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Activity Makeover Using Appreciative Inquiry: From STUPID to SMART

In the last few years I have become a devotee of Appreciative Inquiry, I think it is a useful, energizing frame for learning. However, in some cases, you need to redesign activities, their briefing and debriefing so it is consistent with this approach. It feels a bit like taking a very fattening recipe and making it into a Weight Watchers one – trying to change some of the ingredients so that you still get your delicious chocolate cake, but it is much better for you.

In our workshop this week we played a game called “Thumbwrestling”, which is an excellent game that demonstrates collaboration versus competition. In the end, most people fail, and the debriefing talks about how people aren’t stupid, but the system in which they are operating actually promotes stupid behaviour. In the game, people are given a very short amount of time to get as many points as they can from their “opponent”. They are instructed not to hurt anyone, and given a demonstration that looks like hand-to-hand conflict. The result is that they do the same and they get about 2 points, rather than the 30-40 points they can get when they collaborate. The debriefing question is:

What went wrong?

The answer you get from participants is a useful collection of things to watch out for in the system around you when you are trying to improve your interaction with colleagues. The answers that the participants give as they observe their behaviour in the activity can cleverly be written like this:

Small Goals
Time pressure
Untrusting Partners
Poor Example
Insufficient Vocabulary
Dysfunctional Norms

Now, if you wanted to convert this activity, make your low calorie cake, with an appreciative frame here is a potentially better question, and a way to organize participants’ answers that might give the same insight but not make them feel as foolish:

What would give us a better behaviour?

Sufficient Vocabulary
Major Goals
Appropriate Timeframe
Right Examples
Trusting Partners

You can makeover any recipe and have your delicious learning cake and eat it too. (bit corny sorry!)

4 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    This comment is from Dennis Meadows – why not turn SMART into SMARTS – and add “Superior Norms”? Then you get all 5 points made.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hi. Could you send me details/instructions on how to facilitate the thumbwrestling activity? Can I email you?

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