At a conference attended by over 500 people from 42 nations, with 9 keynotes by names like David Cooperrider, Diane Whitney, Ken Gergen, Gervase Bushe and Ron Fry, and innumerable workshop sessions and poster presentations, my experience of the conference could only ever be partial. Here are some of the best bits for me.
Ken Gergen – Generativity
‘Its the micro-moments of practice within an organisation that give vitality to the organisation.’
He is saying it’s the little things that keep an organization alive, vital and generative rather than fossilized. I love this observation as it supports my increasing conviction that both flourishing and change in organisations is to do with patterns and shifts in the moment-by-moment interactions more than any grandstanding brouhaha of a big plan.
‘An interchange can be generative or degenerative’
Degenerative exchanges narrow down to the end of meaning – that is – communication ceases. Effectively, someone either refuses to speak anymore or they leave the room. Generative exchanges open up meaning and possibilities. Generative conversations need and create room for improvisation and for mistakes.
- In organizations generally we need to encourage more generative interactions. During change it is particularly important.
- The importance of generativity to organisational life was one of the key themes of the conference
Ron Fry – Business as Agents of World Benefit
This caught my eye, the idea that business can at the same time as being a blott on the landscape can be the saviour of humankind. Cooperrider and Fry’s neat trick was to focus their search for the good done by business on specific practices not specific organisations. Thus it is possible to say that Walmart, through the power of their supply chain, are revolutionising the production of cotton – shifting it from a product that is so toxic it burns children to one that is organic – while also acknowledging that some of its business practices are very sharp.
BAWB practices are those that help the markets align with the strength of universal values: business innovations that create mutual benefit. It is about practices not organisations.
Criteria for inclusion:
- Revolutionising the way the world eradicates poverty
- Restoring the biosphere
- Building stronger communities
- Shaping sustainable peace
The website where they are collecting and publishing the best of the stories is //worldinquiry.case.edu/
Diane Whitney – Appreciative Leadership
‘We manage complexity through organisational dexterity’ – Brilliantly put!
She also helpfully illuminated the relationship between some positive emotions and behaviour useful in change:
- Joy, through play, imagination and experimentation leads to Innovation
- Interest, through involvement, investigation, exploration leads to New Knowledge
- Optimism through opportunity-spotting, confidence and perseverance leads to Achievement
- Contentment through savouring, integration and complex ideas, leads to Deeper Insight
- Love through connection and relatedness leads to Cooperation
Steve Oynett – Difficult Fools
In this highly stimulating and fun workshop session, Steve mentioned the ‘children’s fire’. Apparently this is the Native American practice of having a fire lit in the middle of the circle of discussion to symbolise the lives of children for 7 generations. It serves to remind the discussants that the impact of any of their decisions must not harm the children for 7 generations. A metaphor for sustainability by any other name.
I am sure this metaphor has a use in organisational change.
‘The more of a good isn’t necessarily more good.’ - Planning and efficiency spring to mind!
Ron Fry and Gervase Bushe – Generativity
‘Few arrive wanting more work, few leave without having volunteered for cooperative action.’
This is their account of what happens at a generative event. I couldn’t agree more, and it confirms my conviction that the proof of the pudding (in terms of how successful your AI event has been) is in the volunteering element at the end e.g. the destiny phase.
From this, they talked about successful organisational transformation. Bushe’s research found two key things for successful transformational change
1) The ideas emerge from within the organisation
2) A new idea (at least to this group, this organisation) that is compelling.
While agreeing that the positivity created by appreciative inquiry is important, they argue that the heart of change lies with the generative activity of AI. In other words an event could be very positive but if not also generative would be less successful in achieving transforming change.
They added to our repertoire of appreciative questions the idea of the generative question, for instance:
‘Tell me about the most provocative experience you have had at the conference, when you felt more challenged (perhaps when your thinking was upended, your values were confronted, your emotions were provoked or your choices were questioned by you)?’
I found this a really useful extension of my understanding of AI.
Leo Bormans – Happiness
He talked, amongst other things, about green and red dots.
Red dots are the pessimists amongst us – focussed on themselves, the past and problems. They are driven by fear and are reluctant to do anything
Green dots are the optimists amongst us- focussed on ‘we’, the future, and solutions. They are driven by hope and so do things.
He suggested we need to connect the green dots so the red dots become irrelevant.
Again I can see this as an organisational exercise – not quite sure how – clearly there is a danger of upsetting the red dots!
These are only the highlights. The slides from all the sessions (all 72 of them) are on slideshare