Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another. – Napoleon Hill
There are two ways to deal with the world: scientists try to explain it and artists try to see the value in it.
In other words, scientists try and interpret it while artists try and appreciate it.
But why is that? Is it just natural to look at things that way or is there some reason why artists resist explanations and scientists resist any attempt at being less than completely objective and value free.
These types of questions led David Cooperrider to look again at how organisations functioned and suggest that you could stop thinking in terms of solving problems and more in terms of appreciating mysteries – something he called Appreciative Inquiry.
In other words, stop trying to solve your problem. Instead, appreciate the nature of your situation.
This attempt to reframe the discussion apparently did not go down well.
And one reason for that is the way we react to suggestions – the way in which we react to words.
Before we look at what that means we need to remind ourselves that the things we see in the world didn’t come into existence fully formed and perfect.
Although you now see institutions everywhere – companies, courts and senate halls among them – there was a time when they didn’t exist.
It’s easy to see this if you’ve ever tried to arrange a trip with friends or planned a startup.
The trip or the startup didn’t exist before you started that first conversation with your friends.
The words you spoke to each other, the shared meaning you created and the agreements you made resulted in creating the trip or startup that then emerged.
In essence, the words you spoke had real power – although simply vibrations in air they caused something new to come into existence.
This way of thinking about things is a social constructionist approach – the idea that the world around us is created from the conversations we have.
And that makes the words you say important.
This can be hard for someone like me, who believes themselves to be rational and relatively unaffected by the emotional content of words, to appreciate.
But you can see the impact of words every day – probably every time you have a conversation at work or with friends.
Let’s say you want to start a business – a new agency.
There will be people who will be negative about the whole thing. They’ll tell you it’s a bad idea and list all the things that could go wrong, believing that they are being helpful.
Or perhaps you want to marry someone from a different religion.
Your family may simply say No! Not if you want to remain a part of their family.
There are those people who find problems everywhere they look.
They may agree that things should improve, we should take action but here are the reasons why it needs to be thought through or slowed down or checked over.
These are people who like committees – where good ideas go to die.
Then you have people who are both helpful and positive, people who say yes, and give you more suggestions on what you could do and how you could avoid risks.
Some people believe that what needs to happen is that problems need to be solved – we need to find out what’s wrong and what needs to be done to fix things.
The appreciative inquiry approach tries to use a different approach – a positive one that uses questions and stories to look towards a better future.
Although, it isn’t just supposed to be a way to go to your happy place.
Appreciation is about seeing the whole for what it is, warts and all.
Seeing the beauty of what is as well as noticing the cracks that mar its surface – and then taking steps to touch up or improve its appearance.
But the secret is that the way to creating that new future starts not with decisions, resources or actions.
It starts with words.
And it’s limited only by what you agree to do together.