Exploring with others through sincere and effective inquiry combined with deep listening for understanding are great tools to develop for working well with others. Often small or large groups of people are faced with working through what seem like insurmountable challenges.
How we ‘show up’ matters: It is worth considering that reframing the situation into many possibilities and opportunities rather than insurmountable challenges is a potentially more proactive platform to be working from.
I do believe that we are in charge of our own perspectives and that any group of people is in charge of their own perspectives. And that our perspectives influence how we navigate opportunity or, as some may see it – insurmountable challenges.
Further, I believe that the questions we ask can be powerful in setting a ‘frame’ for our thinking and actions. Great questions are valuable for the person who asks them – if that person is ready to listen deeply and consider what is shared. Great questions are valuable to those who take them seriously by pondering and responding to them.
Michael J. Marquardt puts it this way: “Great questions cause the questioner to become more aware of the need for change and to be more open and willing to change. The questions themselves may actually cause the leader to become a change catalyst. The leader who leads with questions will more likely champion new ideas heard and developed in the course of inquiry. New ideas and perspectives enable the leader to make strong arguments for advocating change.” Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, Revised and Updated, 2014, pages 42-43.
Marquardt also states that: “A questioning culture strengthens individual and organizational learning; it improves decision making, problem solving, and teamwork; promotes adaptability and acceptance of change; and helps empower people by strengthening self-awareness and self-confidence.” page 6
These are the kinds of questions that may have the power to help a leader or participant of a group to deepen and improve the culture and quality of thinking and work:
If you were to overhear an honest conversation about this intuitive 30 months from now – what would your highest hopes be for what you would hear? What do you believe you would actually hear, given the current trajectory of the project?
How would describe the way you want this project to turn out?
What resources might we tap into that we haven’t used before or not using currently?
What crucial or vital behaviors can we target that seem to provide the greatest leverage for dramatically advance our goal?
How can this team become more efficient and productive while also supporting its members in the pursuit?
What inspires us about this work?
What happens if . . .?
Have we ever thought of . . .? (This question and the two directly preceding it – may be good ones to go around the group and have everyone add in their ‘. . .’ and then go around again and possibly again to generate new and potentially provocative thinking)
For any of these or other such questions to have value a culture of open shared thinking must be supported and the questions must be asked with sincerity and listened to with a commitment to strive to understand and appreciate the perspective(s) being shared.
There is a big difference between the probe “What’s wrong?” and the probe “What works?”
Below you will find a graphic based on the thinking of a successful architect. Peter Saurcerman, an architect for 35 years in Northern California. He believes that groups thinking together in response to the “What works?” probe will be more effective than individuals thinking in response to the “What’s wrong” probe. As an architect, he sees great value in people thinking together when designing and bringing plans to life.
“What’s wrong?” thinking leads to certain questions – you see some of those in the graphic below in the column labeled Segregated Services Mentality. Whereas below under the heading Interdependent Services Mentality – the “What works?” column, you will find questions that reflect the direction of thinking launched from the initial stimulus of “What works?”.
Let’s think bigger than just the planning and building of a structure. Here are possible situations that might prompt someone, or a group of people, to begin to travel down a probing path that starts with either, “What’s wrong?” or What works?”:
A less than normal sales total for a business for July of 2013 compared to July of 2012, 2011 and 2010.
A school district of 1400 students experiences a loss of 100 students at the start of school in 2012 as compared to 2011, 2010 and 2009.
A state wants to dramatically increase the number of tourists that visited the state in the course of a year.
A school hot lunch program wants to increase the number of students that use their service.
In each situation a person or group of people could look for “what is wrong” and in doing so they might find a problem that they agree needs to be solved. They might find two of three problems to fix. The frame of looking for ‘what is wrong’ leads to people focusing in on problems. This focus can lead blame, control and changes that may or may not serve the common good. They may or may not fix the problem. And, a culture of “problem spotting” will be reinforced.
Conversely, a person or group of people can look at “what is” and ask themselves: “What is working currently?” and “What strengths can be built upon?” These probes can lead to big picture thinking and thinking about what the overarching goal is and what possibilities exist for reaching the goal. Obviously, a positive frame alone, without intentional action, will not lead to different outcomes. So, framing is a start that can lead to action in the direction of what is possible and desired. This focus can lead to a culture of sharing a big picture focus and an appreciation of actions that can move from the current situation to the preferred future.
The bottom line is: Where our thinking starts will effect where our thinking goes.
Katherine Boo in East Lansing August 2012
Winner, Katherine Boo, the first-time author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers has written a captivating book. It is a book about real people in the slums of Mumbai, India. It reads like a novel and it is reveals the life paths of many individuals in a setting unfamiliar to most of us.
I highly recommend the book!
I had the good fortune to visit India earlier in 2012. The complexity of the challenges of the country became clear to me from my visit. Then, coming back and reading this book amplifies my understanding of the complexity and humanity of the country.
Polymic reports, “Boo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter currently writing for the New Yorker, takes readers of The Beautiful Forevers inside a Mumbai slum for a story of a boy and the harsh and illuminating after effects of crime — or perceived crime. More broadly, it explores themes of inequality and the perseverance of families striving for something better. In her acceptance, Boo praised Shadid, who she described as also believing in the ideal that stories can be used to give voice to those without it.”
This website will take you to three NPR stories on Katherine Boo and the book Behind the Beautiful Forevers. http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/nprnews.php?id=Katherine%20Boo
The following four blog posts are ones I have posted related to India.
In our families, at work, in our communities, in the state and/or nation and globally there are issues. Will have enough food, water, energy, educational opportunities? Will our family, work place, and the people of our community, state, nation and world be able to be part of positive change? Can the future be an improvement on the past?
All of these questions and more can make it so we focus on the negative rather the possibilities of the future.
Often we worry about the things that might happen; we focus on problems, barriers (real and/or imagined) that we identify and we feel burdened by the perceived power of the status quo. Thus, we might find ourselves stagnant and unwilling to tackle moving toward a brighter future. Sometimes people might even doubt that things can get better.
The information indented and found below is from page 36 of Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Approach to Building Cooperative Capacity by Frank J. Barrett and Ronald E. Frye, 2005, Taos Institute Publication
It is fruitful to focus attention of the world we want rather than focusing on eliminating what we don’t want.
This requires us to ask questions that seek to locate what is preferred.
Appreciative inquiry involves, at its root, the art and practiced of crafting questions that support the system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heightened positive potential.
Appreciative inquiry is a quest to discover the positive core of the system – the past, present, and future capacities to cooperate for the common good.
The questions asked about human system will lay the groundwork for the direction of the system’s growth.
The pragmatic core of appreciative inquiry poses that it is the questions that count the most.
Appreciative Inquiry offers a method that seeks to cultivate innovation and change while becoming to unlock from conventional assumptions regarding diagnosis and problem solving.
Appreciative Inquiry selectively seeks to locate, highlight, and illuminate the life-giving properties of any given organization or human system.
These kinds of efforts to discover and theorize about the life-giving properties of organizations –what is happening when their operating at their best – is more likely than problem solving two lead to innovation and capacity building.
There is good reason or any of us who want to be part of a more positive future – to actually get involved in and participate in the co-creating of that future. And I do mean co-creating because it will take many minds and hearts and eyes to move forward. And as a grandfather of a six and four year old and another grand baby on the way, and it’s worth my effort to try to help make the world a better place for the current and future generations.
Images is from A Better World Is Possible – Proactivism
Appreciative Inquiry is a strength-based, capacity building approach to transforming human systems toward a shared image of their most positive potential by first discovering the very best and in their shared experience.
It’s not about implementing a change to get somewhere; it is about changing . . . convening, conversing, and relating with each of the other in order to tap into the natural capacity for cooperation and change that is in an every system.
At its core, Appreciative Inquiry is an invitation for members of the system to enhance the generative capacity of dialogue and to attend to the ways that our conversations, particularly our metaphors and stories, facilitate action that support the members’ highest values and potential.
An Appreciative Inquiry effort seeks to create metaphors, stories, and generative conversations that break the hammerlock of the status quo and open up new vistas that further activities in support of the highest human values and aspirations.
Appreciative Inquiry has distinctive characteristics that expand and strengthen the cooperative capacity of those engaged in this approach.
Appreciative Inquiry is strength based.
Appreciative Inquiry is an artful search.
Appreciative Inquiry is collaborative in every aspect.
Appreciative Inquiry is inclusive.
Appreciative Inquiry is generative.
Appreciative inquiry is explicit in its intent to search form a strengths-only perspective for latent, untapped capacity to pursue shared images of a preferred future.
The shared images of what is possible that night the desire to work together in new ways to co-create that future. In this way Appreciative Inquiry becomes generative; it discovers, builds, and expands capacity to cooperate over and over again.
Quotes from pages 25-27 of Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Approach to Building Cooperative Capacity by Frank J. Barrett and Ronald E. Frye, 2005,Taos Institute Publication
Dr. Gervase Bush and Dr. Ron Fry in their presentation at the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference in Belgium the last week in in April entitled Going Beyond Positivity give those of us learning about Appreciative Inquiry good food for thought.
Dr. Saskia Tjepkema works as a change and development consultant and coach in Europe She blogged about the presentation by Bush and Fry. She has a special interest in stories, Appreciative Inquiry and strengths based development. She lives in The Netherlands.
Part of her blog is quoted here:
“With visible pleasure, Gervase puts it out there, “I am not so convinced that positivity is necessary for generative thinking. What you do want, is to appreciate. There is always something to appreciate, because it energizes people somehow. But it doesn’t have to be positive.”
Which question do we ask
To put it to the test, Ron and Gervase ask the audience: “If you want to use AI to create a great conference: which question would you ask?
- Tell me about your most positive high point experience of the conference (when you felt happiest, proudest, alive….) OR
- Tell me about the most provocative experience you had at the conference – when you felt most challenged (perhaps your thinking was upended, your values were confronted, your ideas were challenged….).
It generates earnest responses from several people, who stand up and take the mic:
- “My idea of feeling alive is very much the B question…. That is not about surface positivy, it is about what is deep and connecting.”
- “The deepest of human experiences very often happen in the most painful situations. It is vital that we make use of them as well, explore them, not shy away from them“
- “To me it is and- and. I work with people who are very ill, sometimes in the final stages of their lives. The positive questions work very well there as well.””
Read more on Tjepkema’s blog to be further stimulated by this concept.
I see the real value of focusing on ‘appretiating’ what is rather than trying to say what is – “is positive’.