Practical Developmental Ideas #B5 September 2005

The power of being positive 

When we focus on gloom and what is going wrong, we create gloom and feel hopeless and things do go wrong. It does not have to be that way. This ezine gives some examples of positive ways to think about, our lives, work and world and some sources of positive inspiration. Please tell me what you like about it!

A fairy story 

There were hospitals caring for people in the land. The King decided he would like them to do even better. His wise men visited the hospitals and found out which ones were doing well and which were doing less well. A radio presenter interviewed the leader of the very best hospital and asked her why it was so good. She was delighted to be interviewed, and went into great detail about the superb training her staff received, the support they got from the health care community and the way all the people in the hospital worked as a team.

People in the other hospitals were inspired by the broadcast. They decided if one hospital could be that good then so could they. They learned from what the excellent hospital had done. A year later the King was very pleased about the progress all the hospitals were making and decided he would do the same with schools and prisons.

This is a fairy story, unfortunately

In real life, the Government did produce a list of hospitals (league table) that showed that some were doing much better in cardiac care than others. The radio presenter interviewed the manager of the worst hospital and asked him why it was so bad and what he was going to do about it. The manager got very defensive and said the figures were out of date and there were lots of special circumstances to explain their poor results. The presenter got more and more aggressive.

I imagine that most listeners, like me, felt depressed about the state of health care, the defensiveness of hospital managers, the bureaucracy of the system and the inability of two professionals to have a civil conversation. It does not have to be like this!

The moral

A fairy story always has a moral. The moral for me is that you get what you look for.

If you look for positive feelings, growth, learning and success you will find them.  People are more willing to engage and be open about success and positive things. Positive energy begets positive energy.

Some implications

If we get what we look for, then looking for positive thinking will get us more it. If you type “positive thinking” into Google you get 2,350,000 hits while “negative thinking” gets 314,000. There is plenty to go at and positive thinking is clearly winning. At least some of the articles on negative thinking are about how to change it to the positive variety!

Another implication is the value of investigating and learning from success. I don’t know of any organisations that systematically do this and have good mechanisms for passing it on. Do you? Imagine collecting together and sharing stories about excellent customer service and why it was excellent. You could move everyone’s customer service performance forward.

How about systematically identifying the strengths of the people that work with and around you? Find out what they enjoy and are good at and help them shape their work to fit their strengths. They will enjoy it and deliver astonishing results.

The power of positive imagination

We move towards positive images that we identify with. Imagination is powerful. John Lennon’s “Imagine is not just an enjoyable and touching song. It is also a mental tool that is helping to create the world it describes. It appeals because it resonates with so many of our unexpressed hopes. It is at least possible that if we all connected and shared our deepest dreams about what “Heaven on Earth” would look like, then we would be well on our way to achieving it.

Practical examples of positive engagement

Here are some examples of people and organisations being positive. I hope you find them as inspiring as I do. There are many lessons from these resources that we can take into our own lives, organisations and societies.

Imagine Chicago is an intergenerational project, using appreciative inquiry to engage people across Chicago in thinking about their city and co-creating its future. It has spawned other Imagine projects in cities across the world.

The New group of world servers are people from all walks of like who try to live from a new kind of consciousness. It is set apart from self-consciousness and is more group consciousness. The people who live from this point of view are concerned with the welfare of wholes, with the long-range health of entire systems.

The Pay It Forward Foundation supports practical applications of the idea in quotes. “You see, I do something real good for three people. And then when they ask how they can pay it back, I say they have to Pay It Forward. To three more people. Each. So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do twenty-seven.”

Positive Psychology seeks to understand and build the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. One interesting recent conclusion is that being able to forgive leads directly to happiness in the person or group doing the forgiving.

Positive Ageing is a newsletter that challenges the long-standing view of ageing as decline. It provides resources for understanding aging as an unprecedented period of human development. It has rich and surprising information. For example people who conform to society’s expectations of “old people” and “slow down” live eight years less and are much less happy than those who don’t “slow down” and do what they want to do, not what is expected.

Random acts of kindness foundation. This encourages people to change the world for the better by doing random acts of kindness.  “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate.” Author: Albert Schweitzer

World Good Will aims to stimulate and encourage men and women of goodwill everywhere to establish right human relations between races, religions, nations and classes through intelligent understanding and adequate communication.

What happens if you decide to be positive and it does not work?

I quite like the idea that “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback”. This means be positive and take what you can learn from the failure and move on. If you are feeling really brave, try the thought “My life won’t be complete until I have failed comprehensively at least twice!” Fear of failure is often much worse than the experience.

Surprisingly, marriages where one partner has failed at business are somewhat more likely to be happy than when one partner is very successful. Busy business people often have no time for relationships. So failure in some things might be a good thing!

Next ezines

Your thoughts on what you would like me to cover are very useful. If you have any ideas of what you would like me to cover, please let me know. I had thought to write the next ones on “networking and consciousness” and on “choice and responsibility”. Are these subjects of any interest to you?


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If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick