Basic Lecture [appreciative inquiry #020]


[from book part 4 – SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM]

Sometimes, professor Alexander Maas sends out his students to go to the supermarket, they are instructed to place a liter of milk in their shopping basket and try to negotiate a lower price at the cash counter. Can you imagine this? Here’s another experiment: at home, behave as if your house was a hotel and if you were a guest, for a few days… How would your family react?

The idea behind this is to make us aware of human patterns we regard as ‘normal’ and what happens if we try to make a ‘difference’. Difference is what matters, according to Alex Maas.

In the Netherlands professor Maas is associated with Erasmus University / Rotterdam School of Management and the University of Humanistics. In our AI100 program, he teaches our students a full day on a short history of social constructionism and the principles of ‘being socially constructionist active’.  This is no easy stuff, but everyone senses that this is important knowledge with respect to AI.

On one if his first slides the following small story is shown:  “Once I, Chuang Tzu, dreamed that I was a butterfly and was happy as a butterfly. I was conscious that I was quite pleased with myself, but I did not know that I was Tzu. Suddenly I awoke, and there I was, visibly Tzu. I do not know whether it was Tzu dreaming that he was a butterfly or the butterfly dreaming that it was Tzu. Between Tzu and the butterfly there must be some distinction. [But one may be the other.] This is called the transformations of things.”

Dreaming plays a major role in Appreciative Inquiry. In dreams, as we all know, sometimes very unusual things occur. The ability to dream is very much like the ability to see things besides the normal. Alexander Maas suggests the following three-step approach in order to observe situations carefully. As I said before: no easy task, but you can try it at home.

Firstly, become aware of what you and others consider ‘normal’. This can be called the existing ‘discourse’. Can you image that this ‘normal behavior’ can be dominant, that usually we are not aware of our own ‘discourse’ and that it can block us from discovering ‘reality’?

Secondly, ask yourself the question whether the same situation can be seen differently. Can you ‘deconstruct’ it? Can you come up with things or behaviour that is excluded from the ‘normal situation’ but without which the normal couldn’t exist? What do you see differently? What is obvious, and what is not so obvious?

Finally, focus on the difference between the obvious and the not so obvious, between the normal and the difference. Grasping this ‘differance’ is perhaps the essence of being someone capable of change, the core of being a social constructionist…

It must be hard for professor Maas to choose from such a tiny selection to fill one day’s teaching, compared to all of his wisdom. And still, that day is so rich… This chapter could only try to summarize it. The question to you is:


How slow can you listen?


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