Appreciative inquiry gives us the power to transcend current models, thinking, judgements and structures, so we can realize more of our creative potential, explains William E. Smith Ph.D, President of ODII. Bill is an innovative thinker and practitioner in the field of leadership, organization and social development. He’s developed new, creative approaches to organization for multinational corporations, governments, and villages all over the world.

At Wharton Graduate School of Business, Bill discovered a natural organizing process that links purpose, power and action at any level, from individual to global systems. He calls this AIC – Appreciation, Influence and Control for the three universal powers at its core, which he writes about in his latest book, The Creative Power: Transforming Ourselves, Our Organizations and our World.

Bill has applied the AIC process to large-scale complex projects, village development, and to the design of national and global system for organizations such as The World Bank, the United Nations, Plexus Institute, Monstato Pharmacutical, British Airways, and in the Organizational Sciences Program of George Washington University among others.

Q: How does your work relate to creativity?

Smith: I discovered that organizations are all about power relationships. Exceptional organizations have learned how to manage the three fundamental power relationships that are created by any purpose:

Control: the resources necessary to achieve the purpose—ideas, people, things

Influence: the dynamic relationships between those you cannot control but who have an influence on the achievement of your purpose

Appreciation: everything that affects your purpose but which you cannot control or influence. It is this appreciative power—part of every purpose no matter how big or small—that is the source of all creativity. It opens us up to all possibilities beyond our arena of control or influence.

Q: What do you see as the new paradigm of work?

Smith: In the post-WWII period we stopped seeing command and control as the best way to organize. Open systems thinking brought in the consideration of the environment that we could not control but that we could influence.

We have been so successful at building influence that it has become the key problem of our time. We are using influence for control, without consideration for everything else that affects our purpose. That is, we see influence as a way of gaining control without appreciating the consequences for the whole community or world.

So the paradigm shift that I see is to add the appreciative level to every level of purpose—for individuals, for organization and for our global institutes.

Q: What do you see the role of creativity in that paradigm?

Smith: The appreciative field is the field of creativity. Its role is to use our intuitive and sensing powers to extend beyond the current boundaries of influence and control that limit our creativity. They help us reinterpret the realities of our past in new ways. By juxtaposing new future possibilities with new interpretations of our realty we are able to release the most creative of all powers—the power to transcend current models, thinking, feeling judgements and structures.

Q: What mindsets do you see as essential for effectively navigating the new work paradigm?

Smith: Our mindset is another way of naming our appreciative field. The key is to enlarge our mindset to use all the power available to us. In practice this means the pursuit of our ideals – our highest possible level of purpose. The behavior required is to be open to new possibilities for the future and to new interpretations of the past. The two are inseparable parts of our most creative power – appreciation. We can’t have one without the other. The opposition between the two produces the power that moves us to the next level – influence.

Q: What is one approach that people could start applying today to bring more creativity into their work or their business organization?

Smith: The AIC organizing process is applicable to any purpose, from 15-minute problem solving to a 15-year global development program. It works by ensuring that we use all the power available to us. Take a typical meeting or problem-solving session of, say 90 minutes:

1. Express the purpose at the highest possible level: We are here to solve problem A or B. We want to do so in a way that will produce the best possible, i.e., an ideal.

2. Divide the time available into three equal parts of 30 minutes each:

a) Appreciative phase (30 mins): Take a few minutes, individually, to think ideally what you would like to do.

i. Each person reports without comments.

ii. Ask everyone: If we moved out in the directions these ideals seem to indicate to you, what 
realities do you believe we would have to face?

b) Influence Phase (30 mins): What do you believe are the key priorities that we would have to address in taking account of the possibilities and realities expressed?

i. Who would support your priority?

ii. Who would oppose the direction?

c) Control Phase (30 mins): In your own area of responsibility, given everything you have heard:

i. What would you do?

ii. How would that contribute to the larger purpose?

Q: Finally, what is creative leadership to you?

Smith: Creative leadership is the relationship that you have to your world when you are using all three powers of appreciation, influence and control equally. You are being a leader in the sense that you are making the maximum possible contribution you can make to yourself, your colleagues and your world.

In practice, it means coming up with creative ideas; creating new relationships and means of relating to test and spread and augment those ideas; and identifying new resources of ideas, people and things and finding ways to give form to those ideas that are more aesthetic, more harmonious and more economic.

The Creativity in Business Thought Leader Series comes from Michelle James, CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence and producer of the Creativity in Business Conference in Washington, DC.