Learn through storytelling

Storytelling exists since thousands of years. We feel inspired by, connect with others and learn through storytelling. Appreciative Inquiry uses the art of storytelling to leverage change where we want to see it.

On Leadership 3:19

A portrait of Joep C de Jong with a focus on Appreciative Leadership. About the essence of what it is he has learned to appreciate in his work and in his live.

The Soul of Jane Magruder 5:00

In this film Jane Magruder Watkins shares some of her thoughts on Appreciative Leadership, teaching what appreciative inquiry is really about. She shares her views as to what happened around leadership, teaching and appreciative inquiry.

Bernard Tollec 3:31

Bernard shares how he was introduced to Appreciative Inquiry and the impact it has made in his life.

Shifting wor(l)ds or poetic encounters

Akkie Okma

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) practitioners come together on a monthly basis for online learning sessions.  Recently, Yvonne and I hosted such a session on the topic Language. We don’t consider ourselves linguistic experts, although we do understand the importance of language: words that a speaker chooses to use, the tone and the pauses. They all impact us in the way we communicate. Words can create hope – like the famous words of Dr. Martin Luther King  “I have a dream” -, or, more recently, Angela Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das”.

Appreciative Inquiry is an approach for positive change in individuals, groups and organisations.  Language plays a crucial role in achieving that change. AI focuses on what works well. By asking questions about best practices, strengths, etc. and by telling stories we learn what gives energy and what could be there to generate new possibilities for the future.

Appreciative Inquiry is based on five principles: the constructionist, the poetic, the simultaneity, the anticipatory and the positive principle. In this blog I only want to highlight the poetic principle. This principle says that we can find whatever we want. For instance if there is a glass half full with water, we could say the glass is half full or it is half empty. Whatever we want. It is just like a poem, where we focus on we will find. By shifting words we can create different worlds.

While preparing our session Yvonne and I discovered the so-called untranslatable words: unique words that are being used in languages, such as: Joie de vivre -in French, Ubuntu – in Zulu and Xhola languages and Ikigai -in Japanese. They have developed in a language and adopted by other languages. The untranslatable words could be described in a few words, however it is almost impossible to find one equivalent word for it in any other language.

The meaning of Joie de vivre is to express a cheerful enjoyment of life. Ubuntu and Ikigai are more challenging words. Their meaning is not right away clear. Ubuntu originates from South African languages and means kindness arising from common humanity. The more famous expression is: I am because you are. Archbishop Desmund Tutu and Nelson Mandela often used the word in their speeches. Coaches of team sport use it to create a team spirit. The Japanese word Ikigai means the reason to get up in the morning. It originates from ancient Eastern philosophy. Ikigai has the potential to change your life and make you happier, because it challenges you to think about the reasons what motivates you to move on. Books on Ikigai are usually bestsellers.

Yvonne and I have the feeling that somehow the untranslatable words can give an extra dimension to AI. These words can bring new layers into the stories. Untranslatable words bring new light on different cultures and people, like the examples just given. The words were created in a specific place/country because there were unique circumstances (Ubuntu) or culture (Joie de vivre) and a need for a word to describe it.

We shared these reflections during our meeting and thereafter we were curious about the experiences of the participants. We formulated a question according to the principles of AI:

“Could you share with us the best language story that is out there?”

Each of us shared a unique story. It shows the broadness of the theme, as well as the universality of it. I have collected those stories and would like to share them with you. A few members came with stories related to untranslatable words. Tony came up with the untranslatable word “vasbyt” (persistently holding on). Cora mentioned the word “begeisterung”(accent, emphasis, alacrity, vivacity). In the past our network was often referred to as the Begeisterung Network. It was a way to capture the energy Appreciative Inquiry evokes.

Others told powerful stories. John shared his experiences as facilitator during the Balkan war. Yvonne came up with reflections on the sentence “Sous les pavés, la plage”. Gertraud shared two stories. One story is about her favourite teacher who taught non-native speakers like herself business English in an unforgettable way. Her second story tells of the power of asking AI questions. Vera presented a beautiful personal story on consciousness, gender roles and staying away from the guilt question. Joep elaborated on the many words the Dutch have related to water.

I hope you enjoy reading these stories and that they inspire you. For me they were eye-openers. I had a lot of fun working with Yvonne on the topics. I followed this up with conversations with my friends in Dhaka and got a deeper understanding of the culture and people of Bangladesh. Living in a country that went to war and fought for independence, because of their historical pride of Bangla, I couldn’t be in a better place to start this conversation.

Akkie Dhaka, Bangladesh

NB If you want to know more about AI and the principles I do recommend you watch Jackie Kelm’s introduction to Appreciative Inquiry.

Dr Tim Lomas created a database with the untranslatable words he has found. He has collected more than 1000 words, and the database is still growing.

Read more

Appreciative Inquiry changes lives and empowers community builders

People all react positively with positivity, openness and acceptance - With Lockdown causing much frustration, fear and distrust, a little positivity can go a loooong way!

And, so it is - that down south in South Africa, lives are changing as community change organizations, like Bitou Family Care, run by a wonderful German couple, Stephan and Elizabeth Wenz, found new avenues and dreams as they engaged with the AI process. The sharing of dreams, best practice and real life stories helps to grow people's perception of where to, how to and what's the next best - all from a position of gratitude, empowerment and caring.

There was much fun and sharing - not to forget the beautiful venue, T'Niqua Stable Inn, where we were treated as honoured guests by Benitta & Michiel Meyer.

Facilitated by Tony Clarke - Dynamicvision Teambuilding SA

Frankfurt 2019, European Appreciative Inquiry (EAI) Gathering

Gertraud Wegst and Reto Diezi

Sunny Nice in March 2019: Two inspired women, Vera Hofmann and Gertraud Wegst, just jumped out of a workshop with Joep C. de Jong and Miriam Subirana, held at the World Appreciative Inquiry Congress (WAIC 2019), with the ambitious idea to organise a European Meeting in Germany before the end of the year. In midday sunshine with a temperature certainly above 30°C, they brought a group of European participants together to organise next steps.

Not so sunny November 20/21, 2019 in the Oekohaus in Frankfurt: Having a tropical garden atmosphere in wintery Frankfurt with Appreciative Inquiry Practitioners from Egypt, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland meeting with the great people running the Stromspar-Check (SSC) project in Germany. This national project is supporting more than 370 thousand low income households in saving energy and thus household money.

What happened in the SSC workshop: We met the people of the Stromspar-Check project for the first time in person on midday November 20th and went through two phases of the Appreciative Inquiry process – Dreaming & Designing – in an afternoon, the whole process guided by a storybook of 27 pages. We worked with the two head coordinators of the project, Marlene Potthoff and Eva Marx, the 20 coordinators, our EAI-colleagues to support the process especially in working in group settings, and Gertraud Wegst and Reto Diezi as the facilitators of this AI process. And it turned out to be inspiring, intensive, energetic, showing the commitment of the coordinators from the two different organisations, Caritas Germany and eaD from all over Germany.

Preparation: As a basis for the meeting in Frankfurt, intensive work had been done with the preparation team (head coordinators of the SSC and 4 team members) and the whole group. Self-organized, the participants did appreciative pair interviews. In group calls we facilitated the harvesting of the qualities that make up this project.

The second day with Mille: As the coordinators of the SSC project went on with their team on their own the second day to complete the AI process, the European AI practitioners had the privilege to do a workshop with Mille Themsen Duvander. She presented the key points of her research on Organic Growth: ‘Balancing Lifegiving Learning Processes in the profession of Appreciative Inquiry Practitioners’, the title of her thesis. The event initiated and sponsored by Joep C de Jong was a full blown success with great insights, exciting exercises and an intimate sharing. Exciting also Claudia Gross’ view point exercise and enormously precious to listen to Joep, Cora and Yvonne, their experience and way of being.

What happened between Nice and Frankfurt: Inspiring conference calls with the European tribe, including Tony Clarke from South Africa, contacts to his German intern, Benni and to Hakan from AIESEC, a daylong meeting with the German team (Vera, Hilda, Reto, Gertraud, Marianne, Bernhard, Dorothee, and Hakan and Benni) in Frankfurt at Bernhard Muhler’s office, later the decision to organize a smaller meeting and the many consequent calls and actions till the event.

Our main takeaways: For us AI-practitioners it was most impressive to see the commitment of the 20 SSC project coordinators and their contribution to low income households and long term jobless people, to sense their energy and their readiness to take the hurdles: just great people, ready to contribute. To see our fellow AI-practitioners integrate themselves into the workshop, as if we had co-created it all together, was such a gift, pure support, pure love. Last but not least, we both feel that it was worth the many early morning hours, the hard prep work, the seeking of the right questions, the listening to the coordinators. And while having a solid knowledge of Appreciative Inquiry, still questioning ourselves over and over again, checking whether we are on the right track and have listened enough.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to the organisation of the event. We are looking forward to the next gathering.


PS: More to be read in the German testimonial (germ. Kundenstimmen) written by the SSC project leaders under Appreciative Inquiry Projekt mit dem Bundesprojekt Stromspar-Check and in AI practitioner, November 2020 issue, page 53. - Here the table of content: https://aipractitioner.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/aip-nov20-ampllifying-hope-introduction-1.pdf
Read more

In the afternoon of the first day, the European AI practitioners got involved.

On the wings of the inspiration from day 1 (Dream & Design phases), the SSC leaders facilitated day 2 (Destiny phase).

The European AI practitioners: left to right: Gertraud, Joep C. de Jong, Vera Hofmann, Hilda Lanas, Cora Reijerse, Mille Themsen Duvander, Marianne Rögner, Claudia Gross, Yvonne Bonner and Reto.

Views on leadership by the leaders of the future

Leadership 2039

Let's celebrate together!

Sketchnotes by Sabine Soeder

"Hello stranger!"

Akkie Okma

We don’t do it often, do we? Talking to a complete stranger. Actually it may be more fun than we might think. We all have these moments when we find ourselves perhaps in a waiting room or a bus with those unknown third parties. We quickly grab our mobile phone or a newspaper. In any case many of us look away and evade making direct contact.

Why is that so? Is it because we genuinely prefer being on our own in those moments or do we presume that the other doesn’t want contact and that we run the risk of being turned down?

This topic has been researched by the University of Chicago among commuters. One group was assigned to have a ten-minute conversation with someone they didn’t know during their commute. Another group was supposed to take their regular commute and not talk during their trip. When they were asked in advance of their expectations, none of the participants thought that this ‘small talk’ experiment would generate positive emotions. The results of this experiment proofed them wrong. Commuters in the first group experienced a far more enjoyable trip than those in the second group. More research on the effect of small talk has been done and it is pointing in the same direction: small talk makes you happier! In the core we are all relational beings. We thrive on making contact and we feel more fortunate when we build on lasting relationships. At the end of our lives, the most valuable thing in life is not the wealth we have achieved, but the richness and the significance of the relationships we have enjoyed. So why do we hesitate so often to speak with others? Perhaps, we may be wrong in predicting our own emotions.

At the upcoming meeting of the EU network of Appreciative Inquiry practitioners in Hasselt in May, the theme is ‘Crossing Borders’. A truly present-day topic in many ways. An eye-catching subject is migration. In Europe strangers are crossing borders by the thousands. Do we talk with them? Would ‘small talk’ with them improve matters? Would there not be a useful contribution that we as practitioners could make? AI practitioners have a wide range of instruments at their disposal. They are all directed to creating generative dialogues. Could we not add ‘small talk’ to our toolkit? It is too bold to say we can help changing our world if we all start talking to each other? What I believe is that generally people will feel happier if they talk more often to people they don’t know, especially to those who live close to them. It’s not difficult and it’s fun.
Read more