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The Power of Positive Thinking

5 Questions to Transform Problem Solving

How can the power of positive thinking change your approach to problem solving?

In our series on problem solving methods we’ve already stressed two crucial principles.

First, start by finding the right problems to solve.

Second, try to see every problem as anopportunity. Both of these principles are understated ideas at the heart of effective problem solving, but they’re often missed in our rush towards a solution.

So don’t miss the crucial first stages in attempting to deal with any problem:

Use your problem solving skills to ask “is it the right problem to solve?

Then consider “what opportunities are created by this problem?”

But how do you focus on opportunities? Perhaps by tapping into the real power of positive thinking – seeing problems as possibilities.

The real power of positive thinking

To focus on opportunities you need to change your mind about how you view any situation.

Two sales executives from the shoe industry were sent to explore a possible emerging market in Africa. Both were eager to seize any opportunities.

The power of positive thinking

A month later each returned to report on their observations. Both executives noted that hardly anybody in the country they’d visited wore shoes.

The first executive was frustrated at a wasted journey, and reported that there was no demand for shoes, and therefore no sales opportunity. The second, full of enthusiasm, reported that as virtually nobody wore shoes, there was a vast untapped market and they should start shipping shoes immediately.

Ignoring any possible ethical considerations, this story illustrates a stark difference in viewpoint. Both executives saw the same situation but while one saw opportunities, the other saw only problems.

Seeing things differently is a characteristic of leadership we discuss in another article.

Astute leadership begins with adopting a mindset which focuses on possibilities rather than on issues or problems.

This possibility thinking is then translated into the right language: possibility speaking, by using questions such as:

  • What if…?
  • Wouldn’t it be great/wonderful if..?
  • How might we…?
  • Why not?

George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote epitomizes the power of positive thinking:

“Some men see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and say, ‘Why not?'”

5 Questions That Create Possibilities

  1. “What if…?” This question considers possibilities and offers options. Use the questions in our article Problem Solving Skill: Finding the Right Problems to Solve” to help you identify areas to investigate. What if we were able to…?
  2. “Wouldn’t it be great …?” Questions such as this lead us to construct a wish list. What things would we really like to be doing? “Wouldn’t it be great if we could conduct business the way we’d really like to do it?” Having a wish list is not just a flight of fancy. Especially if it encourages creative thinking and begins to prompt solutions…
  3. “How might we …?” This takes “what if” and “wouldn’t it be great” a stage further. Asking this question makes you think about how something could be done. How might we increase our sales by 50%? How might we address our customer’s major problems? How might we turn this lost order into a positive?
  4. “Why not / what’s stopping us?” These questions provoke action. Why hasn’t something been done before? What’s stopping us from acting on this idea? Are there any assumptions we need to test? Where do we need more clarity? What are the potential benefits of doing this? What would it take to make this happen?
  5. “What if our success was completely guaranteed?” This final question perhaps offers the greatest potential for harnessing the power of positive thinking. What if we thought we couldn’t fail? What bold steps might we take?

Tips for Implementation

Here are some suggestions to help you encourage the power of positive thinking in your workplace. You could either work through them on your own, or arrange some special team meetings. Allow people to focus on the positive. Encourage possibility thinking and speaking, by valuing ideas. We stress the importance of this emphasis in our article: Leadership Concept.

If you decide to use this activity with your team here is a possible process:

Aim: A creative but structured session on transforming problems into possibilities.

  1. Use the questions in our article Problem Solving Skill: Finding the Right Problems to Solve. These will facilitate a discussion on current and future issues or problems, and enable you to list the right problems to solve.
  2. Once you have compiled your list of problems worth solving, apply all of the five “possibility questions” to each problem in turn.
    • What if…?
    • Wouldn’t it be great/wonderful if …?
    • How might we …?
    • Why not / what’s stopping us?
    • What if our success was completely guaranteed?
  3. This second activity could follow on or be conducted as a separate second stage. It uses the power of positive thinking to encourage creativity.
  4. Develop, feedback and summarize ideas and possibilities.
  5. Decide beforehand on what you think the next actions from the session should be. This ensures that everybody leaves knowing what will happen next. For example, you may ask for volunteers to investigate ideas further and produce feasibility reports.


Where to go from here:


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