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When focusing on the positive doesn’t work

Appreciative Inquiry is an organizational change process that can be very successful. But I often get asked why the process doesn’t spend time identifying and trying to fix problems, “Doesn’t focusing on the positive give an unrealistic picture of an organization?” Or, “Only looking at what works is a very slanted view of our organization.”

I experience Appreciative Inquiry as being an adaptable process that creates opportunity to build relationships, allow all voices to be heard, and gives people permission to have fun and be proud of their accomplishments.

Yet operating out of an appreciative framework won’t make any more difference than reading most self-help books. Having a one to three-day event where everyone walks away feeling good doesn’t do any more for an organization than thinking positive thoughts for five minutes at the beginning of the workday. Reading positive blog posts is not all that valuable.

A question often used in Appreciative Inquiry process goes something like this, “If you had a magic wand, what three wishes would you grant your organization?” But, it should end with this, “What one step will you take today to make that wish a reality?”

In the end, using a positive appreciative frame for an organization is not magic. In order to have value, it requires positive action. Positive thinking does not deny difficulties like tsunamis and recessions. Given the challenge faced, positive thinking creates an environment that asks us to identify what is possible now, to identify the first step we will take to move forward. Then each one of us has to choose to take that step … and the step after that …

Without action, Appreciative Inquiry is just a nice event spent telling stories. Let’s stop sitting and start moving. What one action will you take today to move toward your desired future?

Generative and Positive

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