A friend of mine, Keith Baizer, gave me some information that I think you will find interesting – even amusing.  It is a take off on Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s  “Power of Positive Thinking” concept.  Every year Keith attends summer classes at Harvard Business School.  This past summer he brought back this concept:

       “The Power of Negative Thinking!”

This concept is about getting the people you work with to be creative and entrepreneurial.  Keith’s professor posed the question, “Am I better off telling people what to do or telling them what not to do?”

Telling people what to do and how to do it creates boundaries.  This potentially discourages initiative and creativity, especially when you are trying to create an environment of empowerment.  Employees want to know how to do things, and sometimes what you show them is the only way – but not always. 

Instead of telling people specific ways on how to get to an outcome or desired result, simply tell them what you want.  Then, tell them what they can’t do.  You end up creating a negative boundary, but that is okay.  You leave a lot of open territory for the creative person who can come up with new ideas, improvements and more.  This may be the ultimate use of empowerment.  However, empowerment should never be interpreted as, “Do whatever it takes.”  There need to be clearly defined limits.  And by making it clear what not to do may get you better results.

This works on a personal level as well.  Think about what you are trying to achieve.  Determine what would get in the way and/or what you can’t do.  Then get creative on all the different ways to achieve your goal.  Some are common sense and obvious.  Others may be different and extreme – maybe even a little bit crazy.  The power is in the process.  By knowing and understanding what you can’t do, you leave yourself open to all types of possibilities, limited only by your imagination, to achieve your goal.  You may just find a better way to get what you want.

I’m reminded of a friend of mine whose daughter, who was twelve at the time, became upset with one of her teachers.  Apparently she had to solve a math problem and show her work.  She solved the problem correctly, but used a method that was different than what the teacher had taught.  She used some creativity and initiative, and showed her work.  At first the teacher failed her on the homework.  Then the teacher changed her mind after hearing her argument.  It was one sentence long, and is a great line that ties into the above concept.

“You can teach me how to solve the problem, but don’t tell me how to think.”

            Dana Wexler

Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations.  As a professional speaker and author, Shep helps companies develop loyal relationships with their customers and employees.  For more information on Shep’s speaking programs and books, please contact (314) 692-2200. Email: shep@hyken.com  Web: www.hyken.com. For information on customer service training, go to www.TheCustomerFocus.com.  

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