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Don’t Think Purple

The conversation last night around developing Focus Groups for the Kansas EMS Transition project turned toward a topic I have high interest in considering: Are the questions I ask too positive?

I will admit my questions are designed to discover what is working and what is successful. If we are asked not to think about purple, our mind will immediately think about the color purple. As human beings we do not have the ability to think “not purple.” We get more of what we focus on.

So what does thinking or not thinking purple have to do with the positive versus negative focus of my questions. Research has shown that when studying problems, human beings tend to begin by asking what isn’t working, where the problems exist, and looking for the gap between what they want and have. The results are focused on fixing what isn’t working with more energy invested in closing the gap rather than building for the future.

On the other hand, research has shown that when studying success, sharing stories of what is working well and examining what functions best moves organizations and people to create more success.  Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines appreciation as, “to grasp the nature, worth, quality, or significance of; to value or adminre highly; to judge with heightened perception or understanding; to recognize with gratitude; and to increase the value of something” (2003).

My goal is to create and ask questions that encourage people to communicate their understanding of the nature, worth, quality, significance, and value of a program or organization. When I ask questions about what they would wish for, I’m interested in ideas about how to increase the value of a program or organization. I choose to focus not on what people like or dislike, but on studying what experiences are successful . . . information that can be harnessed to create growth and future success.

So here are my goals for questions:

  • Create questions that identify and study the experience of excellence
  • Request information about successful processes, methods, and outcomes
  • Invite feedback for building on this information to develop actions and goals to move toward desired outcomes

I will continue to choose to research and seek to understand what works. If others define that as “too positive,” that’s okay with me. I will choose to appreciate and learn from life with gratitude, with the understanding that I will “think purple,” even when told not to do so.

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