Ideas to Read and Pass Along

Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

Key to Problem Solving

Feed the Good Wolf
Focusing forward and feeding the good wolf forces you to change the questions you ask, the dialogue you engage in and your entire orientation. A whole field of study has emerged around this concept. It’s called Appreciative Inquiry. Diana Whitney, one of the originators of the concept, says that appreciative inquiry is about making a shift from “problem-oriented, deficit discourse to possibility-oriented, appreciative discourse.”

There is something redeemable in every person and every organization, something good—something that works!

This is the major assumption behind appreciative inquiry. Change—whether it is personal or organizational—is most effectively brought about by focusing on what works, not on what doesn’t work, what’s wrong, what’s broken or what’s missing.

We know, we know… the cynic in you wants to say, “Yes, but most people DO have significant flaws and most organizations ARE riddled with severe problems. Isn’t this a cop out? Doesn’t this encourage us to overlook the real issues? Aren’t we being too simplistic here?“

Perhaps, but for many people the ability to focus on what works is anemic. When something goes wrong, how many times have you heard some version of :

Who made that decision?

Who’s responsible for that?

It inevitably provokes criticism, condemnation, and blame. The assumption is that someone has to pay. Arguments ensue. People spend inordinate amounts of time building elaborate cases for why they aren’t responsible. Defensiveness and mistrust spread while everyone focuses on the rear-view mirror and problem continues.

Your future isn’t in the rear-view mirror!

Pick your survey of choice (360 degree feedback, employee opinion or customer surveys), when the data comes in, what happens? People go right to their problems or weaknesses. When 94 percent of employees say they are very satisfied with the corporate culture what do most of us do? We focus on the six percent that aren’t happy. What if we interviewed the 94 percent and asked:

  • Why are you happy?
  • What conditions or circumstances make this possible?
  • When you are the most fulfilled, hopeful, productive what are you doing?
  • Who are you with?
  • What makes your attitude so appealing? How do you achieve it?

The big idea here is that if you focus on what’s working you affirm people’s strengths. This energizes people, gives them hope and motivates them to change. If you focus on your problems, your problems intensify. The more you focus on why your boss is a jerk, guess what? Your boss gets meaner. The more you focus on why your culture is screwed up, it gets more toxic. The more you focus on how you were misused in the past, the more of a victim you will be. You will certainly become more educated about these problems—and that’s good. But, you will also revisit your pain, reinforce your sense of helplessness and feed your fear. You will potentially remain STUCK because after the deep guru journey into the past your problem will still be there. The weakness in this type of analysis is that there’s no forward movement.

Focus on what you value.