What you seek you will find – If you are looking for problems you will find them. If you are looking for positives you will find them.
I see every day the instant impact that positivity or negativity has on individual and collective outcomes and trajectory. I frequently coach my students to frame goals as something they want to achieve rather than something that they are hoping to avoid. For example: “I hope I master this course content and get a good grade” vs. “I hope I don’t fail.”
By focusing on the positive you can feel your entire body change. A student when talking about possibilities tends to sit up more, make more eye contact, smile more, and has a visible energy. That same student when talking about his/her fears becomes not just mentally but also physically closed off. He/she will slump down more in the chair, has a harder time making eye contact, sometimes I even see nervous twitching like legs shaking etc.
Dr. Frederickson talks about the amazing impact of positive thoughts in her Broaden and Build theory. This theory illuminates exactly what I have witnessed in others and what I feel in myself when faced with a challenge.
In order to ensure that you are supporting a work/study environment that promotes creativity and innovation, it is important to work hard to protect and encourage positive emotion and perspectives. One way that I do this is ensuring that when we are working as a team on resolving a problem or improving a service, that we focus first on un-analysed idea generation. By protecting the brainstorming process from the negative emotion that can result from instant analysis, we are helping people to feel safe in sharing ideas, broadening the thoughts and actions that we will consider, and generating an upward spiral of energy and creativity that is more likely to result in multiple good options.
I recognise that, particularly in a university setting, there can be a strong desire to analyse and critique everything as soon as it is put on the table. However, if the desire to point out flaws, impracticality, budgetary constraints, etc. can be delayed until a second stage of consideration, then you are allowing for a cross pollination of ideas, and for people to feel open to sharing. You can reassure all involved that we will get to the analysis stage; we can look at all the data points you like, but just not yet. Furthermore, this focus on the positive not only assists in the short term idea generation and problem solving, but also ensures that as a team we have longer term success, well-being and resilience.
Can you think of a time when you were sitting in a meeting and you or someone else had an idea that was instantly shut down? “Well we tried that last year and it didn’t work” . . . “We don’t have the budget for that” . . . “There is no way the administration will approve that” . . . . How did you feel?