How Negative Thinking Creates Positive Solutions
Shooting down ideas is sport to corporate teams.
What happens when new ideas come before teams? People explain why they won’t work!
Don’t you hate people who explain why something won’t work?
I’ve learned to respect, admire, and leverage the insights of people who anticipate what could go wrong.
It’s dangerous to expect plans to work and not anticipate what could go wrong.
How might we screw up:
Create a plan by asking how you might screw up.
Planning – during Covid-19 – feels like chasing greased pigs. Education leaders chase plans for opening schools. Business leaders try to get a grip on re-opening business or bringing people back into the office.
Don’t ask, “How will it work?” Ask, “What might go wrong?”
Set a goal:
We’re bringing our people back into the office, for example.
Leverage negative thinking:
Ask, “How will we screw up bringing our people back into the office?” People might say…
- We could minimize people’s concerns.
- We won’t take appropriate precautions.
- We’ll allow exemptions that create resentment.
- We might under-communicate with customers.
You create adversarial relationships when you defend ideas before anticipating what might go wrong.
#1. Lively discussion:
Use the “How we might screw up” question to ignite lively conversation.
Ease fear and create buy-in by discussing potential screw ups before expecting commitment.
Respect leaders who are talented at NOT screwing up.
Skillful leaders anticipate failure until potential problems are resolved.
Resistance goes down and confidence goes up when people use if-then planning.
- If people express concerns about returning to the office, then…
- If CDC guidance changes, then…
- If people ask for exemption, then…
What could go wrong if you include “what might go wrong” thinking in your planning process?
How might plans be created/strengthened by anticipating what could go wrong?
How to Solve Problems at Work Before they Happen (Inc)
Anticipate Problems with a Pre-mortem (Nobi Acadamy)
Leadership in Crisis – How to Be a Leader (WSJ)
For me “Experience’ has been the great Trainer. After so many thinks in life and businesses being altered, soon a method for “being prepared” develops, you just feel it! Could be instinct, gut feelings, or just “plain old know how”.
About the time you thing you have things mastered ” A pandemic ” shows up. Who would have thought this?
“Seat of the pants engineering” has been around forever, so go with your best foot forward, if you need to sidestep do it, just keep in mind the end results need to be concise and function.
Thanks Tim. A gullible novice thinks only of how something will work. The voice of experience seems negative or harsh, but novices will do well to listen.
Dan, So true, yet sometimes you just have to find out the hard way. I really need to watch spell check “Things’. So me thinks 🙂
It’s great to tell a hard head, “Go for it.” The thing that’s important is to provide time to reflect on consequences and results after something goes wrong.
We’ve got to love our “yes, but” people. They’re our canaries in the mine. If we can answer their questions and concerns chances are we’ll have a great plan.
Thanks Andy. Love the canary illustration. The only thing I would add is that canaries should join the rest of the team in answering their concerns. A contributing canary is a gift.
I’m so glad you dropped in today.
What to do when you’ve anticipated all the big things that can go wrong and explain all the alternates to be taken if those trends realize,
and the canaries won’t shut up, riot, and beat themselves to death in their cage?
Hmm. Let them make noise, but don’t let them lead.
Thanks Henry. So colorful. I’ve seen sincere people act like caged canaries. Maybe they don’t feel heard? But, in any case, it can be challenging.
Very often, non-technical leaders or managers seem to have the view that facts and science don’t apply to them.
Whether it’s ignorance, hubris or simply too much attention to Star Trek I don’t know, but there is a disturbing reluctance to believe that what they want done is subject to the laws of universe.
There’s an old joke that you can’t get a baby in a month by getting nine women pregnant, but the number of times I have had to explain something like this to the new whizzy genius leader it beyond irritating.
Thanks Mitch. My observation is that scientists, engineers, technical people, and consultants are often very good at pointing out what might go wrong. The problem is leaders don’t know how to leverage that talent.
Over the years, these folks have frustrated me, but as indicated, the problem is mine.
There are people who aren’t committed to do what is best. They are saboteurs. We can put them in a separate catagory.
I have found lately that if you are the person who may bring up possible issues with an idea then you are considered negative or not a team player. How can one be this person without being looked as someone not on board?
Wow! This is a great question, Missy. Perhaps one thing to consider is how to convince people that you are committed to moving the agenda forward. Sometimes people who point out what won’t work come off as obstructionists. How might you let people know that you align with organizational objectives? (If you don’t agree with vision/objectives, look for new employment.)
One thing that shifted my thinking was learning that people I thought were foot draggers were simply trying to find a way forward.
One final idea. Have a reputation for getting things done.
If I may – a lot of this problem can be dealt with simply by balancing your approach. Negative Nellie asks “What makes you think that’s going to work?” While someone who is aligned with organizational objectives might say “That’s great, so what will our response be if (this) happens? Could we maybe have a backup approach that looks like (this)?”
I work with Miss Nellie every day and she only complains – never offers a solution and always takes the above first approach. It’s exhausting! She brings up very good points, but I flinch every time she opens her mouth. I do go to her because I’m interested in her perspective, but it costs me every time I do.
It’s great to be that person, but if you don’t want people to flinch or pull away from you gain a reputation for not only pointing out possible problems but also being committed to offering possible solutions as well.
Thanks Elizabeth. You observation about the perpetually negative is on point. It’s simple to solve, even if it might be hard to do.
Start by saying–“I like the idea but I have a few concerns regarding implementation.”
I enjoy using a phrase I once heard my brother use: be a ‘yes, if…’ person, not a ‘no, because…’ person. It creates a different energy around the effort that produces greater fruit. Similar to my friend who taught me to reframe what we were facing as ‘a challenge’ not ‘a problem’. The difference in someone’s response when you say ‘we have a challenge and I could use your help’ versus when you say ‘we have a problem…’ is noticeable. Happy Tuesday to you and all those ‘Yes, if…’ people out there! 🙂
Thanks for your practical suggestions, tavieallan. Very helpful. I think I’m going to write about this tomorrow.
Respect leaders who are talented at NOT screwing up. Skillful leaders anticipate failure until potential problems are resolved. I like this one, I’ve found that with enough experience one seems to have a gut feel as to what might fail and what might work. It’s like an athlete competing, they know what their body will do in at the particular time and they know how they can extend themselves to succeed.
Nicely said, Roger. Perhaps the challenge is helping the less experienced appreciate the voice of experience.
I love everything about this, the post and the comments about distinguishing between a critical thinker who wants to move the odds of success in her team’s favor, and the person who just doesn’t want to do anything.
I spent too much time in college and grad school playing war strategy games. I read some great advice. “Think your line is solid? Suggest that your opponent go refill his coffee cup, and sit in his chair. Look at his forces, then look at your line. All sorts of possibilities will come to mind.”
Love your post, I can’t simply go without leaving a comment. In facing ruining negative thoughts, we need to make sure of ourselves. We need to prioritize ourselves to be better and get rid of such thinkings. So let’s see some of the steps you can take to overtake your negative thoughts. Check this out When Trapped in My Thoughts: What to do with Negative Thinking
Hope this will help. Thanks.