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) (http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/) which starts with David Cooperrider and others in the 1980’s at Case Western Reserve and Open Space (OS) (http://www.openspaceworld.org/) 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.
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.
“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
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