Since 1977, I have been sending out a newsletter called LEARNINGS. Here is how I began the first issue: 

This newsletter—LEARNINGS—is my way of sharing with you what I am learning. Often I learn something with one client that would have been useful with another client the day before. In order to bridge that gap of time and also to bridge the gap of space that separates me from clients and other friends outside Cleveland, I will share my learnings with you regularly in this newsletter. 

That statement feels amazingly accurate more than 35 years later. The only real change is that I moved from Cleveland to London and then on to the Crook of Devon in Scotland. 

In the earlier newsletters, I shared one or two learnings each time. Then I read a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. He describes the Taoist approach to creating Seven Laws about anything.

I like that approach except that instead of announcing Laws, I prefer to share Learnings. I’ve now discovered Seven Learnings about all sorts of things, including Journaling, Love, Retreat, and Diversity. The latest Learnings starts here; the rest are in the Learnings Archive. 


LEARNINGS Number 22: December 1995


LEARNING: We construct our future now. 

I have been looking out my window at the construction site across the road. There are two machines working there which I think of as steam shovels – even though they are clearly powered by diesel engines. When I was growing up, one of my favourite books was Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel and I loved to visit the huge construction sites in Cleveland. 

Clearly, construction was messy. But I could imagine how wonderful it would all look when it was finished. And I mean completely finished. I assumed that someday soon all the construction would be done, all the buildings would be complete, all the mess would be cleared up. 

It took me years to realise that construction is never finished. Some of the buildings that I saw being built in downtown Cleveland have already been torn down and replaced. I am also beginning to realise that my life – like the life of a city – is continually under construction. I am almost always in transition. 

For months now, I have been delaying this newsletter until the current transitions in my life and work are finished. But that could mean a long wait – since someone defined a transition as a period of time in between two other transitions. 

Some of the transitions are noted on the back page of this newsletter – ranging from a change in the Castle network to a new telephone number. The process of ongoing construction does include demolition and some of that has been particularly painful. However, as always, I am incredibly fortunate in my friends. 

Last February we had a gathering of about thirty Castle Colleagues in Paris where my friend Bonnie Kasten introduced us to Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry. Then, in July, Anne Radford organised another gathering of people interested in Appreciative Inquiry – this time led by two more friends, Barbara Sloan and Jane Magruder Watkins. 

Over the past eight months, Jane has done amazing work with Anne and me that has transformed our relationship. I now feel that Appreciative Inquiry is the underlying basis of my life and work. 

Appreciative Inquiry is essentially the process of asking questions about what is going well rather than what is going badly. The theoretical base is called Social Constructionism. This theory says that we construct what we imagine. Just in case you think that sounds too academic, Barb Sloan has the perfect illustration of the theory: go see the recent film Don Juan de Marco and enjoy watching Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp construct reality. 

There is a whole range of research – from the Pygmalion effect in education through the visualising work in sports to the placebo effect in medicine – that has been confirming this approach for a long time. We construct not only our buildings – we construct our lives. We construct our futures. 

We don’t have to stop saying “When I see it I can believe it” – but we may also say “When I believe it I can see it” and then we construct that reality. 

Sometimes I find the Appreciative Inquiry approach easy to adopt. Much of the work that I have been doing in Life and Career Designing over the past twenty years is based on what I call serious dreaming – encouraging people to construct the future they imagine. Back in 1960 Bernard Haldane wrote How To Make A Habit Of Success and suggested that if we focus on learning from failure then the obvious thing is to arrange for more failures to learn from. However, when we focus on learning from our successes then we construct the future of our dreams. 

Sometimes I find Appreciative Inquiry more difficult. I have just completed a two-week Pain Management course. I learned so much that I have already begun drafting the next Learnings. One thing I learned is that – like the other 15 people on that course, each of us with years of chronic pain – I have the opportunity to construct a future in which the pain manages me or a future in which I manage the pain. In the next Learnings I will let you know how I’m doing that. 

Chronic pain – like construction – is a messy process that affects other people. Years ago I saw this sign at the Boston airport: “Construction means always having to say you’re sorry.” I don’t agree with that – nor do I agree with the line from Love Story that they were parodying: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry. 

I think that love does mean saying “I’m sorry” sometimes and I think that construction means more than just saying “I’m sorry”. So let me say once, quite clearly, that I am sorry for the mess as I construct my new way of living and working. 

And let me also say that love – and construction – sometimes means saying “I’m happy”. I hope that we all sometimes experience what Anne calls “a joyful transition” as we create our futures. 

Last night on the news, a woman in Northern Ireland – who has lost seven relatives in the Troubles – was talking about the future. She could have called for revenge. What she actually said was, “We have a lot of healing to do here”. She is constructing the future. If she can do it, we all can.