Mason Professor Details ‘Appreciative Intelligence’ in His Book

Posted: April 25, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Tojo Thatchenkery
Tojo Thatchenkery

Tojo Thatchenkery was born in India, and the British model of education was a large part of his formative years.

The ability to debate was held in esteem, as was “constructive criticism,” or the ability to point out holes in someone’s logic.

“That was valued in India,” says Thatchenkery, professor in the School of Public Policy.

That approach caused some problems when he moved to Ohio in 1987 to start a doctoral program in organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University.

“When my turn came to do a seminar, it was pay back time! I got a taste of my own medicine!” he writes in the preface of a book he wrote, along with Carol Metzker, titled “Appreciate Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn.”

Metzker, who studied under Thatchenkery at Mason, has a master’s degree in organizational learning from Mason. She now lives in the Philadelphia area.

Thatchenkery has a background in psychology and had been mentored by those who created the “appreciative inquiry” methodology. This came in handy later when studied the entrepreneurship of the leaders during the technology boom in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s.

There are three components of appreciative intelligence, according to the authors:

  • Reframing

  • Appreciating the positive

  • Seeing how the future unfolds from the present

“As I talked to leaders about what they do, I found that they typically engage in a significant amount of reframing: bringing out the best in people,” says Thatchenkery, who came to Mason from Case Western in 1993. He says the ability to reframe is partly learned and partly innate, and positive aspects of nearly every situation “are there if you look for them.”

“Appreciative Intelligence is the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present,” the authors write. “Put in a simple way, Appreciative Intelligence is the ability to see the mighty oak in the acorn. Metaphorically, it is the ability to see more than the present existence of a small capped nut. It is the capacity to see a strong trunk and countless leaves as emerging from the nut as time unfolds.”

The authors continue, “Appreciative Intelligence is a mental ability that affects how the world is perceived and, in turn, deliberately thought about and acted upon.”

The authors point out that the story depicted in the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda” is an example of appreciative intelligence.

During the 1994 Rwandan massacre about one million people were killed, and the violence left three million people refugees.

But Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of a hotel in the Rwandan capital, helped to save the lives of about 1,200 people who were staying at the hotel when violence broke out.

“He reframed guests as refugees, the luxury hotel as a refugee camp, and the hotel’s pool as a source of water after their supply was cut off. Instead of feeling helpless and giving up after the international peacekeepers deserted him, he saw an opportunity to cash in on his social capital he had built with the military and police. Using his positive attitude, exceptional capacity to see possibilities amidst the violence and darkness around him, and positive language, he worked the system and began cashing in every favor he had ever earned, bribing the Rwandan Hutu soldiers and keeping the militia away from the refugees for one hundred days,” according to the book.

“Appreciative Intelligence” has been well received. The book has already been translated into four languages, and Harvard Business Review chose it as one of its recommended books for 2006.

Mason President Alan Merten told Thatchenkery he enjoyed the book, and the professor invited Merten to one of his classes last semester. Merten spoke of how he has used appreciative intelligence during his nearly 11-year tenure at Mason.

A short article on Merten’s views on appreciative intelligence may be found in the January/February 2007 issue of Currents, the monthly online newsletter of the School of Public Policy.

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