Leadership and Appreciative Inquiry – Part 1

AI - Part 1

I had a “vigorous” discussion several months ago with someone whose opinion I have always valued. I have not always agreed with it. And in fact, I did not agree with it in the context of that vigorous discussion. However, I had reflected upon something that he said to me and have decided to put make of those thoughts available to Leadership Voices.

He challenged me to consider the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Model rather than the model of problem solving that I tend to employ. I was not as versed in AI as he. And you may not be as well. If so, consider this quick definition of AI.

Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a model for analysis, decision-making and the creation of strategic change, particularly within companies and other organizations. It was developed at Case Western Reserve University’s department of organizational behavior, starting with a 1987 article by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva. They felt that the overuse of “problem solving” as a model often held back analysis and understanding, focusing on problems and limiting discussion of new organizational models.

The model is based on the assumption that the questions we ask will tend to focus our attention in a particular direction. The more common methods of assessing and evaluating a situation and then proposing solutions are based on what AI terms a “deficiency model.” Some of these more common methods ask questions such as “What are the problems?”, “What’s wrong?” or “What is broken and needs to be fixed?”.

Appreciative Inquiry has 5 Principles:

  • The Constructionist Principle
  • The Simultaneity Principle
  • The Poetic Principle
  • The Anticipatory Principle
  • The Positive Principle

That sounds great so far. Doesn’t it?

Yes, this all sounds great. And, in fact, I believe much of AI is great. Consider if you will very brief explanations of each principle.

The Constructionist Principle states that what we believe to be true determines what we do, and thought and action emerge from relationships. Through the language and discourse of day to day interactions, people co-construct the organizations they inhabit.

The Simultaneity Principle states that as we inquire into human systems we change them and that the seeds of change, the things people think and talk about, what they discover and learn, are implicit in the very first questions asked. Questions are never neutral, they are fateful, and social systems move in the direction of the questions they most persistently and passionately discuss.

The Poetic Principle states that organizational life is expressed in the stories people tell each other every day, and the story of the organization is constantly being co-authored. The words and topics chosen for inquiry have an impact far beyond just the words themselves.

The Anticipatory Principle states that what we do today is guided by our image of the future. Human systems are forever projecting ahead of themselves a horizon of expectation that brings the future powerfully into the present as a mobilizing agent. Appreciative inquiry uses artful creation of positive imagery on a collective basis to refashion anticipatory reality.

The Positive Principle states that momentum and sustainable change requires positive affect and social bonding. Sentiments like hope, excitement, inspiration, camaraderie and joy increase creativity, openness to new ideas and people, and cognitive flexibility.

Again, this is all sounding great so far. right?

Pause for a while and think about these principles. Are there any in the list of 5 principles that strikes a sympathetic chord with your thought process? (Hey, that sounds a little bit like a question that a proponent of AI would ask!)

A key factor in much of AI revolves around the kinds of questions we ask ourselves and our teams. And it revolves around the tenor and tone of the conversations that our organizations generate or tolerate. And it revolves around “acting” or creating a behavior as a way to make it a reality within our organizations.

What is your experience with Appreciative Inquiry? Have you had any prior experience using the AI Model? What was your result? How did it impact your organization? As a leader, what was your role in employing the AI model?

Leave us a comment here or on my LinkedIn article and then come back in a few days for Part 2 of my look at Appreciative Inquiry.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.


Photo credit: Silicon Prairie News / Foter / CC BY

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I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

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