[from book part 6 – MY NEXT AI-SUMMIT]

Let me tell you about an AI summit with MBA students in a Master of Change program. The program manager of this MoC wanted to show his pupils alternative change methods, such as Appreciative Inquiry. Because he is a friend of a friend, and because I’m always willing to practice my AI-skills, I offered to co-prepare and facilitate a small summit. (Small, that is five hours, being a lot more than the usual ‘span of attention’. But in this ‘long lesson’ there are no energy leaks.)

Would you believe that formulating the ‘affirmative topic’ (AT) of this summit took at least ten textual revisions during its co-creation? Consider this as an example of how secure I think we should be in formulating the core text that will guide a whole group of people through the AI-process. It’s all about using our language properly.

To give you an impression; the program manager suggested to use the summit for inquiring into ‘ethics’. My first reaction to that – apart from being enthusiastic about this theme – was that I found no ‘ethics’ in the curriculum of the MoC. In my opinion, an affirmative topic should be recognized as ‘logical’ by the attendees of a summit and I was not sure whether the introduction of ‘ethics’ would resonate. At the same time, ‘ethics’ seemed a very relevant subject to students in a Masters of Change. One of the first AT-suggestions sounded like this: “How can my moral professional behavior contribute to ethical learning processes of other professionals, and cause a raise of personal effectiveness as well as conscious growth in the development of the self steering organization?”

In a constructive feedback session I suggested that this sentence was a very long one, and I could raise a lot of new questions instead of unleashing  the desire to inquire… How would you interpret this statement?

After some mail discussion, my contact came up with a revised and shortened alternative: “How can the self-organizing skill contribute to the conscious ethical actions of professionals?”

During the weeks this (mail and Skype) co-creation took place, the insight proved that not only should the MoC students should attend the summit, but also – within the perspective of the whole system in the room – teachers, apprentice coaches, representatives of organizations where students performed practical assignments. Therefore, our AT had to address more diverse participants than just students. And that’s perhaps the reason why the words ‘I’ and ‘we’ were left out of it. I thought this AT-version still needed refinement.

We decided to present our concept AT during one of the classes of our student-participants and found out (what we knew of course) that a good affirmative topic is ‘straight, simple and appealing’. After some more revisions we finally agreed on a text that would be printed and presented on the cover of the AI summit guide. I’m glad we started this process eight weeks before the summit!

To give you the full ‘AT-picture’; the summit script or guideline is a booklet that the participants find on their chairs the moment they enter the meeting room. The booklet contains the schedule of activities, sometimes background information about Appreciative Inquiry, and most of all; practical guidelines for performing the different activities. The affirmative topic is usually presented in three different ways.

First of all, the ‘slogan’ on the cover. This was our ‘best shot’:

“Attention to Ethics! How do we embed ethical action into our profession?”

Second, the AT is integrated in the welcome message:

“Welcome! Dear co-makers of today’s summit. Inspired by our Masters of Change students, we are going to inquire – appreciatively – our ethical understanding and translate our findings to strong action proposals which hopefully contribute to the development, preferably embedding, of ethical behavior in our (daily or future) professional practice. We thank you in advance for co-creating this summit!”

Third, the AT is used in the introductory text of the summit phase, in which pairs perform mutual appreciative inquiry interviews. Before they start the first question, they are asked to read the third rephrase of the affirmative topic out loud:

“Imagine that we, in performing our professional jobs, at any time take into account every stakeholder that is ‘touched’ by our (business) activities. Imagine us appreciating all of our stakeholders. Imagine that we don’t just achieve our (business) objectives, but that we in that achievement support our own interest as well as the interests of our stakeholders. Imagine that we strongly connect our personal and professional well-being to the well-being of our stakeholders and fellow citizens…”

How affirmative can a topic be? How much attention and co-creation is needed to produce an adequate formulation of a guiding question? And this is not just for AI-summits…


Do you remember writing a short text that took you a very long time?

What is it that made you revise and revise the text again?

How would you compare this to you writing an ‘ordinary’ e-mail?

Consider the quality of language in your next (e-mail) message.


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