It's five years from. Like “Monkeyz Van Winkle” (Rip’s better looking, simian forebear) you wake up from a long sleep. The world around you has changed. You've changed. Your business has changed.
All around you, “work” seems to be happening, things seem to be getting done. The city is humming with economic activity. Elected leaders from both parties are cooperating. They’re looking not only for short gains, but the big picture.
Your kids are doing great. They’re involved in school activities, sports, and each has a budding musical talent: one is quite the singer, and the other is quite the vocalist. Your spouse went back to school, got an advanced degree, and is now pursuing the career he/she always wanted. On the home front, things couldn’t be better.
Your business is booming. Challenging and rewarding work is pouring in, staff is talented and independent, and you’re growing as fast as you like.
You blink your eyes. It all seems too good to be true. What’s been going on for five years? What actions did you take or set in motion back then resulted in this optimal future?
An Exercise to Assess What Works Well So You Can Do More of It
The scenario above is a type of “Appreciative Inquiry” exercise, a way of looking at what’s working well (or has worked well), figuring out why it’s working well, and then focusing attention on doing more of it—figuring good things will come of it.
Appreciative Inquiry uses questions to probe for answers that emphasize personal or professional strengths. The idea is to assess when we or our organization functions best, and identify the characteristics present to make it so. According to the Center for Appreciative Inquiry the resulting positive stories and scenarios tend to “stir imaginations and generate excitement about the individual, team, or organization and what it is capable of accomplishing in the future” much more so than data and graphs.
Positive Thinking Leads to Positive Results
As a group exercise, either for a business, a team, an organization, or even a family, the place to start is to develop a series of positive questions to explore a situation. The thinking is that just by asking such questions, you start to bring about change—and you want the questions framed positively since that will steer the inquiry and feedback in generally more favorable areas.
In the above “Monkeyz Van Winkle” scenario, our situation is forward looking. We imagine it’s five years in the future, things are going great in all aspects of life—beyond our wildest dreams—and we want to figure out how we go there.
Here are some sample questions you might use to guide your inquiry relating to your business (you can adapt these same types of questions to a personal/family situation, or even a broader societal issue):
- What does your successful organization look like? How does it differ from today? How is it the same?
- What processes or systems did you put in place 5 years ago that made this future possible?
- What EXTERNAL challenges did your organization face or overcome on the way to success? How did you address them . . . and who was responsible?
- What INTERNAL challenges did you address, and how did you address them?
- How did you identify the key employees in your organization? What were the criteria?
- What essential talents and skills did they need to learn? How did they acquire them? Who was responsible for coaching and developing your top talent?
- How has your brand evolved in the past five years? What’s new? What’ the same? How do you fulfill your promises to customers?
- How active are your current senior leaders in the day-to-day activities of the company?
- How actively are you developing the next generation of leaders for your organization?
- How will your company continue to grow and evolve with the times to ensure a thriving, successful business for the foreseeable future?
Some Inquiries We Can All Appreciate
Explore the Possibilities
Appreciative Inquiry doesn’t always look ahead. Many inquiries look to the past to help us better understand the present, while still others explore the here and now so that we can identify individual, team, and organizational strengths. By asking ourselves how and why we’ve done things, assessing our current situations, and dreaming of a big, positive future, we can set into motion real change that will drive us down that path . . . and that’s certainly the kind of outcomes we can all appreciate!
Paul June is King Monkey of BARREL O'MONKEYZ, a San Diego-based strategic marketing agency specializing in Sports and Active Lifestyle markets. We serve as a seasoned, outsourced marketing team for companies looking to ramp up sales and launch new products. Our barrel is full of talent and creative arms ready to prove we don’t just monkey around!