, but also at societal level, it would be an amazing contribution to help human beings and systems learn to collectively notice and make sense of suffering, and extend the emergent pattern of compassionate action from the individual to the systemic level.
I close this book appreciation with one of the many touching compassion invocations that the authors make through the expansive traverse of their work:
At times when we think there’s nothing we can “do” We can cultivate ability to “be”
Monica C. Worline (left)
Monica Worline is the founder and CEO of EnlivenWork, an innovation organization that teaches businesses and others how to tap into courageous thinking, compassionate leadership, and the curiosity to bring their best work to life. Monica Worline is a research scientist at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and Executive Director of CompassionLab, the world’s leading research collaboratory focused on compassion at work. She holds a lectureship at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and is affiliate faculty at the Center for Positive Organizations.
Jane E. Dutton (right)
Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology at the Ross School of Business. Jane Dutton is a co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations and passionate about cultivating human flourishing at work. Her research focuses on compassion, job crafting, high quality connections, and meaning making at work.
Keith Storace 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.
Having attended the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) in Nice, France in March this year, I was left with the thought that the more we understand our own story and the things that stir our curiosity, the more likely we will recognise all that emerges to liberate who we truly are. Every conference attendee I met reflected this and keen to talk about how they came to embrace Appreciative Inquiry. Voices from the Field for this special Issue of AI Practitioner presents the stories of three attendees: Gwendal Marrec (France), Andrea Kane Frank (USA) and Wendy Gain (Australia).
Wendy Gain is an independent consultant, facilitating workshops for developing partnerships and compassionate communities. She is also an Appreciative Inquiry facilitator, partnership broker and ISO9001 Quality Management Systems Auditor. She has been a registered nurse in palliative care, a health bureaucrat and project officer in health and academic projects.
The first time I was really conscious of anything about Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was in western Queensland in the middle of the heat of a long, hot, humid summer. We were a group of people that were gathering to form a partnership looking to improve the way we do things across the community. The person facilitating the workshop had asked us all to close our eyes for a moment and to dream about what that community might look like if we were to sleep for two years and then wake up. I was nervous about closing my eyes because I was so hot, bothered and tired, and felt that I might not wake up!
It was when we opened our eyes and started talking about what we saw was possible across the community and what we would be able to achieve through that community partnership that I saw the true brilliance and potential of the dream sequence for Appreciative Inquiry. I have no memory of any other part of the 5D platform for AI from that day in western Queensland. However, the experience resonated with me so much that I pursued AI facilitator training with the Centre for Appreciative Inquiry in Las Vegas.
My certification report for facilitator training focused on working with a team of health providers to improve the palliative care outcomes for Aboriginal people in rural Victoria. What was truly fascinating about this AI experience was the use of the local Aboriginal totem as the visual representation of their provocative statement.
Currently I use AI in my work with compassionate communities and palliative care as a fundamental component of one-day workshops forming community partnerships. In these workshops I get to blend my AI skills with my partnership-broker skills to guide a group of people to form their provocative statements for their vision for their own compassionate communities. Starting the workshops inquiring into experiences with compassionate connections and developing their vision for what their compassionate community will look like is a very high-energy experience.
Using bottle tops to build visions
I use bottle tops as the medium for them to build the picture of what their provocative statement looks like. Lots of bottle tops in different shapes, sizes and colours enables attendees to demonstrate all sorts of things. Nobody has a PhD or degree in bottle tops, so giving people a collection of different coloured, sized and shaped tops is a non-challenging medium for which they can come together and build their vision statement. People are innovative in their use of bottle tops. When a provocative statement talks about scaling through the five principles of partnership, they can use tops of different sizes and colours to show visually what scaling might look like. Another group have used the phrase “empowerment” and actually built a tower of empowerment using tops of multiple colours and sizes to show the start from a solid base and then the build-up in order to have a tower of empowerment for the people of their community.
Using AI, I am able to highlight the positive in those strengths-based experiences in genuine connection and in compassionate connection. The 5D platform of Appreciative Inquiry lends itself well to groups of people who do not know each other. I’ve had success in using AI to galvanise groups of people who, prior to the moment that they sat down, had not known each other, had not worked together and who worked in vastly different areas in their working lives.
Identifying principles of care
I have also used AI to work with community members to build a model for palliative and end-of-life care for people with dementia, another high energy experience for me. I am struck by the passion with which community members tell their stories and their high-point themes. I find people rarely dwell on the things that are missing, but totally focus on the good points and the things that they want to see more of in their community. Throughout the development of the provocative statement, the community groups were also able to identify the principles of care they believed necessary for them to realise their vision.
Earlier this year Positivity Strategist, Robyn Stratton-Berkessel interviewed me for her appreciative podcast series Collaborations in Healthcare.
I have presented at conferences on my use of Appreciative Inquiry and I recently presented at the sixth Public Health Palliative Care International Conference, Compassionate Communities in Action: Reclaiming ageing, dying and grieving, 13 – 16th October 2019.
Andrea Kane Frank is a licensed mental health therapist in Maryland, USA who has worked in private practice, on police-based teams, in homes, schools, hospitals and corporations. She is the founder of RaisingHuman•Kind (andreakanefrank.com).
RaisingHuman•Kind is a platform I’ve created to design systems with a kindness lens. In essence, it’s a way of approaching the energy we bring to any situation so that we can maximise the amount of kindness we bring forward in our families, at school, at work and at play. It’s a micro and macro approach. The more self-compassion we have and the more open we are to receiving from others, the more we will want to share from a place of equilibrium from within, focusing on our internal climate to maximise what we can bring forward externally. My goal is to educate people using Appreciative Inquiry tools to realise we have every possibility to bring more kindness forward for ourselves and for others with simple questions for our maximum impact.
In my own exploration of the topic I have learned that people have preferences on how they like to incorporate kindness into their everyday experiences. Some view it as an effort in inclusion, others see it as being of service to others, some feel it best expressed through random acts of kindness. All kinds of personalities have preferences including direct interaction, informal interaction or anonymity.
As a child I always leaned more toward the spiritual side and, as the youngest of six, I carved my own path that didn’t reflect the tracks of my older siblings. I relied heavily on my spiritual and intuitive instincts to guide me and they have never let me down. Kindness was a natural way of being until it wasn’t.
Six years ago I suffered many losses of significant front line people in my life in one year’s time. My work in the crisis and trauma field combined with caregiving for my young family and my parents simultaneously led to a breakdown in my health and to my own inquiry. It wasn’t until I was completely sidelined by this health challenge and overwhelming grief that I started asking questions to lead me to the right healing professionals who could restore me to good health.
I met with many doctors and was blessed to be cared for in the most loving of environments. My Lyme disease doctor thankfully was able to diagnose the problem. He had also done research about how to curate environments for maximum healing. He selectively hires patient-centred, loving staff and pays special heed to environmental factors. He and his staff were a huge part of my inquiry and recovery. I could feel the loving atmosphere he took such care in creating. My weekly treatments and visits to the office became a resting place.
My spiritual side led me to Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY where I studied for four days with Pema Chodrin and to Washington, DC to learn with Tara Brach. I cultivated the importance of self-compassion, allowing all parts of me to be acknowledged and integrated into my being.
More Dreaming and Discovering
Further questions allowed me to just let the path unfold. I participated in a business immersion program focused on creating a good life, pursued a certification in positive psychology, studied with the world’s leading expert on trauma healing, and attended my first Canadian Positive Psychology Conference where I heard David Cooperrider speak for the first time. I knew he would be part of what was next for me but I didn’t know how.
Through further exploration I realised that while I was still sidelined by my health challenge, there were things I could do. I could continue to rest, read, and to discover and identify my gifts and how to use them while I was healing. I also pursued body-based therapies to help move trauma from grief and losses of my own and those that I witnessed in my work. I meditated and still do. I learned how much it takes to care for yourself so that you can be present and kind to others. I had a lot of catching up to do. I learned that trauma creates an environment for disease to develop and thrive, and the importance of caring for my body on a soulful level.
Like so many others, I was focused on my output rather than my input, which isn’t sustainable for any system. My vision for RaisingHuman•Kind followed the inquiry into my own health recovery and how I was using these tools with my children and family to create upward spirals of experiences as soon as any one of us stepped out the front door. I wanted everyone’s first touch of the day to be a good one, knowing we came from a rested place, caring for one another and ourselves. I envisioned the first encounters we each had after having left home on a positive note and knew that if we were intentional, our first encounters could be positive and inspire more of the same. When I notice we need a “start over” if our morning isn’t measuring up to this intention, we state that and start again, giving ourselves permission to be human.
We continue to experiment. I asked my sons how they liked to share kindness. We put a large vase in the centre of the table and at dinner in the evenings we’d share a story of how we brought kindness forward and we’d add a bean to the jar to see our kindness growing.
We also did our own family summit, which led to a change in their school and gave them a voice in their educational needs. It was all coming together.
I’ve conducted SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) sessions at aviation and athletic companies while also assisting with implementation from the data derived from those sessions. I am grateful for Jackie Stavros’ work in this area. Kindness as a lens allowed for the whole system to have a voice in systemic change.
Designing and Delivering what’s to come
Right now, the platform is in its infancy, with a podcast launch planned, speaking, online learning and in-person training being developed. Again, I am allowing the universe to lead me as I continue to explore the constant of change and transition.
I can imagine organisations and families making kindness practices the cornerstone for their wellbeing creating a positive contagion. I can see more compassionate systems and a kinder, more connected world.
So far my appreciative beginnings and journey have lead me to meeting amazing humans and to present for the first time internationally in Nice at WAIC 2019. Together with Marge Schiller and Allen Keitz we created a workshop entitled Amplifying Kindness in the Family Using Appreciative Inquiry. It’s been a springboard for me to know that people were interested and wanted topics and explorations in this area. I was able to become an AI-certified practitioner and serve on the global steering committee for Positive Education.
Listening to the nudges
Just like the words in the Cat Stevens song, “I listen to the wind of my soul”, all of these experiences unfolded from allowing the quiet to bring me answers and direction and to gently ask my spirit what it most needed in the moment. I’ve learned that kindness can’t be sustainable unless we’ve taken good care to continuously prime our internal environment and it needs to be freely given and received for it to be genuine.
I’m ready to use what I am learning to be of service to the world. Something touched me deeply hearing David Cooperridder’s journey of global service. I want to be a part of that and hope you will join me in RaisingHuman•Kind together, in caring so deeply for one another and ourselves that the result is a global rising by lifting one another. Our world is calling out for it and I’m thankful to have found this amazing community of soulful people to share the journey with me.
Based near Bordeaux, France, Gwendal Marrec is an organisational consultant and facilitator. This generalist engineer, mainly active in companies for the “pretexts” of environmental certifications, quality or social responsibility, makes it a point of honour to offer human-centered accompaniments, during which he includes AI and Lego® Seriousplay®.
It was quite recently, at the end of 2016, that I first heard about Appreciative Inquiry.
During my training to become a Lego® Seriousplay® facilitator, one of the participants in the internship presented herself as an AI practitioner. When I asked about Appreciative Inquiry, she explained the basics of the approach and the different stages that make up it. A few months later, I signed up for the French Institute of Appreciative Inquiry (IFai) training in Paris to discover how dialogues based on the strengths could contribute to a profound transformation of organisations.
As an engineer specialising in quality management systems, I was trained to improve on the basis of failures. Convinced that lasting changes are achieved by getting the company’s players to collaborate by making them autonomous, I already had a style of participatory accompaniment. But deep down, I was not satisfied in my job as a consultant; I was faced with a lack of commitment from the teams and the frustration of trying to force change.
The transformation of my own work came during advanced training with Ron Fry, again in Paris, in 2018, when he presented the principles of business as an agent of world benefit (BAWB). The evidence was before my eyes! Of course, organisations and companies are the actors in the paradigm shift!
Since then, I have made several interventions in the educational and corporate worlds.
First, in a school with a class of thirty-six students I had the chance to experiment with a two-hour workshop to allow the children, aged eleven, to discover how to give the best of themselves, without stress. We began with an appreciative discussion on strengths and then a second one to imagine a college in which everyone would be fulfilled. This was followed by a sharing in subgroups of nine children each before modeling the elements that would allow this dream to come true in the near future. Then each table had to present, to the whole class and the teacher, what they discovered! The effect of solidarity and mutual aid was striking, while very concrete actions were carried out by the class and its teacher.
At the moment, I am supporting a wine company in the implementation of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) approach. The choice of management was to launch the project in appreciative mode. After discovering the strengths and the aspiration of the company during appreciative dialogues, a LEGO® SERIOUSPLAY® workshop identified three main strategic priorities defined as: strong ambition, truly desirable and shared by employees. The next step will be the exploration of these three themes during an appreciative seminar that will undoubtedly lead to proposals with high impact!
These two examples are very encouraging for me in a complex societal context, as they each require mobilising such creativity and a commitment. The first pointed out that youth are able to deal with serious subjects such as the conditions for the development of college students. The group has also proposed actions that go beyond the school. In particular, they want to contribute to a better world by collaborating with other generations. This form of wisdom is simply striking!
The second allows a change in the management of the company, focused on humanistic values shared by its employees. The launch of a project with Appreciative Inquiry is a real accelerator for commitment!
Neena Verma, Ph.D., PCC is a scholar-practitioner of AI-based OD. She is an ICF-PCC credentialed coach, specialising in leadership, systemic and transcendence coaching. An accredited sensitivity trainer and certified AI practitioner, she has developed a number of coaching and OD models. As well as extensive editing experience, including the February 2013 and November 2016 issues of AIP, Neena has authored two books and numerous articles.
For those who are fifty plus in age, what was your state (emotional and mental, more than physical) at the threshold of this part-intimidating, part-inviting stage in life! And those who are soon to be there, how is yours as you are awaiting the arrival of the golden jubilee of your life? Whether you entered the post-fifty life with dread of ageing, or with invitation for rediscovery and continued growth – Third Chapter is here to inspire and engage you with new and/or reaffirming insights and wisdom.
The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Harvard professor and MacArthur prize-winning sociologist, invokes the reader for “creative and purposeful learning” in what she calls the “Third Chapter” (the phase between fifty and seventy-five years) of life. The author travelled for two years, interviewing forty people in their “Third Chapter” of life – listening to their stories punctuated with success, vulnerability, intrigue, passion, rediscovery – to understand what motivates creative renewal and purposeful learning in life after the age of fifty. Her fascinating study unravels insights from the way these people have transformed and reinvented themselves, continuing to learn and grow with purpose, courage and creativity.
The author begins by invoking the reader, or shall I say the “Third Chapter” seeker, to “face the mirror”. She talks of “confessional moments” when people begin telling their story beyond the laments of old age, in “hushed, tentative tones”, making peace with “old/new mirror image”. These are stories of courageous people in their “Third Chapter” who acknowledge the intimidating view of old age that typically signifies “inevitable decline”, and yet refuse to be preoccupied with such “depressive” view.
Finding their stride
The book moves on to talk about “twin emotions” of “loss and liberation” through stories of leaving behind the known, trysts with the unknown and learning new things. People “confess feeling irresponsible”, taking “inappropriate” risks – letting go of their safe anchors, and sailing new oceans in what are generally perceived as years of slow-down. Facing “chasm of emptiness” and sense of feeling unproductive and powerless, these people live periods of “limbo”, and traverse the uncharted paths, curiously searching for identity and wholeness in the “Third Chapter” of life. In their journey of transition, they create self-empowering narratives and find their “stride”. At some point, the tentative leaving with fear transforms into liberating leaving with grace. Recognizing “strength and synergies of both and more”, these people move forward “slower and deeper” rather than “faster and farther”, creating a life of generativity rather than resigning with stagnation.
Taking forward the metaphor of “both and more”, Prof. Lawrence-Lightfoot delves into the phenomena of “constancy and change”. Citing life-span theorists, she raises an inquiry about the idea of retirement – talking of the challenges associated with choosing engagement over retreat, labour over leisure, and reinvention over retirement. She argues that research trends indicate shifts in attitude of people in their “Third Chapter” of life, “many of whom are yearning for lives of active engagement, purposefulness and new learning”. One of her interviewees talks of feeling like a “gray-haired adolescent” acknowledging her old age, but riding on her energy and commitment. In the process she is able to leverage both “old and new”. Another admits feeling uncertain, yet also convinced that the paradigm shift will only come from faith.
The author suggests that in composing a new life in their “Third Chapter”, people have to heal their wounds. This calls for the journey back home – revisiting “old burdens”. She found that in retelling their stories, her interviewees would suddenly “stumble upon a detail, a metaphor” that would prove cathartic, help them cleanse old wounds and heal themselves, preparing for what was unfolding ahead. While one interviewee calls this his “reclamation project”, another feels happy getting out of the “toxic-waste dump of anger” that “wouldn’t explode” but would keep leaking. Expressing awe at this “childbirth”-like process, he avows the “awakening” that it ensued.
Looking back, according to Prof. Lawrence-Lightfoot, is not just about cleansing old wounds and unburdening, but more about preparing to “give forward”. She contends that many among those wanting to create a meaningful life in their “Third Chapter” feel a compelling urge to give forward, contribute and make an imprint. There is a deeply moving account from an interviewee’s story about her “Third Chapter” journey. Absorbing the pain of listening to horrifying stories of violence, gang-rapes, and murders of children that women in displacement camps had been suffering, she deployed her “new layer of skills” to spread awareness about the gruesome conditions in Sudan and in doing so influenced policy-makers.
Transcending boundaries: A four-step process
Transcending boundaries in quest for new “intellectual, aesthetic, emotional and relational” dimensions in the “Third Chapter” of life, the author offers a four-step process. The first is to be curious, to wonder and be interested in learning something new. The second is about letting go of the fear of the unknown. She suggests this comes from acknowledging the fear and taking the leap of faith, thereby opening the path for next step, i.e., willingness to be vulnerable. Creating life of meaning and growth in the “Third Chapter” asks for courage to be exposed to risk of loss, hurt and judgment. The Third Chapter interviewees emphasize the “value of failure” as an important way to learn. “Developing empathy” is the fourth step that the author underlines as being uniquely empowering in their journey to “becoming new”.
“New learning”, in the Third Chapter, Prof. Lawrence-Lightfoot upholds is about “crossing borders across landscapes rich with complexity and colour” which are full of “open vistas and blind alleys”. This new learning, she claims, manifests in body, voice and soul. An interviewee shared having learnt to “think with body” not just mind, being able to notice and feel sensations in his body, and making meaning thereof. Some people “discover their voice”, able to assert with confidence and courage. And some others don’t just find new purpose, skills or vocations – they find a new “being at the core”.
Circling back to the start, where she invoked the reader to “face the mirror”, the author concludes by discussing the “cracks in the mirror” – the contrasting opposites of feeling “evolved and complete” yet also “needy and young”. The poetry by Nikki Giovanni that opens this chapter beautifully summarises the process of holding with power and grace these opposites in the “Third Chapter” of life, and realizing that
we also are what we wish we did, and age teaches us, that even that doesn’t matter.
As I close
It is hard to critique Third Chapter, at least for me. The subject, the depth of inquiry and understanding, the stories and their wisdom, the synthesis by Prof. Lawrence-Lightfoot, her eloquent writing – everything makes this book a compelling read, particularly for those on the quest for creative learning and purposeful renewal in their life after the age of fifty. I feel that this book would be no less interesting and insightful for anyone younger seeking abundance and growth.
For the academically oriented, the author’s expertise and experience across sociology, education and human development is unmistakably evident. Her unique “portraiture” approach brings out the essence of universal significance from a small sample of forty. Strengthening her argument with the wisdom of established theories and models by experts like Erickson, Bateson and more, the author makes a convincing case for both individual and collective benefits of continued learning and purposeful engagement in the “Third Chapter” of life. The book flows well, with narrative accounts and insightful conclusions, though intermittently it may feel a bit discontinuous, what with stories and synthesis all coming together in one (longish) sentence. Yet this is more than made up for by the author’s easy, eloquent and evocative writing.
It can be argued that the small (forty) and selective (mostly well-educated and privileged) sample leaves the author’s work insufficient for making empirically comprehensive conclusions. That said, I would encourage the reader to make an objective engagement with the subject and the book. There are lessons of universal appeal in the very personal stories and Prof. Lawrence-Lightfoot’s insightful synthesis. The reader’s guide at the end of the book is a useful aid in making a deeper connection with the essence of this unique book about successful ageing.
The author closes the book with poignant poetry by her final interviewee, who found her light in her journey through the darkness. I have no better way to close my write-up than simply quoting the same with appreciation and gratitude –
After a long seeking I gave up on all mirrors. Then feeling a way forward in the fog Without a lamp or even a candle And absent any guide at all, One starless night I stumbled Upon this place of water where Gleaming in its darkest deeps, My own two astonished eyes. Light.
The book is easily available on all online market places.
https://www.gse.harvard.edu/faculty/sara-lawrence-lightfoot and http://www.saralawrencelightfoot.com/public-life.html
At the recent World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) 2019 hosted in Nice, France I was fortunate to meet Megan Buchter, director of the Fowler Center for Business at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio, USA. Although it was a brief encounter, I was heartened to hear Megan’s story and the positive impact her work with AIM2Flourish is having on the global challenges we are currently facing. There is a wonderful momentum set in motion by the AIM2Flourish program that is greatly contributing to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals designed to foster a more sustainable future for us all. Megan is our voice from the field and shares her story in this issue of AI Practitioner.
AIM2Flourish: An Agent of World Benefit
Megan Buchter is the Director of the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. Megan is passionate about education and helping students to see themselves as change agents and leaders for world benefit. She runs the Fowler Center’s AIM2Flourish program, supporting a global network of professors and students in highlighting stories of businesses striving to achieve the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
In general, people don’t have the best opinion of business. This worldview is shaped by the stories we hear about business in the news. Stories of scandals, corruption, pollution, hostile takeovers and unreasonably large bonuses dominate the media when you hear about business. These stories lead us to believe that businesses want to make money at any cost; that the purpose of business is nothing more than maximizing profits for shareholders. If you listen to those stories, how could you ever think the purpose of business could be anything good?
Even though terms like “corporate social responsibility”, “sustainability”, “flourishing”, and “business for good” are becoming increasingly heard, there are still many people in the world, including many business students, who don’t believe in a purpose for business other than profits, money and pleasing shareholders. The Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit created the AIM2Flourish program to help students see the world differently. We teach students that companies that care about their employees, the environment and their communities actually do better financially as well.
AIM2Flourish is an experiential learning assignment, taking students out of the classroom to interview a business leader about a business that is doing good for the world and doing well financially. The mission of AIM2Flourish is to change students’ mindsets about the goal of business from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, and we do this using Appreciative Inquiry.
AIM2Flourish uses AI as an interview technique to help students see the positive aspect of business. They ask business leaders about their high-point moments, ones where they felt most alive, effective, engaged and passionate. They ask the business leader what the motivation and inspiration was behind their innovation. And they ask about the positive impact the company is making. These questions lead the interviewee into telling stories. The story behind the creation of the company or the specific business innovation: their high point story. Stories of the impact they see their company having. The result is that by asking these strengths-based questions and combining the power of storytelling, students are able to imagine themselves as leaders for world benefit.
Additionally, AIM2Flourish was the world’s first program designed for higher education to incorporate the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to teach students about business’ potential to be a force for good. The SDGs address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The SDGs are interconnected and designed to leave no one behind. They are designed to achieve a more peaceful and prosperous society and planet and will take all sectors to achieve the goals – including business. Early reports stated that developing solutions to the SDGs could unlock trillions of dollars in profits. That means that there are actual financial incentives out there for businesses to do good.
The magic of AIM2Flourish is the combination of AI with the SDGs. Students learn about the SDGs – and are presented with the world’s biggest challenges. Then they search for a business that is meeting one or more of the SDGs. Keep in mind that the SDGs cover a broad range of topics, everything from ending poverty in all forms, to ensuring clean drinking water for all populations, to eliminating corruption and creating decent work opportunities are covered in this “to-do” list. Students have uncovered amazing companies, including:
EcoDom in Mexico is creating building materials out of plastic waste.
SmartPaani in Nepal is building affordable rainwater catchment systems in an area of the world suffering from clean water shortages.
Greyston Bakery in the United States has revolutionized an open hiring model where those in need of a job can be hired without question into their background. Greyston is working with other companies to help spread this hiring model.
Bureo in Chile is making skateboards out of fishing nets that they are collecting from the ocean. They are also educating coastal populations about the dangers of throwing fishing nets and other plastics into the ocean.
Lucky Iron Fish in Canada creates small cast-iron, fish-shaped figures that can be put into a pot of boiling water and deliver the daily recommended dose of iron.
Buza Ice Cream in Israel was founded by an Arab Muslim and an Israeli Jew to demonstrate that even people with differences can work together peacefully.
Each of these stories is published on the AIM2Flourish website as a means to tell a positive story about business and demonstrate the power of business to do good in the world and do well financially. And each story was written by students based on an Appreciative Inquiry interview they conducted.
It’s no surprise to AI practitioners that asking generative questions leads to conversations brimming with possibilities and inspiration. However, for many of the students being tasked with an AIM2Flourish assignment, this is their first introduction to AI and this new type of conversation. When each story is submitted to AIM2Flourish, we offer the students a chance to reflect on their assignment and process. We hear from students about the impact that AI had on them and their assignment. Students are amazed at how using Appreciative Inquiry deepens their conversations with the interviewees and allows the interviewee to share their passion.
From an Appreciative Inquiry perspective I really got inspired in how the questions helped open up and deepen the conversation. Case Western Reserve University student, Autumn 2018
By using AI we also hear how students are able to connect with their interviewee’s story and relate those experiences to themselves.
I have known Garett for many years and had never drawn the connection between his high point experience and his current work in such a direct way. I especially appreciate his sharing that one of the most vital elements of his high point experience was feeling like his intuition was validated. This perspective has given me a boost to trust my own intuition more. I am learning about how using appreciative inquiry creates lift individually and collectively – lift that can be the scaffolding to build transformational change within organizations. Case Western Reserve University student, Autumn 2018
As mentioned earlier, there is a magic in using AI to discover how businesses are meeting the UN SDGs. By hearing stories of passion and what’s going well within a company, students can make positive connections to the 17 SDGs.
[The company] didn’t know about the SDGs at the beginning of the interview, but through appreciative inquiry our group was able to make connections to four of the UN goals that [the company] exhibits through their innovations. Near the end of the interview the owners were very receptive to how their innovations stack up to the UN’s sustainability goals. Going forward in my professional career I know I will be interested to learn how companies aim to help to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. University of Guelph student, Autumn 2018
Finally, we see that through the use of AI students realize their own contributions to changing the story of business and celebrating the good that business is able to do in the world.
Kindness is rarely published in the media. With an Appreciative Inquiry approach, we learn to hear, to feel and how we can spread this positive action that has impact to others. IPMI International Business School student, Spring 2017
The use of Appreciative Inquiry as an interview tool is changing the conversations that students are having with business leaders and changing their perspectives. From my own experience completing the AIM2Flourish assignment, I know that I never would have connected as well with the entrepreneurs I spoke with had I been asking more typical critical interview questions about challenges instead of strengths and about business tactics instead of inspirations. I know that my personal experience with AIM2Flourish is not unique. The students’ story below is another example. And there are thousands more like it on the website.
As students, we found that whenever we were tasked with the word “interview,” we were automatically inclined towards a type of questioning that had an uncomfortable atmosphere of grilling the interviewee with challenging questions. This type of interview, appreciative inquiry, felt so much more like a conversation that both sides of the table were willing to talk about. We are used to seeing businesses headlining in the news not because they have done something good, but mostly something that requires the public’s attention to fix. Our AIM2Flourish experience gave us a new perspective that we should put a spotlight on businesses that are working towards global development instead of those who are doing the opposite. That way it provides an incentive for them as well to do more good for the coverage and support in exchange for good practice. Our career trajectory definitely changed in a way that affirms our already pre-existing social principle that we should be working at/for businesses that we would be willing to publish as an AIM2Flourish story. Loyola Marymount University students, Spring 2018
Business has the ability to be innovative, to be agile and to rapidly satisfy new needs. Market demand is growing for innovations to achieve the UN SDGs and what other sector has the resources to move so quickly and effectively to create new solutions? If you are an educator on a mission to teach your students about the potential of business to do good in the world, consider using AIM2Flourish as a tool. The assignment combines the power of Appreciative Inquiry with the challenge of the UN’s SDGs, leading students to recognize that business contributions are creating a more peaceful and prosperous world and to discover what they themselves can contribute moving forward.