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Words Create Worlds ® – July 2015 Newsletter

We do not always know where our decisions will lead us or the people we will meet along the way. When I began my Appreciative Inquiry journey in 2000, I had no idea that I would be interviewed in 2015 by Robyn Stratton-Berkessel of Positivity Strategist.

Robyn and I connected via social media and had a few conversations earlier this year. We knew we wanted to work together and that we wanted to share with others how Appreciative Inquiry has changed our lives and the lives of people we connect with.  When Robyn suggested that we record a podcast where we interview each other around our experiences with Core Teams, I was unsure how this would work or even what this would be like.

An inquiry (discovery) is a powerfully instrument in human connection. As a facilitator, I recede from intruding on this profound human interaction. The idea of conducting an inquiry virtually raised questions, such as “What would the interview look like in a virtual format?” “Would we feel that connection to one another like we do when engaging in a face-to-face inquiry?” “Would we be able to allow the inquiry to flow or would we feel rushed?” “Would our stories translate to a broader audience?” or “Would we forget that we are recording because we are completely engaged?” As this was Robyn’s first interview of this type for her website, she too wondered how this would play out. We knew that we MUST leap forward and embrace the opportunity.

Robyn was at her recording studio and I in my office across the country – yet distance did not impede on this remarkable experience. We reviewed the appreciative interview questions and then Robyn gently explained how the recording process works. The nervousness I felt regarding the equipment and the idea of recording for others just floated away.  The podcast experience was remarkably easy and quite enjoyable! Meeting Robyn and having this experience with her has been a gift to me. I knew these stories of Core Teams were all powerful, yet I had not spent a lot of time reflecting on their meaning to me.

Part 1 and 2 of mine and Robyn’s podcast can be found in this month’s Words Create Worlds© newsletter. Please enjoy!


Words Create Worlds ® – November 2014 Newsletter

November is the month of Thanksgiving! For our friends that reside outside of the U.S., Thanksgiving is a National holiday in the U.S. and is a time for family, friends, thankfulness, and reflection. A day set aside to be thankful and, more importantly, to let others know that you are thankful. In this time of economic and environmental uncertainty, it may be a challenge for some to be grateful. Yet, just like Fall in the air, we are getting a slight whisper of change.

We invite each of you to join in the high energy and well-being that gratitude brings to each of us. Thankful for love, family, friends, health, happiness, children, food, flowers – the list is as bountiful as your imagination and heart can dream. Each of us can begin by asking ourselves and our friends a question that will focus on the best of what we want in the future, “Think back over this past year and share a story about a time that you felt most thankful…one that felt most warm and meaningful. Who was there? What made it so wonderful? What made it so special?”

Have a wonderful and bountiful week. We thank each of you for sharing your stories of success – seeking the high points to learn, adapt and thrive. Your stories bring such light into our office and to our work.

As always we appreciate the good work all of you do.


Words Create Worlds ® – August 2014 Newsletter

Do you find it hard to be appreciative during this time? Economy, politics, war, climate change, education, poverty – there is a lot of “stuff” in the way; and it is all serious “stuff”. Staying open to see the possibilities is so important to our happiness, health and general well-being. What helps me is to spend time reflecting on what gave me joy during the day, and equally fulfilling is to give others joy.

Seeing the possibilities requires us to be open to receive those special moments when, for example, someone smiles at you or goes out of their way to help you – like the cashier at the grocery store, the receptionist at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the secretary at your child’s school.  Show them your appreciation. Take a moment to ask them, “What was the best thing that has happened today?” or “What excites you the most about your job?” You may hear something like “no one has ever asked me that question before.” Be genuine in your interest, listen with your heart, and you may just find that this is one of those joyful moments.

We invite each of you to join in the high energy and well-being that gratitude, compassion, and generosity brings to each of us. As always, we thank each of you for sharing your stories of success – seeking the high points to learn, adapt, and thrive – your stories always bring such light into our office and to our work. Please keep sending us your personal stories of success via email, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Kathy Becker,
President of Company of Experts, Inc.


Destiny in Appreciative Coaching: Appreciative Process as Action Planning

I’d like to write a little about Destiny/Delivery – the last phase in the 5 D model of Appreciative Inquiry – because it’s the phase that’s taken me longest to understand. And it appears I’m not alone.

What makes this phase different to the others in the process? Up till this point we have been moving through a familiar pathway – we have defined a topic to inquire into, we have conducted a discovery into best experiences and we have created a dream, which has now been refined into a provocative proposition or possibility statement. All through this we have carefully put aside our knee jerk problem-solving habits and learnt to trust that locating sources of energy and life will be more than enough to deal with the problem we may have.

The pinnacle we have reached in this high-energy process is the possibility statement – we have finally captured in words a future that both inspires us and is rooted in the best experiences of the past. We are connected to our positive core and, driven by that energy, we can imagine a future that inspires us and calls us to action.

At this point the process has a clear shift. Or at least it appears to.

We see ourselves as having completed the vision, and now we are going to begin implementation. But we are stuck because we’re not sure of how to implement *appreciatively*. In fact the world view of problem-solving is so commonplace that we may not even notice that we have already subtly shifted out of an appreciative inquiry lens.

Analyse, Plan, Act. Repeat.

If we think in very broad terms about our normal way of doing change, we see three phases – analysing the issue/problem, planning the change and finally implementing. We may even add in feedback after this to create a kind of fourth stage where we again analyse the implementation, plan it better and implement it again. If we see Ai processes as being a version of this process where we Analyse in Discovery, Plan in Dream and Implement in Destiny, we miss out on some of the unique qualities of change as it is conceived of in Ai.

As a reminder, one of the core principles of AI is the constructivist principle, which says that we co-create our realities in language. In language. And another, the simultaneity principle say that inquiry creates change. Inquiry creates change.

If we remember those two principles, it is unnecessary to begin to wonder about implementation, because there is no implementation in the appreciative model. A radical statement, so let me explain. When we think of change broken into phases like planning and implementation, we are using a modernist conception of how change works. In this view of change the change can be planned and then carried out as two distinct phases. In this model actions are planned as a means to close the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

The post-modern view is different – it asks how can we reframe action planning to take into account that we’re not closing the ‘gap’ but rather we are creating, through dialogue and language, a new, inspiring future and generating actions from it? The answer lies in understanding the basic flow of the approach we have chosen to take.

The flow of the Appreciative Approach In the appreciative approach we can identify a constant, non-linear engagement with three inquiries:

1. The Best Experience inquiry asks things like:

“Where is this possibility already happening?”

So there is no pressure to invent only new actions – in fact there will always be some actions that already exist that are creating this new future. By treating the possibility as a microcosm of the whole process we tap into a huge source of energy and find the process continues to carry us. Immediately it should be clear that the subtle pressure to invent new actions is off – we start, as we always do in the appreciative approach with **where things are already working**.

2. The Values inquiry asks things like:

“What made this life-giving experience significant for you?”

At any time we need to we can begin to mine these actions for further refinement of, and connection to the positive core.

3. The Wishes inquiry asks things like:

“Where does this possibility have the biggest potential to impact you?”

Within cultivation of an authentic appreciation for self and others, we can ask the client to stretch themselves by looking at areas that benefit **most** from being brought into connection with the positive core they have identified for themselves. This inquiry will always keep the leverage high – minimal effort for maximal results. When things begin feeling like hard work, struggle and effort, it is a clue that there is a disconnect from the positive core. It’s not that there isn’t hard work, there certainly is, it is simply that this hard work is not resisted. When there’s no resistance the task is simply the task and is not felt as struggle and effort.

The most important lesson

Appreciative Coaching is the paradigm shift from a deficit-based paradigm to a strengths-based one and it is an ongoing process.

Appreciative Coaching is not a linear progress from discovery to dream to design to destiny – it is an appreciative process that is flexible and non-linear, and the D’s can be applied as and when, and in any order as appropriate in the moment. It is non-linear because the process is not *going somewhere*. We are not getting from the present problem to the future solution. We are not closing that gap. Since we are not closing the gap, and we are connected to our positive core of energy we act with a high degree of improvisation and creativity.

When we reflect on what has been done it is also in the mode of appreciative process, we want to know:

– “What worked best there?” “Where did your possibility shine through this week?” (best experience)
– “What made that success significant for you?” “How was that experience meaningful for you?” (values)
– “Where does your provocative proposition have the biggest potential impact now?” “What area do you think is ripe now?” (wishes)

Answering the final question in particular provokes improvisational actions which the client can commit to freely. When they’re complete we continue to engage the appreciative process, until such time as the possibility they have created is replaced improved or no longer called for.

Once a client connects with their positive core, and declares a new future possible as a provocative proposition, they are already influencing and creating that future. We keep that future alive by maintaining their connection to the core values that they find live-giving. And one way to do that is to ask questions that bring about the flow of appreciative inquiry.

Asking these questions is the action plan. Asking these questions is the expression of Destiny because Destiny is the continual engagement with the three aspects of the appreciative approach, adapted as is suitable to match the moment.

Appreciative Inquiry Commons – Design Jam

Interested in co-designing the next generation Appreciative Inquiry Commons Website? If so, please participate in Appreciative Inquiry Commons – Design Jam. Over the next three weeks (from Jul. 18 – Aug.9), you will collaborate alongside hundreds of other AI practitioners, managers, change agents, authors, students, and thought leaders, to engage in an Appreciative Inquiry process to co-design the Next Generation Appreciative Inquiry Commons.

In partnership with IdeaScale, a collective-design online platform, participants will post ideas and inspirations, vote on, comment on, and refine each other’s ideas, and help Discover, Dream, and Design the next generation AI Commons!

The AI Commons is looking to collect ideas and examples to spark thinking about the functionality, look and feel, content development, symbolism, interaction possibilities, and impact potentials of the next generation AI Commons. You must register to join in the discussion. Registration is free. To register, click here.

Is “Why” an Appreciative Question?

A few days ago I shared a fascinating HBR article on LinkedIn titled, Become a Company That Questions Everything. The article talks about how companies should encourage curiosity in the workforce by inviting employees and other stakeholders to ask questions. The article itself has a large graphic of the word “why”. As I shared the article on our various social media outlets, one person asked me if “why” is an appreciative question. I stopped what I was doing just so that I could let that question sink in. I mean, I believed it could be, depending on the context in which it is used but I was curious as to what others thought.

After pondering the question for a day or so, I posted the question on various LinkedIn groups I am connected to. The question spread like wildfire. I was honored that so many people took the time to share their thoughts and experiences. The discussions that emerged were engaging and insightful.

Most of the responses I read agreed that while “why” might not be the first choice in questions we ask our clients, it could, however, be appreciative depending on the context, tone, intention, and the level of trust between the inquirer and the client. In my work with Appreciative Inquiry, I have learned that crafting questions, so that they are both appreciative and meaningful to the client, is more of an art form than methodology. Our success as practitioners lies in our ability to recognize which type of question will work best for the situation. Many of you provided great examples of appreciative “why” questions. Some examples of appreciative “why” questions included, but were not limited to:

  • “Why do you think this works so well?”
  • “Why do we feel great when we accomplish something as a team?”
  • “Why do you think you are at your best when you do something that you enjoy?”
  • “Why was ________ a success?”
  • “Why do you feel you learned so much from this challenge?”
  • “Why it is important for you to accomplish this?”
  • “Why am I seeing so many great traits in my partner now?”
  • “Why am I feeling so much more confident now?”
  • “Why is this pursuit becoming alive for you?”

One person wrote, “When using ‘why’ to draw out the best potential in something it helps to invigorate imaginations”; another wrote, “Asking ‘Why’ can produce deeply reflective insight into the drivers for the envisioned future. It can also help define the ‘alchemy’ of what works really well.” According to the Constructionist Principle of Appreciative Inquiry, we live in a world created through our social discourse; that “our story is our perspective, and there are an infinite number of perspectives.” I believe “why” when used appropriately, can help us to peel back the subconscious layers of our mind to reveal our core values and beliefs. In my pursuit to become more mindful and appreciative, I keep a daily gratitude journal. While I ask myself the common “who, what where, when and how” questions, I am often called to reflect on the ‘why’. I find myself reflecting on questions like, “Why do I feel so good about myself now?” or “Why is it important to reflect on the positive in this situation?” The answers to questions such as these result in a change in my perspective or a positive shift in my reality. As new information becomes available, I think it may be important to draw out such answers that may only surface as a result of the use of “why” questions.

As practitioners we must remain mindful that the questions we ask are fateful. The moment we ask a question, we begin to create change. What questions are you asking? What change are you creating? Words create worlds. As one person shared, “Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language” – Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Words Create Worlds ® – April 2014 Newsletter

If it is April, it must be Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM)! Even though I cannot read music, carry a tune, or have rhythm – this has not diminished my love for Jazz, or music in general. Frank Barrett, a professor of management at the Naval Postgraduate School in California – who is also a jazz pianist, believes change agents can learn a lot from Jazz such as the art of improvisation, continuous learning, and permission to experiment. (You can read Forbes’ article, Leadership Lessons From the Geniuses of Jazz where Barrett bridges Jazz to leadership).

Barrett’s phrase, “say yes to the mess” rings true for many trainers, consultants and facilitators I know. No intervention is every the same. Connecting Appreciative Inquiry to Jazz has been a learning journey for me. It really is a case of being curious and open that began my journey into the connection between Jazz, Appreciative Inquiry and Leadership.  What I have learned is the connection goes far beyond. We can look at parenting, teachers, police officers and being human and see that the threads of Jazz are woven into life.  In fact, one of our Certified AI Facilitators wrote an outstanding article Cooking, Jazz and the Art of Improvisation 

This quote by the great Herbie Hancock brings it all together for me “The spirit of Jazz is the spirit of openness.”  We are living Jazz “When we are open, truly open that we are nurturing spontaneity, creativity, experimentation, and dynamic synchronization.” Frank Barrett so clearly makes the connection and presents a call for leadership in another article, this time in Fast Company titled, If Miles Davis Taught Your Office to Improvise.

You can find out more about JAM at the Smithsonian Website.


Let’s Generate Positive Dialogue for 2012 Election

Words Create Worlds® (WCW)
A series of short conversations leading up to the U.S. election in 2012 meant to enliven generative dialogue with a positive intent.

This past week, during a training, a request was made of us – please send a message out to encourage people to write to the White House, to politicians, as well as to others who are interested in constructive, positive dialogue about the future of the U.S!

These four days were devoted to our internationally recognized Four Day Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator Training©, an introduction to the Power of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and specifically to the Power of the Principles of AI — learning about the benefits of Positive focus and Positive language.

These are not trainings focused on politics; rather trainings for leaders and others who are seeking methods and models for organizational change and positive dialogue. Change that engages, seeks out the best in people and organizations, is collaborative in nature and focuses on the good in all of us. The people who attend this training want to feel good about their work; to work in organizations that they share values with; and to be in an organization that strives to do good for the world community.

This request for us to become leaders in the national dialogue is not new to this training. We are a small group of committed people seeking change and if we look to the words of Margaret Mead, we know that this is where change begins.  We are reaching out to our community now as we see the political rhetoric reach new levels of negativity.  Please write to the White House, President Obama, Governor Romney and any and all of your legislative leaders – in Washington D.C. or at the State Level. Encourage them to change the tone.

Encourage our leaders to adopt a tone of hope, possibility, and encouragement. Encourage them to share with us their vision for our country, for our future. We need no less from our current and our future leaders. For wisdom, insight and guidance, search out the words of past leaders who have inspired our nation in times of challenge and opportunity.

There is sufficient data and research supporting the benefits of positive conversation. As people we thrive when our positive to negative words are at a 3:1 ratio (Positivity Ratio). We each want to thrive and we want our country to thrive. We need leaders who can lift the conversation, take decisive action toward a future that we can visualize and live into.

We recommend a book for each of us:  We Can All Do Better, by Bill Bradley.  It is well written, honest and understandable. Bradley sets the stage that “We The People” must engage in dialogue that is for the best for the Country. To set the tone.  “People see Washington irrevocably divided into two warring camps that care more about political advantage than about the Country” (Bradley 18).

The need for positive dialogue has reached a crucial level; we cannot make the substantive changes necessary unless we do. Join us for more positive dialogue by sending a letter or email to President Obama and Governor Romney. Don’t stop there. Send a letter or email to each of your representatives at the Local, State and Federal level. We each, no matter our political affiliation, have visions and dreams for the future. What do we really want? Like athletes at the Olympics last month, each of us can look at the greater good, focus on what we want more of. What would that look like if it were happening all of the time, right here, right now?

Email is a good way to start; writing a letter is an excellent way to really get their attention! Here is some contact information for:

Our intention is to spark positive dialogue. To be part of the dialogue about Appreciative Inquiry, join us on our LinkedIn group – Discovering Appreciative Inquiry. We also invite you to visit our website at or join us on YouTubeFacebook, and Twitter #WCW2012.