The 5 Classic Principles Illustrated - Diana Arsenian 2016

The 5 Classic Principles Illustrated - Diana Arsenian 2016

Core Principles

Five core principles underpin Appreciative Inquiry practice, creating a framework for AI training.

They are:

  • The constructionist principleWords create worlds: Reality, as we know it, is a subjective state and is socially created through language and conversations.
  • The simultaneity principleInquiry creates change. The moment we ask a question, we begin to create a change. 'The questions we ask are fateful.'
  • The anticipatory principleImage inspires action. Human systems move in the direction of their images of the future. The more positive and hopeful the image of the future, the more positive the present-day action.
  • The poetic principleWhat we focus on grows. Teams and organizations, like open books, are endless sources of study and learning. What we choose to study makes a difference. It describes – even creates – the world as we know it.
  • The positive principlePositive questions lead to positive change. Momentum for small or large-scale change is best generated through positive questions that amplify the positive core - what makes up the best of an organization and its people; often a hidden and underutilized core of strengths.

– From Cooperrider, D.L., & Whitney, D. A Positive Revolution in Change: Appreciative Inquiry. Taos, NM: Corporation for Positive Change, 1999.

Emergent Principles

You cannot step twice into the same river, for waters are continuously flowing on.
— Heraclitus

There are five additional principles proposed by Appreciative Inquiry practitioners*

The Wholeness Principle:

The Wholeness Principle posits that the experience of wholeness brings out the best in people, relationships, communities, and organisations.
— Whitney & Trosten-Bloom

The Wholeness Principle takes the Constructionist Principle one step further and suggests that we are not only influenced by those around us, but are actually part of a bigger collective or whole.

There is a layer of complexity in the whole that is lost when it’s pieces are studied separately. Such fragmented thinking is pervasive in Western culture, and physicist David Bohm explains how we create the appearance of a fragmented world by thinking in a fragmentary way:

In essence, the process of division is a way of thinking about things that is convenient and useful mainly in the domain of practical, technical and functional activities (e.g., to divide up an area of land into different fields where various crops are to be grown). However, when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man’s notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives (i.e., to his self-world view), then man... begins to see and experience himself and his world as actually constituted of separately existent fragments… and acts in such a way as to try to break himself and the world up, so that all seems to correspond to his way of thinking.

It is valuable to be aware of our fragmentary way of thinking and its effects. We are all part of creating the whole we experience, and survival depends on our ability to work together. Consider a family dinner. The next time you sit down to eat with your family or a group of friends, try an experiment in perceiving the whole system. Mentally step back and admire the overall flow of conversation and activities and the role played by different parts. Consider the life experiences that have shaped and moulded this family to what it is today. Remember that whatever we focus on grows, and we can find whatever we want within this experience. Try to look for what you want more of, not less of. In what ways are you supporting positive shifts? What would happen if you spoke about the shifts you are observing?

Wholeness creates deeper understandings of the complexity of the system. Ideas for change emerge as we immerse ourselves within the larger community. We can simply shift our thinking to be more continuously aware of the larger web of relationships in which we exist, and awaken to our place within them.

The Enactment Principle:

Be the change you wish to see in the world.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Whitney and Trosten-Bloom describe the Enactment Principle as:

Positive change comes about as images and visions of a more desired future are
enacted in the present.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.

This principle is about reflecting on what we do and the degree to which it aligns with what we want, and that we can create our ideal future by making changes in the present that align with that future. Changing our actions means walking the talk, even when you feel like you’re wobbling on your feet. Enactment means practicing new behaviours and actions in the present before we have ‘reached’ our vision, big changes begin small – have a go and try it! We create change through our daily incremental conversations and actions that add up to larger changes over time. Appreciative journaling can play a big role here.

The Free Choice Principle:

In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Whitney and Trosten-Bloom say that the essence of the Free Choice Principle is that 'free choice liberates power':

People perform better and are more committed when they have freedom to choose how and what they contribute.

There are internal beliefs that impact our ability to choose freely. Consider a person who feels trapped in a job they dislike and continues to work there year after year because they truly believe it is the only reasonable way they can provide for their family. However their own limiting thoughts about what is possible are playing a part, and surfacing limiting assumptions can be a powerful activity. In journaling, inquire into peak moments and experiences of personal freedom to create more of it.

The Awareness Principle:

This principle suggests we become more aware of our automatic thinking habits and intentionally shifting them in ways that are consistent with the AI principles.

A key part of this is becoming aware of underlying assumptions that influence how we feel and what we think. The Work of Byron Katie i s an accessible way of surfacing and inquiring into stressful beliefs and assumptions and finding out who we are without our stories.
Find out more at

An appreciative voice provides safety for others to speak their truths. It is invitational and watchful. An appreciative voice is unhurried and patient. It can reframe situations to be helpful and resourceful. It is flexible. The appreciative voice is inclusive. It acknowledges diversity and identifies opportunities to offer possibilities to hold the space for transformational shifts to emerge.
— Robyn Stratton-Berkessel

The Abracadabra Principle:

Most people associate the word abracadabra with magicians pulling rabbits out of hats. It’s actually an Aramaic term that translates into English as, ‘I will create as I speak.’ It’s a powerful concept.
— Pam Grout, E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality

The Narrative Principle:

The Narrative Principle suggests that

stories weave a connectedness that bridges the past with the future.
— Barrett and Fry


We create stories about ourselves and our lives that help us organise and make sense of things. We re-author our lives as we tell our stories. Stories are transformative and extremely rich in meaning. They are imbued with images, metaphors, values, lessons, and a host of other things that reach deep inside us. Listening to the stories of others can be very powerful..

Because they operate on emotional and metaphoric levels, stories move us before we ‘know’ why we are being moved. They reach us before we have a chance to put up our defenses.. Stories from the past can convey values, norms, and traditions, which provide continuity and rationale in moving forward. Stories about the future contain powerful images which create that very future, as discussed in the Anticipatory Principle. They have transformative power by their very nature and profoundly influence our course. Better stories are those that bring more of what is desired and less of what is not.

This is an extract from the Appreciating People publication Reflections: An Appreciative Journal and
practical AI resource book
. For more information, or to buy a copy, visit

* The Wholeness Principle, The Enactment Principle and the Free Choice Principle were proposed in The Power of Appreciative Inquiry (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom). The Awareness Principle was recommended in Dynamic Relationships: Unleashing the Power of Appreciative Inquiry in Daily Life (Stavros & Torres). The Narrative Principle was suggested in Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Approach to Cooperative Capacity Building (Barrett & Fry).