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Awareness of Wholeness: Two principles in balance

In the May 2021 issue of AI Practitioner, Faith Addicott commenced a series for Voices from the Field titled “Our Principles in Action: Appreciative Inquiry for Justice and Belonging”. The series explores the ten AI principles in the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Given that the focus of this issue of AI Practitoner is dedicated to learning and leveraging generative approaches to DEI, we decided to devote this installment of Voices from the Field to two principles in Faith’s series, the Wholeness and Awareness principles, and how they contribute to our appreciation of what is possible.

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Faith Addicott | USA

Faith Addicott, MPA, MPOD is working to improve the intersection of work and life through innovative and human-centered process design. Her consulting work has centered on nonprofits and local government using Appreciative Inquiry and other strengths-based processes. She is a champion for inclusive workplace design.

 

 

he Wholeness principle: Wholeness brings out the best

Wholeness brings out the best in people and organizations. Bringing all stakeholders together in large group forums stimulates creativity and builds collective capacity.

The Awareness principle: Be conscious of underlying assumptions

Understanding and being aware of our underlying assumptions is important to developing and cultivating good relationships. Practicing cycles of action and reflection can build one’s self-awareness.

As we lean into this special issue of the Appreciative Inquiry journal, we wanted to bring forth two principles that both complement and elevate each other. It is a core part of our experience with Appreciative Inquiry that interconnectedness exists between all of the AI principles, and also between the human beings who live in the intersectional spaces of our world. 

Wholeness as a principle speaks to this. It asks us to acknowledge that every person has value, every voice belongs. When we bring wholeness into the center of our thinking, it becomes clear that equity work must be a core element of any change initiative because it removes any false sense that difference means differing levels of creative capacity or worth. In the ways that we organize ourselves socially this has deep implications.

More broadly, wholeness is the quality of being complete or a single unit and not broken or divided into parts. When organizations embrace wholeness, it opens up a wide variety of possibilities, both the human side of our experience (being whole people at work) and the organizational side (transcending silos and silo mentalities).

People and organizations that dare to show their personal side with all the emotions, doubts, challenges and feelings involved, are generally better able to solve problems, address conflicts and reduce the influence of big egos.

By creating a unified vision that the entire workforce understands, the various teams in the company can build their objectives with that vision in mind. This will build greater trust between teams and help everyone adopt a big-picture view of goals, rather than focusing only on their own department. 

Wholeness invites us to think about how AI can help us in working across silos, communicating strategies across divisions, purpose and value development, naming authenticity and belonging in the workplace, understanding interconnectedness and dependencies, and generally raising our awareness of how our embracing of diversity grows our positive shared future.

In the definition we provided above, the Awareness principle of AI is focused on unearthing our assumptions, on finding and owning our biases and our strengths. In the context of wholeness, the awareness principle asks us to come to a greater understanding of our interconnectedness, and challenges us to unlearn comparative valuation of people.

Some of the biggest assumptions we carry in our white-centered society are rooted in othering, in assigning places or silos to each “kind2 of person. These move far beyond race and ethnicity. We categorize by gender, weight, sexuality, ability, neurotypicality. The history of the west is rooted in a history of mechanistic and divisive world views. We have learned to break things into smaller pieces and constituent parts in ways that we rarely examine.

In our work, we must examine and unlearn as generative actions – awareness also names our need to move, to change, to be in action, not just the contemplation of equity. We must both breathe and push into birth a world of wholeness; we must be both the wind and the sail. It is the balance between things that brings possibility.

In the intersection of awareness and wholeness, we come to a place of crossing paths, a place that creates spaciousness for all people to belong. In this place we are the sum of all our identities and more: we are beings who live in context. That context must be without judgment or valuation because its positionality is universal. 

Appreciative Inquiry itself is an intersectional act – we both appreciate, and we ask. If we do that in keeping with the principles of awareness and wholeness, we multiply our understanding of what is possible for all people, of all races and all identities, in the space of creative freedom and belonging. This is the heart of all diversity, equity and inclusion work, and our principles call us to the task.

Intro by 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.

 

Call for Articles for May 2023 issue of AI Practitioner

Appreciative Inquiry for Life: Working with nature in a time of ecological crisis

Guest Editor: Joeri Kabalt

‘The more clearly we focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.’ – Rachel Carson

Life has always been at the heart of Appreciative Inquiry. What gives life? What helps this group or that system to thrive? Our current ecological crisis calls us to critically reflect upon our responsibility and potential contribution as AI practitioners in this turbulent time. What if we chose even more radically to place all of life, including the more-than-human world (Abram, 1996), at the centre of everything we do? What could that look like? What would we do differently?

Even in their original article on AI, Cooperrider and Srivastva (1987) stressed the importance of ‘reverence for life’: the wonder and awe that come from recognising we are part of a world that is alive. This enchanted and participative worldview (Berman, 1981; Bennett, 2001) that focuses on kinship and interconnectedness seems even more important now to strengthen our sense of belonging and affection for the world around us and to serve as a call to step up for our planet.

Questions we would like to explore in this special issue are:

  • If we take participation seriously and aim to ‘get the whole system in the room’, how do we include and invite the voices of the more-than-human world? How do we give places, rivers, mountains and animals a say?
  • How can we invite leaders in organisations and beyond to reconnect to their sense of wonder and felt experience of interconnectedness with nature? How do we balance the tension of urgency and grief in climate crisis with care and creativity with nature?
  • How might we help to create new possibilities and generative images for the future that invite and mobilise people to act? What practices do we have to invite long-term and intergenerational thinking and action?
  • How can we work, inspired by and in partnership with nature, to create new cultures in organisations? How might we help to shape new narratives of purpose and progress that are characterised by care for all life on our planet?
  • What could (or even should) be our unique contributions as AI practitioners in response to the climate emergency? What skills or practices do we have that can make a difference at this time of crisis and collapse?

Contributions from your research, practices and experiences

We are looking for articles that explore one or more of the questions above, in a wide variety of contexts: teams, leadership, organisations, communities. Alongside research and practices from within the international AI community, we also explicitly welcome contributions from people who work with Action Research, ecology, nature connection or indigenous wisdom. We are particularly interested in case studies and practices that put the questions above to work: experiments, methods or cases in which you have tried to work with nature, as well as your insights and lessons.

For the final written submissions, we will be making a distinction between longer in-depth articles that combine theory and practice (around 2000 words) and ‘glimpses’: short stories of moments when you worked with nature (about 500 words). Art and graphics should be in high resolution and ready for publication. Poetry should be formatted for publication. Video links are also encouraged.

Making a Proposal / Draft:

Please let us know of your interest and submit your abstract by November the 1st 2022 using this link: https://forms.gle/GeU8zYK4EvDVaRZa7.

Generations

Generations

by Keith Storace

 

Sometimes I think of the billions of souls

who have existed throughout history

and their unique experience 

of life on earth –

The collective imagination of each generation,

especially in times of uncertainty,

and the resilience that emerges

seems to tell a similar story:

The grief, joy, fear, and love

with which we live our lives

makes us who we are

and transforms humanity

from generation to generation;

we are each other.

 

Download the full article Generations by Keith Storace

In the Galaxy of Love

In the Galaxy of Love

by Neena Verma

 

We came cloaked

in the ache of our wounds.

On a numbing rollercoaster of longing,

through dark underground tunnel of trauma,

from the home that had come apart

by the shattering earthquake of loss.

Chained in pain, we sat with our grief

And allowed our tears to cleanse our pain.

We walked into the dark night of soul.

We implored the grey of evening twilight,

And gifted it our innermost light.

We sowed strength

in the garden of our sorrow.

And held in reverence

the Sun that rose in our courtyard,

the flower of grace that bloomed

and filled the underground tunnel

with its fragrance of faith.

Thus began our growth pilgrimage,

ensuing from the rollercoaster of grief.

The chinks of resilience showed up

and undid the chains of pain.

We walked into the

blackhole of our lament.

And woke up

in the galaxy of love.

 

Download the full article In the Galaxy of Love by Neena Verma

Shop Talk at the Dinner Table: AI in family systems that work together

At the 2019 World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) in Nice France, I had the pleasure of attending Oona Shambhavi D’mello’s presentation titled: “The Power of a Question in a Culture of Critique”. I was delighted when Oona agreed to write an article for the February 2022 issue of AI Practitioner. Oona returns to Voices from the Field in this issue with another article, this time co-authored with her family members, all of whom are AI practitioners! Their individual and collaborative approach to Appreciative Inquiry lets us share in a unique story of shop talk around the dinner table. It’s my pleasure to welcome Oona back, along with her family members Preeti, Bosco and Satyashiv.

Download the full article.

Oona Shambhavi D’mello | India & US
Individual | Sister | Daughter | Sustainability Learning Leader
Lead: CEO of MySustainOnline

Oona Shambhavi D’mello is an artist, OD practitioner and agent of social impact. Oona’s mission is to impact the lives of people, serving their personal and professional growth, the wellbeing of their ecosystems and the health of the planet, with appreciative language being a key facet to promote human and social sustainability.

Her passion for expression is curated to promote “art can heal” firsthand. Oona’s purpose is to promote human and social sustainability by inspiring leaders, organizational ecosystems and communities to create sustainable impact for our planet.

Satyashiv D’mello | India & US
Individual | Brother | Son | Social Sustainability Leader
Lead: Human & Social Sustainability at Conscious Development

Satyashiv leads DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion and belongingness) and social sustainability at Conscious Development, and is the founder of YouUbuntu. His vision is to inculcate the paradigm of YouUbuntu through the maxim, “I am because we are”. Through his work, Satyashiv integrates positive psychology, metaphysics, organisational development, learning sciences and coaching to evoke higher order thinking and positive action towards a flourishing planet.

Preeti D’mello | US
Individual | Wife | Mother | Diversity & Inclusion Thought Leader, Futurist and Coach
Lead: VP, Global Head: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and LeaD Academy at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)

Preeti is inspired by the motto “inclusion without exception” at TCS, and is responsible for the ongoing systemic transformation in the leadership, diversity, equity and inclusion ecosystem at TCS. With thirty years of experience, Preeti brings a grounded, practical and strengths-based orientation to organizational development and leadership as well as mentoring and coaching, leveraging her experience and understanding of human nature to evolve effective turnarounds for personal, business and leadership challenges. 

Bosco D’mello | India & US
Individual | Husband | Father | Leadership Thought Leader & Coach
Lead: Leadership Capital & Organizational Development at Conscious Development

Bosco established Conscious Development with a singular purpose: to enable individuals to bridge the gap between who they are and who they can be. He has been a partner to leadership in the USA, India and Singapore in leadership capital development, diversity and culture, and executive coaching. He supports the vertical development of leaders through the integration of inner and outer life, connects them to their potential, and elevates how they think and work. Bosco supplements his professional commitments with his passion – teaching – as visiting faculty member at institutions including Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and SP Jain School of Global Management.

Shop Talk at the Dinner Table: AI in family systems that work together

How we are on the inside is how we experience the outside. A joyous heart and clear mind make many a barrier breachable. An exhausted heart and an angry mind make even the good moments inconsequential. But what determines whether it is joy or exhaustion that commands our hearts and minds? The most significant determinant, as far as civilisation goes is – relationships: the relationship with oneself, relationships with others, a relationship with nature and all that is unseen.

Debatably, a significant marker of our evolution is the ability of human relationships to work with cohesion and alignment, and value one another in times of homeostasis and hyper-complexity.

This is a learned awareness. As individuals, a family and colleagues with different capacities, we have learned much from our interpersonal relationships, a long-written code within the blueprint of our intimate family system that was delightfully brought to life by David Cooperrider through the power of Appreciative Inquiry.

Our story is unique – we are a family of practitioners that hold the same goal of meaningful and sustainable change in systems, often by applying AI in different contexts. Not only do we share a common goal, but also come together professionally: we work together, both informally and within an organisational structure.

Valuing diversity of thought, open conversations and safe dialogue along with honest and vulnerable introspection has been a keen and consistent aspect of our family and team cultures, with a core alignment to and practice of AI, both the philosophy and process.

By leveraging the wisdom and process of AI through exploration and discussion, trial and error, empathy, compassion and failing forward, we have honed some traits of healthy and effective interpersonal systems that we have tried and tested at home and work. Here are some of our insights:

1.  Diversity of thoughts and ideas

In a family, it is often assumed that everyone thinks the same way. Is it because we believe that people who have lived together, share genetic traits and environmental influences, are the same? Is this assumed sameness the foundation of safety which must exist in a family (in our case, often family plus colleagues)?

We think not. Yes, members of a family are alike and often share many common views. AND YET members of families and teams can also value diversity of thought because sameness is not the foundation of safety; trust is. (In fact, sameness can result in inertia, which in many spiritual schools of thought is regarded as synonymous with death).

A different perspective need not be seen as an opposing one. There is value in that which makes us different, a value that can be life-giving to groups and systems only if we abandon our assumption that sameness is a strength. 

Diversity of thought is the gateway to evolution. Whether it be around the dinner table or conference room, diversity of thought is the recipe for positive disruption and innovation, a known pathway to stay ahead of the competition. Once leveraged, diversity of thought allows groups to have a multifaceted world view and strategic approach to solving problems, road mapping the future, and collaborating effectively.

2.  Variety of strengths

With this diversity of thoughts and ideas also comes a variety of strengths. Even though we may share similar “nature and nurture”, we have individual stories that are ripe with different contexts, ecosystems and experiences that have influenced our operating systems and given birth to different strengths.

Leveraging the collaborative and interdependent nature of human systems, which is clearly visible in Appreciative Inquiry, is the foundation of how family and workplace systems like our own can and should value different strengths.

Often, the challenge is identifying which moment is most appropriate for which strength. At this point, a deeply democratic conversation, governed by discovering what has worked in the past, collectively envisioning the future, and co-creating a design strategy and process, helps us make an informed decision and commitment together as a family and/or team at the workplace.

Knowing that “there are many ways up the mountain” fills the group’s minds and hearts with hope, joy and togetherness, effectively preparing us to act in the spirit of collaboration.

3.  Shared power and interpersonal respect

Every system has a power dynamic, often fixed and undisputable unless unforeseen events intervene. Even within groups that share genetic coding, beliefs, values and environments, diversity exists – of thought, experiences, ideas and strengths. Tapping into this diversity demands that power be shared. Power in this context isn’t the ability to exercise force over the other; rather, it is the ability to take the stage and share one’s ideas, and have access to a circle of influence to enable real change.

Within a family and at a workplace, diversity demands that power be claimed and shared equally so that everyone can offer their thoughts, ideas and strengths for the benefit of the entire system.

This may seem utopian to some – can power really be shared willingly? Yes, it can. By leveraging open communication, curiosity and honesty, founded on provocative open-ended questions, the diversity of thought in a room becomes apparent, especially since we share a common desire for interpersonal respect.

Power, shared fairly and equally, balances giving and taking, energises circles of influence by valuing different expertise, and enables frameworks that seek out individual and group responsibility and accountability. Additionally, interpersonal respect further encourages diversity of thought, open communication, intentional leadership, ownership and accountability.

4.  Curiosity and friendship

When starting to explore relationships and what makes us come together, we soon realise there is a common thread running through us all. It may have a different colour or texture and we may imagine it differently, yet there is always a common denominator. We all aspire to be seen, heard, valued and loved. These simple words require complex efforts, yet if we look through the fog of this complexity, we notice that all of these are achievable through friendship.

We have often found that AI sessions start with everyone – almost instantaneously – establishing friendship. It is usually an outcome of having a common goal, contributing and making an impact – or just being a part of a group. From our research and reflection, the basis of this friendship is a genuine curiosity to know more about others, which paves the path for powerful exploration and designing the way ahead.

Curiosity is a powerful enabler of connection, psychological safety, creativity and innovation, progress, and friendship. Understanding what matters to one another, listening with the intention of understanding rather than the intent to respond, displaying courage and vulnerability by sharing one’s own story, and valuing differences as a pathway to “blue sky thinking” are all agents of sustainable growth, whether it be around the dinner table or in the conference room.

5.  Alignment of passions

In a group that plans to stay together– a family or a team – it is essential to be aligned on shared values, principles, passions and purposes. The beauty of true alignment is that it is entirely co-created. True alignment is the output of each individual sharing what matters to them, their aspirations for the group and how they can employ their strengths to play a part in achieving this goal.

We may think, can diversity of thought and alignment co-exist? Yes, it can, and must. Neither of the two must be threatened by the other. Alignment amongst members is in no way meant to imply rigidity and inertia. In fact, true alignment is built on safety and curiosity, so that any contributing member can offer their diversity of thought without raising anxiety over threatening the progress of the entire group.

With alignment comes momentum. Only once members of a family, team or organisation are aligned as active contributors on their values and goals will there be observable momentum between individuals and in projects. 

6.  Individual and shared accountability

The purpose of accountability is not to have someone to blame, but rather to commit to something that is initiated, to trust in one’s ability to achieve the goal, to use every task as a container to fail forward, to solicit collaboration whenever needed, and to celebrate the effort that led to success.

In a family and a team, accountability must be a matter of excitement rather than potential risk. In today’s world of work, accountability feels like a big and scary word that creates pressure, stress and psychological exhaustion.

“One for all, and all for one” is the axiom that has filled our shared experiences with a sense of community and safety. Each person acts toward the benefit and success of the group, and the group works towards the benefit and success of any individual within it. This axiom celebrates the innate trust in everyone’s capacity to do well, flourish, and learn well if we fail.

Professionals, teams and organisations have much to unlearn and relearn when it comes to accountability and how to apply it as a tool to generate effort and inspire everyone’s best self.

All the above insights are somewhat simultaneous and iterative when put into action. Relationships are at the core of any human function and are the determinators of long-term joy and effectiveness. We have much to think about when it comes to the nature of how our relationships develop – do they enable us to show up as our authentic and best selves, or do they compel us to fit the mould and play-act so that we can have a seat at the table? 

Dinner tables and conference rooms are potent with the potential to do good, learn from our mistakes, dream big, shed all apprehension, garner momentum, and rest and restart so that we can live well and make a difference.

Intro by 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.

 

Appreciative I(nquiry)mprov

Download the full article.

Alexandra Arnold

Alexandra Arnold (she/her) Arnold MSPsy, MSHR/OD, ACC, is a personal development and climate coach with a certificate in Positive Organization Development from Champlain College, USA. She is the host of The Quiet Activists online community, where she uses positive psychology and Appreciative Inquiry to help introverted and highly sensitive people shift from climate anxiety to inspired action. She is the Program Director at The Taos Institute and recently joined Community Harvest of Central Vermont, a gleaning program reducing food waste and providing neighbors in need with fresh & nutritious food.

Contact: almacoachingusa@gmail.co

www.almacoaching.org

Appreciative I(nquiry)mprov

About two months ago, I received an email from a graduate student of the Penn State World Campus Master’s in Organization Development and Change. One of the required courses in this program is Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which “provides a foundation in the theories, principles, and techniques of Appreciative Inquiry”. One of the assignments for this course is to complete an interview with an AI practitioner to consider such questions as: 

  • What is a peak experience in your AI practice? 
  • What strengths and skills underpin your effectiveness as an AI practitioner? 
  • What strikes you about the idea of “being versus doing AI”? 

Little did we (my interviewer Jason Hoskins and I) know that our conversation about Appreciative Inquiry would become a conversation about Appreciative Improv.

Like so many conversations among those who practice or learn about AI, the energy was immediate and palpable. We quickly discovered that we were speaking the same language – except I had learned it in the AI context, while Jason learned it in the improv context. Jason shared that when he learned about AI in his Master’s program, he thought it was “a breath of fresh air… and very similar to my experiences in doing improv comedy”.

He pointed out that we were improvising right then and there during our interview:

He acknowledged me as the interviewee & I acknowledged him as the interviewer – referred to as the “initiation” in an improv act

We were following the number one rule of improv which is “yes, and”: one person talks, the other acknowledges what his/her partner offers and builds upon that, all in a very positive way

Our conversation took a turn into the intersection between Appreciative Inquiry and Improvisational Comedy. 

What is improv?

The Covert Theatre website says: “Improv is an art form where the performers make up the theater, usually comedy, on the spot […] It is the wonderful vehicle for leadership development, whether it’s self-leadership or leadership of others, as it imparts crucial life skills that every person needs.”

Making room for fun

In my opinion, using AI is like getting permission to do things differently, to play, to have fun. It is particularly encouraging because there is over 20 years of research that shows how it works to reassure those who are hesitant to move away from traditional management styles. 

Jason was very gracious when I responded to his first question with one of my own: How can we approach this differently and still get to where we need to go? 

I explained that the reason I was suggesting this was to invite us both to jump right into “being AI” instead of going through the interview in the linear way the assignment was designed. My interviewer was immediately on board with this more playful, creative, and challenging approach: “I like it to be more of a give and take rather than just a straight interview”.

Whether we were doing comedy is debatable, but there was plenty of joy and laughter in our conversation. According to comedian Tina Fey (known for her work on Saturday Night Live), in an appearance in Alan Alda’s Clear+Vivid podcast called The Transformative Power of Improv, improv is not about being funny, it’s about relating.

If you’re still not sure you’re up for playing in this way, check out performer and corporate facilitator Gary Ware’s Ted Talk on how play saved his life. His mission: “to infuse improv with positive psychology so that his students leave with a renewed sense of life.”

A connective tissue

It was hard to answer Jason’s question about a peak experience using AI because what is most memorable to me is how I learned to pay attention to the words I use and the questions I ask, and to notice the different outcomes. 

From the beginning of his class, Jason also had the feeling that AI is not something that you do, but that it’s a way of life, a “connective tissue” between the many roles we play in life. Just like improv, AI offers a new perspective on your whole world. Both help you get through the tough times in life. 

His work with Human Resources, implementing HCM systems, is data-driven and linear. Improv concepts have seeped through his way of being with clients: he helps them shift from resistance to being more comfortable and engaged with the changes.

Powerful and immediate

Discussing the power of words, Jason shared that he has a sticky note on his desk that reads “try not to lose patience” to help him soften emails when needed. This was a great opportunity for a positive reframe – dropping what he doesn’t want, stating what he does want and embodying it by using the present tense. Sure enough, he now has a new post-it that reads “I have an abundance of patience” and a new, inspiring ideal vision of himself as he deals with annoying emails. In his words, the shift was “powerful and immediate”. 

The point of improv is that nothing is prepared or rehearsed, and the effect is instantaneous. Your partner responds to your offer without missing a beat and in a good performance, the audience responds right away, typically with laughter, a powerful tool for life.

Jason is inspired by his three-year-old daughter: she doesn’t judge, she is not on a schedule, she isn’t trying to get something done, yet she does get a lot of things done, she learns, and she’s happy. 

In AI, just like in improv, we are inspired by children’s curiosity, creativity, playfulness, and ability to be in the moment. Both remind us that adults can play too!

A multiplicity of voices 

In AI, co-creation comes from including as many voices as possible in the conversation and from giving the same weight to every person regardless of their titles. 

On stage, when a suggestion (or prompt) comes at the start of an improv act, it is assumed that whatever character is going to appear is going to have the full respect from his/her partner. There is no power differential, only pure teamwork. 

A misconception about performing is that it is reserved for confident, outgoing and extroverted folks. In fact, it is the opposite. Many actors, including Tina Fey, are introverts. Many find a certain freedom on stage, it’s a way to find their voice. Improv is particularly appealing (compared to stand-up comedy for example), because you are engaged in an intense one-on-one dialogue with your partner, and at that moment, everything else disappears, even the audience. Don’t take my word for it: in an appearance on Paul Vaillancourt’s Improv Tip YouTube channel, Ali Reza Farahnakian, founder of The Pit (New York City), says “take the cotton balls out of your ears and put them in your mouth”.

To be able to respond to your partner on stage, you have no choice but to listen intently. You have to pay attention and forget everything else but the present moment. Deep listening is not a practice unique to AI, yet when we become more intentional with the words we use, we naturally develop a new way of listening to others. 

No failure

AI calls it “prototyping”. We don’t wait until it’s perfect, we try something new as early as possible and learn as we adjust and try again. Keli Semelsberger is a corporate team building facilitator, a Medicine Woman, an improviser, and the founder of the Charlotte Comedy Theater in North Carolina. In an interview with Jimmy Carrane for the Improv Nerd podcast, she says “there is no failure in improv, only something to create more on.”

Saying yes to whatever comes

“Life is one big improvisational sketch.” Episode 3 of the Unpolished Therapy Podcast with Rachel Silver Cohen and Dr. Lori Fineman makes a good case for the benefits of relinquishing control. Life is unrehearsed. Rather than trying to plan for everything and getting upset when things don’t turn out as expected, we would be better off to “roll with the punches” and to laugh more. In AI terms, retraining our negativity bias to noticing the positive core of every person and situation is much more generative. 

It comes from the heart

Whether introducing a strengths-based approach to an organization or standing in front of an audience in an improv act, it only works if you are sincere. It is not about selling an idea, proving that it works, or forced family fun. It’s about a genuine belief in what you do and showing up as who you are. Again quoting Tina Fey, improv is a way to break social protocols: It takes vulnerability, and being ok with being embarrassed. Keli Semelsberger adds, “it’s not about fame or success, it’s about being authentic, true to your core values, and being of service.” 

Not knowing where you’ll end up 

It goes without saying that when you improvise in a performance, you don’t know where you’ll end up. When Jason reached out to me for an interview to complete his assignment, we had no idea that we would end up a few weeks later having a live conversation about improv in the context of climate change in my online community, The Quiet Activists. Or that after a few more weeks, this article would come to life. 

Jason has been doing improv for 14 years. Discovering AI in the course of his graduate studies in organization development made him wonder how he could bring his hobby of improv into any kind of work environment where he is helping people change their whole frame of thinking. “That would be really, really interesting to me.”

He wouldn’t be the first to bring improv into the workplace. At the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, improv has been a key part of training over 12,000 scientists to communicate clearly with lay people. As we know, change happens the moment we ask a question, so who knows in what context Jason will be performing next.

A Gift Basket for the Planet

Download the full article.

Alexandra Arnold

Alexandra Arnold MSPsy, MSHR/OD, ACC, is an ICF-accredited personal development coach with a certificate in Positive Organization Development from Champlain College, USA. She uses positive psychology and Appreciative Inquiry to coach her clients, especially those with High Sensory Sensitivity, through transitions and out of overwhelm. She is the Program Director at the Taos Institute.

Contact: almacoachingusa@gmail.co

www.almacoaching.org

 

Hi, how are you?

Ok. I haven’t left my house in a few weeks because of the smoke from the wildfires.

How tragic. Here, hundreds of people were stranded on the highway for over 24 hours because of the blizzard.

Awful.

Yeah … the weather really has changed over the last few years.

If you live in a culture where greetings start with small talk about the weather, you are likely to have such encounters frequently. 

How are you after such an exchange? Is it time to reshape these greetings so they lift us up instead of bringing us down? Do we have the tools to do so? According to Dr. Stowe, co‑director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements and executive director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, the most important impact individuals can have on climate change is by increasing “climate conversations”. So – let’s talk. But let’s choose our words carefully since, as we know from the Constructionist principle of Appreciative Inquiry, “words create worlds”.

To help, here are just a few of the resources on climate change that I’ve gleaned in the past few months – resources that can move us forward, not leave us stuck. My hope in compiling them into this “gift basket for the planet” is to spark different kinds of dialogues about “how we are”. 

Starting with hope

“Hope is what enables us to keep going in the face of adversity. It is what we desire to happen, but we must be prepared to work hard to make it so. Like hoping this will be a good book. But it won’t be if we don’t bloody work at it.” Jane Goodall, The Book of Hope

My journey started last autumn with an email announcement for the Activating Hope Summit celebrating Jane Goodall and her new book, The Book of Hope. The four-day online event aimed at “sparking lasting change by illuminating and celebrating hope around the globe” through a diverse collection of workshops given by celebrities, wellness leaders, musicians, activists and more. 

Attending these webinars was overwhelming at first, but then, it really did give me hope. I was struck by the lack of alarmist, guilting and shaming messages. Instead, it was an invitation to soothe the soul. I felt validated. My experience was normalized. I learned techniques to manage stress – and a whole new way to speak about the topic of climate change. 

Words, indeed

Sadly, a whole new vocabulary has emerged in the last decade: Climate-anxiety is defined as “a chronic fear of environmental doom” (APA and ecoAmerica, 2017) or “anxiety or worry about climate change and its effects” (www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/eco-anxiety, 2021). Solastalgia is “the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment” (Albrecht et al., 2007). Ecological grief is “the mourning of the loss of ecosystems, landscapes, species and ways of life” (Comtesse, Ertl, Hengst, Rosner & Smid, 2021). 

There is also something empowering about having these new phrases to use in conversation, especially since most of them are recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA). These complex emotions are not rare diagnoses (to be clear, they are not diagnoses at all). They are more widespread than we think. Now that there are words to talk about them, we can do something about them.

And people…

Indeed, once I started using these terms, I discovered new fields of study and practice that address the range of human experiences triggered by global warming. Ecopsychology, for instance (Division 34 of the APA), explores “humans’ psychological interdependence with the rest of nature and the implications for identity, health and well-being”. The Climate Psychology Alliance, Climate Psychology International and the Climate Psychiatry Alliance all raise awareness of the impact of the climate crisis on mental and physical health.

In one of my “climate conversations”, I learned about climate coaching. As an emerging coach, and someone who experiences climate grief and often wonders “what can I do?”, I was thrilled to find a meaningful way for me to contribute. Since then, I have joined an inspiring community of coaches at the Climate Coaching Alliance (CCA), given a presentation at their Coaching in the Great Awakening global festival on the topic of Climate Anxiety meets Appreciative Inquiry, and started an International Coaching Federation (ICF)-accredited course hosted by Climate Change Coaches. Amazing what one conversation can do!

Put your own oxygen mask on first

Anxiety, fear, grief, despair, hopelessness, powerlessness … no one denies that these are part of the journey. And there is hope. Here are a few more resources to support and nourish ourselves as we take on these critical conversations. 

Book  Climate Courage: How Americans Are Bridging the Political Divide and Tackling Climate Change – A Bipartisan Citizens Guide by Andreas Karelas. While US-centric, this book can only leave you with a big dose of hope and optimism, no matter where you are in the world. Did you know that solar installer and wind technician will be two of the fastest-growing jobs in the next decade according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021)?

Book  The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams. The author’s scientific approach will help fight off any nay-sayer as “she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and ultimately strengthen our relationships”. 

Podcast  Climate Change and Happiness. As the name of Episode 2 implies, this podcast is for Holding Space. Launched in January 2022 with this provocative title, it is already getting five stars, making listeners feel heard, validated, resilient and hopeful. 

Podcast  The Jane Goodall Hopecast. Even intrepid world traveler Jane Goodall was slowed down by the pandemic. To our delight, her message is now captured in a podcast series launched in December 2020 where she “reinvented herself as Virtual Jane, and without ever leaving her childhood home in Bournemouth, England, recorded intimate conversations with humans who have dedicated their lives to helping people, animals, and the planet.” 

Virtual meeting  Climate Café. A safe space with no guest speakers, no lectures and no advice. Free and available once a month. 

Virtual meeting  Good Grief Network. A ten-step program to personal resilience and empowerment in a chaotic climate. In less than four years, this new program has reached 1000 participants all over the world.

Taking Action  Citizens’ Climate International. If action is what you need, CCI “empowers citizen volunteers to exercise personal and political power in the shaping of effective climate policy”.

Taking Action  TreeSisters. Still overwhelmed or unsure of what to do next? Plant a tree. Reforestation plays a major role in fighting climate change. TreeSisters is a UK-based charity “in support of humanity’s identity shift from a consumer species to a restorer species. [Their] approach is the balance of inner and outer, spiritual and practical, behavioural and ecological pathways towards that shift.”

There is so much more already happening that can lift us up, give us life, make us smile, and help us do the work required to keep going, with hope. 

As we know from AI’s Simultaneity principle, change begins the moment we ask a question. Imagine what would happen if, in our next small talk about the weather, all of us also asked “have you heard of this great [book/podcast/organization/news…]?!” How much can we collectively add to this gift basket for the planet?

Our Principles in Action: The Poetic Principle

At the recent Global AI Jam April 2022, organised through The Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry, I had the pleasure of being on the Australian Panel discussion on hope for a global future, and the related article can be read following Faith Addicott’s and Staceye Randle’s article on the Appreciative Inquiry Poetic principle that emphasises we can choose what we study.

Download the full article.

Faith Addicott | USA

Faith Addicott, MPA, MPOD is working to improve the intersection of work and life through innovative and human-centered process design. Her consulting work has centered on nonprofits and local government using Appreciative Inquiry and other strengths-based processes. She is a champion for inclusive workplace design.

 

Staceye Randle | USA

Staceye Randle, MPOD is a human resources professional passionate about creating workplaces focused on helping people grow and learn. She is also an advocate for ensuring equity and justice in every aspect of her private and professional life.

 

 

What do you choose to know?

Choice is something people often take for granted. As we discussed in our previous article about the principle of Free Choice, being able to choose something– or at least think we have chosen something – is very important to our human sense of self and autonomy. After all, we tend to think that free choice and being able to think critically separates us from animals. 

Much of the conversation today around critical race theory (CRT) revolves around parents or politicians being able to choose what their children learn in school. So why would people choose for their children to be ignorant of history, even if it is painful? Perhaps on some level these folks know what we know – if we choose to study something, we shine a light on it: the light of our intellect and intention, of our acknowledgement of the basic reality of that which we study. While CRT is taught in graduate level courses and at law schools, even there the truth sometimes gets in the way of what folks want to politically acknowledge. And by then it’s often too late for the choice of study to truly move the world – academia is already rarified, not universal.

At this moment in history we are seeing, in America particularly, the reality of the Poetic principle. The move to block the teaching of Black history, to ban books whose stories conflict with a desired narrative, to ban language itself in some states … these are not just existential threats. They are, at the heart of a battle over what is REAL. By choosing to continue the vital study of race in America, the history,the victories and the losses, the people and movements which have led to this moment we validate our shared humanity across color and creed. We open the door to new possibilities.

To choose to study the history of Black and indigenous peoples, to study the homesteading of Chinese and other Asian–American groups, to learn about what folks have endured and conquered, the whole amazing resilience of people who are not white, is to validate the reality of this lived experience. And when we do that, we create a different, more universal, platform for defining who “we” are. We open to a shared reality instead of a colonizing mindset which only knows the story of one kind of people. 

One thing is for sure, what we choose to study makes a world of difference when navigating the changes required to move towards real racial justice. In fact, what we choose to study just plain makes a world. Our world.

Appreciative Inquiry: Hope for a Global Future – An Australian Perspective

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a promise, a process and a way of life that continues to foster good change for individuals and communities. It encourages each of us to move along the good side of human history as it embraces, ponders and elevates us to the reality that we are connected -–we are each other – and together we have what it takes to co-create a future that is best for all life on this planet. This became all the clearer to me during the Australian panel discussion at the 2022 Global AI Jam. 

Facilitated by Sue James and Libby Mears, the focus for the panel was on what it takes to foster and sustain hope for a global future. Panel members included Kate Heron, Repa Patel, David Lees, and me, Keith Storace. With an emphasis on AI and each individual panel member’s experience of what it offers, four themes emerged: the AI journey; bringing AI to life; strengthening the common voice; and from little things big things grow. 

The Appreciative Inquiry journey

Appreciative Inquiry is a good example of the value of connecting with people.
Kate Heron

Having immersed myself in the world of AI for several years, it came as no surprise hearing each panellist reveal a common thread; an inextricable link between their values and Appreciative Inquiry.

Throughout the panel discussion, there was a strong sense of trust in AI, with a clear understanding that good possibilities emerge when we engage in the AI process. 

Kate shared that AI has been a life-changing experience where the value of connecting with people is a strong draw for her: “…coming to a conversation with an open heart has been transformative … AI has been a professional extension to my natural personality.”

Similarly, Repa shared: “…there was a lot of alignment with my belief system and AI”, adding what had emerged for her was that AI was not just a feel-good temporary experience but one that “…connects heads and hearts”. It’s the approach she employs when working with leaders , and it produces concrete results. 

David said he became immersed in strengths-based practice, as it was called in Australia, and “…began to appreciate there were a whole lot of different conversations around the world about the transition from a deficit-/problem-based approach to a strengths-based approach”. He added that exploring AI at a deeper level revealed a clear link between his values and a strengths-based approach with the AI principals, values and assumptions.

 

I related my own experience of engaging in AI as a re-connection to what I call “appreciative beginnings”, meaningful moments across a lifetime that seamlessly connect with what AI offers as a process and a way of life.

Bringing AI to life

Appreciative Inquiry is the bridge between what matters most and bringing it to life in the world.
Keith Storace

It is fair and logical to say, for the most part, that our goals are only as achievable as the actions we take toward them. This is where AI creates the conditions that enable movement in the direction of our goals. One of its key tenets is: “What we focus on becomes our reality” and I see this working as a psychologist, leadership consultant, and especially in developing and implementing AI centric programs. This tenet is also reflected many times over through the countless stories shared across the world by AI practitioners. Some of these experiences have been published in books, articles, and especially in the AI Practitioner. When we talk about AI being hope for a global future, we’re talking about hope-in-action that is encouraged and supported by the AI framework of Define, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver. A point I often make is that AI enables us to think differently, and sometimes we need to think differently to live fully; to fully appreciate what can be. This can have a ripple effect at a micro and macro level.

Having embraced AI because it aligns with his beliefs, ethical considerations and strong sense of social justice, along with his desire to bring AI to life, David emphasised the importance of working from a sense of deep respect, where difference is embraced through the kind of curiosity that appreciates and builds on what everyone has to offer: “I see myself not as an expert but as someone who adopts a decent position in my work so that I draw on the expertise of the people in the room”. 

Like David, Repa agreed with the importance of harnessing each person’s expertise and stated that she walks alongside everyone else, noting that her purpose in life is to elevate consciousness: “Appreciative Inquiry permeates my life, not just my business as a structural tool; it’s the way I interact with my team and my friends. I’ve had colleagues say what I do and how I do it fascinates them, and they walk away thinking and feeling differently.” 

With a focus on moving forward and contributing to a good future for all, Kate emphasised the importance of ensuring that the smallest voices are also heard, especially when it comes to protecting the environment. She also added that one of the core values identified by her organisation focuses on being ethical: “What we’re trying to do is advocate, not just for ourselves but for the communities we’re designing for, believing that design is a powerful opportunity for change.” She elaborated, saying that such a strong core value sits at the heart of bringing people back to nature and protecting the environment: “We’re advocating for the environment as much as we’re advocating for people.”

Strengthening the common voice

Appreciative Inquiry is a form of activism.
David Lees

Appreciative Inquiry has all the attributes of what the world needs when it comes to supporting the common voice and moving toward the kind of social change necessary to ensure a good future for all. This is especially evident in the principles of AI, especially the principle of Free Choice that posits people are more committed and perform better when they have the freedom to choose how and what they contribute.

When it comes to social change, David talked about how it seems to happen slowly over time. He highlighted the importance of being present and paying attention to the changes that are occurring, as subtle and as slowly as they may be: “The more we notice change, the more potential there is for that change to grow, to appreciate, and so I’ve been occupying myself with that question about how can we better notice and measure progress?”

Kate suggested that that being aware of our own natural defenses that may emerge when it comes to difficult situations is helpful: “…letting down some of those barriers and being open to change and doing that from a place of humility I think, for me, that’s the most important thing”.

Repa reiterated the importance of conversation and how this facilitates change at an individual and collective level. This resonated with me, knowing that conversations can have a life of their own, a transformative effect on the other person that we may not be aware of, as Repa identified: “I come back to the fact that I never know what the impact is of anything that I say or do, but I have to do it with the belief that if I do something in the right way with the right intention, I don’t control what happens afterwards.”

From little things big things grow

The premise of Appreciative Inquiry is that everything we do is going to have an impact on each other.
Repa Patel

The song “From Little Things Big Things Grow”, co-written by Australians Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody, was resounding in my head following the panel discussion. It was written as a protest song supporting indigenous people’s land rights and reconciliation. It is a reminder that, even against all odds where political agendas seem insurmountable, small steps where subtle action fosters and illuminates the right way forward can create good change. 

One of the strengths of the AI process is that it can be subtle and powerful at the same time without compromising the necessary awareness needed to move in the direction of our goals. This rang true for me when Repa talked about the possibility of change through AI on a global scale. She explained that if we start from a point of compassion, where we recognise and embrace our differences in opinions and viewpoints or beliefs, which is where AI becomes pivotal, then good change is possible: “Appreciative Inquiry has a lot to add if we can just embrace it to help us with some of the thornier issues and the more difficult issues that we’re dealing with … the whole concept that we can, as a global community, operate as one community rather than different nations and different political persuasions within those nations is where Appreciative Inquiry can really help at a macro level.” 

Kate added when we come from a place of love and connection, as Michele Hunt talked about in her presentation, what may seem as an unrealistic dream can be possible as a result of the connections we develop and nourish through AI: “Why we’re all in Appreciative Inquiry is because we are stimulated by the thought that actually our connections really do matter and that we have the possibility of making change, whether it’s on the micro or macro level, and sometimes it is the micro level that matters the most because you can fundamentally change the course of human behaviour and of an ecosystem.”

I remember smiling and feeling that the world is in good hands when Kate said this. It resonated true for what AI has achieved to date across the globe and is prepared to take on in the future, especially as we are facing numerous challenges that are having a global impact.

David added that a fundamental aspect of the AI process is that it enables us to think in different, radical ways: “…you know, the kind of reframe where we see things. Appreciative Inquiry gives careful attention to process and not just outcome so it’s not just about achieving particular things but the way you engage in the change process, who you include and how this is critical. I reckon that’s got some potential at a global level, to think about how we can construct a process that is inclusive, curious and builds change from the bottom up.” 

It begins with conversation

Developing a process that is inclusive begins with conversation. When you begin to have a conversation, you’re developing a story, and this is fundamental to the AI process; the kind of story that incorporates, grows and appreciates with time, so much so that it has a good impact. As I noted earlier, one of the key tenets of AI is “What we focus on becomes our reality”; this all starts with conversation; it’s an important leadership skill: knowing how to listen, when to speak and when to be silent, all couched in an atmosphere of kindness.

A good example of this was seen some years ago when New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, gently embraced a woman of the Muslim faith who had lost family members in a terrorist shooting. Jacinda did not have to say a word, it was a quiet conversation, she had connected at a deeper level that the whole world seemed to understand; it was subtle and powerful at the same time.

Hope for a global future where love, kindness, creativity and justice permeate the way we interact is a challenge we all face, considering the current discord we are experiencing across the world. Our hope rests on our hope-in-action where we embrace humanity for what it can be, through every interaction we experience with each other; through an appreciative lens.

 

Intro by 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.

 

Join the Appreciative Inquiry Jam

Share your reflections, comments, inspirations and energy on this page. We will be adding contributions to the AI Practitioner website blog page daily to help you keep track of all the great things that are happening in our virtual shared space. Have a great Jam, see you there!

Shelagh

Managing Editor

AI Practitioner

 

Call for Articles: Learning and Leveraging Generative Approaches to Diversity Equity and Inclusion

Call for Articles for November 2022 issue of AI Practitioner

Learning and Leveraging Generative Approaches to Intercultural, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion*

Co-editors: Ilene Wasserman, Marlene Ogawa and Tanya Cruz Teller

Taking an organizational development and change approach to intercultural, diversity, equity and inclusion (ICDEI) has paralleled the path of Appreciative Inquiry as a community of practice.  Leading practitioners who helped shape the field of ICDEI took a systems approach to change, often beginning with diagnosis, findings, recommendations and implementation.  In the past two decades, some have adapted their approaches with the influence of dialogic and social constructionist approaches informed by Positive Organizational Scholarship, Appreciative Inquiry, Coordinated Management of Meaning and other related theoretical frameworks.

In the past couple of years, the interest in ICDEI in organizations has grown exponentially, in large part due to the awareness raised and call to action from the George Floyd murder.  Processes for intervening and training programs have been greatly sought after.  As an Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner whether you are new to ICDEI practice or have worked in this space for a long time, we invite you to consider sharing lessons learned from your work.

What are you discovering and learning from this work?  How has this work transformed individuals and collectives in the system? What has been your biggest lesson and discovery about yourself? We are inviting you to contribute to a special issue focusing on using Appreciative Inquiry processes, principles and tools to address ICDEI with clients and within your organisations and institutions.

Contributions from your research, practices and experiences

We are looking for articles that connect your work in ICDEI to Appreciative Inquiry in a variety of organizational contexts and generational perspectives. We encourage people of all ages and positions to contribute stories about situations, times or groups (e.g. age cohorts) where Appreciative Inquiry and/or strengths-based disciplines have been applied to ICDEI, what the results, short- or long-term have been, and what factors made the intervention successful. Creative contributions and formats are welcome.

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. Video links are also encouraged.

Please let us know of your interest and submit your abstract by Monday, April 4th using this link  https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1mZItr_jf93UMlWtrCMrBQGtxm_q9CgfAs0RzfeCrXmE/viewform?edit_requested=true

We welcome the opportunity to highlight a variety of work happening around the world where AI increases diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace with the hope of showcasing or advancing the theory and practice of Appreciative Inquiry. This is especially timely given the global events that interconnect us.

*Intercultural competence is a range of cognitive, affective, and behavioural skills that lead to effective and appropriate communication between people of two or more cultures. Intercultural work can take place in multicultural or cross-cultural context, within national borders or around the world. Diversity is across a broad range of markers such as but not limited to: race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, gender identity, neuro and physical abilities, socioeconomic class, spiritual, nationality, citizenship, language and so many more. (For a list of 39 diversity markers in the workplace see: https://builtin.com/diversity-inclusion/types-of-diversity-in-the-workplace)

 

Making a Proposal / Draft:

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

Important Deadlines:

April 4, 2022: Proposal or Overview/Outline of contribution Due

June 25, 2022: First Draft Due

August 26, 2022: Final Article Due:  Please submit the following:

  • The article
  • An abstract/synopsis (no more than 60 words)
  • Any graphics/photos to accompany it, with captions, permissions agreed and also attribution where relevant
  • For the author(s): bio (40 words or less); photo; email address to accompany the article

October 1, 2022:  Final edits to Contributors Sent

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