The article “Generative Process, Generative Outcome: The Transformational Potential of Appreciative Inquiry”1 provides a helpful framework for how we consider and use Appreciative Inquiry in our work to support teams and organizations. One key point of the article is that positive experience or discussion does not necessarily lead to generativity, and the distinction is important to understand, especially when we design workshops and discuss with clients.
The article gives the definition of generativity ‘as the processes and capacities that help people see old things in new ways’. This is a fundamental of our work – to identify and challenge the assumptions people have which could be blocking them from creativity, collaboration, personal development and interconnection. We create the space in which participants are exposed to the ideas, experiences, and points of views of others, which often expands one’s own viewpoint and helps to connect ideas and generate new visions. Therefore, through the listening process with others, one can become more generative. This is why we use the discovery step of Appreciative Inquiry.
“A generative image allows people see the world anew, identify new options, formulate new strategies, even reform their identity. The most generative images influence our feelings and motivations as well as our thoughts.”1
We have often incorporated an element of Appreciative Inquiry in our programs in a variety of contexts, which illustrates the ability of the interview process to be tailored to the situation. Some examples:
- Mergers and Acquisitions: AI was used as part of the mutual discovery process in a merger to help similarly responsible persons from each company to understand and appreciate the culture of the new partner. Through this process, colleagues could learn about the values, approaches, and ways of working of their new partners before diving into the technical details and processes.
- Newly formed teams: As also mentioned in the article, AI can encourage a process of appreciation and respect for new colleagues, and the experience and approach they bring to the team. Well-crafted main topic questions can lead to uncovering the unknown in a team member and the application for the future team vision. In one example, the team leader had four priorities and the AI interview process revealed that the competences and experience for each of these priorities was in the team.
- Establishing organization identity: AI was used to elicit stories that represented the core of the organizational identity. Via a process of interviewing and eliciting key factors, we helped the organization to reflect on its identity in a different way. The core values we identified via this process did not only serve to strengthen and frame the organization and its heritage, but also provided a framework for the future development of this company.
Often when we work with leaders and teams, we are trying to create the opportunity for meaningful or even courageous conversations that can make a difference. Real learning and transformation comes from the willingness to listen, share, experiment, fail, and try again. A key element is the recognition that one person alone does not have all the answers. The interview process of Appreciative Inquiry can lay the foundation for respect, collaboration and transformation.
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1Bushe. G.R. (2013), Generative process, generative outcome: The transformational potential of appreciative inquiry, in D.L. Cooperrider, D.P. Zandee, L.N. Godwin, M. Avital & B. Boland (eds.) Organizational Generativity: The Appreciative Inquiry Summit and a Scholarship of Transformation (Advances in Appreciative Inquiry, Volume 4), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.89‐113.