“The ageless essence of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make a system’s weaknesses irrelevant.” — Peter Drucker
Are you tired of traditional problem-solving approaches that only focus on identifying what’s wrong?
Then it’s time to try Appreciative Inquiry, a powerful methodology that helps individuals, teams, and organizations build on their strengths and successes to drive positive change.
Long ago, one of my most insightful mentors introduced me to Appreciative Inquiry. While I liked the idea of it, it took me a while before I was able to fully appreciate it (how ironic).
And it took me a while to really internalize it as a way of leading positive change in a more powerful way.
You can fuel positive change through positive questions. Appreciative Inquiry empowers us to lead with questions.
I think of Appreciative Inquiry as the study of success over stewing in failure.
By focusing on what is working well and leveraging the power of positive language and storytelling, Appreciative Inquiry empowers people to envision a better future and work together to make that vision a reality.
What is Appreciative Inquiry?
In contrast to traditional problem-solving practices, Appreciative Inquiry focuses on strengths, successes, and opportunities rather than solely on identifying weaknesses and problems.
Among definitions of appreciative inquiry, I think this is the most useful:
“Appreciative Inquiry is a way to engage groups of people in self-determined change. It focuses on what’s working, rather than what’s not working, and leads people to co-designing their future.” — PositivePsychology.com
Here is how David Cooperrider, creator of Appreciative Inquiry defines it:
“Appreciative Inquiry methodology and initiatives which are specific techniques and operational steps that are used to bring about positive change in a system.” — DavidCooperrider.com
Appreciative Inquiry is a way of approaching problem-solving and change management that focuses on finding the strengths and positive aspects of a situation or organization, rather than just looking for what’s wrong or broken.
For example, instead of focusing solely on the issues and challenges facing a company, an Appreciative Inquiry approach would seek to identify the strengths and positive attributes that the company possesses and use those as a foundation to build on and create positive change.
This can be a powerful way to shift the mindset and energy of a team or organization towards a more positive and proactive approach to change, and can lead to greater engagement, motivation, and success in achieving goals.
Video Overview of Appreciative Inquiry
Here is a video overview of Appreciative Inquiry I found useful. Lindsey Godwin, Ph.D., the Academic Director for the Cooperrider Center, walks through Appreciative Inquiry providing a really firm foundation to start from.
Appreciate + Inquire
“Appreciative Inquiry is based on a deceptively simple premise: organizations grow in the direction of what they repeatedly ask questions about and focus their attention on.” — Gervase Bushe
One way to really understand what Appreciative Inquiry is all about, is to better understand the definitions of appreciate and inquire:
Appreciate (Ap-pre’ci-ate, v.,)
- valuing; the act of recognizing the best in people or the world around us; affirming past and present strengths, successes, and potentials; to perceive those things that give life (health, vitality, excellence) to living systems
- to increase in value, e.g. the economy has appreciated in value.
Synonyms: VALUING, PRIZING, ESTEEMING, and HONORING
Inquire (In-quire’ (kwir), v.,)
- the act of exploration and discovery.
- to ask question; to be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities.
Synonyms: DISCOVERY, SEARCH, STUDY, and SYSTEMATIC EXPLORATION.
What are the Benefits of Appreciative Inquiry?
“The marvelous thing about a good question is that it shapes our identity as much by the asking as it does by the answering.” — David Whyte
Appreciative inquiry can help to create a more positive, collaborative, and empowered work culture, while also driving positive change and growth within an organization.
Appreciative inquiry has several benefits, including:
- Focus on strengths: Appreciative inquiry is a positive and constructive approach to problem-solving that focuses on an organization’s strengths, rather than weaknesses or problems. This can help to create a more optimistic and empowering work culture.
- Collaboration: Appreciative inquiry involves bringing together people from different areas of an organization, encouraging collaboration and cross-functional teamwork. This can lead to increased creativity, innovation, and new ideas.
- Empowerment: By involving employees in the change process and valuing their perspectives and experiences, appreciative inquiry can help to create a sense of ownership and empowerment within an organization.
- Positive change: Appreciative inquiry is designed to generate positive change by identifying and building on what is already working well in an organization. This can lead to sustainable and long-lasting improvements.
- Strategic planning: Appreciative inquiry can be used as a strategic planning tool to help organizations set goals, prioritize initiatives, and identify areas for growth and development.
4 Keys to Understand Appreciative Inquiry
According to David Cooperrider, you can understand appreciative inquiry by understanding these 4 key points:
- Appreciative Inquiry focuses on leveraging an organization’s core strengths, rather than seeking to overcome or minimize its weaknesses.
- Organizations move in the direction of what they study.
- Appreciative Inquiry makes a conscious choice to study the best of an organization, its positive core.
- Appreciative Inquiry is not a “top down” or “bottom up” change process, but rather a “whole system” approach.
The 5 Principles of Appreciative Inquiry
“When work becomes play, and play becomes your work, your life unfolds.” — Robert Frost
The Appreciative Inquiry approach, developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, is based on five principles that include Constructionist, Simultaneity, Anticipatory, Poetic, and Positive.
Here are the 5 principles of Appreciative Inquiry:
- Constructionist Principle (Words create worlds): Reality, as we know it, is a subjective vs. objective state and is socially created through language and conversations.
- Simultaneity Principle (Inquiry creates change): The moment we ask a question, we begin to create a change. “The questions we ask are fateful.”
- Poetic Principle (We can choose what we study): Teams and organizations, like open books, are endless sources of study and learning. What we choose to study makes a difference. It describes–even creates–the world as we know it.
- Anticipatory Principle (Imagine inspire action): Human systems move in the direction of their images of the future. The more positive and hopeful the image of the future, the more positive the present-day actions.
- Positive Principle (Positive questions lead to positive change): Momentum for (small or) large-scale change requires large amounts of positive affect and social bonding. The momentum is best generated through positive questions that amplify the positive core.
4-D Cycle of Appreciative Inquiry
The 4-D cycle of Appreciative Inquiry was created by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva at Case Western Reserve University in the 1980s.
The 4-D cycle is a simple framework for appreciative inquiry. Here are the four stages:
- Discovery: “What gives life?” During the Discovery phase, the focus is on identifying the life-giving elements of the organization, including past successes, and understanding the factors that have contributed to them. This active inquiry involves asking questions to uncover “the best of what is” and emphasizing strengths rather than weaknesses. By shifting the focus to positive aspects, the AI process promotes a new mindset that moves away from deficit-focused thinking.
- Dream: “What might be?” In the Dream phase of Appreciative Inquiry, participants come together to imagine positive and potential futures for the organization, leveraging the diversity of perspectives, opinions, and understandings from a wide range of stakeholders. By asking unconditional positive questions, creative and constructive visions and possibilities are unlocked, and participants use positive language and imagery to co-create positive outcomes and shared aspirations.
- Design: “What should be?” In this phase, co-creation remains integral, but the focus moves towards discussing and debating the possibilities that have been generated. The aim is to establish a shared vision or value that all participants believe has genuine potential for positive impact. Aspirations that were previously individual become collective in an inclusive, secure, and supportive environment where all voices are heard.
- Destiny: “How to empower, learn, and improvise?” In the final phase of Appreciative Inquiry, the focus shifts to constructing futures through innovation and action, as the vision, systems, or structures that have been designed are further refined through individual commitment. This phase, formerly known as Delivery, is aimed at achieving the committed possibilities by committing to the possible means. The goal is to make the vision a reality by putting the refinements into action and building upon the positive momentum generated by the Appreciative Inquiry process.
You can apply the 4-D cycle to a wide range of contexts, from individual coaching and team building to organizational change and community development.
5-D Cycle of Appreciative Inquiry
“We can’t ignore problems—we just need to approach them from the other side.” — David Cooperider and Diana Whitney
The 5-D cycle of Appreciative Inquiry is a framework used to guide the process of inquiry, discovery, and change. It was developed by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney in the late 1990s.
The 5-D cycle of Appreciative Inquiry builds on the 4-D Cycle of Appreciative Inquiry by adding a fifth step: Define. Define involves selecting an affirmative topic for the focus of the intervention.
This could be a single or multiple foci, such as achieving greater customer satisfaction, ensuring safer work environments, or delivering value more efficiently.
As David Cooperrider describes it, the affirmative topic is crucial to the success of the Appreciative Inquiry process.
The 5 D’s stand for:
- Define: In this stage, the focus is on identifying the topic or issue to be explored and the scope of the inquiry. This involves clarifying the purpose and desired outcome of the inquiry.
- Discovery: This stage involves exploring the positive experiences and best practices related to the topic of inquiry. This involves using open-ended questions and engaging in dialogue to uncover the strengths, values, and successes of the organization or community.
- Dream: In this stage, the focus is on envisioning and imagining a desired future state, based on the insights and discoveries from the previous stage. This involves engaging in creative and visionary thinking to develop a shared vision of the future.
- Design: In this stage, the focus is on developing concrete plans and actions to realize the shared vision of the future. This involves identifying specific goals and objectives, developing strategies, and defining roles and responsibilities.
- Destiny: In this final stage, the focus is on implementing the plans and actions developed in the previous stage. This involves monitoring progress, adapting plans as needed, and celebrating successes along the way.
5 Use Cases for Appreciative Inquiry
“Our worlds are formed by the questions we ask.” — David Cooperrider
What good is a powerful tool if you don’t know when to use it?
Here are five great use cases for Appreciative Inquiry:
- Organizational Development: Appreciative Inquiry can be used to bring about positive change within an organization, such as improving team dynamics, increasing employee engagement, and fostering a positive work culture.
- Strategic Planning: AI can be used to create a shared vision of the future and to identify the steps necessary to achieve that vision.
- Team Building: AI can be used to build strong and cohesive teams, by focusing on the strengths and positive aspects of team members and the team as a whole.
- Leadership Development: AI can be used to help develop leaders who are more effective at leading positive change, by focusing on their strengths and developing strategies for leveraging those strengths.
- Community Building: AI can be used to bring together members of a community to identify and celebrate the positive aspects of the community, and to create a shared vision for the future.
Problem-Solving vs. Appreciative Inquiry
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” — Albert Einstein
Rather than starting with problems, Appreciative Inquiry starts with a search for the best in an organization and aims to build on those qualities. By embracing an organization’s challenges in a positive light, Appreciative Inquiry helps to promote a culture of optimism, creativity, and innovation.
There are two problem solving approaches we can compare: “deficit-based” vs. “affirmative.”
Here is a simple contrast between the two paradigms:
- Paradigm 1–Problem Solving: An organization is a problem that needs to be solved. This is a “deficit-based” approach to problem solving.
- Paradigm 2– Appreciative Inquiry: An organization is a mystery that should be embraced as a human center of infinite imagination, infinite capacity, and potential. This is an “affirmative” approach.
Paradigm 1: Problem Solving
Problem solving is a “deficit-based” approach that typically focuses on identifying what is wrong and what the problems and causes are. This often results in a negative and critical perspective.
Flow of Problem Solving:
- Organization is a Problem to Be Solved
- “Felt Need” Identification of Problem
- Analysis of Causes
- Analysis of Possible Solutions
- Action Planning (Treatment)
Paradigm 2: Appreciative Inquiry
In contrast to problem-solving, Appreciative Inquiry is an “affirmative” approach. Appreciative Inquiry offers a positive and empowering approach to organizational development by focusing on what is good in the organization, its success stories and strengths.
Flow of Appreciative Inquiry:
- Organization is a mystery (infinite capacity) to be embraced
- Appreciating “Valuing the Best of What Is”
- Envisioning “What Might Be”
- Dialoging “What Should Be”
- “Innovating “What Will Be”
SOAR vs. SWOT
Appreciate Inquiry is built on SOAR, not SWOT.
As David Cooperrider puts it:
“AI is about the discovery of life-generating strengths, and instead of SWOT, it is built on an analytic model called SOAR, that is, the systematic study of signature strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results.”
- S: Strengths
- W: Weaknesses
- O: Opportunities
- T: Threats
- S: Signature Strengths
- O: Opportunities
- A: Aspirations
- R: Results
The Power of Appreciative Inquiry for Transforming Organizations and Individuals
Appreciative inquiry is a powerful tool for driving positive change within organizations, teams, and individuals.
By focusing on strengths, opportunities, and success stories, rather than solely on identifying problems and weaknesses, appreciative inquiry empowers people to envision a better future and to work together to make that vision a reality.
Through the five principles of constructionism, simultaneity, anticipatory, poetic, and positive, AI provides a framework for building meaningful connections, driving innovation, and achieving sustainable growth.
As a methodology for fostering positivity and driving change, appreciative inquiry has the potential to transform the way we think about ourselves, our organizations, and our world.
Slides on Appreciative Inquiry (PowerPoint Deck)
David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry has created a comprehensive Appreciative Inquiry PowerPoint presentation to explain its history, principles, and case studies.
Through a series of theoretical principles and real-world case studies, this presentation demonstrates the potential of Appreciative Inquiry to drive innovation, growth, and positive change.
Download the Slides
Appreciative Inquiry PowerPoint presentation
David Chandler’s slides include adapted works of David Cooperrider, Diana Whitney.
Get the Books
Here is the short set of books I found the most useful. Appreciative Coaching is especially interesting because the authors, Sara Orem, Jaqueline Binkert, and Ann Clancy did a great job of bringing appreciative inquiry to coaching.
View Appreciative Inquiry on Amazon
View The Power of Appreciative Inquiry on Amazon
View Appreciative Coaching on Amazon
View The Appreciative Inquiry Summit on Amazon
View Thin Book of SOAR on Amazon
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How To Lead Change Better
How Leaders Can Change the World with Appreciative Inquiry
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