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This Focused Performance Weblog started life as a "business management blog" containing links and commentary related primarily to organizational effectiveness with a "Theory of Constraints" perspective, but is in the process of evolving towards primary content on interactive and mobile marketing. Think of it as about Focusing marketing messages for enhanced Performance. If you are on an archive page, current postings are found here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Accentuate the Negative -- According to a Psychology Today article -- Our Brain's Negative Bias -- the human "brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news." It goes on to discuss the necessity for an imbalance of good experience to bad to maintain quality of life. This sensitivity to negativity makes perfect sense, given the primal nature of "fight or flight" responses -- it's only after we successfully avoid pain that we can appreciate pleasure. We need to survive before we can thrive.

(Come to think of it, in project management, we call it "risk" management, not "opportunity" management despite efforts of trainers and consultants to remind us that this process should address both.)

Some time ago, I wrote about something similar to this in one of the earliest columns in my Unconstrained Thinking series. Back then, I pointed out that people are great at being negative. We are always willing to talk about our problems -- we love to "bitch and moan." If someone offers a solution, it's real easy to point out what's wrong with it -- unintended side-effects that the solution creates or why it won't really accomplish its objective. And once we've agreed that something might be a good idea, most of what goes through our minds is why we can't make it happen -- obstacles and hurdles. As I wrote in the old piece...
Have you ever been in a brainstorming session in which the facilitator was one of those “cheerful Charlies” who tell the group that it’s against the rules to say anything negative about an idea? How many rounds of ideas went by before you were biting your lip?
The point is that our problem solving processes should not rely on unnatural positivism, but rather on what people have demonstrated as a common core competency -- the ability to throw wet blankets.

Taking advantage of this natural tendency is one of the cornerstones of the TOC (Theory of Constraints) Thinking Processes. As pointed out in Taking Advantage of Resistance to Change, CRTs (Current Reality Trees) benefit from a wide range of starting point problems so that they can pinpoint common root causes upon which a leveraged solution can be built. NBRs (Negative Branch Reservations) are logical descriptions of what can go wrong if we follow a particular path; once the logic of the reservation or concern is verbalized, something can be done about it. PRTs (PreRequisite Trees) start off with a collection of obstacles; it's obstacles that are the reason we need to develop tasks and milestones to an objective -- obstacles that will be there whether we identify them or not, so it's better to aggressively solicit them then to hope that they're not there. Being a "nattering nabob of negativism" can provide a lot of positive results -- if we have processes to accept it and handle it appropriately.

Those lists of "idea killers" that we're so used to seeing before brainstorming sessions reflect natural negativity. Don't ignore them. Don't try to squelch them. Take advantage of them.

And oh yeah, don't forget to have some fun while doing so.

(Thanks to Stephen Norrie for the pointer to the Psych Today article.

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