Thanks very much, Carol, for
the being the first in my series of interviews of thinkers and practitioners with ideas that are valuable to the legal profession. Let's start out by asking you to tell us a little bit about Appreciative Inquiry and Appreciative Intelligence.
I'm delighted to talk with you - thanks for the invitation.
Appreciative Intelligence is the ability behind creativity, leadership and success - a newly introduced intelligence. It provides a new answer to what enables successful people to dream up extraordinary and innovative ideas, why people join them in realizing these dreams, and how they achieve these goals despite challenges.
The definition of Appreciative Intelligence (term coined by Tojo Thatchenkery) is the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present. Put simply and metaphorically, it is the ability to see the mighty oak in the acorn. Successful leaders and innovators see more than a little capped nut that some of us might just step over; they see the possibilities for a strong, healthy tree with further generations of oaks and acorns. Appreciative Intelligence has three components:
1) reframing - seeing situations, people or things in a new way - so that something good is visible
2) appreciating what is good (in that person or situation), and
3) envisioning how what is good now can grow into a great future.
Appreciative Intelligence and Appreciative Inquiry are not the same things, although they both focus on what is valuable or positive. Appreciative Intelligence is a mental ability found in an individual, whereas Appreciative Inquiry is an approach and methodology for strengthening organizations. If a leader with high Appreciative Intelligence uses Appreciative Inquiry, you can expect wonderful changes that are sustaining and significant.
Your metaphor is memorable and I bet that is one reason why the subtitle of your new book is Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn? Please tell me the story behind the book, Carol.
About five years ago, Tojo Thatchenkery (my coauthor and former grad school prof) asked me if he could share some ideas and tell me about an experience he'd had. He talked about watching fellow students appreciate and feed off each other's great ideas. He also told me a story about poking holes and pointing out gaps in others' ideas (with the best intentions) that led to payback time, feeling demoralized and a realization that innovative ideas are more rapidly generated when ideas are appreciated, not skewered. He watched his proposition in action as he observed the rise of SIlicon Valley - the more good ideas were shared, the more venture capital, time, energy and talent were drawn to the area and inventions dreamed up there.
He said he had been reading Leaders & Success stories in IBD for years and thought he saw something that leaders, inventors and innovative problem solvers had in common. He asked if I'd like to study those stories further with him. I said yes, and the rest is now history. We looked at the stories he had collected, the ideas he came up with, brainstormed and conversed. We built on his original ideas.
When we had a better idea of what we thought we were seeing, I interviewed people like Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway Human Transporter, a wheelchair that climbs steps and the stent in VP Dick Cheney's heart), founders of a technology company and a bellydance troupe, and leaders at a school for kids whose language processing disorders keep them from learning to read and write the typical ways but whose track record for going to college is 98% (compare that to the national average of 64%).
One day I found myself at Drexel University School of Medicine's Experimental Pscyhology Lab trying on an electrode cap. Dr. John Kounios, my host, and his research partner Jung-Beeman located the area in the brain where insight occurs. This information - and evidence from others' studies - helped us form a proposition about parts of the brain that are behind the processes of Appreciative Intelligence.
I hope that by putting these people's success stories and our findings in the book, it will spark other people's ideas about their own Appreciative Intelligence. What stories and applications will other people create?
Thank you, Carol. I find the stories behind books to be very helpful; often hearing the back story motivates me to read the book. My next question is one I think people reading this interview may ask. Are there people incapable of Appreciative Intelligence? I now am thinking of those who naturally look first to see what is wrong, or even what could be wrong, with an idea -- people who are trained to be critical and may even innately prefer that approach.
Everyone has Appreciative Intelligence. Although it exists in varying degrees, in the way that nobody has a zero IQ, nobody is without Appreciative Intelligence. As proof in the pudding, look at yourself and the people around you. We might experience days that are rougher than others, but we all make it through a day. Often we creatively solve little challenges every hour. Often we don't notice how really successful we are!
As you said, Stephanie, some people are trained to be critical and derive benefits from pointing out gaps and flaws. Appreciation has its skeptics and critics, as well as its advocates. Like a medical doctor who diagnoses what is sick, many organizational change professionals and managers look for deficiencies to set a course of action. "Pollyanna" figures are sometimes viewed as unrealistic or naive. Individuals and organizations are assumed by some to be full of problems. And isn't it easier sometimes to find what doesn't work than to figure out what does work?
But framing others' ideas into possibilities leads to more original and more rapidly generated discoveries. It keeps the door open for solutions. The work of Martin Seligman who spearheaded the Positive Psychology Movement and others continues to gain ground.
Food for thought: In the late 1800s, a pharmacist named Asa Candler had a headache remedy that didn't work. He reframed the failing health product as a great tasting beverage and focused on proving that great taste to others. Had he dumped the drink down the drain solely because of its dubious pharmaceutical applications, millions of us wouldn't be drinking Coco-Cola.
The really good news is that if people can be trained to look for loopholes and show stoppers, they can learn to see what is positive, generative and possible. We all can expand our Appreciative Intelligence.
To ask this next question, let me use the definitions of some of the aptitude testing organizations such as Highlands and Johnson O'Connor. Aptitudes are those abilities that come quickly and easily; perhaps they are innate. Skills are learned through experience and may supplement missing aptitudes. One difference between the two is that using aptitudes will typically energize a person while using skills will often drain them. Think of a quality control person with a low aptitude for observation or an architect with a low aptitude for spatial visualization; they may learn to do their job well but it will take a lot out of them as they are working against their natural strengths. What if a person has a low ability for Appreciative Intelligence? Might it drain him or her to try to think or even learn to think in a way so different from their natural inclination? Would it be appropriate or workable in an organization to ask only those with a natural bent for it to use their Appreciative Intelligence?
This question made me smile. I've met people who said they were drained after doing something successful, but it wasn't a lack of energy that would make someone avoid repeating it. Most people are pretty excited about coming up with a brilliant idea or about dreaming up and seeing a project to a successful completion. (In fact, don't you thrive on successful experiences?)
As we studied leaders and innovators, we noticed that some seemed to have a higher degree of Appreciative Intelligence from the get-go. Ed Hoffman, the man who saw within the Challenger disaster an opportunity to build leadership strengths and abilities throughout NASA (and started NASA's Academy of Program and Project Leadership) and is known for a talent for seeing undiscovered talent in his colleagues, had an unusual ability to reframe when he was a child. He grew up in Brooklyn and reframed situations when he could have gotten "beaten up" as moments for humor. In doing so, he kept himself and other kids out of potentially escalating onflicts that could have ended in violence.
While we all can't be an Ed Hoffman or a Dean Kamen (inventor and founder of FIRST), we have all reframed something at some time or another. And we have appreciated what's positive, and figured out creative solutions.
We can stretch or enhance what we're already doing well just by focusing on the successes and applying what we're already good at to other situations. Taking an appreciative approach, rather than looking for our deficiencies, we can focus on the ways we're already successful and leverage those.
According to Dr. John Kounios, our brains aren't hard-wired like computers are. He points to evidence that our neural connections change after a 20-minute conversation. Taking a page from the book of Nobel laureate Gerald Edelman, the more we use a mental process, the stronger it gets. The less we use one, the weaker it gets, until it is eventually "pruned."
If you notice where you're exhibiting the components of Appreciative Intelligence (reframing, appreciating the positive and envisioning how what's positive now can generate a brighter future) and practice them, the stronger those patterns become. Even if you feel tired the first few times, the stronger you get, the less energy it will take. And the rewards of success - however you define it - make it worthwhile.
If it is a lawyer's professional responsibility to see what has gone wrong -- and what could go wrong -- in the situation for which a client has sought counsel, is it still possible to learn, use and benefit from Appreciative Intelligence? In other words, can AI coexist with the search for past, present, and future problems? Is using Appreciative Intelligence like taking off one hat and putting on your AI hat? Any last tips?
What one looks for, one will find. In situations where a lawyer is required and ethically bound to look for loopholes, problems, etc., that is what they should – and will - find.
But when a lawyer looks for situations where reframing is possible and considers responding to them as challenges (not just problems), the door is opened to finding creative solutions. It's not so far different from the situation of Martin Seligman, the president of the APA who turned psychology upside down when he decided to look also at joy, hope and wellness, rather than only at illnesses and mental problems. Surely there are plenty of possibilities - mediation, adoption, a law firm's internal employee relations - when lawyers can reframe to see what is positive, appreciate what is valuable and see how what is possible now can grow into a better future. Last tips: 1) Bear in mind that everyone has Appreciative Intelligence. Although it exists in varying degrees, no one has none (just as no one has a zero IQ). 2) Our brains are not hard wired. According to Dr. John Kounios at the Drexel University Medical School EEG Lab, our neural connections change even after a 20-minute conversation. Gerald Edelman, the Nobel laureate, described "neural Darwinism", the process of pruning off the mental processes we don't use and strengthening those we use often. The more you practice reframing, appreciating and envisioning a better future, the stronger the ability will become. 3) Exercise your Appreciative Intelligence. At your next meeting when an employee suggests an idea that you would like to quickly dismiss as impossible, ask questions to learn what frame of reference the employee is employing, what is good about the idea he or she is proposing, and what resources/talents are already available that could be applied to realize that idea. (For more exercises and assessment tools, see the profiles on 119-122 and 105-109, and exercises in chapters 8 and 11.) [Refers to her book.]
Thanks again, Carol. I really appreciate your giving us this time. I am sure your ideas will provoke some new thoughts in the heads of those reading this blog. Perhaps your book will also cause some new action and Appreciative Intelligence, too.
Note (added April 9, 2007, 12:34 PM Mountain): Since this interview, she has joined the blogosphere. Read about Carol Metzker's blog. I also have interviewed her co-author. Read the interview of Tojo Thatchenkery.