Posted on

Innovation and You | Reaching Your Dreams Using Appreciative Inquiry


This past Friday, a colleague, Monica, and I co-presented at the Chesapeake Bay Organization Development Network’s annual conference on innovation in organizations.  Our workshop was an incubator for innovation, featuring the Four-D Model of Appreciative Inquiry, titled An Incubator for Innovating with Four Dimensions of Appreciative Inquiry.

In the session, we introduced the Four-D Model (Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver) and walked participants through a creativity exercise to prime their thinking on innovation.  Since many of us spend so much time and energy on small tasks such as doing laundry, attending a work meeting, and figuring out what’s for dinner; or on our bigger life commitments, such as family and career; it is often difficult to spend time thinking about our passions and dreams.  Therefore, Monica and I created a space in the workshop for consultants and business leaders to take time and discover their passions while also taking action to reach their dreams.

What’s your passion?

Next, each participant identified their passions and dreams.  Their passions being what they were eager to accomplish in their lives, or the driving forces that excite them.  Focusing on a particular goal that they wanted to accomplish–we called this their “incubator idea”–we then asked them to share what they wanted to accomplish for themselves.  Some identified career goals, while others identified more personal dreams.

After walking through some introductions on passions and ideas, participants then broke into pairs or small groups.  Using the Innovator’s Handbook, which we created specifically for this workshop, each attendee had the opportunity to receive coaching, as well as offer support to others in the room.  Using guiding questions in the handbook and the small-group coaching, each person could then identify the types of support that they need to reach their goal, their desired outcomes (including tangible and emotional measures of success), and could form an action plan.  We encouraged participants to take at least one action in the room, such as calling a friend to set up a meeting, or emailing a prospective client to have lunch about partnering on a project.  By the end of the session, each attendee had walked through the Four-D Model and identified an action plan to help move them forward over the next few days, weeks, or longer.

Below are the slides used during the session, along with the Innovator’s Handbook.

CBODN Workshop Presentation

Participant Workbook

Now that you’ve heard an overview of this workshop, here are a few questions for you to consider:

  1. What inspires me most?  What gives me energy?
  2. What is my dream goal?
  3. What are my strengths and accomplishments?
  4. What would it look like to achieve my dream goal?
  5. What support do I need, and who can help me?
  6. What can I do right now to take a step towards my dream?


Appreciative Inquiry Commons (n.d.).  Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve University.  Retrieved from:

Cooperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D (2001) A positive revolution in change. In Cooperrider, D. L. Sorenson, P., Whitney, D. & Yeager, T. (eds.) Appreciative Inquiry: An Emerging Direction for Organization Development (9-29). Champaign, IL: Stipes.

Daft, R. (2011). The Leadership Experience (5th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Page, S. (2007). The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies.Princeton, NJ: Princetone University Press.

Watkins, J., & Mohr, B. (2001). Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

Posted on

The Plop – Ideas that Go Nowhere

The Plop

“Maybe it’d be a good idea if we _____(insert idea to expend the organization’s resources here)_______.”

How many times have you heard that line, in some form or another, in meetings?  (I lost count years ago!)  Now, how many times did a tangible result come from it?  (almost never!)  Instead, the person who made the suggestion plopped the idea and left it to fade into the ether of the great-ideas-we-never-implemented space that clutters our mental energy.

The “plop” is a suggestion that is made, but the creative mind offering it puts the onus of making decisions onto the group without driving the conversation about who will lead the idea, who will assist in its implementation, what the timeline for completing the suggestion will be, and which resources are required.  When this happens, the (perhaps) excellent thought falls to the ground, loses its gusto, and carries zero momentum forward.  Fret not, there is a remedy!

Turning a Plop into a Plan for Action

Your coworker or peer volunteer just made another plop in your three-hour-long meeting.  Everyone has lost interest, because the pattern of ideas that go nowhere keeps repeating.  You feel overwhelmed by all these suggestions that “we could do, and it’d be great!”.  Now what?

Step one: ask the person making the plop to take ownership of her or his idea.

Pose a few questions to help shape the plop into something the team can manage.  Ask the plopper what she or he would like to do to move the idea forward: will s/he be the project manager?  Will s/he play a supporting role on the project?

Find out more details about the idea so there is a clear picture of the expectations if the concept were to become reality.  Also, query which resources are necessary to make progress, and compare this need to a list of resources the team has at their disposal.

Step two: build the idea into a proposal.

The team now needs to consider the purpose of the idea–what will this suggestion solve, do, or change?  Additionally, a serious look at how strongly the idea connects to the organization’s mission, vision, and strategic objectives will provide guidance on whether the project is worthwhile for the organization.  Further, the team should consider who will do what, when, how, and with which resources.

Step three: make a decision.

From the inquiry in steps one and two, it will become clearer whether the plopper and others have time, energy, and resources to proceed, and it will uncover the degree to which there is alignment to the overall organization’s purpose.  These considerations make it easier for the team to make a decision whether to move forward with the idea: (a) move forward and enjoy a new adventure or (b) walk away from the idea with some new lessons on how to manage a plop.

Benefits of the Process

Regardless of the choice in step three, this process will build your team’s capacity to manage its decision-making, especially its ability to prioritize which projects best align with the organization’s strategy.  It also aims to reduce the number of plops in the long term, because teammates will realize that coming to a meeting unprepared is no longer the easy way out.  Instead of passing the work of building out a proposal to the team with little direction or leadership, anyone suggesting an idea will need to do some homework before dropping myriad plops onto the group.

Posted on

Gaining Momentum: Amplifying Creativity for Innovative Business Solutions

Recently, I had an amazing opportunity to work with a non-government organization (NGO) abroad, whose board asked for help meeting their strategic goals in the next 18 months.  Their membership voted six months prior on a handful of milestones that needed to be accomplished, and the board members were nervous.  There was an air of uncertainty and doubt about how they would reach the fast-approaching deadlines.  I needed a way to help them move into a better state of mind so that they could get their work done.

During the discovery stage of the consulting project, I revisited academic research on Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which is founded in the fields of positive psychology and positivism.  To summarize the findings, researchers have determined that using positive thoughts and focusing on the upside of a challenge leads to greater chances of actually accomplishing the task at hand, compared to dwelling on negative aspects of the issue.  Appreciative Inquiry goes further in providing consultants, facilitators, and business leaders with a framework of using positivism to help clients drive through a challenge.

Focus is kept on what is possible (what could be), rather than on the negative (what is “wrong”).  Using AI, the facilitator amplifies for the team that no idea is too far-fetched, too expensive, or too laborious to be considered.  With this approach, the conversation shifts from dwelling on what is wrong, to discovering and innovating possible solutions.  This shift in conversation also changes the energy in the room for those involved.  Facilitating this dialogue requires attention to the messages, ensuring that the focus is on ideas, possibilities, and creativity.  When someone says, “we can’t do that; we just don’t have the time,” the facilitator can ask, “what is it that we can do?” or “if we had the time, what could we accomplish?”

What about the NGO mentioned earlier?  The energy at the start seemed to be negative: worry, anxiety, nervousness.  I needed a way to help them create solutions to their challenge.  Appreciative Inquiry provided a way to reframe the conversation from “how will we ever get this done?” to “here are some solutions…”  The first step was for the board to shift into a positive state of mind (they recalled their accomplishments so far), and then they moved into a state of innovation, creativity, and solution-mongering.  In the end, they had a robust action plan that solved each challenge and would complete the milestones on time.

Interested in more about AI?  Check out the book Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change, by David Cooperrider & Diana Whitney.