Four reasons why it’s better to look at what’s already working, and what’s worked in the past, BEFORE jumping straight to setting goals.

This is what we do in the Discovery stage of Appreciative Inquiry, and it’s one of the main features that distinguishes Appreciative Inquiry from other change methods – whether you’re working at organisational level, team level, or one-to-one.

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Referenced in this video: The Neuroscience of Appreciative Inquiry
Our Built-In Negative Bias And Why We Need To Redress It


One of the really distinctive features of Appreciative Inquiry, apart from focusing on what works rather than on problems, is the emphasis on looking at what’s working in the present and what has worked in the past before we start constructing a vision of the future.

Appreciative Inquiry 5D Model

This is what we’re doing in the Discovery stage, and it has many advantages over jumping straight into constructing our vision of the desired future.

  • Conventional ‘deficit-focused’ change methods, in their efforts to solve problems, sometimes get rid of what’s already working – the parts of the existing system that people value and feel motivated by. This is especially true of ‘Year Zero’ approaches that tear everything down and start again with something completely new. This doesn’t happen with Appreciative Inquiry, because we discover what’s already working well and build on it.
  • Have ever been asked out of the blue “Where do you want to be in five years’ time?” or “What’s your life’s purpose?” and not been able to come up with an answer straight away? Often, we don’t have a clear idea about where we want to get to until we’ve taken a look at what we like and what’s working for us in the current situation.
  • Following on from that, it’s much easier to build a vision of the desired future when we give it a foundation of what’s already working.
  • Plus, people will find it much easier to believe in a future vision that’s built on what’s already working than in something pulled out of thin air. Belief that we can do something is based on having reference experiences – memories of times when we’ve done similar things in the past.  So we have much more confidence in the future when we discover and carry forward our best experiences of the past and present. We believe in the future vision, because we’ve already seen bits of it happening, even if only partially.
  • Finally, being asked to tell your stories about successes, achievements, and things you are proud of helps to activate your Default Mode Network, making you as an individual and as a group focus more on relationships, trust each other more, and be more creative and open to new ideas. This works not just for the person telling the story, but also for you as an interviewer when their story resonates with you.

In the Discovery stage we’re getting information about success stories we can learn from, what’s really important and motivating to people, the conditions that give make success possible, and also their wishes for the future.

What we’re also doing as part of that Discovery is identifying the important themes coming out of those stories – the ones that have the most impact for people, and the ones they find most inspiring.

In the next few segments we’ll explore how exactly we do all that.

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Appreciative Inquiry: What Happens In The Discovery Stage? (video + transcript)

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