A Framework for Change

“We need to believe that we can effect change if we want to live and love with our whole hearts.” Brené Brown

Change is a process. It is a topic that has been on the minds of researchers for a long while. As a meaning making species, we humans are on the prowl to make sense of the world. In my experience, I have found the Appreciative Inquiry model to be brimming with beauty and hope in regards to cultivating change.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a strengths-based, positive approach to change. It was first defined by David L. Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva from Case Western Reserve in 1987. It was designed for enhancing organizational development; it also has powerful insights for individual change. AI has five core principles: Poetic, Constructionist, Simultaneity, Anticipatory, and Positive. These principles combine to give us an inspiring and rounded view of ourselves, our capability, and our power for change. These principles also inform a transformational change process commonly named “The 5-D Cycle.” This process begins by analyzing the “positive core” of the organization or individual and linking this insight to the heart of the change agenda. Appreciative Inquiry gives us a framework to understand change and invite & facilitate it in our lives.

The Five Principles of Appreciative Inquiry are:

  • The Poetic Principle: We Can Choose What We Study
  • The Constructionist Principle: Words Create Worlds
  • The Simultaneity Principle: Inquiry Creates Change
  • The Anticipatory Principle: Image Inspires Action
  • The Positive Principle: Positive Questions Lead to Positive Change

The Poetic Principle: We Can Choose What We Study

Being intentional centers around believing in choice. The heart of the poetic principle is understanding that we have a say over how we build our lives, and recognizing that we can choose where we devote our attention.

What we choose to study describes and creates our world as we know it. This curiosity opens the space for serendipity, grace, and spirituality. The whole-greater-than-the-parts starts working in our lives, things clicking into place and driving us forward. All because we know that we can choose what we study.

“Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” These are Mary Oliver’s instructions for how to live a life. When we attend to life’s poetry, and allow ourselves to be astonished by it, we become inspired. We live in a world of incredible detail and complexity, and being guided by our curiosity, attention, and interest is a choice.

“I am discovering that a spiritual journey is a lot like a poem. You don’t merely recite a poem or analyze it intellectually. You dance it, sing it, cry it, feel it on your skin and in your bones. You move with it and feel its caress. It falls on you like a tear drop or wraps around you like a smile. It lives in the heart and the body as well as the spirit and the head.” Sue Monk Kidd

The Constructionist Principle: Words Create Worlds

“Language is our portal to meaning-making, connection, healing, learning, and self-awareness. Having access to the right words can open up entire universes.” Brené Brown

The words we use simultaneously allow us to understand the world we are in, as well as shape that world. The Hebrew phrase “abracadabra” means: I create as I speak. This is where the idea of magic comes from. As a human, when you use words, you are creating worlds. In the Abrahamic religions, it is believed that God created our worlds through speech.

Words are the creation we made to hold our meaning. Using language is how we communicate, how we are seen and heard by others. Being impeccable with your word is one of the Four Agreements in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements. Ruiz writes, “Depending on how it is used, the word can set you free, or it can enslave you even more than you know.” Being impeccable with your word means speaking with integrity, saying only what we mean, not speaking against ourselves, and using the power of your word in the direction of truth and love. Abiding by this agreement creates a world of power and authenticity and beauty.

In our individual lives, we can cultivate consciousness and impeccability for our words. Recognizing that words create worlds is an invitation to tend to the words we use and to be intentional about the worlds we build. The words you use have a direct influence on how you show up in the world, the impacts you have, and the bonds you make. How you talk and think creates the world you live in.

“The words we use shape how we understand ourselves, how we interpret the world, how we treat others.” Krista Tippett

The Simultaneity Principle: Inquiry Creates Change

Krista Tippett says, “A question is a powerful thing, a mighty use of words.” Part of the power of a question comes from the ripple it sets off. In physics this is the observer effect: the fact that observing a situation or phenomenon necessarily changes it. When it comes to changing, the moment we ask the question we begin creating change. The founders of Appreciative Inquiry say, “The questions we ask are fateful.”

An inquiry is the act of asking for information; inquiry itself is an intervention. We know from above that our words make worlds, and so when we come into contact with new information or new insight, the kindling of our lives sparks into change. Inquiring is practicing insight and awareness.

“And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainer Maria Rilke

The Anticipatory Principle: Image Inspires Action

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you dream it, you can become it.” William Arthur Ward

Our human systems move in the direction of our images of the future; how we imagine our future influences what it becomes. Shane Claiborne says one of the most powerful questions we can ask ourselves is: who am I becoming? Your answer to this question pulls you towards that reality. A different life is a series of choices; we walk our way through change when we string together conscious choices about who we want to be.

We have all heard the idea, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and in the case of actualizing change it is true. The picture we make about our future helps us motivate our movements and actions towards it.

“The first way to create change is to begin to practice imagining a future that’s different from your past and present realities.” Nicole LePera

The Positive Principle: Positive Questions Lead to Positive Change

Positive is defined as: consisting in or characterized by the presence or possession of features or qualities rather than their absence. With this definition in mind, a positive question is a question that identifies, appreciates, and amplifies strengths. Some examples of questions that affirm our strengths are:

  • What are the qualities that describe you when you are your very best?
  • What are the qualities that others would describe in you when you are at your very best?
  • Who was the first (or last) person to tell you that they noticed the best of you in action?
  • Who in your life wouldn’t be surprised to see you stand up to these situations and prevail?

When we ask ourselves positive questions, we pull positive change to us. Positive change is change that exhibits our strengths; it is choices we make that mark our capability. In thermodynamics, Newton’s law of inertia states that an object in motion will stay in motion unless a force acts on it. With the Positive Principle, asking positive questions sets up a positive inertia in our lives, creating positive change and momentum to keep it going.

Cultivating Change

Choosing how we change is the way we create the lives we want. It is how we become the people we want to be and actualize our dreams. The Appreciative Inquiry model helps us understand the pieces that go into making change. It helps us recognize our power to create worlds, to choose what we study, to create change with inquiry, to imagine, and to bring about positive change. Having insight into the nature of change allows us to foster changes in our lives.

We can choose what we study.
Words create worlds.
Inquiry creates change.
Image inspires action.
Positive questions lead to positive change.

You can learn more about Appreciative Inquiry at The Center for Appreciative Inquiry.