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.

DefinitionAppreciative Inquiry (AI) is an organizational development and change management approach that focuses on exploring and amplifying an organization’s strengths and positive aspects to foster positive change.– Emphasizes a positive and strengths-based approach to change.Initiating conversations with employees to identify their best experiences at work.Organizational development, change management, team-building, and problem-solving, with the goal of creating a positive and innovative organizational culture.
5D CycleAI follows a 5D cycle: Define, Discover, Dream, Design, and Destiny. These stages guide the process of inquiry and transformation.– Encourages a structured approach to inquiry and change.Define: Identifying the area or topic for inquiry. Dream: Envisioning a preferred future.Applying AI in strategic planning, team development, or community-building initiatives by following the 5D cycle.
Positive FocusAI places a strong emphasis on identifying and building upon an organization’s positive core—its strengths, successes, and what is working well.– Promotes a culture of positivity and innovation.Celebrating past achievements and recognizing the strengths of team members.Shifting organizational culture from problem-focused to solution-focused by highlighting and leveraging positive aspects.
CollaborationAI encourages collaborative inquiry, involving multiple stakeholders and perspectives in the process of exploring and co-creating the organization’s future.– Enhances engagement, buy-in, and commitment.Conducting AI workshops or summits where employees and leaders collectively envision the organization’s future.Promoting inclusivity, team alignment, and shared ownership of change initiatives through collaborative AI processes.
Generative ImagesGenerative images are vivid descriptions or stories of a preferred future that inspire and guide the change process.– Inspires and motivates individuals and teams.Creating a shared vision board illustrating the ideal future state of a project.Using generative images to inspire and guide goal-setting, project planning, or strategic initiatives.
AI PrinciplesAI principles include the constructionist principle (reality is socially created), the simultaneity principle (inquiry influences change), and the poetic principle (language shapes reality).– Shape the approach to inquiry and change.Applying the constructionist principle by reframing problems as opportunities for growth and innovation.Guiding AI initiatives based on these principles to create a positive and transformative organizational culture.

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

DefineIn the “Define” stage, the focus is on identifying the area or topic for inquiry. This involves clarifying the scope and context of the inquiry, determining the key stakeholders, and setting the boundaries for the AI process.– Provides clarity on the scope of the AI process. – Helps in selecting the right participants.– An organization defines that it wants to explore ways to improve employee engagement in the workplace.– Initiating AI projects or interventions in organizations. – Defining specific goals or focus areas for AI inquiries.
DiscoverThe “Discover” stage involves exploring and discovering the positive aspects, strengths, and successful experiences related to the chosen topic. It often includes interviews, surveys, or group discussions to gather stories and insights.– Uncovers existing strengths and assets. – Generates a sense of positivity and hope.– Employees share stories of successful teamwork and collaboration. – Customers provide feedback on exceptional service experiences.– Conducting interviews and surveys to collect positive narratives. – Using focus groups to explore success stories within teams or departments.
DreamIn the “Dream” stage, participants envision a preferred future based on the positive aspects and strengths identified in the Discover stage. They collectively create a vivid and inspiring picture of what the future could be like.– Encourages creativity and visioning. – Aligns participants toward a shared aspiration.– Team members imagine a workplace where everyone feels valued and engaged. – Community members envision a more sustainable and inclusive neighborhood.– Facilitating workshops where stakeholders co-create a shared vision. – Using visual tools to represent the envisioned future.
DesignThe “Design” stage focuses on designing strategies, actions, and plans to move towards the envisioned future. It involves setting goals, defining roles and responsibilities, and developing action plans to achieve the desired outcomes.– Transforms the vision into actionable steps. – Clarifies responsibilities and accountability.– Teams develop action plans with specific milestones and deadlines. – An organization outlines initiatives to enhance customer satisfaction based on the envisioned future.– Creating detailed project plans and roadmaps for implementing changes. – Defining key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure progress toward the vision.
DestinyThe “Destiny” stage is about implementing and sustaining the positive changes identified and designed in the previous stages. It involves continuous monitoring, feedback, and adjustments to ensure the organization’s future aligns with the vision.– Ensures ongoing improvement and adaptation. – Promotes a culture of learning and growth.– Regular feedback loops are established to assess progress. – Necessary course corrections are made based on evolving needs.– Implementing and managing projects or initiatives aligned with the AI vision. – Cultivating a culture of continuous improvement and innovation within the organization. – Conducting periodic reviews to ensure alignment with the envisioned destiny.

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.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Highlights:

  • Definition and Purpose:
    • Appreciative Inquiry is an organizational change methodology developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s.
    • AI focuses on identifying strengths and positive aspects of organizations rather than weaknesses.
    • It’s about embracing a positive perspective to shape organizational destiny.
  • David Cooperrider’s Perspective:
    • David Cooperrider describes AI as a coevolutionary search for the best in people, organizations, and the world around them.
    • AI involves asking positive questions to strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and enhance positive potential.
  • AI as a Way of Being:
    • Appreciative Inquiry is not just a method but a way of being that shapes individual understanding of the world.
    • Encourages embracing organizational change as a mystery to be embraced, not a problem to be solved.
  • Core AI Principles Around Questions:
    • Questions shape our reality.
    • Questions influence outcomes.
    • Positive questions yield positive results.
    • Questions drive movement, momentum, and change.
  • The 5-D Cycle:
    • AI is also known as the 5-D Cycle, consisting of five phases: Define, Discover, Dream, Design, and Destiny.
    • The “positive core” of the organization lies in the center, representing a way of being and doing.
  • Phases of the 5-D Cycle:
    • Define: Stakeholders define the topic for AI, specifying the desired change.
    • Discover: Identify organizational strengths and best practices.
    • Dream: Envision the organization’s future based on identified strengths.
    • Design: Develop high-impact strategies for moving the organization forward.
    • Destiny: Execute strategies and sustain the movement towards the organization’s purpose.
  • Key Takeaways:
    • Appreciative Inquiry emphasizes strengths and positive aspects in organizational change.
    • It becomes a way of being and doing, centered around asking the right questions.
    • AI is represented by the 5-D Cycle, fostering traits that make organizations more adaptable to change.

Connected Management Frameworks

Change Management


Change Management

Change is an important and necessary fact of life for all organizations. But change is often unsuccessful because the people within organizations are resistant to change. Change management is a systematic approach to managing the transformation of organizational goals, values, technologies, or processes.

Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

Harvard Business School professor Dr. John Kotter has been a thought-leader on organizational change, and he developed Kotter’s 8-step change model, which helps business managers deal with organizational change. Kotter created the 8-step model to drive organizational transformation.

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom for Growth is a strategy tool. Developed by partners at McKinsey and Company, the tool helps businesses understand which opportunities will contribute to expansion, and therefore it helps to prioritize those initiatives.

McKinsey 7-S Model

The McKinsey 7-S Model was developed in the late 1970s by Robert Waterman and Thomas Peters, who were consultants at McKinsey & Company. Waterman and Peters created seven key internal elements that inform a business of how well positioned it is to achieve its goals, based on three hard elements and four soft elements.

Lewin’s Change Management

Lewin’s change management model helps businesses manage the uncertainty and resistance associated with change. Kurt Lewin, one of the first academics to focus his research on group dynamics, developed a three-stage model. He proposed that the behavior of individuals happened as a function of group behavior.


The ADKAR model is a management tool designed to assist employees and businesses in transitioning through organizational change. To maximize the chances of employees embracing change, the ADKAR model was developed by author and engineer Jeff Hiatt in 2003. The model seeks to guide people through the change process and importantly, ensure that people do not revert to habitual ways of operating after some time has passed.

Force-Field Analysis

Social psychologist Kurt Lewin developed the force-field analysis in the 1940s. The force-field analysis is a decision-making tool used to quantify factors that support or oppose a change initiative. Lewin argued that businesses contain dynamic and interactive forces that work together in opposite directions. To institute successful change, the forces driving the change must be stronger than the forces hindering the change.

Business Innovation Matrix

Business innovation is about creating new opportunities for an organization to reinvent its core offerings, revenue streams, and enhance the value proposition for existing or new customers, thus renewing its whole business model. Business innovation springs by understanding the structure of the market, thus adapting or anticipating those changes.

Posci Change Management

According to Prosci founder Jeff Hiatt, the secret to successful change “lies beyond the visible and busy activities that surround change. Successful change, at its core, is rooted in something much simpler: how to facilitate change with one person.”

Related Strategy Concepts: Go-To-Market StrategyMarketing StrategyBusiness ModelsTech Business ModelsJobs-To-Be DoneDesign ThinkingLean Startup CanvasValue ChainValue Proposition CanvasBalanced ScorecardBusiness Model CanvasSWOT AnalysisGrowth HackingBundlingUnbundlingBootstrappingVenture CapitalPorter’s Five ForcesPorter’s Generic StrategiesPorter’s Five ForcesPESTEL AnalysisSWOTPorter’s Diamond ModelAnsoffTechnology Adoption CurveTOWSSOARBalanced ScorecardOKRAgile MethodologyValue PropositionVTDF FrameworkBCG MatrixGE McKinsey MatrixKotter’s 8-Step Change Model.

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