“Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next. Spend your energies on moving forward towards finding the answer.” ~Dennis Waitley, Motivational Speaker
It is great advice to not dwell on what went wrong.
But how, when we have all been schooled and socialized to fix problems, do you do that? How can you focus on what to do next without thinking about what you did wrong the last time? The process of Appreciative Inquiry has answers for these questions. Several years ago I was fortunate to be able to take a class with David Cooperrider, the organizational development psychologist who innovated AI. I remember a story he told us about the experience that initially led to this process. As a young 24 year old doctoral student he was assigned to work with Cleveland Clinic doing a conventional organizational diagnostic assessment. Impressed with what the hospital was already doing, he was reluctant to ask questions about what was wrong with the organization. He didn’t see anything that he needed to fix. So instead, he decided that he would ask questions, such as: What makes this hospital so great? What is it that you all do to contribute to the hospital being able to do what it does so well?
The response to these questions was surprising to him and led to the first principle of AI, which is referred to as the Simultaneity Principle. This principle suggests that inquiry creates change. What Cooperrider found was that the very act of asking these questions created positive change. As the organizational members thought back about what they did well they became energized and excited. And, as they reflected on these things they asked themselves more questions, such as: Why don’t we do more of that? Why did we stop doing that? Why don’t we go back to doing that? As a result, on their own they started doing these things!
This led to another principle of AI, the Poetic Principle. This principle suggests that what we focus on grows. When the organizational members at Cleveland Clinic focused on what they did right, they were motivated to do those things more. If you have ever noticed that when you become aware of something that it seems to pop up every time you turn around, then you can understand how this works.
So the next time you are trying to figure out what to do next, definitely don’t dwell on what went wrong and DO ask what went right! Try asking these questions: What went well? Why did it go well? How can I build on what went well? Try asking others for their feed forward instead of their feedback.
If you find that you can’t get past something that really did seem to go wrong and the questions about what went right don’t seem to hit the mark, then ask: Can I eliminate the aspect of the project that didn’t go well and develop the parts that did? Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. You can usually drop something that didn’t work the way you had hoped and focus on that part of it that did. We have a tendency to think that when something is not going well that nothing is, but that is rarely the case.
Has there been a time when you asked the question “What went right?” instead of “What went wrong?” that helped you move forward?
Dr. Lynn K. Jones
Certified Personal and Executive Coach