Provision #449: Inspired Action
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) does not seek to appreciate the best in life and work
as an academic exercise. It's not an end in itself. It's rather the foundation
for inspired action in the world. When people are discouraged and depressed,
their actions are small or nonexistent. When people are energized and hopeful,
their actions are large and courageous. If you are ready to stop going through
the motions of life, if you see the need for transformational change, then
perhaps AI is the tool you need to get things moving.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) may sound like rather sophisticated, stuffy, and heady
stuff. You may connect it, for example, with art appreciation which conjures up
images of looking at a work of art and forming opinions as to its relative
merits. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
One reason is that Appreciative Inquiry is not evaluative. It is not an attempt
to take stock of things, both positive and negative. AI is narrative. It is an
attempt to tell stories about our best experiences. For another reason, AI is
not about forming opinions. It is not an attempt to understand how one feels
about something. AI is about taking action. It is an attempt to create even
better experiences in the future.
The best way I know to describe what happens through an AI process is in terms
of inspiration. Telling and listening to stories about our best experiences
inspires us to take bold action for transformational change. It is a common,
human experience that has been developed into a formal process by AI
Who, for example, has not been inspired to take action by the exciting report of
a friend or family member? That is a nearly universal human experience. I can
remember a time in college, more than 30 years ago, when a friend came back to
campus after summer break telling stories about his great experiences with the
Appalachia Service Project. He could hardly contain his enthusiasm.
The houses that were repaired, the people whose lives were changed, the fun
everyone had working together. The mission was impossible • to address the
housing needs of an impoverished region of North America known as Central
Appalachia • but this fellow was on fire for the cause. He was pumped up and he
got the rest of us pumped up, such that several more people joined the effort in
subsequent summers. His stories led to our own stories with a project that
continues to this very day Click.
That was how the Appalachia Service Project or ASP came into being and worked.
Inspirational stories led to inspired action. The founder and first director of
the ASP, the Rev. Glenn "Tex" Evans, was a consummate story teller. From tall
tales to hardcore reality, Tex had more stories to tell than anyone I have ever
known. And he told every story with a glimmer in his eye and appreciation in his
voice. Consider, for example, Tex's keen eye for the life-lessons imbedded in
one simple act of kindness:
At the turn of the last century, Tex writes, "in a small Piute Indian village, a
baby boy was born. It was an isolated community where only a few Indian families
lived and no white people. The mother, for some reason known only to her, was
angry with the father of the child, and at the birth of the child rejected it.
No doctor was present, but a neighboring Indian woman came over and helped with
the delivery of the baby."
"Nearby, a kindhearted good man was anxious and kept watch over the event. He
had sensed the attitude of the mother-to-be and he would not go any place that
day because he wanted to be around just in case there was something he could do.
From his own front door he was watching the house while the baby was being
"When the baby had come, the midwife wrapped the boy in newspaper and walked out
into their back yard. There stood a small shed with a wall just a few inches
from a fence. She folded the paper and pressed the little package down between
that shed wall and the fence."
"The older Indian man, who had been anxiously and fearfully watching, came
hurrying across the short distance, entered the backyard, and reached in between
the wall and the fence and brought out the package. He unwrapped the package and
found the newly born little boy breathing and, seemingly, in good shape."
"He hurried with the baby to his house where his good wife bathed it. She then
found a way to feed the child and dressed him in suitable clothing. Then they
gave their attention to what was to become of this little boy."
"Later on, they got in contact with the mother who assured them that she did not
want the child and that they could have him. Nothing could have pleased the new
'parents' more than having the darling baby boy. They decided to name him Roger
"Roger grew as many strong little Indian boys grow. He was vivacious and full of
energy. At times he didn't like to work, but his father helped him to grow and
told him the legend associated with their tribe."
"Years later, I came to know the good man who had rescued the baby. The mother
had been dead for many years. I also came to know Roger Rock. The father has
long since gone to join the Other Land and now Roger Rock has joined them both
in the next world! But you know, Roger Rock became the father of eight or nine
children. And, now, no fewer than thirty grandchildren are still living."
"I marvel sometimes at how our whole existence rests on such narrow foundations.
Here is a whole family of strong people whose very existence hung by the
slenderest thread, like a silken spider web."
"What if the good man had not been concerned? What if he had been away at the
time of the birth? What if he had not lived there? It seems to be almost
unbelievable that the lives of so many people, so many splendid and strong
people, hung by the slenderest threads. I'm proud now to know many of Roger
Rock's grandchildren. I know his children! They're proud and strong and gifted,
and as I ponder the event which took place so many years ago, I'm glad that that
kindly man and woman saw the plight of the newborn baby and did precisely as
their noble hearts instructed them to do."
"Aren't you glad too?"
Someone else might have told that tale from a totally different perspective. It
could have been told with judgment and condemnation for the birth mother. It
could have been extrapolated into all manor of racial prejudice. But that was
not the way of a man who had learned "to accept people right where they are and
just the way they are." In every situation, Tex could find reason to look up and
give thanks for the life-giving and life-entertaining spirit of love.
"Aren't you glad too?" Doesn't that story, and doesn't that question, just make
you want to go out and do something good yourself? Doesn't it make you want to
be a better person? If so, then you are right now experiencing the power of
Appreciative Inquiry. As people share their "best-so" stories, which are stories
of how things are at their best, it generates an upward spiral of inspired
action encompassing both the storyteller and those who hear the story.
That partly explains why coaching works. If coaching is anything it is the
appreciative sharing of stories. Most of the time, the clients tell their
stories and the coaches listen. Some of the time, it goes the other way around.
Regardless of who is speaking and who is listening, however, the conversation
becomes most powerful when both the coach and client become inspired to take
Lance Secretan defines inspired action this way: It is the passionately held
Cause of one person which becomes the Cause of many. That's not because they are
good salespeople for the Cause. It's not because they are impatient, aggressive,
and competitive in pursuit of the Cause. It's because the Cause serves and
ennobles others. It connects us with the path from present reality to a richly
imagined future. It draws people, like a magnet, with a compelling vision of who
we are and who we can be at our very best.
The world's great leaders have all known the power of storytelling to craft and
communicate the Cause. "When the legends die," muses Tecumseh of the Shawnees,
"the dreams end; there is no more greatness."
Unfortunately, it's easy for that to happen. In the hustle and bustle of
everyday life and work, we forget all about the legends and think only about the
problems. But the energy for change does not come from the problems. It comes
from the legends. When Oprah asked Bono where his commitment and passion for
Africa comes from, he described his experience of going to Africa being
overwhelmed by the problems. So overwhelmed that he was, at first, unable to
But as he experienced the people of Ethiopia, even in the desperation of a
refugee camp, he connected with the royal part of their blood • a connection
going back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. "It was extraordinary," he
told Oprah, "this royal thing was all around. And when I came back, I realized
that what I saw in Ethiopia wasn't just about people falling on hard times. It
was a wider problem • political, not just social." So the royal legend inspires
political action and $40 billion worth of debt gets canceled to 18 African
Now that's inspired action, and that's the kind of action • bold, courageous,
fearless, transformative action • that Appreciative Inquiry seeks to muster in
organizations and people. By structuring a process for remembering and sharing
the legends of "best-so" stories, AI equips people with both the inspiration and
the activism to change the world. No matter how difficult or discouraging the
challenges, AI uses positive stories to change how we work together and what
It may not be as immense as saving Africa from debt and AIDS, it may be no more
than saving one small child or reengineering one vital process, but it will
matter just as much in the end. And doesn't that make you glad?
Coaching Inquiries: What are the most inspired actions you have ever taken? Who
have they touched and how have they changed the world? How could you become more
bold, courageous, and fearless? What is within your power to transform? What
inspired actions are you ready, willing, and able to take?
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LifeTrek Readers' Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
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May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International,
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation,
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching,
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time,
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