The Generative Potential of Appreciative Inquiry

(EN: the writing style in this chapter is exceedingly convoluted, and as such, I expect my notes will be more unreliable than usual in terms of reflecting the author's intent.)

It is increasingly evident that the success of an organization depends on its ability to preserve and increase the knowledge of its employees. And given that there is an increasingly mobile workforce, a company loses the knowledge as workers leave more frequently, which has an immediate impact in the cost to train a replacement workers and a long-term impact of the constant loss of expertise gained through experience.

Of key importance to creating a culture of learning, where knowledge is retained, is the concept of appreciative inquiry, which is an investigation which focuses on the positive impact of unusual phenomena, as opposed to the consideration of anything "different" as being bad (which leads to adherence to the old, not the discovery of the new).


Appreciative Inquiry is attributed to a theory (Cooperrider, 1986) thank linked evolution in "living systems" to the active pursuit of positive outcomes (not merely avoidance of negative), and identified appreciative inquiry as the means by which potential is discovered. Of chief importance is the "appreciative lens", though which one seeks to comprehend the beneficial aspects, as opposed to viewing the same situation through a defect-oriented lens.

It's noted that human beings have a tendency to be judgmental. Any new experience is measured against previous ones that have framed our perception, hence our evaluation is based on the assessment of dissimilarities between what is witnessed and what is already known. Our judgment of something as good is in its similarity to known good, or in some instances in the difference from known bad, but where the witnessed event has qualities that do not match those in previous experience, there is no standard for assessment, and such qualities are either assumed to be bad, or dismissed as irrelevant data.

During the last few decades there has been highly elevated levels of attention to the topic of "knowledge," chiefly based on the premise that the information is "locked" within the minds of individuals, thereby being inaccessible to others, and that any organization would be more efficient and effective if this knowledge could be extracted and disseminated to all.

This led to the formation, early in the development of the Internet, of communities of practice, in which individuals who had similar interests could increase their knowledge and expertise by interacting with one another on an ongoing basis. In effect, the collective insight of many people could be applied to a problem, and the process of deriving a solution (or debating the cause) would result in the collection of their knowledge and the communication of information among them enables them to learn from one another. Over time, this leads to a substantial body of knowledge, as well as various approaches.

In addition, there is a personal bond among the members of a community, individually and as a group, which establishes a culture of discovery. In this way, the social aspect of communities of interest should not be dismissed as irrelevant to their purpose. It is because of the "social" nature that the community has a spirit of inquiry and, ultimately, the ability to consider information through the lens of appreciative inquiry.

The "virtual" community, which applies the facility of technology to overcome barriers of distance and time, has enabled communities of practice to develop among individuals who are unable to interact with one another by ordinary means. The lack of physical presence means that "nobody can punch us in the nose," but this is immaterial to the sharing of knowledge (and, in fact, may facilitate communication), which is more cognitive than physical.

Companies have shown great interest in the potential of virtual communities as a method for aggregating the intellectual capital of their employees in a more intentional and systematic way, for the benefit of the organization, buy developing communities of interest around the subject matter that is critical to the future success of the organization. (EN: While the interest has been there, the execution has been extremely bad, and the failure rate for knowledge management systems and contrived communities is high.)


Of importance: when creating a virtual organization, it should not be considered as a distinct or separate structure from an existing organization. It is merely the application of technology to facilitate interaction through a different medium. While the technology will create new challenges and opportunities, there is not a need to compel these opportunities to the fore by considering changing the fundamental structure of the organization.

The author refers to three "vectors": the opportunities to members of a virtual organization, the requirements a sponsoring organization seeks to impose, and the potential inherent in the community itself.

The concept of the "virtual encounter" often involves the comparison of the online experience with the real-world ones. From a management perspective, the ask is to identify existing communities and transition them to an online community (or from an independent community to a sponsored one)

The concept of "virtual sourcing" pertains to the organization's attempt to create and deploy intellectual assets within the context of the business network. This pertains to the dissemination of information to those who need them. In this regard, management can offer value to the community by virtue of its authority and capital to obtain resources (external or internal) to support the community as well as making the resources created by the community available to others within the organization.

The concept of "virtual expertise" consists of giving users the ability to access resources (including other users) who have the ability to analyze information in order to derive meaning or significance from it. In this sense, the virtual community leverages human assets for this capability. From a management perspective, this entails recruiting individuals with expertise and supporting their participation in the community.

In all regards, the stewardship of a community by an organization is largely dependent on the "vision" of the organization and its motivation to sponsor a community whose purpose may not be in immediate or direct relation to its own goals (when the community's value is clear and direct, the organization can generally be counted on to be very supportive).

It's also worth noting that an organization cannot create a community, but merely create an environment or "setting" and bring together individuals who can contribute - but ultimately, a "community" can take place by virtue of the actions of the members, which cannot be effectively compelled.

(EN: the remainder of this section seems a bit disjointed, or maybe I'm not seeing the connection. Whichever the case, be prepared for some turbulence.)

The consciousness of an individual is shaped by the perceptions and experiences of their unique environment, including the conception of a "world" outside their immediate perceptual range. Within an individual, their grasp of a subject improves as they gain experience. Virtual communities also follow this approach to knowledge, though by means of combining the perspectives of multiple individuals rather than the repeated experience of a single person (EN: the Jainist parable of the blind men and the elephant), hence are both more efficient and effective in assimilation and amalgamation of information.

It's also worth noting that the social process involves negotiation among perspectives. That is to say, that "truth" as perceived by any community involves not merely the amalgamation of the perceptions of its members, but some degree of debate and negotiation where individual perspectives disagree. This generally involves persuasive effort in order to arrive at a commonly accepted perspective that is not "fixed" but subject to evolution and renegotiation.

The organizational process can be viewed as the cumulative effect of negotiation: it would be unrealistic to assume that all members of an organization will be universal in their acceptance of an outcome of negotiation. Eventually, the organization must apply authority to arrive at a conclusion that members can accept, however begrudgingly, so that the community can move forward. This does not mean that anything is settled "once and for all," merely that a temporary compromise has been accepted, the alternative to which would be continued churn or a schism within the community.


For knowledge sharing to succeed, the members of the community must be "excited" about the process of sharing knowledge. There are generally psychological benefits to participation (such as esteem in the group and personal growth), which are supported so long as the activities of the group are meaningful and the individual feels their participation is productive and valuable.

An organization can be viewed as a collection of interconnected communities, each of which is focused on a specific area of interest that has relations to other areas of interest. This provides an affordance by which an organization can act to generate an "intentionally appreciative climate" across the various communities it comprises.

The author refers to an "ASK" approach to community development, which is driven by four questions: what is it now, what might it become, what could it become, and what will it become.

(EN: This seems like the actions that can be taken by the community, but the author describes it in terms of actions to be taken to develop a community.)

"What is it now?"

First, the organizer must obtain the support of the organization, generally from top management, whose endorsement is necessary to obtaining the resources to create the community and encourage the participation of members.

Then, the concept of the community must be presented to all stakeholders and potential participants in the community. Of key importance is framing the community in a positive mindset, selling it on its potential to create positive change. It is suggested that this be done on a small scale. Involving the sponsor, the core supporting team, and a modest group of participants (around 30)

Finally, an interview process is used to gather information for the participants. The interview is a kind of brainstorming process to determine the themes, called "knowledge enablers," that form the basis for community interaction.

"What might it become?"

A second round of interviews is conducted. Whereas the previous round was used to indentify topics of interest, this round identifies the attitudes of participants toward the development of a community of interest (their collegiality, teamwork, autonomy, participation, and personal growth).

The themes identified earlier are evaluated, determining which of them would be plausible or productive, given the interests of the community members.

Future state scenarios are created, based on the information gathered. At this point, there is no application of judgment - any possible future state, however remotely likely, should be considered.

"What could it become?"

The only step in this stage is to consider and validate the future state scenarios. The previous step considered all possible outcomes, and this one considers their credibility and probability: how realistic or idealized it is, how closely it relates to the present, and the amount of time it might take to occur. Naturally, those that are realistic, are a minor step forward, and may occur in the near future are of greater importance.

"What will it become?"

Previous steps discovered possible outcomes and reduced them to probable ones. This step reduces the probable outcomes to the desirable outcomes - that which the participants wish to achieve, and are willing to work to achieve. Eventually, this discussion results in action, and the action effects the future state of the organization.


Management theorist Peter Drucker coined the notion of "knowledge work" for white-collar workers, the nature of whose tasks involve thinking and problem-solving rather than repetitive performance of defined tasks. It is most commonly applied to scientific, engineering, and technical fields, but is applicable to marketing, public relations, and other fields where the value of performing an activity is less than the determination of which activity to perform. However, a distinction is drawn between positions where the product is knowledge itself (academic and scientific research) and positions where knowledge is used in a more oblique manner.

It has also been recognized, of late, that the chief cause of failure in virtual communities has been granular and restrictive management. In addition, theories are arising to support that there is value in apparently non-productive uses of virtual communities: anecdotes, stories, and even jokes are a method of community bonding and may also be used to communicate genuine knowledge. The use of narrative has also been found to be an effective method of communication that, in addition to the "cold facts", provide an experience that other users can better and more clearly understand, in addition to the social value.

The perception of community "knowing" is also shifting. Originally, knowledge was regarded as a form of data, a "thing" that could be captured, recorded, and preserved. More recently, the focus is shifting to knowledge as a product of interaction that, taken out of the context of human interaction, loses its core value - it is no longer knowledge, merely data. Key differences are the knowledge exists in the context of human relationships, is tacit as well as explicit, and is dynamic rather than fixed.

(EN: A few other "trends" are identified, but they seem to echo some of the points from the article, which seems a bit contrived.)