Learn to Magnify What Works Well


Interview with Diana Whitney

Do you wish you could solve the world’s problems — or at least the problems of your workplace? Let’s face it, unfortunately, if you are like most of us, you can probably see plenty to fix. So, what’s the best way to tackle them? Should you be putting your energy into addressing the underlying causes? Or could you be more effective by building on what already works?

While traditional approaches to creating change often focus on solving the problems we face — their location, extent, and impact on others — studies have found that the danger is, by doing this, you can become an expert on the problem, rather than an expert on how to create the change you want to make happen. “Change efforts that focus your resources and inquiries on what’s not working tend to drain your energies and efforts,” explained Diana Whitney, a global social entrepreneur, and one of world’s leading Appreciative Inquiry researchers, when I interviewed her recently. “The better way to create change is to learn what’s working well and find ways to magnify this.”

Diana’s research has found that when you get curious and start asking questions about what enlivens people and the systems they are part of, you‘re able to transform problem-oriented, deficit discourse into a more strengths-oriented outlook that is fuelled by hope and optimism for the future. When coupled with an appreciative inquiry approach — a change framework that brings people together from across a system to discover the best of “what is”, dream of what “might be”, fuse their strengths together to design what “should be”, and secure collective ownership and commitment to deploy what “will be” — it gives people the power to be heard, regardless of their role, and to co-create and contribute to making change happen.

For example, when Hunter Douglas Window Fashions invited their staff to conduct appreciative inquiry interviews with employees, customers, and suppliers to discover when the organization was at its best and how they could build upon this, the benefits of this approach soon flowed into their bottom-line with a thirty percent increase in sales, thirty-seven percent increase in profits, and a fifty-two percent reduction in staff turnover.

But is taking an appreciative, strengths-based approach the right answer for every problem?

“Appreciative inquiry comes at the world with a profound compassion and acknowledgment of harm and suffering,” explained Diana. “And while it can be difficult in challenging times to think of what gives you or others life and vitality, sometimes being able to keep preserving and hoping for change can be enough to build on.”

She suggested trying to incorporate Appreciative Inquiry practices into your workplace by:

How can you use appreciative inquiry questions to reframe a problem to a search for more life-affirming possibilities?



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