Look for the Good Stuff
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In their book, The Art of Possibility, Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander tell the story of a shoe factory that sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying: SITUATION HOPELESS. NO ONE WEARS SHOES. The other writes back triumphantly: GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY. THEY HAVE NO SHOES.
You probably know people who see their life circumstances as hopeless. Other acquaintances of yours view their life situation as a glorious opportunity.
What about you? How can you go about creating more opportunity and success for yourself?
Watch the Questions You Ask!
The secret of making a great life for yourself is in the questions you choose to ask. What are the right questions?
You have to ask about the good stuff. People don’t usually do that.
When most people encounter a new situation, challenge, or bad news, they ask questions that aren’t very helpful:
“Why is this happening?”
“What is the matter with me?”
“Why is this person being so nice to me? What’s s/he up to?”
“How come so-and-so is such a jerk?”
“When do you suppose this will fall apart?”
“Why is this organization in such a mess?”
“Whose fault is this?”
These questions look for what is wrong or what might go wrong. They are not looking for the good stuff.
It’s understandable that we would ask questions such as these. The media focuses our attention on all the bad news in our world. DV Sridharan, a citizen of India, got so tired of the bad news about his nation that he started his own publication, Good News India. That’s all it carries – just the good news of what is going right.
In addition, we live in a Newtonian world that sees machine-like cause and effect behind everything that happens in our lives – personally or globally. To create better lives, we think we have to analyze situations, find “root causes” of problems and fix them. That works OK with machines. But, it isn’t very successful with people.
You will always get more of what you ask about. Ask questions about fault, weakness, deficits, error, etc. – and you will only find more of it. No wonder that people get discouraged and feel helpless.
You can choose to use a different approach and ask a different set of questions in your life. You can look for the good stuff. Ask questions about what’s working, what is possible, etc. Opportunity awaits you.
It’s happening for many people already. Let me give you some examples.
Examples of Asking the Right Questions
Appreciative Inquiry Looks for the Good Stuff
Appreciative Inquiry is a breakthrough approach to organizational consulting. It has proven useful in strategic planning, team building, customer service, leadership development, product innovation, change management, and many other applications. The consultant invites stakeholders to ask questions such as these:
“Tell me about a time when this organization was at its very best. What helped to
make it such an outstanding time?”
“If I asked the people in this organization, what do you suppose they would tell
me they most appreciate about your contribution?”
“Suppose, a few years from now, this organization is fully accomplishing its
mission and functioning as the greatest organization it could be. What will be
How will the stakeholders have accomplished this?”
Take a look at Appreciative Inquiry at https://appreciativeinquiry.champlain.edu/.
Asset-based Community Development Looks for the Good Stuff
The Asset-based Community Development Institute has a whole new approach to community development. The traditional process in rebuilding a deteriorating neighborhood is to study all the problems: crime, joblessness, gangs, drugs, homelessness, etc. Then, public and private human service agencies come in to try to fix the identified problems. The residents learn to be helpless and dependent.
John Kretzmann and John McKnight at ABCD start community development with the assumption that there are strengths and resources (not just problems and deficits) within the community. The residents have the capacity and assets to change their community. Kretzman and McKnight ask questions about the neighborhood’s abilities, skills, strengths. The community utilizes it’s own indigenous resources to redevelop the neighborhood.
The institute’s success is remarkable. Look at https://resources.depaul.edu/abcd-institute/Pages/default.aspx.
Solution-focused Brief Therapy Looks for the Good Stuff
Typical psychotherapy focuses on diagnosis of pathology and prescribing treatment. Solution-focused Brief Therapy starts in a very different place. Assuming that clients know more about their life than the therapist, understand what they want, and have good ideas about how to get there, the therapist asks questions such as these:
“When therapy is completed and life is the way you need it to be, what will be
different from how it is now?"
“When has there been a time that you had a little bit of how you need your life
to be again? How did you do that?”
“On a scale of 0 – 10 (0 low and 10 high), where would you say the situation is
now? How have you managed to keep it up to that point? Imagine you decide
to come back in a week or two. How far up the scale do you think you might be?
How will you tell me you got to that point?”
“Suppose you meet a friend some time after therapy is complete. What do you
imagine you will tell that person you did to make these positive changes in your life?”
Solution-focused Brief Therapy has been extremely successful and is used by therapists all over the world for all kinds of mental and emotional problems.
Appreciative Inquiry, Asset-based Community Development and Solution-focused Brief Therapy take a different approach to life. Here are a few of their basic assumptions:
• Look for the good stuff. In every human situation, something works. Do more
of that. Build on it.
• If something doesn’t work, stop doing it. Do something else.
• What we focus on becomes our reality.
• The questions we ask and the stories we tell set the direction for our lives and
• Individuals and organizations change in the direction of their images of the
Look for the Good Stuff for Yourself
Apply this thinking to your life. I don’t know what your situation, challenges or bad news might be. Try some of these questions:
Who am I at my best – the times when I am most alive, engaged and committed?
How do those times give direction to my life?
What is the most creative part of me -- the part from which my best thinking and
When was there a time that I did something meaningful for others? What was the
high point of that experience? What did others most appreciate about my
What are my most courageous dreams? How will I go about realizing them?
As I think about the changes happening in the world, in my work, and in my life,
which of those changes generates hope in me for a better future? In what
ways am I responding positively to this hopeful change?
About your job:
What is the most challenging and exciting career opportunity I have experienced?
What made it challenging and exciting.
What is it about me and the way I do my job that’s best in class? What difference
does that make for me, my colleagues and my organization?
What wishes do I have to further my career or work life? What am I doing
positively to achieve those goals?
About your family:
What have been some of the most inspiring, rewarding or satisfying times I have
had with my family? What made it so? How am I contributing to more times
How has my relationship with my partner benefited or contributed to that
person’s life? How has it enhanced our life as a couple?
What do I most value about my relationship with my partner and/or children?
What might they say they most appreciate about me?
You get the idea? In good times and in difficult times, look for the good stuff.
© Glen Rediehs, Ph.D.
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