Every organization has stories that give life. They are told and retold on many occasions. Some of them are captured in documents, films, pictures, etc., some are more part of the corporate folklore. Some are untold and tend to get forgotten.
There is one significant difference between successful and not so successful organizations. In not so successful organizations, conversations focus on the weak points, on the pain people suffer from and on frustrations they experience. In successful organizations, people are proud of being craftsmen. They talk about what they are good at. They worship their heroes and great leaders.
Neuroscience has shown that the way we talk about organizations defines their fate and their shape. We create organizations in our minds, and as we speak about them, our imagination becomes reality. Organizations are the expression of the joint perception of people within, and to a part outside, the organization. They are highly self-referential. Success stories can become a base for visioning and for a quantum leap in continuous improvement.
One well established practice to base organizational development on strengths is called Appreciative Inquiry.
Appreciative Inquiry is about the coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential. It centrally involves the mobilization of inquiry through the crafting of the “unconditional positive question” often-involving hundreds or sometimes thousands of people. In AI the arduous task of intervention gives way to the speed of imagination and innovation; instead of negation, criticism, and spiraling diagnosis, there is discovery, dream, and design. AI seeks, fundamentally, to build a constructive union between a whole people and the massive entirety of what people talk about as past and present capacities: achievements, assets, unexplored potentials, innovations, strengths, elevated thoughts, opportunities, benchmarks, high point moments, lived values, traditions, strategic competencies, stories, expressions of wisdom, insights into the deeper corporate spirit or soul-- and visions of valued and possible futures. Taking all of these together as a gestalt, AI deliberately, in everything it does, seeks to work from accounts of this “positive change core”—and it assumes that every living system has many untapped and rich and inspiring accounts of the positive. Link the energy of this core directly to any change agenda and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized. (from: by David L. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney: "What is Appreciative Inquiry?"
Questions for Deeper Exploration
- What gives life to this organization?
- What are our sources of pride?
- What are the metaphors about ourselves that we stick to?
- How do we celebrate our successes?