Teeing up Appreciative Inquiry

Teeing up Appreciative Inquiry

In my golf-playing days of high school, I would generally step up to the first tee full of confidence. But half the time I’d slice the ball into the range next to the first hole. I’d get coaching to envision success; “imagine the ball flying down the fairway,” my coach would say. Sure enough, if I could envision success well enough, it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy and I’d be sitting nicely for my second shot.

What a surprise to find that there’s a name for that, here at sr4. It’s called Appreciative Inquiry, a school of thought that believes people will grow in the direction of what they are repeatedly asked and where their attention is focused. For instance, if we focus on the negatives in an organization, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy of negative behaviors. On the contrary, if we focus on the appreciative approach – the positive behaviors of an organization – ripples of positive behaviors will emerge, eventually creating waves of positive change.

At sr4, we often use an expression of this approach that goes like this: “Somewhere, some of the time, to some extent, someone is doing something that is somewhat like what you want to achieve. We must find that person, and recognize their work as what ‘good’ looks like. Then, we can start building toward what ‘better’ looks like.”

Through many years of working with this approach, sr4 has learned to trust in these assumptions*:

  • You move in the direction of the questions you ask.
  • People feel better about moving into the future if they can take pieces of the past with them.
  • If you’re going to take pieces of the past with you, they should be the BEST pieces of the past.
  • Language is a critical tool as you work to create new realities.

These assumptions are evident in almost everything we do.  

*Adapted from The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry by Sue Annis Hammond