David Cooperrider

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David Cooperrider
Weatherhead School of Management's David Cooperrider with Harvard Business School Dean Emeritus John McArthur in 2018.
David Cooperrider (right) with Harvard Business School Dean Emeritus John H. McArthur in 2018.
Born (1954-07-14) July 14, 1954 (age 64)
Years active1985 - Present

David Cooperrider (born July 14, 1954) grew up in Oak Park Illinois, and is the Fairmount Minerals Chair and Professor of Social Entrepreneurship[1] at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, and Faculty Director at the Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit at Case.[2] He also teaches at University of Pennsylvania [3] as well as Claremont University, where he was named The Peter F. Drucker Distinguished Fellow, one of the highest honors in the field of management for his contributions to leadership, change management, and organization development.[4]

Cooperrider is internationally recognized as the founder, together with Suresh Srivastva, of the theory of Appreciative Inquiry.[5] Cooperrider’s original doctoral dissertation Appreciative Inquiry Into Organizational Life has been cited in numerous books as “the first, and as yet, the best articulation of the theory and vision of appreciative inquiry.”[6] It was completed and defended in 1985.

According to Ode, "In the field of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, Cooperrider leads the movement towards a more sustainable future, as manifested in many international forums and gatherings, such as the Global Forum 'Business as an Agent of World Benefit: Management Knowledge Leading Positive Change'". [7]

Appreciative Inquiry[edit]

Appreciative Inquiry was articulated first as a method for building generative theory. It was a call for “a scholarship of the positive,” focusing our attention on “what gives life” to human and ecological systems when they are most alive. Very quickly – beyond its use as a positive organizational scholarship and theory-building method – the applied power of appreciative inquiry was discovered, and soon it spread to many domains such as organization development, strengths-based management, applied positive psychology, evaluation studies, change management, coaching and counseling, corporate strategy, sustainable development, social constructionism, design thinking, biomimicry, and learning theory.[8]

In a New York Times best-selling book, Marcus Buckingham traced it and concluded that the theory of Appreciative Inquiry was one of the three most important academic catalysts for the strengths revolution in management. Beyond the seminal work of Cooperrider and Srivastva, the other two giant sources of the strengths revolution in management included Peter Drucker’s Effective Executive and Martin Seligman’s call for a Positive Psychology in 2000. Together, appreciative inquiry, Drucker’s management theory, and positive psychology have created a society-wide positive-strengths movement “because it works.”[9]

What is AI’s big idea? It began with the observation that ever since Taylorism managers, researchers and consultants have seen organizations not only in machine-like terms, but in deficit-based terms as "problems to be solved" or fixed. True to Abraham Maslow's observation that "to a hammer everything looks like a nail," those same managers and consultants became, over the years, quite good at finding, analyzing, and sometimes solving problems in organizations. So much so that organizations became problems personified—and hence a whole vocabulary of deficit-based change grew up centered on concepts like “gap analysis,” “organizational diagnosis,” “root causes of failure,” “resistance,” “unfreezing,” “needs analysis,” “threat analysis,” and the need for high levels of dissatisfaction and urgent “burning platforms.” Much like diagnostic medicine with its focus on illness, management had become locked in a problem-analytic view of the world, especially when it came to concepts and tools for managing change.[10]

Early in the 1980s almost two decades before the positive psychology field was christened, Cooperrider began to question the deficit-based change field and the root metaphor that “human systems are problems to be solved,” and he observed that the pervasive problematizing perspective was constraining and limiting, just as industrial-era machine metaphors were also limiting. Cooperrider and Srivastva, in their earliest work at the number one heart center the world, the Cleveland Clinic, engaged in a radical reversal of the traditional problem-analytic approach. Influenced by the writings of Albert Schweitzer on “reverence for life,” they determined that organizations are not institutional machines incessantly in need of repair and that deteriorate steadily and over time. Rather organizations are, fundamentally, living systems and centers of human relatedness, alive and embedded in amplifying networks of infinite strengths. Instead of problems-to-be-solved, human systems are mysteries-to-be-appreciated; in a very real way they are products of the miracle of human interaction and relatedness. And the more we study “what gives life” versus “what’s wrong” the more we move in the direction or become what we study. Instead of studying low morale, for example, we should study human flourishing in the workplace “because human systems move in the direction of what they study.” The simple act of observation in a human system changes the phenomenon itself. In physics it’s called the Heisenberg Effect. But in human systems it’s even more powerful. Cooperrider called it “the exponential inquiry effect” to indicate how our first questions, like the early stage of a snowball, can grow into exponential tipping point movements. That's why he writes: “We live in worlds our questions create.”[11]

In a classic conversation between Cooperrider and Peter Drucker, they found something in common: a realization that strengths do more than perform, they transform. For Drucker, the development of an appreciative eye is, in essence, the first task of great leadership. “What is leadership all about?” he asked “Leadership is about the creation of an alignment of strengths in ways that make a system’s weaknesses irrelevant.” That is what appreciative inquiry does: it provides the theory and tools for (1) the elevation of systemic strengths; (2) the unification and configuration of systemic strengths; and (3) the magnification of systemic strengths outward into society, that is, the discovery and design of positive institutions that bring our highest human strengths, such as love and courage, into the world.[12]

Today, Appreciative Inquiry’s strengths-based tools and social constructionist concepts of human knowledge have been translated into many powerful practices: the “4-D” action-research cycle of discovery, dream, design, and destiny; the Appreciative Inquiry Large Group Summit method; the art of the “unconditional positive question (see Encyclopedia of Positive Questions); the SOAR approach to corporate strategy (versus SWOT); AI Executive Coaching; the Appreciative Inquiry massive online planning and design studio; generative metaphor intervention; the worldwide appreciative inquiry into Business as an Agent of World Benefit; and many others. What is so noteworthy about AI as a social construction is that it was treated, right from the beginning before open source, in an open, collaborative kind of way. Cooperrider made a decision early on: no trademarks or copyrights. In fact, Cooperrider always put on the cover pages of notes and his slides, just the opposite of copyright: he said instead “right to copy.” As a result, the collective creativity of the whole AI community and field, and its impacts into OD, positive psychology, social constructionist thought, family therapy, and strengths-based management has burgeoned. The “AI Commons,” a web platform for the free and full sharing of AI resources, receives millions of hits every year.[13]

New David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry

Dedicated on November 8, 2014, The David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College became the only academic center in the world focused entirely on Appreciative Inquiry. The center is run by former Cooperrider graduate student and now Academic Director of the center, Dr. Lindsey Godwin. The stated purpose of the Center is to educate leaders to be the best in the world at seeing the best for the world, in order to discover and design positive institutions – organizations and communities that elevate, magnify, and bring our highest human strengths to the practice of positive organizational development and change.[14]

Dr. Cooperrider will serve as honorary chair of the Center, act as strategic consultant for the Robert P. Stiller School of Business at Champlain College, and participate in executive workshops at the College’s Burlington, Vermont campus and in other locations.

“The Stiller School of Business at Champlain College welcomes Dr. Cooperrider to an institution that is fast becoming the finest professionally and globally-focused small college in the U.S.,” said Donald Laackman, president of Champlain College. “Teaming with Dr. Cooperrider, our growing network of scholars, executives and certified Appreciative Inquiry practitioners will demonstrate and teach how strengths-based organizations can and do succeed.”[15]


Cooperrider’s impact on the fields of leadership, human development and management theory is significant. His work at Case Western Reserve University in the early 1980s on Appreciative Inquiry anticipated – and helped bring about – today's positive psychology movement, strengths-based leadership models, and positive organizational scholarship (POS), where Kim Cameron, Robert Quinn and Jane Dutton called Appreciative Inquiry “a pillar.” Management scholar Robert Quinn, in a 2000 book Change the World declared that “Appreciative Inquiry is revolutionizing the field of organization development.” Nobel Laureate Kofi Annan, likewise, wrote these words after calling upon David Cooperrider as an advisor and using Appreciative Inquiry to bring over 500 CEO’s into a world summit at the UN: “Without your innovative methodology of Appreciative Inquiry, it would have been very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to constructively engage so many leaders of business, civil society, and government.” A UN Leaders report for the Global Compact’s 8,000 corporations said “Appreciative Inquiry is the best large group method in the world today.” [16]

All of this also affected the experiential learning field. For his contribution to organizational learning and development Cooperrider was given the highest honor – The Distinguished Contribution Award to Workplace Performance and Learning by the American Society for Training and Development – in 2000, in part because of his book with Suresh Srivastva called Appreciative Leadership and Management: The Power of Positive Thought in Organizations. Then, in 2004, for his world inquiry with Ron Fry into Business as an Agent of World Benefit, the Aspen Institute gave him the “Faculty Pioneer for Award for Impact” in the domain of sustainable development. That work, including his book with Jane Dutton on The Organization Dimensions of Global Change: No Limits to Cooperation has given birth to two major institutions and endowments: The Fowler Center for Sustainable Value and the ongoing global forum series hosted by Case Western Reserve University in partnership with the UN Global Compact and Academy of Management titled “The Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit.”[17]

Educational background[edit]

Professor Cooperrider completed his undergraduate studies at Augustana College in 1976.[18] He earned a Master's of Science at Sir George Williams University in 1983.[18] His Ph.D. was conferred by Case Western Reserve University in 1985.[18]


Cooperrider has published 22 books and authored more than 60 articles and book chapters. His book (with Diana Whitney) Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change – a short primer on Appreciative Inquiry – is a best-selling book at Berrett-Kohler Communications with multiple printings. Several of his books are in their second edition, and his original article on Appreciative Inquiry (with Suresh Srivastva) in 1987, which appeared in the series Research in Organizational Change and Development, Vol. 1, has been reprinted more than any other article in this 17-year-old research series. Cooperrider’s GoogleScholar citations exceed 7,000, and thousands of books now reference Appreciative Inquiry. Cooperrider's writings include:


  • 1985, Appreciative Inquiry: A Methodology for Advancing Social Innovation. Phd Dissertation by David Cooperrider
  • 1990, Appreciative management and leadership: the power of positive thought in organizations coauthored with Suresh Srivastva.
  • 1998, Organizational wisdom and executive courage coauthored with Suresh Srivastva.
  • 1999, Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking human organization toward a positive theory of change coauthored with Peter Sorenson, et al.
  • 1999, The organizational dimensions of global change: No limits to cooperation coauthored with Jane Dutton
  • 2001, The Appreciative Organization coauthored with Harlene Anderson, et al.
  • 2001, Encyclopedia of positive questions coauthored with Diana Whitney
  • 2004 Appreciative Inquiry handbook: For leaders of change. coauthored with Diana Whitney and Jackie Stavros.
  • 2004 Discourse and change in organizations. Volume one in Advances in Appreciative Inquiry coauthored with Michel Avital.
  • 2005 Appreciative Inquiry: Foundations in positive organization development, coauthored with Peter Sorenson et al.
  • 2005 Appreciative Inquiry: A positive revolution in change with Diana Whitney.
  • 2007 Handbook of transformative cooperation, coauthored with Sandy Piderit and Ronald Fry
  • 2007 Designing information and organizations with a positive lens. Volume two in on Advances in Appreciative Inquiry coauthored with Michel Avital and Richard Boland.
  • 2008 Essentials of Appreciative Inquiry coauthored with Diana Whitney and Jackie Stavros.
  • 2010 Appreciative Inquiry and Sustainable Design. Volume Three in Advances in Appreciative Inquiry coauthored with Tojo Thachenkery and Michel Avital.
  • 2010 Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders to Enact Corporate Citizenship: The Call and Opportunity for Business Schools coauthored with Ronald Fry.
  • 2012 Advances in the Ai Summit: Explorations into the Magic of Macro and Crowdsourcing coauthored with Lindsey Godwin et al.
  • 2013 APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY: An innovative approach to personal and organizational transformation, with Miriam Subriana.


Cooperrider is best known for his work in the field of appreciative inquiry, an organizational development (OD) methodology for organizational renewal.

His works include:

  • Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J. M. (2003). Appreciative inquiry handbook. Bedford Heights, OH: Lakeshore Publishers.
  • Cooperrider, D. L. (2007). Business as an agent of world benefit: Awe is what moves us forward. [1]
  • Cooperrider, D. L., & Whitney, D. (2008). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative inquiry. [2]


  1. ^ "David Cooperrider, Weatherhead".
  2. ^ Faculty at Weatherhead School of Management
  3. ^ "Positive Psychology at Penn".
  4. ^ "David Cooperrider, LinkedIn". LinkedIn.
  5. ^ "Tapin, The Appreciative Inquirers Network" (PDF).
  6. ^ "Appreciative Inquiry" (PDF).
  7. ^ "Intelligent Optimists". Archived from the original on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
  8. ^ "What is Positive Organizational Scholarship".
  9. ^ "Penn State University, Marcus Buckingham".
  10. ^ "Maslows Hammer, Psychology Today".
  11. ^ "Emerald Insight".
  12. ^ "YouTube".
  13. ^ "Encyclopedia of Positive Questions".
  14. ^ "Champlain College, Appreciative Inquiry".
  15. ^ "Champlain College News Room".
  16. ^ "Weatherhead School of Business at Case Western Reserve University".
  17. ^ "Weatherhead School of Business at Case Western Reserve University".
  18. ^ a b c Waddock, Sandra (2015). Intellectual Shamans. Cambridge University Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-1107085183. Retrieved 2018-07-26.

External links[edit]