A great question begins the process of change, according to appreciative inquiry practitioners. To be asked, “what is it you want to create?” in response to a whine about how bad your life is challenges you to think differently and creates movement forward. Underneath every complaint is a vision for something different. Think of a great question to get at that vision and watch how the energy shifts during a conversation.
The positive principle of appreciative inquiry suggests that positive questions lead to positive change. These positive questions bring out what nourishes, excites, energizes and inspires people to change and move towards something different. Deficit questions, on the other hand, keep us stuck and confused. My favorite question in the face of difficulty has been “why is this happening?” and that question is not helpful in moving me forward. It leads to a victim mentality. The question, “what do I want more of?” leads to more positive action.
Choosing what we study is a powerful and challenging appreciative inquiry concept to most leaders. Most of our traditional management theory falls under a gap assessment paradigm, and as humans we do tend to gravitate to what’s wrong or not working. Choosing to study what is working, sometimes called positive deviance, makes a big difference in the energy we bring to something.