Practicing Appreciative Inquiry

by Dawna Markova

Systemic change will be fostered when each leader asks himself or herself a beautiful but dangerous, open-ended question to which there is no answer. To reflect on such a question takes tremendous courage because inevitably it takes us into our vulnerabilities and thus into our need for connection.

If we can be courageous enough to hold these questions or allow them to hold us, they will give us a direction and a sense of meaning as we move forward together imagining and creating a future that is truly possible for all of us.

The three practices that follow will enable you to become familiar with this new way of thinking. They suggest you first do the inner work that makes the outer work possible.

  • Experience the inner work of appreciative inquiry.
    Create a quiet moment of reflection. Perhaps you will be driving home or walking through the woods; perhaps you’ll be writing in a journal or riding in an elevator. Begin by inviting yourself to think about a time in your life when you felt fully alive and thriving in your work. Which personal resources and values were most at play? What was it that helped you be effective? What is the brightest possible future you can imagine using those resources and inhabiting those values?
  • Practice using AI with others.
    Create three questions you could ask a stranger that would evoke a positive response. Or ask someone to tell you about the first time he or she remembers having a good idea that had an impact on others
  • Experience AI with colleagues.
    Gather a small group and initiate a conversation that begins with an evocative question, such as “What’s an example of a time when this organization was at its best?” As the stories unfold, you might ask people to consider the common themes they have heard.

From there, a simple question, such as “What kind of an organization could we create that would be worthy of our full commitment?” will carry the conversation forward. Imagination moves into action when you ask, “What are the resources we need and the steps we can take together that would enable us to realize this vision?”