Friday, August 20, 2004

Appreciative Inquiry at Work

There is a working definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Intuitively most people understand that if they want a different result they need to do different things. So why do we stick with the mindset that says if we just try a little harder, do it faster, add more people we will be successful?

What we need, as Einstein said, is a different kind of thinking to that which created the situation in the first place.

Have you ever been drawn into one of those conversations about what’s wrong with life and found as the talk continued that you became more and more de-energized and depressed? Why is it that when you talk to other people you leave with a renewed energy? Why do some of those workplace initiatives seem such hard work and others progress with increasing commitment and vitality?Recently, my daughter came home from a work place meeting where they had completed a “what to stop, what to start, what to continue” exercise. She commented on the “what to stops”, and how they had turned them into “what to starts” because that was more positive and helped them build on what they wanted to achieve. Although we talk about the joys and sorrows of the workplace, she is not familiar with the psychology, research and expertise behind Appreciative Inquiry. She just knows that when you focus on what you want, instead of what you do not want, you are on your way to getting it.

Roots of Appreciative Inquiry

David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, at Case Western Reserve University, developed the idea of Appreciative Inquiry through research in medicine, education and psychology into the connection between image and action. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) focuses on what happens when people are at their best. In contrast to the current trend of deficit thinking, the AI process seeks what gives positive life to a situation or an organization. With the knowledge that the energy flows to what we think about, we can chose to see a series of problems to be fixed or a vision of the preferred future.The appreciative approach owes more to the thinking of the new sciences than the traditional Newtonian rules that are the basis of many of our past practices. The Newtonian approach is a search for a simpler model that reduces information to its smallest components, explains all, and provides predictability. Quantum Physics and the new sciences (like Chaos Theory, Complexity Theory and the Theory of Self-Organizing Systems) are based on an acceptance of the complexity of the world, the idea that we can exist “not knowing” and live with unpredictability. Instead of “seeing is believing” and reductionism, the new sciences are more concerned with wholeness and connectivity and a mind broadening “I’ll see it when I believe it”.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) engages people in creating and sustaining transformational change. AI uses the power of positive questions to draw on their peak experiences and shift the focus and energy to the strengths and possibilities in an organization. The five stage AI process (define, discover, dream, design, destiny) leads participants to uncover their vision and take action to create it.

Major organizations are using AI to build capacity, change culture, maximize operations and deliver to the bottom lines. They use it to shape strategic alliances and corporate turnarounds and apply it to common internal practices such as strategic planning, performance management, process improvement and team development. More than a methodology, AI is a powerful, practical and proven tool that empowers the imagination and generates innovation, creativity, participation and commitment.Try this. The next time you are in a problem solving kind of situation ask “tell me about a time when it worked well?” and afterwards, if you need to, ask “what can we do this time to build on that success?” I say ‘if you need to’ because the power of telling the story usually shifts the group to answer this question anyway. The energy rises, ideas flow, solutions emerge.

Believe it – you’ll see it. Let me know!

Watch for posts to follow on the AI process, theory, principles and the appreciative approach


Workshop information:
BC Centre for Quality, Insights Series

3 Comments:

Blogger Karl Hiunzm said...

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5:21 PM  
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3:11 PM  
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3:02 AM  

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