Creating positive momentum for change in a world obsessed with problems

I’ve always considered myself a realist, balanced in my views of the world. The glass was never half empty, nor half full. It was just half. In studying powerful change methodologies, I was exposed to Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which is as much a philosophy as it is a framework, applicable to all areas of life.

AI was fundamentally created to challenge the existing paradigm that constrains us into organising around a problem that needs to be solved, where we’d then rush to analyse potential causes, and make recommendations around solutions.

It, like other paradigm shifts, probably started with someone asking “could there be a better way?”

And so AI was born to organise around an invitational mystery to be uncovered rather than a problem to be solved – to recognise and celebrate the best of what already is and bring that to the forefront of change agendas – personal and professional.

This idea, alone, seemed intriguing and energising, but the realist in me had a healthy balance of skepticism. My preconceived notions told me that AI felt pollyanna, great in theory, but unrealistic; afterall, how could we have meaningful dialogues if we only focused on the positives?

And then I experienced it for myself and saw it in action with my own eyes.

Nothing shatters a preconceived notion more than first hand experience. Through two days of AI, I worked with clients to build generative and constructive aspirations for the future by asking “unconditional positive questions”. Instead of focusing on what is not, we talked about is and what could be, and the amount of energy and enthusiasm around these types of discussions was noticeably different.

Are some of you rolling your eyes?

Well, I’d challenge you to try it for yourself. Next time you encounter a colleague, an acquaintance, or even a loved one, genuinely ask them “what is most exceptional in your life right now?” Pay attention to the energy that their response creates….excitement, pride, engagement, perhaps inspiration. What if someone were to ask you back? How would you respond? What energy would it create within yourself?


When was the last time you paused to identify and celebrate the exceptional?

What about the last time you explored possibilities as opposed to managed risks or solved problems? Our world is hyper obsessed with problems to be fixed. We’ve lost sight of our want and ability to dream.

Perhaps because problems to be fixed gives us purpose, gives us value. It also feels more comfortable because looking back in the past is concrete but looking into the future is vague, often undefined, and less controllable. However, the ability to dream is inherent in all of us, and after two full days with my clients, they had formed a shared dream and resolve for the future.

No, they didn’t have all the answers, but what they did create was a contagious energy that resulted in shared commitment and a strong momentum for transformation. This has been a powerful learning for me as I guide my clients through ABW programs. The most important ingredient to successful change is simply caring deeply about it.

It’s as simple as reframing a question to create a generative discussion rather than a deficit based one. Try it in your next meeting. Instead of “what’s not working with technology” reframe to ask “what does technology look like at its best here?” You’ll still uncover the meaningful data, now with some upward momentum and with less defensiveness, more celebration and less blame, more creativity and less reactivity.

Just as much as misery loves company, so too does inspiration and hope. So let’s all hope for something better together. Create the momentum for change through an appreciative lens. Your employees, your loved ones, and your soul just may thank you for it.

Curious about how Appreciative Inquiry can help you create the momentum for change? Get in touch to talk about personal leadership, I will respond to your message.

Allison Tsao
Australia & New Zealand Want to know more? Contact
+61 431 847 327