Friday, January 2, 2009

Beginnings: an Appreciative Inquiry

In graduate school I had a classmate who wrote her thesis on the uses of an organization development technique known as Appreciative Inquiry (AI on Wikipedia). When I first heard this term my initial response was something like an eye roll followed by a grimace and a muttered, "here we go again with the hippy nonsense..." I pictured a whole lot of managers sitting uncomfortably in a circle, holding hands and saying, "what I like about Bob is his haircut. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't come up with anything else to say."

Thankfully it took me all of about three minutes of reading her proposal to see that all my preconceived notions about Appreciative Inquiry were totally wrong. In fact, it's a powerful technique for getting organizations to unlock creativity, spark innovation, move quickly through powerful change, and advance productivity.

Perhaps the simplest description of AI is that it helps organizations create their future by focusing on what works well, rather than trying to fix what's broken. I've had a few opportunities to participate in AI-based efforts and here's what I've noticed about them: they're freaking brilliant.

It is genuinely amazing what happens when a bunch of people get together to talk about what has gone well, and what will go well in the future. Where have we been great? Where do we want to be great tomorrow? How will we do that?

Tonight I'm going to sit down with my wife after our daughter's bedtime and ask her these questions. Where have we been great? Where can we be great this year? What practices do we need to put in place to realize that vision? How will we sustain those?

And so I ask you: where have you been great? What three things stand out in your mind as great achievements or great endeavors or great contributions recently? Share them with me as we start this year of gratitude. Where else will you be great this year?

What is the nature of your dream?