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The Link Between Appreciative Inquiry and Strengths

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Appreciative Inquiry is a method for solving problems and implementing change by focusing on the positive. It emerged from the work of David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the late 1980s, and has since been used by businesses, teams and organisations around the world.

The Ai (1) approach is perfectly aligned with the strengths-led approach, thanks to their common focus on what is working well and the application of those insights in new ways to boost execution and performance. In fact, the strengths-led approach can help lift Ai interventions to new heights by adding the dimension of energy and vitality into the mix.

A quick overview of Appreciative Inquiry

The key concepts behind Appreciative Inquiry first occurred to Cooperrider in the 1980s, when his research took him into a client culture that became hostile and negative. The research team decided to pose questions about what was working well for a different company. By asking this question, they shifted the atmosphere, and the idea of Ai was born.

Cooperrider saw Ai as aligned with Peter Drucker’s strengths-based leadership philosophy. In fact, Cooperrider says that “managing and leading change is ALL about strengths: elevating strengths, magnifying strengths, and creating new combinations and chemistries of strengths in ways that propel innovation” (2) and the Ai approach is directly applicable to this style of leadership.

How do I use Appreciative Inquiry?

Ai can be used in any situation where you want to make a change or improvement. It has five key principles, and the 5D cycle for applying the principles to whatever situation you are facing.

The 5 Principles of Appreciative Inquiry

  • Constructionist – we create the world we experience through the words we use
  • Simultaneity – in asking questions we simultaneously influence the situation we ask about
  • Poetic – there are endless opportunities for learning and what we focus on matters
  • Anticipatory – we move in the direction of our imagined future; what we focus on today tells us what the future will be like
  • Positive – human momentum is powered by positivity, pleasant feelings and social bonds
A diagram of the 5 principles of Appreciative Inquiry
Source: Diana Arsenian 2016, via Champlain College AI Commons

The 5D cycle of Appreciative Inquiry

The five-element cycle of Appreciative Inquiry
Appreciative inquiry e 5D-Cycle. Adapted from Whitney and Trosten-Bloom (2003, p. 6) and Cooperrider et al. (2005, p. 5).
  1. Define
    Your Ai journey starts with defining the topic of inquiry – what is it that you want more of? It’s important to develop a clear definition, and to phrase it positively. Include purpose, content and what needs to be achieved.
  2. Discover
    Create a conversation about what is working already, the strengths, successes and periods of excellence you have already experienced. This reminds you what you already have in your toolkit.
  3. Dream
    Imagine your desired future, using past achievements and successes to remind you of the possibilities. Encourage sharing of hopes, wishes and aspirations.
  4. Design
    Weave together the  elements from the dream and discover phases. This is joining ‘what we’ve already got’ with ‘what we want to create’
  5. Destiny
    Roll out your design plan to create your desired future, and embed new successes and achievements.
The 5D cycle is based on a similar philosophy to continuous improvement (CI). So, rather than being a “one and done” linear improvement process, it is an ongoing cycle of ever-improving change. And like CI, you may revisit the same problem multiple times using the 5D Ai cycle. Each time you run through an Ai cycle, you’ll be approaching the problem from a place of greater understanding, insight, and excellence.

So what's the link between Ai and strengths?

Ai isn’t a replacement for the strengths-led approach any more than strengths can replace the Ai framework. Instead, they complement and enhance one another in a beautiful synergy.

The strengths-led approach guides you to recognise and appreciate your unique strengths “fingerprint”, and to use your insights to driver greater energy, engagement and achievement in your life and work. Ai can turbo-charge your strengths work by helping you imagine and create your ideal future.

And strengths can support the Ai 5D cycle, as both a key element of the Discover phase, and also to support the rollout of the entire 5D cycle. To really amp up your approach to 5D, get an inventory of the strengths across your change team. You’re looking for the things they are great at and that light them up when they use them. Now, assign roles based on which strengths are most suitable, and watch your progress and implementation take flight!

How do I know what my strengths are?

There are many different ways to identify your strengths. The two main approaches I use are The Strengths Deck and Strengths Profile. If you’re interested in finding out more, book your free 30-minute discovery call with me today.

I also write regularly about identifying and working with your strengths. Head over to my Blog page to find more articles and resources, or check out these recent posts:

More help with discovering your strengths

Any discussion of personal strengths would be incomplete without me letting you know about The Strengths Deck.

I created it to put the power of strengths in your hands. If you want to learn about your unique strengths fingerprint and how to make the most of your amazing strengths, click the logo to find out more, or make a booking for your free, 30-minute call to talk about how we can get your strengths working for you.


(1) The abbreviation ‘Ai’ is used here to distinguish ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ from ‘AI’ (the more commonly-understood abbreviation for ‘Artificial Intelligence’).

(2) ‘Ai Philosophy – pdf’ from https://www.davidcooperrider.com/sample-page-2/ [Edit July 2024; website and document no longer accessible]



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