by Roberta Baskin, Executive Director of AIM2Flourish
Excerpted from Kosmos Journal:
Epiphany is defined as a “sudden and striking realization.” But it doesn’t work that way with me. My epiphanies sometimes simmer gently for years, particularly one that emerged in the aftermath of a class I took on Appreciative Inquiry, taught by its guru, Professor David Cooperrider. Because I was a journalist long outraged by the corporate malfeasance I exposed as a network correspondent, David invited me to learn about asking questions from a new perspective. This caused me to shift my view. But I was a journalist, after all, and stubborn. The process was a slow conversion, indeed.
David Cooperrider is the co-creator of Appreciative Inquiry. It’s about accentuating the positive, shifting problem solving from its usual focus on “what’s wrong” to a process that starts by asking, “What’s possible?” When our attention is focused on problems, we’ll find them.
And I was very good at that.
At that point in my life I’d spent 25 years in broadcasting as an investigative reporter and was working as a correspondent for the PBS program NOW with Bill Moyers. On David’s invitation, I decided to take a week of vacation and look into this thing called Appreciative Inquiry, taught at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management.
My guiding questions had always centered reflexively on what’s wrong. Most often, I probed what’s wrong in major corporations. The “what’s possible?” question would only be asked in the aftermath of exposing some kind of corporate malfeasance, as in how could this (insert heinous corporate crime) be avoided in the first place, or fixed, now that I’d laid out all its problems.
I was disaster-driven but in a perversely well-intentioned way. I believed in the power of muckraking to expose what’s wrong in order to make it right. Over the years, on many occasions, shining a stark light on what was broken did lead to getting things fixed.
- After I broke a series of stories on the sweatshops behind athletic shoes made in Southeast Asia, the public responded with boycotts and demands for better conditions.
- An investigation of cancer-causing agents in popular beers led to regulations and a change in brewing around the world.
- Exposing child labor and bonded labor in the making of soccer balls pushed the industry to join forces in a campaign to create fair trade.
- My discovery of widespread radon gas problems in American homes led to congressional hearings and the creation of an industry to remediate homes.
- And my investigation of a chain of pediatric dentistry performing unnecessary baby root canals led to a $24-million dollar settlement and its eventual expulsion from Medicaid.
Public outrage can shame bad practices and reform entire industries. But a relentless preoccupation on mayhem can also be dispiriting and contribute towards public apathy.
That class on Appreciative Inquiry heightened my awareness of how words create worlds. How our questions frame the stories we choose to tell. I became sensitized to how much news is obsessed with all that is wrong, unjust, and broken… leaving despair and malaise in its wake. There’s even an old newsroom credo: “No news is good news, and good news is no news.” That kind of editorial decision-making leads to a dulled public, one that shrinks from the constant noise of a doomed world.
And here’s where hope emerges.
AIM2Flourish celebrates and catalyzes radical innovation, as part of a global learning challenge. We're inspiring the current and next generation of business leaders to build a better world. Learn more about the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit and the AIM2Flourish project.