The Other AI – Appreciative Inquiry – Part 1

Published by


We’ve all heard of AI (Artificial Intelligence). But there is a different kind of AI that can have profound effects individually and professionally in our lives and in our workplaces.

I’m talking about Appreciative Inquiry.

“What is this”, you might be asking?

Well, let me explain a bit of the background and then we’ll explore how to use AI as a shortcut into a more appreciative work and life existence.

It all started way back in 1987 when David Cooperider and Suresh Srivastva were working on a theory, methodology, and process that could be applied to organizational development, project management, and eventually team building.

They developed the idea that we could resolve issues simply by implementing solutions that already exist. The problem is, we need to seek out those already-existing solutions with what we already have. And of course, the thinking goes that if we already have workable solutions, why in the world do we have these issues?!

In walks Appreciative Inquiry.

This “radical” approach seeks to lean on asset-based or strengths-based solutions rather than defaulting to traditional deficit-based solutions, where we seek characteristics, qualities, or assets we do not currently possess. In recognizing our current assets and strengths, we foster an environment that emphasizes positive idea generation over negative problem identification.

At this point you might be thinking “do I really want to invest the next 8-10 minutes learning about this “positive-only” approach?”

“Because listen, Mr. Shortcut Man, I’ve got issues and I know I’ve made mistakes in the past, and I really don’t want to make those mistakes again. I want to handle things with a more holistic approach – yes, capitalize on my strengths, but also learn from my mistakes.”

Ok, great! Because that’s exactly what will happen as we follow the steps of Appreciative Inquiry. Our goal is to maximize your current strengths and minimize your weaknesses or deficiencies. You’ll see how in just a few minutes.

The great thing about Appreciative Inquiry is that you get to focus on what you’re already good at. And that is what makes this such a valuable shortcut! You’re working with what you know and what you’ve got; you’re not trying to secure new resources, shake a bad habit, or develop a new skill.

You’re working in a place with the assets, strengths, and experience you already have.

And, as we all know, it is much easier to do more of something you’ve already done or are already doing, than it is to start doing something you are unfamiliar with. So, let’s make things easy on ourselves and focus on what we already know how to do in an effort to make our lives better.

Are you ready? Let’s get started!

As you know by now, I like to tweak things a bit and, in our session, today, we will make a minor modification to the original 4D Cycle. In the original theory, Cooperider and Srivastva devised the following phases: Discover, Dream, Design, Destiny.

I propose a slightly modified version of the four areas of inquiry: Discover, Dream, Design, Dare.

I think Dare makes more sense, first of all because Discover, Dream, and Design are all verbs, while Destiny is a noun, which makes this part of the formula passive, and we don’t do passive when we Unlock the Shortcut.

We don’t wait for things to happen. We MAKE things happen.

So instead of waiting on Destiny, we choose to Dare. Not only so it aligns grammatically, but also because we are about to enter a change phase, and that means getting a little bit uncomfortable. And that means finding the courage to do something daring.

Discover, Dream, Design, and then Dare.

All right, that’s enough intro. Let’s Unlock the Shortcut to Appreciative Inquiry in the workplace.

If you remember, our first point of inquiry is the Discover Phase. And the first part of Discovery is celebration. (I love celebrating!) It’s important to take a moment to celebrate just how awesome a team we are. Look at what we’ve achieved. Look how far we’ve come. Look how we’ve overcome obstacles in the past. We’re pretty frickin’ awesome.

Pause, reflect, and celebrate. [Deep breaths with a wide smile.]

Ok, on to the questions. In the Discover Phase, we ask questions that help us recognize the things we know we do well or uncover things that we might not immediately realize until we dig a bit deeper. Here are some questions to consider.

  • As a team, what gives us life?
  • What makes us special?
  • What are our greatest strengths?
  • Who contributes those strengths?
  • Describe a time when we all worked really well together?
  • What were our thoughts, feelings, or mindsets at that time?

Now, before we go on, let’s pause for a moment to talk about mindset. Because this is an essential aspect to the success of Appreciative Inquiry.

Critics often say that AI is deficient because it only focuses on the positive. They proclaim that appropriate mindset is the critical key to Appreciative Inquiry being successful, and without this positive mindset AI is ineffective.

While that may be true, the same can be said for any change model or process. If stakeholders are not engaged and don’t possess the right mindset, no change initiative will be successful. People just are not going to do the work if they don’t feel like doing it.

Mindset it absolutely important for any change initiative to see any level of success.

In fact, using these celebration and strength-seeking questions is the exact formula to use when seeking to recognize stakeholder value, kickstart positive attitudes, and motivate forward-moving behaviors. It’s the perfect way to initiate a change management exploratory process.

At this point, you may be thinking that this is just a bit too positive-focused and what about the obvious weaknesses or deficiencies I have. I’m with you. It’s certainly a point to consider.

So, let’s do so with an analogy to downhill skiing. If you’ve ever watched a skier go down a slope through a thickly forested area, you marvel at how these skiers rarely, if ever, hit any of the trees. How can they do that? There are so many trees. They’re bound to hit one.

And you’re right. If they take the route of assessing strengths and weaknesses, or both the positive and the negative, they will be putting some level of focus on the snow and some on the trees, in an effort to balance their skill set and objective. But that’s not what the best skiers do.

They do not spend any time focusing on the trees. One hundred percent of their focus in on the snow in front of them. All strength, all positive. If they wander for one moment to focus on the trees, they will inevitably hit one.

Now, if you’re not a skier or you cannot relate to this analogy, consider when you are behind the wheel of your car or truck and you see a collision on the side of the road that gains your attention.

Where does your car start to veer? Yep, right toward the thing you do not want to hit.

But you can’t help it. Your hands start to drift in that direction. It’s just a natural reaction to your sense of proprioception and focus. But if you keep your eyes on the road ahead, you steer consciously and confidently in the exact direction you want to go.

So, let’s agree that focusing on the positive strengths and assets we already possess is a very plausible method of effective change management. With everything moving in a positive direction from our work in the Discover Phase, it’s time for a bit of reflection before striding into the next phase.

How will you decide to approach your next change initiative? How will you celebrate all your team has accomplished so far and seek out the strengths each member possesses and brings to the situation? And how will you prepare to enter the next phase to Dream?

Take time this week to think about and implement some of this new mindset and see what happens.

And look for the next phases in the next post.

%d bloggers like this: