Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a model which outputs the best possible design, by thinking about the best possible outcome.

Opposed to this is the deficiency model, where questions like “what needs to be fixed?” and “what is the problem?” are asked. In AI, when everyone knows and understands the most favorable features, rapid improvements can be made. Basically (and this is a bit too black and white, I know), one strategy focusses more on the negatives, the other more on the positive side of things.

Of course, it is possible to have a constructive session around the problem (You know this quote from Einstein). However, focussing on the problem can focus your thoughts too much and with that cause you to overlook the best possible innovation.

There is always a way to respond constructively. A quote from Benjamin Franklin says: “Any fool can criticize. And most fools do” and I found this to be true. Following the AI model, it takes a lot of energy to imagine the best possible outcome and come up with a plan to reach this vision, but at the same time, it builds trust and even gives back more energy.

I’m not saying you should start to see every plan through a set of rose-colored glasses. From time to time, it might even be necessary to criticize an idea. Keep the quote from Franklin in mind though, and it might be interesting to see what would happen if you’d go through this process:

  • Discover: identify what works well
  • Dream: envision what would work well in the future
  • Design: plan and prioritize that what would work

This positive-critical thinking mindset is focussed on finding and designing the best possible idea, instead of zooming in on the area’s where the original idea falls short. Which is an interesting angle on a lot of the toe-stepping, hypercritical, Steve-Jobs-Elon-Musk way of talking that gets a lot of attention.