Appreciative Inquiry: A Solution to be Embraced or a Problem to be Solved?

Posted  | 0 Comment(s)  |  by Joseph Bruce, Career Partners International - Dubai

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a questioning approach based upon the principles of positive psychology. Traditionally, psychology has focused on "what is wrong," and "how can we fix it?" The field of positive psychology has evolved to focus on what is right. Recent research and developments in this field suggest that to achieve greatness, one must:

“Not only fix what is broken, but must also nurture what is best.”
- Martin Seligman

Traditionally, organizational development has involved identifying the problem, and analyzing the causes and solutions before developing the action plan. AI looks to identify the positive core of an organization and to use positive questioning to drive the process forward, with long lasting and positive change based upon past successes and a shared vision of the future; more of a "solution to be embraced" rather than a "problem to be solved."

Every organization has something that works well and makes it successful, but what makes systems perform at their best? This question is central to the principles of AI within the organizational development context. AI acknowledges the negatives, but places an emphasis on the positive, socially-created and collective future image of the organization. By unlocking potential and bringing to life an individual’s unique gifts and capacities, organizations can be reinforced, start to see their employees’ full potential, and be in a stronger position to tackle what is wrong.

As a way of understanding a business, AI uses the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential. The 4-D cycle provides a framework through which to operationalise the AI approach:

The 4-D Cycle

Discovery: “What gives life?”
Dream: “What might be?”
Design: “How can it be?”
Destiny: “What will be?”

Every organization has “exceptional moments” which give it life. Members of organizations have experiences of success and high energy. Members of organizations also have values and aspirations, whether it be integrity, innovation or customer responsiveness. The Discovery stage of AI seeks to find out, describe and explain these values through dialogue and questioning. Every question is positive and the emphasis is towards finding shared ideals and visions which the collective members value and will aspire to.

Taking “what gives life” and turning it into “what might be.” The AI process generates its own momentum. The questions asked generate the foundation for the construction of the future. In this sense it is through positive dialogue about what has happened that a positive future can be shaped. At this stage, the themes from the Discovery phase, focusing on when the organization performs at its best, are to be collated into “what might be.”

Grounded in what has worked in the past, the strategic intent of the organization (i.e. what the organization wants to see more of) is now introduced. Generating the vision for the future, progress is shaped and supported by the values of the members of the organization.

The shared image of “what might be” leads the collective innovation of ways to move toward the ideal. The ideal is grounded in the reality of past successes and the individuals are empowered to push toward this and to generate change.

Appreciative Inquiry has had a massive impact in the business world and is currently being used all over the world from McDonald’s to the BBC to the US Navy. AI can be used to encourage the collective employee mind to embrace organizational change, to unleash creativity and positivity, and to align the future with their values and dreams. A “strengths based assessment” can help us appreciate what we’ve got, put us in a stable position to address what we could do better, and hopefully engage and motivate our employees along the way.  

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