Appreciative Inquiry for a better world: Cooperrider
KATHMANDU, Nov 17: He loved athletics and was a serious swimmer, going up to the US Nationals as captain of the swimming team of Augustana College. But now, Professor David Cooperrider is a globetrotting scholar giving lectures on Appreciative Inquiry (AI).
Having incepted the revolutionary concept of positive change, along with Professor Suresh Srivastava, he is inspiring thousands to focus on the positive aspects and strengths of individuals and organizations for development.
So, how did a competitive swimmer turn into a global preceptor who is inspiring individuals worldwide? "I had a professor. I was not doing well in his subject and one day he said that I was the best student he ever had," he says, joking about the inspiration that turned him into a scholar.
On a more serious note he says his first trip to Hiroshima changed his whole perspective on life. Born in a small town in 1954 as the eldest among four siblings, Cooperrider wasn´t trying very hard in school and was disillusioned by the hypocritical ways of the world.
He then got a grant to go to Japan while studying in junior college in 1974. "The day I went to Hiroshima for the first time, I felt the miracle of life in our planet instead of feeling devastated," Cooperrider recalls that critical moment in his life. He felt the positive power of life as strong as the atomic bomb is in a negative sense and started to appreciate the positive aspect of everything.
Starting from there, Cooperrider has triggered a revolution and has successfully worked with the US Navy on "Bold and Enlightened Naval Leadership." In 2004, he was asked by the United Nations to design and facilitate a historic, unprecedented summit on global corporate citizenship, between then Secretary-General Kofi Annan and 500 business leaders, to make globalization work for everyone. He has also been involved in designing a series of dialogues among 25 of the world´s top religious leaders, on invitation from the Dalai Lama.
He was most recently involved in a project in Costa Rica, under invitation from President Oscar Arias, in transforming the department of defense there into a department of peace so as to turn all kinds of resources that were previously used for defense to constructive work. Appreciative Inquiry has also been used with great success by Hewlett-Packard, Wal-Mart, Parker Hannifin and numerous other organizations.
Rationale for focus on positives and negating negatives
Appreciative Inquiry claims that an inquiry into problems or difficult situations will only lead to more of the same but if one tries to appreciate what is best in itself, one will find more and more of such good things.
He argues that progress can be faster in areas of strengths than in those of weaknesses. He talks about getting over the myth of improving on weaknesses, which he calls a deficit theory of change. He gives the example of a dark room where turning on the light terminates the darkness and says positive aspects and strengths would similarly eclipse negatives and weaknesses.
"The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths that makes weaknesses irrelevant," he explains by way of his inspiration, quoting the late Peter Drucker during an interview in 2003. He believes every leader, who he defines as anyone who can make a difference at the time, should therefore work on strengths.
Application of AI in Nepali context
In Nepal for the Fourth World Appreciative Inquiry Conference that started at Soaltee Crowne Plaza in Kathmandu Monday, Cooperrider is well aware of the present political situation in the country.
With his experience of working in post-apartheid South Africa, he understands the dynamics of a country´s transitional stage. "South Africa has a great lesson to teach the world about the power of simple face-to-face conversation," he says.
A panel discussion on the last day of the conference will focus on peace and it will include three persons directly involved in Nepal´s peace process--Krishna Sitaula of Nepali Congress, Pradeep Gyawali of CPN-UML and Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara -- as panelists and Justice Albie Sachs, constitutional expert from South Africa, as keynote speaker.
Cooperrider stresses the need of honoring and celebrating differences as the first part of going forward in the present Nepali context. All the parties should then discover common ground to focus on, setting aside bitter differences, he advises.
He feels every Nepali should dream about an ideal and prosperous Nepal 10-20 years down the line--as an integral part of the Appreciative Inquiry approach, draw positive images of this and work collectively to make the dream a reality.