Probably Not as Big a Deal as Artificial Intelligence

A couple of months back, my wife took an extended work trip that had me alone in the house with just our two cats to take care of. 

I decided that it was an opportune time to clear out our freezer, which had begun to accumulate a variety of odds and ends that were too good to throw away, yet wouldn’t keep forever.

I keep an email folder of blog ideas that bears some similarities to such a home appliance, and lately I’ve decided to look behind some of the recent additions to see if there isn’t something I put in there a while ago that just might be right to serve up now.

Such is the case with this week’s post, which is all about Appreciative Inquiry, which I’ve seen labelled as “A.i.”, not to be confused with the now ubiquitous “A.I.” (Artificial Intelligence, for the uninitiated)

In my work with enterprising families, appreciative inquiry will likely be the more important A.I., at least in the short term, although this prediction risks looking foolish and out of date some day.

So What Is Appreciative Inquiry?

Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, I’ve decided to share an introductory sentence from this piece I saved last summer, by Regina Koetters.

“Appreciative inquiry (Ai) focuses on what’s working well, why it’s working well, and how to replicate and build upon it

Developed by Dr. David Cooperrider and Dr. Ron Fry at Case Western University three decades ago, this approach has been validated by extensive research as an effective means of developing people, spurring innovation, and scaling companies.”

I hope that you can see why I like the idea of using Appreciative Inquiry with business families, where too often there can be a tendency to focus on the negative.

Positive Psychology Strikes Again

This is not brand new territory for me, as I’ve touched on some angles that come from the world of positive psychology before, notably in What Colour Is Your Cape?

Keeping one’s focus on what’s going well can be so important in setting the right tone with everyone we interact with.

It’s as much a “default mindset” as anything else, in my view, and can truly be a difference maker in so many settings.

And, it doesn’t come naturally to most people.

Maybe that’s why it’s so refreshing when you experience it.

Generative Questions and Positive Framing

Family businesses do a lot of things right in order to be successful, so sometimes when we are invited into them to be helpful, it can be a natural reaction to try to fix what’s not working.

But as my UK colleague Ken McCracken likes to say, they have some natural advantages that they’re already using, so it’s usually better to look at what they’re doing right.

(Listen to the podcast I did with Ken as my guest.)

The biggest thing to remember is to ask what are called “generative questions” and do so with “positive framing”.

These generative questions come from a place of real curiosity and a desire to learn when listening to the answers.

The constant search for more positive ways to look at things works better when the questions are asked in this way, as opposed to questions that contain judgement.

There are literally books written about this topic and also courses you can take to get better at this.

Hopefully this blog post will encourage more people to consider this methodology in the family enterprise space.

Not to Be Confused with Other Kinds of A.I. 

Off the top, I tried to make a humorous point about the other kind of “A.I.” that we keep hearing about in popular culture these days.

I also realize that there are even more things that go by the initials “A.I.”, including one I wrote about recently in No Beef with this Family Resemblance.

I imagine that in some family farming businesses there might be a reliance on the Artificial Insemination practices that I got to learn about thanks to my Dad’s post-retirement adventures in cattle breeding.

But for most family enterprises, and for the advisors that work with them, I think that Appreciative Inquiry is an idea whose time has come, and that more people should be looking into.

The questions we ask and the way we ask them are the basis for the good conversations we have, that create and sustain our most important relationships.