Category Archives: WAIC 2012

A Learner’s View on Global Appreciative Inquiry Gathering

Are you looking for an approach to change that moves beyond incremental steps of change? Do you recall bringing opposites together in a fruitful conversation?

Crafting questions, active listening, looking for “lived” experiences that help to explore the future. These are just some of the learning dimensions that emerged for me from the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference held April 25-28 in Ghent, Belgium.

For several days, practitioners and learners of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) rubbed shoulders with founding elders of this positive approach to change.

My highlights: AI is firmly grounded in how we construct our daily life and reality. Enactment of key concepts, such as dialogue; generative design and connections and the AI summit were woven into the conference program. There was a rallying call for working towards the beckoning horizon of what is possible and not to get bogged down by reverting to past history of mistakes, failures, and pessimism. Read Full Article>>

Written by Russell Kerkhoven (writer for Axiom News) on May 24, 2012

Storytelling Scales Up Change in Business

Since 2003, Brazil has had a yearly conference where business people gather and share stories about how they succeed in creating benefits for society and their business. Ilma Barros, the energizer behind this effort, says the initiative has inspired other organisations to increase their societal awareness. The organisers have also discovered that the companies telling the stories scale up their societal efforts after presenting at the conference.

A year after one conference, Ilma inquired into the effects the gathering had on the presenting companies. “The companies told us that after the conference, they generated new and interesting partnerships, and even a whole new way of building these partnerships,” she says.

“They also reported an impact on the growth of their business. And it was definitely clear that presenting at the conference propelled more positive exchange and dissemination of their good practices.”

These conferences have also had a remarkable effect on the image of the organisations, leading to more opportunities for projects.  “With the help of the media, they shifted their way of reporting on this issues,” says Ilma.

It is clear that storytelling can scale up change in business and society. Through stories, we can connect business interests to societal issues.  There are lots of opportunities out there. It is like Peter Drucker said: “Every single social and global issue we face is a business opportunity in disguise”.

Business has the opportunity to be a new creative force on the planet that could contribute to the wellbeing of people and planet. Through the sharing of stories of creative initiatives that are already taken, we can scale up this generative power.

Written by: Griet Bouwen. Article was originally published on the 2012WAIC website on April 27, 2012.

Societal Appreciative Inquiry: re-thinking human dignity and sustainability for re-inventing society

In the dark plenary hall of the Ghent Convention Centre the album cover of Hotel California appeared, along with the beautiful tones of the Eagle’s evergreen. The audience sang along in a harmonious karaoke:

Mirrors on the ceiling,
the pink champagne on ice
And she said
we are all just prisoners here, of our own device’

Klaas van Egmond appeared on stage, obviously a professor, an environmental scientist, telling us that the Eagles meant that our devices – our greed – have caused the emergence of materialistic patterns in our (Western) civilizations. Unfortunately, as the song tells us:

… gathered for the feast.
They stab it with their steely knives,
but they just can’t kill the beast.

Klaas van Egmond argues that we must re-think and reflect upon human dignity and sustainability in order to re-­invent society. He has learned that the solution for the sustainability problem has to be found in social and cultural dynamics, rather than in technological development only. We must study our values first, as these determine the economic, financial and societal systems.

Van Egmond sketched a brief history of the Western Civilization. We have failed to stay between the lines. Our lack of consensus in the understanding of human nature has allowed society to degenerate into its own caricature and associated catastrophe. Instead of a focus on balance, reconciling the controversies, we generated a one-sided version of specific human values.

But there is always hope. Only last night, the Dutch parliament succeeded to draft a new approach including all political parties! For once, the adversaries chose to collaborate in designing a common future. Working with partners from opposite ends automatically results in a virtuous centre….

Klaas van Egmond sees an important role for appreciative inquiry. The ultimate truth is knowing by compassion. This implies that people must engage in connection, emphatically inquiring for the matters that worry, the dreams that inspire. It gives recognition and inclusion, establishing new societies at a higher level of complexity, able to face the challenges at hand. The collective outcomes of AI-findings will bring humanity at a higher level, aligning technologies with the dignity of mankind.

Sustainability implies skills to stay out from the periphery. We can check out anytime we like, but we can never leave!

Written by: Marcel van Marrewijk (author of the Cubrix). This article was originally published on the 2012WAIC website on April 28, 2012.

How to interweave micro practices in daily conversation?

Highlight in the already enlightening dialogue between Ken Gergen and Danielle Zandee was their little play about how conversations can degenerate, and how to prevent this – or even turn them into a generative alternative. Subsequently, Danielle asked the audience to think about ways to ‘interweave’ or ‘interlock’ the micro practices into day to day conversations, and make them sustainable. Besides the fact that Ken was struggling with the challenge to keep the practices ‘fresh’, one could question Danielle’s question, referring to the great philosopher Richard Rorty and his theory around the contingency of language. In fact, he suggests (!) that we are simply unable to ‘interlock’ practices in the conversation, because conversation itself is an in-between-emerging process, causing the language to develop, including the interpretations and meanings. You could say then that we have a solution to Ken’s struggle, because conversation itself undergoes renewal. But I’m afraid this renewal does not always move into a generative direction, so to speak. I love Rorty’s book title ‘Take care of freedom, and truth will take care of itself’.

Imagine micro practices taking care of their generativity themselves…!

Let me give you an example. Until the age of 50 years (…) I was used to talk about “non-profit organizations”. And I was very unaware of the degenerative substance of my vocabulary. Until that afternoon in Genk, where I attended the closing conference of the First Flemish AI Learning Network. On a certain slide I read the word “social profit organization” and the words struck in my mouth. The Belgian next to me said: “Ala, you Dutch people, you call this non-profit, don’t you?” I was flabbergasted, in a positive way that is. From that day I never used the word ‘non-profit’ anymore. How silly can it be, calling an organization by what it not is? (Do we call a human being a not-dog?) This micro practice ‘social profit in stead of non-profit’ is so strong that it does the trick itself. And as far as I can recall, everyone I told this story, adopted the ‘social-profit’ alternative immediately.

I would like to call this a self interweaving micro practice. The question is: how do we find the strong, self-emerging ones? My suggestion would be to approach this quest in a sort of Darwinian way: let the strongest, the most intelligent and the ones most adaptive to change be the surviving micro practices. And let us – as Koen van Mechelen said – keep on making new combinations to fill the linguistic evolution as appreciative and as generative as possible.

What do you think of ‘birth line’ in stead of ‘dead line’? Is it going to survive? Yes, as far as the WAIC Media Crew is concerned. During Diana Whitney’s great performance I received an SMS from Arno Vansichen: “What about a Warm Idea in stead of a Cool Idea?” My reply: “Idea, I dear, You dear, We dear… What about a Wedea in stead of an Idea?” Arno: “Windeed!”

Written by: Cees Hoogendijk. This article was originally published on the 2012WAIC website on April 27, 2012.

Loving your Job and the People You Work with

As the Dutch IT firm Schuberg Philis grew, it started to become more of an “organization.” In his keynote address Thurday, information manager Ilja Heitlager explains: “Without realising it, we created departments and hierarchy, inadvertently alienating our experts from our customer. Our people are very skilled and focused, but they were lost. In times of crisis, however, for instance if a machine broke down, multidisciplinary teams were created, with experts in the front. And the whole energy changed.”

Schuberg Philis decided to make this interdisciplinary approach their way of working all the time. They linked their experts closer to the customer, by making them fully responsible for their systems. “Our people are not running an IT machine, they are running a bank,” says Ilja. “If the machine breaks down, people can’t draw money, and they know it”.

The conversations changed. “If people are responsible for the system, and something happens, they don’t talk about the past (‘what happened’, ‘what went wrong’, ‘why did it break down?’) or about others (‘they should just…’),” says Ilja. “Instead, they talk about the future and about themselves (‘how do we solve it’, ‘how can we get the bank up and running?’).” At Schuberg Philis they call this this cupfighter mentality.

Another thing that happened is that people built more personal relations with customers. Ilja tells of finding phone numbers of the company’s engineers scribbled on whiteboards in customers’ offices. “They know whom to call, instead of just having to rely on an anonymous 0800 number.”

This year, the company decided to take this way of working to the next level. While the company used to work with chain-optimizing methods such as the theory of constraints and looking for the weakest link, this always drained the energy from the room. “I wanted to talk about: what makes people get up in the morning? What do they bring to work?” says Ilja.

With David Cooperrider the company organised a three-day Appreciative Inquiry (AI) summit, with over 200 people. Employees as well as clients, family and friends joined. “That summit ended in 16 projects. But that is not the main thing. The main thing is that it gave us 117 people the same energy and a level of affection for each other, their work and our environment, that is stronger than before. And that is what fuels our company right now, making work more meaningful and bringing our company to the next level.”

Written by: Saskia Tjepkema. Article originally posted on April 26, 2012 on the 2012WAIC website.

Increasing the generative potential of AI: Ron Fry and Gervase Bushe

“AI has the potential to unleash transformational change.” Ron Fry and Gervase Bushe agree upon that. “It has been proven, in practice, but also by research. So the real challenge now is to figure out how to really make that potential come true.” In the second half of their keynote, they explore different things we can do as AI practitioners, to increase the impact of any AI intervention.

Powerful questions
It all begins with the questions. Gervase: “Which questions should we ask to elicit conversations that challenge the status quo? I found we need:

  • Surprising questions. Asking the same won’t help – even the most powerful question loses its effect after a while;
  • Questions that engage heart and spirit. Just the head is not enough;
  • Reframing and unsettling questions: the ones that help you rethink what you take for granted;
  • Questions that help build a relationship as you discuss them.

You don’t just ‘find’ questions that fit these criteria. You need to tweak and craft.”

Making good use of stories
Another element that is common to almost all AI interventions, is stories. Gervase has some good advice: “I more and more like to do ‘the storytelling-thing’ before the actual meeting. We can get more out of the stories, I find, if we let people share them before hand, write them up and then use the stories as a jumping off place for our inquiry into the generative topic.”

A way to make the most of ‘Discovery’ according to Gervase: “I begin by letting people read the stories in a small group, one at a time. And then brainstorm. What associations and thoughts are triggered?” He stresses that it’s not about analyzing them. It is really about using the stories as a spark for new ideas.  “And then the group just keeps on reading until the brainstorm fades out…. In my experience it leads to great results very quickly.”

Dreaming as a first step to action
Ron: “Dream is to me about creating a mindset of possibilites, about seeing bigger wholes. It works very well to use kinetic experiences. So as AI practitioners we always have people making something; creating stuff, using imagery and materials.”

He has some very clearcut advice on how to make the most of such activities. “Just fill the space with imagery. Do not try to order them, or focus on just one, or look for the common thread. Just leave the images as images. Let them be. People also don’t need to look at all of them – sometimes it is better only to share stuff in small groups. You do not need an overview. Our brains can’t even handle it.”

The real relevance of these dreams in the shapes of posters, drawings, collages or whatever is the fact that they are being made, Ron explains: “Materializing our imagery is an important step towards taking our intentions into action.”

Generative design: play and embrace your mistakes
That brings us to Design. In both speakers’ view, Dream and Design do not have clearcut borders. Ron: “Generative design is about making visible our highest hopes, dreams as a first signal of inention to act. The important part is that we not talk about actions, or make action plans, but rather build something, design it.” Even if it is a first prototype.

“Key to an impactful design phase is that people dare to engage. If all went well, you built some trust in the earlier stages. But it still requires a leap of faith. And then, that they engage in play, start trying, dabbling…” The remark inspires a tweet from @msplitt: ‘Maybe it’s the Daring-Phase and not the Destiny-Phase? #2012waic #Bushe’

Ron builds a case for embracing our mistakes.: “I know of a design company, where the first thing you see if you walk in their building, is their Wall of Mistakes. They are not afraid of it, they don’t hide them. They embrace them because they were small steps that lead towards the successes. Very significant. We have to find ways to let the mistakes also be here.”

Destiny: improvise! (not projectize)
A truly generative AI process leaves people knowing where they want to go, and energized to act. Gervase: “That is what generativity is about. That people start acting, don’t wait for permission, but take voluntary, visible action.”

“This is why getting the whole in the room is so important. If you have the whole in the room you don’t need any one to control actions afterwards. You don’t need to wait. You can make decisions on the spot. And start.”

The real danger here is to ‘projectize’ too quickly, Gervase warns. “If you really want people to do something you need to help them make the first step. Some voluntary, visible step of action. Pay attention – and when you see good stuff happening: fan the fire, find ways to amplify the efforts.”

To managers or leaders he likes to compares their role to that of a farmer: “The seeds have been planted. Now go see what happens. Give fertilizer to the stuff you like, pull out the weeds. Especially in hierarchic organisations people can find that very refreshing.”

It’s not just an idea. They are backed up by experience and research. “Our studies have shown that the improvisational approach leads to far greater success. Build it step by step, learn from what happens, include new insights and build sustainable action out of that.”

Enabling conditions for ongoing succes:
And that basically is the key for the next steps as well. The last question Ron addresses is how to foster ongoing success. Here’s some of their tips:

  • Get the key decision makers fully engaged in the inquiry. Get the ‘right people in the room’. Ron: “I always try to include more external voices than the client is comfortable with. Get the client, patient, end-user… in the room. That makes such a big difference.  Also: get the people who are financially responsible in the room…very important, easily overlooked.”
  • Strive for stakeholder alignment – not agreement. If you keep the conversation alive, you can work with the differences in opinion and needs.
  • Pay attention to how people who where there, invite new people. The circle expands constantly, how are new people included? Are they invited to share their stories and dreams, too?
  • Keep the narrative alive…. Create a ‘hub’ (like a website, newspaper, regular meetings) where new stories can be shared and learnings can be harvested. So that the ongoing improvisations are made visible.
  • Start followup meetings with stories and experiences – to avoid falling into ‘regular meeting mode’.

Generative keynote
Time was up. But the ideas are not! Ron and Gervase themselves stress that these are not the ‘definite’ answers, and invite everyone to keep exploring and experimenting: “how do we make AI as generatively as possible?”.

They get a long and enthusiastic applause from the audience. For the wise words and practical advice. The energy with which they presented their story. But I think mainly for this fundamental question, which puts into words where people in the room feel the focus of AI really lies. Beyond positivity.

Written By: Saskia Tjepkema. Article was orginially posted on the 2012WAIC website.

Values Talk Resonates. Creating new stories about our world begins with return to core values

Klaas van Egmond’s quick review of the past 2,000 years, the catastrophes we’ve brought on ourselves as humanity and what’s needed to avoid a final calamity ended with a standing ovation at the fifth annual World Appreciative Inquiry Conference Friday.

The Dutch professor’s central point? That it is at the centre of four ways of being, individualism and diversity, idealism and materialism, we will find the freedom we most desperately need.Klaas told the story of the knight Percival meeting the ailing fisher king and not asking a core question, so being thrown out into the darkness where he journeyed through various extremes of the above ways of being.

It was only when he could bridge these opposites that he could return the king and finally ask the critical question — What is it that bothers you? — that he could step in as new leader of the kingdom.

Conference co-organizer and participant Luc Verheijen reflects the passion the audience obviously felt about the place of core values in our world today as the starting point for generating the kind of society we want to live into.

Highlighting how we all seem guided by a common set of ways of being, Luc tells of talking to his children during the last Belgian elections about what they thought should be top of mind for the new ministers. Both responded in the same way, showing, says Luc, when you ask a child what matters, they think first of others and the environment.

Luc suggests this current gathering and Appreciative Inquiry (AI) in general are important for sparking the innovations and breakthroughs we need because AI connects people, first around strengths and aspirations, but also, deep beneath that, values. “When we succeed in creating a collective connection and awareness of what we all value the most, this will be the most generative and fertile soil for creating new stories about our world,” says Luc.

Written by: Michelle Strutzenberger, writer for Axiom News. Article originally published on the 2012WAIC website.

Leo Bormans on how to scale up positive change

Leo Bormans is a ‘man on a mission’. Full of humor and energy, he delivers a keynote on Saturday afternoon on how to put a megaphone on the positive message. How do we engage more and more people in generative conversations and change? How do we get the attention of politicians, business leaders, media… How do we get civilians involved?

Happier societies don’t just ‘happen’
Leo: “It is such an important issue. There is so much trouble and pain in the world, that we need to actively practice our optimism. To improve things. We are richer now than we ever were before, but we are not happier. So it doesn’t just happen by itself.’ He is dedicated to making a positive change, and to engage more and more people actively in creating happier societies and increase wellbeing. Because: “everyone can contribute.”

The paper wolf
Leo: ‘Engaging people in positive action doesn’t happen if you push them, or if you beg and plea… It requires a SWITCH. Make your message and your process Strong, Warm, Interactive, Transparent, Creative and use Hope and Humour…” Especially the latter is very important to him: “Media talk a lot about things that scare us. Feeding our fear. They are like a paper wolf, and we run like scared sheep. That really doesn’t help. We should also talk about what gives hope. And what makes us smile. And about what we CAN do. To breed our optimism.” Read Full Article>>

By: Saskia Tjepkema, posted on the 2012WAIC website on January 5, 2012

Frustration mounts for years. What could possibility-oriented dialogue offer?

More than 19 years since apartheid legislation was dismantled in South Africa, the dialogue in that country is one of increasing frustration, especially from the people who have given their lives for the democracy they now have.

Feelings are running high that a betrayal is happening, says resident Anastasia Bukashe.For herself and many others, there’s a recognition that it is time to honour and then build on this anger to create something new for the country.

At the core of this new conversation: South Africa’s identity in the larger context of the continent, which is a front and centre concern today, prompted by undercurrents in the country linked to the xenophobic attacks several years ago and increased refugee and immigrant populations.

While some are saying South Africa was supported by the continent during its own struggle, and that needs to be honoured now, others are angry about the opportunities “being stolen by these people coming in.”

“We need to have a different conversation about what it means to be in Africa, and what it means to be South African in Africa,” says Anastasia.

“What is the world calling for Africa to be, what are we calling for each other to be, and what are we witnessing in each other that makes that possible?”

Read Full Article>>

By: Michelle Strutzenberger, write for Axiom News

About generative power, listening and status (Improvisation and Appreciative Inquiry)

What a great place to be for an improviser, past week in Ghent, the 5th World Conference of Appreciative Inquiry. (Read everything about it on 2012waic). Especially as a practitioner of applied improvisation this conference was awesome for me.

As I wrote before (in Dutch, not translated yet), applied improvisation and appreciative inquiry go together in a very strong way. Participants of  the workshop on improvisation I presented, confirmed this strongly and brought in great ideas on what happens when people are improvising together. Of course teaching improvisation to all those extremely appreciative and inquiring people is like staying in a 5 star hotel.

So, attending the 2012WAIC  in general gave me great new insights and validation of the parallels. What I liked most, was the shift that’s going on in the Appreciative Inquiry Community from “Positivity” to “Generative Power”. As in improvisation, it is not about literally saying YES at everything or about characters that find everything ok. It’s about saying yes to the path that leads to creating a great story. Something negative, a problem, a conflict, shouting out NO,.. can all be very generative at some point. I think this shift to “Generative Power” might bring the big sceptics to take a closer look. I don’t see the point in calling Appreciative Inquiry “soft” (what oftens happens). Like playing improv, it is having the guts to go on adventure with others, and to embrace the unknown, to co-create a new reality. In real life: a better reality, which is so urgent, as felt by so many people nowadays.

Read Full Article>>

Posted on April, 5, 2012 by