The Essentials of Appreciative Inquiry:
A Roadmap for Creating Positive Futures
Bernard J. Mohr and Jane Magruder Watkins
“The significant problems we face cannot be
As a result of this new thinking, some have begun to ques-
solved at the same level of thinking we were at
tion the focus of what we typically study in organizational
when we created them.” —Albert Einstein
life. Rather than concentrate on breakdowns and malfunc-
tions, we’ve begun to ask: If the act of studying a system
alters it, why not do so in ways that create movement
For much of the last four centuries, humans have
sought to improve the world through modern Western
toward peak experiences or successes? Posing this query can
open our eyes to the enormous potential of the positive
science, with its focus on linear logic and dissecting
things to understand them. When we’ve applied this
approach to technical challenges, such as the need to
share information with people on the other side of the
globe, we’ve been highly successful. Nevertheless, despite
dramatic developments in technological systems, our
progress in developing human systems, such as families,
The Power of the Positive Question
work teams, community groups, corporations, and
Origins of AI
nations has been much slower. Many people wonder
why we can succeed so well in one sphere and have such
The Holistic Nature of Self
difficulty in another.
Rethinking Our Approach to Organizational Change
Why Questions Matter: The Power of Image
People interested in improving human systems often
assume that organizational change is sequential: We
An Invitation to Change
first ask about how an enterprise functions and then
How AI Works: Five Generic Processes
take steps to change it based on our findings. However,
Guided by Five Core Principles
a growing number of social scientists are coming to
1. Choose the Positive As the Focus of Inquiry
recognize that the process of studying a phenomenon
actually changes that phenomenon—in effect creating
2. Inquire into Exceptionally Positive Moments
a new reality during the process of inquiry. In the early
3. Share the Stories and Identify Life-Giving Forces
1920s, renowned physicist Werner von Heisenberg
articulated this principle for the physical world. For
4. Create Shared Images of a Preferred Future
example, the act of inserting a thermometer into a glass
5. Innovate and Improvise Ways to Create That Future
of water to determine the water’s temperature will
AI Principles in Practice:
change that temperature. By extension, we can infer
Three Stories From the Field
that studying a company or community changes that
entity. Researchers have found that this influence begins
Customer Service Improvement in an HR Division
from the first questions that leaders, consultants, or
Post-Merger Integration of Three Cultures into One at a
others ask during the inquiry process—and that the
Primary School
images evoked by their questions have an almost
Leadership Development Among Top Managers of an
magnetic pull.
R&D Division
Helpful Conditions for Implementing
the AI Process
The Essentials of Appreciative Inquiry: A Roadmap for Creating Positive Futures
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The Power of the
wide learning and renewal in the fol-
cooperation, innovation, and egalitarian
Positive Question
lowing ways:
governance that he observed within cer-
Through widespread inquiry, it helps
tain parts of the medical facility. In
In 1982 researchers at the University of
response to these observa-
participants perceive the
Wisconsin conducted a study of the
need for change,
tions, Cooperrider
learning process by videotaping two
explore new possi-
refocused his
bowling teams during several games.
When people focus on
bilities, and con-
research to
Later, members of each team studied a
human ideals and achievements,
tribute to
study the
copy of the video of their efforts in order
peak experiences, and best practices,
causes of
to improve their skills. But the copies
these things—not the conflicts—
such excel-
Through cus-
were edited differently. One team
tend to flourish.
lence. He soon
tomized interview
received a video showing only the times
found that this “appre-
guides, it focuses on
when its members made mistakes; the
moments of high performance in
ciative” approach was causing a powerful
other team’s video included only the
and creative stir within the organization.
order to ignite transformative dia-
times when members performed well.
logue and action within the organi-
As he began to formalize a theory based
After the bowlers studied the videos and
on his findings, clinic leaders asked him
acted upon what they had learned, what
to help them create a practice based on
Through alignment of the organiza-
happened? Both teams did improve their
positive inquiry. Soon Cooperrider began
tion’s formal and informal structures
game, but the team that studied its suc-
to see broader possibilities for applying
with its purpose and principles, it
cesses improved its score twice as much
this emerging philosophy to guide change
translates shared vision into reality
as the one that studied its mistakes.
in other organizations.
and belief into practice.
Learning from moments of excel-
lence serves as the foundation of
Appreciative Inquiry (AI). AI is an
Clearly, the process of collecting
The Holistic Nature of Self
emerging approach to organizational
information about our experiences, and
transformation based on a deceptively
analyzing and acting on our interpreta-
Cooperrider’s work is part of a larger
simple premise: that organizations grow
tions of it, does not represent a new
shift in Western thinking, particularly in
in the direction of what they repeatedly
idea. But we believe that being inten-
the fields of medicine, cognitive psychol-
ask questions about and focus their
tional about the data we focus on—that
ogy, cultural sociology, and athletics.
attention on. Why make this assump-
is, choosing to learn from moments of
Since the mid-1950s, Western medical
tion? Sociological research has shown
joy, wonder, and excellence—is a radical
science has become increasingly influ-
that when people study problems and
departure from previous methodologies
enced by an age-old concept grounded
conflicts, the number and severity of
and can be unusually effective in
in Eastern cultures—that the mind has
the problems they identify actually
improving our organizations and
the power to heal the body. This princi-
increase. But when they focus on
ple stands in stark contrast to the con-
human ideals and achievements, peak
cept of a split between mind and body,
experiences, and best practices, these
first articulated by the ancient Greeks,
Origins of AI
things—not the conflicts—tend to
that has dominated Western thought
AI first arose in the early 1980s, when
and behavior ever since. In the last 50
By encouraging a broad range of
David Cooperrider, then a graduate stu-
years, however, as interest in under-
stakeholders both within and outside
dent at Case Western Reserve University,
standing the integrated nature of “self ”
the organization to ask certain kinds of
was hired to conduct an organizational
has become more widespread, major
questions, make shared meaning of the
diagnosis of the Cleveland Clinic to find
scientific research institutions and
answers, and act on the responses, AI
out what was wrong with the way the
mainstream media have begun to docu-
serves as a wellspring for transforma-
organization was operating. During his
ment stories and studies supporting a
tional change. It supports organization-
research, he was amazed by the level of
holistic view of thought, conversation,
The Essentials of Appreciative Inquiry: A Roadmap for Creating Positive Futures
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and action. Below are examples of this
hope, faith, love, will to live, cheerfulness,
employees who hold self-images of
humor, creativity, playfulness, confi-
competence and success are more likely
The Placebo Effect: The Power of
dence, and great expectations, all of
to achieve high levels of performance
Our Own Images of Ourselves.
which contribute to the
than those with poor
Undertaken in the mid-1950s, these
body’s healing. Bill
self-esteem. If we
once controversial experiments show
Moyers created a series
accept that we have
that from one-third to two-thirds of all
for PBS on the power of
the power to create
patients will show marked physiological
the mind to heal the
what we imagine,
and emotional improvement in symp-
body. And Jack
then an organiza-
toms simply by believing that they are
Nicklaus’s Golf My Way
tional process that
being given an effective treatment.
(Simon & Schuster,
seeks to achieve pos-
Their improvements are even greater if
1974) argues that posi-
itive change would
the doctor prescribing the medicine or
tive internal affirmations
consciously focus on
treatment also believes it will help
(“I’m going to hit it
(Beecher, 1955; White, Turks, and
down the middle of the fairway” rather
employees to believe that they can make
Schwartz, 1985).
than “Don’t hit it into the woods”) cause
a difference; reward leaders who know
The Pygmalion Studies: The
the entire body to respond to what the
how to empower others; and direct the
Impact of Another’s Image of Us.
mind imagines is possible.
energy of the system toward the genera-
These studies of classroom behavior
In the healthcare community, James
tive and creative forces that give life and
demonstrate the power that another
and Stephanie Simonton documented
vitality to the work.
person’s image of us can have in shaping
an unusually high rate of recovery from
Championed by organization devel-
our performance. Researchers discov-
what was diagnosed as terminal cancer
opment (OD) practitioners, these ideas
ered that teachers’ responses to individ-
by patients who worked to resolve their
have undergone continuous innovation
ual students reflected what they believed
psychological issues and practiced posi-
and have been adopted by groups and
about each child’s potential and ability
tive imagery (1981). In other studies of
institutions around the world. Some
(Jessum, 1986; Rosenthal and Rubin,
people facing major heart surgery,
have mistaken these new ideas for
1978). Furthermore, they demonstrated
behavioral scientists recorded a two-to-
merely “positive thinking” or as just
that the teacher’s image of the student
one recovery rate of those who
another technique for facilitating orga-
was a more powerful predictor of his or
approached the operation with confi-
nizational change. Nevertheless, many
her performance than IQ scores, home
dence compared to those who
practitioners are increasingly coming to
environment, or past performance.
approached it with fear and concern
understand AI to be an overall organi-
Long-term follow-up showed that this
(Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1990).
zational philosophy that ultimately
judgment affected the students far into
transforms our approach to the whole
the future. So damaging were these
field of OD, including knowledge man-
Rethinking Our Approach to
experiments to the children labeled
agement, joint ventures, post-merger
Organizational Change
poor performers that the scientific com-
integration, customer service, diversity,
munity discontinued them.
With such scientific evidence emerging,
business process innovation, strategy
Internal Dialogues. Evidence sug-
many of us are rethinking our approach
development, evaluation, capability
gests that we can create positive images
to organizational change. For example,
development, and much more.
of ourselves through our own internal
the Pygmalion experiments suggest that
conversations. Norman Cousins popu-
a supervisor’s focus on an employee’s
Why Questions Matter:
larized the notion that a person’s mental
shortcomings during performance
The Power of Image
state affects his or her health. In his book
appraisals will adversely affect that
Human Options (Berkley Books, 1981),
employee’s future performance. The
“Imagination is more important
he writes of the therapeutic value of
studies on positive imagery imply that
than knowledge.” —Albert Einstein
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AI is based on the power of positive
What external/organizational factors
faced the company. David Cooperrider
inquiry. But how can a simple question
were present that supported these
(currently a faculty member at CWRU)
nudge a whole company in a productive
facilitated the process. He invited
new direction? Organizations are mani-
employees to identify “the factors and
How might this team function if we could
festations of the human imagination.
forces that gave life to the company
expand the conditions that led to past
That is, no organization could exist if one
when it was most effective, most alive,
or several individuals hadn’t envisioned it
and most successful as a producer of
Both sets of questions will generate
first (even if that vision was sketchy or
high-quality health foods.”
data that will begin to shift the team’s
incomplete). The learnings that surface
After the first day, a smaller group
dynamics, but only the first will lead to
through the AI process begin to shift the
of 150 stakeholders—employees from
the blame, fatigue, and resistance that
collective image that people hold of the
all levels, suppliers, distributors, com-
typically accompany problem-focused
organization. In their daily encounters,
munity leaders, financiers, and cus-
analyses. Uncovering and supporting
members start to create compelling new
tomers—began a four-day strategy
people’s passions, skills, knowledge,
visions of the company’s future together,
session to articulate a bold, new corpo-
experience, and successes excite and
grounded in their understanding of past
rate dream. Six months later, sales
mobilize them to implement innovations
successes. These visions initiate “ripples”
reached an all-time high and profits
they never before thought possible.
in how employees think about the work
rose 300 percent. Using the short-term
they do, their relationships, their roles,
results as a springboard, within the
and so on. Over time, these ripples turn
An Invitation to Change
next two years, the company completed
into waves; the more positive questions
implementation of a radical restructur-
Unlike many behavioral approaches to
people ask, the more they incorporate the
ing, giving employees much greater
change, AI does not focus on changing
learnings they glean from those questions
influence on a day-to-day level. That
people. Instead, it invites people to
into daily behaviors and, ultimately, into
empowerment in turn enabled the
engage in building the kinds of organi-
the organization’s infrastructure.
company to execute three new strategic
zations and communities that they
To see how we might start to frame
initiatives, which led to even greater
want to work and live in. AI thus
such questions, let’s suppose a team’s
income and profitability.
involves collaborative discovery of what
performance has fluctuated for a while
As this example shows, the AI
makes an organization most effective—
and its members are now experiencing
process enables human systems to
in economic, ecological, and human
conflict and low productivity. Which of
engage in continuous learning and
terms. From there, people weave that
the following sets of questions is likely
translate that learning into ongoing
new knowledge into the fabric of the
to give us information that will generate
innovation. Organizations then become
firm’s formal and informal systems,
forward momentum?
so agile that they are capable of thriv-
such as the way they develop and
ing even in the midst of volatility and
What’s wrong with the people in this
implement business strategy or orga-
changing at the speed of imagination.
nize themselves to accomplish tasks.
This process represents true learning
Why isn’t this team doing better?
and change.
What’s causing this conflict and who is
For instance, in Curitiba, Brazil, the
How AI Works:
food manufacturing company
Five Generic
Nutrimental lost a major long-time
Processes Guided by
Think of a time in your history as a team
customer and teetered on the edge of
Five Core Principles
when performance was high and you felt
financial disaster. In response, it shut
engaged and valued. Tell me a story
down for a day so that all 700 employ-
The AI philosophy is captured by five
about that time. What were you and the
ees could talk together about how to
core principles that serve as the founda-
others doing?
beat the stiffening competition that
tion for AI’s five generic processes:
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The Constructionist Principle: Our
organizations evolve in the direction
of the images we create based on the
Deficit-Based Change
Constructionist-Based Change
questions we ask as we strive to
understand the systems at work.
Identify the Problem
The Principle of Simultaneity:
What is the need?
Discover the best of what is.
Change begins the moment we ask
Analyze Causes
What’s wrong here?
Imagine what might be.
The Anticipatory Principle: Our
behavior in the present is influenced
by the future we anticipate.
Analyze Possible Solutions
How can we fix it?
Dialogue what should be.
The Poetic Principle: Just as poets
have no constraints on what they can
Action Planning
write about, we have no boundaries
Problem solved!
Create what will be.
on what we can inquire and learn
The Positive Principle: The more
positive the questions used to guide a
change process, the more long-last-
rather than a prescription for applying
1. Choose the Positive As the
ing and effective that process will be.
AI. You should customize them to fit
Focus of Inquiry
each situation, with its unique opportu-
Appreciative Inquiry begins when the
Five generic processes comprise an
nities and constraints. Further, with only
organization consciously chooses to
“AI cycle,” which most people use when
small modification, you can use these
focus on the positive as the basis for
integrating AI practice into their organi-
processes with teams, families, communi-
learning and change. The first step
zation (see “Five Generic Processes”).
ties, and other groups. [Note: Literature
includes educating key stakeholders—
Whether you’re an external consultant,
about AI often refers to the 4D cycle:
such as senior management, unit lead-
an internal organization development
Discovery-Dream-Design-Destiny, which
ers, union leaders, and employee
professional, or a line manager, you can
also emphasizes addressing problems
groups—about the AI process, philoso-
consider these processes a roadmap
through inquiry into and learning from
phy, and supporting research; providing
exceptionally posi-
an opportunity for them to collectively
tive moments
decide whether AI is applicable to their
rather than analyz-
organization; and, if they choose to
ing breakdowns
implement the AI process, identifying a
(see “Two
1. Choose the
core team to develop a customized
positive as the
Contrasting Models
focus of inquiry
interview guide and oversee the inter-
for Organizational
view process. You might ask these stake-
5. Innovate and
2. Inquire into
Change”). However,
improvise ways to
exceptionally positive
holders questions such as:
our experience with
create that future
AI led us to reword
Does the AI approach feel right for
the 4D cycle into
you and this situation?
4. Create shared
3. Share the stories
the five generic
If so, what will the topic of inquiry
images of a
and identify life-
preferred future
giving forces
processes to sim-
be? How will we phrase the topic
plify understanding
to focus on the positive as a core
of how AI works.]
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What learnings from our organiza-
2. Inquire into Exceptionally
Again, based on the size of the
tion’s most successful past change
Positive Moments
group, the specifics of this phase vary
processes can we apply to our cur-
enormously. In a small group, inter-
In this phase, as many organization
rent change effort?
views with everyone may be possible.
members as possible collect stories
How can we create a customized
These might take the form of team
from throughout the organization, cus-
interview guide and plan the overall
members conversing over coffee or
tomers, and even other companies
inquiry strategy in a way that values
lunch, or one-on-ones between mem-
about moments when the organization
all the voices in the system from the
bers of the core group and other mem-
has reflected the desired characteristic.
very start?
bers of the enterprise. In a large
Researchers using traditional methods
Should there be a core team? If so,
organization, 500 to 1,000 representa-
of data collection seek to do just
what group in the organization will
tives may come together for three to five
enough interviews for the results to be
guide and support the core team’s
days, divide up in pairs to do the inter-
statistically reliable. In AI, questioners
views, and complete the process during
reach as many people as possible,
that time. In all cases, however, the par-
because the more people engaged as
Since organizations or teams move
ticipants use stories to generate compre-
interviewers and interviewees across
in the direction of the questions they
hensive and compelling descriptions of
organizational boundaries, the more
repeatedly ask, the topic of inquiry and
what is working well, what gives life to
the collective imagination of the orga-
its related questions are the most
the organization, and what they wish for
nization becomes ignited, building
important decisions stakeholders make
in the future.
momentum for transformative change.
in this process. For example, the lever-
age in studying “luggage lost by the air-
line” versus “exceptional
customer-arrival experiences,” or
“causes of discrimination against
1. Best Experience: Tell me a story about the best times that you have had with
women” versus “exceptional cross-gen-
your organization (team, family, community, network, or other group). Looking
der partnerships in the workplace” is
at your entire experience, recall a time when you felt most alive or excited about
markedly different.
your involvement. What made it an exciting experience? Who else was involved?
To figure out the focus of inquiry
Describe the event in detail.
with a small group such as a team, you
2. Values: What are the things you value about yourself, your work, and your
might suggest, “Let’s spend some time
exploring moments in our past when
we were particularly effective so that
Yourself: Without being humble, what do you value most about yourself—
we can identify some specific topics for
as a human being, friend, parent, citizen, and so on?
deeper inquiry.” Larger, more complex
Your work: When you are feeling best about work, what do you value about it?
groups of stakeholders often need
Your organization: What is it about your organization (team, family, commu-
many discussions to clarify and agree
nity, network, or other group) that you value? What is the single most important
on the topic. In a medical facility, the
thing that your organization has contributed to your life?
focus might be examples of outstand-
3. Core Life-Giving Factor: What do you think is the core value or factor that
ing collaboration between specialists;
allows the organization to pull through during difficult times? If this core
in a business, it might be moments of
value/factor did not exist, how would that make your organization totally
exceptional customer service or
different than it currently is?
unusual speed-to-market of a new
product; in a family, it might be times
4. Three Wishes: If you had three wishes for this organization, what would
when members creatively resolved
they be?
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A group can use a generic interview
guide (see “Generic Interview Guide” on
1. In each of our lives, there are special times when we just know that we have
page 6) or customize the questions to
made the right career choice—moments when we feel really good about the
focus on the particular interests of its
work we are doing and what we are contributing to others. As you think back
members. On the right is an example of
over your last four or five years at this or another school, can you tell me a story
a customized interview guide. It was cre-
about one of those special moments when you felt that your teaching was really
ated by a core team at a middle school
alive and meaningful for your students—a time when you felt particularly
dealing with the fallout from a merger
excited about your involvement in your field, when you were affirmed in your
that had angered and alienated many of
the staff.
commitment to being part of the teaching/learning field? (Use the questions
below to probe more deeply, to help your interviewee expand his or her story.)
What made it a peak experience? What was happening at that time in
3. Share the Stories and Identify
your life?
Life-Giving Forces
What were the students doing?
In this phase, interviewers share their
How were you interacting with them?
findings with the rest of the organiza-
What was it about the learning climate and task that sparked their
tion so that many people can collec-
tively make meaning of the data,
identify learnings about the organiza-
2. Without being humble, tell me what you value deeply about yourself as an
tion’s positive core and the conditions
individual? as an educator?
that support moments of high perfor-
3. In planning this process, the sponsor team has said that one of the things
mance, and develop ideas for what does
that enable great teaching/learning is when people in the school “feel connected,”
not exist that needs to be created, as
when they feel “part of a family.” Thinking back over the last few years, can you
described in the “wish” questions. An
tell me a story about a time when you felt that sense of connectedness, that sense
organization has several options for
of family? (Use the questions below to probe more deeply, to help your interviewee
deciding how to share the stories and
expand his or her story.)
information and for selecting who will
What role did you play?
do the analysis (or “sense-making”) to
What did others contribute?
identify the life-giving forces. Some-
What other factors in the situation, in the environment, contributed to
times a small group makes sense of the
this connectedness?
data on behalf of the larger organization.
Whenever possible, though, it is desir-
4. With the hectic pace of today’s world and the need to juggle lots of different
able to have everyone involved review
balls at once, feeling valued and supported by the people around you can make a
the interview results, for example,
big difference. Would you tell me a story about a specific time, an experience
through an AI Summit, video conferenc-
when, as a professional, you felt genuinely supported and/or valued by students?
ing, regional meetings, and so forth.
by your peers? by the administration?
A major part of the sense-making
5. In your view, what are the community and societal expectations of this school
work is to identify themes, or impor-
for the future?
tant threads, gleaned from the inter-
6. What is the core factor that gives vitality and life to the school—the one thing
views. Themes are the short answers to
that is important for us to retain, to bring with us as we move into the future?
the question: “What do we hear people
describing in the interviews as the life-
7. What three wishes do you have for this school—things that would enable it to
giving forces in this organization?”
become even more vibrant and truly the sort of place in which great learning
They become the basis for collectively
and teaching take place on a daily basis?
imagining what the organization would
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be like if the exceptional moments that
the unique contribution it can make to
Participants in the AI process present
we have uncovered in the interviews
global well-being.
this vision—or “provocative proposi-
became the norm. Themes also provide
The first part of this process usually
tion”—to the larger organization first
the link from this step in the process to
focuses on descriptions of the organiza-
creatively and metaphorically (through
the next one, in which the group creates
tion’s culture, the ways in which people
songs, skits, collages, and so forth) and
a shared image of their preferred future.
relate to one another, and the overall
then in writing. For example, at a con-
To see how the first three phases inter-
feel of the organization. The following
sumer products firm, participants came
act together to assist the group in artic-
questions can be useful for initiating
up with the following macro vision:
ulating their preferred future, see
“Our company is a learning organization
“Making Sense of the AI Interviews.”
that fosters the cross-fertilization of
What is the world calling for our
organization to be?
ideas, minimizes the building of
empires, harnesses the synergy of group
What are the most enlivening and
4. Create Shared Images of a
cooperation, and cultivates the pride of
exciting possibilities for our
Preferred Future
being a valued member of one outstand-
In the fourth process of the AI cycle,
ing corporation.”
What is the inspiration that supports
participants articulate a shared image
The second part of this process
our organization?
or dream of the most desired future for
involves the participants in producing a
the entire organization. Doing so
These paths of inquiry generate an
more specific, detailed vision for how
involves inviting organization stake-
overall “macro” vision for how the group
the organization might function. This
holders to engage in “possibility conver-
wants the organization to function—a
“micro” vision describes the structures,
sations” about the organization’s
short narrative description of the desired
mechanisms, technologies, processes,
position, its potential, its calling, and
future written in the present tense.
and strategies that will help make the
desired future a reality. Ideally, this
activity engages as many people as pos-
sible and emerges directly from the
interviews and resultant themes. The
consumer products firm mentioned
In the middle school previously described, interviewees identified the following
above identified 20 elements that they
themes—that is, conditions that were present in the past that led to moments of
felt could be infused with the power of
excellence in teaching, learning, and quality of work life.
their vision for a new corporate culture.
Their micro vision for the strategy
Authentic learning experiences
development process was: “Our com-
Collaborative efforts between teachers, students, and parents, and between
pany accelerates its learning through an
teachers and administrators
annual strategic planning conference
High standards of classroom dialogue
that involves all 500 people in the firm
Positive climate, including ongoing support and effective communication
as well as key partners and stakeholders.
among staff, colleagues, students, and administration
As a setting for strategic learning, teams
Sense of community and connectedness at different levels, with feelings of
present their benchmarking studies of
appreciation and kindness
the best five other organizations,
deemed leaders in their class. Other
Time to connect with kids and colleagues at different levels
teams present an annual appreciative
Purposeful planning and work
analysis of our company, and together
Parent involvement
these databases of success stories (inter-
High teacher energy
nal and external) help set the stage for
our strategic, future-search planning.”
The Essentials of Appreciative Inquiry: A Roadmap for Creating Positive Futures
Pegasus Communications, Inc.
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5. Innovate and Improvise Ways to
ing the micro and macro visions, and
vations in customer service work
Create That Future
conducting appreciatively based evalua-
processes, roles, and relationships.
tions of progress toward the vision—
Report-outs took the form of an “art
The final process seeks to engage as
especially with new members of the
gallery walk”—a tour of each group’s
many members of the organization as
organization. Organization members are
flip charts displayed around the room.
possible in bringing to life, on a daily
thereby involved in continuous learning,
Next, groups of 12 created pictures,
basis in every locale, the new images of
adjustment, and improvisation as they
skits, and songs of the ideal future orga-
the future articulated in the previous
experiment with different ways of carry-
nizational culture and systems, which
steps. At this stage, the momentum and
ing the vision forward.
they presented to the other groups.
potential for innovation are extremely
Participants then organized themselves
high. Some people in the organization
into self-selected task groups to create
AI Principles in
might form “initiative” groups around
visions for key organizational elements,
Practice: Three
implementing the micro visions, sup-
such as leadership, work processes,
Stories From the Field
ported by ongoing inquiry into how the
reward systems, information systems,
new changes are working.
and so on.
Customer Service Improvement in
In another variation, each person
Over the next year, Summit partici-
an HR Division
has the opportunity to publicly state a
pants returned to their regional offices
simple commitment, make an offer, or
In this company, two groups within the
throughout the country to engage col-
articulate a request about which parts of
human resources function, separated by
leagues in implementing changes at the
the dream he or she wants to bring to
cultural and organizational boundaries,
local level. One year later, an apprecia-
life. A simple commitment describes
did not communicate effectively, result-
tively based evaluation process was used
actions that can be taken easily, typi-
ing in frustrated clients who received
to measure progress. The 600-member
cally within one to two weeks and
conflicting advice. Over a period of
HR division and some of its clients iden-
within the existing authority and
weeks, through multiple dialogues
tified approximately 300 stories of
resources available to the person mak-
between consultants and key stakehold-
improvements and innovations. This
ing the commitment. An offer is a kind
ers, the departments reframed their
data formed the basis for yet
of “gift” that can come in any form. For
issue “internal conflict and lack
another three-day
example, a participant may offer access
of cooperation” from the
Summit, at
to a database she controls; someone else
inquiry “Service
which the
Rather than considering the
may offer financial assistance to get a
Without Boundaries.”
change process a one-time event,
project started; another person may
They formed a core
the organization now sees it as the
offer his help in response to a request
group with representa-
were dis-
for collaboration. A request articulates
normal way of doing things.
tives from all the stake-
what one person or group needs from
holder groups and trained
What have we
another person or group; for example,
them in AI. This core group then
accomplished? What’s
“The western region call center requests
developed an interview guide and
working well in our change process?
a meeting with the chief information
planned a three-day, 300-person meet-
Where do we want to move to now?
officer to explore upgrading our e-mail
ing called an “AI Summit.” The execu-
How do we build on the best of our suc-
tive vice president served as the project
cess to get there?
The key to sustaining this momen-
Additional staff members have been
tum is to build an “appreciative eye” into
At the AI Summit, participants
trained in AI, particularly those in the
all the organization’s systems, proce-
interviewed each other in pairs using
organization development function,
dures, and ways of working. Best prac-
the customized interview guide. Groups
which has grown tremendously in per-
tices for doing this include continuing
of six then analyzed the stories and col-
sonnel and financial resources to sup-
inquiry into key business issues, updat-
lated themes/life-giving forces for inno-
port ongoing AI practice. Rather than
The Essentials of Appreciative Inquiry: A Roadmap for Creating Positive Futures
Pegasus Communications, Inc.
(tel) 781-398-9700
considering the change process a one-
ing future possibilities. Two months
At the Summit, the managers
time event, the organization now sees it
later, after the third meeting, team lead-
paired off and interviewed each other
as the normal way of doing things—
ers used AI to design more effective
using the customized interview guide.
engaging in a continuous cycle of
work structures for the following year,
Small groups of eight analyzed the sto-
learning about what works and why,
including a new reporting system and
ries for the life-giving forces that were
creating shared images of the future,
staffing arrangements. At the
present when they experienced
and inventing novel ways of achieving
beginning of the
passionate leadership,
these goals. In addition, the organiza-
school year, fac-
compiled com-
tion is publishing a book that high-
ulty focused on
pelling themes,
AI assumes that every living
lights stories of the successful changes
embedding AI
and identified
system has untapped stories of
that they have accomplished.
into their daily
wishes for the
excellence and that these stories
teaching with
future. Each group
release positive energy.
the goal of raising
reported out through
students’ writing per-
overhead presentations.
Post-Merger Integration of Three
formance. The school continues to
Over lunch, an executive from
Cultures into One at a Primary
revisit the ideas, hopes, and energy
another industry shared how his com-
shifts from their AI work, and fifth-
pany had used AI to develop leaders.
When three schools were forcibly
grade students are now a core part of
Groups of eight then drew pictures
merged, almost all of the teachers felt
the interview process for AI-based
describing the themes and wishes that
angry and disenfranchised. These feel-
strategic planning—not just for the this
came out of the earlier session. They
ings had a negative impact on their
school but for the entire school district.
created metaphorical images of ideal
teaching ability. An internal leadership
future leadership roles and activities
team met with a consultant for four
and shared them in a gallery walk.
Leadership Development Among
hours to learn about AI. Based on this
Small groups then wrote macro and
Top Managers of an R&D Division
session, the members produced a plan
micro visions, translating their
to engage faculty, children, parents, and
A survey of the work climate in this
metaphors into narrative descriptions
school board members in an inquiry of
R&D division revealed that the top 70
of how they would like to lead in the
“Building on the Best of the Past.” Via
managers were not leading well, result-
future. At the end of the day, the partic-
e-mail, the consultant and leadership
ing in employee dissatisfaction. In
ipants came together as one large group
team developed three separate inter-
response, the senior VP of the division,
and concluded by describing the two or
view guides for teachers, students, and
along with his direct reports, decided to
three things that required collective
other stakeholders.
sponsor a process for leadership devel-
action (systems, policies, and so on)
In a series of three two-hour meet-
opment, based on the assumption that
and that would give them the greatest
ings held six weeks apart, teachers and
there were stories of exceptional leader-
leverage in achieving their vision. Each
teachers, teachers and parents, teachers
ship within their own ranks from
participant also made a commitment to
and children, and teachers and admin-
which lessons could be drawn. An
take one simple action within his or her
istrators conducted paired interviews.
appreciative inquiry into their own best
sphere of authority.
They identified life-giving forces, cre-
leadership practices was conceived.
About three weeks later, the senior
ated shared images of the ideal school
After sending five of the managers to a
VP responsible for the division e-mailed
culture, and came up with action
one-week AI workshop, the division
people, asking for stories about how
formed a core group. This group for-
they had implemented the vision and
One week after the first meeting,
mulated the inquiry topic “Passionate
provocative propositions. A torrent of
people’s focus had shifted away from
Leadership,” developed a customized
stories flowed back to him, which he
problems and feelings of isolation to
interview guide, and planned a one-day
then shared with the division. These
successes and collaborations for realiz-
AI mini-Summit for all 70 managers.
narratives often prompted additional
The Essentials of Appreciative Inquiry: A Roadmap for Creating Positive Futures
Pegasus Communications, Inc.
(tel) 781-398-9700
action, as people became inspired by
organizational life must have signifi-
distribute stories of “exceptional
how their colleagues were moving for-
cant participation from those groups
moments” and support creative
ward. The organization has since created
in planning the inquiry, creating the
action. Stories become valued for
an internal positive change network of
customized interview guide, and
their ability to capture the whole-
people trained in AI basics, and the divi-
developing the innovations that will
ness of meaning.
sion is applying AI to performance man-
be required.
agement, innovation, safety, office
History as a source of innovation:
Appreciative Inquiry is a highly
design, knowledge transfer, strategy
Key leaders believe that the organi-
adaptable philosophy and process for
implementation, and other areas.
zation’s history is a source of new
engaging people in building the organi-
possibilities and are intrigued with
zations and world that they want to
the notion that accessing its “positive
work and live in. AI assumes that every
Helpful Conditions
core” can drive learning and change.
living system has untapped stories of
for Implementing
They support participation of all
excellence and that these stories, when
the AI Process
voices at all levels and are open to
systematically explored and shared,
Though not an absolute prerequisite,
the resultant innovation ideas.
release positive energy. The AI process
we have found the following conditions
invites people to consciously choose to
Focus beyond the event: Members of
to be helpful in implementing AI to
seek out and inquire into these forces
the organization see AI as a process
achieve rapid organizational learning
for creating a culture open to learn-
in their own and other people’s lives
and change:
ing, discovering new possibilities for
and to explore their hopes and dreams
organizing, and producing results in
for the future. It then enables people to
Humble beginnings: The organiza-
tion honestly acknowledges any cur-
ways that raise the collective standard
weave their discoveries into the fabric
rent difficulties without assigning
of living in the organization and the
of the organization’s formal and infor-
blame and invites co-construction of
community, as well as on the planet.
mal infrastructure, enabling the system
solutions that do not yet exist.
Learning and change are seen as
to reconceptualize and transform its
ongoing processes rather than a one-
purpose, processes, and design in ways
Congruence of means and ends: The
time event that brings the organiza-
that support its most generative forces
inquiry process itself and the end
tion to some final point of excellence.
and ongoing success.
results are congruent. For example,
an organization seeking to increase
Stories more than numbers: The
the meaningful involvement of
organization supplies the structures
minority groups in all aspects of
and resources needed to collect and
The Essentials of Appreciative Inquiry: A Roadmap for Creating Positive Futures
Pegasus Communications, Inc.
(tel) 781-398-9700
Suggested Further Readings
Cooperrider, David, and Diana
Magruder Watkins, Jane, and Bernard J.
Whitney, Appreciative Inquiry:
Mohr, Appreciative Inquiry: Change at
Anderson, Harlene, et al, The
Collaborating for Change (Berrett-
the Speed of Imagination (Jossey
Appreciative Organization (Taos
Koehler, 1999)
Bass/Pfeiffer, 2001)
Institute Publishing, 2001)
Fry, Ronald, et al., Appreciative Inquiry
Schiller, Marjorie, et al., Appreciative
Cooperrider, David, et al., Appreciative
and Organizational Transformation:
Leaders: The Eye of the Beholder (Taos
Inquiry: An Emerging Direction for
Reports from the Field (Quorum Books,
Institute, 2001)
Organization Development (Stipes
Publishing, 2001)
Bernard J. Mohr, president of The Synapse Group, Inc., and a founding partner of
Appreciative Inquiry Consulting, LLC, is a leading practitioner and innovator in
Appreciative Inquiry. For 35 years, he has helped clients with organization renewal
and transformation, transcultural partnerships, organization (re)design, change
leadership, and the creation of cultures supporting organizational learning. He coau-
thored Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination (Jossey Bass, 2001).
Bernard holds an M.Ed. in adult and organizational learning from OISE at the
University of Toronto and a diploma in organizational design from Columbia
Jane Magruder Watkins, a past chair of the board of the NTL Institute for Applied
Behavioral Science, has worked in the field of organization development for 35 years.
Since the mid-1980s, she has pioneered the use of Appreciative Inquiry in corporate,
nonprofit, and government organizations across the globe. She teaches AI through
the Taos Institute, NTL Institute, in client organizations, and for several university
graduate programs. Jane coauthored Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of
Imagination with Bernard Mohr. She holds an M.S. in organizational development.
We are grateful for the dialogues and support of our many colleagues in Appreciative
Inquiry Consulting and would like to particularly acknowledge the published works
of David Cooperrider, Frank Barrett, Jim Ludema, Marjorie Schiller, and Diana