Five ways to foster innovation using Appreciative Inquiry

First Off, What's Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry is an approach to organisational change and development. Based on five key principles of practice, Appreciative Inquiry helps teams or organizations 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.


Here are five ways Appreciative Inquiry can be used with 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. By exploring past pinnacle experiences of innovation, creativity and inspiring change you can discover the group’s existing resources, skills and knowledge about when, and how, creative and innovative things happen.

Using discovery interviews you can learn about situations, contexts or questions that have been associated with particularly fruitful experiences in the past and actively work to re-create them 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. You can also bring in stories from other contexts that you find inspiring and think might add as a prompt to new thinking.

One way to use stories gathered during a round of discovery interviews is to share the story and then spend time brainstorming what ideas it has stimulated about the particular current context you are working in. Just leave them, or record them, as possibilities and move on to the next story.


3. Ask generative questions

Questions can produce new conversation and insights or they can stimulate old patterns of conversation. Questions that produce new thoughts, connections and ideas, in other words that are likely to generate innovative insights and ideas for action, tend to have certain characteristics.

  • Element of novelty and surprise - They have an element of novelty and surprise; they are questions that people haven’t considered before and may well be surprised to be asked. Many positively framed questions are of this nature. However imagination based questions, or questions that ask people to combine two seemingly opposed ideas can also have this effect of producing new thought.
  • Relationship building - They act to build relationships as people discover new things about each other: positive, inspiring and attractive things. They start to develop good feelings about each other and to develop mutual positive connection. Connections to others are key for change efforts. People need to feel needed, supported and valued to want to engage with the many challenges of working with others to achieve things.
  • They are meaningful - Good discovery questions connect to things that are deeply meaningful to the participants. These are questions about important things – my work, my values, my experience. By asking about what matters to people and giving express permission to answer with reference to feelings, they act to ensure that people are psychologically engaged with the question, answer and process, not just rationally engaged.
  • They cause a shift in understanding of ‘reality’ - Good generative questions act to reframe reality for individuals and the group. They do this by focussing on aspects of the context that are overlooked or ignored. In the simplest terms this means 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.

Designing questions that have all these characteristics takes thought.


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 many current obvious problems and barriers to change, to a time in the future where we have achieved our aspirations to be better.

A good dreaming process acts to fire up the imagination and stimulates people to create attractive and hopeful images of the future. Usually a number of different groups create their own dreams and then the sharing of the dreams is another source of inspiration for individuals and the group as a whole.

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

And finally Appreciative Inquiry is attuned to the improvisational nature of creative efforts. 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.


Other Resources

More on using Appreciative Inquiry and other positive psychology techniques to boost engagement at work can be found in Sarah’s book Positive Psychology at Work.

See more articles from the Knowledge Warehouse on Appreciative Inquiry and 'How To' guides.

Appreciating Change Can Help

Appreciating Change is skilled and experienced at supporting leaders in working in this challenging, exciting and productive way with their organizations. Find out more by looking at how we help with Engagement and Culture change.

For further information on these alternative approaches to change, please contact us or phone 07973 782 715