Innovate Through Appreciation

One of the critical parts of the innovation process is getting our great ideas to spread. Diffusion is often the stumbling block for innovative new ideas. There is a section towards the end of Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky that provides some interesting insights into how to attack this problem.

Belsky describes a storytelling workshop that he took which was run by Jay O’Callahan. One aspect of the workshop that is striking is that all of the feedback in it was given in the form of appreciations. After each person told a story, the other participants were not allowed to criticise either the story or the delivery – instead they were all asked to comment on what they appreciated.

Here is a terrific talk from O’Callahan in which he explains this and few of his other key ideas. Well, he doesn’t explain them, he tells us some stories that make the points:

Jay O’Callahan: The Power of Storytelling from 99% on Vimeo.

Here is how Belsky describes the benefits of this approach:

The exchange of appreciations is meant to help you build upon your strengths, with the underlying assumption that a creative craft is made extraordinary through developing your strengths rather than obsessing over your weaknesses. And I noticed that a natural recalibration happens when you commend someone’s strengths: their weaknesses are lessened as their strengths are emphasized. As my storytelling compatriots recounted their stories a second and third time, the points of weakness withered away naturally as the most beautiful parts became stronger.

Or, as O’Callahan says in the talk, quoting cellist Pablo Casals – “we have to leave it to the ignorant and the stupid to just point out flaws, we have to be glad about any bit of beauty.”

There’s an important innovation idea in this. Take a look at this cartoon from Tom Fishburne:

That’s what happens with criticism – we chip away at anything that makes our idea unique or interesting, until there’s nothing left. That’s where I think appreciation could help.

Take a new idea, and instead of looking for weakness, thing about what makes it great. How could you emphasize that even more? Well, do that. Don’t patch up weakness, build on your strengths. Be great at one thing, not average at everything.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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8 thoughts on “Innovate Through Appreciation

  1. I haven’t been for a while but this certainly caught my eye. It’s so easy to say ‘think positive’ but it goes beyond that. It has combined a couple of things I find important as an educator and as a human being: (1) story-telling and (2) appreciation.

    Because these are important to me, I have blogged about them as an educator.


    appreciation (I call it affirmation):


  2. Hi Malyn,
    Good to see you dropping by again – I hope things are well with you. Thanks for the links – those are both really nice posts. Cheers- Tim

  3. Gotta love the positive vibe merchant.

    I’m reminded of Dov Seidman’s TRIPs. Trust encourages Risk, which leads to Innovation, and Progress. By focusing on the positive, we reduce the fear of failure, accelerating forward momentum.


  4. Hi Tim,

    I think that it has become a common practice to highlight an idea’s shortcomings with the intention of making it better. Although constructive criticism can have its benefits, I can’t help but agree with the overarching message that both you and Mr. O’Callahan offer above: positive reinforcement helps you build upon your strengths. The process of of innovation helps create new ways of thinking and new processes. Sure, an idea may have its flaws, but what about the aspects of that idea that hold the potential of making it great? I shiver at the thought of some of the world’s most breakthrough innovations never taking form due to a few too many “It can’t be done” cynics. I think we would be pleasantly surprised if we took a different approach, a more appreciative approach to innovation.

    All the best,

  5. Interesting idea Brian – thanks for that.

    And thanks for stopping by & commenting Erin! I’m glad that you appreciate the post! I agree with you that a new process for managing ideas could lead to better innovation outcomes.

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