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Appreciative Space

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There are times when the possible opens in the human mind.

From the elevated view atop what has been accomplished in the past and what strengths we bring to the moment, we glimpse something not certain, but certainly possible, in our future.

Such moments, brief as a thought at times or as extended as a long and
deep conversation, move us forward.  At times, the movement is carried through time and space when an idea such as democracy, equality, or human rights becomes a possibility that we pass from generation to generation.

The move can be around an individual glimpsing a new possibility for his or her life, a community weaving a compelling vision for the future, a company finding a new strategy or product that will change an industry, a teacher helping a student find the space of possibility in life, a national leader speaking with passion and vision, scientific minds prompted by the insights of those before to venture a new theory, a group meeting in taverns and homes to structure a new framework for government, or a heart and mind opened to inspiration by a line of
poetry or notes of music beautifully arranged.

After almost 50 years of living and 20 of those years spent consulting
with organizations, I’m convinced that these moments of opening to the
possible are far, far too rare.  We spend much of life in a dull
plodding that leads to a feeling like what Thoreau termed, “quiet
desperation.”  We could do more with our existence and we could be
more, but we are so often carried on by the momentum of the norm,
marching down the main road of complacency and conformity with the blinders of our daily tasks, failing to glimpse the side trails of possibility.  In many cases, we create organizations that trap and trample the human spirit instead of exploring and inspiring the possible.  A friend recently told me that going to work felt like spending time “in a strange minimum security prison” and I know that he was speaking of bars around his spirit and not on the windows. 

This web space is dedicated to exploring how we can arrive at that place of
possibility, that Appreciative Space, where we discover, hold and then
cultivate what is possible as human beings.  This is dedicated to
finding ways to use the enormous potential of our big brains and
massive creativity and ingenuity to engage each other to discover and
create the possible. 

Appreciative Space can be seen as a process to use with groups, and I’ll
do my best to outline this process and its steps, but I want to be
clear that these processes are designed to lead to an opening in the
human mind and heart that is the real appreciative space, the fertile ground of human imagination ready for the seed of what we can be.

Many ideas inform this approach I call Appreciative Space with two concepts or approaches in the center:

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) which starts with David Cooperrider and
others in the 1980’s at Case Western Reserve.


Open Space (OS) which comes from the mind and work of Harrison Owen and
has evolved through the contributions of many others.

I started with this concept of Appreciative Space (AS) as a simple melding of two approaches using Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to start group efforts and ending with Open Space (OS).  That still roughly describes the way I work with groups.  But as I work, think, and write, and observe life, it becomes clearer to me that my style and my approach to working with groups was just one example of opening appreciative space.  When I pay attention, I find examples of appreciative space all around me.  My children’s best teachers have their own way of opening appreciative space, as do poets and architects, scientists, supervisors, and anyone who can take their own mind, and invite other minds, to be more expansive in considering

Appreciative space is an where we can bring our appreciative senses to life that allow us to see what is good, true, beautiful, strong, and possible and work to help these things grow, or appreciate, in value.

I want to be very clear that when I write of either AI or OS, or other approaches, I am not trying to be a spokesperson for these approaches.  I’ll be writing about how I use these approaches, how they have shaped my thinking, the insights both have given me, and how they inspire me to experiment and create.  I think AI and OS have both significantly altered my synapses and senses to the point where they are no longer processes to be followed but sources of inspiration that inform my thought and work. 

I hope this brief introduction has given you a sense of appreciative space and that you understand that opening appreciative space is something that happens as human minds connect, converse, collaborate, and communicate.  Never before have we had the great tool of the internet to help us cultivate appreciative space and I want to take full advantage of our wonderful technology as a way to invite others to join the appreciative space party.  Here are your options:

You can come to this space to read my latest ideas and postings.  Between coaching soccer, walking the dog, making some money as consultant, tending the garden, sorting through credit card offers and all the rest, I’ll post as often as possible. – join in, post and be a part of the wonderful free- roaming form of a blog.  Give examples of Appreciative Space, bring your insights about Appreciative Inquiry or Open Space, share news items, etc.  I’ll snare things at times from the blog to place on and will, of course, give you full credit.

Unlike the blog, we will be building a community definition of Appreciative Space at this wiki.  I’ve started the process and you are invited you to join in.

Come to an Appreciative Space gathering/training.  These events will be a combination of  doing real work on a topic and training participants how to use Appreciative Space processes.  Three are scheduled at this time:

September… focus on building a New United Way for impact

October…focus on building cooperation and collaboration in communities

November…focus on neighborhood health

December… focus on energy for future of our world

I hope you read this far and have a sense of excitement about Appreciative Space.  Believe me, I’m excited about the possibilities for this approach and for our potential as a species.  I believe we can keep cultivating perspectives and processes that can transform our future and at no time in our human history has such a transformation been so possible or so necessary.  Welcome.  Join in.  Have fun.  Let’s do good work together and create some appreciative space.

Related topics.

"I thought I was a positive thinker. Now, I have new ways to use an appreciative approach in all areas of my life and re-think some old habits. Great job, John! Excellent style, format, and overall experience."
- Lisa Hanger, Indiana Association of United Way, Vice President for Training

View More Testimonials

Related Topics

Appreciative Inquiry and Problem Solving


Partial Client List
American Electric Power
American Red Cross
Big Brothers Big Sisters
Ball State University
Boys and Girls Clubs
Brooks Construction
Cummins Engine
Eli Lilly and Company
General Motors
Habitat for Humanity
Hughes Electronics
Iron Out
Lincoln National Life
Louisville Gas & Electric
Old Kent Bank
Purdue University
Purdue Extension
Reynolds & Reynolds
Standard Telephone
Tri State University
United Way
Vera Bradley Designs
Zollner Pistons

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