Is your organisation taking an appreciative inquiry?

Is your organisation taking an appreciative inquiry?​

The organisation is changing. It is maturing into a mindset of appreciative inquiry (AI). Why? Because the old way just ain’t working no mor’. Fix this problem. What’s your problem? That’s a problem. Problem, problem, problem. With an entire legacy of staring into deficit, the future is finally moving into abundance from appreciation and collective strengths.

AI Back in the Day

In 1985, a distinguished gentleman by the name of David Cooperrider completed his doctoral dissertation “Appreciative Inquiry: Toward a Methodology for Understanding and Enhancing Organizational Innovation”, at Case Western University, School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio (USA).

By 1987 David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva publish “Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life”. That’s when things really started to get interesting. Fast forward thirty years and raise a glass to Appreciative Inquiry. Dr. Cooperrider answered the call to rebalancing a deficit-based approach to change management in organisations and he did so with a smile.

State of the Office:

How many times have you heard, “We have a problem. We need a fix, ASAP.”?

Enough times to leave you exhausted, annoyed and most likely depressed. If you’re lucky and/or nearing retirement you may have numbed yourself to the old ways. As for the rest of us I believe the words we tell ourselves are, “be pragmatic”.

If my informal recount is not serious enough, here is something more cited. One comprehensive study across schools, companies, organisations and even family units, shared some demotivating results. The study concluded that the current approach to managing change was founded on an unwritten rule:

“Fix what is wrong and let strengths take care of themselves”.

Well, you could do that. You definitely wouldn’t be alone. In fact, been there, done that, got the burnout. However, you could Shift from problem analysis to positive core analysis instead. Positive core analysis is fancy phrasing for analyzing what does well for you. By shifting what you focus on (i.e. problems to strengths), you also shift the resources being invested.

Imagine you wanted to be a famous baker and you baked cakes all day without recipes. Sometimes you bake amazing cakes that clients rave about. Most times you burn them. You think the oven is problematic.  Your clients want more of those awesome cakes. Sadly, you never took the time to inquire on why they were so good, what the ingredients were and what you did to bake them so good. Plus, you’re too busy investigating the cheapest highest quality stove repair contractor to fix your problem.

Hmmm, sound familiar anyone? No documentation. No processes noted down. No appreciation. No conditions saved for future reference. Of course not. There’s no time! We need to fix our oven to bake more amazing cakes!

Pretty silly don’t you think? In short, Appreciative Inquiry asks, “What do you want more of?”. It is grounded in science and uses an abundance approach. It provides the goldilocks conditions that make flourishing moments in corporate history.

For those of you living real word scenarios of managing change with a problem focus, how is it going? When managing your change (fixing problems) are you or your staff experiencing:

  • Defensiveness
  • Lack of innovation
  • Going in reverse (counter-productive)
  • Pain & frustration
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of engagement

Thought so.

On this side of the fence, leaders consciously align the collective strengths of their organisation until problems are either low risk, low priority or closed


Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is the cooperative search for the best in people, their organisations, and the world around them. It involves systematic discovery of what gives a system ‘life’ when it is most effective and capable in economic, ecological, and human terms.”

Appreciative Inquiry makes me think of Socrates being a CEO of Google. The style involves the art of questioning. Each question is crafted to bring out the best in the organisation and the people. It offers a strengths-based approach to both development and change management. Participants explore a narrative-based process involving deep dialogue and community engagement into what is going well.

The model can be used individually or on entire nations. The tool is scalable and transferable across all industries.

High-Level Principles:

Here are five high-level guiding principles I have taken away from my understanding of Appreciative inquiry.

  1. Co-creation through metaphoric narration.
  2. Giving an organisation a voice. (This is incredible!)
  3. Deep dive analysis into highly engaged, committed and passionately achieved states.
  4. Nurturing life-giving processes which harness a workforce’s collective strengths.
  5. We move in the direction of what we are focusing on.

The AI Process:

  1. Choosing an Affirmative Topic is the launchpad to the 4D Cycle model. It is the start of the journey into an organisation self-reflection. Topics are best chosen when they reflect meeting organisational strategies and/or goals. They can be technical, financial, personal or any other flavour. They can be sourced from your problem as well 🙂
Topics are best chosen when:
  • Multi-Disciplinary people in the organisation participated.
  • Reflections of the organisation at its best are highlighted.
  • Organisational problems are reframed into development opportunities.

Once the topic or topics are chosen then the model is applied.

4D Cycle:

  1. The Appreciative Inquiry model is called the 4D Cycle. It consists of an open and transparent process involving 4 key phases to take an organisation from zero to hero. They are:

    1. Discovery: What has, and is, going best for us (strengths)?

    This phase of inquiry is based on appreciating and valuing the organisation’s strengths; what it’s doing great at even if it’s not actively fixing problems.

    1. Dream: What could our collective vision be knowing what we discovered (strengths)?

    This phase of inquiry focuses on a results-oriented vision inspired by the discovery of strengths and the encouragement of positive core analysis.

    1. Design: What can we propose to implement our dream vision?

    This phase of inquiry drives the co-creation of a design which draws upon the collective strengths of the organisation to achieve the agreed vision.

    1. Destiny: What will we do to support a high-performance delivery of the vision in a sustainable way?

    This phase of inquiry is all about the delivery. Making sure leaders and stakeholders are engaged, supporting the strength-based approach and enabling systems thinking behaviour.

Case Studies:

Here are some influential organisations that have been cited as having used or still using an AI approach in business:

  • Verizon (then GTE)
  • Green Mountain Coffee Roasters
  • United nations
  • British National Airways


They may look like a list made in heaven but these research-based benefits are what can come with successful implementation of Appreciative Inquiry:

  • Increases in Employee Engagement
  • Increases in Employee Retention
  • Increases in Employee Morale
  • Increases in Customer Satisfaction
  • Increases in Profits


Appreciative Inquiry still addresses problems. Yes. No need for any withdrawal symptoms 😉 Everything that comes out of the research of positive psychology openly and transparently address problems but through a positive lens. In the case of AI problems are addressed through reframing them into opportunities and applying a strengths-based approach.


If you’re keen to get engaged with the positive psychology in business research then give the following questions a go.

Q: Do you start meetings off by reviewing accomplishments?

Q: Do you inquire upon the secrets to your successes?

Be honest in reflecting and perhaps assign it a %. For example, I start meetings off by reviewing accomplishments 80% of the time. There is no judgement in this reflection. It’s simply feedback for you to appreciate.

Appreciative inquiry is here to stay and I looked forward to witnessing companies flourish by doing things differently. I admire the bravery and foresight of all the business leaders who have chosen to actively participate in innovating change management. I also acknowledge the brilliant effort brought forth by the academic community and Dr. Cooperrider himself.

This blog was inspired by the book “Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change”, by David L. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney.

I highly recommend it.

Enough about me. What do you think of me and my perspectives? Lol.😉Please, let me know your feedback or questions by using the comments on our social media channel of your choice. 

Much love, light and self regulation.


Always be Self Regulating