Human beings are natural born researchers. Literally. The first thing we do after exiting the womb is begin to observe, study, and learn from the world around us. As we grow, our methods evolve. From picking up objects and putting them in our mouths as infants to adopting new behaviors we observe have proven successful for others as adults. We are active participants in this work, simultaneously the researcher and the subject.
Kurt Lewin, arguably the granddaddy of change management, codified this research methodology in 1943. Dubbed action research, this approach allowed for the researcher to be an active participant in group problem solving. As a research design, action research has proven to be quite effective, although its critics note that it is more of an immediate, problem-centered approach than a future-oriented one. On the opposite end of the spectrum from action research is something called appreciative inquiry.
Introduced in the late 1980s by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, appreciative inquiry is both a methodology and a way of looking at the world. It is entirely an optimistic, hopeful, and forward reaching mentality. Rather than considering an existing problem within an organization, appreciative inquiry starts with what’s known as the positive core. The positive core is the assemblage of all of the things that an organization or team does best. It is developed through a process known as mapping the positive core that asks participants to consider the organization’s strengths.
Once the positive core is identified, the participants move through three additional phases—known as dream, design, and destiny—during which they develop a future vision grounded in the positive core and tangible ways to bring it to life. Appreciative inquiry concludes with the participants generating a road map for accomplishing their dreams. In some ways, the approach is not unlike Ackoff’s model of idealized design.
When I think about this year so far, in terms of my personal mental health journey, it occurs to me that I am in the midst of my own one-woman appreciative inquiry. Up to this point, I have been in the discovery phase, trying to identify my positive core. Thinking about the ways in which I’ve gotten stuck in the process, I realize that they are all linked with my depression and the continuous Jerk Brain talk track in my head. The imposter syndrome, my OCD, PTSD, and depression are all bound up in my head, inhibiting me from tapping into and appreciating my positive core. Therapy is helping me to break down that barrier.
As I do, I realize that I am moving into a new phase, one of dreaming. I can start to envision the future. For the last six months, I haven’t been able to picture anything but what’s been right in front of me. I’ve been stuck looking only in the rearview mirror. It’s a strange and exciting feeling to be able to dream again. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.