Appreciative Inquiry In A Nutshell

Appreciate Inquiry (AI) is an organizational change methodology that focuses on strengths and not on weaknesses. Appreciate Inquiry was created by management professors David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s. The Appreciate Inquiry is also known as the 5-D Cycle, an iterative cycle describing five distinct phases, made of define, discover, dream, design, and destiny.

Understanding Appreciate Inquiry

Appreciate Inquiry was created by management professors David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s.

In understanding Appreciate Inquiry, it was David Cooperrider who said it best.

He explains his methodology as “the coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential.”

Given its multi-faceted nature, practitioners of Appreciate Inquiry describe it as not simply a way of doing, but a way of being. Indeed, it offers a perspective that helps the individual understand how an appreciation of the world can shape their destiny. In business, this means that organizational change is a mystery that must be embraced – and not a problem to be solved.

Ultimately, Appreciate Inquiry encourages the organization to consider the role of unconditional, positive questioning in shaping perspective.

In turn, these questions strengthen system capacity and enhance positive potential. Some of the core AI principles around questions include:

  • Questions create the world we live in.
  • Questions determine the results we achieve.
  • Positive questions are more effective at creating positive outcomes.
  • Questions create movement, momentum, and change.

The Appreciate Inquiry process

The Appreciate Inquiry is also known as the 5-D Cycle, an iterative cycle describing five distinct phases. In the middle of the cycle resides the “positive core” of the organization, a combination of each phase representing a way of being and doing.

To better understand this cycle, let’s look at each phase in more detail:

  1. Define – this initial phase requires that stakeholders come together and define the topic that will undergo an Appreciate Inquiry experience. What change to the system is the topic seeking to make?
  2. Discover – stakeholders then identify the strengths and best practices of the organization. How does it excel? What are the sources of high performance, excellence, innovation, or vitality? They may relate to leadership, technology, values, planning methods, and so on.
  3. Dream – with the strength of an organization identified, it must then envision its future. Planning methodologies must be based on examples of where the company has excelled in the past. This motivates both the individual carrying out the plan and by extension, the company itself.
  4. Design – what are the high-impact strategies that move the organization in the right direction? The planning and execution of these strategies should be prioritized.
  5. Destiny – in the final phase, individuals execute on strategy. The movement of a company toward its destiny must be sustained by a collective sense of purpose. This means creating an environment of continuous learning, revision, and in some cases, improvisation.

Key takeaways:

  • Appreciative Inquiry is a change methodology that focuses on the strengths and positive aspects of an organization.
  • Appreciative Inquiry is a multi-faceted approach that becomes a way of being and a way of doing. Asking the correct questions is essential to driving high performance and maintaining a focus on organizational strengths.
  • Appreciative Inquiry is also known as the 5-D Cycle. The cycle is an iterative process that helps organizations embody certain traits that help their systems become less resistant to change.

Connected Business Concepts

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.
The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.
The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.
Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.
Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.
Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.
Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.
The CATWOE analysis is a problem-solving strategy that asks businesses to look at an issue from six different perspectives. The CATWOE analysis is an in-depth and holistic approach to problem-solving because it enables businesses to consider all perspectives. This often forces management out of habitual ways of thinking that would otherwise hinder growth and profitability. Most importantly, the CATWOE analysis allows businesses to combine multiple perspectives into a single, unifying solution.

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