How can the power of positive inquiry affect your life for the better? In its most basic form, inquiry has to do with how you and I think. Some say thinking is nothing more than asking and answering questions. At the least, it is true that the questions we ask ourselves influence our thoughts and our behaviors. One way to understand the power of questions is to look at how they can affect the results you achieve. For example, please examine the following chain of causes and their effects. To change your results, you must first change your behavior. To change your behavior, you need to change the way you think. How does one do such a difficult task? To change how you think, change the questions you ask yourself. In this manner, there is a direct line from the questions you ask to the results you obtain. Quite simply, asking the right questions gives you the opportunity to think more constructively.
In this paper, I will discuss how positive inquiry is used to manage change at the individual, group and organizational levels, and I will present two processes that use positive inquiry to help you to manage change more effectively. In regard to the forces at work in the change process, two principles are essential to a proper understanding of how positive inquiry works. The Simultaneity Principle states that “Inquiry is intervention.” The moment we ask a question, we begin to create change. “1 The Anticipatory Principle concludes that” Human systems move in the direction of their images of the future. images of the future are, the more positive the present day action will be. “2 Given the power of questions to drive change and given the fact that human beings move in the direction of their images of the future, what does this indicate about the types of questions we should ask? Is it not obvious? To get positive results, ask positive questions. The energy for effective change is derived from the dynamic ingrained in asking positive questions.
What follows are two methodologies you can use to transform your life and the lives of those around you. The first technique is called Question Thinking. It was originated by Marilee Adams and described in her book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. The second approach, in the paper, will be Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry was developed by Professor David Copperrider of Case Western Reserve University in the early 1980s. For a detailed description of how Appreciative Inquiry works and the outstanding results it produces, I recommend the book The Power of Appreciative Inquiry by Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom. Both Question Thinking and Appreciative Inquiry can be used to manage individual or group change. However, it is true that Appreciative Inquiry can more readily be applied to system-wide change at the organizational level.
Now, let us examine the use of Question Thinking. Question Thinking is about how the questions we ask ourselves and others provide opportunities for new thinking and new direction in our lives. As Ms. Adams describes it, “… real change always begins with a change in thinking — and most specifically in the questions we ask ourselves.” 3 Question Thinking postulates that at any given moment, we are faced with a choice. The choice of which mindset we will use: the Learner Mindset or the Judger Mindset. The Judger Mindset is often entered into a reaction to a negative event. For example, someone receives a poor evaluation on their performance review at work. If that person begins to think about who is to blame, they will immediately assume a Judger Mindset. They may rarely ask themselves questions like, “What is wrong with me? Why am I such a failure?” 4 These questions will keep them mired in the quicksand of the Judger Pit. If they want to leave the Judger Pit, they will need to begin asking themselves different questions. They should ask themselves questions like, “What can I learn? What are the facts? What assumptions am I making? What do I want? What is possible?” 5 These questions will lead the person out of the Judger Pit and onto the path of the Learner Mindset. The Learner Mindset is a way of thinking that leads to thoughtful choice and positive solutions.
Ms. Adams' thesis is that the questions we ask ourselves influence our mindset, thinking and behaviors. If we change the questions we ask ourselves, we can change our mindset. Consequently, we can move from a negative thought process to a more positive one.6 A negative mindset tends to close us down. It removes our awareness of possibilities. It keeps us in a self-reinforcing loop of criticism and regret. A positive focus opens us up to possibilities, and it provides a pathway to potential solutions. The merits of Question Thinking are substantiated by the field of Cognitive Psychology. According to Cognitive Psychologists, our internal dialogue plays a significant role in what we think, what we feel, and how we have. Here is how you can use Question Thinking to improve your performance at work.
If you need to make an important decision or if you find it difficult to be objective, try using what Ms. Adams' calls the ABCC Choice Process. The technique is stated as follows, “(A) ware: Am I in Judger Mindset? (B) reathe: Do I need to step back, pause and look at this situation more objectively? (C) uriosity: Do I have all the facts? What is happening here? (C) hoose: What is my choice? “7 This handy tool will help you be less judicial and more solution focused. In addition to the ABCC Process, you can use these four questions8 prior to team meetings to create a learning environment:
1. “What do I appreciate about them?”
2. “What are the best strengths of each one of them?”
3. “How can I help them cooperate most productively?”
4. “How can we stay on the learner path together?”
As Adams 'recommends, these questions “' … invite everyone, including you, to listen more patiently and carefully. possible for everyone to get curious, feel safe taking risks, and participate fully, even when they're facing tough challenges. '”9
Achieving outcomes like these are critical to any organization, department or manager's success. Any manager who gets his / her team to fully participate during challenging circumstances will make significant contributions to the success of his / her company.
The second methodology that uses positive inquiry to manage change and that is presented in this paper is Appreciative Inquiry. This approach is based on the inherent energy that is released when questions are focused on the positive. According to Whitney, Trosten-Bloom, “Appreciative Inquiry is the study of what gives life to human systems when they function at their best. This approach to personal change and organization change is based on the assumption that questions and dialogue about strengths, successes, In short, Appreciative Inquiry suggests that human organizing and change at its best is a relational process of inquiry, grounded in affirmation and appreciation. “10 You may be thinking, 'That sounds too good to be true? '
Frankly, my first thought when I initially became acquainted with Appreciative Inquiry was exactly that. I thought Appreciative Inquiry seemed too good to be true. I was so steeped in the view that to solve a problem, I needed to analyze it. I did not realize there was another, better way. When organizations face problems of poor customer service, low sales, or internal conflict, they frequently look to consultants for help. All consultants are familiar with techniques and prescriptions for problem solving. The typical consultant will work to “fix” the problem by first thoroughly examining it. Appreciative Inquiry does not seek to “fix” the problem. Instead, it strides to nurture the growth of the positive core whose seed is already present in the organization. Appreciative Inquiry is not prescriptive. It creates a framework in which employees themselves unforgettable what is best for them. Appreciative Inquiry develops an environment in which employees capacities for courage, confidence, growth and understanding are nourished and enhanced. Appreciative Inquiry is about strengthening the system organically, from its core outward. Appreciative Inquiry is unique and in some sense counter-intuitive, yet it most certainly is effective. It has a 30 year record of success in the fields of business, healthcare, religion, charitable giving and government.
In the reminder of this paper, I will demonstrate how and why Appreciative Inquiry works. One key reason Appreciative Inquiry works is its use of the activity called Affirmative Topics. The following example illustrates this point. In the late 1990s, British Airways (BA) decided to use Appreciative Inquiry to handle a variety of concerns it needed to address. One of these issues was late baggage. The consultants on the project asked the group of BA employees to provide more detail about this issue. The Appreciative Inquiry consultants wanted to understand why this was such an important concern for the group. The BA employees cited many examples of how late baggage and the problems it entailed for customers caused problems for the company.11 – – A particularly problematic incident occurred when a wedding dress did not make it in time for the wedding, and the airline had to pay to replace the dress.12
The consultants paraphrased the responses they heard. Then, they said, “'Given that organizations move in the direction of what they study, what is it that you want more of at BA? In this case, we know you do not want more lost or delayed baggage. want more of? '”13 Eventally, the BA group determined what they wanted. They decided that they wanted customers to have an “Exceptional Arrival Experience.” One of the areas of focus for the project then became how BA, its employees, and the entire organization would create such an experience for its customers. The old, less effective, technique was to analyze the problem. This leads to the creation of a solution that is grounded in the soil of negativity, focused on what went wrong. The more effective Appreciative Inquiry approach emphasizes what employees want more of, and what is right with the organization. It is upon the base of a strong and positively focused Affirmative Topic that the entire Appreciative Inquiry project will grow. As Whitney and Trosten-Bloom describe it, when employees begin to understand the impact of selecting an appropriate Affirmative Topic, “Light bulbs go off as they realize that no amount of research or knowledge about turnover will help them create a magnetic work environment where long -term, committed employment is the norm. Nor will an understanding of obstacles to profitability help employees develop business literacy and enhanced margins. “14
This section began by asking the question, Does Appreciative Inquiry work? My first attempt at answering that question discussed Appreciative Inquiry in general terms. Next, I will share my thoughts on my personal experience with Appreciative Inquiry. My first experience with Appreciative Inquiry occurred in the fall of 2012. At that time, I attended a four day seminar titled “The Appreciative Leadership Development Program” (ALDP). The seminar was conducted by the Corporation for Positive Change. This workshop was designed to evaluate my leadership abilities. It also gives me the opportunity to develop leadership skills in the areas of inquiry, inclusion, illumination, inspiration and integrity.15
My Appreciative Inquiry Experience
I had many incredibly uplifting experiences during the four days of the ALDP workshop. However, the activity that stands out the most, above everything else were the Appreciative Interviews. The Appreciative Interviews comprised a day and a-half of seminar time, but to me, they seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. First, we paired up into interview teams. Then each person took a turn answering questions like.
“What do you love most about your work? Describe a time when you had a highpoint experience as a leader? What do you value most?” 16 As I answered these questions, I felt fantastic. It was wonderful to be able to speak about things that were so valuable to me and emotionally significant. In most of our working lives, we are discouraged from acknowledging our emotions. This leads to behavior that is inauthentic and often devoid of passion, enthusiasm and energy.
Appreciative Inquiry encourages the discussion and expression of your unique identity including your values, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. This process supports everything that makes you unique. During and immediately after the interviews, I had a tremendous feeling of acceptance and a sense of being truly heard and understood. I felt supported, and I was encouraged to move forward with my personal and professional goals. Some of those goals had remained dormant for a long period. During the ALDP workshop, I certainly found being interviewed helpful and inspirational. Yet, my experience as the interviewer was also powerful, perhaps even more so. To share someone's most intimate thoughts and heartfelt longings was clearly moving for me. It was an honor to be given such a gift. As the interviewer, my task was to listen to my partner with all the attention I could muster. I focused on my partner as completely as I could. I watched my partner's body language and facial expressions. I listened carefully for my partner's use of language and intonation. With my partner, I tried to be encouraging, supportive and hopeful. I would characterize the interview activity during the ALDP workshop as rewarding, but it went much further than that for me. The experience had a sacred quality to it. This sacredness lifted it into the realm of the spiritual. There is simply no other way to describe it. After experiencing Appreciative Inquiry first hand, I can attest to the fact that it is instrumental in forming solid relationships. Appreciative Inquiry gives you the opportunity to refer to your colleagues at work as people. This is a rare gift in a work world that values titles and highlights one's received status.
In addition to creating rich relationships, I also felt many other positive emotions during the ALDP workshop. I felt a great deal of personal reinforcement. I felt charged up and confident in a way I had not experienced before. After the ALDP workshop, I was ready to take on new challenges. I came to realize why having my own consulting business meant so much to me. My business is important to me because it gives me the chance to express the best of what is in me. In answer to the original question, does Appreciative Inquiry work? From my own experience, I can answer that question with an enthusiastic, yes!
To summarize, so far, I have presented a general description of Appreciative Inquiry along with my own personal experiences of it. Now I will examine how Appreciative Inquiry works and the results it produces for organizations. Appreciative Inquiry uses a 4-D Cycle to achieve results. The first D is Discovery. The first activities in the Appreciative Inquiry process involve discovery of what gives life to organizations. This stage also includes the creation of a Change Agenda and Affirmative Topics. Discovery is a reflection of what is best about the present. The second D is Dream. The Dream stage is a time to imagine bold possibilities for the future. The next D is Design. This stage drives innovation, and It is in this stage that the outlines of the new organization begin to take shape. The final D is Destiny. In this stage, the organization delivers on the Change Agenda.17 As Whitney and Trosten-Bloom state, “The 4-D cycle can be used to guide a conversation, a large meeting, or a whole-system change effort. as a framework for personal development or coaching, partnership or alliance building, and large-scale community or organizational development. Whatever the purpose, the Appreciative Inquiry 4-D Cycle serves as the foundation on which change is built. “18
Appreciative Inquiry Results for Organizations
Yet, a key question remains, what kind of results does Appreciative Inquiry produce for organizations? An example from the book The Power of Appreciative Inquiry is an Appreciative Inquiry project begon in 1998 at Hunter Douglas Window Fashions Division (HDWFD). The project was designed to accomplish several critical things19:
• To create a collective vision that could engage and excite the entire organization and its stakeholders.
• To re-instill the creativity, flexibility, intimacy, and sense of community that had contributed to the division's original success.
• To strengthen the skills of existing leadership and build bench strength by identifying and training future leaders.
• To transcend the silos that had recently emerged between management and the general workforce, across business units, and between operations and support functions.
Here are the results that this five year project produced from “… 1998 to 2003, HDWFD experienced significant gains in sales, profitability, and efficiency: sales up 30%, profitability up 37%, employee turnover down 52%, returned goods down 55%. “20 As these statistics clearly demonstrate, Appreciative Inquiry also creates results at the system-wide, organizational level. As previously mentioned, I can attest to the fact that Appreciative Inquiry works on a personal and small group level. Yet, one final question needs to be answered. Why does Appreciative Inquiry work? Whitney and Trosten-Bloom attempted to answer this question through a series of client interviews. The most noticeable and significant interviews occurred with the employees of HDWFD. Through these interviews, they discovered that Appreciative Inquiry works by liberating personal and organizational power. They call the six conditions of liberty the Six Freedoms.21
The first freedom is the Freedom to be Known in Relationship. Appreciative Inquiry gives people the chance to be known outside of their role at work. It also creates a context in which relationships can grow. Often, these relationships are built across organizational boundaries.22 The second freedom is the Freedom to be Heard. Appreciative Inquiry supports listening with compassion and curiosity. The listener strives to understand the speaker at a defect emotional level that goes far beyond the mere understanding of the words themselves. Through deep understanding and cooperation, meaning is created. Occasionally, positive stories begin to spread through the organization, and people who are typically marginalized are given a voice. 23
The third freedom is the Freedom to Dream in Community. In this freedom attention is paid to the visionary. There is a focus on the future, not the past, and individual dreams became known by the entire organization.24
The fourth freedom is the Freedom to Choose to Contribute. This aspect of Appreciative Inquiry enhances one's capacity to contribute and learn. Because people join Appreciative Inquiry activities on their own initiative, they have a greater commitment to accomplish their goals.25 The fifth freedom is the Freedom to Act with Support. With Appreciative Inquiry, whole-system support promotes the acceptance of challenges, and it prompts cooperation. Because people are called upon to act on things that find inspirational, they will act in service to the organization.26 The sixth and final freedom is the Freedom to be Positive. In today's corporate world, being positive is not the norm. Appreciative Inquiry provides a bold invitation to be positive and to be proud of the work that one does.27 In the Appreciative Inquiry process, the Six Freedoms combine to produce a powerful, self-perpetuating force for good in organizations and the world at large.
The energy and force behind positive inquiry comes from two principles. The Simultaneity Principle and the Anticipatory Principle. The Simultaneity Principle states that questioning is intervention. The Anticipatory Principle states that human beings move in the direction of their images of the future. Like the plant that grows in the direction of the sun, human beings move toward what they imagine the future will be. In this paper two methodologies, Question Thinking and Appreciative Inquiry were presented. These techniques use the force of positive inquiry to effectively manage change. These processes were described in the hope that they might be helpful strategies you could use to effectively manage change at the individual, group and organizational levels. As we saw, the questions we ask matter. The questions we ask ourselves, the questions we ask others, and the questions we ask in organizations, make a difference. One concept is quite clear, if you want to change your behavior, change the questions you ask yourself, and pay attention to the types of questions you ask. Because the more positive the initial question is, the more positive the future result will likely be.
3 – 9 Adams, M. Change Your Questions Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work, Second Edition, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009.
1 -2, 10-14, 17-20 Whitney, D. and Trosten-Bloom, A. The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change, Second Edition, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2010.
21 – 27 Whitney, D. and Trosten-Bloom, A. “Why Appreciative Inquiry Works,” Excerpted from Chapter 12 “Why Appreciative Inquiry Works,” The Power of Appreciative Inquiry (see above)
15-16 Whitney, D. “Learning Guide: Appreciative Leadership Development Program,” Corporation for Positive Change, September, 2012.
Jim Domino is a change management consultant who specializes in working with healthcare organizations. He helps these organizations increase their performance through the use of positive change. His web site is phaseivinc.com .