Traditionally, Appreciative Inquiry has had five guiding principles (the Constructionist, Poetic, Simultaneity, Anticipatory, and Positive principles as sent out by David Cooperrider in, for example, the Appreciative Inquiry Handbook). In recent years, new principles have started to emerge as Appreciative Inquiry consultants have refined their thinking in the light of practical experience. These are usually known as ’emergent principles’.

Enactment Principle in action at Occupy Wall St

Occupy Wall St meeting. Photo by Caroline Schiff CC-NC-SA

In an earlier post I described the Wholeness Principle. In this post, we consider the ‘Enactment Principle’.

In The Power Of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide To Positive Change by Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom cite Mahatma Gandhi’s maxim “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world” as a well-known example of this principle. If you want your desired future to come about, start enacting it in the present.

As they point out, acting ‘as if’ is self-fulfilling. As you start to behave as if what you wish to see in the future is already true, you provide a living example or reference experience for the desired change – both for other people, and for yourself. People around you start to see what the desired future will look like, making it easier to believe in. By enacting your desired future, you begin to bring it into present reality.

You begin to see yourself as the kind of person who acts in that way, which activates Cialdini’s Consistency Principle and makes you want to act that way more in the future. A fit person exercises every day, so if you want to be fit, start exercising daily now. Starting to take action, however small, means that you get feedback on your actions from the world, so you can learn from your experience, refine your vision, and improve your ways to get there. Because action builds motivation (this is more often true than the other way round), your vision of the future strengthens, and your determination to make it happen builds, each time you act as if it is already here.

This principle also implies that the means to get somewhere have to match the ends you are aiming to get to. Given that in organisational change as in life, we don’t have absolute power and people whose cooperation we need will be observing our actions and forming their own judgements about them, this seems sensible. You can’t make your organisation more participative and empower your people by issuing top-down directives compelling them to participate. Why? Because to do so would be incongruent with the principles of respecting and valuing each person that underpin a participative, empowered organisation.

You will recall from the Anticipatory Principle that people and organisations tend to grow in the direction of their positive images of the future. How do they do that? By starting to enact that desired future in the present.

Note: Some readers might dismiss this as ‘fake it till you make it’. But you’re not faking anything. You’re beginning to act like the person, or team, or organisation, that you aim to become; and in taking that action, you’re setting that becoming in motion.

Some questions you may want to consider in the light of this principle:

– What will I be doing when the desired solution is in place?
– How will I be different when the desired solution is in place?
– How will other people be aware that I’m different?
– What parts of that can I start doing right now?
– What can I stop doing that’s not compatible with the desired future?

Want to train in Appreciative Inquiry? There are not that many courses available, especially outside the US, but you can train with me either online or (if you can get some people together or have your company commission in-house training) face to face.

Emergent Principles of Appreciative Inquiry 2: The Enactment Principle

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