Arguing with a colleague

Positive approaches couldn’t be the same, but positive confrontation opens more opportunities to create new meaning, for both counterpart.

Kiran Kandade is an International Organisation Development Consultant based in
Singapore. Her approach is deeply based on the improvement of Appreciative
Inquiry to create organisational changes. Kiran is an appreciated colleague and a
good friend. Recently we “argued” about life lessons: do they come to us just by
successes or even by failures?

About AI: it was a process created by David Cooperrider in the 1980s when he was
a doctoral student at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio where I
eventually did my master’s degree in positive OD and where Cooperrider was professor -.
He discovered that focusing on what is working, discovering the best that already exists,
inquiring into our moments of pride and inspiration would take us along the path to transformational change much more than doing deep dive analysis of our problems, talking about our weaknesses, dwelling on our failures.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Based on positive psychology, sociology,
neurology and medical science he then created the AI 4-D cycle of change. A
methodology backed by a solid philosophy. A way of doing that requires a way of being.
A process for large-scale, large-groups change defined by meaningful steps at the
individual levels.
AI has changed my life almost entirely. Both sides on a professional and personal
basis. The only way to be an AI facilitator and practitioner is to absorb it and internalise it
into your own life. The process in AI is well defined, but no two AIs practitioners have the
same approach. To carry out an AI requires the facilitator to believe in it….

Then and only then is it possible for:

  1. the unconditional positive questions which will spark change to be crafted and
  2. the AI topic of inquiry that turns problems into possibilities to be decided on
  3. the aspiration statements or provocative propositions be jointly written by the entire
  4. the action plans, milestones, measurement indicators, goals be decided upon by the
    participants themselves
  5. actual change – visible, measurable, sustained – be created.

As an AI practitioner I firmly believe and have observed that failure teaches us
nothing. Failures are simply things that happen, they are a part and parcel of life. But to
take it further and suggest that failures are important or necessary for us to learn
something from, is being rather fatalistic and negative in my opinion.

This has 2 aspects:

  1. The thought that only by failing you can become successful. The hidden
    meaning here is that failures teach you the way to success. I put it to you that
    failure teaches you the non-path to success. From failures you learn what NOT to
    do, not what TO DO.                                                                                                                                                      Imagine you are in a room with 6 doors and you are told that one of the doors opens to a room full of gold. All the other doors will lead you to something horrible. You have only 2 chances to open the right door and get to the gold. You open one door and
    it is full of shit. Now what have you learned from this failure? You know which door NOT to open, but do you know which door to open next?
    Let us further imagine that you participated in something similar in the past. Where you had a few options and you made a decision to take one course of action and that was the right one. Let us say you examine that success. Why did you choose that path? Was it the expression on the minstructor’s face when he explained the situation? Was it a smell thatm came from the other side of the door as you approached it? What led to
    that success? Armed with that you have a better chance of success now.
  2. Failures teach us to be grounded and humble. I disagree. Being grounded and humble
    is a function of us as people. Se people are arrogant and entirely insufferable no
    matter what and some people are wise and grounded no matter what. Failures
    cannot change our characters. We alone can change our characters – purposefully
    and with a desire to change.

Thank you Kiran, I feel you have shown very well how we can support organisations in changes by working on each person’s behaviours and beliefs. We all know how critical is the organisational mood and how it affects the performance of a single as well as the ones of the whole team. I would stay just on the lessons we have the possibility to get by a positive or negative experience. We disagree on how negative ones can teach us about strategy shaping. Here’s my opinion:
You are right when you say we get great, good lessons from our successes, I
haven’t ever said no, but I think you have undervalued the lesson we can get from our failures. The reason lies just on the ability to learn.
When you say: The hidden meaning…is that failures teach you the way to
success“ maybe we could say it better: The way to success will be discovered on learning by doing. Be able to learn is vitally important. On the top of the knowledge the role of experiences become essential. The Learning by doing we use in training people. Then about knowledge we could say: the more, the deeper, the better knowledge the subject has, the more, the better he/she can learn.

And we, as human being, learn at least equally when we get the right choice as
well as when we get a worst one. Otherwise we do not learn even. We only have to focus our attention on improvement. What works and why, then what doesn’t and why. Finally Celebrate the success or the lesson!
I also would point out as the example of the 6 doors over simplify the human being as a conceptual organism. As Daniel Goleman says well: “… we are emotional being who think rather than thinker machines who feel ”.
By this point of view I think your sample risks to seem too conceptualised: more
often interactional choices and decisions are more complicate and they involve emotions of the actors as well as emotions of counterparts which, I mean, are not expected by those doors.

Organisational decisions are so often made under a high pressured environment,
with a few control, very seldom having useful information. Any decision affects personal
interests and opinions and it’s so often contrasted by good reasons and/or good
negotiators. I cannot imagine your doors who warmly invite me to open just one out of
them or don’t open just the another one… Out of the joke, in samples like that we miss the
importance of counterparts interaction, environment pressures and the need to decide
getting information by the situation. So often in human management we have to act out
of the blue into completely new domains.

So, on that sample, it simply doesn’t matter if you have already experienced the
same play: you will have always the possibility to get another right choice as well as a
wrong one. In this way you can use the previous strategy or change it.
What normally happens in human brain is the implicit use of “shortcuts”: when we
have found a strategy which work we will simply repeat it with no deep analysis if the
situation just seems the same.
Obviously shortcut works in a stable environment with no or just few changes, a
territory determined by fixed rules. In a human environment, stable is just the change, as
Zygmunt Bauman has well pictured out in his book Liquid Modernity.

In NLP we have learnt how the environment and the counterparts can affect each
others and the interaction itself. By Meta Model we dig out the deep meaning, questioning
about it, in positive but extremely sensitive, as well as cognitively way.

More, I like when you say “Being grounded and humble is a function of us as people.” then “Failures cannot change our characters. We alone can change our characters – purposefully  and with a desire to change.

Because I know how you, Kiran, strongly believe in people changesand I appreciate the support of the positive approach at change through experiences, I would point out how to the experience of asking the right question can support the change, albeit people are not really committed to change. Experiences come along the learning path: we try and fail then try again. When we become able to shape the right question we can see the effect it
produces then we get success. But we become aware how the same question have no
sense or creates problems to different people or different environments. Only when we will
have experienced it, we will be able to evaluate the results which come. This will be our
lesson: if we will be able to get it. We could develop a deep, clear Know-How of shaping
adequate questions and its effects.

As human being our experience shapes our beliefs and they shape our behaviours.
Each “selfish” or “humble” person has his/her own background and these attitudes have
been developed through the experiences they have done. Is well known how to be selfish
it’s so often supported by a long series of successes as well as unknown mistakes.

We both use positive approach and energy to change people beliefs and we
know how people change, How people learn from positive approaches and their success.
And even how we have learnt day by day by “shit which happens” because we
can see what has worked and what didn’t. We can evaluate the trait and the choices of
a complex decision and we can clearly see what will steer it into failure!

Although, I do think you didn’t get my point on the 6-doors example. Of course I am over-
simplifying and exaggerating to make a point. Of course real life situations aren’t that simplistic or straightforward. The point is that a past failure cannot teach you what to do, but rather what not to do. And in situations when there are 100s of options to choose from, a past failure from which you’ve learned that one of them is wrong but does not even help you zero in on which of the remaining 99 are right is really of no use.

Here are 2 quotes by Edison:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Thomas A. Edison

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Thomas A. Edison

Ok, so on the surface both seem to be glorifying failures and the lessons from them. But
scratch a bit deeper – what is Edison saying in the first quote…. Exactly what he is saying in the second one!!!!

  • Don’t give up
  • Don’t let failures deter you
  • Think of failures as stepping stone that are leading you towards success if you don’t stop the journey

Nowhere does he suggest that failures are necessary or a must-have in order to reach
success. He’s just saying that they happen. You cannot avoid them, so please for the love of God, don’t make a huge goddamned martyr or victim of yourself, or give up on that path to success, or decide that when you fail you are a failure!!! Because you’re not a failure, you failed….. And that is how we should react to an inevitable event like a failure in our lives. That is all….

“Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.” – Robert T. Kiyosaki

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” Johnny Cash

Kiyosaki hit the nail on the head. Failures are a part of the process. They are there whether
you like them or not. Each failure is a stumbling block. It is useless to spend your time avoiding them because by avoiding them you also avoid success – failures are an indication that you tried, that you continue to try. So, yes, if you want to call them useful from that perspective, I completely agree.

And then when Cash says, “you don’t dwell on it” that’s perfect as well. Don’t waste time over-analysing your failures. Don’t give it any of your energy, your time or your space. Step on them, over them and move on towards success. Again, the reason you don’t forget them is because you know that you’re greater than those who never failed because it means they
never tried!!!

Thank you Kiran, I’d like to start from your own words again: Ok, so on the surface both
seem to be glorifying failures and the lessons from them. But scratch a bit deeper – what is Edison saying in the first quote…. Exactly what he is saying in the second one!!!!
Ok Thomas Edison stated “I had no failure” essentially he said: “I have learned!”. About this
point I think we do agree, don’t we? What divides our ideas is what he has learnt: you are stuck on his own words just “…10,000 ways that won’t work.” That’s nothing, it has no worth.

In my opinion this quote again shows the rules of a world with fewer changes, characterised
by less parameters: a mechanical world. Action and reaction, quite simple. The second quote confirms it: the more you try the more you can cancel options and the more you reach the goal. Failure is worthless it just serves to eliminate wrong options. But the world of the human mind is definitively more complicated.

All that can work, better in an environment where interactions do not affect feedback.
What happens when all the 100 options can work with 100 different people or situations? I think you are still undervaluing the human being as the subject and the object of the experiment.
While Thomas was working with glass, iron and electricity to create the lamp, I can imagine
his statements after 70, 80, 90 trials which didn’t work!

“DAMN, S**T, Fu***ng Ba**rd! Why don’t you wanna work???? Are you an As**le! What Damn of piece of s**t are you????” Can you imagine that?? Because of the pressure, the nerves, the sense of failure after hours and hours and days of trials attempts…

I have a friend of mine who is used to calling me Silly Man. She calls me in this way and
smile. When she writes to me saying: “Hey silly man want you believe that you are right???” And I smile. In this environment she is allowed to tell me that, it’s a kind of code. We both know the true meaning of the little insult. Ok, let’s now do an experiment: Do not change the people, we just change the environment, take a standard situation in which we are involved in a client meeting, just a formal meeting. What if she eventually calls me Silly Man? Do I still smile? Try now to shift just the mood: We would arguing about a challenge which doesn’t work as we want it to, and she calls me Silly Man shouting. Do I continue to smile?

I’m quite sure the bulbs had little reactions to Edison’s words. And now human beings are
just a bit different in how they take bad words addressed to them…

Anyway I can’t deny there are situations which require a sense of urgency and loudness can be useful for this purpose.
Imagine you have to save a life, if you do that without politeness like using please, I’m sorry…. Do someone will complain it?

Again: “You build on failure. …. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the
mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy….”
What Kivosaki said is Do Not dwell on them. You don’t forget them, but do not spend your
energy dwelling on failures. Think positive, look ahead. This is the main issue of positive approach.

We agree with it. In the same way I do not say we have to punish ourselves because we
experienced a failure! We do not need to cry, or overanalyse, nor search for the guilty person! We just have to check what happened and learn the lesson not only cancel options which don’t work.

We can learn when an option works in an environment, with some people, in a certain mood and, generally, one which is related to any other mutable human parameter.
You then say: “ It is useless to spend your time avoiding them because by avoiding them
you also avoid success – failures are an indication that you tried…
I cannot agree: failures in this sense teach you when an option is not working in one specific
situation. Be careful, we are talking about intangible things, no iron, no bulbs, no material stuff, just words. Words in human interactions. Words which create your world, words which open minds, words which burn dreams, words which fire emotions, words which alter love.

No Kiran, I cannot agree, success in human interaction does not come mechanically,
cancelling options, success is created when we are able to read the surrounding environment and then act on the option which works.

Just learning helps us to understand the environment and its possibilities. Using mistakes and failures to test what works and where, can teach us how to understand new situations and new meanings which are not mechanically regulated.

Positive approach serves to support the motivation, support people to stay committed, to not quit, to still try. Then still learn! Positive approach does not mean to forget mistakes or think all is beauty.
Positiveness is great when applied to failures: look at the good lesson we have got! Why hasn’t this worked here? How do we change it, or shape it to make it work?

In this way failure can teach us more than success can. Doing the right thing in a mutable
world is never the same. Best Practices are the right things well done. But in a Liquid Modernity World, in which everything changes, how can the right thing last longer?

Zygmunt Bauman: …. become able to “learn how to walk” instead of “learning the road”.
The road changes every day; being able to walk on every road allows us to face any path
wherever we are going to. Be able to seek for the unique, right answer which fits the momento.


Just some weeks ago I
have met Jurgen Appelo, the
Management 3.0 author. A very
smart guy. His history is really nice.

From the book
How To Change the WorldJurgen Appelo

Jurgen in his book has shaped Celebration Grid.
Using this tool managers can share better practices to reward the job.

How do Celebration Grid works

No more rewards to lucky bastards who get results acting with bad behaviours.
Less emphasis on winners who just do good
practices with no risk.
Focus on what makes us learn: the experiment!

Doing the right things which work do not add anything to what we already know. It’s just a simple routine which gets results. If bad luck doesn’t affect them…

Yes, we get results but will be forever right the right thing? What happens when something
changes? How will we be able to learn how to manage the new scene?
Doing the thing badly, or in the wrong way can also lead to success, but it’s just a lucky bastard who enjoys it. This way only teaches the options we can cancel or the people we have to fire…

Doing thing differently, trying to adapt routines and actions to different environments, weird feedback, unknown situations is risky. This path is the one which allows us to stay awake to the changes the world will bring. Learning what option works here and why, as well as the one which works in other situations but not here, highlights the concealed rules.

Organisations have to support innovators, put energy in creating new knowledge, a new culture!
Understanding where the options work and how they create value: the value to manage the
emerging future.
That’s the reason, Kiran, why I agree with Jurgen: Failure teaches us much more than we
are able to learn achieving only successes. More often than not is just success celebrated and rewarded. Often with no or little inspection on its causes. Success, as well as failure, has to be analysed deeper, dwelled upon understood, because we need to learn, just as with failure. In this way both of them teach us a lot more….
Then I agree with you too: too often organisations celebrate success without dwelling on it
and they are focused about failures and to spin around them, their reasons so often are just to find the guilty. This is the negative approach we have to eliminate through management practices.

I think I see your point. While you don’t disagree that it is more fruitful to analyse successes to get better and holistic solutions, what you’re saying is that we shouldn’t lose the lessons from failure either I particularly liked what you said about how the reason for a failure may not have been a strategy per se but rather a mismatch with certain environmental attributes…
So, with the failure we shouldn’t throw out that approach or strategy too… It could lead to
success in a different environment… You’re right!
Thank you. I learned something today.

Me and Kiran
So that, dear readers, you have already understood, Kiran and I didn’t argue at all, we
have simply shaped on a more complex idea about Positive Approach and its deployment using tools like Appreciative Inquiry or Neuro Linguistic Programming.
It’s very important to have discussions, even the hard ones, with someone who can confute
our beliefs, because we all well know how the greatest risk of one idea is to be strongly attached to that, especially if it is the only one you have ….

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