Innovation-Inspired Change

Positive Organization Development: Innovation-Inspired Change in an Economy and Ecology of Strengths

David L. Cooperrider and Lindsey N. Godwin August 10th, 2010

“Fields change. And the field of organization development (OD) is changing more than most.” (see Cooperrider et al, 2005; Bushe and Marshak, 2009).

Part of OD’s change is being fueled by exciting breakthroughs in our theories of leadership –what has been called “the strengths revolution in management.”  Another major force has been the emergence of Appreciative Inquiry, a paradigm-altering form of action-research that has permeated the fields of organization change and social innovation.

And the third wave is the mounting new database of human science research in fields of positive organizational scholarship and positive psychology.  Taken together—strengths-based management, appreciative inquiry, and positive organizational scholarship—we are now seeing a re-writing of many of the conventions of organization development and managing change.  Add to this the new enterprise logic which has given rise to the stakeholder theory of the firm and the strengths economy, and the time has come to explore the foundations for a new, 21st century field of organization development—the pillars for a more Innovation-inspired Positive Organization Development (IPOD).

As we shall see, building the new is a fundamentally different task than fixing the old.  And in a world where return on attention is increasingly decisive, the call for OD innovation is eclipsing the call for OD intervention. Design firms, for instance the acclaimed IDEO in Silicon Valley, have expanded their mission from product design into organizational transformation, embodying the core values of OD, minus the focus on intervention. Their work is all about the art of creating, and creating is often quite different than solving. Of course innovation and intervention are both about change, and both have their respective strengths, but they operate from different theories of change, time frames, methodological assumptions, and distinctive practices.  As radically different as the two appear, the place where they powerfully unite is in their embrace of an enduring constellation of OD values from the earliest days of the field—a special spirit of inquiry, collaborative/democratic leadership of change, and positive assumptions about human beings.

In this article we present what we think is the field of IPOD: we show where it came from, explore major research informing IPOD’s positive change theory, illustrate strengths-based methodologies from the human group to organizations and society, and demonstrate how innovation-inspired Positive OD often makes more sense than the more classical Diagnostic OD.

In part one of our paper we explore the history and emergence of IPOD and highlight the distinct feeling that today our field is bursting with creativity the likes of which we have not seen since its’ earliest days.  Indeed, to set the stage, we shall ascend into OD’s history and draw from it some of the utopian spirit that set it apart and propelled its creativity.  Names like Douglas McGregor, Kurt Lewin, Mary Parker Follett, Herb Shepherd, Ed Schein, Elise Boulding, Edie Seashore and Warren Bennis stand out. Yet it must be asserted there was something about the earliest days that was so much more than great personalities; it was the positive ethos of the early moments we want to better underscore. All of this is important, of course, to our introduction of IPOD.

In some ways IPOD represents a deep and perhaps radical break from common OD assumptions. But in another way it is not a break at all; it is a homecoming.  In part two, after looking at the sources of IPOD we look at the innovation methods associated with IPOD along with several mini-cases illustrating the theory of change we call profusion—the positive fusion of strengths—and the stages in the process of innovation: the elevation-and-extension of strengths (phase one); the broaden-and-building of capacity (phase two); and the establish-and-eclipse stage of innovation (phase three).  Lastly, in part three of our article, we look to the exciting future agenda of Positive OD which, in our view, is centrally about the design of positive institutions that not only elevate and connect human strengths (internally) but serve to refract and magnify our highest human strengths into society. Positive institutions, we propose, are the vehicles for bringing more humanity, courage, wisdom, love and value into the world, and represent OD’s most exciting positive organizational scholarship opportunity.

Link to entire article – pdf