Creating More of What You Do Want
1. Choose the Positive as the Focus of Inquiry (Definition)
The Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach is to choose to seek out what is already good and right about the individual, team, or organization when we want to make change, instead of taking a “fix it” approach.
The difference is in the questions. Instead of asking “What can we to do minimize client anger and complaints?,” AI asks, “When have customers been most pleased with our service and what can we learn and apply from those moments of success?”
It is important to define what the organization wants more of. Sometimes it is easier to identify an important gap, issue, or problem (what we want less of) first and reframe it into what we want more of.
2. Inquiry into the Exceptionally Positive Moments (Discovery, part 1)
In Appreciative Inquiry we use interviews to evoke stories that illuminate an individual, team, or organization’s strengths.
- When are we functioning at our best?
- What characteristics are present?
Positive stories – unlike data, graphs, lists, etc. – stir imaginations and generate excitement about the individual, team, or organization and the ways in which it can build on what is already working.
The language of the questions will determine the direction the inquiry will take (negative or positive), and the results of the inquiry (negative or positive). Just asking the questions begins to bring about a change in any human system, so be careful what you ask for.
3. Share the Stories and Identify Life Giving Forces (Discovery, part 2)
Rather than choosing the best stories, or even those that represent the norm, find what elements are common to the moments of greatest success and fulfillment. Ask yourself, ‘what are the most promising and inspiring components of a desired future? Imagine if all those exceptional moments became the norm in the future!
Life Giving Forces (LGFs) are elements or experiences that represent the organization’s strengths when it is operating at its very best. This could be a single moment in time, such as a particular customer transaction, or it could be large in scope. It can be any aspect that contributes to the organization’s highest points and most valued experiences or characteristics.
4. Create Shared Images of a Preferred Future (Dream)
Continuing with the energy in stage 3, it is time to ask individuals to create a future in which the high points identified in the stories are the everyday reality. The individual or team will literally design the structure – whether it is resources, business processes, policies, whatever – for achieving this desired future. “…the ability to express a vision in metaphors….is an essential quality of leadership” (Capra, 2002). Visioning or dreaming process consists of a visual image and word image.
Visual images can consist of drawing, songs, skits, collages, dances, etc.
Word images translate from the visual image, called a Provocative Proposition (also known as a Possibility Statement, Shared Vision, or Dream Statement). A provocative proposition bridges the best of ‘what is’ with your/their own speculation or intuition of ‘what might be’. It stretches the realm of the status quo, challenges common assumptions or routines, and helps suggest real possibilities that represent desired possibilities for the individual, group, or organization.
5. Innovate and Improvise Ways to Create the Future (Design & Destiny)
This step brings your efforts to life. Individuals, team and/or organizational members innovate and improvise ways to create the preferred future by continuously improvising and building AI competencies into the culture. It includes noticing and celebrating successes that are moving the system toward the preferred future the organization or group co-created. For some organizations, this might mean a new way of communicating with customers (internal or external) or perhaps develop a new management training program – the possibilities are endless.
Start creating more of what you do want!
- Learn more about becoming certified.
- Use our resources and find other ways to be involved with the Center for Appreciative Inquiry.
- Search our directory to find a certified AI Professional to help you achieve change in your organization.
Capra, F., The Hidden Connections: Integrating the Biological, Cognitive, and Social Dimensions of Life into a Science of Sustainability, New York: Doubleday, 2002.
Mohr, B. J. & J. M. Watkins, The Essentials of Appreciative Inquiry: A Roadmap for Creating Positive Futures, Waltham, MA: Pegasus Communications, Inc., 2002.