|AI was developed by Dr. David Cooperrider and his colleagues as a new paradigm with the potential to replace the conventional problem-solving methods of organization development.
A few years ago, a group of us adapted this process to the realm of philanthropy — broadly defined as “love of humanity” — and made it the keystone of the process known as the “Philanthropic Quest.”
Philanthropy is an excellent instrument for AI because philanthropy operates at the nexus of values and action — where individuals give concrete expression to their deepest beliefs, desires and aspirations for humanity. That expression can take the form of financial contributions or voluntary deeds. And if the employees of a business are really volunteers — in that it is their decision to work in a particular place (as Max DePree has suggested in Leadership Jazz), then their daily actions on behalf of the common good are also expressions of their “love of humanity.”
The Quest invites people to use AI to advance their built-in contributory spirit. Initially, the Quest has also focused on providing a new model for the process commonly known as “fund raising” — an area where people often experience a high degree of “cognitive dissonance” between their values and their behavior. As a professional in the field, it seemed to me that we could offer people a unique opportunity to bring their actions into harmony with their ideals — by developing a values-based “school” of fund raising.
But that wasn’t how we professionals conceived of the process. Most of us thought of fund raising (and most still do) as an elaborate game of cat and mouse, predator and prey.
So I was prompted to look outside the field for new ideas and methods — which led ultimately to appreciative inquiry and the Quest.
We’ve learned much from our experience in applying this new model to the development of organizations. Specifically, we’ve come to see how appreciative inquiry and the Quest can move beyond the organizational level to provide a new paradigm for the transformation of systems at all levels — from a single individual to a global system.
David Cooperrider and his colleagues — notably Jane Watkins, former chair of the NTL Institute — recognized early on that AI could have an impact beyond the organizational level. These efforts continued to focus on organizations as the vehicles for global change.
More recently, in the most advanced practice of the Quest, we’re finding that the organization can serve as a convener of conversations about what the future can be. The subject of our inquiry is society, rather than the organization. We ask questions about the kind of world we want to live in, rather than what the organization should do or be.
We speak with people inside and outside of the organization. We speak with all who have a stake in the questions being asked (not excluding people of financial means, nor including only people of financial means). And we invite them to meet together.
The stories that surface during these interviews and conferences may suggest what a more ideal society would look like. And these images may begin to change the way people inside the organization think and act. We’re finding that this can happen even if no one is paying conscious attention to making changes.
In this way, discoveries in the realms of self and society can function as a metaphor for the organizational realm. And an inquiry into society may be sufficient to transform the organization through metaphor.
An organization that sets out on this path — convening generative conversations about the future — has the potential to become both a catalyst and a model for a wider process of social, and even global, change.
As in all appreciative inquiry, the process remains grounded in the actual experiences of individuals. As these stories come to the surface, new images and possibilities can emerge and become realities in new and unforeseen ways. People begin to see themselves differently and act differently. It’s possible that the organization, and even society, may be transformed organically and spontaneously — without resorting to any kind of conventional planning process.
(This process reflect’s David’s principle of simultaneity: that inquiry and change are not sequential, but simultaneous processes. We don’t collect data, and only then plan the changes. Rather, as David says, change begins to happen with the very first question we ask.)
It is this feature of appreciative inquiry — that it’s firmly grounded in the “peak experiences” of individuals — which makes it an ideal process for personal development, as well as organization development and social change. The Quest adds to this process a focus on philanthropy, in the broadest sense: the deep desire of people to serve humanity through “meaning-full” acts of personal initiative.
Both Jane Watkins and Diana Whitney, co-founder of the Taos Institute, have contributed much to the ongoing development of AI and the Quest, and their ideas will be included in this Web site in the future. Recently, for example, Diana’s work in the spiritual realm has advanced my thinking about the role of AI in personal development.