Whether facilitating a group or developing a learning program, where should we focus the bulk of our attention – areas of strength or areas that fall short of the ideal? Most of us are well conditioned to believe that if we focus on problems and areas requiring improvement, this will actually help us perform better.
The sad truth is that only 32% of workers have the opportunity to do their best. (Gallup, US Survey, circa 2007). Research by Professor Emeritus Ron Lippitt (Univ. of Michigan) showed that when work groups focus on problems, two things occur. First they become more depressed, and secondly, they focus their energy on how to avoid pain rather than how to creatively move towards what they desire. As facilitators and instructors, we would do well to heed these learnings and adopt strategies that build on strengths and what’s working.
Focusing on the Positive Core
- Would you ask people to focus the bulk of their energy and effort on what they do worst as a strategy for highest return on investment? Rather, use Appreciative Inquiry to discover what works and areas of strength, and find ways to transfer these learnings to areas requiring improvement, in order to move towards the desired future.
- When we operate from our strengths, we are often in the ‘flow’ (or for atheletes, the ‘zone’). We become more confident, focused, and creative; we lose track of time and are generally inspired to produce better results, faster.
- We’re happier when we can operate from our strengths, yet according to Gallup only 32% of employees have the opportunity to do so. Imagine the latent potential that can be tapped with more inspired, confident, and powerfully effective people on your team! ,
- Focusing on people’s strengths benefits the organization and the people who work there. Leverage this power by focusing your facilitation and learning programs so that people can refine and expand their inherent talents and abilities, rather than on the Training painful ‘areas of improvement’.
Following on the heels of last week’s inspiring Appreciative Inquiry conference, I came across an example of AI in action, and it relates to a personal story.
During some of the remaining last days of the pre 9-11 era, on May 25th 2000 to be precise, I participated in a special dialogue hosted by the US National Security Commission on Building for Peace (see what I wrote about my experience, Dialogue: Organizing for Conflict Prevention). The unique idea I brought into the room was inspired by Barbara Marx Hubbard’s Synergy Centre concept – to create a new Peace Room function in the White House (and in all the government houses of nation states around the world) devoted to scanning, mapping, connecting and looking for what is working of local and global developments, innovations, discoveries and processes that contribute to a co-creative society (e.g., peace, security, sustainability and a humane, regenerative world). My fellow participants considered this to be a promising and bold social innovation that a visionary new American president might adopt (the dialogue results were to form part of the report of the USNSC to the President and Congress after the election). The post-9-11 reality took the United States in a different direction.
I discovered today that a group of people through WorldChanging.com have taken up a similar idea, and are doing just that – inviting people to look for what is working in the world. Their appreciative and simple premise is this: “that the tools, models and ideas for building a better future lie all around us. That plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected. That the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it’s here. We only need to put the pieces together.” They have already compiled a 600-page book of emerging innovations and solutions for building a bright green future, from disaster relief to sustainable business. What could be possible if people everywhere went looking for, and acted upon, what is right with the world?
“How can we design the social architecture of our organizations and communities so that our most cherished values are embedded in the underlying design (i.e., the relationships, practices, programs, processes, products, services, policies, communications and technology)?” - Diana Whitney, Creating Dynamic Destinies, Appreciative Inquiry Conference in Vancouver February 15-16, 2007.
This is the invitation of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) – the study of what gives life to human systems when they are at their best, and a process for translating ‘our best’ into the design of positive futures. The foundations of AI are:
- Wholeness – giving all stakeholders whose future is affected an equal voice.
- Story – engaging people in a narrative-rich exchange of personal experience to foster learning and deepen respect across boundaries of differences.
- Relationships – providing opportunities for people to make meaning together – and from a positive core, to discover how to co-create a desired future.
I feel privileged to have shared two intense days of learning and connection through a conference design that modelled how a social architecture can inevitably lead us to ‘live our most cherished values’ – intimate conversation even in large groups, supportive community, goal-setting grounded in our deepest values, and committed action based on voluntary, self-authored effort.