Reading Agreements Evidence Map

Jim Ritchie Dunham

What we want to see

Our daily experiences, outcomes, and the impact resilience of our efforts are deeply influenced by a set of deep, underlying agreements that we rarely see and usually accept unconsciously—a vast array of interwoven, socially embedded, economic, political, cultural and social assumptions.  If we want more engaging experiences, better outcomes, and more resilient impacts, we need to see these agreements, so that we can choose the ones we want.  These agreements are usually hard to see and unknot.  We have been developing the Agreements Evidence Map to help.

What the AEMap is

The Agreements Evidence Map (AEMap) provides four classic “lenses” on one experience—questions humanity has asked for many, many years—the economic, political, cultural, and social.  The AEMap focuses these four very different lenses on the same experience, highlighting very different aspects of that experience—how much is perceived to be available of what resources, who decides and enforces how those resources are allocated, what criteria are used to decide, and how everyone interacts.  The AEMap also distinguishes three “levels” of an experience: the possibility, development, and outcomes levels.  The AEMap process maps the “evidence” of the agreements in any given situation, as seen through these four lenses and these three levels.

What the AEMap shows us

When filled with the “evidence” of the agreements in any given situation, the AEMap gives one a deeper sense of what is possible in a specific set of agreements and what is still possible to gain from shifting the agreements.  Our research and practice over the past decade, applied in a dozen countries, coupled with survey results from 98 countries, shows that the agreements underlying groups that are disengaging versus engaging, attacking versus cooperative versus collaborative are completely different.

How to read the AEMap

In the AEMap we can also see, which agreements are well codified and in everyone’s awareness (colored green), which are frequently experienced often beacuse of specific people or processes (colored yellow), which are rare (colored red), and which ones have never been experienced (colored white).

By highlighting what agreements are evidenced in one’s experience, the agreements that would lead to a more engaging, more collaborative experience become obvious.  You can see many examples here.

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Changing on the Job Developing Leaders for a Complex World by Jennifer Garvey Berger

Book Review in the Harvard Educational Review

Developing professionals, especially leaders, who can understand and effectively navigate the complexities of twenty-first-century organizational life—a central aim of many adult educators, school administrators, professional coachevars, and organizational consultants—is a daunting and critical task. In her book Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World, Jennifer Garvey Berger explains how attending to one often-overlooked dimension of human diversity—what she calls form of mind—offers the potential to increase the impact, reach, and longevity of programs and practices aimed at promoting such development.

Drawing on her experience as a coach and consultant and on her knowledge of constructive developmental theory—a branch of human development theory holding that people actively construct meaning in ways that develop over time—Berger argues that real growth involves a “qualitative shift, not just in knowledge, but in perspective or way of thinking” (p. 17). Accordingly, she outlines four different forms of mind that adults can sequentially develop and that represent qualitative shifts in ways of thinking: self-sovereign, socialized, self-authored, and self-transforming. While the book opens with embodied descriptions of these four forms of mind, focusing on key differences along salient dimensions such as perspective taking, relationships to authority, and experiences of paradox, the bulk of the text is oriented toward improving practice: helping coaches and consultants design programs and processes that will effectively support the success and growth of all forms of mind.

Although it would be difficult to capture here the richness of Berger’s characterizations of the four forms of mind, the following example noting differences in perspective-taking abilities reveals an important segment of the larger picture and provides a foundation for subsequent illustrations. Specifically, Berger notes that an individual with a self-sovereign mind cannot see and take others’ perspectives. In contrast, someone with the more complex socialized mind can readily see and take the perspectives of other people, theories, organizations, and religions but becomes embedded within them, experiencing them as her own and feeling torn if they conflict. Meanwhile, a person with a self-authored mind can take others’ perspectives while distinguishing his own but uses others’ points of view to strengthen or solidify his own. Finally, an individual with a self-transforming mind sees and understands others’ perspectives and uses them to purposely transform her own understanding to become more expansive and integrated.

Illuminating how development professionals can apply this knowledge of forms of mind to better support growth of adults in professional settings, Berger advocates designing programs and practices that deliver on two objectives: (1) better reaching the uniqueness of individuals and (2) better accommodating the diversity of groups. With respect to the first goal, Berger recommends working at the growth edge, or providing each person with the types of support needed to both operate effectively with the current form of mind and, if necessary, develop the next, more complex form of mind. Expanding on this point, she explains how growth challenges look different for each form of mind. For example, the self-sovereign individual needs help seeing other people’s perspectives, while the socialized person needs help distinguishing her own voice from others’. The self-authored individual, however, needs reminders to question personal views and to see value in new, more incorporative possibilities.

Berger introduces techniques for identifying a person’s growth edge and demonstrates how working at this edge can promote alignment between development program goals and individual capabilities and priorities. For example, development practices designed to help individuals strengthen their independent judgment are well oriented to the growth edge of socialized individuals who struggle to develop their own points of view. Such programs are less effective at supporting growth of self-authored and self-transforming individuals, whose forms of mind already afford this capacity.

In terms of reaching the diversity of groups more thoughtfully, Berger suggests expanding developmental program design and teaching to make them more psychologically spacious, or more accommodating of the unique thinking processes and growth priorities of as many different forms of mind as possible. Her propositions include, for example: developing multiple entry points into new content, each oriented toward a different form of mind; helping groups relate to knowledge and truth in multiple ways that accommodate the authorizing tendencies of different forms of mind; and defining an array of success measures targeting different forms’ growth priorities.

Notably, Berger asserts that no form of mind is inherently superior, since each works best in different contexts. As such, she affirms that development of a more complex form of mind is not a universal goal. Yet she does point out that forms of mind represent different levels of complexity and integration of the thinking process. Each successive form offers greater versatility, affording the capacity to more fully understand environments spanning more degrees of complexity. As such, development of a more complex mind is indeed an imperative for those who lead, or seek to lead, twenty-first-century organizations.

Expounding this point, a chapter cowritten with colleague Keith Johnston delineates how individuals with each form of mind might be specifically challenged or equipped to meet the scope and scale of the demands associated with twenty-first-century leadership. These demands, they argue, include: crafting multiyear visions, managing conflicting needs of multiple stakeholders, and accounting for complex task interdependencies—all of which contribute to increasingly nonlinear relationships between the leader’s actions and organizational outcomes and increase the experience of ambiguity and paradox. Specifically, among many other examples, Berger and Johnson discuss how levels of perspective-taking ability can affect a leader’s capacity to effectively manage multiple stakeholders. For example, self-sovereign leaders, who have awareness of only their own points of view, are simply unable to hold and manage the perspectives of any stakeholders whose views differ from their own. On the opposite extreme, self-transforming leaders naturally take multiple, divergent perspectives and find larger, meaningful patterns among them. Using examples such as this, Berger and Johnson highlight the need to incorporate into our workplaces more practices, such as those outlined in this book, that recognize and develop more complex leaders.

On the whole, Changing on the Job provides a highly accessible introduction to the value, challenges, and strategies associated with taking a developmental approach to supporting adult growth. Although oriented toward the corporate sector, the book is relevant to multiple sectors, including education. It will serve as a useful resource for coaches, consultants, educators, and administrators responsible for helping adults grow in professional settings.
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Deep Collaboration Requires Three Kinds of Listening, Twice by Jim Ritchie-Dunham

Sometimes we find that no matter how hard we work at something, we are not capable of achieving our goals.  Our own experience and efforts are insufficient to the task.  We realize that we need others.  Other perspectives, other experiences, other energy to get it done.  In these circumstances, we find that we need to collaborate.  We need to bring our best, unique contributions together in a way that releases great synergies.

My colleagues and I have found in our field research in dozens of countries that this deep collaboration is best supported by three kinds of listening, each done twice in a continuous process, a process that we have come to call the O Process.  These three kinds are intentional listening, relational listening, and imaginal listening.  While there are many technical expressions of each of these forms of listening, here I will describe them briefly, what they do, and what they look like in practice.

Intentional listening.  Listening for intent, for the deeper shared purpose, for the motivating will force common to the group that brings everyone together to achieve one bigger goal that requires all of us to participate.  Here we listen for the “why” we are coming together.  It is most useful when made explicit, and when everyone gets clear on what it is and whether it is important to them.  When this deeper shared purpose is clarified, amongst all in the group, you have a very strong motivating force that also provides a container, a set of guidelines, for what is to be worked on as a group.  As the group moves into working together, they now have a clear standard to check whether the group’s exploration serves this purpose or serves another purpose.

Relational listening.  Listening for connection, for why each other individual in the group both (1) connects to the deeper shared purpose, and (2) what their unique contribution is to that purpose–why they care and why they are needed.  Since you already listened for the deeper shared purpose, you are now listening for why you want to be deeply curious about and interested in what this person has to contribute to your ability to achieve the deeper shared purpose, after all their perspective is critical, which is why they are part of the group.

Imaginal listening.  Listening for what possibilities the other people see from their unique perspectives.  Since their contribution is unique to the group, it is different from yours.  They are seeing something different, which begins to highlight different dimensions of the challenge the group is working on.  Through your listening, you can begin to see an image of what they are seeing, you can begin to imagine it.

As we come to the top of the O Process, we have used three different kinds of listening, with clarity now on why the group has come together, why each person is needed and what they contribute, and now what they see.  We can now begin to materialize–to tangibilize–what we see together.  We can now use the same three kinds of listening again, to now tangibilize, to make tangible, the possibilities we saw together.

Imaginal listening, part 2.  At one moment in the creative process of seeing possibilities together, we reach a point where we begin to see the same reality, and the possibilities converge into a probability.  At this moment, we bring our imaginal listening to seeing what each unique perspective sees of the emerging probability.  This emerging probability, which begins to feel real, has many different dimensions to it, which the different perspectives we have can help us see.  What image can you begin to perceive, as you build up the different dimensions each person sees?

Relational listening, part 2.  With a clearer image of what we are collectively looking at, from multiple perspectives, we can now begin to make this ours, to bring it into what we can each commit to.  Since what we are now imagining is in service of the deeper shared purpose we started with, which part of what we are seeing is mine to take up?  What part is yours to take up?  This is where we again use relational listening, to listen for how we each relate to the emerging image, each from our own unique contribution.

Intentional listening, part 2.  Now that we know how each of us is relating to what we saw together, we now move towards what we are going to each do, how we are going to each engage our own will, our own intentional force, to begin to do something to move this image into a reality.  Here we use the intentional listening to hear what each of us is going to do, the actions that we need to take up, aligned with our new commitment to our unique contribution to the image we are realizing.  What energy will I give to moving closer to the image we saw in service of the deeper shared purpose?  What will you give?

 In this process, we see why we are coming together to collaborate, what perspectives are needed, what they can see, what we can see together, what that begins to look like as we manifest it, what we can each commit to in realizing that image, and what we can each do.  A great step forward in collaboration, supported by three kinds of listening, each used twice.

February 7, 2017

Deep Collaboration Requires Three Kinds of Listening, Twice

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2 Reasons Why We Tend to Choose Separation and Outcomes Now, When We Prefer Uniting and Greater Overall Value

James Ritchie Dunham December 26, 2016

We tend to choose to be with people who think and look like us.  We also tend to choose outcomes that benefit us now.  These tendencies lead us to focus on activities that separate us and provide short-term outcomes.

When we reflect on what we really want, we say that we want healthy relationships, greater social harmony, learning and innovation, and greater overall wellbeing.  We know that these desires mean that we benefit from being with people who think and look different from us–they bring something to the game that we don’t.  We know that we also benefit from working on things together that provide the largest benefit to us over time.  A good education or a good highway take time to build and require many people.  We know this.  So why don’t we always do it?

Research on cognitive biases finds that people tend to think in ways that vary from what they rationally would do.  Social identity research shows that people tend towards groups where they identify as a member (the in-group, such as family and close friends) and not towards groups where they do not identify as a member (the out-group).  Hyperbolic discounting research shows that people tend to disproportionately prefer immediate rewards to future rewards.  These theories argue that, in human evolution, in-group and right-now preferences probably were very important when we were hunter gatherers.  As societies began to gather in large cities that are globally connected, dealing with large-scale, highly complex issues such as nuclear warfare, poverty, water, climate change, terrorism, and health, these previously healthy, innate preferences might be getting in the way of what people actually prefer.

Choosing the in-group and outcomes-now leads to separation, a form of human interaction that I suggest leads to lots of people working on what seem to be similar issues, on different elements in different places at different times.  While these separate actions might have some positive local impacts, they cannot achieve sustained, large-scale impact on complex, multi-dimensional issues that require a multi-pronged, same-place-and-time approach.  These more complex issues require identifying with people who are similar and different, each bringing their own unique contributions, and focusing on short and long-term outcomes, a uniting form of human interaction.

While our human cognitive biases tend to carry us toward separation, we prefer and need to be able to also unite, to collaborate on many of the more difficult challenges and opportunities facing us.  We can choose to interact in a more united way.  It is a choice, an agreement we can make, for ourselves, with each other, for our present and for our future, which is what we prefer.

2 Reasons Why We Tend to Choose Separation and Outcomes Now, When We Prefer Uniting and Greater Overall Value

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Susan Palmer Review: Healing the Heart of Democracy

Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit by Parker Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 2011)

What are the big take-aways?

In Healing the Heart of Democracy, educator and sociologist Parker Palmer (no relation) deeply investigates the powers of heartbreak and courage in American democracy, with a focus on the cultural systems and attitudes that can help us work through national crises.  Distinguishing between a heart that is able to break open rather than break apart, Palmer argues that it is broken-open hearts that most effectively serve democracy in periods of strife (pp. 60-61):

We are now at such a place in our nation: we must restore the wholeness of our civic community or watch democracy wither.  Hearts opened by the many sources of heartbreak in American life have the potential to heal our political process.  Such hearts are the source of what Lincoln called “our bonds of affection.” That sense of unity among strangers that allows us to do what democracy demands of its citizens: engage collectively and creatively with issues of great moment, even – and especially – in times of intense conflict.  If we cannot or will not open our hearts to each other, powers that diminish democracy will rush into the void created by the collapse of “We the People.”  But in the heart’s alchemy, that community can be restored.

Several months ago, I chose this book for the third and final reading in my three-month fall Leadership Book Group, which is exploring “The Leadership Skill of Raising Consciousness in Ourselves and Others: Moving Forward with Hope and Resilience.”  I could not have known then how tender, urgent and timely its call-to-action for unity and healing would be by the time November arrived.

Why do I like it?

I like Palmer’s humility and his profound belief that Americans need healthy, counter-balancing political philosophies in order to have a robust democracy.  I also like this book’s pragmatic strategies for exercising communities of dialogue that are already inherent and accessible in American culture (neighborhoods, classrooms, faith-based communities and other “congregations”) to strengthen our democracy’s heart muscles.  The techniques are simultaneously time-tested and refreshing.

I also like the practical ideas Palmer advances for embracing the “endless challenge” of transcending the private self to enter – again and again and again – into the difficulties of public life encountered by all citizens.  He’s a realist.  He understands that political circumstances can be sad and overwhelming, and that it can be tempting to withdraw entirely (in fact, Palmer himself has struggled with clinical depressions that have, at times, removed him from participation in public life).  His approach is highly developmental, spiritually-informed but never dogmatic, and emphasizes how critical it has become for Americans to give ourselves more practice with functioning creatively inside the paradoxes of our political system.  This means stretching our collective capacities for working productively within atmospheres of intense discomfort and disagreement, as well as stretching our individual abilities to listen carefully to our inner voices of wisdom.  The book underscores how these tasks can be both aided and hindered by the dynamics of modern communication, such as social media and the 24/7 barrage of news and “infotainment.”

In what situations would this  be useful?

The situation we are in right now as a country makes this book useful to all U.S. residents – of all party affiliations – who could use a blueprint for activating their courage to help heal our political process after such a destructive and heart-rending election cycle.  This book will be useful to you if you are seeking pathways forward beyond the despair you may feel at this national moment, and are willing to consider doing what it takes to let your heart break open rather than apart.

As Parker Palmer writes (p. 193),

Full engagement in the movement called democracy requires no less of us than full engagement in the living of our own lives.  We carry the past with us, so we must understand its legacy of deep darkness as well as strong light.  We can see the future only in imagination, so we must continue to dream of freedom, peace, and justice for everyone.  Meanwhile, we live in the present moment, with its tedium and terror, its fears and hopes, its incomprehensible losses and its transcendent joys.  It is a moment in which it often feels as if nothing we do will make a difference, and yet so much depends on us.

That is leadership, in a nutshell.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

I enjoy Parker Palmer’s regular contributions as an “On Being” columnist, and if you’re intrigued by his words above you might want to browse his articles here.  Other interesting pairings could be the political spectrum-spanning “Reading Guide for Those in Despair about American Politics” from The Atlantic, here and “10 Learnings from 10 Years of Brain Pickings: Fluid Reflections on Keeping a Solid Center” by Maria Popova, found here.

Another suggestion, from my own playbook, is to immerse yourself in poetry or other works of art that you find both poignant and transporting.  As the 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi observed, “The wound is where the light enters you.”

 Susan Palmer is a consultant and coach.  She writes,  The Leadership Library blog,  a monthly review of books and other resources, highlighting key take-aways and best applications for leaders. Leadership Library Blog

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Tragic, Sudden Passing of GoodWorks’ Samuel Cornthwaite Sends Shockwaves Through Beijing’s Expat Community

One of Beijing’s most beloved goodwill workers – Sam Cornthwaite, co-founder of the non-profit corporation GoodWorks Coffee & Tea – died suddenly last night (Sep 6) after a short illness, sending shockwaves through the city’s expat community.

Yesterday, reports began circulating that the 26-year-old had fallen seriously ill with complications from acute pancreatitis over the weekend.

Almost immediately a group of friends and business associates from Beijing’s food and beverage community formed a WeChat group to help raise funds for his expensive medical care, which had exceeded RMB 100,000 in the short few days he had been in intensive care.

A similar fundraising page to help fly his parents to Beijing was set up by a relative on GoFundMe that had raised close to USD 11,000 (RMB 73,400) as of late Tuesday evening.

Tragically, Cornthwaite’s health took a turn for the worse and he passed away early Tuesday evening.

Hailing from Bozeman, a small town in Montana, Cornthwaite first visited China in 2009 in his role as treasurer of a Montana state youth organization and relocated here full time in 2015 to expand GoodWorks with co-founder Richard Elmore.

The innovative non-profit’s mission is to offer professional training and jobs in the coffee and tea business to aged-out orphans, at-risk teens, youth with disabilities and other marginalized people. GoodWorks’ products supply a wide range of prominent international restaurants in the city, including Slow Boat, Great Leap, Ahava Bistro, Palms L.A. Kitchen, and Napa Artisan Cooking.

Cornthwaite was deeply passionate about Beijing’s F&B scene, enthusiastically posting about it – and singing its praises – on WeChat. On weekends he could frequently be found selling bags of his GoodWorks coffee at the Farm to Neighbors market.

But it was his social consciousness and mission in life that truly impressed the people whose lives he touched.

By October he planned to open a vocational training lab called Makers Workshop in Shunyi, which he envisioned housing GoodWorks coffee and tea roasting along with tea blending and espresso training programs for marginalized people.

“Sam’s commitment to his farmers, his clients and most of all his orphans really made us want to work with him,” said Slow Boat founder Chandler Jurinka. “We were genuinely impressed with his selflessness and drive to help others.”

Matt Wong, owner of Two Guys and a Pie, said he was impressed by both Cornthwaite’s business acumen as well as his activist spirit. “He not only knew his coffee, but he was also extremely passionate about helping out local communities,” Wong said. “His vision to connect local coffee growers with local businesses, and provide training and opportunities to orphans and disadvantaged people was a credit to his character.”

Before making his mark in Beijing, Cornthwaite also lived a vibrant life back in the US, showing an entrepreneurial streak at an early age. By 17 he had built his own business selling custom-made fly fishing rods.

He studied at Montana State University in Bozeman and at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana. Marianne Cherie, one of his classmates at Rocky Mountain, told the Beijinger via a Facebook message that: “What I admired most about Sam was his complete dedication and perseverance. Lots of people are passionate about their cause, but few are willing to dedicate their life to it – especially when that comes with a great amount of uncertainty and uprooting. I also admired Sam’s diplomacy and his aptitude for engaging in conversations with folks from all backgrounds and walks of life.”

Sam enjoying two of his passions: coffee and the great outdoors

In a recent interview with the Beijinger, Cornthwaite described why he found activist work fulfilling. “I think my call to invest in the orphans comes from my greater need for purpose. Inside we’re all called to something, and for me investing in the lives of orphans, the marginalized just seemed like what I was called to do.”

Despite his short time in Beijing, Cornthwaite made an outsized impact with his work and relationship building skills. He was universally praised by those he dealt with as a spiritual, selfless and driven individual.

“He always made you feel special,” said Mary Kate Brown, who worked with him on the project in Shunyi. “He was one of life’s good guys.”

Andrew Horowitz of Andy’s Craft Sausages called Cornthwaite “one of the few among us whose mission was to heal the world.”

“We … need people like that around us while we try to ‘get the job done’ to remind us that there is much more to it,” Horowitz said.

Cornthwaite was a regular member of the Congregation of the Good Shepherd, where his sister Hannah is pastor.

Hannah announced her sibling’s passing at midnight in the WeChat group dedicated to raising funds to cover his medical bills and funeral costs.

“Sam fought really hard and I held his hand the whole way,” she posted. “It’s the worst day, but I’m so grateful for the family we both have here that has helped us and will continue helping me and my family into this transition.

“I love each of you, though many of you I only know because of the impact Sam has had in this place, and please know I have felt your love through this all and share all your messages and love with Sam today,” she stated.

The fundraising campaign now aims to assist his family with his repatriation and other related expenses. Those wishing to donate can do so here (if it is slow to load, try using your VPN).

“We are still in need of covering a great deal of costs, if you’ve given or give it will go to helping my family bring Sam home to the mountains and rivers he so loved,” Hannah posted.

“Surely if there’s a heaven, Sam is there now,” added Dan Christensen from Penny’s Food Studio. “May he rest in peace.”

More stories by this author here.
Twitter: @MulKyle
WeChat: 13263495040

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An Inside Story for Building a Future Where All Can Thrive

Cecile G. Betit

Independent researcher, USA

This short essay suggests the importance of reflective/contemplative practices (discourse,

journaling, meditation, mindfulness, inquiry, walking, etc.) for developing the

inner life with its capacities for knowing, values, compass, multiple intelligences,

consciousness, wisdom and imagination. These are seen as essential building blocks

for shifts in consciousness toward compassion, empathy, unity and aware concern

for larger social realities as well as a complement for the more familiar areas of human

competence needed for large-scale, whole system initiatives. Deliberate encouragement

for development with implementation of reflective/contemplative practices and

the interior life from early childhood to death may offer an essential component for

building a future where all can thrive.

See full article in the The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 62 June 2016


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MITx u.lab: Education As Activating Social Fields

Being a part of this Mitx U.Lab experience opened fields of possibilities for me. Thank you Otto Scharmer et al.


Senior Lecturer, MIT; Co-founder, Presencing Institute

 Until last year, the number of students in my classes at MIT numbered 50 or so. Less than twelve months later, I have just completed my first class with 50,000 registered participants. They came from 185 countries, and together they co-generated:
• >400 prototype (action learning) initiatives
• >560 self-organized hubs in a vibrant global eco-system
• >1,000 self-organized coaching circles.

What explains the growth in group size from 50 to 50,000? It’s moving my class at MIT Sloan to the edX platform, making it a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).

Designed to blend open access with deep learning, the u.lab was first launched in early 2015 with 26,000 registered participants. When we offered it for a second time, in September, we had 50,000 registered participants. According to the exit survey, 93% found their experience “inspiring” (60%) or “life changing” (33%); and 62% of those who came into the u.lab without any contemplative practice have one now.

Inverting the 21st-Century University

One-third of the participants had “life changing” experiences? How is that possible in a mere seven-week online course? The answer is: it’s not. The u.lab isn’t just an online course. It’s an o2o (online-to-offline) blended learning environment that provides participants with quality spaces for reflection, dialogue, and collaborative action.

From the perspective of the course co-facilitation team, the whole u.lab experience felt like a journey of profound personal, relational, and institutional inversion. To invert something means to turn it inside-out or outside-in. In the case of the u.lab, not only was the classroom experience inverted, but so was the conversation among learners and the learners’ cognitive experience. Unlike traditional classrooms, the u.lab is characterized by:

distributed organizing: opening up the classroom to many self-organized hubs around the world;
generative dialogue: opening up the conversation from teacher-centric downloading to student-centric generative dialogue;
collective governance: opening up the institution to a global innovation context while cultivating spaces that help the system sense and see itself;
prototyping practices: opening up the learning modes through hands-on action learning methodologies;
self-transformation: opening up the deeper sources of human intelligence by activating the open mind, open heart, and open will.

Figure 1: Inverting the 21st-Century University: 5 Core Dimensions

A Revolution in Learning and Leadership

Figure 1 traces the current revolution in learning and leadership along five core dimensions. Essentially, that revolution is about two types of shifts. The first shift moves the outer place of learning from the classroom to the real world. The second shift moves the inner place of learning from the head to the heart, and from the heart to the hand.

One of the most interesting insights from our u.lab experience is that you can operate transformative learning environments at marginal cost of close to zero (MOOCs tend to have marginal costs of zero), which makes their potential future impact and scale almost unlimited. The key to making it work requires, however, a complete inversion of the enabling learning infrastructure, as outlined in more detail below.

Distributed Organizing: From “one-to-many” to “many-to-one”

MOOCs have evolved over the past few years. This is one way to describe that evolution:
MOOC 1.0 – One-to-Many: Professor lecturing to a global audience
MOOC 2.0 – One-to-One: Lecture plus individual or small-group exercises
MOOC 3.0 – Many-to-Many: Massive decentralized peer-to-peer learning.
MOOC 4.0 – Many-to-One: Seeing your future potential through the eyes of others–and seeing your self in the mirror of the whole.

The journey from MOOC 1.0 to 4.0 is a journey of radical decentralization (moving the classroom into the real-world context of learners) as well as a journey of deepening the learning cycle (head-heart-hand). The following observations from some of the participants highlight both of these aspects. The first quote concerns the role of hubs. Hubs are self-organized places where lab participants gather to jointly engage with the weekly practices of the course.

One participant, in Xi’an, China, recounted:

Our u.lab 2.0 hub was actually an idea [developed in] one of the coaching circle exercises from u.lab 1.0. We had eight people then in Xi’an in January and February. Then a couple of us got together and started a book club, reading several key books. It started to grow, and by u.lab 2.0, more people joined us for the offline exercises and connection. We grew to 300+. I saw myself in the whole process–my emotional ups and downs dealing with uncertainties; my fear of making decisions and courage to break through. It’s been a great experience of self-transformation.


In other places, like Scotland, we had 80 local hubs that kept connected via various national gatherings, with the Deputy First Minister of Scotland attending the final session.

Generative Dialogue: From teacher-centric to learner-centric conversation

The second aspect of inversion concerns the opening of conversations from teacher centric downloading to learner centric dialogue. Case clinic circles are a wonderful tool for that. Using a structured seven-step, 70-minute process, case clinics result almost always in a profound shift of conversation and awareness.

We were a very diverse group (age, race, ethnicity, interests, economics, professions), and yet none of that entered into the equation, or got in the way, of practicing the actual clinic. It was amazing how quickly, within a minute, each participant was able to delve into their respective case-giver role without hesitation, fear, holding back. People were very honest, very early on, and the “holding space” created was both sacred and palpable.

 Collective Governance: Making the system sense and see itself

The third aspect concerns collective governance. One of the “magical” aspects of u.lab happens in live sessions. Usually MOOCs are not synchronized. Anyone can access the content at any time. While we also found that useful, we nevertheless learned that if you want a global community to inspire itself, you’ve got to create a vehicle that allows the global system to sense and see itself.

Four times we bring the entire global community together for a 75-minute live session: during the kick-off, in the middle, at the end of the seven-week MOOC, and then again seven weeks after the MOOC ended, in order to share what resulted from the prototype work.

One participant reflected:

Most meaningful for me has been the contact with people who care about the planet and want to collectively work towards positive change. Since I am an international global citizen living in a remote area, the MOOC offered me the possibility to overcome distances and connect nonetheless on a deeper, more personal level with like-minded people. It is really wonderful to feel being part of a global movement. Very meaningful! Furthermore, I learned a lot about myself and my higher intention. This helps me to take some important decisions in my life.


 Prototyping Practices: Rapid-cycle action learning

The fourth aspect concerns the opening of learning modalities to action learning. We invited a group of 60 participants who each submitted promising prototyping ideas to join us on MIT campus for a four day Prototype Camp so that they could learn from each other and advance their initiatives. As one participant recounted:

The prototyping activities were powerful. As people became less attached to their ideas and had to create something quickly, they found themselves rapidly moving forward. Some even said that they had achieved more in 10 minutes than they had through the last couple of months of working on the idea. They immediately put their ideas out to be tested and within another couple of minutes they had already improved the idea.

Opening the Deeper Sources of Human Intelligence: From the head to the heart, and from the heart to the hand

The fifth aspect concerns the opening of the deeper sources of human intelligence. At the beginning of the u.lab journey we asked the participants to assess their current ways of operating: as individuals (levels of listening), as a team (levels of conversing), as an organization (types of organizing), and as a system (types of coordination mechanisms). See Table 1.

Table 1: The Matrix of Social Evolution: Four System Levels, Four Levels of Consciousness

The answers from the global u.lab community were unequivocal: current reality is distributed among the first three levels (highlighted in blue). And when asked what level they required to operate given the challenges they face today as individuals, teams, organizations, and communities, more than 90% gave the same response: level 4–that means by activating a generative social field (highlighted in yellow).

The following week we asked the u.lab community what was holding them back: What is preventing you from operating at level 4? Give us your response in just two words. Figure 2 shows their responses:

Figure 2: What is holding you back?

Habit, ego, and fear. At the end of the course we asked them what it would take to bring the vision and intention that they clarified and prototyped during the lab into reality more fully. Figure 3 shows what they said.

Figure 3: What would it take to realize my vision and intention?

Courage. Then we asked them what help they would need to really make it happen. Their most common response? Listening, love, and trust.

Combining these responses, Figure 4 summarizes the inner landscape of leading transformation and change:

Figure 4: The Inner Landscape of Leading Innovation and Change

The main conditions for transforming fear, ego, and habit into courage, compassion, and curiosity are a safe holding space and reflective practices that help participants to see themselves more clearly.

Overall, the most meaningful thing for me is the insight I got when I turned the camera around and noticed myself from my most vulnerable direction. This insight helped me create my prototype for an issue that I had been working on for five years without any luck. But this insight helped me notice the crack where the future is emerging, and it helped me see my place in this emergence.

Education As Activating Generative Social Fields

Institutional inversion is reshaping institutions across all societal sectors and systems–not just institutions of education. You want to transform health? Don’t just look at hospitals–look to communities, the real sources of health and wellbeing. You want to transform government? Don’t just look at government bureaucracies–look to new forms of direct, distributed, democratic engagement. You want to transform business? Don’t just look at companies–look to the co-creative power of distributed communities of creation. You want to transform higher education? Don’t just look at what is going on inside the campus boundaries–pay attention to what is happening on the periphery, through the engagement of new global communities of learning.

Institutional inversion is, in the language of Table 1, an opening process that follows a path from organizing around hierarchy and competition (logic levels 1.0 and 2.0) to organizing around co-creation and generative social fields (logic 4.0). That activation of a deeper social field of collective creativity has always been at the core of great education and innovation ecologies. The role of Stanford University in Silicon Valley, and of MIT inside the Route 128 corridor is precisely to provide the deeper soil conditions for such types of creative social field that keep reshaping our societies worldwide.

Figure 5: Cultivating the Soil of the Social Field (by Kelvy Bird)

Figure 5, drawn by my colleague Kelvy Bird, puts all of this into the context of our final u.lab live session of December 17. It captures the essence of the u.lab as cultivating the soil of the social field.

Having grown up on a biodynamic farm in Germany, I still remember what it feels like in the spring. One day you look at a field and see nothing, and the next day suddenly the same field is covered with sprouts that are just piercing the surface. THAT is what 2015 felt like to me. Before 2015 I was teaching small classes at MIT and doing individual projects in many other places (China, Indonesia, Brazil, Africa…). Were they connected? No. But in 2015 something shifted. Somehow the field of individual initiatives got inverted, and now everyone can see the eco-system of connectedness that links all these projects, people, and movements.

The two final pictures below sum up the concept of the u.lab–cross-sector, cross-intelligence, cross-discipline–and the enabling conditions that allow the u.lab to serve the eco-system and to catalyze its highest potential: a global movement for shifting ego-system awareness to eco-system awareness across all societal systems.

Figure 6: u.lab: cross-sector, cross-intelligence, cross-discipline

Figure 7: Six Enabling Conditions

The future of education has often been discussed by referencing the useful yet narrow concept of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Adding Arts to the picture changes the concept to the more comprehensive STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math).

But what’s still missing is a transformation literacy that cultivates the deeper soil of the social field. For that we need a second version of STEAM that complements the first one: Social Technologies, Entrepreneurship, Aesthetics, and Mindfulness. That second type of STEAM, which promotes co-creative social literacy, is missing from education today–as the news make painfully obvious every day–and that is precisely what makes the u.lab relevant now.

video 1: u.lab intro (3 min)
video 2: MIT Alchemist (5 min)

Thanks to all u.lab participants, hub hosts, and co-facilitators across the planet for co-creating this field! Special thanks also for the amazing art work by Kelvy Bird and to all the helpful comments and suggestions from the u.lab co-facilitation team including Angela Baldini, Julie Arts, Lili Xu Brandt, Marian Goodman, Adam Yukelson, as well as Katie Stubley.


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9 Habits of Super Positive People by Angel Chernoff

Life is full of positive experiences.  Notice them.  Notice the sun warming your skin, the small child learning to walk, and the smiling faces around you.  Smell the rain, and feel the wind.  Live your life to the fullest potential by reveling in the beauty of these experiences, and letting them inspire you to be the most positive version of YOU.

What would happen if you approached each day intentionally, with a positive attitude?  What would happen if you embraced life’s challenges with a smile on your face?  What would happen if you surrounded yourself with people who made you better?  What would happen if you paused long enough to appreciate it all?

Living a positive life is all about creating positive habits to help you focus on what truly matters.  This is the secret of super positive people.  Here are nine simple ideas to help you follow in their footsteps.

  1. Wake up every morning with the idea that something wonderful is possible today. – Smiling is a healing energy.  Always find a reason to smile.  It may not add years to your life but will surely add life to your years.  A consistent positive attitude is the cheapest ‘fountain of youth.’  You’ve got to dance like there’s nobody watching, love like you’ll never be hurt, sing like there’s nobody listening, and live like it’s heaven on Earth.  Read The How of Happiness.
  2. Celebrate your existence. – Your mind is the window through which you see the world.  The way to make this the happiest day ever is to think, feel, walk, talk, give, and serve like you are the most fortunate person in the whole world.  Open minded, open hearted, and open handed.  Nothing more is needed.  All is well… and so it is.
  3. Appreciate life’s perfect moments. – Your life isn’t perfect, but it does have perfect moments.  Don’t let the little things get you down.  You’ve got plenty of reasons to look up at the sky and say, “Thank you, I will do my best to make this a great day.”  So slow down and pause for a moment to stand in awe of the fact that you are alive, and that you have the ability to rediscover life as the miracle it has always been.
  4. Embrace life’s challenges. – Uncharted territory in your life is not good or bad, it just is.  Yes, it may rattle your foundation, and you may be tempted to pullback, say you can’t do it, or bail completely.  But these are exactly the conditions that set you up for massive amounts of personal growth.  Each experience through which you pass operates ultimately for your own good.  This is the correct attitude to adopt, and you must be able to see it in this light.  Read Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.
  5. Become addicted to constant and never-ending self improvement. – It doesn’t have to be January 1st to give yourself a chance to make the most out of your life.  Every day is a new day to learn, grow, develop your strengths, heal yourself from past regrets, and move forward.  Every day gives you a chance to reinvent yourself, to fine-tune who you are, and build on the lessons you have learned.  It is never too late to change things that are not working in your life and switch gears.  Using today wisely will always help you create a more positive tomorrow.
  6. Live and breathe the truth. – It’s the most positive, stress-free way to live, because the truth always reveals itself eventually anyway.  So don’t aim to be impressive, aim to be true.  Those who are true are truly impressive.  Being true means having integrity; and integrity is doing the right thing even when you know nobody is watching.
  7. Fill your own bucket.Choose to be happy for no reason at all.  If you are happy for a reason, you could be in trouble, because that reason can get taken away from you.  So smile right now because you can right now, and make it a point to fill your own bucket of happiness so high that the rest of the world can’t poke enough holes to drain it dry.
  8. Help the people around you smile. – Today, give someone one of your smiles.  It might be the only sunshine they see all day.  Sometimes just a single genuine smile or compliment can lift a person’s spirits to new heights.  At the right time, a kind word from a stranger, or unexpected encouragement from a friend, can make all the difference in the world.  Kindness is free, but it’s priceless.  And as you know, what goes around comes around.  Read A New Earth.
  9. Spend time with positive people. – Life’s way too awesome to waste time with people who don’t treat you right.  So surround yourself with people who make you happy and make you smile.  People who help you up when you’re down.  People who would never take advantage of you.  People who genuinely care.  They are the ones worth keeping in your life.  Everyone else is just passing through.

9 Habits of Super Positive People

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Appreciative Inquiry and the Power of Negative Thinking

Why we need to overcome our negative bias and six ways to do it

 All of you who are familiar with the Appreciative Inquiry approach to organisational, project and personal development will be aware of the following “Big Five” interlinked and overlapping principles that underpin the paradigm:
  1. The Constructionist Principle (words create worlds) – the filters through which we interpret the world create our reality in other words the map is not the territory. These filters shape our language, communications and day to day interactions; so focusing on possibilities rather than limitations helps us to generate a better future.
  2. The Simultaneity Principle (inquiry is an intervention) – systems move in the direction of the questions we most persistently ask and change happens from the moment we begin our inquiry; so consistently asking empowering questions plants the seeds of positive change.
  3. The Poetic Principle (we author our own histories) – people interact and learn through stories, and like poems and books the narratives that shape our lives are open to different interpretations; so we can enhance the prospects for success by replacing the stale old narratives of stress, conflicts and shortcomings with stories of individuals, programmes and organisations at their best.
  4. The Anticipatory Principle (our expectations inspire our actions) – what we do today is guided by our expectations of the future; so developing a motivating vision will help imbue our present day actions with hope, excitement, joy and other uplifting emotions that contribute to peak performance.
  5. The Positive Principle (positive images lead to positive actions) – positive emotions such as joy, compassion and empathy promote a resourceful mental state; so enhancing qualities like camaraderie, persistence, and resilience to setbacks will contribute to personal and organisation effectiveness.

These are indeed very powerful principles but to till now I have avoided explicitly referring to them when I have facilitated introductory Appreciative Inquiry workshops. Instead I have used the following five principles to set the scene:

  1. Individuals give events their meaning
  2. What you focus on expands
  3. Words create worlds
  4. We are programmed to pay attention to negative aspects of a situation
  5. We can override our programming by exercising our “appreciative muscles”

An obvious reason for not using “The Big Five” is the urge to minimise jargon. There are only so many new things people can absorb at one sitting.  Three out of the five principles I use can be loosely translated into the Big Five anyway: individuals give events their meaning ≈ the Constructionist and Poetic Principles; what you focus on expands ≈ all of the big five; and words create worlds ≈ the Constructionist, Simultaneity and Poetic Principles.

Why highlight the negative?

What stands out like the proverbial sore thumb is my Principle No. 4 – We are programmed to pay attention to negative aspects of a situation. This does not conform to any of the principles I’ve seen in the AI literature. And without Principle 4 there is no need Principle 5, its antidote – We can override our programming by exercising our “appreciative muscles.”Given the fact that Principle 5 can neutralise Principle 4, what is the point of introducing Principle 4 in the first place?

I believe that by highlighting the power of the negative we can provide a “safe space” in which to address those nagging doubts that many participants may harbour about AI. You know the sort of stuff that people feel and say – “this appreciative stuff is all very well but it won’t work in my [family, home, office, business, culture, country, etc.]”, “but sometimes we need to discuss bad stuff”, “I try to be positive but some things continue to wind me up” and most familiar of all “I’m not being negative, I’m just being realistic”.  All of the above are justified sentiments, and I think we ignore such sentiments at our peril. Discussing them provides us with a valuable means of facilitating a new way of thinking in a manner that acknowledges the tenacious grip that “old paradigm thinking” holds on our individual and collective psyche. This helps the trainee to understand that negative feelings are reasonable though not always rational and that AI is a powerful way of addressing an inherent negative bias.

Velcro and Teflon

Most people are accustomed to problem-based paradigms. If you don’t believe me just watch any news bulletin for more than about a minute, consult most elementary psychology textbooks and find the non-existent or miniscule section on happiness, or leaf through any dictionary and count the numbers of words that describe positive versus negative emotions – according to one study seventy-four percent of the total words in the English language that describe personality traits are negative. Given this background, there is likely to be a degree of cynicism and resistance when Appreciative Inquiry is first introduced. Principle 4 acknowledges that a negative bias is the default setting for most people and groups.Even as a “born optimist” I know that this to be true. As Dr Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness states “Our negative experiences stick to us like Velcro, while our positive experiences slide right off us like Teflon.” A typical example of this is my (internal) reaction to my children’s school grades. Even if most of the marks are high I am irresistibly drawn to the one or two lower grades. Of course as somebody versed in the art of “positive parenting” I would never give vent to the accompanying feelings of stress and urge to fix things but I feel these feelings nonetheless. Ok, if truth be told I probably do show these feelings more often than I should but at least I know that I shouldn’t!

But ‘gut reactions’ such as those I describe above are the norm and are very deeply rooted for good reason. They have helped us and our ancestors to survive when our “nasty, brutish and short” lives were frequently subject to mortal dangers.

Survival mode: keeps us alive – doesn’t help us to thrive

Why do we appear to be so irrationally negative? In a nutshell it is because of the evolutionary imperative to respond rapidly to danger – “survival mode” the familiar fight, flight or freeze response that allowed our ancestors to live long enough to become our ancestors. Nowadays the majority of us are not confronted by tigers as we go about our daily existence but our reactive response can be just as easily triggered by any number of “paper tigers” – perceived threats such as the audiences who question us, the bosses who appraise us, our offspring who disobey us, the spouse who ignores us, and even the anonymous drivers who disrespect us. Whether these perceptions are an accurate reflection of the intentions of these other people is immaterial. To paraphrase William Shakespeare’s Hamlet “there is nothing either stressful or not stressful, but thinking and feeling make it so.”Survival mode is manifested by the following physiological changes among others: elevated levels of the stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol (to prepare us to deal with sudden danger), raised breathing rate and blood pressure (to pump more oxygen around our body), increased perspiration (to prevent overheating), increased blood sugar (to boost energy where it is most needed), a reduction in the production of growth and sex hormones, a weakening of the immune system and decreased blood circulation to the digestive tract (to maximise resources available to deal with the immediate threat) and increased size and stickiness of platelets (to heal any wounds that might occur). These are great responses when our lives are under threat. But they do not stand us in good stead in the modern world when it comes to undertaking constructive everyday actions such as making decisions, collaborating with others, recalling information or having balanced discussions.

The Antidote: Principle 4 -We can override our programming by exercising our “appreciative muscles”

Setting the scene in this way helps to emphasise the fact that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about our negative feelings – they are normal. I have always been a believer in the power of positive thinking but every silver lining has a cloud. My “positivity” has sometimes manifested itself as denial – a conscious effort to keep my subconscious mind and endocrine system in line (see my blog – Appreciative Inquiry – Denial by any other name. Denial of my own negative feelings could easily trap me in a double bind – feeling bad about some everyday thing and on top of that, feeling bad about the fact that I was feeling bad! An understanding of the evolutionary reasons for the reactive response can, at the very least, limit you to a single dose of bad feelings.

Highlighting the fact that a negative viewpoint is simply one way of seeing the world allows us to question its usefulness to us in our day-to-day lives. Does it make for a positive work and home environment? Does it empower? Does it inspire? The answer to all these questions is likely to be something like “not in most cases.” The next question that comes to mind is “how can we address redress our negative bias?” This provides a platform upon which we can introduce a few of the growing number of approaches that we can use to shift us to a more positive outlook. But won’t this compromise our ability to go into survival mode when we are actually faced with a life or death situation? Assuming that you are able-bodies,  you will do everything in your power to get out of the way as quickly as you can if are about to be run over by a bus, no matter how chilled out you most of the time. Millions of years of evolution will guarantee this even if you practice every positive thinking technique on the planet as long as you keep away from mind-altering drugs.

In my introductory workshops I have highlighted the following six ways in which we can override our programming by building our “appreciative muscles”:
1.Asking empowering questions

2.Practicing gratitude

3.Observing the thoughts and feelings that come to you

4.Cultivating stillness

5.Embracing uncertainty

6.Being of service

I examine each of these “muscle-building” approaches in my blog series on “Things I do… except when I don’t.” … (TIDEWID for short).
1. Asking empowering questions

I find all six approaches to be valuable and mutually supportive but only Number One, asking empowering questions, as part of the Appreciative Interview, is from the “Regulation Appreciative Inquiry Practitioners Toolkit”. There are plenty of excellent resources out there on how to conduct appreciative interviews, over ninety of which are listed in the AI Commons Practice Tools webpage: Positive Questions and Interview Guides. I highlight some empowering question fundamentals in my blog posting – Ask Empowering Questions: What Albert Einstein and Jeremy Paxman taught me.

2. Practicing gratitude

My daily gratitude practice has helped me to appreciate the good times and to negotiate the inevitable tough times and I cannot recommend the practice too highly. I discuss the value of practising gratitude even for those situations which may appear to be unremittingly negative in my blog posting on the value of a daily gratitude practice – How I messed up my daily gratitude practice: Walking the tightrope between expressing appreciation and kidding ourselves.

3. Observing the thoughts that come to you

Observing the thoughts that come to you is a method that allows you to disengage from disempowering thoughts so avoiding becoming enmeshed in those familiar spirals of negative thinking. I learned the technique from NLP and hypnotherapy expert, life coach and “head fixer” Ali Campbell who has stated that it is the single most powerful exercise he has done to improve his life. I outline this simple process in my blog on Decoupling Runaway Trains of Thought.

4. Cultivating stillness

There are endless ways of cultivating stillness but a technique I particularly like is “Sixteen Seconds to Bliss” which I have adapted from the work of meditation teacher extraordinaire Davidji. I summarise this simple but powerful tool in my blog: Cultivating Stillness – Control, Alt, Delete for your Bodymind.

5. Embracing uncertainty

Uncertainty pervades everybody’s lives and embracing it instead of fighting it helps allows us to view those inevitable “changes of a plan” as possibilities rather than roadblocks. In my blog posting – Embrace Uncertainty I outline some simple approaches I use for improving my relationship with uncertainty.

6. Being of service

The final way of building our “appreciative muscles I highlight in my introductory AI workshops is “being of service” – helping to make this world a better place. One rather dismal but widely held world view, a view upon which classical economics is founded, is that being selfish is in everybody’s best interest and it is competition alone that drives innovation and growth. This extreme form of social Darwinism ignores the fact that human beings must also collaborate to survive and thrive at every stage of their lives. To realise our full potential we must strive to be the best person we can be in the service of both ourselves and others. The universal truth of this viewpoint explains why we root for the heroes who fight for justice for all and against the villains who care only for their self-aggrandizement. I talk about how being of service can enhance your quality of life and outline ways in which you can maximise your contribution in my blog posting –  Being of Service:  Doing Well by doing Good.

In Conclusion…

I hope I have justified my “AI introduction with a negative twist.” Even if you disagree with the approach I hope that you will appreciate my intentions. The wonderful thing about the AI community is that it is a broad church with no concept of heresy; so nobody can ever be excommunicated!

A little Postscript – EFT a seventh way to build your appreciative muscles

In my personal life I find Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or Tapping to be an excellent way of releasing negative emotions. Sometimes referred to as “psychological acupuncture”, EFT involves a sequence of gentle taps on acupuncture meridians or “tapping points” with your fingertips while talking through a particular issue of concern – a trauma, a phobia, a limiting belief or an ephemeral concern such as a looming deadline. I find that a few minutes of tapping rapidly reduces the intensity of my anxiety levels to near zero levels.

The jury is out on how exactly EFT works but there is a growing of evidence of its effectiveness. I do, however, have to confess a certain degree of bias as my lovely wife Julie Mauremootoo is a certified EFT practitioner. For the moment incorporating EFT into an Appreciative Inquiry workshop is likely to be a bit too radical for most of the folks I work with. However, I do foresee a time when EFT is incorporated into mainstream organisational development. Remember, you heard it here first!

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