A Better Approach to Problem-Solving

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

Most of us are really good at problem solving. We identify a problem, look for the cause, identify possible solutions, implement the best option, and then determine if the problem disappears. If not, we start over. This approach is focused on fixing what’s wrong, but not on optimizing what’s right. When we look for problems to solve, that’s what we will find. This keeps us stuck in negativity, constantly searching for problems to eliminate rather than becoming our best selves. This is surviving, not thriving.

Appreciative Inquiry, developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, takes a different approach. It looks at the best outcomes we want to create instead of problems we want to eliminate. It focuses on success and what works, rather than failure and what doesn’t work. An example would be to focus on getting in the best shape of your life instead of focusing on being over-weight. Below are the four steps to their process, using this example.

  1. Discovery – The best of what is – When have I been in the best shape and felt the healthiest? What factors contributed to this? Specifically, what did I do that contributed to this? What did others do that contributed to this?
  2. Dream – What might be? – What might I be able to do if I were in the best shape of my life? How would I feel physically, emotionally, and mentally? How would I look? What type of clothes would I wear?
  3. Design – What should be the ideal? – What should my ideal weight/body mass/measurements be in order for me to look and feel my best?
  4. Destiny – What will be? – What will I do to look and feel my best? What will I eat, how much and how often? What exercise will I engage in, how much and how often? What else will I do to achieve this ideal state?

This approach creates the opportunity to achieve the best possible outcomes rather than just solving a specific problem. You can use appreciative inquiry with your team, family members and friends simply by flipping a negative problem (destructive conflict) into a positive outcome (good communication and mutual respect) that they would like to have, and then asking the types of questions above. This opens the heart and mind to greater possibilities and achieving our best. May you discover, dream, and design your destiny.

“We need to discover the root causes of success rather than the root causes of failure.” – David Cooperrider

“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” – John Lubbock

 

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