Appreciative Inquiry

Last week I asked my friend Marcia Conner what I should be reading in my quest to deepen my knowledge of informal learning, social networking, and organizational change. She offered several names and one book: Appeciative Inquiry by David L. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney.

The first thing I noticed about the book was its length: 30 5”x7” pages of text. About thirty cents a page. This better be good, I thought to myself.

It was.

Note: If you Google for “Appreciative Inquiry,” you’ll get some sites by followers of David Cooperrider who are pushing their own agendas. Better to go to the AI Commons site at Case Western Reserve, where Cooperrider teaches.

A recent entry:
Peter Drucker?s Advice for Us on the New Ai Project:
Business as an Agent of World Benefit

By David Cooperrider
Case Western Reserve University
March 23, 2003

In a cover story in Training, Ron Zemke interviewed Cooperrider:

    “The problem-solving paradigm may once have been the most effective approach for enhancing an organization’s performance,” says Cooperrider, “but it is out of sync with today’s reality” He ticks off a list of things that are wrong with the problem-solving approach to management and organizational change: It is painfully slow; it always asks people to look backward at yesterday’s failures and their causes; and it rarely results in a new vision. “Once we describe something as a problem,” he says, “we assume that we know what the ideal is - what should be - and we go in search of ways to close any ‘gaps’ - not to expand our knowledge or to build better ideals.”

    In human terms, he continues, problem-solving approaches are notorious for placing blame and generating defensiveness. “They sap your energy and tax your mind, and don’t advance the organization’s evolution beyond a slow crawl,” Cooperrider says.

The Appreciative Inquiry process consists of choosing an affirmative topic, discovering what gives the organization life, dreaming what might be — stories, designing what might be - the ideal, and “destiny” - sustainment. Stated that way, it just sort of sits on the page. Here’s one of the descriptions in the book:

    In AI, intervention gives way to imagination and innovation; instead of negation, criticism, and spiraling diagnosis there is discovery, dream, and design. AI assumes that every living system has untapped, rich, and inspiring accounts of the positive. Link this “positive change core” directly to any change agenda, and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized.

Picking the right, POSITIVE topic is vital because “inquiry and change are a simultaneous moment.” The traditional problem-solving paradigm focuses on problems and limits human potential.

It’s good that Case Western Reserve is located in Cleveland. There, AI is perceived as a “radically affirmative approach to change.” In Mill Valley or at Esalen, AI would probably be cast as merely the latest chapter in the human potential movement.

Appreciative Inquiry is for organizations what positive psychology is for individuals.

Martin Seligman’s positive psychology movement posits that we shouldn’t advise well people with what we’ve learned from the sick. AI tells us to look at what’s right rather than what’s wrong. And increasingly, I’m feeling that schools and training shoot themselves in the foot by beginning with the assumption that the learners are deficient rather than magnificent.

Cooperrider and Whitney close the book with these lovely words from Albert Einstein:

    There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Posted by Jay Cross at April 19, 2003 06:34 PM | TrackBack

cool stuff

Posted by: free paris hilton at June 29, 2004 02:07 AM

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