Gift Giving Meets Appreciative Inquiry

By Michael Goldman

I recently had the pleasure of taking part in John Bank’s Media for Social Innovation class that he was overseeing down at the EMC. The class was beginning right next to me while I was working on my computer, and John was kind enough to invite me to participate.

The exercise, in his words, was a mission to “redesign the gift-giving experience for your partner.” The purpose of this was to engage in the process used by design professionals to come up with practical solutions to their clients’ problems. The hour long multi-step process involved a Q&A between my partner and I where we used Appreciative Inquiry to delve into the emotions that each of us felt when it came time to buy someone a present.

My partner was fellow EMC employee Rick Harrington. He had several apprehensions about buying gifts that stemmed from pressures he felt to spend more money than he wanted to. He felt “in the zone” when buying gifts only when he didn’t feel compelled to spend a lot on each present. The actual gift-buying process was only fun for him when he happened to find the inspiration for the perfect gift out of nowhere, or if a great idea suddenly came to him of a gift that he could make himself.

After determining the negative aspects of Rick’s gift-buying experience, the next step was to develop several possible solutions that could remedy the situation. The answers I came up with involved Rick visiting stores more in advance to see if he gets inspired by something, writing down ideas of self-made gifts whenever he thinks of them so they are not forgotten, and to pretend he was young and poor again which he described as the most fun time in his life to buy presents.

Fortunately Rick felt that I had both nailed his issue and came up with reasonable solutions that he could potentially implement to make his experience more enjoyable. After we bounced ideas back and forth John asked us to create a visual representation of our solution for our partners. I came up with the “Young and Poor Notes,” a notepad that Rick could take with him when he went to stores where he could write down ideas of potential gifts when inspiration struck him. The goal was to get him to stay in the mindset he had when he was young and poor in order to offset the pressures of spending a certain amount of money.

While Rick and I both felt that my solution could have used a little work, I felt that the overall experience gave me a valuable insight into the process of using Appreciative Inquiry that design firms go through when coming up with ideas to meet their clients’ needs. Just the fact that I was able to randomly participate in such an event at the EMC is great, and shows the importance of taking advantage of different experiences when they are offered.