The refreshing, compelling lens of Appreciative Inquiry

What if there was an innovative way to move your organization further toward its inherent purpose and strengths? What if a reliable and bespoke plan could be crafted – a plan that builds naturally on the best aspects of your organisation’s journey so far? What if this could be done with guaranteed buy-in from team members and stakeholders? What if the idea of ‘building on the best of what is’ could be applied successfully to other groups you are connected to, to your family, and even to your personal life?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) according to David Cooperrider, ‘represents a paradigm shift in the world of sustainable organizational development: a radical departure from traditional deficit-based change to a positive, strengths-based approach.’

In March this year, we were privileged to attend (and present at) the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference in the gorgeous city of Nice, in France. At THINKspiration, we have loved and used Appreciative Inquiry principles in workshops for strategy and culture development for a number of years. We have been amazed at how they unearth ‘best moments’ within systems – and at how these unique strengths become signposts to success for building aspirational culture and optimal functioning going forward. In the conference sessions we were reminded again of their transcendent capacity to transform environments and individuals, as we listened to keynotes and stories from people from all over the world.

Appreciative Inquiry is built on an insatiable curiosity about ‘high-point moments’ – from our daily lives, in our families, in our careers, and in our organisations. These positive core strengths are then used to craft and re-craft systems for a successful and sustainable future. Think about it: when you intentionally hone and use your personal strengths, good things happen wherever you are, right? When we drill down and recognize what sparked our best family moments – and then re-engineer similar moments into family life, we build family health. When we collectively recognize the healthiest, most life-giving seasons and events in our organisations, we are uncovering the perfect building blocks for the future. Simple. Profound. Effective. I think we ignore this idea at our peril.

Importantly, Appreciative Inquiry doesn’t propose a ‘top-down’ change process, followed by a ‘communication roll-out.’ It advocates a ‘whole system’ approach: inclusivity is paramount, and everyone has a voice. “What?! How could we possibly we listen to everyone?” Well, environments can be carefully and respectfully created for large parts (or even the whole) of the organization to express their opinions and choices. Magic happens when people (from all levels of an organization) interactively create and construct a desired future based on high-points of the past: and buy-in is the natural by-product. Now those are facilitation skills worth developing!

Building on the above, Appreciative Inquiry practitioners regularly refer to various AI principles – and I think these are the ‘secret sauce!’ One of these is the ‘Constructionist Principle’ – ie Words create worlds. In other words, our reality is socially constructed through our conversations. Why not use this for positive effect? Another is the ‘Simultaneity Principle’ – which is based on the notion that whenever we ask a question, change begins to happen. Simply putting a carefully crafted positive question ‘out there’ starts to unlock the imagination and the potential of those being asked: Anything could happen! The ‘Anticipatory Principle’ is another compelling notion: essentially, we all move in the direction of what we are investigating, and of our images of the future. The more positive the image, the more constructive and proactive is the action. But this takes positive or appreciative questions in the first place: it requires focused attention to develop the images you are after, in a darkroom that is obsessed with problems and negatives.

For more info on Appreciative Inquiry and its methodologies, as well as the work of David Cooperrider and others in this field check out the following link:

We have been repeatedly inspired at how these simple, fresh ideas have brought transformation to the United Nations, NGOs, corporates, and many other environments, through the mining of strengths, the harnessing of potential through inclusion, and the constructing of futures that all stakeholders support. We hope you are too!

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