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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0086 | January 28, 2003
5,500 Subscribers

picture of Steve Davis, editor of the Master Facilitator Journal.

From the Publisher: 

Hello MFJ Readers. 

In this issue, we explore the concept of "appreciative inquiry." This article,
"Stop Solving Problems," I'd like to thank my friend, Patricia Clason for inspiring this article and providing a lot of material on the subject. Much of this issue is based on a very good article called, "What is Appreciative Inquiry?" by Joe Hall and Sue Hammond. Which can be accessed here.

I've also started an R&D team for If you'd like to be part of the formation of this virtual university, please come have a look at the site and join our R&D team. Your involvement means that you will receive emails from me periodically soliciting your input and ideas. As we begin to flesh out the concept for this site, I'd really value your support. So please join if you'd like to be a part of this creative endeavor.

If you or your colleagues are interested in submitting an article for consideration, please email your ideas. I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading! 
Steve Davis

Group Skill

Stop Solving Problems
Use appreciative inquiry to focus on and expand what you know already works.

The Point

Appreciative  inquiry (AI) is a way of thinking, seeing, and acting for powerful, purposeful change in organizations. AI works on the assumption that whatever you want more of already exists in all organizations. It also assumes that what you pay attention to grows over time. 

Think about it. We've been schooled from the beginning to solve problems. The way we learned most subjects in school was to solve problems presented to us around various subjects. We go on into life looking for the next problem to solve. And if we miss finding or focusing on a problem, we fear the thought of being irresponsible. Right?

When we work with groups as facilitators, consultants, coaches, or therapists, we tend to start with the question, "So what's the problem here? What's wrong? What needs to change?" etc. The problem with this is that we place the spotlight on problems that may have not been worrisome before we showed up to highlight them. AI is an alternative way to support people and groups by asking questions such as "what's going well around here? What ideas can you tell me about that I can share with others? How are you documenting your excellence?" Your role takes on the form of one who facilitates the discovery of conditions that made excellence possible in the past, and ways to project more of this into the future.

Through AI, we help groups articulate the themes and dreams of "what could be" and "what will be." What will be is the future envisioned through an analysis of the past. The entire system maintains the best of the past by discovering what it is and stretching it into the future possibilities. This differs from other visioning work because the envisioned future is grounded in the reality of the actual past.

The assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry

  • In every society, organization or group, something works.
  • What we focus on becomes our reality.
  • Reality is created in the moment and there are multiple realities.
  • The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way.
  • People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the known).
  • If we carry parts of the past forward, they should be what is best about the past.
  • It is important to value differences.
  • The language we use creates our reality.


According to AI practitioners, when you do more of what works, the stuff that doesn't work goes away. The table below illustrates the differences between the traditional Organizational Development perspective and the AI perspective.

Traditional OD Process

Appreciative Inquiry

Define the problem Search for solutions that already exist
Fix what's broken Amplify what's working
Focus on decay Focus on life giving forces
What problems are you having? What's working well around here?

An organization called "Banana Kelly" began in 1977 when 30 residents gathered to stop the demolition of their homes in the South Bronx. This organization began to practice many of the AI principles and has become a successful organization now employing 100 full-time staff in their community. Many of them would be considered "at risk" youth, but who are very successful, entrepreneurial members of this organization. Out of over 800 nominations, they were recognized in 1996 by the UN as one of  the six Gold Medal Best Practices for improving the living environment.

For complete text of the article used for this issue and the complete story on Banana Kelly, click here.


Try using the Appreciative Inquiry perspective we describe here with a client or group this week. I'd love to hear what happens for you. Please email me your comments.

The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change, by Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, David Cooperrider

The Power of Appreciative Inquiry describes a new strategy that inspires people and brings about a higher performance level in any organization. This method encourages people to study, discuss, learn from, and build on what works well when they are at their best, rather than focusing on what’s going wrong. The theory, practice, and spirit of this approach to organizational change is described in plain language. The authors provide guidelines for defining the change agenda, initiative, or project; forming the "steering team"; and launching an organization-wide kick off. Case histories demonstrate how organizations can attain sustained positive change by studying their strengths. This book is the most authoritative, comprehensive guide to Appreciative Inquiry by two of the founders and pioneers of this technique..

cartoon image of a talking man.

Reader Survey 

Collecting Virtual Experiential Exercises 

I'm putting together a collection of exercises that can be performed in virtual environments. By that I mean in a teleclass or via email or other online media. If you have any exercises that fit this description, or that could be easily adapted, please send them to me at  ../contact.html and I'll share with you all the inputs received. 

If you know someone who might benefit and enjoy this newsletter, please send this link to a friend.

About the Author
Steve Davis is a Facilitator's Coach helping leaders enhance their effectiveness through the application and perspective of facilitation. Please email or call me at 805-489-4130 to schedule a Free exploratory session, or to share your suggestions and ideas for the journal. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading!

In the Spotlight


Would would it take to get your life to "tip?"

Join us for a Free 1-hour R&D teleclass based on the book: 

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,"
by Malcolm Gladwell

I recently read the Tipping Point and was struck with the deflation of many of my assumptions about how major changes happen in society. As I read the book, I kept asking myself the question, "How can I cultivate a 'tipping point' for small groups I facilitate, for individuals I coach, or for my own personal change?" Can I use these same principles Mr. Gladwell has uncovered to get my own life to "tip" so to speak by making small but smart changes?  I'm not completely sure how that might work, but I thought it might be fun, and maybe even enlightening, to invite a few of you into a teleconference to discuss this concept for an hour to see what we might come up with.

I'll start by offering a brief review of the book, then we'll brainstorm ways to apply this stuff to individuals and small groups. Please click here to register and to receive bridge information. But hurry, my bridge can handle only 30 callers.

A short book review is included below. I look forward to seeing you on the call.

Steve Davis
Publisher, MFJ

"The best way to understand the dramatic transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life," writes Malcolm Gladwell, "is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do." Although anyone familiar with the theory of memetics will recognize this concept, Gladwell's The Tipping Point has quite a few interesting twists on the subject.

For example, Paul Revere was able to galvanize the forces of resistance so effectively in part because he was what Gladwell calls a "Connector": he knew just about everybody, particularly the revolutionary leaders in each of the towns that he rode through. But Revere "wasn't just the man with the biggest Rolodex in colonial Boston," he was also a "Maven" who gathered extensive information about the British. He knew what was going on and he knew exactly whom to tell. The phenomenon continues to this day--think of how often you've received information in an e-mail message that had been forwarded at least half a dozen times before reaching you.

Gladwell develops these and other concepts (such as the "stickiness" of ideas or the effect of population size on information dispersal) through simple, clear explanations and entertainingly illustrative anecdotes, such as comparing the pedagogical methods of Sesame Street and Blue's Clues, or explaining why it would be even easier to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with the actor Rod Steiger. Although some readers may find the transitional passages between chapters hold their hands a little too tightly, and Gladwell's closing invocation of the possibilities of social engineering sketchy, even chilling, The Tipping Point is one of the most effective books on science for a general audience in ages. It seems inevitable that "tipping point," like "future shock" or "chaos theory," will soon become one of those ideas that everybody knows--or at least knows by name. 


Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on February 11, 2003.   

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