A quick overview of the Dream stage in the Appreciative Inquiry 5D model, and why informal ‘artistic’ co-creation works better than formal, linear logic in helping people envision their desired future.

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During the Dream stage, we invite participants in the Appreciative Inquiry process to envisage an ideal future, in which the team, or the organization, or the community, is organised around its strengths and aspirations, and the peak experiences and life-giving energies uncovered in the Discovery stage became the norm rather than the exception.

The question we’re playing with is some version of:

 “In an ideal world, what would we want to happen <in relation to this topic>?”

We would of course adapt it to fit the topic, to make sense in the organisation’s culture, and so on, but that’s what we’re really after.

We’re thinking “What would that be like in an ideal world?”

So we’re not asking, “How do we practically get there?” We’re also not asking, “Is it possible? Is it feasible? Is it realistic?”

Instead, we’re setting a direction. Even if we only ever get half way there, that’s still a 50% improvement on where we started from.

We’re thinking ‘ideal world’ – to rescue the participants from limiting their imagination and collective ambition by thinking too logically about the desired future and bringing in constraints of what they think is realistic.

Our aim in the Dream stage is for people to co-create a vision of what an ideal future could be, based on the rich data unearthed during the Discovery stage, to enable people to move forward in ways that they hadn’t previously thought of.

So how do we do this?

Firstly, if the Dream stage follows directly on from the Discovery stage, people will still have their Default Mode Networks activated, which makes it easier for them to think creatively. If the two stages are separated in time, we’d probably do some kind of warm-up appreciative interviews, and remind them of what they did in the Discovery stage, to take them back to that sense of excitement and possibility.

Secondly, rather than asking them to work on a logically argued document or list of bullet points or set of figures, we’re encouraging them to collaborate on some sort of artwork that represents the desired future – a collage, a theatrical skit, maybe balloon sculpture, plasticine, maybe Lego!

In groups that I’ve facilitated in the past, we’ve had almost every conceivable form of artistic expression, depending on the kind of skills that people in the room have had. There was a piano in the room one time and this guy just made a song up on the spot, there was a DJ with some mixing software on his iPad and someone else who could rap and they just did a bit of scratching and made up a rap on the spot.

There’s no limit to the type of creative expression that people can let loose in the Dream stage. They’re enjoying themselves and expressing themselves and bouncing creative ideas off each other, coming up with ideas between them that none of them could have thought of on their own.

It’s at this stage in most Appreciative Inquiry summits that people become really ‘fired up’ and enthusiastic. Ideas start to flow and even the least creative people find ways of getting their key messages across.

The Power of Art and Metaphor in the Dream Stage

I want to emphasise that what we’re not doing here is setting SMART goals, or getting into the details of timings, budgets, or who does what. That comes later, in the Delivery stage.

Instead, we’re asking the metaphorical question “What would it be like?” The power of metaphor is that it’s high-level and abstract, and yet can form vivid and impactful sensory images, so that everyone can relate to it and feel motivated to bring it to life.

If we tried to get into the details too early of how to make the Dream happen in the real world, it could lead to disagreements over what to do, because the further down you get into details, the more there is to disagree over.

Keeping the vision metaphorical and represented in artistic form means you get the emotional reaction that motivates people to want to make it happen, without dropping people into Task Positive mode too soon.

The output from the Dream stage will be this co-created and exciting metaphorical vision of how things could be and what that would feel like.

Participants may also create one or more slogans or straplines that sum the Dream up in a few words and inspire people to stay on track and live up to the Dream. In Appreciative Inquiry terminology this would be called a “provocative proposition” – we’ll look at these more deeply in a later video.

The power of the Dream phase is that it encourages people to use the creative side of their brains – which enables them to come up with ideas and solutions that they wouldn’t have thought of in a more formal setting.

It also enables people from various levels and roles within a community or an organisation to communicate with one another on an equal basis. We’ve found it a very successful approach for community and stakeholder engagement events.

Next time, we’ll share some example questions to get people Dreaming. See you then!

Do you want to get started using Appreciative Inquiry confidently with teams?
A new Practical Appreciative Inquiry online training starts soon – click here to get the details and how to book

Appreciative Inquiry: What Happens In The Dream Stage? (Video + Transcript)

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