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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
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
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 | India
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
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.

 

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.

 

Power of a Question in a Culture of Critique

“The Power of a Question in a Culture of Critique”, Oona Shambhavi D’mello continues the theme of expressing who we are and shares ten steps that support everyday inquiry as we work our way through the complexity of life. It is my pleasure to introduce our voices from the field in this issue of AI Practitioner.

Download the full article.

Oona Shambhavi D’mello is an artist, OD practitioner and agent of social impact. Oona’s personal 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. 

 

 

When I was a little girl one of my favorite possessions was my mother’s moonstone ring. I would wear it and, given my small fingers, it would easily slip off and fall. There were times, wearing it in the backyard as I played on the rope swing, I would watch the ring slip off. There were spots in the sand pile where I would hide the ring and then busy myself in finding it. That moment of losing the ring, watching it slip off and looking in the sand pile was intriguing and stressful. I would feel the win when I found it, until one day I couldn’t.

It is hard to make sense of why we do some of the things we do.  If I were to sit with this story and decode it, the one thing that stands out was this sense of adventure with the moonstone ring. It is complex, and for many reasons, we humans seem to thrive in the dynamic of complexity. Personally, I am comfortable with such dimensions, in my own being and that of the world. When they are sometimes tough and call for investigation, I dive into the layers of the self and find my way in and out of complex systems. 

When the moonstone disappeared, I would ask myself – “What do you love about this game”, “What does this game do for you?” “What is the emotion it creates” “Why do you enjoy it”?

Not knowing that this was a subconscious technique, I do remember that the questions in themselves felt explorative, open ended and created expansion as I unpeeled my own psyche for answers. Never did I feel blame for losing that ring. There was safety, no judgement and certainly no criticism of a little girl’s game.

As human beings navigating complex life situations, we are all undeniably seeking answers to everyday stuff, just as we are to the existential question of “who am I?’. Our social conditioning is also deeply connected to what I call the science of separation – the strange idea that we have been educated in: that our sameness triumphs diversity, leading to criticism of all things different – people, behaviors, cultures, styles and the rest of it. In addition, there is the play of power that provides greater privilege to the majority, leading to the enshrinement of the status of a critic. This shows up in schools as much at the workplace, leading to an interpretation that the more faults we find the smarter we are. My own experience of constructive criticism in art school and in the study of literature was not pleasant, and one that spoke to creating alignment rather than exploration. I see this being mimicked in corporations – maybe because the source of this malady is the same. 

Can we ask questions that evoke attention to the good?

The question that I ask thus is, what if we changed this rhythm and paused – what if we responded by asking questions rather than reacting with critique? We might be misled in the modern world to treat criticism – appreciative, constructive or otherwise to facilitate learning. We might not always do right or know the way, often when the only way out is in. Can we soak in and ask the questions that evoke attention to the good, to what is working and to possibilities?

As an artist, let me talk about my experience as I peer into the canvas. I have a desire, a need to express that, more often than not, is unclear – what is evident is that I wish to explore. Sometimes this desire feels compelling and urgent and evokes a certain discomfort because I am not sure of where to start. These canvas ruminations are the same as our workplace dynamics. If only we would explore and ask, rather than exert expertise via our critique, we would be more humanistic and innovative.  

The magic role of inquiry

The role of inquiry is magic. It has the power to completely alter the way we see the world. The role and power of a question supersedes its context and opens doors to possibilities. We forget to flourish when we focus on being less, not enough and not right. In my experience, inquiry is one such tool for our tool belt, allowing curious conversation, connection, positive thinking and belongingness. 

How do we make this shift from reaction to response, from knowing to exploration, from certainty to emergence? I follow 10 steps that support my everyday inquiry:

  1. Attend: to give oneself and others what is needed to exhibit and experience self-care and self-love.
  2. Pause and breathe: to create a gap, build distance from the issue at hand and become and observer to the moment at hand.
  3. Meet yourself where you are: psychological safety supports exploration. Take yourself where you need to be, rather than where you “should” be.
  4. Listen to your body: pay respect to the greatest tool you have that speaks to you, if you pause and listen.
  5. Drop the agenda: to be present so as to live fully.
  6. See the good: acknowledge the positivity! Disallow matter to take over your mind.
  7. Allow for the new: welcome change and hold it with wisdom so that you can experience the hidden messages.
  8. Engage with the flow: learn to flow like water and not fight the current of the stream.
  9. Accept: relinquish doubt and embrace the reality.
  10. Shift: embody the lessons and shift your internal narrative for sustainable results.

A positively oriented, gratitude eliciting question can bring to life an abundant approach to development, learning and the subject of change. We can conquer and nurture ourselves by asking – “What am I doing right”?

I know that the more I engage, the more possibilities emerge. My work is to inspire and reignite that child-like simplicity & eldership that allows asking more and telling less.

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.

 

Our Principles in Action: Free Choice IS Inclusion

There is, without question, an increasing desire for leaders throughout the world to encourage and support practices that enable individuals and teams to engage in decision making in a way that cultivate a sense of worth and dignity. In their ongoing series, “Our Principles in Action: Appreciative Inquiry for Justice & Belonging”, Faith Addicott and Staceye Randle elaborate on the Appeciative Inquiry principle of Free Choice and how it “…might be the most powerful tool we have”, especially as it is essential to expressing who we are. 

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.

 

 

Psychologist Rollo May says, “a man or a woman becomes fully human only by his or her choices and his or her commitment to them. People attain worth and dignity by the multitude of decisions they make from day to day.” Our ability to choose is one of the things that makes us human, and opening freedom of choice to all people is inherent to inclusion and to democracy itself. The Appreciative Inquiry principle of Free Choice isn’t just about the fact that “people and organizations thrive when people are free to choose the nature and extent of their contribution”. Free choice “is an essential aspect of being human”. 

Yet the experience of people who have been systematically marginalized and silenced, where oppression occurs daily as multitudes are excluded from decision making and representation in rooms where choices are made, belies the ethos of inclusion. Entrenched racism says “those aren’t really people” in its work to discredit and harm. This can be traced back to the history of people in the United States since its inception – indigenous people were brutalized as non-human and Black Americans were not human beings, but capital. Free Choice asks us to not only allow people to be a part of decisions that determine the course of change, but to acknowledge that failing to do so dehumanizes people and the organization (or world!) as a whole.

You may have heard the phrase, “nothing about us without us”. It is used to communicate the idea that no policy should be decided by any representative without the full and direct participation of members of the group(s) affected by that policy. It’s simple, catchy – and true. Imagine the power of having a system where people truly have free choice and the chance to be heard. Not just some people in the system, but all people in the system. What could that look like and how would that actually feel?

In our organizations, one of the most powerful and effective ways of centering diversity, equity and inclusion in our work is through building in choice. We can let go of the idea that all institutional knowledge rests on leaders’ shoulders, and instead consider diverse employees as co-creators in their own organizational experience. Perspectives from diverse cultural and experiential backgrounds enrich and improve our work when we allow for this co-creation, choosing inclusion over expertise.

Participation and the freedom to choose is essential to having people feel a sense of power. As we seek to weed out racism and exclusion in our world, leaning into the principle of Free Choice might be the most powerful tool we have. Free Choice asks long overdue questions about how we treat people – do we treat everyone as fully human, as inherently deserving of choice? If we start all Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts with a commitment to the human voice and choice of all people, we alter the fundamental lens of our work.  We honor our shared humanity and unleash the power of shared dignity.

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.

 

Application of Appreciative Inquiry for Organizational Changes During the Covid-19 Pandemic

One of the key global topics at this time in human history is about the Covid-19 pandemic that for almost two years has held our attention and challenged us to think differently. It has shifted the narrative from being predominantly focussed on the future to the here-and-now experience of how we are coping as a global community. Melisa Yildiz explains how Appreciative Inquiry can be applied for organisational changes as we figure our way through the pandemic.  I am delighted to introduce our voices from the field for this issue of AI Practitioner.

Download the full article.

Melisa Yildiz is a researcher in the Netherlands (Maastricht University) and in Belgium (Hasselt University) working in the domain of Service Innovation & Management, with an engineering background. She is an experienced soft skills trainer, having delivered hundreds of hours of training sessions in the areas of leadership, emotional intelligence, and organizational skills and personal development.

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has had the world under its influence since early 2020 and forced many organizations to go through transformational changes and adapt to the circumstances that have emerged because of it. It is well established that Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a successful approach and change management modality for organizational development (OD). With its set of principles and implementation practices, it involves all the stakeholders of an organization, enabling them to self-determine their change and navigate through the change process. However, the literature in this field lacks information explaining whether/how it holds up when applied during a crisis. There is a gap to be filled with the discovery of the answers to the question “How can AI help organizations go through transformational changes during the Covid-19 pandemic?” To approach this gap, this study has examined:

“Which features of AI can be particularly useful in a time of a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic?”

“How can AI implementation processes (e.g., 4D cycle) be modified to meet the current situation of the world during a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic?”

“Are there any organizational factors that can facilitate the implementation of AI during crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic?”

The conclusions were drawn by following a qualitative research methodology and interviewing eight well-respected scholars and practitioners in this field whose work has contributed to organizations and to literature about AI over decades. This was a diverse group with members from four different countries: Canada, United States, South Africa and Belgium, with differences in expertise that brought richness to the findings. No controversial data was arose from the study; all were unanimous in relation to the benefits of using AI for organizational change in times of crisis.

The findings show that when it comes to which features of AI can be of assistance in times like this, the name of the practice speaks for itself: “Appreciation” means to acknowledge the reality and complexity of the world’s situation and in doing so, contrary to what has been assumed in some literature, not labeling experiences as “good” or “bad” by focusing on one side or another. When it comes to “Inquiry”, it is about asking generative questions which invite people to reflect on their experiences. During the current crisis, the questions took a shift because the context required that in order to stay relevant.

To help organizations navigate through the uncertainty of a crisis, AI uses change questions that focus on the smallest incremental changes that are in the circle of influence with the current circumstances. Examples can be “what can we do better this week?” or “what have we achieved since yesterday?” In crises, a big challenge for all organizations is to navigate through the world’s uncertainty.

AI enables that by perceiving crises as an opportunity for development in crisis contexts as much as in more predictable times. So, AI invites us to have a growth and curiosity mindset to perceive successes and failures as learning experiences. Having such a mindset amid uncertainty allows focus on incremental changes that can both influence and control at the same time. Influence and control are empowered by one of the most prominent and distinctive features of AI: strengths-based and generative probing to channel what is powerful within the organization’s context.

Another aspect that the findings shed light on is the more practical side, the implementation process of AI (e.g., 4D cycle). The findings show that the processes of AI don’t need to change, and the models essentially hold. However, regardless of whether it is applied during a crisis or not, the process is always modified based on the context and the needs of the group. Therefore, the goal of all the steps is to include every voice in the system. This makes the entire process meaningful for everyone as the organization becomes infused with innovation that results from the collaboration.

To do that, AI uses interviews and storytelling methods where each participant is asked to share their perspective and bring personal agency. Through these exercises, the organization can undertake a self-discovery of its values and understand the ways in which it can use them to navigate through the crisis. So, it is necessary to make sure that the group spends enough time on this. Therefore, another crucial element is the role of the facilitator, which is to fully acknowledge the impact of the crisis on the group. A pitfall is that some facilitators see the steps of process as linear checkboxes and follow them strictly regardless of the group’s needs. However, especially in crises, the facilitator should be flexible with the process, be able to modify it based on the needs of the group and the context, and overall be ready to diverge with the group. Since the facilitator should try to establish the same quality of relatedness in crises times, the role becomes paramount.

Finally, the last set of findings in this study tackles the question “What if there are some organizational factors that can be used to facilitate the process?” First, the internal mindset of an organization and the leadership’s approach play a crucial role in the effectiveness of the process. An organization first needs to be aware of the mindset it carries, and if it happens that this mindset doesn’t align with what they want to achieve, they need to have the agility to change it.

One other factor that is intrinsically linked with AI is effective communication. For example, the Social Constructionist principle and storytelling exercises in the implementation process help build organizational trust by using the basics of effective communication exercises naturally. Therefore, effective communication is both a part of the process and its outcome, since the process invites the organization to use these practices in the long run afterwards.

Another factor that was found to be correlated with AI is organizational trust. AI uses and engenders high levels of trust during crises by its inclusive nature, beyond hierarchical barriers, which creates a sense of shared meaning. With the support of leadership, as with the other factors, trust is also encouraged during and after the process. The last factor, which has one of the strongest links to AI, is organizational resilience. Everything aforementioned works toward developing resilience because AI leads organizations to perceive crisis as a learning experience and to enhance adaptability with its practices.

A metaphor can summarize the main takeaways: AI is like a piece of art: with a changing context (like the current pandemic crisis) the frame changes. But the artwork inside stays the same. This means that the AI principles, features and processes still hold when applied during a crisis. All that is needed to adapt is to look at all aspects from a context (the frame) to make the practice relevant. For that, the work of the facilitator (the artist) becomes paramount. The results build on existing evidence that AI helps navigate through change and crisis, like a compass pointing at the opportunity masked by the crisis. For all those reasons, AI is an excellent method to consult and even meant for times like this.

The contribution of this study is that it supports the necessary nuances of AI practices to be implemented in times of crisis, which offers highly relevant implications for practice from first-hand experience. There is a consensus that there will be a mix-up of virtual and in-person practices. A further study can examine the reasons for and in which practical ways online and in-person practices can be interlaced.

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.

 

Our Principles in Action: Appreciative Inquiry for Justice and Belonging The Narrative Principle

One of the key global topics at this time in human history is about the Covid-19 pandemic that for almost two years has held our attention and challenged us to think differently. It has shifted the narrative from being predominantly focussed on the future to the here-and-now experience of how we are coping as a global community. Faith Addicott in collaboration with Staceye Randle continues the series titled: “Our Principles in Action: Appreciative Inquiry for Justice & Belonging” with an exploration of the Narrative principle. I am delighted to introduce our voices from the field for this issue of AI Practitioner.

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.

 

 

Head into any kindergarten class (pre-pandemic) and you would see otherwise notoriously active five-year olds sitting quietly around their teacher. They are quiet, still, concentrating on every word the teacher reads to them. Felicity’s grandmother could never be disturbed on weekdays between eleven in the morning and noon. No phone calls, no conversations. She was focused on her favorite soap opera, The Young and the Restless. No interruptions were allowed during this time.

What do these situations have in common? They show how a story can stop us in our tracks, disrupt habits, or transform our daily lives. Stories are impactful. Stories connect people. Stories can bring about change.

This is the essence of the Narrative principle. Like the principles already discussed (Anticipatory, Constructionist), the Narrative principle acknowledges that “The past, present and future are not separate stages, but rather beginnings, middles and endings of a story in progress. Organizations and human systems are stories-in-progress.” In the equity and justice space, the Narrative principle is a particularly powerful tool, ensuring that the organizational, human story is one that includes all voices.

We need this principle because the truth is that most of the time, marginalized people do not feel heard in the places where they live and work. Their stories are not the stories in the brochures, their experience unreflected in language or messaging. They are often discounted or minimized, pushed far from the center of the collective tale. Applying the Narrative principle gives marginalized people an opportunity to tell their stories.

This opens space for the lives of those historically silenced to occupy the center of the narrative; too often the conversation around equity and justice does not focus on those impacted most, instead centering the feelings/experiences of the majority. Through the wider lens that is created when more people have a place in our shared storytelling, we can move towards real change. Peter Forbes sums up stories very well, saying that “Stories create community, enable us to see through the eyes of other people, and open us to the claims of others.” When we can see the truth in those claims, we can give the voices of those who have suffered under inequity the power to make a different world.

There is a deeper truth in this principle as well. Stories require a teller – and someone to hear the tale. The most important part of communication isn’t talking. It’s listening. As practitioners, we must focus on listening, on allowing ourselves to be transformed by the stories we hear. Deep learning and opportunities to create change lie in this listening space. If we want to create a more equitable and just society, then the someone who hears must be us. All of us.

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.

 

Four Factors to Use Appreciative Inquiry During Organisational Change Processes Successfully

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

Download the full article.

Four Factors to Use Appreciative Inquiry During Organisational Change Processes Successfully

Jan Driesen works as Operations Manager for Knaek Promotions in Belgium where he is responsible for all commercial and promotional activities together with his team of Belgian city managers. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing. Jan is an experienced trainer in hospitality, coaching, leadership and management

Have you ever wondered what makes an AI process successful? I did, which is why the main question of my master’s thesis for the Master of Management program at the Hasselt University in Belgium was: “How can Appreciative Inquiry be successfully used to facilitate organisational change from the perspective of the change facilitator”’. A literature study provided me with the proper insights and curiosity to pursue a more pragmatic approach. I held ten in-depth interviews with seasoned AI practitioners that provided me with an abundance of knowledge to construct the conclusion to be read in my paper. I found that the success of an AI process depends on four factors:

Your influence on the process as a facilitating AI practitioner.

The influence of the participating organisation on the process.

The connection, trust and involvement between all parties.

The architecture of the process.

In my interviews, I focused on the role and perspectives of the interviewees as an AI facilitator.

Personality layers of an AI Practitioner

As the facilitator always brings her/himself into the process, her/his influence comes in various shapes, referring to personal elements that reflect into the several phases and parts of an AI process. Inspired by Korthagen’s (2014) “onion model”, I grouped my research findings into several personality layers for a successful AI facilitator. Fundamental to the onion model is the notion that several layers play a role within a person’s being which influences their behaviour. By changing the original order of the layers, I was able to reflect more accurately the influence of these layers on the AI practitioner.

The layers of the model are:

  1. Core qualities
  2. Mission
  3. Beliefs
  4. Attitude
  5. Role
  6. Competencies and
  7. Environment.

At your very centre, you find the (1) core qualities that reveal what you are made of. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and everyone has their qualities. However, successful AI practitioners tend to have a natural tendency to connect (with) people and sense what a process and its participants need at any given moment. These core qualities are the foundation for a strong (2) mission. As an AI practitioner, your mission, your reason to work from an AI stance is about moving forward together. It is about feeling energized and empowered, about seeing new opportunities, even if things don’t go well. It is about helping each other learn and develop, becoming stronger and better at what you do. The pivotal difference is in the way it happens. Whereas traditional goal-oriented approaches might end in similar results, Appreciative Inquiry does it in a way through which people grow closer to each other and their goals, a large part of sustaining the desired outcome. AI enables you to use your qualities as leverage for organisational change by giving you language and method. This is why you chose to work from Appreciative Inquiry, because it does make a difference.

It is said that you become what you believe. Successful AI practitioners believe that everyone has their individuality and should be true to their own (3) beliefs. However, as a successful AI practitioner, you have a strong belief in humankind, you are convinced that there is always something positive and that you should appreciate whatever comes up. The good, the bad, the uncertain – all of it. Even more important, the chances of an AI process wielding a successful outcome increases substantially when the process facilitator fundamentally agrees with and believes in the philosophy behind Appreciative Inquiry. As Cooperrider and Srivastva indicated many times in their first paper on AI (1987), the successful AI practitioner does not see AI as a tool or a method, but as a way of life. A successful AI practitioner embodies the AI philosophy to at least some extent, some more than others.

If your core qualities reveal what you are made of, your AI mission drives what you believe and your beliefs dictate how you behave, then how exactly should an AI practitioner behave? As a successful AI practitioner, your (4) attitude reflects that you are open-minded and without prejudice. You strive to live the AI philosophy by appreciating whatever comes up, you adopt a student mindset and are aware that you still have a lot to learn. You set the right example for others to follow by walking the talk. As the success of an AI process is not so much about what you do but how you do it, your attitude is not to be underestimated. Your attitude is what puts you in the right (5) role, the role of a guide who shows an alternative way to reach goals while increasing enthusiasm, trust, connection and organisational culture. You act as a coach who puts the power into the hands of the people and helps them create something of their own, giving them a feeling of ownership and accomplishment.

The last element within the control of the AI practitioner is the element of (6) competency, which is not that important to the process, contrary to what many believe. People are more than just their competencies, which can be learned by anyone and do not necessarily entail success. As a successful facilitator, you owe your success more to your mindset and attitude, explained above, than to your competence. However, it is advisable to understand the foundations of AI and know about the 4D, 5D or 5D+ cycle and the principles of AI, as this enables you to implement it more effectively and freely while becoming more aware of the process, which ultimately has a positive impact on the success of the process.

Lastly, the outer layer reflects on the (7) environment in which this reflection has taken place. In an AI personality framework, the environment consists of everything happening during the Appreciative Inquiry process.

Other success factors

  • In my research, I paid attention to three other factors for successful AI processes besides the personality layers of an AI practitioner:
  • The influence of the participating organisation.
  • The quality of the connection between the parties involved.
  • The overall architecture of the process.

Regardless of the impact you have on the process, regardless of the various aspects you have to consider, if the participating organisation does not allow it, the process never gets started. At the beginning of every process, it is crucial to get the leadership of the participating organisation on board with what is about to happen, as they set the culture that reigns within. The culture is what undergoes the true change, which makes preparing the leaders of that culture essential for the outcome. To facilitate true, lasting change, the organisation must want it: they must be open to participate, and willing to change. To a certain extent, they must be willing to adopt an AI attitude, especially during the process.

Secondly, for you and the participants to exercise your influence for the better of the process, a mutual connection is imperative. The interconnection between all the parties involved is the foundation upon which the process is built. This connection is constructed through genuine conversations about valuable stories and experiences. For these conversations to take place, the element of mutual trust is vital. The participants must feel like they can trust you and each other, just as you have to feel like you can trust the participants and, in some cases, your fellow facilitators. The element of trust goes even further, it is also about your confidence in your own being and abilities. Maybe even more important, it is about trusting the process. This interconnectedness and mutual trust result in involvement from all sides. Every person in the room feels part of the same reality that combines your individual perspectives and melts them to form a bigger picture of the ideal outcome.

Lastly, having a solid process architecture is a key success factor for facilitating AI-based organisational change. This architecture includes a design phase with preparation, the actual approach and facilitation of the process, and a follow-up protocol, which is crucial for the realisation of the ideas and dreams that have come out of the process. The AI process never really stops with a multi-stakeholder event like an AI summit. In some cases, the facilitation of the change process continues to run for months, or even longer. In others, the change engine is so fuelled right after the summit that self-managed change happens quickly.

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

 

Shifting Paradigms with Appreciative Inquiry

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

Download the full article.

Shifting Paradigms with Appreciative Inquiry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our Principles in Action: The Constructionist Principle

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

Download the full article.

Our Principles in Action: Appreciative Inquiry for Justice and Belonging

Faith Addicott, MPA, MPOD is working to improve the intersection of work and life through innovative and humancentered 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.

The Constructionist Principle

Words make worlds. At the core of being human is our creative capacity to name the world around us, to describe it and know it through language. Because the ways that we do this are both individual and collective, both for ourselves and in agreement with our society, the impacts of these definitions give shape to our past and our future.

In this context, as we strive for a future that is more just and where all people can thrive and belong, we step into the Constructionist principle to acknowledge that our society’s choices of perspective have historically negated the contributions of Black and brown people. The voices of a significant segment of people in our cultures have not been included in the creation of a world view that holds meaning for them. If our reality holds no place for people to share in the creation of the world, there is no way to have that reality include meaningful justice.

“The good news is that since we construct our reality, we have a choice to construct it the way we want it. We are active players in our life stories.” Developing our understanding of the Constructionist principle and using it to guide how we create processes and policies in our organizations is a powerful lever for moving us towards equitable futures. It encourages us to co-create, to engage in intentionally inclusive practices, especially when we are choosing what we want reality to be. Opening ourselves to another person’s reality and lived experience, folding that reality into the creation of possibilities, is fundamental to building anti-racist practices into action.

There is a tension for many in embracing the Constructionist principle. This power to create can be scary … we long for certainty, for solid truths that are immutableand beyond us. But, even in physics, we are discovering that reality is infinitely changeable, shaped by our perceptions and expectations. As Peter Block says, “… when we take uncertainty out, it is no longer the future. It is the present projected forward. Nothing new can come from the desire for a predictable tomorrow.”

Through the way we define our shared experiences, positive or negative, we explicitly create the container for all understanding of the world.

Though it may feel risky to go to groups and challenge them to re-create their organizations with a wider aperture, this is what we are called to do. As practitioners, we are in a position to use Appreciative Inquiry to deepen and shift not just what we talk about, but also what we understand about the nature of our ongoing conversation with reality. And with each other. It is the richness of inclusive creation and truly shared ownership of the collective narrative that allows us to build towards justice.

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

 

Our Principles in Action: Appreciative Inquiry for Justice and Belonging

 

I am pleased to introduce Faith Addicott as our Voice from the Field in this issue of the AI Practitioner. Faith will be presenting each of the 10 AI principles in the context of justice and belonging as a key feature of Voices from the Field. Along with Faith’s introduction to the series, the Anticipatory principle will feature in this Issue. Future issues will include the remaining principles presented by Faith, along with our regular articles from global contributors.

Our Principles in Action: Appreciative Inquiry for Justice and Belonging

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.

We live in extraordinary times. For the last year, our lives have been disrupted in ways that have challenged us, but that have also given us space to grow through the new cracks, towards the light. Over and over, I have heard many in our community speak to the ways in which they feel called, through their practice of Appreciative Inquiry, to lean into these new possibilities. Particularly, our community is being called to apply the principles of our practice to the liberation of organizational systems from racial oppression, and to be an active part of ameliorating trauma for Black and brown bodies.

Luckily for us, AI is already particularly well suited for this work. Our tool is facile, able to fit into any space we can imagine, because it calls on us to imagine something better. AI calls on us to dream of a future in which Justice is a given, and it asks us to lead with our words and our intention and our commitment to pull that future ever closer today.

In this series, I will look at 10 core principles of Appreciative Inquiry and explore how they bring life to our pursuit of justice and belonging within our organizations. While I recognize that the principles normally flow in a certain order, for this work there is a slightly new logic. Form follows function….so first up – The Anticipatory principle.

The power of the Anticipatory principle

The Anticipatory principle says to us that images inspire action. More deeply, it speaks to the interconnected nature of the present and the future. This principle tells us that “human systems move in the direction of their images of the future. The more positive and hopeful the image of the future, the more positive the present-day action.”  What is implied, and what leads us to the ways that this principle functions in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) space, is that the more positive the present-day action, the more positive hope we have for the future. (This ties back in a cyclical loop with the Constructionist principle, which we will discuss in our next issue!)

For a handful of decades, our organizations and communities have been aware of the deep racial inequity that exists, particularly in America, but also around the world. We have, collectively, been trying to move away from that. But our efforts have been only minimally successful. The truth is that it isn’t enough to only know what we don’t want – we have to be able to envision and create a future that we DO want.

The power of the Anticipatory principle and its fundamental centering in the Dream work of AI is in this – we are allowed to imagine, encouraged to dream, to peer behind the veils of what is next and begin to create an expectation of a future that is just, where all people are safe, where racism no longer exists. By doing this, particularly with whole systems in the room, we build something to move towards, not just away from.

Towards is a pull, a beacon, a guiding line of vision into something new, something good. As Andy Smith at Coaching Leaders (UK) so rightly points out, “If we know where we want to get to, we can correct our aim if circumstances knock us off course.”

Away from is not a direction and does not give us that “inner rudder”. If our motivation for acting is to escape unfavorable situations, we may end up further from where we would really like to be.

Where do we want to get to?

AI is the best tool we know of to help groups of people, in organizations and in communities, figure out where we want to get to. Is it still important to dismantle the systems of oppression and exclusion that exist today? Of course! AND we can do that while helping people to flex the muscle of their creative capacity for change, for imagining.

Dismantling (which is different from smashing) these systems, with a clearly envisioned future state allows us to become reclamation specialists, choosing the pieces of our deconstructed paradigms that we want to keep, that serve us well, while discarding those that cause harm. We reduce (the structures that have held us), we reuse (those ideas whose power has not yet been well-harnessed), and we recycle (the bits and pieces that belong truly to us, and through which we create belonging). AI and our clear anticipation of the future allow us to be sustainable, and not just burn the house down.

We are all futurists

This work is vitally important, especially now. We must all be futurists when the present is already loosening the joints and joists of our reality for us. Racism is not some thing that exists only in the past – “It is forward-looking, laying claim to our capacity to imagine the future. This is why imagining an anti-racist future is so challenging. It does not just entail imagining the eradication of past forms of racism… [it] requires challenging the progress of racism as it proliferates and transforms our very capacity to imagine the future.”

The attitudes of casual racial discrimination – of othering – have inertia and are rolling into the future every minute that they are not confronted with a vision of the future that is free of them. AI and our inherent anticipation/creation of a new future is the active intervention, the redirection, that is needed.

In parallel with rich questioning of our current systems, with making spaces for uncomfortable and brave conversations, and with challenging the precepts of racism at every opportunity, our community has a mighty set of tools in AI to combat racism. We do this, in part, by helping people to understand their own creative agency, their capacity to name an anti-racist reality as their own and to collectively move towards it.

 

Download the full article.

By Keith Storace

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

 

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