The Gift of New Eyes

In The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, Sue Annis Hammond talks about “the gift of new eyes,” the ability to explore an organization’s culture by focusing on what works instead of what needs to be fixed.

According to Hammond,

“We have little practice looking for what works and finding ways to do more of that. It never occurs to us that we can “fix” an organization or even our society by doing more of what works.”

Most of us have been so well trained to ferret out what doesn’t work and apply hard labor to fix it that we can scarcely identify what IS working. When I facilitate a workshop and ask, “What works well around here?” I often have to wait several minutes before someone can think of something. When I ask, “What needs to be fixed?” hands immediately shoot up. Clearly, people are giving much more thought to the latter.

This would not be a problem if it were not for the Law of Attraction, which says, “You attract more of what you focus on.” The longer we focus on what needs to be fixed, the greater the need to fix things.

We spend billions every year attempting to develop new behaviors to fix old problems. These solutions frighten many people; they fear they won’t be able to adapt. However, if we look at what we’ve done well in the past that resembles the new, we can walk toward change primed for success instead of burdened by fear.

Here’s an example of looking with new eyes. My friend Annie and her roommate Sharon came to me to try to solve a problem. Annie, although obsessive/compulsive, always left things lying around and this drove Sharon crazy. (It’s a misconception that obsessive/compulsive means very neat.) On the other hand, Annie thought Sharon left a lot to be desired when she cleaned the kitchen and the bathrooms.

Here is how the roommates settled things by looking with new eyes. First, they focused on aspects of cleaning that each liked to do. Sharon liked to tidy up. Annie liked to pull on the gloves and REALLY clean. So, on a daily basis, Sharon kept the house tidy. And weekly, Annie got out her heavy-duty cleaning equipment and did what she called an OC (obsessive/compulsive) cleaning of the kitchen and the bathroom. Rather than needing to develop new behaviors, the two women simply focused on what each did well and did more of it.

The gift of new eyes gives us access to different views. Looking at your “same old” organization with new eyes provides a different perspective on it and your work in it.

When you face change at work–and these days it seems to be an almost daily occurrence–look at it with new eyes. The point is to see what you already do well and use these skills to adopt the changes easily and successfully.

– What is your goal? State it positively: “I want to be able to do this easily by the end of the month.” Not, “I don’t want to mess this up.” (Where’s your focus?)

– Think back. When did you integrate a similar change in the past? Recall in detail how you did it and look for clues to your success.

– As you remember the old success, what lessons can you take and repeat to meet your new challenge?

The point is, if you’ve done it successfully once and can see how and why, you can succeed again. All it takes is the gift of new eyes and the willingness to use them.

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