[from book part 4 – SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM]

I recall a teaching by Ken Gergen at the University of Humanistics. Personally I find his writings quite difficult. But you should hear him speak – or is it thinking loud? You can easily find him on YouTube.

At some point in his lecture, Ken looks at the plastic water bottle he was carrying all the time, and poses the question: “What is this? A bottle?” Then he demonstrates what Alexander Maas was suggesting in the previous chapter, about finding out what is obvious and what is not. Is this a bottle? Or is it a piece of plastic, combined with another smaller piece of plastic, that can be fit together? Is it especially made for water? Is it I a thing you can look through (and why would you)? Could you regard it as a leg of a chair? What is it Not? What is the shape of the air around the bottle? What does this bottle mean to me? And what could this bottle mean to you? And so on and so forth, for over thirty minutes… Being in the audience I was amazed by the many interpretations and lines of thought one small plastic bottle can lead us to.

I’m not suggesting that you do this all the time, with all the objects you have in sight. But do we have it in ourselves to look at something from so many points of view?

Eight years later, I was pleased to be in Gergen’s audience again, at the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference in Ghent, Belgium. Together with Danielle Zandee, Gergen performed a sort of act. Ken and Danielle had an appointment at five o’clock; it was already half past, and Danielle was waiting for Ken to arrive. Ken was stuck traffic as well as phone problems and could not inform Danielle about his delay. At last Ken arrived. How did Danielle react? How would you react? Based on your own problem, being annoyed or distressed (we’re going to miss the movie)? Or would you be worried, for example because Ken may have had an accident? So, Danielle reaction could be somewhere between “Where were you, *&^%$, you kept me waiting endlessly and didn’t even bother to give me a call!” and “Oh, I’m so glad to see you, is everything okay with you?” And what could have been Ken’s words? “That is not fair; you should know how stressed I was by missing the bus.” Or “Dear Danielle, I’m so sorry that I’m late, and that I had you worrying about my arrival.”

Which one of the lines – of both actors in the play  – do you think would cause a ‘show stopper’ and which would help the conversation further? What are the micro-practices in our conversation that keep it moving? If we are able to formulate sentences that help generate subsequent sentences – positive or not – we are contributing to ongoing conversations, and we prevent the communication from stopping.  This is why the word ‘generative’ is used so often with regard to Appreciative Inquiry.


Can you remember yourself using a ‘show stopping’ sentence in the last few days?

With your present insight, what could have been a more ‘generative’ formulation?

If you would like to re-vitalize that conversation, what would be your opening words?


You’ve just read one of the 100 chapters of my book Appreciative Inquiries of the 3.0 Kind. Find out more (and a special pre-ordering offer) on www.appreciativeinquiries.eu