Learning to shift from a drama-filled life to one of empowerment begins with focusing on outcomes more than problems. However, it is easy to get captivated by problems and drawn deeper into only seeing them and the anxiety they create.
David shares a story about working with an executive who had just been promoted to a leadership position. Wanting to make a positive impact, the leader convened several meetings with his new direct reports to answer this question: “What problems do we need to address?”
The staff was not initially aware of a lot of problems on the team. Wanting to follow instructions, they came to the next meeting with a list of a few minor problems. When one person spoke up, another followed. With each meeting, the staff focused on more problems and, as a result, more meetings were scheduled to address them.
By the third month in his job the new executive was disillusioned. It took more and more time to address the problems. The normal one-hour staff meeting became two hours. Mild frustrations grew into gut-wrenching complaint sessions and everyone mired in the weeds of every problem.
The staff reported very little dissatisfaction with work before the executive asked them to focus on problems. On the whole they were happy with their relationships and how they worked together as a productive team. Once the new executive asked them to focus on problems, their conversations focused on even more problems.
Problems become like Velcro. The more you focus on them, the stickier they get.
In the TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)® framework, we share an important concept we call FISBE. The “F” stands for Focus; the “IS” for Inner State; and “BE” for Behavior. In short, what you focus on creates an inner state (your emotions) and your behavior is a response to your emotions. This is a brief but important understanding of how your human operating system functions.
The story of the executive is a perfect example of how the FISBE works in conversations. When the new leader focused on what was going wrong, the staff experienced an inner state of anxiety and their insecurities and complaints (behavior) grew.
Creativity and innovation are almost impossible in an ongoing anxious emotional state that is caused by constantly focusing on problems and what is wrong. It becomes a self-reinforcing vicious cycle.
What if the new executive had asked a different set of questions. For example: “What do you like about your work and relationships? What makes this organization successful? What support do you need to grow and fulfill our collective mission and purpose?”
With these questions the staff’s FISBE, or operating system, would be on what is working and what they are doing well. Their outcome focus would create an inner state of excitement and passion for their collective vision, and the positive ways they work together. Now their conversations are poised to address problems in service to creating the outcomes they envisioned.
Problems do need to be addressed, but most people and groups do not need help focusing on problems. Problem-focused conversations are the default way of living for humanity when there is not a conscious emphasis on outcomes. When problems become the primary focus and not linked to an inspiring outcome, the problems “stick together like Velcro.” Eventually all you see are more problems.
Detach from the trance of constant problem thinking so you can be free to address only those problems that need solving in serve to what you want to create.