Imagine yourself on a winter’s night at a beautiful square in your hometown. The square is quite empty and your attention is drawn to the numerous lamp posts surrounding the square. It appears to you that one of the lanterns has a broken lamp. What is your first inner response?
“Oh, what a pity, the entire setting is ruined now that I’ve noticed the faulty one and I can’t get it out of my sight.”
Or: “The broken lamp creates a shadow, that might be a dangerous spot. Tomorrow morning I’ll notify the local council and inform them that it needs to be fixed.”
Or perhaps: “Interesting. It seems to me that all those lanterns at the edges of the square look nice, however in the middle it’s still quite dark. What kind of lighting would be required to really ‘enlighten’ the square?”.
It’s rather fascinating to see how the story of one broken lantern can cause several reactions. If you dig deeper, you might distinguish two approaches. Firstly we have the problem-oriented approach: one faulty lantern ruins the surroundings and only by fixing it does the ‘bad situation become a good one. On the other hand we have the possibility-oriented approach, where one lantern is missing, the place is still well-lit. In this case we ask ourselves, how can we improve the lighting? How can we make an ‘enlightened’ square of this place? This is the Appreciative Inquiry approach, to recognize the existing good and dream about possibilities to make it even better.
- Starting from ‘bad’, we can fix it, resulting in ‘not bad’. This is a very useful approach when minimum quality is needed to guarantee smooth functioning, for example in the case of loose bolts in aircraft construction.
- Starting from ‘good’, there are no boundaries in getting better. Personal health is more than fixing a broken leg. Organizational change is more than ‘reorganizing’, this is where Appreciative Inquiry can provide miracles…
ARE YOU PROBLEM ORIENTED OR POSSIBILITY ORIENTED?
To re-experience the story above in video-format, click on the picture below. In this video, the author of this blog reveals the complete story of the enlightened square, involving the audience. The video was taken at the University of Communication in Mexico-City, before an audience of social workers…
Final questions to you…
1. How do you perceive a situations before you?
2. Do you carry both paradigms in your system?
3. Are 50% filled glasses, half empty or half full to you?