I spent the last two days in an Action Learning session at the ODNetwork Conference. The Action Learn process felt very comfortable and effortless after practicing appreciative inquiry for six years. I was at ease holding the space for inquiry in its purest form, a basic, simple question. Our group dove into inquiry during three- one and half to two hour sessions over a two day window. I had the capacity to stay in inquiry without losing my sense of wonder or needing to move away from inquiry.

My AIC colleague, Roz Kay, encourages me to embody AI through practice if I want to make a shift in “self “as an AI consultant. I can celebrate that the “shift” has arrived. I am not sure when it showed up since this is the first time I have held the space in an inquiry for six hours. I’m confident I can use inquiry as a leader, as a consultant and/or a participant. I empathize with those who struggle with this new practice and want to quickly arrive at the driveway of action and impact. Yet I relish in the gentle curves of inquiry.

You could be questioning my association of traditional action learning with appreciative inquiry, some may wonder how I correlate this process within the umbrella of AI. In fact the question bubbled up after the third session. My immediate answer is no. The action learning process was missing the stories, the narrative component of AI.

Principles of Appreciative Inquiry

As I fly home, the question of action learning’s association with appreciative inquiry forces me to examine the two processes in relation to David Cooperriders five principles of AI:
Constructionism- our experiences are socially constructed
Simultaneity- Change happens the minute you ask the questions
Poetic- We can choose what we want to study
Anticipatory-Compelling images of the future create action
Positive –positive questions lead to positive amplification and positive affect

As a participant, I believe, we did socially construct meaning in an intense inquiry with only questions. I found that I was sense making with each and every question. After almost six hours there was this wonderful framing to work within. Simultaneity, every time someone presented a question, the system changed, our thoughts and collective knowledge shifted a little. It was ever so subtle as it is in AI. The inquiry aligned well with the Poetic principle, our inquiry allowed us to treat our topic as open books yet to be written. I struggle with the bridge to the anticipatory principle. Did our questions somehow create images of a future state ? Yes and no. Yes they created images of the future for each individual yet I question if it was a shared future. Our questions gave our conversations of questions, direction and flow in a rather popcorn fashion. I will continue to be open to a possible connection to the anticipatory principle. Social bonding was alive in our group. Once in a while a positive question presented themselves and new questions were generated from previous questions. I am just not sure if there was positive affect. It could be a great thesis question. The Action Learning inquiry was divergent in nature while an appreciative inquiry is convergent in nature.

Earlier I stated that the process was not narrative. Yet within the continuous stream of questions there is a story. A story of each person’s past, present and possible future desires embedded in their individual questions. We dove into a sidebar conversation about the role of verbal and non verbal communication. If three fourths of our communication is nonverbal then our bodies tell stories that are narrative in a primal, somatic or kinestic way.

I choose to muse about these two processes that were developed 40 years apart and try to embrace their similarities and differences with the principles and significance of my practice of AI. I encourage you to join me in this inquiry and dialogue.


2 Responses to practice-practice-practice

  1. Tina says:


    Thank you for this rich post. I’ve come back to read it several times, and I’m sure I’ll be back to reference it again.

    It sounds as if for you there was a creative tension between the Action Learning and the Appreciative Inquiry foundational theories. Holding both of those realities at one time seems to have deepened and enriched your understanding of both.

    Could it be that “positive deviance” makes itself known in those tensions and contradictions? That the edge of chaos is where the creation of new knowledge is emerging?

    Wonderful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking post!


  2. robertap says:

    Thank you for your rich understanding of holding multiple realities and the tension that creates knowledge and learning. Hope you continue in dialogue with us.


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