Dipping my toes into Appreciative Inquiry

Recently I read about a combined approach of Agile and Appreciative Inquiry (AI) called Appreciative Agile on http://appreciativeagile.com (<– that page stopped working meanwhile :-/).

The much I am familiar with Agile the less I am with AI. The fact that it’s grounded in academia – and especially in Positive Psychology – (and my curiosity) made me quickly research to learn a bit or two about it.

This article is here to share my very first learnings with you – as learning is part of my blog mission.

You want a kick-start?

If you would like to get a quick overview of the basic concepts illustrated with a tangible example what AI is about then I highly recommend watching Jackie Kelms short (10min) video on What Appreciative Inquiry is.

If you are searching for a kind of “definition” then I’d go to the AI commons webpage offering a book excerpt which describes Appreciative Inquiry:

“At its heart, AI is about the search for the best in people, their organizations, and the strengths-filled, opportunity-rich world around them. AI is not so much a shift in the methods and models of organizational change, but AI is a fundamental shift in the overall perspective taken throughout the entire change process to ‘see’ the wholeness of the human system and to “inquire” into that system’s strengths, possibilities, and successes. ”

Stavros, Jacqueline, Godwin, Lindsey, & Cooperrider, David. (2015). Appreciative Inquiry: Organization Development and the Strengths Revolution. In Practicing Organization Development: A guide to leading change and transformation (4th Edition), William Rothwell, Roland Sullivan, and Jacqueline Stavros (Eds). Wiley

What is essential?

The very basics are one core assumption, five principles, a often-used process and a format how AI often is done in organizations. I will quickly go through those in this section also introducing the AI lingo.

Positive Core

First of all AI assumes that each organization has a so-called Positive Core. This encompasses e.g. all the strengths, best practises and positive attitudes of the whole organizational system.

5 Principles

There are five principles AI is based on:

  1. Constructionist Principle: We co-create stories with our words. Those stories become our reality.
  2. Poetry Principle: We can find whatever we want – the good (or the bad). What we focus on expands.
  3. Simultaneity Principle: Change begins simultaneously with asking a question.
  4. Anticipatory Principle: We create mental pictures. They influence what happens in the future. Visualization can help to change those pictures so that we create images of what we want (more of).
  5. Positive Principle: Focusing on the Positive Core creates an upward spiral. This reminds me of the Broaden and Build Theory (BBT) by Barbara Fredrickson. In short BBT tells us that focusing our attention raises our awareness for the things we actually want to have in our lives (broadening). This is turn enables us to personally grow, unearth and actually make use all our resources (building) and with that flourish as truly resilient human beings.


The 4D-Cycle is only one (not “the”) process for applying AI. It is built around the Positive Core and follows basically these four steps:

  1. Discover: ask – about the best of what is (e.g. strengths, highlights, …)
  2. Dreamingimaginewhat could be i.e. the ideal future (e.g. asking about people’s wishes or dreams)
  3. Design: plan – what will be by synthesizing information from the steps before, decide what to change and what to do differently
  4. Destiny: create – what will be by making it happen!

After the forth step, a new iteration in the process might be started. Sometimes there is also an initial step 0 (called Define) that sets a certain direction. Read more details about the 4-/5-D-Cycle here.

Appreciative summit (AI summit)

The AI Summit is the name of an all-hands meeting where the people of an organization walk all together through the AI process. Often this is about big group facilitating of the steps (Define,) Discover, Dream, Design and Destiny.

What’s next?

I found those two resources which I might spend some more time on soon:

And, of course, I will dive more into Appreciative Agile to see how that fits into my professional “toolbox”.

What about you?

Are you already a pro in Appreciative Inquiry? What would you recommend exploring next?

Are you a newbie and curious like me? What would be interesting for you to explore next? Which questions do you still have?