We have more resources at our disposal than most of us recognize and acknowledge. It’s not just other people who can help us, it is also accomplishments, opportunities, assets, innovations, capabilities, traditions, habits, environments, and a myriad other things that make up what Appreciative Inquiry calls our positive core. Once that positive core is acknowledged, it blossoms into the fullness required by the increasingly complex and stressful challenges of contemporary life and work.
As I write this I am trekking around the South Island of New Zealand with my wife and college friends we’ve known for 30 years. The sites and scenes, including glaciers, whales, ragged coastlines, tree ferns, starry night skies of the southern hemisphere, rainbows, exotic birds, the world’s steepest street, and numerous places of historical significance, are creating memories and slideshows to last a lifetime. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about this experience, from time to time, in our weekly Provisions.
The rugged outdoor quality of our trek combined with the 18-hour time zone difference between New Zealand and the East Coast of the USA has made for some interesting technological challenges and timing issues in the distribution of Provisions and the conduct of our business. It’s no small feat to find an Internet hotspot at 10:00 PM on New Year’s Day in the middle of nowhere, 12,000 kilometers or 7,500 miles from home! The fact that we could do so speaks to what Thomas Friedman calls the “flat world” in which we live. People and technology the world over are becoming increasingly connected and connectable.
The poem titled “Change” that I sent out last week, Click, is a great segue to this week’s Provision in our ongoing series on Appreciative Inquiry (AI). I had written a first draft of that poem about a month ago, but I was not completely happy with the result. I recited the poem to our staff, at the end of one of our staff meetings, and it just didn’t feel right to me. Recitation is the best, and some might say the only, way to experience a poem. Poems are to be heard with the ears, not read with the eyes. Until a poem is spoken out loud, it lacks form, substance, meter, and pace.
And, at its first reading, “Change” left a lot to be desired. So it came with me to New Zealand for continued tweaking until it was due to go out on New Year’s Day. As I made the long journey, going from the cold of a short winter day to the warmth of a long summer day, I would make both mental and written notes to myself as to ways the poem could be improved. But as delivery day approached, it was still not up to snuff.
That’s when I remembered another principle of AI: to acknowledge every resource. Here I was wrestling all by myself with a poem while traveling around New Zealand, in close quarters, with five creative friends. That was not using every resource! So I sought their permission to turn the finished product into a group project. They agreed and we began talking about the nuances of meaning, trying on different words, getting silly about some illusion or reference, and generating ideas that I might never have come up with on my own. The end product, judging from the feedback, resonated positively with many people.
The poem would likely not have been as good without the input, feedback, counsel, and coaching of my friends. But I could easily have missed the opportunity, either by not wanting to impose upon them or by not wanting to share my creation. The more we try to do things on our own, the more we limit our options and outcomes.
This simple example applies in every arena of life and work. Those who think they know it all, can do it all, or who want to control it all will often fail to see the resources around them and, as a result, will often fail to generate the kind of energy, trust, innovation, and commitment that they need to successfully meet the challenges we all face.
In our last AI Provision before the holidays we spoke of this in terms of engaging every stakeholderClick. Too often, decision-makers become isolated from frontline people who have valuable experience, perspectives, and wisdom on how to change things for good. Ideally, no voice should be left out • whether we’re talking about a large multinational company or a small family unit • when it comes to discovering and designing strategies for doing things that work.
But stakeholders and friends are not the only resources we can draw upon when it comes to making changes. Although project managers may speak of resources in terms of personnel and headcount, Appreciative Inquiry looks at the big picture to identify the positive core of organizations and systems. Here is a representative list of resources, identified by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney, to be acknowledged and drawn upon by those interested in moving beyond continuous improvement to transformational innovation:
- Vital Traditions
- Strategic Opportunities
- Lived Values
- Product Strengths
- Positive Macrotrends
- Technical Assets
- Social Capital
- Breakthrough Innovations
- Collective Spirit
- Elevated Thoughts
- Embedded Knowledge
- Best Business Practices
- Financial Assets
- Positive Emotions
- Visions of Positive Futures
- Organization Wisdom
- Alliances and Partnerships
- Core Competencies
- Value Chain Strengths
- Visions of Possibility
- Strategic Advantages
- Leadership Capabilities
- Relational Resources
- Product Pipeline
- Customer Loyalty
What a difference it makes to investigate these things in the life of an organization or community instead of all the problems we face! Instead of the traditional “root cause analysis” of why problems occur, AI does a root cause analysis of why success occurs because doing so enhances collective wisdom, builds energy and resiliency to change, and extends the capacity to achieve extraordinary results. Once the positive core is seen in all its fullness, better strategies and solutions emerge.
In his book A Theory of Everything, Ken Wilber reminds us of all the places we can look for resources and strength. He works with a four-quadrant model created by two axes, one representing the individual / collective continuum and the other representing the interior / exterior:
- The interior-individual quadrant (I) is the subjective quadrant of intentions and feelings.
- The interior-collective quadrant (We) is the inter-subjective quadrant of beliefs and cultures.
- The exterior-individual quadrant (It) is the objective quadrant of behaviors and facts.
- The exterior-collective quadrant (Its) is the inter-objective quadrant of systems and society.
Wilber notes that every situation, every organization, and every operation involves all four quadrants. I, we, it, and its are universal dimensions of life. Appreciative Inquiry acknowledges this truth and suggests that we look in every quadrant in order to find the full range of resources available to us at any point in time.
Unfortunately, those resources remain hidden from view, even when we go looking for them, if people sense a lack of openness, receptivity, and respect. Had I never asked for help with the poem, I would have never received help. But had I asked for help and not responded with positive regard, I would not have received all the help my friends had to give. They would have shut down pretty quickly or would have offered only superficial engagement.
That’s not to say I had to accept or agree with all their suggestions. But I did need to appreciate and value their perspectives and contributions. In other words, I needed to make it both safe and fun for them to share their ideas and get involved. Once that foundation was laid, the floodgates opened and we went from tweaking the poem to making radical revisions. Entire stanzas were deleted and new images were added • one at the very last second before we sent the poem out. The end result was both mine and not mine at the very same time. Although I was the final arbiter and owner of the poem, the group dynamic was synergistic: it became greater than the sum of its parts.
Therein lies the magic of appreciatively acknowledging and engaging every resource. It not only discovers the positive core, it amplifies that core. The systematic process of inquiry into the things that work in each of Wilber’s quadrants, the identification of not only people who can do things but also all the other resources that make people great, is exactly what organizations, communities, and individuals need to meet the increasingly complex and stressful challenges of contemporary life.
No one can long afford to neglect the positive core. Here in New Zealand they have problems with a plant called gorse. Brought over from England as a hedge in the days before modern fencing, gorse now threatens New Zealand fields. A different environment has allowed the prickly plant to become a wildly growing and unsightly weed. Without tending, fields can be overrun and rendered useless.
So too when it comes to the positive core. Without tending, it can be pushed out and grown over by prickly weeds. It’s easy to complain about the things that don’t work and to take the attitude, “if I want the job done right, I better to do it myself.” But such attitudes and actions are like gorse when it comes to the positive core. They take over and destroy everything in their path. Unless they are nipped in the bud, they quickly come to rule the day.
Acknowledging every resource is one way to keep the complaints and martyrs at bay. By looking at accomplishments, opportunities, assets, innovations, capabilities, and all the things identified by Cooperrider and Whitney as making up the positive core of organizations, communities, and individuals, we enable that core to blossom into all it can possibly be. New Zealand is also famous for its beautiful gardens, which are in full bloom at this time of year. What a difference it makes when someone is tending the garden! There is no gorse here. There is only a splendid display of creation in all its glory.
That’s what happens when we appreciatively acknowledge every resource. The synergy optimizes the entire system as well as its individual components. By eliminating the noise and amplifying the sound of creative engagement, we can literally out do ourselves, not only meeting but rising above our potential.
Coaching Inquiries: How often do you find yourself complaining or controlling situations? What would it take for you to become more proactive and successful in tending the positive core? How could the voices of those you live and work with feel safe and welcome in your presence? What resources are you failing to acknowledge and tend?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
Your poem, “Change” Click, provoked for me the following reflections. Change brings possibility and change comes at every moment. Our life floats in a vast ocean of changes. So we swim in possibility. This does not make everything possible: change makes possible things that we could not see before, things that were hiding behind an unchanged world.
Thanks for your New Year’s poem. Beautifully said.
I love your new poem for the year! Thank you!!
Thank you for the very dynamic poem that assisted me with thinking and reflecting upon the new year.
Your new poem is wonderful and right on. Thanks and happy 2006 to you.
I liked the poem it was magnificent !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Beautiful poem! Thank you. And to you and yours a wondrous 2006 filled with love, peace, happiness, prosperity, and Spirit Blessings.
I loved your new poem! I have printed it off. It’s a keeper.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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