February 1, 2002

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Learn more about applying this approach at our CAMLS program on Appreciative Inquiry, April 23, 2002.

Appreciative Inquiry

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."
-Albert Einstein

There is nothing wrong with being a problem solver. Any one of us who holds a job at any position would describe ourselves as problem solvers on our best days. In the area of change management, it has been natural to come from a position of looking at what is wrong and finding ways to correct it.

In the mid-eighties, Dr. David Cooperrider, Suresh Srivastva and their colleagues at Case Western Reserve University introduced the term Appreciative Inquiry, an approach that has grown out of, and is supported by, emerging research across the disciplines of education, psychology and organizational behavior, where the most basic assumption is that positive change comes from positive inquiry and a focus on what is working.

Appreciative Inquiry assumes several key points:
  • Reality is constantly being created and re-created.
    Organizations should be read as being open to interpretation.

  • What we focus on creates our reality. More and more, it is becoming evident that our perceptions create our reality. Many managers and educators are familiar with The Pygmalion Principle, in which we become what we are in other people's eyes. How we are perceived constructs what we become.

  • Focus on what has worked in the past. People can go into the future with more confidence if they carry with them a clear image of the successful parts of their history.

  • Posing questions to a group influences behavior and change.
    From an AI standpoint, it is more useful to pose questions in the positive, recollecting images of what has worked, and broaden the thought process from there. Research by Barbara Fredrickson of the University of Michigan supports a "broaden and build" response whereby positive emotions have been found to create an openness to new ideas and new courses of action. In AI, the more positive the question, the more positive will be the data, stories, and images that are received.

To position yourself for Appreciative Inquiry, begin to look at the heart of your organization and the individuals who make it a whole. You will still solve problems. You just won't miss the spirit and splendor of your organization along the way.

Sources: ASTD Midwest Regional Conference presetation, "Appreciative Inquiry: The positive core of change." Dr. David Cooperrider and Ronald E. Fry, Case Western Reserve University, 2001.

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