Using our Strengths to Perform and Transform

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is the study and exploration of what gives life to human systems when they are at their best. It is a methodology based on the assumption that inquiry, into and dialogue about strengths, successes, values, hopes, and dreams is itself transformational.

The invitation of AI is to see people and organizations as mysteries to be explored, rather than problems to be solved.

This blog offers some ways to discover our core strengths and talents for better performance.

As a child, walking out of my school, I recall overhearing a man complimenting his friend, whose daughter had produced excellent grades in school. To my surprise, the father turned to his friend and whispered: ‘Shhh, please don’t say this too loud. If my daughter hears this, she may become too big-headed!’

After that incident, for some reason, I often wondered how that girl’s life evolved, and whether she had grown to fully express her strengths and assets in her community. This girl came back to my mind as I was sitting in AWiB’s October event, facilitated by Ms. Bezawit Bekele, PACT’s Capacity Development Manager and Appreciative Inquiry Trainer, during an evening holding the theme ‘The Power of Appreciative Inquiry based Leadership’.

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

I have personally experienced the power of Appreciative Inquiry in my work, and have heard stories from all over the world about its positive impact in people’s lives, in grassroots communities for development work, and in businesses and organization, where profit and performance have been boosted.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) can be defined as ‘the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them. It involves systematic discovery of what gives a system ‘life’ when it is most effective and capable in economic … and human terms. AI involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to heighten positive potential.’

(David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney, http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/intro/definition.cfm).

The two main goals of Appreciative Inquiry are:

1. We have a responsibility to honour our successes

2. We learn best from what is working

Indeed, here is a call to take time to practice noticing what we and others are doing well, to affirm those past and present strengths. Very often, we are experts at identifying what is wrong or what we dislike. This may happen at a great cost of getting over feelings of failure, hopelessness, anger at ourselves, and irritation at the actions of others. We look for the root cause of the problem but we rarely look for and analyze the root causes of success. Honouring our successes, however small, allows us to replicate them.

The energy, trust and passion that are formed when those involved take time to discuss and understand what is working allow them to set up a savings account of this data. Then, when conflicts abound, trust is low and people are choosing a truth of dysfunction, they can draw from the collective memory of what works, from those patterns of success, rather than rely on ‘credit’. This kind of act is in itself transformational.

This is an invitation for us all to move beyond mere humility, and use one’s strengths for great work.

In addition, we often assume that we learn most effectively from our mistakes. Research however shows that 70% of what we learn comes from what is working. We usually take success for granted. We also shy away from sharing our successes, as this is considered as a form of boasting. In AI, space is given to learn from what is working well: successes are detailed out and these details are used as data banks for future use.

So here, the offer is to share one’s successes, so that you can inspire others and share what you have learnt. And, as writer and management consultant Peter Drucker says, in organizations, there is power in aligning strengths in a team, so that weaknesses in the system become irrelevant.

What if we lived our lives expressing strengths everyday?

So, how do we identify our Strengths?

Your strengths can ultimately be the keys to your success. ‘When we do things we\’re already good at, our business acumen is quicker,’ says Todd Kashdan, a psychology professor at George Mason University and author of ‘Curious?’ (William Morrow, 2009). ‘When it comes to the best way to leverage your ability, it\’s (best) to go through your strengths.’ he says.

In her blog, Nadia Goodman quotes Kashdan and shares some ways to discover our core strengths and talents (http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/224433):

1. Watch for signs of excitement. When you engage in an activity you are truly good at, your excitement is visible. Your pupils dilate, your chest is broader, your speech is fast and fluid, and your arms spread wider. \”You can see someone feels alive and motivated when they\’re using a core strength,\” Kashdan says.

2. Notice what you do differently than everyone else. In a situation where you are truly using your strengths, you will stand out. Your approach will be unique. To name your strengths, you want to identify those moments and articulate how you are different.

The invitation here is to foster our strengths so that we can show up more powerfully as leaders in our contexts, perform, and transform.

As I type this, I recall that school-mate of mine again. My hope is that, wherever she is, her successes are being honoured, and that she is thriving.

I invite you to share your personal reflections and experiences as you discover and honour your strengths, and use them for great work.


For more information on Appreciative Inquiry, please watch:

– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwGNZ63hj5k&feature=related


Photo: Barbara Marx Hubbard