Think back to the last few projects you were on. How much of the work that you did on those projects were focussed on fixing (or avoiding) problems? We ask questions like ‘how do I get out of this rut?’ and ‘how do I get away from or solve this problem?’. But what if we were to pause and think about the questions we are asking? What if we were to instead ask questions like ‘what makes us feel alive and effective?’ and ‘how do we move towards that?’. What would happen then?
We live in a world our questions create. What we ask each other can set the stage for what we discover and shapes our ability to imagine, plan and create a future reality. Unfortunately, the pull of the problematic has created what David Cooperider, co-creator of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), describes as the “80-20 deficit bias”, whereby we invest 80% of our effort fixated on what’s not working and leaving only 20% to build upon what’s working well.
Appreciative inquiry represents a radical departure from traditional deficit-based change to a positive change approach. The 4-D cycle is a methodology that discovers the best of what is to dream up what might be, design what should be, and empower, learn and improvise towards a chosen destiny.
In our January ACMP conversation with change practitioners (held on the first Friday of every month), I was invited to host a dialogue on Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Participants first got a chance to experience how this branch of research could be applied to their personal and professional lives. While exploring each of the stages in the 4-D cycle, we also discussed the applications in an organizational setting. Some of the possible applications included:
- Using lessons learned (what went well) from past projects and integrating it into visioning and planning work at the beginning of projects
- Coaching leaders and sponsors, leveraging something that is familiar to them (their strengths) and aligning it to the needs of the project
- Helping with change fatigue by giving focus and energy to individuals
Are you curious to learn more about Appreciative Inquiry? We have some great thought leaders right here in Canada.
Some of my favourites include:
- Gervase Bushe: Esteemed professor and researcher at SFU, Gervase studied at Case Western Reserve University during the emergence of this approach. His website offers many publications on Appreciative Inquiry.
- Joan McArthur-Blair and Jeannie Cockell: One of my favourite books of 2020 included “Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry” by these authors from Victoria.
- Michelle McQuaid: From Eastern Canada I bring you Michelle. Michelle’s podcast and website provide some brilliant tools for practitioners.
“What would happen to our change practices if we began all our work with the positive presumption that organizations, as centers of human relatedness, are alive with infinite constructive capacity?” ― David L. Cooperrider, Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change
Guest blogger and ACMP Member, Vancouver Chapter
Beloved & Co. and Manager, OCM at Langara College
Connect with Becky on LinkedIn
Cooperrider, D. L., Barrett, F., & Srivastva, S. (1995). Social construction and appreciative inquiry: a journey in organizational theory. In D. Hosking, H. P. Dachler & K. Gergen (Eds.), Management and organization: relational alternatives to individualism (pp. 157–200). Farnham: Ashgate.