Academic journal article Storytelling, Self, Society

Storytelling in Appreciative Inquiry

Academic journal article Storytelling, Self, Society

Storytelling in Appreciative Inquiry

Article excerpt


Appreciative Inquiry, or AI as it is commonly known among proponents and practitioners, is an organizational philosophy and organizational development methodology. It bucks the centuries-old approach of deductive problem solving and instead seeks to inductively determine an organization's inherent strengths and maximize those aspects. This leads ideally to a more holistic, unified, and successful process of organizational change. The term "Appreciative Inquiry" elegantly captures the essence of the approach. "Inquiry" because these strengths are inquired after among all levels of the organization, not predetermined or mandated by those with control. "Appreciative" because the viewpoint of each member is acknowledged, and his or her best or peak experiences are sought. Much of the data collected in this inquiry process is in the form of stories, and yet very little Appreciative Inquiry literature focuses on the role that story and storytelling plays in this process.

Meanwhile, organizational storytelling has become a buzzword in business. Long an integral but unconscious component of marketing, advocates like Stephen Denning (Leader's Guide) now champion the importance of storytelling in knowledge management, and Howard Gardner (Leading Minds) promotes the importance of story in leadership. Others, like Annette Simmons (Whoever Tells), focus on the quality and substance of the stories themselves and teach organizational members how to tell stories in a variety of capacities. Many experts and scholars have started to study and write about the role story and storytelling play in all aspects of organizational life-including organizational change.

Denning, Gardner, Simmons, and the other experts and scholars who have studied organizational storytelling did not originate storytelling in organizations. They called attention to what was already happening and revealed what was possible if stories were nurtured and storytelling applied in all these different aspects of organizational life. Case studies such as those found in Simmons's book Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, or in Marshall and Adamic's article "The Story Is the Message," give evidence that attention to storytelling can be transformative and powerful. Nevertheless, few who write about storytelling in organizations mention Appreciative Inquiry, and few who espouse and write about Appreciate Inquiry connect it to the growing body of knowledge about storytelling in organizations.

In the same way that marketers have always used story to build brands, that coworkers have always swapped stories to share information, and that leaders have always told stories to inspire, storytelling is already present in Appreciative Inquiry. It forms an integral, yet unexamined, part of the accepted 4D process in Appreciative Inquiry of discover, dream, design, and destiny (Cooperrider, Stavros, and Whitney). As seen in the study of other organizational aspects, a clearer understanding of the role storytelling already plays in Appreciative Inquiry may lead to insights or refinements in the way storytelling is used in the method hereafter. Thus, those using Appreciative Inquiry will have a better understanding of when storytelling may, or may not, enhance the positive growth they are seeking. There is also much left to be studied and much left to be said about storytelling in all aspects of organizational life-Appreciative Inquiry included. Research linking the study of organizational storytelling to Appreciative Inquiry is a foundation on which to build future explorations.

This study is not an exhaustive review of Appreciative Inquiry practice. It is an exploratory deconstruction using General Inductive qualitative methodologies to create a framework for understanding the role storytelling plays within the practice of Appreciative Inquiry. It is not an intervention or comparative study of specific storytelling techniques. Participants are limited to practitioners currently operating in the United States. …

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