Five ways to foster innovation using Appreciative Inquiry

Sarah Lewis2 webAppreciative Inquiry is an approach to organisational change and development that helps teams or organisations generate both positive energy and innovative ideas for change.

Appreciative Inquiry is a participative process, and the ideas that emerge from the process have the weight of the group behind them. This active co-creative process means that resistance to change and the need to achieve buy-in are much reduced, if not completely eliminated. The action ideas that are generated and agreed are implemented by the very same people who created them.

Five ways Appreciative Inquiry can be used within teams or organisations to generate innovative ideas and action:

1. Learn about what stimulates innovation in your context

Discovery interviews are an appreciative process that highlights the best of the past. You can then work to recreate those processes and successes in the present. In addition people’s current creativity is stimulated by the discussions that follow the questions, and they are likely to feel their creative juices starting to flow.

2. Use stories to jump start imagination

Discovery interviews tend to generate a lot of interesting, and often previously untold, stories about the topic under discussion. Sharing these stories acts as a spring-board to creativity and the team can then spend time brainstorming what ideas, about the particular current context you are working in, the story has stimulated.

3. Ask generative questions

Generative questions produce new thoughts, connections and ideas. They tend to have the following characteristics:

a) An element of novelty and surprise – questions people are not expecting to be asked

b) They are relationship building allowing people to discover new things about each other

c) They are meaningful to the participants. They allow people to talk about what’s important to them and reference their feelings while doing so, thus ensuring they are emotionally, not just rationally engaged

d) They cause a shift in understanding of ‘reality’, for example asking about positive things when ‘the reality’ is perceived to be wholly negative. The answers reveal many more positive things going on than people believed was the case, so their reality shifts.

4. Dream together

An important part of the Appreciative Inquiry process is ‘dreaming’. This process involves using our imagination to leap out of the present, over the obstacles, to a time in the future where we have achieved our aspirations to be better.

In the same way that good science fiction creates impossible ideas that inspire later scientists to create what they saw on Star-Trek as a child, so good dreaming sessions expand the group’s sense of the possible. The creative horizon expands.

5. Improvise destiny

At the end of an AI workshop the group as a whole should have a shared sense of where they want to be heading, and the kind of futures they want to be creating. With this shared sense acting as the ‘roadmap’ people need to be given permission to get on with making it happen, to be enabled to take voluntary and visible action, while the leader’s role becomes that of creating coherence and connection.

Sarah Lewis M.Sc. C.Psychol is an associated fellow of the British Psychological Society and a principal member of the Association of Business Psychologists. She is an acknowledged Appreciative Inquiry expert, a regular conference presenter and a published author, including ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ (Wiley) and ‘Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management’ (KoganPage). See: www.appreciatingchange.co.uk

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