“The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” –Oliver W. Holmes


A very talented colleague of mine, Grace, works for an organization whose value statement is expressed simply as SMILE! They mean it.  SMILE is an acronym that stands for: Sincerity, Motivation, Integrity, Laughter and Enthusiasm. I admit I cannot recall meeting anyone recently whose disposition and demeanor were not improved by a smile; however, this sounded a bit too good to be true to me.

Grace arranged a meeting for me with the company’s Director of Operations. I asked the obvious questions and was assured that smiling was indeed standard operating procedure – everyone truly “Smiled.” This unique and upbeat environment was the result of a corporate-wide attitude and focus on the positive, rather than the negative. “Every company has areas for improvement and deficits that need to be addressed swiftly and in real time,” she told me, “including ours. However, this organization has made and carried out a commitment, from the top down, to put their principal energy and support into our assets, strengths and capabilities.” Of course she smiled.

This paradigm may be familiar to you as Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a theory and practice which seeks out the best in people, organizations and the world at large. An AI approach allows you to center on the positive aspects of any situation through the use of affirming questions, and then expand that frame of reference to address the negative. Please note that I am not doing AI justice here – barely scratching the surface of its possibilities. I did, though, like the notion of exploring and then leveraging what was right in a given situation rather than getting stuck on what was wrong.

I decided to try this at “home” at an all-hands meeting. The task was:

Think back on a time at work when you were functioning in a way that made you feel totally alive, completely energized with where you were and what you were doing and able to produce your best work. Who were you with, what were you doing and what did that mean to you at the time? Now, look at your answers; what do you see?

The following patterns emerged during the debriefing session:

  • Excitement: we were part of a new corporate direction, contributing members of a team, cohesive, trusting and committed
  • Excellence: in the midst of chaos we were connected to each other and clients, envisioning the possibilities, doing our best work, united in our task
  • Cohesion and Connection: all barriers were down, everyone was involved and felt needed, valued, appreciated, unified
  • “Wicked good” work from all staff, purposeful and directed, with new emerging opportunities and learning
  • Appreciation of our differences
  • Celebration of the results as one whole entity

Try this at your next staff, team or board meeting. You will discover that within your own list of themes will be the not-so-secret roadmap to achieving and maintaining personal and professional enthusiasm and drive in your workplace.

The next step is to begin to build these lessons into your everyday work processes. For example, you can potentially achieve cohesion, appreciation and excellence if the ground rules for your next systems update stipulate that no one individual will receive the credit, but the group as a whole will reap the rewards.

No doubt you will bump up against barriers. Your task then is to identify an action or strategy to overcome these hurdles. Be sure to challenge yourself to practice diligently each time to jump higher and farther to reach your goal. #1SimpleThing may be all it takes.

We work with individuals, communities and public and private sector organizations to create systems for change. How can we help YOU today?


Dr. Mallary Tytel



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