THE IMPERFECT SHOW NOTES
To help make this podcast more accessible to those who are hearing impaired or those who like to read rather than listen to podcasts, here are our show notes.
These show notes come via the Otter.ai service. The transcription is imperfect. But hopefully, it’s close enough – even with the errors – to give those who aren’t able or inclined to learn from audio interviews a way to participate.
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 00:00
I started this memoir, which is singly focused on unshackling, myself. And then I’ve discovered all these different writing forms these different genres. So I’m very loving at the moment very in love with personal essays with Flash nonfiction. So I’m trying out all of these different ways of writing, but all with the same thread seeking to understand how I fit into this world and what might resonate for others.
Achim Nowak 00:30
Welcome to the MY FOURTH ACT PODCAST. I’m your host, Achim Nowak, and I have conversations with exceptional humans who have created bold and unexpected lives. If you like what you hear, please subscribe on any major podcast platform, so you won’t miss a single one of my inspiring guests. And please consider posting and appreciative reviews. Let’s get started. I am delighted to welcome Robin Stratton Berg castle to the my fourth act podcast. Robin is known as the positivity strategist. And as a little aside, I remember years ago mentioning to a client of mine that I knew somebody who was a positivity strategist, and she said, Oh my god, that’s amazing. I didn’t know people like that exist. The beautiful thing is, it really taps something in her. Robin is a luminary in an exquisite approach to organizational change, called appreciative inquiry. And she wrote one of the definitive books about Appreciative Inquiry, titled appreciative inquiry for collaborative solutions, which was published by Wiley and Sons. Robin serves as adjunct faculty of the esteemed David Cooper writers center for appreciative inquiry, which is housed at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. I absolutely adore Robin’s TEDx talk about playful inquiry, and her brilliantly thoughtful podcast as a woman who has impeccable accomplishments and is now entering her early 70s. Robin is very much on a journey of self inquiry, and you discoveries she is an I use her language unshackling herself. I can’t wait to speak about what is being unshackled in Robin, and in all of us. Welcome, Robin.
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 02:41
Kim, thank you for that welcome. And I’m smiling hugely here. That is so lovely. Yes, thank you.
Achim Nowak 02:49
I want to start close to the beginning. Because I’m always curious when you were growing up, Robin and know how parents always ask us, oh, what do you want to do? What do you want to do? What do you want to be? What was in your thoughts, Robin?
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 03:06
Well, this is very contrary to the persona that I created for myself professionally. Okay, um, but it shows the possibilities that we all have, right? I just wanted to run away to escape. I just wanted to sail and fly to different places. And you’ve already referred to me as being in my seventh decade. So just imagine this 1960s, the highest aspiration of myself, and I shouldn’t know very seriously was to be an air hostess. So, I mean, the context is important, right? Because if you don’t have a context, there ain’t any meaning baby. So yeah, so it’s 1960s. And I just felt that the only way I could escape and live a wonderful life, and travel was to be an air hostess that change pretty quickly. But the other part of this context of him is that my father or our family moved every four years to a new country that he was with the Australian public service. And so to move every four years, it meant for me that I could get up and move whenever I wanted, that I actually I wasn’t, I wasn’t tied to any one place. So I just wanted to run away and create these new places for myself. And that has actually been a pattern of my life. As I start to unshackled to your reference, I am discovering these patterns. So, escaping finding new territory, creating new things. He was really important to me as a child and has stuck with me my entire life.
Achim Nowak 05:05
You already triggered so many thoughts in my mind. And I don’t know if we’ve talked about it. But you know, I’m, I’m the son of a father who was in the German Foreign Service, and we moved every four years, and I had the same pattern. And what I find endearing and wonderful about the air hostess remarks you made is, it would be really fun to just stop everything and sell real estate, you know, I would completely enjoy that, you know, we we get so attached to the narratives of what we’re doing and what that is. And I think that’s part of your in check what you’re unshackling as well, which is great.
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 05:40
Yeah, there wasn’t glamorous aspect to that in the 60s, though, yeah. To defend myself. Yeah, that eventually, when I did move into management, consulting, and organization development, my very first business in Australia was actually called future focused. So interestingly, there’s always been this desire to focus on a future.
Achim Nowak 06:03
And I think that’s actually a fantastic name for a business development consulting company. And I think it’s a great brand. I need to ask you one more question about your growing up, because mine was so similar. If you think about the moving every four years, besides the patterns, are there any moments where you that stand out where you go, this country was especially beautiful, this culture touching or this place was especially meaningful to me.
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 06:34
That’s a challenging one, I tend to struggle to settle in, you know, you’re always the new kid on the block, I was always kind of at the edges at the fringes. And so by the time it was, we were ready to move to somebody else, I’d already love the place. And I think perhaps my very first move when we lived in Athens, Greece, I really loved. I just love being in Athens. And I loved ancient history. And I loved the mythology that was around ancient Greek history. And I learned started to learn French, and German and Latin. At that very young age, I have this fondness of remembering Greece, because of all the things that it opened me up to, at an at a young age and left a strong impression on me.
Achim Nowak 07:25
I’m so interested in appreciative inquiry. But before we go there, because you mentioned more traditional business development and consulting, I know you worked for KPMG for a while before you had your own business. So if you think of that part of your life, because most of us have, we can tell two sides of the story. We have these moments that we love, which is why we did it. And we have these moments where we go like why the hell was I doing this? Can you give us an example of either extreme of being in that world.
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 08:01
I would like to go back one step though. Because before I got into the business, corporate world, I actually had a stint for seven years, it was a long stint where I taught English as a second language in the workplace. So when I finished my undergraduate degree and went on and did a grad dip, a graduate Graduate Diploma in education, I chose ESL, because of my background of having traveled and because of my love of language. And if I had not had that job of him, as an ESL teacher, I doubt that I would have gone into the training and development, organization, community development, I wouldn’t have followed that track. Because what I found from those years teaching adult migrants to Australia, who were this was now like 70s, and 80s, fleeing Vietnam, fleeing Cambodia tried to find a new life for themselves not being able to do the jobs that they were qualified to do. I found that by teaching them the language of their new country, often but not by choice, but they’re in their new country now that if they didn’t have this language, they didn’t have any power. So I found that helping them to give good voice enabled them to study more get into their professions relate to their families, you know, so all of this then kind of morphed into, well, if I can do this with this community, and I see the value of giving voice to people, I might be able to do this in a bit bigger context where I’m actually influenced the leadership of organizations and giving voice to the workers in these institutions and organizations. That was just so key to my then moving on and doing further study that then took me to YES to management consulting, and the career that I then created for myself.
Achim Nowak 10:00
That’s a beautiful background. And we’re going to talk some more about language. I know when we talk about the power of words. So we talked about appreciative inquiry and writing, I love that it goes that far back and in how you lived your life
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 10:16
helped me to talk about what I loved, because I kind of went back and I didn’t really respond to your question as
Achim Nowak 10:22
a matter. I’m curious, I would love to hear about it.
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 10:26
I don’t think there was anything that I disliked about, you know, the trajectory of my chosen path. But towards the end of him, now that I’m in my fourth act, that kind of the transition there was that the joy and the love that I had for my work, and I thought that I would never, ever not do this work. I loved it so much, I could see the benefits. I just felt the energy and the liveness that the work that I was doing brought to different contexts and people, but when it got to lately, you know, towards the end of a self imposed weight of needing to go on social media, do the tweets, do the LinkedIn bits do the Facebook likes? That was not enlivening me anymore? It was almost like an obligation that one needed to do this in this new age. How did you
Achim Nowak 11:27
find appreciative inquiry? Or how did that find you?
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 11:32
I love that question. How did it find you? Yeah, there was a mutual love story, we found each other.
Achim Nowak 11:39
Those often are the best. I tend to do.
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 11:43
And you know, even in my teaching now, which I still do, people who come to do this to learn this kind of approach, this methodology, this worldview, this philosophy, this practice, self select into it, because they are so disposed, it just means well, they show up. Well, yeah, I’ve been doing this all my life, you know, so it really does attract the right people. You know, way back in Australia, when I was consulting, all my approaches to organizational change, and development and culture change, were grounded in participatory methodologies. And many, you know, these, it was all whole system’s approach Open Space Technology, search conferencing. So again, it was following that thread that really I loved, which is giving voice co creating futures. And I love to design the frameworks to make that happen. So now, early 2000s, I find myself in New York City, married to an American, I’m struggling a little bit of edge. I’m working with other consultants, as associates and so on. But one of these associates said to me, Robin, I found something you will absolutely love. And it was appreciative inquiry. And that was in 2003, I went immediately to Case Western Reserve website to sign up, but I couldn’t, it was only one intake a year. So I had to wait almost a year to sign up to study with David cooperrider at Case Western Weatherhead School of Management to get my certification and appreciative inquiry. And she was right, I did love it. Again, you know, it just all the things that I was doing that I had no formal names for, it was just like, there’s no other way to do if you’re really looking for us sustainable systemic whole systems, participatory engagement, this is the way to do it, or one of the ways to do it.
Achim Nowak 13:30
I just feel your enthusiasm being channeled and coming through you as you talk about it. For our listeners who go, oh, that sounds really cool, but not sure I know what Appreciative Inquiry is. Can you give us a quick definition of this approach or this practice?
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 13:49
Yeah, so I talked about the four P’s of appreciative inquiry, which is the philosophy, the principles, the process and the practice. So it is a whole systems change methodology that’s grounded in very solid theory that’s interdisciplinary. And it seeks to find the very best in human and organizational systems. And through a structured approach to doing that, we then harness the best of cooperation, collaboration, co creation, and people just get ownership, you know, become involved in totally engaged by sharing their best practices, and then how they might take those into the future. So it’s very collaborative, concurrent, creative process.
Achim Nowak 14:38
I’m a little familiar with it. So when I appreciate that definition, I know in my professional world, some of the old tools people do things like gap analysis and stuff like that, which is always looking for what’s wrong, what’s wrong, what’s wrong, what’s wrong, what’s wrong, right and appreciative inquiry just approaches systems and change and growth from well that’s it wasn’t aware from an appreciative perspective, which is so different. But
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 15:03
yeah, it’s based on individual and collective strengths. So you know, there are ways to bring those strengths out. And if we focus on strengths, we know that we’re going to get far more, if you want to use a term productivity or engagement is when people can work to their strengths. You know, otherwise, if we’re focusing on deficits, and you already have to look at a meeting him. And if you’re focusing on the things that went wrong, and you’re looking for the blame, you see the energy of people in their shoulders, drop their eyes, and look down at their navels. That’s just totally, it’s not helpful.
Achim Nowak 15:37
I would love, love it. If you could give us maybe one example of an experience where you were the consultant going in, you use an appreciative inquiry approach where you felt, wow, my clients understood it, we did some great work together, it was the kind of positive collaborative experience that I was looking to create.
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 15:58
Yeah. And that’s so appreciative of you, again, because appreciative inquiry, which I failed to mention, but it’s all about storytelling as well, you don’t abstractly invite a list of leadership qualities you tell stories of when you’ve seen leadership in practice, where you’ve seen great leaders, you’ve seen great teammates, you’ve done some amazing planning, so inviting people to tell their own lived experiences, very experience base. And there’s the story that I love, I won’t mention the name. It was in Washington, it was a global military manufacturing organization, I was invited in to design this Appreciative Inquiry event of three days, to help the diversity and inclusion executive, Ford her agenda to actually get her agenda, which was to have greater diversity and inclusion across the organization onto the strategic agenda, right? We’re into the process, we’re doing the first part of the process, which is pairing up to discover stories around when they’ve seen belonging and creativity together. And at the end of this, where people then start to share, this executive stands up 300 400 people in the room, he stands up, and he looks down at his partner, who was a guy from the Navy, who had left the Navy and he was now working in the mailroom. And he said, I’ve just had the pleasure to speak with whatever his name was. And I have realized now that I have been tolerating diversity, inclusion and equity. From here on in, you have my commitment, I will embrace it. That set the tone for the next three days. And it was beautiful.
Achim Nowak 17:50
What I love I mean, I was thinking, given what’s going on in our country right now and conversations around Dei. And this suddenly become a bad thing, right? So appreciate this example, even more, I’m going to attempt the impossible right now. We could spend an hour just going down this lane. But one reason I wanted to speak with you is that you are an established figure in this world. And you wrote a marvelous book that I will mention again at the end. And then the pandemic happened. And my hunch is that it it took you to the new journey. Would you just walk us through the experience of the pandemic, what sort of journey it started taking you on him?
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 18:36
It was my shift began. Just prior to the pandemic, it was 2019 Your and my husband and I were in Europe, we’d been in Paris, and we actually arrived in Paris, two days after the towers came down. And then we moved on to Munich in Germany. I was pretty. I just finished a season of the podcast, a collaboration with the Taos Institute, which I’m hugely proud, I love that season, both of us got sick. And we felt we didn’t know about pandemic at the time, and it wasn’t COVID-19 at all, but we were just both so tired. I came back from that trip. And I decided that I was going to take a sabbatical, I announced to my community and you know, to the editorial boards, I was in to the faculty that college I was working with, to all my clients into my colleagues that I was taking six months break, and then into that March 2020, then COVID, you know, was announced and things started to shut down. So it was that kind of, I don’t know, I was the timing was quite right for me, because during that time, I was allowed to take a greater rest and a greater risk. And really think about what are the Crossroads I’m at right now and I belong to an online community that’s Canada based a wonderful community. That was one of the end Peter block, I went through a year long training with Peter block and Peter Pula on this site. And one of the questions was always, what are the Crossroads you’re at? So that really got me thinking, Where am I at? What’s the direction? It also, I just started, the ego part of me kind of started to slip off. I didn’t need those accolades anymore. You know, is it timing is was I just, you know, the zeitgeist, I don’t know, it was just, it just worked for me, that the pandemic work for me, I was able to kind of rethink and redirect, and I’d I wasn’t running away this time. I wasn’t escaping, I was just thinking, I thought I would never say that I didn’t want to do this work again. So I came to a realization that it wasn’t that I was retiring. You know, that’s a word that’s foreign to me. And while I was retiring from I was self employed, the framework that I took was or created was, I’m just not going, I’m not in business anymore. I’m not going to be out there soliciting. So when work started to come back after the Protect pandemic, I was just so happy to refer my work to my colleagues in this world. And it just worked out beautifully. The
Achim Nowak 21:19
phrase, like I’m not in business anymore, it’s actually it’s very powerful, because it is a to decide that and to affirm it, and to not sneak another label on it, which is what you didn’t do. That’s what I love about it. Now, when you talk to me about your journey of unshackling, I mentioned that word in the introduction. You know, it’s provocative and powerful. You just spoke about letting go of your possible attachments to you know, your accomplishment successes and what that all means. How did you get into unshackling? How did you discover that you weren’t shackling? Because then I’m assuming that was a discovery in and of itself? Yeah,
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 22:01
well, I kind of turned the tables and I did a little appreciative inquiry on myself. I went inward, tried. Yeah. And at the same time, there were two deaths. This was 2021. And 2022. year against mom died in 2021. And there was a lot of unshackling to do with her rather larger state in Sarasota, Florida. So that was another gift that I wasn’t crying to manage workloads at the same time. So that was one process. And then six months later, my beloved pet Neo died, well, she didn’t die. I gave permission to have her euthanized, and I was just so burdened with guilt about that. I made a commitment. And I cried, and greed hurt more than I’ve grieved any human being. I was trying to understand why is this and I looked at myself in the mirror at him, and I would see the tears running down my face, and my distorted red face. And I thought, I’m actually crying for myself, I’m grieving myself. What is that? So I started to then write, I made a commitment, I’d start to write a memoir, prompted by the death of Neo and my dealing with that, but then starting to write this memoir, I realized I was unshackling the culture that I’d been brought up to the power dynamics, so you know, and when you write about family, families, our power structures, and I had a very kind father, but he was so stuck on his own power, and a very subservient mother. And I started to try and understand that and that’s all culture. I mean, it’s not only the family culture that, you know, we’re born into, and we kind of carry through generations, but it was the culture of my country, Australia, which was grounded in convicts, when it was, you know, discovered in inverted commas by the British, but in doing so oppressed, the First Nations people, I began to feel grief for them and that I started to grieve my culture, exile degree, my family, I started to grieve all of this stuff. And that’s how it started. And I thought, well, I’m shackling myself from old habits, old beliefs, all cultural mores, the colonialization, the patriarchy, the misogyny, the sexism, all of that stuff started to bubble up for me. And just I was, that was giving me life. Now, to make sense of that. What I’m
Achim Nowak 24:37
thinking as I’m listening to you, obviously, you’re you describe this event of the loss of Neo, but in my mind is coupled with the fact that you’ve maybe for the first time years, had the space to really go in there, and the time to go in there to do the layers of grieving that many of us, it’s always there, but we’re just too busy. We just don’t dare go there. Right.
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 25:00
I would agree with you. Yeah, I belong to a number of online writing communities because I really focused on personal essays and so on one of the groups I belong to as a memoir group today, for example, I was on that call. It’s a global community. And the subject matter was grief. Yeah, we know we were actually having that similar conversation that you need, you know, one needs time and space to grieve. Yeah, otherwise, we bury it. And it’s doesn’t go away. It’s just going to manifest itself in different ways.
Achim Nowak 25:35
You and your husband, Jung, just last fall, you did go back to Australia. And I have a hunch that your travels and explorations in Australia have to do with the unshackling that you just talked about? Would you connect some of those dots for us as well? Yeah.
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 25:51
I didn’t know ask him how revisiting my homeland would land on me, it had been almost 10 years that I had visited. And I had deliberately planned or we had planned a trip to the heart of Australia, the Red Center, which is literally in the center of this huge continent. Because I want to find out what makes us what is Australian with a, an indigenous culture, Aboriginal First Nations, people who have been there for 60 to 65,000 years that we have oppressed? What did they know about the land? What does the land what does the water what does the sky tell you? It’s very much a search for seeking to understand that. And when if anyone knows the continent of Australia, in the middle areas, this rock that is now has been given back to the First Nations people called autoroute. It’s the largest monolithic rock in the world. And when I went there, the tears were streaming down, my heart was pumping, pumping, I was just so moved to think the accumulation of history and culture that we have discounted. That was part of the unshackling, too. And then I went around and looked at went to gallery. So look at all the artworks and I went to museums, and I went to the immigration museum. So you know, I was really interested in unshackling, not only my own personal story, but the nation story. So
Achim Nowak 27:20
as you’re writing, you mentioned the memoir. And are is does that book have a shape and form already? Is it coming along in little pieces and essays that might accumulate into a book? Or? I guess I’m where I’m taking you is, as you look to your future? Are there more books? Is there more writing? Is this what makes your heart sing right now?
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 27:44
Well, I might come to you for some advice. Because it’s kind of all the above, I started this memoir, which is singly focused on unpacking, unshackling, myself, and then I’ve discovered all these different writing forms these different genres. So I’m very loving, at the moment, very in love with personal essays with Flash nonfiction. So I’m trying out all of these different ways of writing, but all with the same thread of seeking to understand how I fit into this world, and what might resonate for others. You know, some people think, and I thought maybe two, that writing memoir is a little bit navel gazing. But if you think about the stories, we all what we have in common, we can expose some of these power dynamics from families and different cultures, then we are offering a service, I see a higher intention, the form that will take I’m not attached to, I’m just really enjoying the experience, the process and what I’m learning and discovering through writing. In my fourth app,
Achim Nowak 28:53
I’d love for you do contemplate for a moment, because in my mind, this is a thread in your life. And even though our forms changes, what I’m hearing is a love of words, and what words mean and what words can convey and the layers of meaning and words that you talk about what you love about language and the impact of language. Well, I
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 29:16
mentioned, I’ve been traveling from the age of, you know, for up to 20 I was traveling in different countries, I love different languages. So I was good at language because I was immersed in the culture and so I could pick up language very quickly in my throat muscles worked well at an early age. So I’ve always loved language, and I love what language tells us about culture too, right? It’s really important the combination of the two, but the thing you know tying appreciative inquiry into this, which is very strongly focused on the words we use create al worlds. So if we are mindful about how we use words how we use language, then we are also being very conscious about How our words impact others bring us into the future that we’re talking about how you talk about the future is really important, because the world that you’re creating is really dependent on the world. So if you have this broken, damaged, approach to life, or your culture, that’s what you might live into. So language is really instrumental in helping us shape our futures. The more positive the language, the more positive the impact as well. You know, we know that through neuroscience and positive psychology, there’s so much evidence today to say that how we construct our language, how we construct our relationships, how we construct our cultures are key, I mean, they are all social constructs, you wouldn’t have racism, or you wouldn’t have slavery, or you wouldn’t have a lot of these different social contracts. If you didn’t have the language to describe them. Language is key.
Achim Nowak 30:55
So as we complete our conversation, in the spirit of language and words, I’m going to throw a hypothetical at you if you had a chance to from your vantage point right now as a seasoned traveler and explorer. Give some words of wisdom to young Robin, who wanted to be an air hostess. What would you like her to know about life not to change her journey in life? But just if you are the wise, the wise, older friend, mother, Aunt, what would you say to her?
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 31:27
Firstly, I have to say, I’ve never shared that air hose story, pay a hostess story with me. So now it’s gonna be out there in the world, right? And the word hostess was kind of irrelevant back in the 60s, right? Anyway, asked me the question again, if you
Achim Nowak 31:44
almost if you were like the, the wise, older, experienced friend, mother, sage, who could say some words of wisdom to young Robin, that help her navigate the world? Based on what you have learned? What would you say to her?
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 32:02
Can I give you that answer in a story? Yes,
Achim Nowak 32:05
I would love that.
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 32:06
It’s about working to your strengths. But I discovered in the early 2000s, a book called authentic happiness written by Marty Seligman, who is known as the father of positive psychology. And I did a survey in that book, and the results of that survey, that’s a character strengths survey known today as the via that choose in action. And you can find it if you do the search on the web. Absolutely. Sure, you know, back then, you know, these are kind of innate character strengths that you can develop and get better at my character strengths were listening. Rather, gratitude, forgiveness, humility, loving. And number five was ingenuity, which has been now called Creativity. When I heard those strengths in the early 2000s. When I was just here in America, and I was trying to establish myself in management consulting here, I was really annoyed with myself, I mumbled. No wonder I’m not succeeding here in business, I should have been a Mother Teresa. So now if I think about gratitude, forgiveness, humility, loving, and creativity, Aren’t those the kind of strengths we want in our organizations today, in our communities today. So I would tell my younger self, identify your strengths, and go put them to work, go out there and live up to your strengths.
Achim Nowak 33:34
Thank you, mother, Teresa. That was beautiful. If our listeners are curious, and I’m sure they are about you the work you do with the work you’ve done, and even though you say that you are not in business right now, but people may want to look you up, where would you like to send them? Oh, I
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 33:51
think you’ve already alluded to it, and thank you so much. But you know, if they’re looking for some professional resources, and I really worked hard to share what works and share my content. So if they wanted to look at some of those access some of those resources, they would go to positivity strategist.org And if they’re curious about my new me, my own unshackling me all they have to do very simple. They just have to type into the search bar unshackling.me And they’ll start to see my unfolding story. That
Achim Nowak 34:25
was a wonderful tease to end on Robin Stratton. Berg Castle, thank you so much for your insights, but also for just telling the stories today. I’m so grateful to you. Thank you. Oh,
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel 34:37
okay. So my gratitude and love to you. Thank you, Achim.
Achim Nowak 34:42
You’re welcome. Like what you heard, please go to my fourth act.com And subscribe to receive my updates on upcoming episodes. Please also subscribe to us on the platform of your choice. Rate us give us a review and let us all create some magical fourth acts together Ciao