Traditionally, organizations look to change behavior by focusing on detecting errors, performing gap analyses, and fixing problems. This deficit-based theory of change may work for the top-down, hierarchical organization. But for dynamic organizations with a continual need to adapt, these models are not sufficient. With their focus on problems and crises, they may even be deleterious to the change process. In 2000 David Cooperrider, a pioneer of Appreciative Inquiry proposed that “While researchers have demonstrated the potential for increased organizational understanding when members focus on opportunity rather than threat,…deficient inquiry continues to guide many in their quest for change.”
Conversely, the new science suggests that when the focus and intention are directed toward that which is positive, a creative power is unleashed that facilitates adaptation with unprecedented ease and efficiency. Appreciative Inquiry, a technique that focuses on positive outcomes, is based on the premise that humans are naturally drawn toward that which is positive. The practice of Appreciative Inquiry suggests that by searching within an organization for what works, what motivates, and what evokes positive energy, the organization will evolve in a positive direction. “Appreciative Inquiry involves the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, organizations, and the world around them. It involves systematic discovery of what forces are at work when a system is its most effective, compassionate, and capable in economic, ecological, and human terms.”
The practice of Appreciative Inquiry has unveiled a new theoretical framework for viewing change. Its protocol has an inherent ability to tap into the positive energy that is created by the relationship of the group. The resulting change is often spontaneous, natural, and successful beyond all expectations. “Conspicuously absent from this process are the vocabularies of deficit-based change (e.g., gap analysis, root causes of failure, unfreezing, defensive routines, variances, diagnosis, resistance, and flaming platforms).” The theoretical framework offers a deeper understanding of the power of this approach.
The next article will focus on the 4 Phases of Appreciative Inquiry. If you found this material helpful, please forward it to a friend or co-worker and encourage them to subscribe.