‘We can choose what we study’

The third in a series of short videos where we introduce the five principles underpinning Appreciative Inquiry.

The ‘Poetic Principle’ reminds us that what we focus on grows, so when we choose to study success rather than problems, we can find useful new resources and learnings that were overlooked before.

We can reinterpret the narratives of the organisation – and change them if they are not helpful.

0:28 – Confirmation bias means that whatever we believe creates its own evidence

0:56 – Whatever we focus on grows in our attention and forms more of what we perceive as our reality

1:43 – No one person has a monopoly of the truth about an organisation

1:53 – Each new person joining the organisation brings fresh perspectives

2:09 – We can interpret the organisations ‘narratives’ how we wish and are not bound by old, stale interpretations

2:36 – When we inquire into people, teams, and organisations at their best, we can uncover previously overlooked but valuable learnings.

Can you learn how to facilitate Appreciative Inquiry processes from an online course?

It turns out you can, as long as the course is live and interactive!

I know this because I’ve run five Practical Appreciative Inquiry courses online with great feedback from participants. The next training starts soon – find out more and book your place here.

Video Transcript – The Poetic Principle

This follows on naturally from the Constructionist Principle. We have habits of seeing which filter out some aspects of our experience and emphasise others.

Over time (through the process that psychologists call ‘confirmation bias‘) these mental filters become stronger, so that our beliefs and our habits of seeing become self-fulfilling prophesies that ‘create’ their own supporting evidence.

We ‘know’ that our place of work is how we believe it to be, because we notice and amplify evidence that supports that view and ignore or downplay evidence that contradicts it.

Consequently, whatever we focus on grows in our attention and forms more and more of what we perceive as reality. If we focus on problems and adversity, we will overlook or filter out things that would be useful or helpful to us.

Our habits of seeing change over time, especially if events come along that are ‘big’ enough to break through our filters.

For example, until the 2008 credit crunch most people believed that economic expansion would continue indefinitely, or at least acted like it.

Because our habits of seeing change, and because different people have different habits of seeing, our social systems and organisations are like open books which are constantly being co-authored and reinterpreted.

There is no one definitive viewpoint and therefore no monopoly on the truth about what the organisation is, what it is like, and what it is there for.

Each new person joining the organisation is like a new ‘reader’, bringing their own perspectives. Each new eye that looks at the past, present and future of the organisation can find new sources of learning and inspiration.

What are the implications?

We can interpret the organisation’s “narratives” how we wish. We can choose what we study about the organisation.

Since companies and teams are ‘social constructs’, we are not condemned to repeat stale old narratives (workplace stress, low engagement, management-worker conflicts). Instead, we should find and focus on what we want more of.

When we choose to inquire into experiences of the organisation and its people at their best, we can uncover previously overlooked but valuable learnings.


  • How can you look at your job, your team, or your organisation differently?
  • What useful things about your experience at work, or in your life in general, have you previously overlooked?
  • What is the best way to look at your experience in future, in order to get the best outcome and to more fully become the person (and collectively, the team or organisation) that you want to be?

Principles Of Appreciative Inquiry 3: The Poetic Principle (video and transcript)

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