Appreciating the fine art of envisioning beyond the acorn

From Canada’s Leading Daily, Globe and Mail
POSTED ON 05/07/06 

Some people look at an acorn and see an acorn. Others look at an acorn and can see the mighty oak that will exist some day in the future.

Those who can envision the oak are likely to be successful. They have what academics Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker call appreciative intelligence -- a positive, creative, entrepreneurial ability that will help them to excel.

"By using appreciative intelligence at work, organizations can build a culture that increases and perpetuates the incidence of success and innovation," the authors write.

There was a time when IQ was the only form of intelligence worth charting and having. These days, following on psychologist Howard Gardner's influential 1980s theory of multiple intelligences, such as linguistic and bodily-kinaesthetic, we have been barraged with a series of books promoting emotional intelligence, social intelligence, executive intelligence, and now appreciative intelligence, all plausibly claiming to be linked to success.

Appreciative intelligence is the ability to perceive the positive inherent potential in the present. The authors say it shows how some people who claim they aren't very smart were able to devise breakthrough products, champion top talent, or concoct a solution to a problem that seemed insurmountable. They saw what others couldn't see.

It involves three components.

Reframing: The person develops a different perspective on an object, person, context or scenario. When everybody sees the glass as half empty, he sees it as half full. It's a value-based judgment call, placing attention on one aspect of a situation and ignoring others. But it opens new possibilities that others don't see.

Appreciating the positive: The reframing that you undertake is positive -- it appreciates something valuable or of worth in the person or the possibility being considered that others have missed.

Seeing how the future unfolds from the present: Many people have the ability to reframe and the capacity to appreciate the positive. But people with high appreciative intelligence connect the potential today with the desired end goal. They see how the future unfolds from the present. Businessman Asa Candler saw the potential for a top-selling soft drink in a failing headache remedy, and gave the world Coca-Cola. A sports or talent scout sees a future star in a young athlete or actor.

"Those with appreciative intelligence have a capacity to endow everyday activity with a sense of purpose. Because they can reframe, they are flexible and actively and spontaneously adaptive," the authors state.

To capitalize on appreciative intelligence, four qualities are necessary.

Persistence: You need to be able to continue in sustained actions over a period to achieve the goal, which is behavioural persistence, and also maintain fealty to the goal for a long time, or cognitive persistence. Persistence, the authors say, is related to self-esteem: High-esteem individuals have a greater tendency to persist in the face of failure or obstacles.

Conviction that one's actions matter: People with high appreciative intelligence believe they can overcome obstacles and even change the world.

Tolerance for uncertainty: They are willing to take risks and grapple with the discomfort of uncertainty or ambiguity. They can tolerate holding two contradictory ideas in their head without quite knowing how everything will work out.

Irrepressible resilience: Time and time again, they can bounce back from difficult situations, thanks to their ability to reframe a given situation to perceive a positive consequence.

We all have appreciative intelligence within us. They key is to develop those abilities, personally or for our organizations. The book offers some ideas on how to manage that, but they're uninspiring, really a first stab at turning the concepts into a practical program for self-improvement. This is more of an academic work, bringing psychological insights and the authors' research into successful people together into a new theory. It's interesting for what it reveals about the notion of appreciative intelligence, but not the handy guide most managers would prefer.

In Addition: Most books of quotation are mammoth, meant to be consulted rather than read. But The Quotable Manager: Inspiration For Business and Life (Gibbs Smith, 280 pages, $17.95), compiled by Joel Weiss, is a convenient package of quotations on topics relevant to managers, such as success, leadership, perseverance, failure and integrity. It is hurt, however, by feeble intros to each chapter -- profiles of people who supposedly exemplify the trait -- and hard-to-read capital letters in the quotes.

Just In:Sink or Swim (Adams, 315 pages, $19.95) by Milo Sindell and Thuy Sindell presents a 12-week plan for getting established in a new job, from casing the joint in the first week to doing lunch in the seventh week to raising your sales in the 12th week.

In The Wall Street Diet (Berrett-Koehler, 202 pages, $36.95), Charles Poirier, Michael Bauer and William Houser use a diet metaphor to show how to make your business lean and healthy.

Consultant Dan Stiff offers advice on creating lasting customer loyalty in Sell The Brand First (McGraw-Hill, 262 pages, $32.95).