FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE
Use appreciative inquiry to build on your organization’s strengths.
By Dori Meinert
Another year, another strategic plan. There it sits on the bookshelf for all to see. But are you getting the results you desire?
If you want your company to be more innovative, it may
be time for a diferent approach. Instead of focusing on
what’s wrong with your organization and your people, try
zeroing in on what’s right.
“Appreciative inquiry is a process for leadership development, organizational development, strategic planning
or strategic change that focuses on the positive,” says
James Ludema, co-founder and director of the Center
for Values-Driven Leadership and a professor of global
leadership at Benedictine University, in Lisle, Ill.
The method leverages an organization’s strengths and
capabilities to create a higher-performing future, says
Ludema, who is a co-author of The Appreciative Inquiry
Summit: A Practitioner’s Guide for Leading Large-Scale
Change (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2003).
In contrast, the traditional approach to organizational
development and strategic planning is geared toward
addressing the weaknesses and defciencies of an organization—which limits the possible solutions.
“Often when we focus on what’s broken or what’s
wrong, we already have an implicit image in our mind
about what good is, or what right is, or what’s even possi-
ble,” Ludema says. “So, focusing on the defcits … doesn’t
allow us to unleash new ideas.”
Appreciative inquiry, on the other hand, sparks genera-
“When we focus on when we’ve been at our best, we
see things that normally get glossed over in the day-to-
day busyness and press of the workplace,” Ludema says.
“When we’re in problem-solving mode, we don’t see those
things. … And so they don’t get included in the equation
when we’re talking about how to move forward.”
A growing body of research shows that employees who
experience positive feelings at work are more creative,
productive and engaged in their jobs than those who
home in on the negative. But appreciative inquiry is more
than a feel-good moment.
The approach was developed in the late 1980s by a group
of graduate students, including David Cooperrider, now
a professor at the Weatherhead School of Management
at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and
has been used by various organizations, including the
American Red Cross, John Deere, McDonald’s and the
The central event is a large-group “summit” that takes IMAGE