Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Intentional Shift

More on Flipping from Deficit to Strength

It’s a phenomenon called “negativity bias.” “Over and over,” Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist, says, “the mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly and persistently than to equivalent good things.” Or as Roy Baumeister, a fellow psychologist, puts it, “It’s evolutionarily adaptive for bad to be stronger than good.” From LIFE@WORK JUNE 14, 2013 Overcoming Your Negativity Bias By Tony Schwartz

So, it’s important to consciously and actively search for a more life-giving, strength-based perspective that expands our capacity to find solutions—to flip the way we are seeing something. An article I co-authored a couple of years ago with colleagues from the University of North Carolina’s School of Government captures these ideas well.  See the excerpt below:

Excerpted from Whitaker, Gordon, Lydian Altman, Margaret Henderson and Sallie Lee, Positive Problem Solving: How Appreciative Inquiry Works, InFocus, Strategies and Solutions for Local Government Managers Volume 43/NUMBER 3 2011 ICMA Press

In the 1995 movie, Apollo 13, there is a scene that epitomizes the concept of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). The infamous line “Houston, we have a problem” let us all know the astro­nauts were in an emergency situation. The physical resources for the ideal solution were not in the space capsule. Back at NASA, the scientists and engineers were gathered into a room. Someone dumps out a box of assorted items and tells them this is everything available in the capsule. It does not matter what else they might have wanted to use in a perfect situation; these things were the available resources. They had to find a way to fix the problem using a random inventory of supplies and tools. The resources that saved the day were the creativity of the engineers and the skills of the astronauts. As history tells us, they were able to find a solution—using the resources they had on hand—that enabled a safe return home.

In the 2010 book Appreciative Leadership [Whitney, Diana, Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Kae Rader. APPRECIATIVE LEADERSHIP, Berrett-Kohler], the authors refer to this shift from the deficit-based to the positive, affirming perspective as the “Flip.” Appreciative leaders have the capac­ity to “see positive potential, and they invite it to come to life by asking positive questions.” They listen carefully to when others are complaining or describing problems, ask questions to discover what is really desired, and then summarize that desired state into a short phrase or topic. Inquiring into existing positive experiences uncovers effective responses to the chal­lenges we face. Mining those positive experiences through dialogue encourages innovation.

This shift to a positive context is essential; it means beginning with the end goals in mind and addressing the challenge by looking at desired outcomes. When we shift our perspective, we shift what we find. If we think our co-workers are too bound up in following petty rules, we can find evidence of that. If we look for ways our co-workers are creatively and actively engaged in meeting the needs of clients while respecting mandates, we can find evidence of that, too. The ways in which people talk and think determines how we approach our decisions and actions. Discussion can enliven or depress. It can spiral us up, down, or leave us spinning.

Sometimes we have to reframe in the moment. We look for the positive opposite of the current problem.  We look for what would be a great outcome, what we want more of, and we look for the strengths and resources we have at hand.

Reframing Fireworks

I’ve never really understood the fascination with fireworks on holidays, but I know they are fun and meaningful for many people.

I regret that I didn’t capture the name of the maker of this photo, which captures the path of lightning bugs [using time lapse] on a forest evening. These are the only kind of fireworks I’m actively looking for on this Independence Day--USA. Happy July 4th to all, wherever you are—I’m celebrating Interdependence and interconnection. I’m celebrating the fact that we still have forests and lightning bugs and bees, and that if they don’t survive, neither will I.  We belong to the same interdependent system.

More on belonging next week.

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