This blog post is a tiny excerpt from our next book, one that I am currently working on together with colleague and co-author Lindsey Godwin. In recent years, humbling to me, many people such as Parashu Ram Timalisna, Emi Makino, and Philip Merry and others have asked for more detail on the essence of my original PhD thesis on Appreciative Inquiry or “AI”—even asking if they could get their hands on a full copy–and this blog post shares ideas from that generative moment of theory building. It happened at the world renowned Cleveland Clinic. I was invited and placed onto their world-class stage by my dissertation chair and remarkable mentor Suresh Srivastva.
The study was one of those cherished high point moments in a career, the kind of thing every young scholar dreams about. The research demonstrated a Heisenberg “observer effect” on steroids– how just the mere act of inquiry can change the world. Radically reversing the deficit-problem analytic methods of the day, and experimenting with an appreciative eye focusing entirely on “what gives life” not only served to catalyze a huge momentum but it sparked an era of advance. The organization—over the next twelve years– entered an unprecedented phase of growth under the leadership of Dr. Bill Kiser. Frank Barrett and Ron Fry, in a book several decades later, reflected back upon that first articulation of the theory of AI and concluded that the contribution of our first article on appreciative inquiry was at “a magnitude perhaps not seen since that of Kurt Lewin’s classic article outlining action research.” In a similar fashion, Jane Watkins and Bernard Mohr in another volume celebrated the birth of “a paradigm shift” at the Cleveland Clinic. They wrote: “The momentum set the stage for David Cooperrider’s seminal dissertation, the first, and as yet, one of the best articulations of the theory and practice of Appreciative Inquiry.”
That dissertation was defended on August 19th, 1985—almost thirty years ago. But curiously, every month for the last several months, students and others have asked me about that early writing. Read more