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Appreciative Inquiry

Sometimes we stumble on things that will change the way we see and do things. This is certainly true for me when I ran across Appreciative Inquiry. It was really the wording, Appreciative Inquiry, which caught my eye. It tickled my brain’s language centre and although only two words, it communicates affirmation, curiosity, exploration, thoughtfulness and positive energy.

This is how Diana Whitney and Amada Trosten-Bloom define Appreciative Inquiry in their book “The Power of Appreciative Inquiry”:

Appreciative Inquiry is the study and exploration of what gives life to human systems when they function at their best. This approach to personal change and organization change is based on the assumption that questions and dialogue about strengths, successes, values, hopes and dreams are themselves transformational.

It has taken me some time to unpack what this mean. In my blog My most useful tool, I talked about how I find questions to be a great leadership tool. This is exactly what Appreciative Inquiry is about. It is about asking questions to bring in out the positive core in people and organisations. By asking the right questions we will put people on a trajectory of improvement and success.

In Cooperrider and Srivastva’s early work “Appreciative management and leadership” from 1990 they outline five principles for Appreciative Inquiry.

Words Create Worlds – The Constructionist Principle

There is an enormous creative power in the words, language and metaphors we use. The bible says that “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1) and the world was created. Organisations are created through conversations and we shape continually shape them with what we talk about. Joseph Jaworski, Chariman of American Leadership Forum, put it like this:

I have always thought that we used language to describe the world — now I see this is not the case. To the contrary, it is through language that we create the world, because it’s nothing until we describe it.

Inquiry Create Change – The Simultaneity Principle

Questions are never neutral and change starts the moment we ask the first question. This is long recognised by therapists and coaches who provoke change and development through questions. It is also in the quest for the answers that noble prize winners come across scientific discoveries that forever will change how we see the world.

We Can Choose What We Study – The Poetic Principle

Humans and organisations alike are not static but an ever changing organism. We are however free to chose what we study and through that set the direction of what we become. Appreciative Inquiry chooses affirmative topics to study in order to build on our best.

Image Inspire Action – The Anticipatory Principle

Actions we take today are highly guided by the images we have of the future. An organisations image of the future are created by all Stakeholders. It is created in CEO’s speech, around the table on the lunch break and in the strategy meetings. Appreciative Inquiry ensures that the dialogue is full of positive images of the future and lots of accounts of past success.

Positive Questions Lead To Positive Change – The Positive Principle

For long lasting effect to take place, it is necessary to build on the positive core of an organisation. This is done though exploring hopes, inspiration and excitements. This will lead to creativity, joy and openness to new ideas. Professor Bushe and Cotze made the following observation in their paper “Appreciative Inquiry as a Team-Development Intervention”:

The more positive questions we used the guide the team building or organisational development initiative, the more long lasting or effective change effort.

Have you come across Appreciative Inquiry before and what are your reflections? What do you think this can do for you and your organisation?