Increase Positive Change
Elevate Positive Change in your life or organization
Welcome! I'm Robyn Stratton-Berkessel. As a positivity strategist my mission is to enable people, whoever they are, to elevate and amplify their own positivity and the collective capacity in their organizations and communities, so that all members feel seen and heard as co-creators of their own futures.
If you’re someone for whom collaborative, participatory practices are key to growing yourself, your people and your organization, you’ll find ways and means on Positivity Strategist to help you get there, stay there and want to share resources with others.
Whatever your current role or organization – you lead or you follow – my desire is that you will find resources here that will help you connect to your own best self and help you identify opportunities and achieve your aspirations both professionally and personally.
When you focus on what affirms life, you’ll find much to appreciate about yourself, others and the world around. Connecting and being in relationship with others is ultimately what keeps us alive and hopeful.
Throughout Positivity Strategist, you’ll find examples of what I do and and how I do it, companies I work with, stories of positive change that I could also design and facilitate in partnership with you.
The mindset that governs who I am and what I do is appreciative inquiry and positivity, which seeks to find what works rather than what's broken. That’s what I find most rewarding – enabling people to find their own inner resources of positivity and strengths.
Participatory change methodologies in the field of human and organization development have been the mainstay of my portfolio for 30 years, predominantly in Australia and the United States. Solutions which we are most committed to and support come from being in relationship with others.
Remaining relevant and essential in this increasingly complex, diverse and multifaceted world is an important issue for most of us. So re-inventing ourselves and getting clarity about our strengths, purpose and potential legacy becomes a significant undertaking. Growth and development is one of my highest values.
In 2016, I was honored to have been invited to join the academic faculty of the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry where I teach “Advanced Applications of Appreciative Inquiry” online in the Continuing Education MBA program. The Cooperrider Center is part of the Robert P. Stiller School of Business. As an active member of the Center's “Appreciative Inquiry Council of Practice,” I'm extremely fortunate to be in a flourishing community.
Below are some soundbites that will give you an idea of my journey, from a childhood where my strengths were not appreciated, to an early career, where my strengths were not appreciated to finding my voice and discovering that my strengths and disposition were a valid way of being and doing. Transformation is when you get it in your heart and gut.
How I irritated my parents
“Curiosity killed the cat” was one of the many proverbs my grandmother delighted in repeating to me, as a very young child, every time I poked my head into something new or asked “Why?” It silenced me, as I was upset by the idea of “killing cats.”
My mother, too, after endless “Why?” questions, in frustration would sigh, “Because I said so” or “’Y’ is a crooked letter that can’t be made straight.” I had to pause to think hard about trying to straighten the letter “Y” and wouldn’t dare ask, “Why does it need to be straightened?” Even my father would tell me, “Mind your p’s and q’s.” I couldn’t fathom that one.
In spite of these early reprimands, it seems my curiosity, love of learning, and desire to seek out new ideas have been my constant guides. These days, whenever I am in a new territory, I am called to go further to explore what’s around the corner, over the hill, or beyond the horizon. I am truly satisfied when I discover for myself what I can learn and what new ideas come up that stimulate possibility-thinking and what-if scenarios.
After years of following these instincts, I know now that curiosity, love of learning, collecting ideas, and seeing the big picture are my best attributes, or my signature strengths. I am most satisfied when I am playing or working to these strengths.
How I irritated my boss
Years ago, I led a team of twelve training consultants for a major global professional service firm in Melbourne, Australia. My boss called me in one day, a little frustrated that I wasn’t managing my team as tightly as he wanted me to. He handed me the marker pen, pointed to the huge whiteboard that hung on the wall in his huge corner office, and asked me to draw my organizational chart and reporting structure. Somewhat surprised at his request, yet without hesitation, I drew a circle and placed myself between the center and the edge of the circle and consciously placed my various team members within the circle, as I perceived them to be in relation to each other and to me. I placed my boss at the circle’s edge.
As I drew my organizational chart, I felt him bristling to my side. He went red in the face and spoke to me with a tense jaw in a very restrained tone, “No wonder you’re having trouble managing!” He took the marker pen from my hand and aggressively drew a traditional organizational tree structure on the whiteboard. He was at the top of the tree (in a box) with a vertical line to me (in a box) beneath him and then beneath me, vertical lines to all the twelve consultants (they were not in boxes). I attempted to explain the thinking or philosophy behind my chart, but I wasn’t heard. That experience helped me realize my natural talents and strengths, after five years of service, could be better utilized elsewhere. I came to the conclusion that I had the potential to flourish in a different environment.
The command-and-control organizational structure is not an optimal one to facilitate human flourishing. Much has been written about the dampening effect of the command-and-control structure on willingness to assume responsibility, exercise creativity, and show innovation. Over time, command-and-control structure creates cultures of dependency. When the boss makes all the decisions and takes all the credit, employees’ will to assert any form of leadership is diminished. In such contexts, employees do the best they can with resources available, willing to assume full responsibility for their actions, being accountable to their bosses, but often it all stops there. Their sense of pride in work well done is passed over without receiving fuller and broader acknowledgment or having the opportunity to earn wider visibility. Over time, this type of unsupportive climate wears thin; motivation and morale begin to spiral downward. A discouraged, disempowered workforce, whose ideas are not listened to and whose full potential is not realized, does not perform optimally. The spirit of ownership, vitality, engagement and possibility-thinking diminishes.
How I discovered language is power
When I was 16, I stated my career goal was to help people maximize their potential. I didn't know how I would do that, but that's what I wanted to do. I definitely wanted to help people be the best of who they are and who they could become, and as I look back over my professional career that's what I've been doing in a variety of ways.
Early in my career, I spent 7 years teaching ESL to adult immigrants in the workplace and absolutely loved that job. What did I love about it?
I loved that I was helping people improve their lives, and by extension, the lives of those around them. Through using language as a tool, I helped them become more empowered enabling them to have more choices in their adopted country. Equally important to my mission and my vision, I was working in full alignment with my values and I was using my talents and gifts, working to my strengths: I was designing, facilitating, teaching, enabling, inspiring others to help them be the best they could be.
I learnt very quickly that in order to get on in the world, to create the life you want, you require many resources and tools and support. For starters, I had a BFO very early in this new career as an ESL teacher. BFO – language is a tool of empowerment. If you don't have language in the society or culture you live in , you don't have a voice; you don't get heard and you don't get seen; you are not living to your highest and fullest potential – you have little power.
I no longer teach ESL, but I do teach how we can all have power, or rather I design and facilitate ways for people to find and own their power. And for now I will focus on one tool of empowerment: language. It's the language we use, day in and day out, and in our dreams, and the stories we tell ourselves that gets lived out.
Language is a social/cultural construct, and without knowing or appreciating the context, the language has no meaning, or could convey a totally different meaning. I am a native English speaker. So what's the meaning you make of my perfect Australian-english sentence:
When I go the beach I fill my eski with vegemite sandwiches, grog and other nibblies and usually get some take-away on the way. As soon as I get to the beach I remember to slip, slap, slop. The surf is usually bonza. Then when I come home with friends, I take off my sandy thongs leaving them at the front door.
Let me translate into American-english
When I go the beach I fill my car fridge with “vegemite” (absolutely no US equivalent) sandwiches, alcohol and other snacks and usually get some take-out on the way. As soon as I get to the beach I remember to put on some protective clothing, a hat and sun protection lotion. The surf is usually awesome. Then when I come home with friends, I take off my sandy flip-flops leaving them at the front door.
So how we make sense in our world in is dependent on our social / cultural constructs and the language we use.
To appreciate the significance of language in shaping our identities, our relationships and beliefs about the world is to step into our own power and choose to live to our highest potentials. Famous French author, Marcel Proust said:
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
Why I love what I do
When I first heard the term Appreciative Inquiry, my neurons lit up and sparks were firing, especially as a trusted colleague had tantalized me with, “You will love this—it’s all about finding what works best in people and organizations; it’s been called a positive revolution in change.” As a facilitator of change, my strength is designing and facilitating workshops from a smorgasbord of tools and methodologies I have learned over the years, and I am constantly on the lookout for new, relevant tools to add to my toolkit.
Finding Appreciative Inquiry, or Appreciative Inquiry finding me, was a gift. It has deepened, broadened, and enhanced my way of living and working. Here is a practical framework that looks at the world with a valuing lens. It addresses problems from the perspective of what’s working, instead of what’s broken, looking for the best in people and situations, not the worst. The worldview of Appreciative Inquiry, seeing people and their organizations as sources of strength and vitality, is a paradigm shift because it begins with the positive and therefore approaches change from that perspective.
Instantly, Appreciative Inquiry resonated powerfully. It connected with my instinctive approach to see the glass half-full instead of half-empty. People and organizations are living systems not only amassed with problems waiting to be solved but also filled with unlimited capacity for human relatedness, innovation, creativity, and excellence waiting to be appreciated.
As a life-centric change process, Appreciative Inquiry pays attention to the best in us, not the worst; to our strengths, not our weaknesses; to possibility thinking, not problem thinking. Appreciative Inquiry is an affirming way to embrace organizational change. It is a change method with the perspective that every system, human and otherwise, has something that works right—things that contribute to its aliveness, effectiveness, and success, connecting it in healthy ways to its stakeholders and the wider community.
When we are open with each other to truly connect, we find our intersect points, and from that shared place of common humanity we begin to share dreams and aspirations, addressing problems in different ways. One of the ways we do this is story telling. It is through telling our stories that we transcend our differences as we discover our universal connection with others.
“Remember, you don’t fear people whose stories you know. Real listening always brings people closer together”
My mission is to help us all live from a place of greater consciousness: to be fully awake to the choices that will serve us whatever the situation. Some choices can set us off on an upward spiral, fueling us with greater energy, increasing our levels of satisfaction and joy, and enriching our experiences. Other choices can send us off on a downward spiral associated with energy loss, dissatisfaction, and feelings of life being sapped. If we can deliberately and consciously work toward increasing the upward spiral in our lives, then we are helping ourselves and others live with greater intentionality in finding what personally enriches us.
The form and process of Appreciative Inquiry with its underlying principles facilitates such upward movement. A sweet blend of affirmative questions and positive language, delivered and received with open, curious minds and supportive dispositions, helps us wake up and open our eyes in appreciation of our gifts, our talents, and our aspirations. Most importantly, Appreciative Inquiry—with its positive and strength-based focus—is a heartfelt experience. The majority of leadership and change models emphasize the cognitive dimensions of change and development. A cognitive shift is important, but a heartfelt shift is transformative. Our whole being is impacted when a shift is heartfelt.
One little interaction can be transformative. One single positive experience, when we discover a latent talent or potential strength or experience a gesture of caring, can be transformative. In fact, the very first question asked, and the way it is asked, begins the change process. When we open ourselves to our best selves, envision possibilities, and get in touch with our strengths, a paradigmatic, seismic, quantum shift can happen in the blink of an eye. In homeopathic remedies, one mini drop can transform the entire body. In chaos theory, the beating of a butterfly’s wings over China can cause weather turbulence over New York a month later. In the same way, the way a single question is framed can shift our very being. Very small changes in a system can alter its state forever.
As I mentioned, throughout Positivity Strategist, you’ll find inspiring examples of stories of positive change to inspire you and your organizations. Here are some great links to get started:
I'm excited to have you visit my site and learn more about my passion and purpose. I trust you will find something that piques your interest enough to subscribe to my blog and my podcasts. In the words of William James:
“To grow greater positivity, we must be willing to be open to inquiry, learn from our past, expand our sense of now, and hold images of bright futures.”
To higher conversations.
Our conversations with inspiring leaders and everyday people show how positivity helps them live a full and meaningful life.