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Appreciative Inquiry, an Acquaintance
Individuals and organizations come in all shapes, sizes and cultures. Some live long and some just fly by the night. Some succeed and excel continuously while others just chug along happily ever after. Both, individuals and organizations, can live to be quite simple systems or become increasingly complex for themselves and by their own making. The challenge, though, we all face is how can we all stay at the top of our game, and yet keep on adding value to the world that surrounds us. The current, though ancient in nature, approach is to look for and analyse what does not work in a system and then make an effort to fix it.
This approach is inherently fallacious because it focuses upon what does not work rather than what is working well or what can work well. This failure focussed approach also evolves from our addiction to the cliché that a rotten apple spoils the basket and, therefore, we need to find that apple and do away with it. For a basket of apples that may conclude as a happily ever after but individuals and organizations are far from being just a plain, old basket of apples. We, as systems, can think, analyse, feel, judge, act, learn, help, celebrate and, more important than anything else, dream and design our own destinies. A basket of rotten apples, when it comes to humans and human organizations can turn fresh and can get nourished when a good apple is placed amongst us. A good thought, a good word, a good deed and a good human system can convert individuals and organizations into supportive, constructive, value-driven entities.
In the mid-90s, post the 1992 racial riots in Los Angeles, Erin Gruwell, an enthusiastic school teacher, takes up a job at Woodrow Wilson in Long Beach, California where she is placed plumb in the middle of a multiracial, hard to integrate, class of “at risk and highly unteachable, students.” Amidst the tension ridden surroundings, students are forced into class by security guards, Erin Gruwell works her way through the resistance and the angst of not just the students but a lethargic and numb educational system by focussing on the sparks of potentialities in the students, on what works and on the possibilities of the future. She works through by gently appealing to the human side of the individuals and the groups involved. In the process she makes multiple sacrifices for her career, her family and her status in the community but eventually efforts bear fruit when at the end of two years her bunch of students graduate and move on to college and a life ahead. A good, strong apple that nourishes and brightens the life of people around her.
Though she did not follow any set method or a frame-work to clean out a system that was rife with a culture of failure and resistance. She manages to help a bunch of multi-racial, unteachable, angst-ridden student and their families into happy, productive entities through sheer passion and grit. Thankfully, for us, who are into individual and organizational development there is a whole school of thought and practice which can deliver results at par with those of Teacher Erin Gruwell of Woodrow Wilson High School in California.
The method of Appreciative Inquiry, developed by Dr. David Cooperrider of Case Western University, provides an approach and a way towards achieving excellence by focussing on exceptional performances of the past and current core strengths which can be blended with a clear, challenging and conscientious vision of the future. The method is holistic, life-giving, constructive and in resonance with all that nourishes us as human beings and human organizations. Highly regarded as a paradigm for seeking out what works and moving towards it, a method for many organizational development practices, Appreciative Inquiry for many, is much more than that. It, in many circles, is regarded as a way of life and like life it needs to be soaked in appreciation and inquisitiveness of what is and what can be. This ‘way of life’ can pervade through research and planning, managing, mentoring and coaching for change. It can be lived through and for developing communities, invoking business excellence and creating visions and missions.
The most powerful tool of Appreciative Inquiry, or AI as it is referred to, is the AI Protocol or the inquiry process. This inquiry process invokes excellence and energy. It is achieved through powerful and structured questions which leave the responder empowered for idea generation, action planning and implementation. The questioning process is a tri-modal approach and is explored in depth after the discussion of the several assumptions the theory of AI makes for unleashing its effectiveness.
AI makes eight assumptions, and though they may have similarities with several other paradigms; they substantiate well the premise, the promise and the power behind the AI.
These assumptions are the driving force and the armament behind the double-barrelled approach of appreciating and inquiring. That, perhaps, is not a highly recommendable metaphor for AI, since AI is all about the right choice of words and the subtle and powerful influence the structure of language has on our minds. Nevertheless it brings us right into the discussion of inquiring in depth the practice-able of how, the way of life that AI is, works.
The theory of AI has a very simple, framework to apply. It starts with choosing a topic, a theme or a developmental challenge. This is then followed by a four-stage process as follows:
The critical step for these four stages is a proper selection of the core theme. The choice of words and the language structure needs to be empowering and affirmative from every angle.
For example if a community development group chose, “Reduction of Crime and Graft in the Country,” then that theme, though logical, will have a negative tinge since it assumes the existence of crime and terror and may thus end up feeding that beast. The theme can be reworded to, “Nurturing Peace and Order in the Country.” This version assumes existence of peace and order, this shifting focus to what works for eventual development.
Therein lies the power of Appreciative Inquiry and the most consistent and handy tool for all these stages is the power of intelligent and empowering questioning, also referred to as the AI Protocol. The protocol is a process of questioning to empower the deliverance of dreams and destinies. Three powerful things happen when we ask the right questions.
All questions are made up of three elements.
Under the AI Protocol there are three forms of questions. Levels, if you prefer.
The power of the AI Protocol is unsurmountable and the holistic core of the AI Way of Life brings to fore good living and greater business successes. AI raises our benchmarks and our bottom-line with ease and élan.
This November, hundreds of AI Thought Leaders and Practitioners will converge in Kathmandu, Nepal for the Annual Conference on Appreciative Inquiry. The truth that this conference will expose is that everything has beauty and, with the AI Way of Life, all eyes and hearts can capture it.
For more details about Appreciative Inquiry and this event or to register,
Many more articles in Communications in The CEO Refresher Archives