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Posted 4.20.06

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS WHEN MAKING CHANGE

Appreciative Inquiry book provides framework for a positive outcome

CLEVELAND—It’s the question of whether the glass is half full or half empty. If organizations approach their challenges by looking at the glass as half empty, the first questions asked may be where is the problem and what caused it?

The approach taken by authors Frank J. Barrett and Ronald Fry authors of Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Approach to Building Cooperative Capacity (A Taos Institute Publication), is looking at how to mobilize the potential of what’s in that glass.

“The seeds of change are planted with the very first questions we ask,” write the authors. Whatever you study in a human system will grow, so those questions should seek out the positive instead of fixating on eradicating the deficit.

They liken this approach to Michelangelo seeing David in an abandoned piece of marble that was worked on and discarded by another artist some 40 years before Michelangelo chiseled out his masterwork.

It’s all about possibilities derived from strengths—or coming into direct contact with the life blood of an organization.

For the busy organizational leader or a new AI student, the authors have condensed the AI approach into 128 pages as part of the Taos Institute’s professional series. They provide an example of an AI summit to help other organizations jump start the process at their organizations.

The two authors have worked together using AI’s “4-D” approach of discovering, dreaming, designing and ending with destiny with the U.S. Navy.

“We felt there was a need for an inexpensive, practitioner-oriented introduction and summary of AI—the kind of book that could supplement a workshop or a summit,” said Fry.

One foundational principle of AI is the idea that words are powerful and create actions. Everyone within an organization has their own story and is part of the greater organizational story, according to the authors.

The positive stories people tell lead to possibilities and new futures.

The AI approach has flexibility in its applications for small teams as well as whole systems; it has been used in settings with over 10,000 people.

AI’s power really hit Fry when working with World Vision, the world’s largest privately funded children’s relief and development organization that operates in 98 countries.

The organization needed to translate a newly crafted vision statement into strategic goals and objectives, with input from as many of its 22,000 employees as possible, in the shortest time possible.

During a four-day conference in Bangkok, Thailand, 200 stakeholders from throughout the global organization met face-to-face with participation from another 5,000 via the Internet in three different languages. Using AI, Fry said the group came up with three major goals with eight corresponding strategic priorities that were adopted by the World Council three months later.

AI is now used in the practices at organizations such as Roadway Express, the United Nations Global Compact, the U.S. Navy, and Nokia.

Barrett, an associate professor of management and organizational behavior at the Navel Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and Fry, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, are among the co-creators of this philosophy and method for making change by not fixating on problems but looking at the organization’s strengths as the starting point to set out new goals.

The authors were part of a team that created AI in the late 1980s as an alternative theory and method to problem-solving, which the researchers observed was frustrating organizations when the outcomes did not produce the wanted results.

Both now teach this new approach—Barrett through the Navy and Fry as director and a faculty member of Case’s new Masters Program in Positive Organization Development and Change.

Before AI, Fry, trained as an engineer, said that problem-solving was almost a habit for him. “I haven’t quit using those tools, but I am more conscious of choosing when I use them. I don’t try to avoid ever focusing on the problem, deficit or the negative. I just try to live more often in conversations that are unbalanced in terms of having more attention, questions and imagery that relate to possibilities, hope and the positive,” he said.

 

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