How does Appreciative Inquiry work?

What’s Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry inspires change by involving people in creating the kind of organisation they want to belong to.

The problem is that it’s human nature to look for problems and try to solve them. This ‘negativity bias’ means we spend most of our time discussing what’s not working. This leads to stress, and when we’re stressed it’s hard to come up with new ideas or to be open to change.

What’s different about AI?      

Unlike traditional problem solving, rather than focusing on what’s broken and trying to fix it, AI focuses us on what’s already working – on strengths. By exploring what’s working well, people immediately feel more confident and open to change. They’re able to generate ideas for improving their organisation. And because they’re involved, they own the solutions and are motivated to make them happen.

It’s not about positive thinking – AI accepts there are problems. But with AI we choose to look at things from a different angle.

What are the benefits of AI?

  • It’s great team-building
  • People feel heard
  • People get to imagine a different future
  • People feel able to choose how they contribute
  • It supports people to take action
  • It encourages positivity

What does it need to succeed?

  • Senior management buy-in
  • An organisation that lets people at all levels have ideas and take action

What’s are the main principles?

Social construction

Words create worlds – we create our own meaning through our conversations and interactions.


Our first question is fateful – the moment we ask a question, we start change. So the language, tone and intention of the question directs the conversation.


Our current thinking creates our future reality. So if we imagine a positive future, we’re more likely to create it.


What we focus on grows – we make sense of things through the stories we tell and hear. There are endless interpretations and we can choose to focus on what’s working.


Positive questions lead to positive change – by focusing on strengths we’re more resilient, open to change and able to take action.

Why does it matter to business?

The starting point for brand development is usually customer insight. That can lead to brands that fulfill a need but don’t relate fully to the reality of the business.

I use AI to understand an organisation’s strengths so that we can build on them through brand strategy and tone of voice. By developing brand from strengths, it reflects the truth of the business.

Why does this matter?

A brand that’s only based on insight can make great marketing, but it can be hard for customer service to communicate the same values. When your brand reflects your culture, your values, behaviours and personality feel more real. So instead of just having some nice words, people are more motivated to adopt the behaviour.

And that means you can actually ‘do’ what you ‘say’.

How does it work?

AI can be as simple as a single workshop for a representative group or involve the whole organisation, all at once, or in stages.

I usually run a small handful of workshops with a diagonal cross-section of the business (senior to junior, and most departments).

We usually support this by interviewing key people – directors and others – especially if they’re international.

I build what we learn from the workshops and interviews into a presentation you can use to engage people all around the business.