Have you been in an innovation workshop and felt it seemed somewhat negative? Everyone was talking about problems, pain points, failure, creating a bad atmosphere that is not conducive to maximising creativity and innovation.

I’m sure you’ve experienced that, but did you know there is an alternative way? I recommend you investigate a methodology called “Appreciative Inquiry”, that starts by looking at what is going right and how can that success be accelerated, maximised and grown, rather then what is going wrong.

Let me give you an example. If you hear that 94% of your customers are happy with what you do, how many would focus their attention on the 6% that are unhappy, and try to make them satisfied customers? Appreciative Inquiry focuses on what is being done really well and does not focus on the broken bits.

So what is Appreciative Inquiry and where did it come from? It is rooted in the Arts. Nancy Cooperrider, an artist in the mid-1980’s, made her husband, David, aware of the “appreciative eye” concept in Art. Rather than focusing on what was bad, art always focuses on what is good. For example, appreciating the chosen colour scheme or the lifelike hands that had been drawn, rather focusing on the lack of proportion or the dull eyes. By focusing on what is good, the artist is encouraged to explore the strengths they have and to get even better.

David Cooperrider, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, decided to apply the “appreciative eye” principle to an organisation. When an improvement is needed, the starting point is finding when it has worked in the organisation, however small and limited. This appreciation identifies where you want to be, based on those moments of success, not theoretical moments but actual moments. Remembering positive successes opens and supports the creative flow and is contagious to the rest of the group. From that “discovery”, you “dream” of what could be. That dreaming leads to “designing” what it should be, resulting in what will be, the “destiny.” It’s tangible and energising process that I highly recommend.

I must admit, I was pretty cynical when I first heard about Appreciative Inquiry, but I tried it in a workshop I was facilitating, instead of my normal tried-and-tested method. It was a risk, but one that really paid off as the results and energy in the room was palpably different. Instead of feeling exhausted at the end of the workshop, we didn’t want to stop!

If you are interested in finding out more, I’d recommend a great book called “The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry.” It’s a short but powerful book that will enable you to run the Appreciative Inquiry methodology. I encourage you to check it out and add it to your innovation toolbox.


Credits: Sue Annis Hammond – author of the Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry.

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