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  • Alejandro Buriel

The end of Problem Solving, Appreciative Inquiry for organizational change.


When we study the changes that are happening in our society and the unavoidable transition from Modernisms to Post-Modernism that is happening, it has become clear that the current company models do not work any more. Most of them are based in a Modernist conception and they can choose to evolve with the current times to a post-modernist model and beyond or become extinct like dinosaurs.

How is this Progress?

Modernism

Relation Subject-Object

”I think therefore I am” Descartes. This was the beginning of the conception of the human being as a rational being. The mind and reason are the most important part. Emotions and feelings do not matter.

The “homo economicus” truth becomes absolute in this period (based on empirical observation). There are experts on each area, some people knows, others need to learn from them. Value comes from knowledge.

Employees are treated like objects (as an end) to make profits.

Post-Modernism

A relationship between equals or peers have been established. A conversation, and is within that relationship that innovation found its place. Companies must be treated as what they have become, a community.

In this community is where they are supported to develop their talent and allowed to contribute (real innovation). People development is based in awakening them to their inner potential, and when they start to grow, they affect the rest of the team. Like throwing a ball into the swimming pool “ripple effect” it creates waves that expand and reach much further.

They way that it has been done does not work anymore. There is a value crisis, obsolete model. In this point is where Positive Leadership using new tools like Appreciative Inquiry have "their say".

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Human systems grow in the direction of what they persistently ask questions about and this propensity is strongest and most sustainable when the means and ends of inquiry are positively correlated. The single most prolific thing a group can do if its aims are to to liberate the human spirit and consciously construct a better future is to make the positive change core the common and explicit property of all.

Appreciative Inquiry can get you much better results than seeking out and solving problems. We concentrate enormous resources on correcting problems that have relatively minor impact on our overall service and performance (and which)…when used continually and over a long period of time, this approach can lead to a negative culture. If you combine a negative culture with all the challenges we face today, it could be easy to convince ourselves that we have too many problem to overcome—to slip into a paralyzing sense of hopelessness…Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating mindless happy talk. Appreciative Inquiry is a complex science designed to make thing better. We can’t ignore problems—we just need to approach them from the other side”.

If we ask “What do we do best and how can we apply it into developing new solutions?” We can start by asking all the members of our organization to provide personal positive examples of successful practices or behaviours; whether personal, professional or both, that are directly or analogically applicable to the current existing challenge we want to solve.

What distinguishes AI, especially in this phase of work, is that every carefully crafted question is positive. Knowing and changing are a simultaneous moment. The thrill of discovery becomes the thrill of creating. As people throughout a system connect in serious study into qualities, examples, and analysis of the positive core --each appreciating and everyone being appreciated-- hope grows and community expands.

Before their strategic planning session in 1997, Nutrimental Foods of Brazil closed down the plant for a full day to bring all 700 employees together for a day of Discovery into the factors and forces that have given life the system when it had been most effective, most alive, and most successful as a producer of high quality health foods. With cheers and good wishes a “smaller” group of 150 stakeholders—employees from all levels, suppliers, distributors, community leaders, financiers, and customers— then went into a four day strategy session to articulate a new and bold corporate dream. The stories from the day before were used just as an artist uses a palette of colours before painting a picture the artist assembles the red paints, blue, green, yellow and so on. With these “materials” in hand people were asked to dream: “What is the world calling us to become? What are those things about us that no matter how much we change, we want to continue into our new and different future? Lets assume that tonight while we were all asleep a miracle occurred where Nutrimental became exactly as we would like it to be—all of its best qualities are magnified, extended, multiplied the way we would like to see…in fact we wake up and it is now 2005…as you come into Nutrimental today what do you see that is different, and how do you know?” After four days of appreciative analysis, planning, and articulation of three new strategic business directions the organization launches into the future with focus, solidarity, and confidence. Six months later record bottom line figures of millions of dollars are recorded—profits are up 300%. The co-CEOs Rodrigo Loures and Arthur Lemme Nettto attribute the dramatic results to two things: bringing the whole system into the planning process, and realizing that organizations are in fact “centres of human relatedness”(Loures and Lemme Netto, 1998) which thrive when there is an appreciative eye—when people see the best in one another, when they can dialogue their dreams and ultimate concerns if affirming ways, and when they are connected in full voice to create not just new worlds but better worlds.

One aspect that differentiates Appreciative Inquiry from other visioning or planning methodologies is that images of the future emerge out of grounded examples from an organization’s positive past. Sometimes this “data” is complimented with benchmark studies of other organizations creating a “generative metaphor” for circumventing common resistances to change (Barrett and Cooperrider, 1988). In both cases, the good news stories are used to craft possibility propositions that bridge the best of “what is” with collective speculation or aspiration of “what might be”. In the working of the material people are invited to challenge the status quo as well as common assumptions underlying the design of the organization. People are encouraged to “wander beyond” the data with the essential question being this: “What would our organization look like if it were designed in every way possible to maximize the qualities of the positive core and enable the accelerated realization of our dreams?”

One great myth that continues to dampen the potential here is the understanding that first we do an analysis, and then we decide on change. Not so says the constructionist view. Even the most innocent question evokes change—even if reactions are simply changes in awareness, dialogue, feelings of boredom, or even laughter. When we consider the possibilities in these terms, that inquiry and change are a simultaneous moment, we begin reflecting anew. It is not so much “Is my question leading to right or wrong answers?” but rather “What impact is my question having on our lives together…is it helping to generate conversations about the good, the better, the possible… is it strengthening our relationships?”

Our positive images of the future lead our positive actions—this is the increasingly energizing basis and presupposition of Appreciative Inquiry. Whether we are talking about placebo studies in medicine (Ornstein and Sobel, 1987); reviews of a myriad of studies of the Pygmalion dynamic in the classroom (Jussim, 1986); studies of the rise and fall of cultures (Boulding,1966; Polak, 1973); research into the relationships between optimism and health (Seligman, 1998 ); studies of positive self-monitoring and ways for accelerating learning (Kirschenbaum, 1984 ); analysis of the importance of imbalanced, positive inner dialogue to personal and relational wellbeing (Schwartz, 1986 ); research on positive mood states and effective decision making Isen, 1983; studies from the domain of “conscious evolution" (Hubbard, 1998 ); or theories on how positive noticing of even “small wins” can reverberate throughout a system and change the world (Weick, 1990 )—the conclusions are converging on something Aristotle said many years ago. “A vivid imagination”, he said “compels the whole body to obey it”. In the context of more popular writing, Dan Goleman (1987), in a well-written New York Times headline-article declares “Research Affirms the Power of Positive Thinking”.

Perhaps our inquiry must become the positive revolution we want to see in the world? Albert Einstein’s words clearly compel: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle”.

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