Changes cannot be sustained if the change process and the desired outcomes are not fun. Even the threat of death, both figurative and literal, is not enough for most people to take and to maintain the necessary actions. But the promise of life, experienced and foreshadowed in the present moment, brings a different energy altogether. When we start having fun, we become open to new possibilities. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before the changes we seek become reality.
Before we conclude our series on Appreciative Inquiry (AI), I want to be sure everyone recognizes one of the real virtues of this transformational change process: AI is fun. In last week’s ProvisionClick, I reported on how that worked in a Midwestern school district. Since that time, I have been using the generic AI interview protocol with a number of clients and classes. It has consistently been a delight.
The protocol itself is easy to remember and easy to follow. After identifying the desired behavioral outcome (e.g., collaborative partnerships, healthy eating, skilled leadership, or regular exercise), AI starts the discovery process with four basic questions:
- BEST EXPERIENCE. Tell me about the best times you have had with your desired outcome. Recall a time when you felt most alive, involved with, or excited by that outcome. What made it so exciting? Who was there? Describe the experience in detail.
- CORE VALUES. Tell me about the things you value most deeply. How do those things relate to your desired outcome? Without being modest, what do you value most about your life and work? Who are you, when you are at your best?
- CORE DYNAMICS. Tell me about the core, life-giving factors in your experience. When you are close to your desired outcome, what is going on? What are the key ingredients to the recipe, the critical variables, the core dynamics that assist you to be successful and fulfilled in relationship to your desired outcome?
- THREE WISHES. Tell me about your hopes and dreams for the future. If you found Aladdin’s lamp, and a genie were to grant you three wishes in relationship to your desired outcome, what would they be?
To get detailed answers to all four questions can take a goodly amount of time; in a pinch you can make do with just the first and last questions. But ideally, you would go through all four questions, in order, and listen actively for the answers. The process is not only transformational; it’s enjoyable. It’s fun to talk with people about their positive experiences, values, dynamics, and wishes. We don’t do this often enough!
Perhaps that’s why people are so afraid of and unsuccessful with change. We think of change as being driven and demanded by things that are not working. The old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” reflects this mentality. Unless something is wrong, we see no reason for change. And when something is wrong, we see no joy in the process of making things right. We rather anticipate an arduous process involving criticism and correction in order to deal with weaknesses and shortcomings.
Unfortunately, the best we can hope for with such an approach is to fix the problem. That is, after all, the focus. We have no pretensions of making quantum leaps forward at the speed of imagination. We just want to fix the problem. In most cases, this approach doesn’t even manage to do that. We get started on the correction, see a little progress, and then fall back into our old ways. Eventually, the problem resurfaces • sometimes with more energy and drama than before. Neither the process nor the outcome is any fun.
We see this all the time in weight loss and exercise. People decide to eat and exercise better, so they examine their current eating and exercise habits in order to find out what they are doing wrong. Perhaps they buy a book or join a program to show them the right way to eat and exercise. They resolve to make changes and it may work, especially in the first two weeks. But then reality sinks in and the new habits suffer. Eventually, most people go back to the way they were before, often ending up even heavier, more sedentary, and discouraged.
That’s because they never had fun with the process of eating and exercising well. They never got into it, as a self-renewing desire. They can never say what George Sheehan had to say about his sport of choice, running: “Running makes me a child, a child at play. That is the aim of life: to become an adult while remaining a child at heart. Play is the key. When we play, we do things because we want to, without thought of payment.”
“Play is something we would do for nothing, something that has meaning but no purpose. When I run, I feel that. For that hour a day, I am a child finally doing what I want to do and enjoying it. When I do, I realize that what happens to the body (in terms of health and fitness) is simply a bonus. I must first play an hour a day, then all other things will be added.”
That is the key to any eating and exercise program, or to any desired outcome for that matter: we have to make it fun. And for it to be fun, the program has to be tailor-made to the individual tastes and preferences, the unique body, mind, and spirit combination, that different people bring to the table. Sheehan continues, “Unless there is a good match between the person and the activity, it won’t take. Unless (it) satisfies the personality as a whole, sooner or later the individual will drop out.”
That’s what happens when we fail to connect our desired outcomes to our true identities, interests, aptitudes, and values. They end up being chores and burdens • things that must be done, rather than joys and pleasures • things we can’t live without. They end up reminding us of our shortcomings and failures rather than exhilarating us with our passions and possibilities. They connect with the negative and distasteful parts of our childhood rather than the positive and attractive parts. They fail to stir our hearts and minds with the energy of love.
Understanding this dynamic, AI begins every change process by searching for the life-giving forces in the lives of persons and the works of organizations. Until they find that energy, all change will be forced and ultimately unsustainable. Once they find that energy, all change will be natural and ultimately unstoppable. It will become what Sheehan calls a “self-renewing compulsion,” since people want to keep doing what they enjoy most.
The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke beautifully describes the difference between have-to change and want-to change in his poem, The Swan, translated into English by Robert Bly:
This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.
And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.
Have-to change “moves lumbering as if in ropes” and can hardly wait to come untied. It never lasts. Want-to change is a letting go of the tangled ropes, that we cling to every day, and a settling into the place that receives us gaily and that flows joyfully around us. Then, and only then, will we grow into the fullness of who we are and who we want to become. Then, and only then • when we make it fun, will we be carried like kings and queens to our destination of choice.
AI understands this so profoundly that it does not rely on conversation alone to discover, dream, and design our desired outcomes. AI summits usually include a resource area with such right-brain effects as crayons, glue, construction paper, glitter, pipe cleaners, clay, felt, fabric, markers, finger paint, and musical instruments. To creatively express our desired outcomes through art, music, dance, song, drawing, dramatization, sculpture and numerous other right-brain activities is a powerful way to get enjoyably engaged in the process of making dreams come true. It brings fun into the equation of transformational change.
At an AI event I recently attended, fun became the theme and trademark of one of the small groups. Their desired outcome was to have more fun in life and work, starting then and there. Just articulating the centrality of fun unleashed amazing creativity. They wrote a poem, a limerick, a jingle, and new words to an old song; they made costumes from the resource area, collected amusing story cards, and performed a skit that had everyone in stitches before we were through. As the event went on, this group served as the catalyst for fun whenever the work dragged on or the tone got too heavy. They would break into song or read one of their cards in order to call us back to the place of gaiety and joy.
In their book, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal acknowledge the wisdom of this approach. “Groups often focus single-mindedly on the task at hand, shunning anything not directly work-related. Seriousness replaces godliness as a cardinal virtue. Effective teams balance seriousness with play and humor. Surgical teams, cockpit crews, and many others groups have learned that joking and playful banter are an essential source of invention and team spirit.”
Successful organizations, like successful people, know how to make things fun. Whether by choice or by chance, they embody the following five guidelines for play in organizations:
- They treat goals as hypotheses.
- They treat intuition as real.
- They treat hypocrisy as transition.
- They treat memory as an enemy.
- They treat experience as a theory.
Those five guidelines, articulated before AI had become a formal discipline with its own body of knowledge, express much of what happens when transformational change takes place at the speed of imagination. Instead of bearing down to solve problems, AI and coaching both suggest that we look up to strengthen possibilities. Working with hypotheses, intuition, chaos, dreams, and experiments, people can learn how to make change fun. When that happens, new patterns become “self-renewing compulsions” or self-reinforcing habits that take no effort to maintain.
Coaching Inquiries: How could you approach your desired outcomes from a strength-based framework? How could you have more fun while working on them? What are the chore-points in your life? How could you turn those into fun-filled tipping points? Who could become partners with you in the quest for fun?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
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..
I enjoyed your last Wellness Pathway Click and comments concerning balance. I heed this at a point in my life when I am immersed in classes, counselor trainee clients and two part-time jobs. I know that this is where I am to be and that there are many affirming moments. Yet, as my schedule gets more demanding, my exercise has been limited and I find myself going from one project to the next.
I continue my brief yoga, meditation and prayer and deep breathing exercises • all mantras of you and past Provisions. I still try to begin my day with devotions, but that does not happen on days I start work at 6 AM. That has been an interesting employment experience. My exercise is complicated by a foot injury.
I sense my integrity is in balance. I have standards based in faith, responsibility as a first-born, and ideals. I have aspirations about doctorate work in counseling, but don’t know if I have the energy or direction. I think of producing a book about professional boundaries. It may be nice to get out in the world, use my skills, and make some money. I am blessed with a loving and supportive wife who helps me to achieve goals. I think it should be her turn to play.
I just read the comments in the Readers Forum and the request by the lady from Ghana. I felt that you may have brushed her off by your answer. Could one of your lady coaches work with them to give her some references that she could research and decide what would work in her country. I know that you and your company can’t take on every request, but Ghana is in great trouble and very poor. Any recommendation may give some hope to push on. (Ed. Note: Thanks for that reply. I will follow up with her personally.)
I want to be a member of LifeTrek. I want to know every thing about what you do and find out about any way I can be involved with this. Let me know! •
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
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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