Leadership in Action – Appreciative Inquiry: A Core Strategy during Disruptive Times

Leadership in Action – Appreciative Inquiry: A Core Strategy during Disruptive Times


In these disruptive times, many of us are stuck in our normal way of looking at creating new growth. Our traditional problem-solving focus assumes that if we solve all the problems then we are left with great performance and growth. This is based on the false premise that we can solve all the problems. While we are predisposed to this problem-solving approach, it does not Energize Action. As leaders we need a different approach to navigate through disruption.  Appreciative Inquiry (from David Cooperrider) is that alternative strategy that leverages our strengths in new, un-thought-of ways.

This approach looks at what is working and how can we expand that. A quick example can be seen in the movie “Apollo 13.” Right after the famous words, “Houston, we have a problem,” are uttered, Gene Kranz (played by Ed Harris) is overwhelmed by all of the problems coming from every chair in the mission control. Gene takes a moment, and then takes a critically different approach – “What is working on the service module”.  While many at NASA still worked to solve problems, another group focused on how to take what worked and reconfigure those systems and assets to get the astronauts home safely. Through this simple question, Kranz changes the focus of the team and unlocks innovation and creativity.

A second story is the path not taken. Kodak, the company that actually invented digital photography, had the same technology cause their demise, as they failed to take an appreciative inquiry approach to their strategy. At the time the digital photography was starting to grow, Kodak’s strength was in the selling of film and film processing.  In the path not taken, they would have seen that the value they brought to consumers was the chance to share life events and experiences.  An appreciative view would take that strength of what was working for them and leverage it with digital pictures. Kodak was the best placed company to invent Instagram. It was a logical next step. However, the problem-focused Kodak tried to come up with a way to drive more film and development of pictures.

While the Kodak story is 20/20 in hindsight, it does highlight the importance of truly understanding what it is that your organization does to provide value to a customer base.  Ask the simple question: What do you do well? We have seen many plants retool to provide product that is in high demand and short supply. There are great stories of distilleries shifting from whiskey to hand sanitizer. During this disruption, what core competency can you leverage to provide value in a different, higher demand market? Take the time to ask yourself, ask your team, and Energize Action to emerge as a stronger, more thriving organization.