Using Appreciative Inquiry to Transform your Business

“Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them...(it) involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to heighten positive potential.”*

Appreciative Inquiry** (AI) was developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva at Case Western Reserve University in 1987. They state that an organisation is a ‘miracle to be embraced rather than a problem to be solved’. It is a methodology for bringing about organisational (and human) change which seeks to identify, then amplify the positives in people and in businesses.

Organisations such as BP Castrol Marine, NASA, US Navy, Nielson and McDonalds have used Appreciative Inquiry to transform their organisations.

Appreciative Inquiry is:

  • Appreciative: looks for the positive
  • Applicable: practical and grounded in reality
  • Provocative: encourages risk taking
  • Collaborative: involves everyone

In actual fact, AI is almost the polar opposite of problem-solving.  In a work setting, rather than giving time and energy to the negative, it mobilizes individuals behind a positive vision for the future - a vision based on the amplification of results already achieved, values already embedded and behaviours already adopted.  Since it is based on doing more of what already exists (as identified by the very team members themselves) rather than being based on possibly fanciful and unrealistic goals, the vision for the future becomes all the more real and compelling to the team.

So how does it work in practice?4D Cycle Appreciative Inquiry

There is a recognised process for organisational and human change using AI, called the 4D cycle.  It incorporates the 4 phases of change (see image to the right).

"Appreciative Inquiry begins by identifying what is positive and connecting to it in ways that heighten energy and vision for change"***

So AI begins by finding out what is already working (the 'Discovery' phase). This involves questioning and language is key here. Instead of asking your team:

  • What problems are you having in your job?
  • Who is to blame?
  • What is missing? 

Your questions should focus on the positive:

  • What worked well in the past?
  • What achievements are you/and your team proud of?
  • What do you want more of?
  • How must it be in the future?

"It's (AI’s) assumption is simple: every organization has something that works right – things that give it life when it is most alive, effective, successful, and connected in healthy ways to its stakeholders and communities"***

Aside from creating a feel-good vibe around the office, how will a focus on the positive help your business?  Here are a few thoughts;

  1. What we focus on becomes our reality
  2. The language we use creates our reality
  3. If we carry forward parts of the past, they should be the best parts
  4. People have more confidence to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the known)

So by focusing on the positive and by using positive language, our reality - what we perceive as real - becomes more positive.  

 “…AI recognizes that every organization is an open system that depends on its human capital to bring its vision and purpose to life...the outcome of an AI initiative is a long-term positive change in the organization… AI is important because it works to bring the whole organization together to build upon its positive core. AI encourages people to work together to promote a better understanding of the human system, the heartbeat of the organization.”***

The process then moves through the ‘Dream’ phase (envisioning results) and the ‘Design’ phase (constructing the ideal) before entering the ‘Destiny’ phase where the focus is on adjusting strategies and sustaining momentum in order that the vision be achieved.

If you are interested in using Appreciative Inquiry in your business to generate innovative ideas and action, try these five things:

  • Learn about what stimulates innovation in your context
  • Use stories to jump start imagination
  • Ask generative questions
  • Dream together
  • Improvise destiny

Want to find out more?  Join us on November 3rd in Plymouth as we dive deeper in to the concept of Appreciative Inquiry and learn how it can transform your business.

*Cooperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D., “Appreciative Inquiry: A positive revolution in change.” In P. Holman & T. Devane (eds.), The Change Handbook, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., pages 245-263.

**AI (Appreciative Inquiry) - the US spelling of 'Inquiry' is widely adopted since the methodology was developed in the US.

***Cooperrider, David L; Whitney, Diana; and Stavros, Jacqueline M., Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: The First in a Series of AI Workbooks for Leaders of Change, Lakeshore Communications, 2003, Pages XVII – XIX

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