Category Archives: Brainstorming and Creativity

Interview with "Appreciative Intelligence" author Carol Metzker posted at Idealawg

Several weeks ago I posted about Appreciative Intelligence and Appreciative Inquiry, methods for problem solving that reframe problems into possibilities and mentioned that Stephanie West Allen, who introduced me to Appreciative Intelligence, was at that time working on an interview with Carol Metzker, author of Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn.

Stephanie has let me know that she has completed and posted her “Interview of Carol Metzker” on her blog, Idealawg, where you can read more about this innovative approach to tackling difficult problems.

Seeing the oak in the acorn: Appreciative Intelligence a new model for problem solving

Appreciative intelligence helps leaders see the oak in the acornAmong the tools that mediators bring to the negotiating table the most powerful may be reframing. In the words of Bernie Mayer, “The art of reframing is to maintain the conflict in all its richness but to help people look at it in a more open-minded and hopeful way.”

Reframing is also what gives successful entrepreneurs and business leaders the ability to see possibilities where others see problems. This model for problem solving is known as Appreciative Intelligence (AI), according to the two organizational design experts, Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker who describe and analyze its qualities and characteristics, along with methods for cultivating it, in a new book, Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn.

As this article from Ode Magazine explains,

Appreciative intelligence can be defined as the capability of perceiving the inherent generative potential within a situation at hand. Put simply, appreciative intelligence is the ability to see the mighty oak in the acorn. It is the capacity to see a strong trunk and countless leaves emerging from this small nut as time unfolds. It is a knack for seeing a breakthrough product, top talent or valuable solution for the future hidden in the present.

This should all sound very familiar to mediators.

Appreciative Intelligence grew out of Appreciative Inquiry, a method for engaging organizations and groups in developing and implementing positive change and achieving potential.

For more information on Appreciative Inquiry, you can visit the Appreciative Inquiry Commons web site.

(With thanks to Stephanie West Allen for introducing me to AI and for sharing many of these links. Stephanie is currently working on an interview with Carol Metzker for her blog, Idealawg, to be published soon.)

A new manifesto from ChangeThis provides fresh thinking into problem solving

ChangeThis publishes a new manifesto introducing a different approach to problem solvingBack in December I introduced readers to ChangeThis, which I described this way:

ChangeThis…[is] a web site born of a radical and hopeful idealism: to virally transmit ideas through a culture medium of community, respect, and dialogue.

Recognizing that “the best discussions in science, medicine, business and politics have always been the civil ones”, ChangeThis publishes what it calls manifestos–proposals for change which serve as “a reasoned, rational call to action, supported by logic and facts”. The goalis to provide a forum for “the rational and thoughtful arguments that help people change their minds to a more productive point of view.

Sound intriguing? Be sure to visit this site. And while you’re there, download “Thinking Through Problem Solving” a recently published manifesto written by Valarie A.Washington, CEO of Think 6, a strategic consulting company. Washington’s manifesto offers fresh ideas on problem solving which conflict resolution practitioners will find value in.

Of particular interest are Washington’s insights into the obstacles that inhibit successful problem solving. These include the Einstellung Effect–the extent to which habit or experience hampers our ability to see alternative solutions to a problem–and the Dispositional Effect, which accounts for the disconnect between our ability to address the problem and our will to do so, along with our difficulty in recognizing that there’s a problem in the first place.

Washington ultimately proposes a new model for addressing problems: the Ladder of Problem Solving, a non-linear way of thinking about problems which provides impetus for groups “to develop personal accountability, collaborative problem solving, and growth.”

As Einstein once said–and Washington quotes–“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that we used when we created them. “

Accentuate the positive: studies reveal human propensity for reframing to see good in outcomes

Reframing transforms perceptionMediation can help individuals in conflict gain new perspective, bringing fresh insight and understanding of each other and the underlying conflict.

To enable disputants to see things differently, mediators utilize a technique called “reframing” to assist parties to redefine the way in which they understand or conceive of a problem. Bernie Mayer said it best: “The art of reframing is to maintain the conflict in all its richness but to help people look at it in a more open-minded and hopeful way.”

As it turns out, humans already possess a great capacity for seeing things in a more positive light. Those of you who are fascinated by the mysteries of human behavior will find much to ponder in two studies described in this article from the Wall Street Journal which xamined the human propensity to interpret negative outcomes in the most positive light possible.

Most of us would safely assume that we would recognize immediately when an outcome resulted which we did not intend, particularly when that outcome is not our desired one. But a study on decision-making, conducted by researchers at Lund University, challenged that assumption. Subjects were convinced that those less desirable outcomes were the ones they had actually intended, despite the evidence of their own senses.

In addition, research conducted by Professor David Gilbert of the Department of Psychology at Harvard University reveals that our brains “strive to provide the best view of things”. In tests performed using optical illusions in which an object can be perceived in any number of ways, when humans were rewarded for seeing one particular view of that object, they were no longer able to perceive the object’s other views. In other words, we are hard-wired to see things in the best and most rewarding light possible. For further details, read Professor Gilbert’s online article at

This ability to see the best view of events and objects obviously helps us as humans build resiliency and adapt to change, particularly when that change is difficult. It undoubtedly aids us when we are faced with conflict. Reframing comes naturally to us.

(This does raise some intriguing questions for mediation practice. Do we do good or harm when we assist parties in reframing their conflict? Should mediators be wary of exploiting the human susceptibility to see intention and choice in unintended outcomes, to see the positive in less than optimal results? Or does reframing innocuously and simply draw upon our natural propensity to seek the view that is most rewarding and ultimately lead people to optimal choices? And what do these studies suggest about choice and informed decision-making on the part of disputants at the table?)

Ethical questions for mediators aside, Professor Gilbert’s article on his studies includes a link to a brilliant animated version of Necker’s cube, a mind-boggling optical illusion, courtesy of Mark Newbold, which shows how many different ways there are of seeing something. While you’re on that page, be sure to follow the link to, a web site featuring one of the best collections of optical illusions I’ve ever seen.

(With thanks to Brad Spangler and his excellent article on reframing at For a different perspective on reframing, download David Hoffman’s article, “Mediation and the Meaning of Life” (in PDF format), originally published in the Summer 2005 edition of Dispute Resolution Magazine.)