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Here’s the quickest and easiest way to ‘flip’ a problem statement to become an affirmative topic.

This is worth doing for any kind of coaching, not just Appreciative Inquiry, because looking for what you want rather than focusing on what you don’t want makes it easier to come up with creative solutions.


If you’re starting with a problem, ask “What do we want instead of that?” and put it into a question starting with “How can we….? or “How do we…?”

Make sure it has the qualities of a good affirmative topic (positively stated, relevant and engaging, doesn’t presuppose a route to a solution), and you’re done!

Examples of how to turn a problem statement into an affirmative topic:

Problem Statement Possible Affirmative Topic
High level of customer complaintsHow do we delight the customer?
Low staff moraleHow do we become a place where people are proud and excited to come to work?
Reports of bullyingHow do we promote harmony among all our employees?
Losing market share (where you’ve identified an ageing
product line as a definite cause)
How do we innovate to leapfrog our competitors?
Poor quality productsHow do we achieve world- beating quality?

A final word about Affirmative Topics – they can sometimes take a while to define. For this reason, it’s best to work with a small group in defining them, rather than try to involve everyone affected by the change, as you might with the Discover, Dream, and Design stages.

For a large-scale change, you would probably define the affirmative topic or topics within your Appreciative Inquiry steering group.

For a smaller group or team, you would probably agree the topic with the team leader or the manager that brought you in.

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Appreciative Inquiry: A Quick Way To Define Affirmative Topics (video + transcript)

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