What you study grows
A key Appreciative Inquiry Principle is what you study grows…. or, what you focus on grows, or, said in other words: where you put your attention, action follows. That's not trivial. It is written in ancient scriptures, “seek and you will find”, “ask and you will receive”.
An example: If you wanted to help a couple reduce conflict and you began to ask them about their conflicts, what caused them, what they were about and how often, the conversation would be all about their conflicts. They'd be replaying scenes of conflict in their minds. Would you be helping them to move beyond the analysis of their conflict towards envisioning the possibility of no conflict? Unlikely.
If the inquiry were to shift to focus on times when they truly listened to each other, when they were respectful and supportive of each other, when they were present to each other with compassion, their minds would replay very different scenes. They would be reconnecting with times when they were there for each other with interest and care.
So, when you inquire into deficient situations, you learn more about the causes the deficit – in this case causes of “conflict,” and it doesn't help anyone learn anything about what it's like when conflict is absent. When you study someone's conflict, what opportunity do you have to learn about their “respectful, compassionate relationships?”
Similarly, if you studied “fear,” what would you learn about “love”?
The Appreciative Inquiry Poetic Principle
This Principle states that the topics or subjects we choose to put our attention to, or study, are fateful in the sense that they not only determine what we learn, but they actually create it. Each of us has our own experiences and interpretations that we bring to a topic or conversation.
Just as if we were to look at a piece of art, watch a movie, read a poem, or listen to music, there are opportunities for endless learning, interpretations, and inspiration. The metaphors we use shape our beliefs. Do we describe our workplace as a machine, a garden, a web, a family, a school, a prison, or a zoo?
Through our Appreciative Inquiry lens, we consciously seek out that which we want more of, not less—hence what we focus on are the solutions and outcomes we wish to create. There are many examples of this principle in all walks of life, from raising children, to evaluating employee performance, to attending to health and wellness.
Do we place our attention and energy on the behaviors and outcomes we want in our children, co-workers, and diet and exercise regimes in order to create that which we desire, or do we place our attention on the things we want less of?
When we place sincere effort on the attributes we want to see, and can let go of those that no longer serve or support, we have greater chance of success at achieving our desired outcomes.