Last summer, the realization that Kessels & Smit, The Learning Company would turn 40 this year inspired a lively conversation within our group. Main question: what is our contribution and place in this current day and age and what do we want it to be for the next timeframe? What kind of company are we and do we want to be? What are our strengths, our DNA, our purpose and what doe those mean on a practical level in todays world? What can we learn from our past and how do we envision our future?
We soon realized that we didn’t want to investigate these questions by ourselves. So we decided to invite others with similar questions and aspirations to join us. Not to assist us in our search, but to engage in their own search – and thereby collectively creating a space for inquiry and creativity. We thought that would inspire us and challenge us to look beyond our own frames. Besides, the idea that we could use our own quest to inspire others in theirs, energized us. Could we use our own questions, rather than any answers that we might have, to create a space for learning and investigation?
In this way we came to create our ‘Make a Difference Event’, which took place from May 29th – 31st. Though the company’s birthday sparked the idea, It was not an anniversary party. Neither was it a ‘strategic conference’ in which we sought to define new frontiers and directions for our company for the next years. Rather, it was an attempt to create space for collective reflection and inquiry for ourselves and others into the question of how to ‘make a difference’ regarding flourishing people, communities, organisations.
Our aim was to find new ideas and inspiration for ways to make a difference as Kessels & Smit consultants in the next couple of years. In these blogs we reflect on the MADE experience. First: what and who?
An Appreciative Inquiry Summit
We shaped the event as an Appreciative Inquiry Summit. A process designed in such a way that it helps bring dreams to the surface, connect people with similar ideas, and allows them to create plans for action. In order to achieve that, a summit is:
- task focused, not simply a conference. People at a summit build a vision and create plans for action.
- super-diverse, bringing people together from many different backgrounds, who all have a connection to each other and who all want to learn and create around a central topic.
- driven by curiosity, where participants share and discover knowledge together that stimulates innovation, that is at the same time linked to big issues and local actions.
- designed as an Appreciative Inquiry: a collaborative search to identify and understand strengths, opportunities and people’s aspirations and hopes for the future, as well as actionable knowledge: knowledge that can be used for change.
We invited David Cooperrider, one of the founders of Appreciative Inquiry, to be our facilitator, and to our enthusiasm, he accepted.
As a central theme, we chose to focus our inquiry on:
'Radical connectedness for flourishing human beings,
flourishing organisations and a flourishing world’
It’s both a statement and a question… and as such it provided direction to our search process.
With this topic we expressed a sense of purpose: with our work we want to contribute to flourishing individuals, to communities and companies that are whole and healthy and doing well - and even to the well-being of the planet. Things that we regard as highly inter-connected. It is basically the same purpose, but formulated on a different level, a different scale. In which ways can we serve this purpose best? Currently, we work as change facilitators, coaches, learning & development consultants… perhaps there are other ways still in which we can contribute?
We also deliberately chose to use the word connectedness. Radical connectedness, even... In the sense of strong, fully, without reservation. We regard it as a core value we want to live and work by. One that is even more and more relevant in today’s world of fragmentation and polarisation, but also of global interconnectedness, of fading borders between organisations and the outside world… How can strong and real connections between committed people create initiatives that foster the well-being of individuals, communities/organisations and even the bigger world? How do we create true collaboration and partnerships, that cross traditional borders - to make things possible that cannot be achieved by any one party alone? They were questions we were curious to explore.
One of the most difficult questions was: whom do we invite to participate? From the many clients, colleagues, partners, people from our network who inspire us….whom do we ask to join the inquiry? And: how do we choose?
Since we really wanted the event to be carried by all of us, we decided that each and every one of the 50-or-so international K&S colleagues would invite a couple of people whom they felt were also looking for (new) ways to make a difference in the field of flourishing individuals, communities and organisations. We were happy (and pleasantly surprised) that 200 people said yes to the invitation for the 3-day event… A group of 250 difference-makers.
As a result of this organic process of inviting people, it was a very diverse group. People from our line of work, but also social entrepreneurs, school leaders, young people, seniors, researchers, people from different countries, even family members and friends of K&S colleagues… What everyone had in common is that he or she is in some way part of our network, and in his or her own way is looking to make a positive difference. The aim of MADE was to create a space in which everyone would be able to find and create new ideas.
In the next blog we will describe what happened at the event.