The world is venturing into a new paradigm in which we consciously co-create meaning in our world. With these exciting words, Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres offer us a wonderful volume for learning to live into the appreciative paradigm as well as ways to unleash the positive resources for change that lie omnipresent in our relatedness to everyone and everything that exists.

The key is recognizing the dynamics of our relationships and the significance of our actions, and then living with appreciative intent, say the authors. It is all about unleashing the “true”, the good, the better, and the possible—tapping into the universe of strengths—with elevated and ever expanding awareness, in every encounter and relationship. And “yes” it is something that can be cultivated, easily. In many ways, say the authors, we as human beings are born to appreciate and to express love, to see the best in others and in turn to reap the benefits of others’ appreciations of who we are and might become. Put most simply: relationships come alive where there is an appreciative eye, where people are able to see the best in one another and create new visions together— with the desire for building not just new worlds but better worlds. There is a sense of adventure in what the authors are proposing here. The perspective they speak about is literally limitless in its applications.

A short time ago, just as one example of the significance and relevance of this, I shared some of these ideas at a leadership conference. The presentation was apparently well received, as one could sense from the buzz in the room. And then a senior executive of a Fortune 500 company came up to me immediately after the talk. I will not forget his words. He said:

These ideas have implications for every aspect of our business— for literally everything we do as a business…but I only wish I had heard these ideas when I was raising my children.

Surprisingly, little has been written on applying Appreciative Inquiry—or “AI” as it is increasingly called—in one’s life. And this is the achievement of this terrific book! While the literature on AI as a constructionist approach to organization development is burgeoning, precious little has been written about AI beyond the workplace to the family, the carpool, the children’s athletic or art groups, the community, or wherever we gather to connect or play or collaborate. The significance of this is profound, because to really sustain AI in our communities and organizations, propose the authors, we need to practice AI in the more inner and intimate areas of our daily lives—ongoing, a way of life, not just an episodic organization development or change management project.

This work is unique in that it translates complex concepts and research into easy to understand language, exercises, daily experiments, and expansive questions for personal and cooperative reflection. There are applications of recent breakthrough research that is taking place in the positive psychology movement, positive organizational scholarship, and social construction. For instance, here is one example from Chapter 2 that is easily understood:

Pick one person each day and find something to compliment them for. The compliment should be sincere and genuine. For some, this will not be a stretch. It is something you have thought but not said out loud. Choose a different person each day; be adventurous and choose people with whom you are not usually in the habit of socializing or working. This is especially powerful if you choose someone who says, asks, or does something that doesn’t fit your frame. Pause and reflect before responding the way you are immediately inclined to respond. Look for the gift, insight, creativity, or beneficial perspective they are offering. You might even pick complete strangers. When you have seen the “gift” in their perspective or through their eyes, compliment them in some way for it. Ask for nothing in return, and watch the effect your compliment has on the person. More importantly, reflect on what effect your shift in understanding has on your relationship. 

I will tell you what happened to me when I did this exercise. First, it changed my questions. Instead of our normal problem-solving state which can limit us by focusing on everything that is “wrong” and can narrow our attention to available “fixes”, I had to pay attention in a fuller, appreciative way: what is it that is best, most worthy of compliment and gratitude that I see in the other? Secondly, with this question guiding me, I started to learn—I saw things in Hannah, my daughter, I had not noticed nearly enough. Hannah is in high school and I was amazed by her provocative thoughts on the political dynamics during the U.S. Presidential elections. When I really listened to her—at one point she asked “Daddy, if we have such a large impact in the world and if we believe in democracy, why don’t we let people around the world have a voice and vote in our election?” Instead of jumping in to explain why not, I paused. I began to see her as a young adult with leadership potentials I had scarcely noticed. My compliment back to her was to share how her remarkable thoughts and questions changed my teaching the next day at the University and how she made me think about how proud I was to be a citizen—a world citizen! How she lit up! Next, right after the compliment exercise, she started asking me new things about my work and field. That night, she asked if we, privately, could talk about some tough things happening behind the scenes at school with people she had trusted and thought were friends. I felt sadness in the things she shared, but was overjoyed by the opportunity to talk, to relate, to bond father-daughter. A mini-miracle happened, the gift of each other in a vital developmental sense.

This is not trivial. Carefully embedded in this micro-social chain reaction is an upward spiral theory of change. We make our world significant. This book shows that

  • By the courage of our questions (the deep search for what is best in life and the strengths of those around us), we change the world around us,
  • It is in the depth of our connections and conversations with others that we change ourselves and our relationships one conversation at a time, and
  • This happens through the relational resources that are born and shared in settings of mutual appreciation and discovery that results in fostering love, empathy, hope, inspiration, respect, and joy.

If you choose only one of the dozens of exercises in this book, please don’t overlook this one. We literally live in worlds our questions create. Hannah and I will never be the same. Why? Because I am going to repeat and repeat the exercise until it becomes, as the authors suggest, a new and automatic action—an “appreciative action.”

As I say, this is the first book to bring Appreciative Inquiry straight into our personal lives. I hope it is the start of many more, for the appreciable world is so much larger than our normal appreciative capacity for knowing it. Walt Whitman once said, “As for me I know nothing else but miracles”; guess what Whitman could see? He was aware of poetic possibilities everywhere. This is what Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres get us to understand: that it is a conscious choice. Dynamic Relationships: Unleashing the Power of Appreciative Inquiry in Daily Living will help all of us unleash unexpected positive change everywhere we apply its life-centric principles.

David L. Cooperrider, Ph.D. Professor of Organizational Behavior Weatherhead School of Management Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, Ohio