Submitted by Robyn Stratton-Berkessel for the Positive Living Newsletter (July 2016). Read the rest of the newsletter here.

Appreciative InquiryI’m honored and excited to be offering a workshop at the 9th Biennial International Meaning Conference in Toronto, Canada, July 28-31, 2016. The working title of my workshop is I Connect, Therefore I Am! Roll Over Descartes!

I’ve branded myself a “Positivity Strategist.” My offerings are in the area of human and organization development. For 30 years, I’ve worked in this capacity in Australia, Asia, and the USA. My second master’s degree was in Organizational Learning and Systems from Monash University in Melbourne Australia. There, I dived more deeply into systems thinking, chaos and complexity theory, systems dynamic modelling, and how it applies to human systems. It was transformative learning. It piggybacked nicely onto my established philosophy and practice of participatory leadership, planning and organizational design (Tavistock Institute and the work of Emery and Trist). In 2003, after moving to the US, I was blessed to discover yet another participatory, transformational change methodology, Appreciative Inquiry (AI). I completed my certification at Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western with David Cooperrider. I served my apprenticeship and am now honored to be an adjunct faculty member of the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College in Burlington VT teaching Advanced Applications in Appreciative Inquiry in the Graduate Certificate Program, Positive Organization Development.

How Has Appreciative Inquiry Informed Who I Am and What I Do?

Appreciative InquiryFinding Appreciative Inquiry, or Appreciative Inquiry finding me, was a gift. It has deepened, broadened, and enhanced my way of living and working. Here is a practical framework that looks at the world with a valuing lens. It addresses problems from the perspective of what’s working, instead of what’s broken, looking for what gives life to people and our organizations, not what depletes life. People and organizations are living systems not only amassed with problems waiting to be solved but also filled with unlimited capacity for human relatedness, innovation, creativity, and excellence waiting to be appreciated. Yet, Appreciative Inquiry is not only a practical framework, the theoretical underpinnings and the 9 guiding principles, once embodied become the transformational juice that sustains personal growth, appreciative leadership and all relational processes.

Appreciative Inquiry in Bite Size Pieces

We knew AI wasn’t only about large scale, organizational change summits. It was also about the day to day, person to person interactions – the conversations we have. After all that’s how the change starts even in those big summits. One-on-one discovery interviews, where you listen to one another’s stories and create meaning in relationship with each other – even with strangers.

The purpose of my work, the content I produce and the human experiences I design is to share tools that help us all live from a place of greater understanding: to be fully awake to the choices that will serve us whatever the situation. Some choices can set us off on an upward spiral, fueling us with greater energy, increasing our levels of satisfaction and joy, and enriching our experiences. Other choices can send us off on a downward spiral associated with energy loss, dissatisfaction, and feelings of life being sapped. If we can deliberately and consciously work toward increasing the upward spiral in our lives, then we are helping ourselves and others live with greater intentionality in finding what personally enriches us and creates meaning.

The form and process of Appreciative Inquiry with its underlying principles facilitates such upward movement. A sweet blend of affirmative questions and positive language, delivered and received with open, curious minds and supportive dispositions, helps us wake up, and open our eyes in appreciation of our gifts, our talents, and our aspirations. Most importantly, Appreciative Inquiry with its positive and strength-based focus is a heartfelt experience. The majority of leadership and change models emphasize the cognitive dimensions change and development. A cognitive shift is important, but a heartfelt shift is transformative. Our whole being is impacted when a shift is heartfelt.

One workshop can be transformative. One single positive experience, when we discover a latent talent or potential strength, or experience a gesture of caring can be transformative. In fact, the very first question asked, and the way it is asked, begins the change process. When we open ourselves to our best selves, envision possibilities, and get in touch with our strengths, a paradigmatic, seismic, quantum shift can happen in the blink of an eye. Just as in homeopathic remedies, one mini drop can transform the entire body, or in chaos theory, the beating of a butterfly’s wings over China can cause weather turbulence over New York a month later, the way a single question is framed can shift our very being. Very small changes in a system can alter its state forever.

The workshop I’ve designed for the INMP conference can provide such an opportunity. In these highly interconnected times, what new possibilities emerge from the perspective of “I connect, therefore I am?”

Contact Information
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel, Positivity Strategist
+1 732 939 8239