In January, many of us turn to the task of “planning for the future”. How many times does this consist of some minor variation of the past? What is the pull to continue what may have been only a marginally successful project or one of our life patterns?
A life of being, having and doing enough by Wayne Muller may hold the answer to these questions.
“We can deepen our ability to see new and different choices available to us in the next moment. We begin by becoming more playful in recognizing previously invisible possibilities that already exist right here, right now. In the beginner’s mind, are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few. The mind of the expert decides it knows—based on experience, belief, training, success, failure—how things work; how they are supposed to turn out.
“Once we become an expert, we grow increasingly convinced, from our vast knowledge and experience that we just know how things ought to be done, how they will work, which way is the right way, and which is clearly the wrong way. We can predict with little difficulty the outcome of almost any situation.”
So, the task of planning involves giving up being the expert and playing with dreaming and engaging people of diverse minds.
The idea of creating a strategy has been around since The Art of War by Sun Tzu more than two centuries ago. It has vacillated between being a cerebral pursuit of an exclusive few to a crowdsourced, chaotic process with hundreds contributing. (Yes, one of the most popular modern texts on strategy, Business Model Canvas, by Alex Ostenwalder was compiled by having global leaders tell their stories!)
In our rapidly changing world where it is hard to predict what comes next, what approaches to strategy are now in favor? ATKearney, a leading consulting firm says it is a combination of:
- “Shift strategy formulation from current-out to future-in
- “Shift the strategy process from cascading down to organizationally inclusive
In the light of both the “experts” (McKinsey) and the use of the beginner’s mind, this article will explain how the Appreciative Inquiry process can be used to produce just such a combination.
Basics of Appreciative Inquiry
Appreciative Inquiry consists of four parts – Discover, Dream, Design and Deliver. (The FOUR D’s!) It is a process that is amenable to involving a broad spectrum from any organization.
Discover – To recognize the best in people and the world around us as well as to perceive those things which give life, health, vitality, and excellence to living human systems
Dream – To envision “What Might Be?” and to declare what results are wanted for the future
Design – To determine how to move from now to the vision of the future which appeared in dream
Deliver – To innovate and improvise ways to create and sustain the preferred future
Employing Appreciative Inquiry
It was a famous Apple computer scientist, Alan Kay, who said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” That is the spirit of using Appreciative Inquiry to craft a strategy for an organization or community.
Step 1: Begin by involving as many stakeholders in discovering the “best” of their current world. Document this and have people celebrate what they have. A question could be, “When in the last year were you most alive when you were at work? (Or with this organization)
Step 2: Ask questions that lead people to imagine a bright new future. It might be 3, 5, or 10 years into the future. Encourage people to stretch their imaginations. A question might be, “What looks impossible today that if it were possible would create a new future for this organization or community?”
Step 3: Use a method that allows people to prioritize all the wonderful dream items so that a handful (at most) emerge as the best of the ideas. Take each one and list possible ways to achieve them. Sometimes a “top of the mountain” exercise works to spark people’s imaginations on multiple means of achieving a given goal. Take them into the future when the idea is fulfilled and have them look back on how they got there.
Step 4: Choose from the best ways that each goal was achieved. Take the first 3 to 5 steps for each goal and ask people to take ownership. Deliver is a learning phase. As those goals are achieved, involve people in answering the question, “What is possible now?” New answers that emerge are that portfolio of options mentioned in the ATKearney quote. Tune the plans and take another 3 to 5 steps that reflect what you have learned.
Remember that Appreciative Inquiry is a positive process based on “abundance”. In the article “Power of Appreciative Inquiry”, Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom point to these fundamental AI beliefs:
- “People individually and collectively have unique gifts, skills, and contributions to bring to life.
- “Organizations are human social systems, sources of unlimited relational capacity, created and lived in language.
- “The images we hold of the future are socially created and, once articulated, serve to guide individual and collective actions.
- “Through human communication (inquiry and dialogue) people can shift their attention and action away from problem analysis to lift up worthy ideals and productive possibilities for the future.”
We invite you to use this process and, when you do, to tell us about your results. Here are a couple of examples of communities that used AI in planning:
Join us for a Zoom call on Wednesday, January 30 at 8 AM Pacific Standard Time (GMT-8) at https://scu.zoom.us/j/3011989214. During that call, we will discuss these questions:
- What has been one of your successful efforts in inclusively generating a strategy?
- What have been the best ways you have found of implementing strategies through your community or organization?
- What questions do you have regarding strategy?
- What articles about strategy formulation and implementation would you recommend to the group?