#Crowdsourcing Appreciative Inquiry and New Plants

#Crowdsourcing continues to be quite the buzz word in both business and across the internet as endless examples of people coming together to collaborate and solving problems continues to deliver extraordinary outcomes. New insights into why #crowdsourcing works also continue to pop up paying homage to the importance of unlocking the power of diversity in ways that bridge gaps between social networks and, yet many of these publications and projects continue to focus crowds on solving problems.

What if solving problems is not the only way?  And what if on line communities don’t generally play well together?

Make no mistake, the future of crowdsourcing on a massive scale is contingent upon future technology adoption.  Sure the tech savvy and gamers of the world can make huge impacts but what if distrust and concerns over security harbored by the every day person continues to grind the pace of adoption?  This is not a technology issue it is a people issue.

The Appreciative Inquiry

In a prior blog post I offered up crowdsourcing as a key to solving work place problems and emphasized the importance of asking the right questions to the crowd. More recently I discovered another framework for questioning known as Appreciative Inquiry.

According to Gervase R. Bushe “Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a method for studying and changing social systems (groups, organizations, communities) that advocates collective inquiry into the best of what is in order to imagine what could be, followed by collective design of a desired future state that is compelling and thus, does not require the use of incentives, coercion or persuasion for planned change to occur.”

Within the framework of appreciative inquiry problems become possibilities and analysis transforms into envisioning.

In her book The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change , Diana Whitney outlines example after example of appreciative inquiry used by everything from major companies to the united nations, siting examples of very diverse people coming together to imagine “what could be” and combining their collective visions and stories to passionately transform organizations achieving tremendous outcomes.

The 4D Approach

The 4D approach (Discover, Dream, Design & Deploy) felt hopeful and optimistic yet placed emphasis on leveraging the best of what’s already worked in the past and combining proven solutions in new ways to create new possibilities.  As I explored, the concept transitioned from “Polyanna” to “wait a minute, they might be onto something here.”

Curious about applying appreciative inquiry I engaged horticulturist Josh Schneider, in a discussion about developing and growing plants to understand how problem solving vs. pursuing possibilities plays out in the Green industry.  Josh and his company Cultivaris have received awards for innovative new product development by creating new hybrids that are faster growing, disease- and pest- resistant, can be grown in cooler temperatures (reducing cost) s, and have longer bloom times. What I found interesting about this conversation was learning that a grower can focus on finding ways to reduce the amount of resources needed to grow plants (ie solve problems) as a way to cut costs and maximize yield and this is standard practice .  Cultivaris takes a different approach and creates new products that are easier to grow and more profitable for the grower and retailer.  Josh said “you can grow acres of a plant but loose them all to disease if you’re not careful or have chosen the wrong variety.” After this discussion it became clear to me that, while the concept of Appreciative Inquiry had been officially established in the mid 1980’s, it’s actually been alive in flowers we grown and the foods we eat every day as generation after generation of farmer has already been combining the best characteristics from the strongest plants to improve crops for centuries.  In it’s own way, Appreciative Inquiry is a testament to itself, a combination of concepts that are already ingrained in the story of human prosperity and progress – just recombined in a new way.

This had me wondering; what if crowdsourcing using questions aimed at solving problems leaves the solutions rendered at greater risk to unforeseen circumstances, in fact what could be more unforeseen than the outcome of attempts to influence company culture as expressed in this blog post by Hartford CEO, Liam McGee?  Ever heard the quote “culture eats strategy for lunch” originally attributed to Peter Drucker

But, what if focusing crowds on creating possibilities through identifying and combining what is already working or by engaging them in collectively combining their visions for a company could produce better and more sustainable results?

I then discovered The Center for Appreciative Inquiry  and their daily paper ‘Words Create Worlds‘.  Right on their front page I read the question “What might be possible if community and organization members were fully engaged and using their strengths to collectively achieve shared visions?” – Wow!

Bernard J. Mohr says, “Problems get replaced with innovation as conversations increasingly shift toward uncovering the organization’s (or group’s, or community’s) positive core.” What if a deliberate effort was made to combine the powers of #Crowdsourcing and Appreciative Inquiry? For example; here are crowdsoucring questions applicable to any generic work environment.

Problem Solving

  • What would you fix about this current process?
  • How can we cut waste or save time?
  • What are ways we can reduce expense?

Appreciative Inquiry

  • What are the best examples of extraordinary service?
  • Where are we doing things right and in alignment with our values?
  • What are the best ways to enhance our products so that customers find them more valuable?

Now, imagine how you would feel responding to either sets of questions?  Where would questions like the first set get you if repeated again and again over time and how would they make people feel? Would the results of the latter questions result in solutions that would get at what the first questions are asking anyway?  What set of questions are more likely to influence adoption and create a culture that brings out the best in people?  Do the latter questions alleviate some of the security concerns and slow adoption rates for collaboration technology?  I’ll leave those questions for you to ponder.

Disclaimer: This is not an official site of The Hartford. The opinions expressed by participants are those of the participants and are not those of The Hartford.

Posted in

Cameron Comstock

Cameron Comstock is a leader with The Hartford who specializes in driving virtual employee engagement and management innovation. He is is an expert at leveraging contemporary communication methodology to drive high levels of collaboration aimed at solving business problems and cultural transformation. Connect with Cameron.

Reader Interactions


  1. Melissa Robaina says

    Hello Cameron,

    What a great article! Thank you so much for mentioning the Center for Appreciative Inquiry! Even though I have been practicing AI for a number of years, I am continuously in awe in the possibilities and opportunities that are generated from an Inquiry.

    I recently worked with a group that is known for being linear. Regardless of how left or right brained a person perceives themselves to be – the power of the mind is amazing. The dream is my favorite step in the AI process (as I am sure it is for many people) and I recently came across a quote that really spoke to me and attests to the why and how Appreciative inquiry works.

    Warren Bennis – an author, professor, and leadership guru explains the importance of visualization in achieving goals: “The next question people often ask is: How can I imagine exceeding my benchmarks when I have no idea of how I will actually do it? Remember that when you say you have “no idea”, you mean you have no conscious idea. However, [studies] revealed that imagery can help in several ways: In addition to helping to focus your attention by stimulating attentional networks in the brain, imagery can actually help your brain to map your path to your goal outside of conscious awareness. Imagining activates brain regions that can unconsciously map your path to success. Not knowing “how” doesn’t actually matter, since the brain will figure this out once you let it know where you want to go.”

    Hope you enjoyed the quote as much as I did. You can read the HBR article in full here: http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/03/to-reach-your-goals-make-a-mental-movie/

  2. Cameron Comstock says

    Melissa – Thank you kindly for the response. Im grinning from ear to ear reading it. I can’t tell you how often the words “I have no idea” escape my lips! How exciting to immediately trigger the Dream phase in response to hearing myself say them. This will be so much fun!!! Also, thank you so much for the blog on making a mental movie. It reminds me of how I used my Facebook timeline, Twitter feed and Instagram, capturing the highlights of my life and posting them to replay a mental movie of what my life is like and why I love it. I really like the notion of casting those images forward into the future and perhaps even creating art to represent where it is one wants to go next. How powerful would it be to have an aspirational social media timeline or newsfeed made up of the dreams of all those in your network?


Pin It on Pinterest