Reciprocal Model

A to Z of
Creativity Techniques
Receptivity to Ideas
Reframing Values


The Reciprocal Model describes creative work (and, arguably, all work) as a cyclical four-step process. The model is useful as a descriptive and prescriptive tool for leaders who want to direct individual, group, organizational, or community efforts in a more creative direction. Aspects of it have been taught in the Pacific Northwest at workshops for project managers, sustainability coordinators, and organizational development professionals.

The Process

The process consists of these four stages:

  • Appreciate what is
  • Explore what could be
  • Challenge what should be
  • Produce what will be

And each stage ends with a decisive transition:

  • Appreciate ends with Acceptance
  • Explore ends with Focus
  • Challenge ends with Commitment
  • Produce ends with Delivery

The Recipe

The model can be used as guide for action.

Appreciate What Is

  • Stop work
  • Find a safe environment where work distractions are minimized
  • Understand the material impacts on all stakeholders of what has been done so far
  • Understand the non-material impacts (emotional, spiritual, etc)
  • Don't forget to understand the impacts on you and your colleagues!
  • Make peace with the situation as it is (i.e. Accept)

Explore What Could Be

  • Let go of any feelings of responsibility for changing things or making things happen
  • Engage with the environment in which you're operating
  • Indulge your curiosity and playfulness - enjoy yourself!
  • Come to a realization about what is really important (i.e. Focus)

Challenge What Should Be

  • Re-engage with your feelings of responsibility for making change happen
  • Identify strategies to bring what is really important into being
  • Ruthlessly but respectfully challenge each strategy, using appropriate criteria
  • Don't forget what is really important!
  • Settle on one strategy that you will follow and that you can believe in (i.e. Commit)

Produce What Will Be

  • Be clear on the description of your work product
  • Assemble the necessary resources, support, and influence
  • Take whatever steps you seem necessary to plan, execute, manage, and assure quality
  • Adjust plans on-the-fly as necessary to accommodate reality on the ground
  • Keep your benefactors and supporters well-informed!
  • Come to closure with a work product that is complete (i.e. Deliver)

The Model

The Reciprocal Model was inspired by the career experiences of Bob Lieberman, a professional musician, writer, and software technology professional who teaches and consults in the Portland, Oregon area. It takes its name from the reciprocal attention we tend to give to our conflicting (but complementary) human needs for survival and fulfillment. As the pendulum of attention swings first one way and then the other, it drives us through the circular progression of activities.

We engage in the Appreciate and Explore activities when we're meeting our fulfillment needs, and the Challenge and Produce activities when we're meeting our survival needs. The continuity of the four activities permits us to remain connected to both sides of our humanity as we work.

The process itself is deceptively simple, often leading to the mistaken conclusion that it is already being followed. In practice, for-profit organizations (banks, manufacturers) tend to overemphasize the Produce activity, while altruistic organizations (arts, social services) overemphasize the Explore activity. The key to the creativity in the process is that all four activities must be given their full due, with no skipping or rushing. Any delays introduced by that approach are more than outweighed by the dramatic improvement in the innovation, quality, and suitability of the work products and in the enjoyment and satisfaction of the participants.

Further Reading

Cultivating Creativity – Adaptive Leadership Strategies

The Reciprocal Model