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GRIT by Angela Duckworth – A BOOK APPRECIATION BY NEENA VERMA

Book Appreciation by Neena Verma

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.

If I were to describe in few words the essence of best-selling book Grit by Positive Psychology exponent Angela Duckworth, it would be through the phrase

As much as talent counts, effort counts twice.

In her seminal work, Angela Duckworth presents unique aspects and interpretations of the age-old human phenomenon of “grit”. Her fascinating book on the subject evokes more than just interest and curiosity. It inspires you to show up, for grit in author’s view is “all about showing up”. Duckworth builds a case for effort to be the differentiator without which talent alone cannot necessarily predict success. She argues that often it is effort that makes or mars someone’s pursuit of success and excellence, not ability, as is popularly perceived.

Showing up, backed by purpose, passion, perseverance and practice, is what Angela Duckworth calls “grit”. This book comes from a daughter whose father valued talent, but thought of her as “no genius”, a researcher who, having nearly missed the application deadline, went on to receive the coveted MacArthur Fellowship. Interestingly she received this “genius grant” for research that establishes passion, perseverance and effort as equal, if not better, predictors of success than genius or inborn talent.

At the heart of this book

The heart of this book sings of effort, passion, perseverance, practice, purpose and hope. Through her research across wide spectrum of people and occupations, including cadets, army special forces, sales people, graduate students as well as success patterns, spelling contests and more, Angela Duckworth convincingly builds the case for grit, something that she explains has four components – interest, practice, purpose and hope. She offers an amazing model of success that presents “effort” as the differentiating pivot.

Her model raises hope for those perceived (by themselves, by others or in tests) as less talented by emphasising that skill can be enhanced by applying effort, and higher achievement is possible by combining skill with effort. So effort counts twice. Simple. Not simplistic. It is worth asking why so many of us do not apply the requisite effort. Because, she explains, we tend to get “distracted by talent” – over-prizing ability, often at the expense of effort. Her research has found that some of those who drop out do so despite talent since they don’t give effort its due. In contrast, there are some who rise to the occasion, in a way that has nothing to do with talent or ability. Grit calls for a “never say die” attitude – a conscious decision to persevere and continue making concerted, consistent efforts.

Of the various examples she cites, I am moved by the contrast between Bill and Hillary Clinton. While Bill Clinton is widely applauded for his natural political genius, Hillary has had to work hard to prove herself and gain attention. Yet she may never earn her due.

Angela Duckworth argues that obsessing over talent may tilt the perceptual bias against those who work hard but are less talented. Even worse, there may be many who avoid working hard because they don’t think of themselves as “smart enough”, and hence see “no point toiling”. Thus, the case for grit, effort and perseverance. This raises the question, what is grit? How does it show itself?

Grit

Simply put, it is about developing clarity of purpose and direction, about pursuing the chosen objective with a ferocious determination, hard work and resilience. Duckworth’s construct of grit is a combination of four elements –

Passion Being interested in what we do and loving it to the core.

Perseverance Determined practice – focused, full-hearted, challenge-exceeding, following the mantra of “whatever it takes” and daily discipline of doing it to get better and better.

Purpose Being able to see and pursue the integral connection of one’s work with others’ wellbeing in the larger realm.

Hope Rising-to-the-occasion kind of perseverance. Some of us are born with an inherent tendency for hope, a “sunny disposition”. Others can consciously practice a hopeful view. Hope happens at all stages of gritty pursuits, not necessarily the last and final stage.

Duckworth highlights the importance of goal-hierarchy – having a top, higher-level goal that sets the direction for mid- and lower-level goals. She argues that “gritty people” are clear about formulating low-level goals, or what can be understood as immediate tasks and activities that align to mid-level goals which are unified by an ultimate top-level goal. It may seem a bit regimented to those whose preference is abstract learning and growth. Duckworth’s point, though, is about purposefulness and usefulness of effort with direction.

Grit grows

Most behavioural traits have nature–nurture influences. Grit is no different. Duckworth says that grit can be nurtured because it is about choice, interest, passionate and purposeful practice, self-conditioning, determined and perseverant effort. She is so committed to this aspect of mindful cultivation and the growth of grit from the inside out that she has devoted an entire section of a chapter each on interest, practice, purpose and hope.

It would be good to understand Duckworth’s construct of purpose. She explains it as “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.” She uses the widely known parable of bricklayers to explain how gritty people feel a greater sense of purpose. Grit grows from the inside out when people choose interests that serve their larger purpose, put in passionate determined efforts, stay direction-focused and maintain a hopeful view.

Duckworth’s keenness to emphasise that grit can be cultivated and grown is reaffirmed by another section of the book devoted to explaining how grit can be grown from the outside in. Parenting children for gritty behaviour is a great place to start. Duckworth advocates wise parenting whereby parents are perceptive to children’s psychosocial needs and are able to balance the supportive and demanding aspects of parenting. Schools and organisations have an equal chance to create a playing field of grit. It is quite likely that a culture of grit teaches one to be gritty, and the reverse is just as likely, where gritty members of a culture influence new norms in their sphere of inculcating and practising grit.

What stands out for me

Sharing the story of Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Duckworth cites his favourite Teddy Roosewelt quote:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

This and many other stories, facts, arguments and insights make an evocative appeal for grit in Duckworth’s book. There is research-based articulation of the argument, and there are abundant individual stories. There is even a grit-scoring test to help the reader discover and/or sculpt their “gritty best”. There is Angela Duckworth’s own life story … insightful and inspiring.

From this abundant treasure house, if I were to pick one thing that stands out for me, it is the simple explanation by Will Smith, the Grammy award-winning musician and Oscar-nominated actor, for his extraordinary and acclaimed ascent.

The only thing distinctly different about me is that I am not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked. Never. Period.

Will Smith believes in effort and puts in effort that is manifold his talent. And with this description, Will Smith has gifted me the metaphor of “treadmill” – a metaphor that inspires, coaxes and challenges me to be gritty and grittier. Many thanks Angela Duckworth for sharing this and more.

As I close

Grit has inspired a thoughtful reorganization of work for a lazy (professional work-wise) and non-gritty (easily distracted and low on focus) person like me. This phenomenal book by Angela Duckworth, herself a true embodiment of Grit, is encouraging me to take my life purpose seriously, rearticulate my mid-level goals accordingly and, most importantly, to organise my everyday efforts with consistent focus and time-respectfulness.

Grit richly combines research, narrative and insights. What I am left wondering is – whether case for grit is being made by downplaying talent. There is consistent keenness to establish grit as the differentiating pivot, and not without reason. It makes sense. I wonder, though, if such a one-sided focus discounts the multiplier effect of talent. I would have benefitted more by finding clearer patterns of both grit and talent, standing apart or playing together. Also, most of Duckworth’s work seems to be with the elite and/or privileged. It would have been interesting to know how her findings hold with a more wholistic and representative population.

In some ways, “grit” seems similar to “growth mindset”. Both emphasise the value of perseverance and learning ability. For those who have read about the latter, I would still recommend reading Grit for its unique offer – “effort counts twice”.

I close my appreciative review with excerpts from Duckworth’s beautiful poetic depiction of MacArthur genius awardee Ta-Nehisi Coates’ description of what it is like to write …

and wake up the next day …
and refine it
and come the next day …
and refine it a little bit more
and do it again …
and then one more time …
and if you have done that
that is a success

Angela Duckworth’s story starts with being told that she was “no genius”. Her story reaches a crescendo with her pioneering work in redefining “genius” as “grit”. I enjoyed reading this exceptionally riveting book, and hope you will as well. The book is easily available on all online market places, including Amazon.

Angela Duckworth is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change For Good Initiative, and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics. She is the founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development. A 2013 MacArthur Fellow, Angela Duckworth has advised the White House, the World Bank, NBA and NFL teams, and Fortune 500 CEOs.

https://angeladuckworth.com/about-angela/

Collins

ISBN 978-1-5011-1111-2

 

WAIC 2019 New Voices by Keith Storace

At the recent World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) 2019 hosted in Nice, France I was privileged to meet many attendees who freely shared their reflections on why and how they embraced Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and the good experiences it continues to generate. The thread of similarity evident in each person’s story was the transformative nature of the AI experience that illuminated a way forward. A particular statement I often emphasise and that I heard echoed throughout the conference, “when we create change, that change creates us”, was alive and well in the stories people shared.

Following on from the tremendous success of WAIC 2019, I am keen to hear from people who attended the conference and would like to contribute their AI story to the Voices from the Field of the AI Practitioner: International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry. Details of how to make contact with me are included at the end of the following article.

Appreciative beginnings: Doing what matters most

Appreciative beginnings are a kind of window into what matters most to us and what may be in store for us in the future. They provide us with enough information about ourselves that we recognise an opportunity for the connection we feel to it. For me, Appreciative Inquiry (AI) became the bridge between what matters most and how to strengthen this throughout my lifetime. It celebrated my appreciative beginnings in a way that enabled me to transform my feelings into positive inquiry, or more specifically, Appreciative Inquiry.

It is always a welcome experience to listen to how AI has contributed to peoples’ personal and professional lives. Indeed it is common to hear someone say that although they initially employed the AI approach within their work environment, it quickly found its place in their personal life and transformed them in a way that celebrated the workspace even more – a kind of personal paying it forward! I see this time and time again when I enter workspaces that utilise AI, where the creative interaction within teams and organisations moves beyond the world of work into daily life. Actually, AI seems to be so integrated in peoples’ lives that work is often talked about as a vocation, not a job! When I think about the individual reflections people have shared over the years of their introduction to Appreciative Inquiry, it is clear there is something deeper going on that is inextricably linked to each persons’ emerging narrative.

Work is love made visible

Each of us has our own story of an appreciative beginning – a moment or moments in time that seamlessly connect with Appreciative Inquiry. My appreciative beginnings stem from two experiences: in my early teenage years I was encouraged by my father to think carefully about the kind of work I would like to do when I eventually completed school. At age fourteen I came across Khalil Gibran’s book The Prophet (Gibran, 1973). In it he emphasises that “Work is love made visible”. This line had a strong impact and inspired me to think about work that would enable me to live such an experience.

The other appreciative beginning was an even earlier experience when I was a young child spending much of my time up a tree – a place where my imagination thrived. It was a living, breathing universe and home to all kinds of active and unique organisms, me included. Its branches supported me as if to embrace every feeling and idea I brought into this welcoming place of nature. I remember wondering if, and hoping that, my life as an adult would also be this way.

Home to the imagination

As with my experience of the tree, AI enables the workplace to be home to the imagination and encourages exploration. Promoting the conditions that support co-creation, the AI process asks questions that “set the direction” and are pivotal to the way an organisation evolves. Ideas are shared, discussed and nourished. When we are encouraged in this way we flourish because who we are and what is meaningful to us becomes part of the collective narrative and all that we co-create. We begin to think, feel and say “I love my work!” and continue to share this love of work to such an extent that it is love made visible.

One of the keys to good generative change are creative questions typical of those inspired through the AI approach that somehow connect us to our appreciative beginnings. Indeed, AI ticks all the boxes when it comes to incorporating the dynamics of a creative question, which I have identified as follows:

Promotes innovation through encouraging interaction between our intellect and intuition;

Inspires creative thinking;

Generates creative conversation;

Conjures imagery that develops as the conversation progresses;

Always results in possibilities.

What is it that David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987) initially tapped into in the 1980s? Why and how has it become more than a solution-focussed, person-centred approach? Their work inspires and cultivates self-determined change; it not only highlights and demonstrates for individuals, teams and entire organisations ‘what can be’, it also reflects back and emphasises the positive core that emanates from the collective narrative. Their work is a reminder that we all need to be valued for what we can bring to the workspace; that we can learn and grow from the collective narrative; and that the inherent positive dialogue at the heart of Appreciative Inquiry can elaborate on our appreciative beginnings.

How to Contribute Your Story to WAIC 2019 – New Voices

As a member of the Editorial Board for the AI Practitioner Journal | International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry, I have been compiling short reflective stories for the Journal since February 2016. To date, we have published over twenty articles in the Voices from the Field section from AI practitioners across the globe as a way of sharing their experiences of the AI process. In celebration of the recent World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) 2019 hosted in Nice, France in March this year we will be publishing articles highlighting the rich diversity of AI Practitioners.

If you would like to share your Appreciative Inquiry story with a global audience and would like more information, I can be contacted via:

Email: keithstorace@gmail.com

Phone/Text/WhatsApp: +61 432 397 526

LinkedIn

Thank you, Keith

Call for Submissions August 2019 issue: Participation

AI Practitioner to be published in August 2019

Topic Participation:

Participation is at the heart of learning, development and change. It is based on the belief that when people take ownership and responsibility for themselves and the world around them, we build better futures by connecting different dreams and ideas. Participation is, implicitly or explicitly, part of any AI process, and beyond AI as well.

In this issue on Participation we would like to bring together a whole diversity of approaches, views and experiences on designing and facilitating participative processes in different contexts, as a way of creating an overview, and being inspired by what is already out there. As well the issue will be a reflection and analysis of what works and explore future questions and challenges for participation.

When we think about new ideas that are being experimented with, we think of stories such as:

  • The company that had to let go of 20% of its people and did so in a beautiful bottom-up, participative process.
  • The city experimenting with its citizens not only co-deciding policies but taking renewed responsibility for what is going on.
  • A peace process that brings together parties who once fought and killed each other to build a new future.

The August 2019 AI Practitioner issue will explore the concept of participation from three perspectives / questions:

  1. Why are we talking about participation now and what is happening in the world at large that calls for more participation?
  2. What are inspiring practices that have worked in organisations and/or businesses as well as the public domain?
  3. What is the still-unknown territory for participation? Which intriguing questions or challenges ask for more practices or experiments on participation?

Call for Articles

We plan to publish three articles per question. In order to include the greatest diversity of practices, experiences and approaches we are looking for your contributions on one of the following topics or questions concerning participation:

  • An article that takes a longer-term historical perspective on participation: what shapes has participation taken throughout the centuries, and in different parts of the world? What was it an answer to at different times?
  • An article that reflects on an unfinished, or ‘failed’ initiative around participation: what can we learn from that? Despite everything else, what did work?
  • An article that reflects on (direct) citizen participation (e.g. citizen budget, youth participation in climate change policies, …) in complex matters at regional or national policy making.  What do good practices teach us on how participation of citizens will/can evolve in the future?
  • An article on the part technology is or is not playing in participation. Which new opportunities does it bring?

Ways to Contribute:

We are looking for articles from several perspectives: experts to reflect on their practice, idealists who will pledge their case for participation, representatives of different schools of thoughts who deepen their communalities and differences, and beginners in the field who bring their bewilderment to the table.

Your contribution can be in any format: an article, essay, interview or picture-story. Creative contributions and formats are definitely welcomed. The final written submission will range between 500 and 2000 words.  Art and graphics should be in high resolution and ready for publication. Poetry should be formatted for publication. Video links are also encouraged.

Submitting a Proposal/Draft:

Are you enthused by the thought of contributing to this issue? Is your brain already generating ideas and contributions?

Important Deadlines:

15 April:         Proposal or Overview/Outline of Contribution
6 May:             First Draft Due
3 June:            Final Article Due
5 July:             Contributors’ draft from managing editor of AIP for final comments from contributors

Special Edition Editors:

Arne Gillert (agillert@kessels-smit.com)
Pieterjan van Wijngaarden (pvanwijngaarden@kessels-smit.com)
Kris Snick (ksnick@kessels-smit.com)

 

Thoughts about WAIC 2019

There was no better place to be this year in February than Nice, France. The World Appreciative Inquiry Conference, brilliantly organised by the Institut Français d’Appreciative Inquiry and supported by the David Cooperrider Center at Champlain College, was a combination of great energy, thought-provoking plenary sessions and engaging workshops. It was my first WAIC as the Managing Editor of AI Practitioner, and meeting so many people who’ve supported AI Practitioner over the years was wonderful.

A particular highlight was the presentation at the Villa Massena of medals from the city of Nice to David Cooperrider and Ron Fry for the work they have done over the years.

AI Practitioner shared a stand with the David Cooperrider Center. Lots of people stopped by to say hello. The AI Practitioner daily draw for a free annual subscription drew people to the stand.

The opening plenary session, given by David L. Cooperrider and Lindsey N. Godwin, was on 8 Steps for Leading P.O.S.T.I.V.E. Change, an evolution of the article that they wrote for the AI Practitioner in June 2015, was a practical, entertaining and appreciative discourse on non-deficit, life-centric and full-spectrum strengths-powered change.

Other plenary sessions included Appreciative Living and Healing Conversations, led by Jackie Kelm and Tony Silbert; Prospecting for the Positive; and the first-ever plenary session given in English and Spanish, One-ness toward common good, led by Circe Peralta Huerta from Mexico, Lorena Merino Naranjo from Ecuador, Miriam Subirana from Spain and Felix Viloria from Columbia. The sessions were brilliantly documented by visual minuters.

Topics of the workshops ranged from Appreciative Inquiry and T’ai Chi (Eberhard Belz and Varje Sommerhage from Switzerland) through Appreciative Inquiry Questions to Bring out the Best in Families (Dawn Dole and Diana Whitney, USA)  to Generative Journalism (Stijn Govaerts, Bavo Wouters and Hans Vanderspikken, Belgium) and so many more.

The November issue of AI Practitioner, to be edited by a team from the organisers of WAIC, will be a re-evaluation, re-visioning and sharing of what has come from this 2019 conference. For those who were there, a reflection on their experiences. For those who weren’t, it will be a sharing of the rich and generative dialogues begun at WAIC2019.

We are looking for thoughts, reflections, photos and responses to keep the generative dialogue started at WAIC2019 going. To contribute, please go here.

Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry: A Leadership Journey through Hope, Despair, and Forgiveness

By Joan McArthur Blair & Jeanie Cockell

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018

ISBN – 978-1-5230-8255-1

Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry is a book truly from the authors’ hearts to that of the reader. There are several poetic invocations running through this book. One such invocation calls the reader for new knowing …

There are times
You are called to new knowing
And you are compelled to answer

And that is what this book is all about – new knowing for leaders to build resilience using Appreciative Inquiry.

The authors begin by presenting their book as a commentary. They have various reasons for doing so – what appeals me the most is their submission that this book represents “our perspective, not the only perspective.”

Most leadership approaches and models focus on the outer world in which leaders must lead with strength. Few touch upon the inner world where leaders must acknowledge their own vulnerability, allow it an honest, compassionate expression and inquire appreciatively into the complex phenomena of hope, despair and forgiveness. That is what makes this book stand apart with meaning and courage. The authors present a model called “Appreciative Resilience” to help leaders explore and develop ways to foster resilience for themselves and the people they lead. Let us have a brief view of the unique leadership model this book presents.

Core proposition

The authors’ unique construct of appreciative resilience aims to help leaders build a personal call to resilience. Their work is rooted in Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a strengths-based approach to deep systemic change and development. The outer circle of their twin-circle Appreciative Resilience model explains its guiding pillars – Appreciative Inquiry (AI); AI principles; AI processes; AI leadership; and “being AI”. While AI is clearly the “catalytic force” of their model, to me the essence of all these pillars is perhaps being AI – the embodiment of AI principles and process in one’s leadership work and resilience practice. The authors’ elaboration of AI principles in the context of appreciative resilience is delightful reading, not just for the uninitiated, but also for the seasoned AI practitioner.

The inner circle of their Appreciative Resilience model is the essential offer of this book. This circle is formed of an interplay of what the authors call the states or elements of appreciative resilience – hope, despair and forgiveness.

Hope – The authors emphasise that hope is a matter of intentional practice. In the context of leadership, the authors aver that a conscious intent and effort to create a space for hope is essential to foster appreciative resilience. While they acknowledge that hope is not always a reflex or easy response, they also explain with snippets how Poetic principle of Appreciative Inquiry helps one to choose focus, re-perceive, reframe and practise a hopeful view. They support their belief that “knowing leadership has a rhythm of growth and loss, holds one to hope” with a touching account of a leader whose leadership is embedded in the “hope of the gardener” metaphor…

…sometimes, despite all the necessary prep … the seeds blow away, the plant withers, the bugs attack or the bloom fades before it flowers … I prepare again … next time the garden will be different and will grow … always be the gardener, revel in the possible, despite stormy weather, scattered seeds, invasive pests

Despair – The authors underline that despair is an essential companion of leadership. As humans, we all know despair well and also understand its dense nature. Authors focus on leadership and organisational despair. They emphasise that systemic forces make it hard for leaders to separate personal and collective despair. They present the appreciative practices of tracking and fanning to help leaders stride meaningfully through collective immobilisation.

Forgiveness – The authors’ approach to forgiveness embodies grit and grace. Their notion of forgiveness is founded in the human phenomena of equanimity, compassion, unconditional regard and human goodness. They describe forgiveness as a “conscious act” that helps one understand that:

The worldview of the other person may have more merit and there is sense in allowing meeting of two perspectives. This calls for heightened awareness of perspective.

Forgiveness is much more complex than most other psychological experiences. It is a profound choice. It calls leaders to have a steely appreciative will to practice forgiveness.

By choosing to forgive, leaders foster future focus, generate possibilities and enable movement for growth.

Perhaps one of the most poignant calls that the authors offer is a “determination to see that others both deserve and don’t deserve forgiveness, and to offer it up anyway”.

Relevance

The authors’ offer of appreciative resilience is not just reflective or philosophical. They share enough to support its active practice. There are stories and prose, reflection prompts, practices, exercises, interview questions, even a workshop design. For scholars, this model is founded in the science of Appreciative Inquiry, and artfully built on the authors’ personal and professional practice of their model. They seem to have researched widely and deeply. While their model remains at the center, the simplicity and lyrical feel of the writing is almost equally captivating. Expressions like “inviting tension as a muse” and the “ability to see the horizon” inspire meaning and stir thought.

What stands out for me

The authors’ courage to bare their hearts and their generosity in sharing make this book special for me. They hold themselves with rare gracefulness and strength while sharing their own struggles and vulnerability. I find the authors’ approach to forgiveness and resilience uniquely inspiring. It is amazing how they have humanised the same in a leadership context.

What resonated deeply with me is the poetry at the start of each chapter, not just because I am a poet myself, but more so because of its invocative appeal. Reading about the authors’ model, named ALIVE (appreciate, love, inquire, venture and evolve), took me back to my first meeting with them. In a corridor conversation after attending their workshop at World AI Conference 2012, I offered ALIVE as an acronym of my experience to Joan McArthur-Blair. I was touched by her openness to understand my view of love, appreciation and evolution, and the grace with which she asked for my consent to use this acronym.

I am sure their work is much more expansive than my in-the-moment reflection and gift of an acronym. Yet I felt both humbled and happy to find it holding a space in their consciousness. Apart from this, there are many other facets of their model and book that feel “like my own” or “about me”, and I believe other readers may also feel the same. This is the beautiful highlight of this book – it enlightens what is deeply personal yet essentially universal with a poignant feeling and thought.

The authors emphasise that the “appreciative resilience model and this book are not linear journeys”. They encourage the reader to make the meaning personal and chart their own journey to resilience through hope, despair and forgiveness.

What else

There are aspects of authors’ model and this book that may come across as more philosophical than practical, more personal than universal. That said, book is full of stories and vignettes that the authors share from their practice, lending their model integrity. The authors’ poetic style of writing may not find favour with the readers who prefer a more prosaic style of writing. But that exactly is the unique value of this book – combining philosophical with practical and poetic with prosaic.

On the surface, this book seems to be about “resilience”. In effect, the authors offer leadership concepts, insights and practices for deep learning and transformation. I would encourage leaders, leadership professionals, teachers and students alike to read with faith and objectivity alike.

I will close with a quote from Nancy Ortberg:

Leadership stands at the crossroads of what we do and who we are, and that is a profound place. It requires that we become stronger in our resilience and forgiveness and determination and love.

(From Nancy Ortberg, Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands: Lessons in Non-Linear Leadership, published by Tyndale in 2008.)

Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry: A Leadership Journey through Hope, Despair, and Forgiveness is easily available from all online market places.

Dr Joan McArthur-Blair is an inspirational writer, speaker and facilitator who specialises in the use of AI to foster leadership, strategic planning and innovative strategies for organisational development. She loves writing, speaking and facilitating, and works with groups of all kinds to make a positive difference.

Dr Jeanie Cockell is an educational and organisational consultant. She is a leader in AI, with extensive experience in facilitating, presenting, training, coaching, conflict resolution, leading and collaboratively designing strategies for individuals, groups, organisations and communities to build positive futures.

Together

The authors are co-presidents of Cockell McArthur-Blair Consulting. Grounded in a life time of leading, they have co-authored Appreciative Inquiry in Higher Education: A Transformative Force, and Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry: A Leadership Journey through Hope, Despair, and Forgiveness.

Discover more about them and the book at https://cockellmcarthur-blair.com

Book Appreciation by Neena Verma

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.

 

Appreciative Inquiry: Gratitude at the heart of conversation

One of the key aspects that drew me to Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and keeps me involved is the gratitude people express and the way they (including myself) feel imbued by such a thankful experience. This was especially evident in the stories people shared at the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) in Johannesburg, South Africa 2015. The true spirit of ubuntu, “I am because we are”, where human virtues such as compassion and humanity are central, was evident throughout the conference. Looking ahead to the upcoming WAIC in Nice, France in March 2019, it is clear by the societal ambition of the conference – “Generating conversations for the common good” – that gratitude throughout the entire AI experience remains pivotal to its message and focus on building positive communities.

Appreciative Inquiry: Gratitude at the heart of conversation

Stories of deep appreciation for the way AI has transformed organisations, and perhaps more precisely the way it has transformed individuals and teams within those organisations, are always told in the context of gratitude for what has been explored, discovered, learned, shared, and what continues. A person-centred and strengths-based approach such as AI values, encourages and celebrates all that people have to offer while ensuring they remain at the heart of the change process. I’ve often commented that transformational leadership understands and supports what motivates individuals as it creates the conditions that promote healthy relationships. Indeed, motivation is the manifestation of what is meaningful, which gives us the “why” for what we do. Good leaders understand this and the AI process promotes it.

AI and gratitude

My understanding of gratitude emanates from my earliest experience of the way my father went about his daily life and how he approached the world of work in the same way. He was a well-known and much loved carpenter and French polisher, and of all the things he shared with me throughout the many creative hours enjoyed together in his workshop, his most inspiring and enduring words continue to resonate with increasing meaning: “Do your best; give now; be in community”. The wisdom with which he embraced his talents, shared his skills and engaged with others emphasised the importance of relationship and how gratitude carries this in a way that enables us to experience and share our talents. All in all, I realised that we had choices, among them three powerful choices that would always open the way for gratitude to surface and do its work as we went about doing ours:

  1. Choose to be inspired so the best in you can be realised;
  2. Choose to dream so who you are and what you can give will be clear;
  3. Choose to be with others so that the future can be shared and strong.

It was no surprise to me that I was immediately attracted to all that the AI approach offers. This is especially so for the natural way it evokes the kind of experience where gratitude can flourish and enable us to see with a particular clarity only possible through gratitude. Indeed, my articulation of the three choices noted above was only possible through the gratitude I experienced, and I was all the more excited and grateful when I realised that AI does everything to help them along:

  1. In choosing to be inspired, AI asks inspirational questions;
  2. In choosing to dream, AI emphasises that what we focus on becomes our reality; and
  3. In choosing to be with others, AI highlights that in every community something works.

An inspirational model

It is easy to understand the level of gratitude expressed by people who have engaged in the AI process, given its design, intention and the way it encourages individuals and teams to move beyond being on the cusp of something great to experiencing the transformational power of positive discourse. It does this by tapping into the positive core and maintaining a clear and unwavering focus on what is already working well and building on this. The five core principles of AI, Constructionist, Poetic, Simultaneity, Anticipatory and Positive, are intrinsic to its underlying philosophy and generate conversations that inspire individuals and teams to recognise and contribute their best (Watkins, Mohr and Kelly, 2011). The overall model – the 5D cycle of Definition, Discovery, Dream, Design, Destiny/Delivery – provides the process that drives change within the organisation (Watkins, Mohr and Kelly, 2011).

Specific aspects of Appreciative Inquiry emphasise that:

  • We can build on the best of the past;
  • The positive core makes up the best of individuals and the organisation;
  • We can co-create what we imagine;
  • What we focus on becomes our reality.

Questions posed set the direction and ultimately provide a window into:

  • The best within each person;
  • When people feel most creative and productive;
  • How leadership can encourage and build on what people value most;
  • What motivates people.

As noted by Cooperrider, Whitney and Stavros (2008): “Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them.”

Grateful Voices from the Field

Stories of gratitude for the AI approach are the seeds of inspiration; so much so that they foster the kind of curiosity where others feel compelled to find out more about the process and how it can be applied in their work.

Since the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) in 2015, AI practitioners from across the globe have been encouraged to contribute articles to the “Nourish to Flourish – Voices from the Field” section of the AI Practitioner journal as a way of sharing their experiences of the AI process. Twenty articles in total have been published in the past three years, and a selection of grateful sentiments from some of these articles are included below:

AI Practitioner: February 2016 | Volume 18, Number 1

Title: My AI Journey: From Learner Via Practitioner to Contributor

Author: Dr. Claudia Gross – Germany / Egypt.

During my AI Introduction training, I experienced the magic and power of the AI interview myself. Ever since, I have been eager to provide a similar experience for other persons. (p. 68.)

AI Practitioner: May 2016 | Volume 18, Number 2

Title: AI: Positive Change in Unexpected Places

Author: Whitney Fry – USA.

AI complemented my worldview as a follower of Jesus, and provided a practical application of gratitude: seeing positive change in unexpected places. AI, in many ways, was the reset button to my “hope meter”, and my vision suddenly opened from a myopic perspective of deficit details to the bigger picture of possibilities. (p. 74.)

AI Practitioner: May 2016 | Volume 18, Number 2

Title: AI and Strengths-based Social Work: Perfect Partners

Author: Petra van Leeuwen – The Netherlands.

Almost 20 years from the beginning of my work with the homeless women, it feels like I am still graduating … With my new implementation partner, AI, I hope to be involved in much more strengths-based social work. It is wonderful to see what happens in social work and care if we actually look at people as complete persons and build on their strengths. (p. 76.)

AI Practitioner: August 2016 | Volume 18, Number 3

Title: My Appreciation of Appreciative Inquiry

Author: Suzanne Quinney – UK.

AI is, indeed, that inner and outer journey that gently challenges us to appreciate the inherent power of that journey in taking us to where we need to be! (p. 74.)

AI Practitioner: November 2016 | Volume 18, Number 4

Title: Appreciative Approach: The Positive Gaze Upon Our Humanity

Author: Vânia Bueno Cury – Brazil.

AI is an enlightened lens through which to see and understand life. It is the way of compassion towards oneself and others, and a possible path for dreaming and gratitude. (p. 63.)

AI Practitioner: May 2017 | Volume 19, Number 2

Title: Towards Manifesting Imagination

Author: Roopa Nandi – India.

AI is not a tool – it is an approach that has the potential to drive individual behaviour and transform character. Through the appreciative lens every individual can affirm the self. (p. 104.)

AI Practitioner: August 2017 | Volume 19, Number 3

Title: Cultivating Appreciative Communities

Author: Nelly Nduta Ndirangu – Kenya.

Together with a team of professionals, we have borrowed extensively from the AI model to add value to the kind of education being delivered to children in Kenya. The approach has brought together parents, community and teachers to experience learning that is later cascaded to their children in the school setting. (p. 50.)

AI Practitioner: August 2018 | Volume 20, Number 3

Title: Creative Practices: Developing Leadership Confidence in Canadian Students

Authors: Rosemary Bell and Amanjot Gill – Canada.

…the use of Appreciative Dialogue with the placement students resulted in a much deeper and meaningful participation from them in workshops and their placement overall, which was reflected in their evaluation surveys. (p. 82.)

Gratitude breeds gratitude: when we experience it in ourselves, we wish for others to experience it as well. This is the greatest desire for humanity because gratitude serves as our ultimate guide to becoming better beings for the good of our global community and indeed, all life!

References

Cooperrider, D. L., D. Whitney and J. Stavros. (2008) Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: For Leaders of Change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Watkins, J., B. J. Mohr and R. Kelly. (2011) Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination (Second Ed.), San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

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.

The Only Violin Maker in Palestine

Shehada Shalalda became passionate about making violins after overhearing someone practising at Ramallah’s only music school when he was 15. He learned the trade of luthier first in Palestine, then in Florence, Italy and the UK. Now back in Ramallah, he says is building bridges between cultures, one violin at a time.

Read more or watch the video.

Call for submissions – An African Perspective on Appreciative Inquiry

Call for submissions
AI Practitioner to be published in February 2019

Editors:
Mette Jacobsgaard and Anastasia Bukashe

Theme:
An African Perspective on Appreciative Inquiry

The initial ideas that have become the AI practice were introduced in Africa in the early 1990s. One of the most significant contributions to this was the work of the USAID-sponsored Global Excellence in Management (GEM) programme funded by the US Agency for International Development from 1994 to 2000. The GEM Initiative became a living laboratory for sowing the seeds of AI in a number of African countries. Through the years much of what has become accepted AI practice was first developed in Africa. This story was told in the August 2011 issue of the AIP.

Twenty-five years after Appreciative Inquiry was introduced in Africa we are curious to know who is using the approach? What has the impact been? Is AI being used just as another technique or has it made sustained transformations? We are particularly curious to know from Africans in Africa who have taken AI on board. What impact and changes have been made? Are there innovations that can be attributed specifically to AI in Africa?

Focus of the issue:
Profiling the variety of sectors, issues and places AI is being used on the continent.

Questions for inspiration:
How have people in Africa contextualised AI?
How do you locate AI in the African context – what lessons are there?
What is the voice of AI in Africa? What are we learning?
How do we sustain AI in Africa?

Ways to contribute:
We are looking for written contributions including creative presentations and pictures. The final written submissions will range from 500 to 2000 words. Art and graphics should be in high resolution and ready for publication. Poetry should be formatted for publication.

Submitting a Proposal / Draft:
If you are excited to contribute to this issue please send a proposal to 101572.622@compuserve.com no later than 12 November, maximum 300 words. By 19 November 2018 we will let you know which proposals will be accepted and need to receive your first draft at the latest by 4 December 2018. The final draft will need to be completed by 8 January 2019 in order to publish the journal on 1 February 2019.

Positivity: Groundbreaking Research to Release Your Inner Optimist and Thrive

Book Appreciation by Neena Verma

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.

Positivity: Groundbreaking Research to Release Your Inner Optimist and Thrive

By Barbara Fredrickson

Oneworld Publications, 2010

ISBN – 978-1-85168-790-9

Positivity is such an everyday word, thrown in casually as a state-descriptor, advice, a judgement, a sermon, even a lament if it is perceived to be missing or inadequate. We all seem to be experts on positivity. Yet if we were to try to support our understanding of positivity with an intellectual argument, we might have little to say beyond a subjective understanding which may or may not hold meaning for others.

The seminal work of Barbara Fredrickson presents a unique view of “positivity”. We may all be familiar in our personal or relational experience of what she calls “inner well-spring of positivity” and “negativity landmines”. However, what we may not be so clear about is the intricate nature of the phenomenon called “positivity” and the impact it creates when we “broaden and build” our outlook. The author presents an interesting concept called open heart study (not surgery!) which, according to her, not only creates a self-renewing experience of positive emotions but also an upward spiral of growth. Let us discover more about her book.

The hallmark themes

The first key theme running throughout the proposition of Fredrickson’s work, is two core truths about positivity. The first core truth is that “positive emotions open our heart and make us more receptive and creative”. What is new or ground-breaking about this? It is Fredrickson’s experiments-based explanation of the difference that positive experience, negative experience and neutral experience states make on the outcome of the task we undertake. Though these conditioned states were tested as design experiments, they established outcomes consistently found to be true, even as lived experiences. This core truth explains the essence of the “broaden effect”, the first distinctive proposition made by the author.

The second core truth presented by author asserts that “positivity transforms us for the better”, unleashing opportunity to grow and expand our psychological, mental, social and physical resources. Again, this core truth may seem like what is already obvious and widely known. Indeed, it is. With the second core truth that Fredrickson describes as “build effect”, she helps clarify our instinctive, inherited knowledge by sharing results of her open-heart study experiments.

What stands out for me is the story that author chose to describe to build the case for open-heart effect. This riveting transformation story says more than her research on more than over hundred stories of personal change, collected with real-time data and researched with scientific rigour.

Nina’s story

Nina’s transformation speaks to my heart, not because the protagonist is my namesake (albeit with different spelling), but because it feels so “my-own”. I like to think that in different parts and aspects, this story would feel so my-own to many readers. Nina’s transformation is an inspiring account of purposeful, mindful, self-responsible positivity practice creating a life-affirming upward spiral of personal growth. Starting with a low positivity ratio of 1:1, punctuated by overwhelming stress, the feeling of being “in a rut” with psychosomatic symptoms (terrible headaches, stomach pains and failed attempts to conceive) she grew to feel acceptant, forgiving, kind, self-loving and naturally appreciative of seemingly small but subtle life-giving experiences and the wonders of nature. Over time Nina’s positivity ratio grew to an impressively high 6:1. In her words, her positivity journey resulted in “finding myself again”. The heartening highlight of her story is that in course of time she gave birth to twins.

So how did this magic happen? She attributes it to a combination of meditation and conscious positivity practice which, over time, became reflexive habits. This is how open heart study unravels the not-so-obvious truth about positivity – that it takes conscious, heart-felt practice to make positivity a real, lived experience, much more than nicely worded positivity commonplaces.

The portfolio of positive emotions

Another theme of the book is Fredrickson’s description of ten forms of positive emotions. Reading about them in isolation may not make much of mark, until you read about the portfolio of these positive emotions that one can self-build. Such a personally designed positive emotion portfolio helps because different emotions may need different methods to grow.

Perhaps the most practically useful theme of the book is the positivity ratio. Fredrickson expands her positivity framework by incorporating the mathematical model of her broaden-and-build theory, developed by Marcial Losado, the scholarly practitioner of positivity. Together they establish a positivity-ratio tipping-point of 3:1. She backs it with her positivity-ratio self-test.

At first glance this test may seem simplistic and temptingly deceptive. But a deeper view helps one notice the clever clustering of three emotions together to describe each of the twenty self-mapping invites: I prefer to call them invites rather than commonly used “item/statement”, because each of these statements took me to one or another lived life instance. This provided opportunity for me to revisit, without ruminating, parts of my history with reflective, self-inspiring invites to learn, change and grow.

The reader may well be right to think that lot of what is written about positivity, strategies and the tools to increase it is common knowledge. However, this book makes a difference by substantiating and building what we already seem to know, with the science behind positivity and by explaining the principles behind the practice tools. Importantly, the ground-breaking research about positivity is presented in a way that speaks convincingly both to the rational, scientific minded as well as the intuitive, in-the-flow reader.

Hard and soft ‘positivity’

Barbara Fredrickson establishes her credibility as a scientist of psychology. Her focus on quantitative evidence and command of inferring meaning from the same is impressive. There are data and more data, at times disrupting the flow of reading. There are parts where the author seems overly concerned with explaining what seems clear and understandable, such as explaining why she approximated a mathematical derivative of the tipping point for the positivity ratio from 2.9013:1 to 3:1. She is, by her own admission, “a measurement junkie”. But that is exactly the distinctive appeal of her work.

Some phrases and titles, like “positivity feels good”, “decrease negativity”, “increase positivity” may seem so trite that the reader feels like putting the book down. Even if such common-place references, data and scientific focus feels a bit too much, I would encourage the reader to stay tuned for the anecdotal elaborations of the subject. Barbara Fredrickson deftly and evocatively combines the scientific argument with the human element of positivity.

In particular, her own stories about her meditation experience, about the 9/11 tragedy in the United States, and about how her husband’s surgery and life-threatening condition put her in a state where living her own concepts helped her broaden and build her resources, grow more resilient, and “for the first time learn to truly receive”. Each story gives a heartening glimpse of the human behind the scientist; that is the paradoxical beauty of the book. Her other admission also inspires – “I’d long known the benefits of positive emotions in a scholarly way; I felt those benefits now more intensely and poignantly that ever before.”

Though the title and focus of the book is positivity, Fredrickson’s work is realistic in its acknowledgement of negativity. To her credit, she offers a fair view of appropriate negativity, arguing that human flourishing would be limited if negativity were denied its natural existence as an essential part of human life. She explains this with the wonderful analogy of levity (the force that lifts one skyward) and gravity (the opposite force that pulls one earthward). She argues that human flourishing needs an optimal combination of both these forces. Her simple, yet strong, explanation is that while appropriate negativity keeps one grounded in reality, heartfelt positivity provides the lift needed for buoyant, flourishing life. Even as the author has heavily dosed her work with data and scientific evidence, to her credit she keeps affirming the inherent human truth that positivity is positive only when heartfelt and authentic.

Fredrickson offers several positivity-practice tools, some of which may seem simplistic and familiar. That said, even though they may feel familiar, many of us do not actively and consistently practice positivity. This is where this book’s positivity toolkit may serve as a reminder for us to consciously practice positivity.

I have read this book before. Re-reading it and writing a review reinforced essential aspects of the phenomenon of positivity, as it also opened new vistas. A reader like me might wish for less data and analysis and more anecdotal flow of the book. However, this is exactly the creative challenge and invitation for us – to open ourselves to a unique, fresh scientific understanding of the phenomenon of positivity, supported by personal stories in fair measure. And, of course, for left-brained, rational-preferring readers, this book is a treat.

The book is easily available on all online market places.

Barbara Fredrickson is Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and principal investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory (a.k.a. PEP Lab) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Winner of several awards for her research and teaching, her research establishes with scientific evidence how positive emotions, fleeting as they are, can tip the scales toward a life of flourishing. She created her broaden-and-build theory to describe how positive emotions shape people’s health and well-being.

Discover more about her, the ‘Positivity’ book, the ‘Positivity Ratio’ self-test and her other tools at – https://www.positivityratio.com/

Sewing the Appreciative Thread: From Organisation Development to Educational Enrichment

I became familiar with Appreciative Inquiry (AI) in 2006 when I commenced working in the public sector, more specifically community centres and hospitals. It became clear to me that problem-focussed approaches to problem solving frequently added unnecessary layers of focus that lead to short-term, surface change and did not necessarily strengthen the individuals and teams involved in the process. This particular approach was often void of exploring individuals’ motivation in the context of their role and what was actually working within the team or organisation. Appreciative Inquiry, however, provided a window into the positive aspects of current practices and strengths-based questions that facilitated a positive and productive outlook. Having successfully used Appreciative Inquiry in various organisational settings over the years, I wondered how it could be applied as a counselling framework for higher education students experiencing severe self-doubt.

Sewing the Appreciative Thread: From Organisation Development to Educational Enrichment

Establishing and maintaining an enriching work environment relies on promoting and supporting the inspiration to create and innovate, the imagination to work through the seemingly insurmountable, and the collaboration to do what needs to be done. In my experience, an emphasis on actively encouraging individuals and teams in this way often translates into a resourceful, resilient and sustainable infrastructure that continuously builds capacity and enhances contribution. This is evident in the level of expertise that emerges, visible in the collective creativity embraced, and ultimately conspicuous in the positive outcomes for individuals, teams and the organisation overall. Introduced to Appreciative Inquiry (AI) in 2006, I was especially attracted to its five core principles:

  • Social Constructionist principle: Conversations create reality;
  • Poetic principle: Narratives are deeply meaningful;
  • Simultaneity principle: Inquiry creates change;
  • Anticipatory principle: Our image of the future guides our action today;
  • Positive principle: Positive influence leads to sustainable change.

Along with embracing the five core principles of Appreciative Inquiry, much of my leadership work in organisations focussed on the inspiration, imagination and collaboration generated within teams:

  • Inspiration (Resourcefulness): “Enables ideas” – strengthens the capacity to create and innovate;
  • Imagination (Resilience): “Sees solutions” – strengthens the capacity to work through the seemingly insurmountable;
  • Collaboration (Sustainability): “Organises change” – strengthens the capacity to do what needs to be done.

In my experience, the benefits of the Appreciative Inquiry approach have always been embraced by the people involved as it is a process that values, encourages, and celebrates the diversity of knowledge and invites each individual to be at the heart of the change process.

Given the nature and success of the AI approach in organisations, I became curious about how it could be applied in a therapeutic setting, specifically for higher education students. My interest was sparked when I commenced working at La Trobe University and the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. Managing the counselling clinic along with developing and presenting workshops that addressed self-doubt, procrastination, perfectionism and self-esteem, the clinic was receiving a high percentage of referrals, mainly from the schools of medicine and law, that were for students experiencing severe difficulty with self-doubt. This in itself was no surprise as educational institutions are a breeding ground for self-doubt which, at its most severe, sharply reduces motivation and imposes negative images of an unwanted future. One can very quickly fall into a downward spiral of doubt and lose the determination to continue along a chosen pathway.

Appreciative Inquiry in a therapeutic setting

In developing an Appreciative Inquiry approach to a therapeutic setting, it seemed logical to apply a similar framework to the one that I used in public health settings. After all, the counselling relationship relies on inspiration, imagination and collaboration. However, there is a particular and necessary kind of dialogue inherent in the counselling relationship that creates a unique experience between the client and counsellor, a sacred evolution of what is to be, ultimately, for that one individual with the hope that what is learned will be a skill transferable across a lifetime.

In order to facilitate this within counselling sessions, I developed an Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) framework incorporating the five core principles of Appreciative Inquiry along with a psychological model including existential, cognitive-behavioral and solution-focussed approaches, which became pivotal in reviewing the person’s past achievements, positive attributes and desires for the future. These approaches offer varying viewpoints of the person: an existential perspective emphasizes that individuals create their own meaning; a solution-focussed viewpoint acknowledges that elements of the desired solution are already in the individual’s life; and a cognitive-behavioural perspective suggests that behaviour change is the result of change in one’s thoughts and beliefs.

Moving beyond self-doubt

Considering the person’s situation, using these three approaches along with the five core principles of Appreciative Inquiry and one of its key tenets – that what we focus on becomes our reality– the aim is to elicit positive examples in the person’s life that will assist with moving beyond self-doubt. The ApDi framework is driven by four main elements that set it into motion:

  • Conversation The counsellor is always present to the idea that what we focus on becomes our reality. One of the main aims of Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) is to restore motivation because it is the manifestation of what is meaningful and gives us the “why” to what we do. What motivates the student becomes the focus early on in the first conversation. This is aided by both student and counsellor having a clear understanding of what core belief underlies the student’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
  • Question Not only does a question provide a sense of direction, it also sets the intention. What we think about, explore, discuss, discover and learn are implied in a question. A series of questions that focus on experiences of the student’s life, past and present, are designed to elicit inherent and learned strengths that can be used to achieve future goals. Several questions consider strengths and achievements in the context of the student’s values and social connections and the role these played in achieving their goals.
  • Imagery We often imagine into the future as a guide to the actions we take today.
  • Action Our goals are only as achievable as the actions we take toward them – unless we act, we don’t experience. Action brings what has been imagined to life.

Working with higher education students from an Appreciative Inquiry perspective made sense, especially in the context of its five core principles for their focus on the strength of conversation, narrative and positive imagery, as-well-as the emphasis on co-creating the future.

Identifying core beliefs

Given that a key approach of AI is to focus on the “positive core”, it at first appeared contradictory and somewhat of a dilemma to attempt developing an AI approach to therapy with someone who’s core belief about themselves, and hence their self-image, is a negative one. I realised that, working with self-doubt, in order to access and work toward enhancing a student’s positive attributes, there must be a clear understanding of their core belief which almost always is a negative one. This became a pivotal part of the ApDi framework. Identifying one’s core belief moves the conversation in a direction that establishes “how” the person prefers to be, that is, the positive self they prefer. Once the core belief has been identified, three fundamental questions are considered:

  1. Does your core belief give you energy or does it exhaust you? (This is what you give to yourself);
  2. Does your core belief help build relationships or does it isolate you? (This what you build around yourself);
  3. Does your core belief reveal a welcomed future or an unwanted one? (This is what you see for yourself)

In the initial conversation that incorporates the three questions above, it is emphasised that “what you give to yourself and what you build around you will influence what you see”.

The entire ApDi process is a collaboration between student and counsellor, a co-creation of what is necessary to move beyond self-doubt. It involves a series of steps to achieve this that explores the student’s strengths, develops a vision of the desired future, and determines what skills and resources are necessary.

The flow of the Appreciative Dialogue framework

In essence, I have found that there is a particular flow to the ApDi framework that works well when used within a counselling context to work through self-doubt. It awakens (evokes) the power of words → that make up the narrative → that provides the perspective (context) → that conjures the image → that impacts the decision → that sets the direction (where we’re going) → that reveals the pathway (how we get there).

Conversations within an Appreciative Dialogue context continuously seek to identify, reify, sustain, and act on positive images that emerge and become pivotal to establishing as sense of self-assurance. There is always something reassuring about anyone seeking to overcome the negative and as a Psychologist this is what excites me more than anything, especially for the inspirational, imaginative, and collaborative process that drives Appreciative Inquiry for which I feel grateful to be a part of.

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.

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