Tag Archives: appreciative inquiry

acceptance, is, ought, and baby food

a few weeks ago we had a conversation about acceptance. one of the things we discussed there was this:

acceptance is about the past not the future …

a common trap that we fall into in our thinking is when we jump without reflection between what is and what should (ought) be. in philosophy, that has been referred to as the “is/ought” problem. just because i say that yes, teachers used to beat students, and yes, i used to smoke (the “is”) does not mean that teachers ought to beat students and people ought to smoke.

one of the commenters then wondered how we can move away from an unpleasant “is” to a better “ought”

we could use a situation like this:

i can walk 4 miles an hour [the “is”]. since i believe this to be true [i.e. i accept the “is”], how can i believe that i could walk 5 miles an hour? [i.e. moving to the “ought”]

interestingly enough, around the time that we had this conversation, i also wrote about solution focused brief therapy. the solution focused tradition has much in common with appreciative inquiry, which has something to offer here.

we work from what is there: it engages the whole system. data from the past is analysed for common themes (including data from the client’s conversations with selected colleagues).’ this establishes ‘what is’. the client then articulates ‘what will be’ and ideas are put into practice.


it is quite permissible to experiment with not talking about the problem at all as it is ‘irrelevant to the solution’ and the coach also has ‘no idea where the solution will come from’. as gregory bateson pointed out, the solution comes from a second, or higher, order of thinking.

let’s combine our previous conversations about acceptance with these words about AI and see what happens if we apply them to the above situation:

in the past, i walked 4 miles an hour.

this is the reality, this is what happened. there is no regret, and it is not labelled a problem; it’s just “what is”.

by next year, i will [or want to] walk 5 miles an hour.

note that there is no “ought” (“i should”).  it is a future-directed expression of faith (“i will”) or desire (“i want to”).

i can do this by hiring a trainer, buying those expensive runners, rewarding myself with a trip to the south pacific, going to the gym each day, reading biographies of famous walking athletes, getting a really fast dog, befriending a training buddy, or signing up with a walking group.

there is no discussion of how hard it is to walk 5 miles an hour, or how you’ve trained before but it didn’t work, or how you can’t get motivated because walking reminds you of your athletic girlfriend (which would be discussing the problem). the brainstorming that created the ideas comes from a different part of the brain than the problem.

in the conversation that follows, we might choose one possible solution as an experiment and look for “one lazy step to take away today that will take you towards your solution,” as carey glass, the coach mentioned in the link above, says. “spy on yourself and look for tiny things that are helping: think baby food and it turns out to be caviar!”

i have seen this magic work over and over again. for example, i routinely ask clients who are very shy about networking to make one super simple phone call. “call them and ask them for their fax number; that’s all!” once they manage to do that, sweaty hands and all, they often surprise me by telling me that they found the person on the other end of the phone so nice that they ended up chatting for 5 minutes.

what would be your baby food?

13 encouraging questions

“never mind the answers – just ask the right questions!”

this is so true. last sunday i participated in a conference, dream vancouver, intended to encourage citizens to articulate their visions and hopes for an even better vancouver. the main process of the conference was organized around appreciative inquiry.

appreciative inquiry is a philosophy and approach that engages individuals within an organizational system in its renewal, change and focused performance. at the heart of AI is a particular way of asking questions and envisioning the future that fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in a person, a situation, or an organization. it utilizes a 4-stage process focusing on:

  • discovery
  • dreaming
  • design; and
  • delivery

all of these processes are driven by questions. this is not much different from therapy, particularly an approach to therapy very dear to my heart, satir transformational systemic therapy.

here are a few examples of powerful questions. they can be used in many ways, among other ways in supporting people in moving forward with particular issues they might find a bit intimidating. they are encouraging questions, then.

  1. imagine getting up on monday morning. what will you say to yourself to support yourself when you talk to the principal at 10:00?
  2. what exciting feelings come up as you think about handing in your resignation tomorrow?
  3. you said that just thinking about making that phone call to bob makes you want to bite your nails. what would have to happen for you to completely forget about your nails?
  4. what would supper look like if your kids got along better?
  5. if you did manage to get up before 11:00, how would that make your whole day better?
  6. what would calm down the scared part of you?
  7. let’s just say that for some reason, tom will use his kind voice when he comes home tonight, not his angry voice. will your stomach feel better?
  8. are you listening to the still voice inside you?
  9. clearly, there are a lot of things you can’t do. what can you do, even a little thing?
  10. who is your greatest ally?
  11. you say you feel calm right now. what can you do to remember this feeling next wednesday?
  12. what can you do to reward yourself afterwards?
  13. who else in your family needs support so that everyone feels they’re part of planning this wedding?

what questions encourage you?

(this post was mentioned in the 110th carnival of healing and has also been entered in litemind’s list group writing project)