My 2012 learning curve, a reflection

Earth as a snapshot (thanks to NASA’s Earth Observatory)

Earth as a snapshot (thanks to NASA’s Earth Observatory)

Finding my focus

At the beginning of the year I was struggling to find the ‘right’ way of still being an employee of IRC and the need to work on identifying what further steps would suit my talents, profile, dreams and ambitions. A few months earlier I had designed my own ‘outplacement trajectory’ and had struggled with a bewildering host of administrative responses before this was finalised. These were days of oscillation as I still felt very responsible and engaged with ongoing business, while at the same time I quickly learned that it was up to me to make use of this window of opportunity to explore. I was familiar with my own socialisation response that would tell me to do something efficiently, stay in the delivery mode, make the organisations’ priorities number one and my own focus and engagement a task for evening reflection. Once I managed to adopt a more explorative attitude more pieces of my career jig saw puzzle appeared and things began to fall in place. Not surprising, there were still a number of wild goose chases that I started over the past year, these are part of my explorative mindset. Although I am getting better at selecting and avoiding long term commitments that are out of my reach or focus. In this 2012 overview that follows I seek to show that for me it was a great year of learning, a broad strokes overview to enable me to identify themes, linkages and insights that I plan to nurture in the coming year. This overview is my thematic learning curve, dates are indicated along the way and it is my reflection on actions over the past year and by looking back I hope to harvest from my actions, decisions and exploits, as such it is unavoidably an ego document. It makes me grin that over the Xmas period I read Ken Robinson’s ‘Finding your element’, (if you do not want to read the book, this TedEx talk gives you the essence of his thinking) the theme of my past year and the books caps my increasing focus and encourages the need for developing a measure of self-awareness.

On being appreciative

During the past year, my immersion into Appreciative Inquiry  through the AILN Appreciative Inquiry Lerend Netwerk brought me a rich harvest of experiences, encounters – working groups and final reflection. There were several visits to beautiful Flemish towns and the occasional beer, increased my appreciation for this society close by and still quite different. This tour of discovery and learning took me to offices in buildings with a wide spectrum of social history. The World Conference on Appreciative Inquiry at the end of April (WAIC 2012) in Ghent, was an inspiring learning experience. I wrote a blog, tweeted during the conference, and wrote a reflective article on my participation and learning at this conference published in the WAIC 2012 Conference Proceedings (check the links in this paragraph for a free download).

The practice of adhering to the focus on ‘what is possible’ in stead of starting from a problem situation, defined as what is wrong, could/should be better and other deficit oriented starting positions. I remain amazed about how powerful this works if used as a basic approach and design principle. Although it is easy to be lured into a direct response, it is beautifully effective when exploration and questions focus on strengths and a positive appreciation of experiences. In AI discourse this is taking the starting point in the interviews of ‘What gives life’. My key learning experiences from this recommended immersion in Appreciative Inquiry are:

  1. Active discovery through engagement;
  2. Ask about the future;
  3. Appreciating diversity and how it emerges/shows itself;
  4. Collaboration is a problem to be solved vs Collaboration is a mystery that should be embraced;
  5. It is very easy to assume a critical stance and present a solid stream of mistakes, problems and misunderstanding, taking an enabling perspective for the reader/user of and using words and formulating sentences that entice the reader and explore what is possible, as opposed to the critical observer, who remains aloof;
  6. Through the open appreciative style you discover information and experience that is something different, than you had initially set out to find, this is also called serendipity;
  7. I have become keen on hearing words and concepts in use, as ‘words create worlds’ and I have a life-long socialisation in deficit analysis, detecting mistakes and errors and confronting myths, although being appreciative does not mean I can not be provocative...

Writing and being productive

As in these demanding economic times, it is not necessarily the wisest move to (re) awaken my entrepreneurial spirit, it does feel good. What is behind this gusto? There are several ‘motives’, such as the challenge of finding a role, audience and company where I can market them and move beyond verbal recognition to a form of financial recognition. Besides this very mundane reason, a deeper rationale is a feeling of exhilaration of polishing up creativity, interest in others, my wide range of interests and exploring how I can combine this in a smart manner. An example, in 2012 writing as a method to express myself and this combination of pleasure and pain to find the words, concepts and sentences that convey what I see, hear, think or sense, hence this blogging. There were also longer article publications, my reflection on the WAIC 2012 (see the conference proceedings), a policy brief on Water, Sanitation and Gender for the Dutch WASH Alliance (with Christine Sybesma) and an interview with professor Gervase Bushe (TVOO december 2012) and the Grantcraft Handbook on Collaboration (co-authored with Roisin Hughes and Rosien Herweijer).

Finding my style in Social Media

Following the completion of the Appreciative Inquiry course in September, I  subsequently enrolled in the learning trajectory “En Nu Online” – Social Media for learning and change (SoMe) offered by my spouse and learning companion Sibrenne Wagenaar and her business partner Joitske Hulsebosch. This trajectory runs parallel to my work on developing a field guide on Exiting and Moving On for Grantcraft and I have been able to make an inquiry design using social media from the start in stead of an add-on. To me this work on social media is fascinating, I can still easily get lost in following different leads and clicks for several hours, browsing for information has never been so easy. As a result I am increasingly seeking to integrate the various dimensions of social media tools and approaches in my basic work. This can be extremely rewarding as you stumble upon new  or unknown information and the possibilities of interaction are immense. There is also the side of getting lost and fighting with passwords, updates and different forms of gate keeping or software developers who have thought on your behalf. What works for me is using and selecting a small range of social media tools that I like and can actively use. To my surprise the list of 100 social media tool produced by Jane Hart held only a few surprises, so obviously I have picked up knowledge and understanding along the way. I have started to curate my own You Tube channel, that has an eclectic collection on a range of subjects. Like many learners in this fast evolving sphere, I also can get confused by what is on offer, how do I integrate working with social media into my work routines and there are lots of reflective thoughts, I am increasingly convinced that adapting to and integrating social media in the way we learn, think, reflect and explore has huge potential and that approaching these new development as some sort of ‘orchestrated’ plot is foolish.


Reawakening Blue Leaf is steep learning curve, as there are many questions to answer and habits to change or to adopt. Maybe the most profound driving element is a sense of curiosity and exploration that has been reawakened and that I nurture as much as I can. Here are some examples of my exploration and curiosity:

Over the summer I read Gervase Bushe’s Clear Leadership, attended his Master’s course on Appreciative Inquiry and had a morning long interview with him, while the summer sun warmed us. His approach to leadership, being appreciative and as guiding model were like coming home and the realisation that  adopting this model or design is a lifelong journey, not only in my professional; life, also in my personal and family settings, there are powerful dynamics there….

During the course of working with a client, from my AI-learning group and AI field coaches I received powerful feedback on and acknowledgment of the way I question and questioning style. Other feedback spoke of my questions that asked for further thought, but that it was seldom threatening. This feedback has helped me realize that I have been able to develop what I have always regarded as a ‘natural skill’, the feedback of non-threatening was especially relevant as it showed that I have been able to move beyond the missionary or accusatory roles. Obviously I intend to use and develop this competency further. Curiosity, questioning and questions are all related issues that I am collecting material on, I have met several people whose sense of curiosity enables them to develop new relations, while for others this attitude needs active fostering. There are of course many different forms of curiosity on display in human interaction and relations, increasingly i see that some appear to have a natural gift in a relational form of curiosity, ie what drives a person? while other people have a more thematic curiosity in which the need to explore the contents of a theme drive them onwards. Curiosity is the attitude that feeds questioning behaviour, the latter is a grounding force for establishing many different forms of relations, in the Dutch academic and educational setting becoming skilled in questions and questioning appears to be a sort of competence that you acquire along the way. Together with Sibrenne we developed a first trial workshop on questioning this summer. My ambition is to produce a book or booklet on the theme.

Over this summer I worked with Marc Coenders (Leerarchitectuur) on a learning review of a collaborative programme, learning trajectory, on ‘power and multi stakeholder programmes’. This was exciting as Marc and I wanted to explore working together and we managed to win the tender procedure, although the reporting was a drawn out affair, although later we received accolades for the inspirational and complementary report… The real excitement was that Marc introduced me to the use of social reporting of a three day learning event. This was a real eye opener as social or digital reporting is one way in which it is possible to bring reporting close to the process and participants. I learned that opening a blog channel for social reporting can invite participants to start contributing, you need to have the some grip on the technology tools offered and For me there is a clear linkage with interactive process documentation. When we reflected on the exercise we realised that if we want to make social reporting more than a’nice add on- frill, social reporting needs to be followed by a joint sense making session to ensure that the harvesting is social and not exclusive.We are using the term social reflection for this. Together with Steven van Luipen en Marc Coenders we are developing plans to take this forward as a service and as short introductory training.

Dreams and Ambitions for 2013 and beyond

  1. Ongoing improvement of my participation and contribution as a partner and father in my family. There are multiple ambitions and challenges in this for me. How to combine and link work – home – self; How can I develop my profile and portfolio as a self employed consultant, facilitator and inquirer? Household dynamics have the most intriguing dynamics for being appreciative and explorative,  this is a dynamic balancing act between multiple dreams, ambitions and demands…
  2. Develop, curate and write a book of sorts on curiosity, questioning and questions;
  3. Refine my social media presence and use, highly exciting, overwhelming amount of possibilities and still the desire to find a style in which I can blend this with ongoing work.



One Comment

  1. Impressed that the list of 100 tools had little surprises! We might as well give you your diploma right now 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.