In this video, Appreciative Inquiry facilitator Andy Smith introduces two networks in the brain that have been discovered (relatively) recently: the Task Positive Network and the Default Mode Network.

This video shows why you need both for effective problem solving and performance improvement – but usually at work we’re only in ‘Task Positive’ mode, which is good for getting things done but bad for trust and creativity.

Learn why Appreciative Inquiry makes it easy to help individuals and whole teams light up their Default Mode Networks – essential for good relationships, creative thinking, and openness to new ideas.

If Appreciative Inquiry is new to you, you may want to watch this short video first: What Is Appreciative Inquiry?

More Appreciative Inquiry videos to follow soon!

If you want to get started with using Appreciative Inquiry with teams and small groups, consider joining the Practical Appreciative Inquiry online facilitator training – the next one starts soon!


Advances in brain-imaging technology from the 1990s onwards enabled researchers to discover two networks in the brain that in some ways are in opposition to each other.

The Task Positive Network (TPN) is activated when you engage in ‘cognitive’ tasks – perception, motor control, and problem-solving including logical analysis. It tends to produce stressful feelings, activating the sympathetic nervous system.

The Default Mode Network’ (DMN) enables big-picture thinking, engagement, motivation, stress regulation, and social and relationship awareness. It is associated with positive emotion, trust, and feeling supported.

The two networks are ‘opposing domains’ in the sense that when one network is active, it inhibits the other. Analytic thinking fires up the Task Positive Network but also turns off the Default Mode Network. On the other hand, empathic thinking activates the Default Mode Network and suppresses the Task Positive Network.

So a balance between Task Positive Network and Default Mode Network is essential for open communication, creativity, and working together effectively. We need to have our Default Mode Network active when we are bonding as a team, taking in new information, and especially when we need to come up with creative solutions to challenges. Then ideally we’d go into Task Positive mode to carry those solutions out.

Usually in the workplace, we don’t have any difficulty in activating the Task Positive Network – we’re in that mode most of the time as we work down our to-do list and aim to meet targets and hit deadlines. Unfortunately, the side-effects include defensiveness, lack of trust, seeing other people either as a means to an end or as threats, stress, reluctance to try new ways of working, and a focus on short-term results rather than longer-term and bigger-picture aims.

It’s when challenges hit that we most need to go into Default Mode Network, to learn from each other and break out of the thinking that led to the problems in the first place. So how to encourage greater activation of the Default Mode Network, in the face of the pressures of organisational life?

Appreciative Inquiry Lights Up The Default Mode Network

Appreciative Inquiry encourages Default Mode Network activation and positive emotion in a number of ways:

  • Just being listened to with 100% attention activates the Default Mode Network.
  • When people are asked about their strengths, their achievements, and things they are proud of, they become less defensive and open up more.
  • It’s easier to like and trust other people when they are talking about their best experiences, their deepest values, and their aspirations for the future.
  • When they reconnect with their values (what is important to them), they become more resilient and have more of a sense of purpose.
  • Emotional resonance (when one person starts to experience the same emotions as another) helps people to bond.
  • Positive emotion helps people to engage their visual creative imagination.
  • Problem-focused approaches emphasise external forces and constraints that can lead to feelings of being judged and self-consciousness. Appreciative Inquiry, by contrast, evokes a sense of safety and self-empowerment that encourages new ideas and scanning the environment for possibilities.

Now we know about these two networks, we can see that if you were to get too analytical – as we do in traditional problem analysis mode – you risk flipping your group back into ‘Task Positive Network’ thinking and shutting down the Default Mode Network that they need to find creative solutions and aspirational goals. This is why, in Appreciative Inquiry, we focus first on what’s working, and on positive exceptions. Even if they are few and far between, we’ll find them if we look for them.

References for the research referred to in the video:

Richard Boyatzis and Anthony Jack, The neuroscience of coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal Practice and Research 70(1):11-27 · March 2018

The TPN and DMN: Boyatzis, R. E., Rochford, K., & Jack, A. I. (2014). Antagonistic neural networks underlying differentiated leadership roles.

Reconnecting with your values makes you more resilient: Sherman, D. K., Bunyan D. P., J Creswell D., & Jaremka L. M. Psychological vulnerability and stress: the effects of self-affirmation on sympathetic nervous system responses to naturalistic stressors

J. David Creswell, William T. Welch, Shelley E. Taylor, David K. Sherman, Tara L. Gruenewald and Traci Mann Affirmation of Personal Values Buffers Neuroendocrine and Psychological Stress Responses

The Neuroscience Of Appreciative Inquiry – Video And Transcript

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