Appreciating Appreciative Inquiry

As you may know,  I have been doing doctoral studies for the past three years.  This moves into a new phase this week where I have to demonstrate that the pronouncements that I have made and the reflections that I have done have somehow matured from the point where I was when I embarked upon this programme.  I am delighted to realize that even at this stage I have epiphanies.  This tells me that my perennial curse of boredom has not caught up with me as yet and that I can embrace this phase of my life for a little longer yet.

 From my reading yesterday, I have developed a new appreciation for Positive Psychology, Positive Organisational Scholarship and Appreciative Inquiry.  This should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched my progress in recent weeks.  As you may have noticed, my productivity in terms of churning out these scintillating pieces has taken a significant dip during this month.

This has happened as a result of many converging factors, chief among which are my impeding comprehensive exams (today and Friday), my preoccupation with getting my practicum, if not my research paper, moving and my abiding concern to find a way to galvanize growth within the Jamaican economy through our organisations.  These are all lofty aspirations for someone with an attention span of five minutes, however, as I have said, I am still curious about understanding the dynamics that are necessary for improving the Jamaican economy and so I’m still in the game.

For those of you who do not know, Positive Psychology, first articulated in 1998 by Professor Martin Seligman, is that arm of the discipline that holds as its focus, the view that a preoccupation with the factors that serve to generate, build capacity, resuscitate vigour, enhance capabilities, promote wellbeing and induce virtuousness in human beings are all worthy of academic study. This focus serves as an alternative to the deficit model that has overwhelmed the discipline for decades where psychologists were preoccupied with containing illness, fixing apathy and other debilitating (to the psychologist) concerns.

Positive Organisational Scholarship, developed in 2001, concerns the application of this orientation to the study of people within organisations as well as the contexts within which the organisations find themselves.  It is a radical shift I focus that shows how agentic action may be enhanced in order to promote well being for both the staff and the organization rather than being preoccupied with how agentic action can be bought into harmony with the organisation to create organisation welfare.  The preoccupation here is with creating an atmosphere in which excellence, happiness, meaningfulness in work, fulfillment, empowerment, building strong character, strengthening resilience, promoting openness, eliciting one’s calling, honing one’s talents, engendering organisational commitment and the like are all authentic expressions of everyday life, rather than being the transformed results of organisational revolution.

Of course, depending upon where one starts, it will take a revolution within organisational life to achieve these new norms.  I believe, however, that since we have been overwhelmed by our feelings of fear, inferiority and dispossession wrought from the outrages of colonisation, slavery, and indentureship, and the inimical but inter-generationally learned coping techniques of informalism, individualism, Anancyism and low trust it will take nothing short of a revolution to shift us toward a new organisational ethos.

Appreciative Inquiry promises to help with developing this ethos.  Developed by David Cooperrider in 1986 it focuses on the factors that converge to produce optimal functioning of any given organisation.  It incorporates four classical phases: discovery, dreaming, designing and destiny although some practitioners have added definition of the theme of the inquiry as a fifth dimension.  In the discovery phase organisational researchers discover the moments of excellence, the unifying values and best practices; in the dream phase they envision the possibilities; in the design phase they create the necessary structures, processes and relationships in order to realize this dream and in the destiny phase they develop an inspirational, practical and effective implementation plan.

Although it could be argued that this is too idyllic and that local entrepreneurs and captains of industry will not (no pun intended) appreciate this, I think that there are serious lessons to be learned here: how to induce a sense of responsibility among Jamaican workers, how to develop new prophesies for us to fulfill, how to shift the focus from what we lack to what we can do with what we have, how to speak to people, how to rebalance organisational power, how to develop unifying dreams among our peoples, the list is endless…I think that if we take POS at its word that it will build its scholarship on extant work then the new norms that engender a new equilibrium are just as easily explained by Lewin’s Force Field Analysis that every Jamaican who ever did a class in Social Sciences at UWI knows.


About Gabrielle Burns

I am a Jamaican at play here in this vast playground in cyberspace....Yes, at times I do like to live dangerously, but I AM also working hard at becoming more interesting by the day... :)
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