Choosing Possibilities

By Chris Chittenden

The value in our coaching work lies in helping people to generate new possibilities. In doing so, we assist them to address their issues and improve their outcomes in work and life in general. Over time, a trend has emerged that seems to indicate that people are having less conversations to generate new possibilities and, to a certain extent, are also finding it more difficult to have those conversations when they do have them.

One interpretation of what might be behind this trend lies in the ever-growing emphasis on greater productivity combined with the expanding use of technology. The focus on productivity seems to be generating organisational cultures where the key story for success relates to generating more and more activity. When combined with the use of communication technology, in particular email and voicemail, most people in the workplace are being inundated with more and more tasks to complete. This in turn leads to a way of working that is largely reactionary.

People's response to a requirement to complete more and more tasks is to take the most obvious actions to get a particular task done. In taking this approach, the very important process of generating new possibilities is diminishing and with it some of the potential growth of the organisation.

To be clear, we are not suggesting that taking the obvious actions based on past experiences will always diminish organisational outcomes. However, what we are seeing is that this approach can lead towards a way of doing things that habitually ignores the opportunity to choose whether to explore new possibilities or not. In other words, it is easy for people to fall into a pattern of behaviour that just gets the job done as quickly as possible based on an assumption that the context for that task has not changed. This is how organisations become disconnected from their customers and their needs.

Furthermore, as people engage less in speculative conversations, they become less adept at having them. A negative spiral tends to ensue as conversations to generate new possibilities are not very successful leading to a lower probability that good new ideas will be introduced.

If you get the sense that you or your team are becoming task focused to the point of not generating new ideas, we invite you to consider introducing a new step into dealing with each task that comes your way. Simply ask yourself, "what would I gain here if I explore new ways of doing this rather than just repeating the past?". Ninety nine times out of a hundred you may just decide to do it the way you have done it before, but the hundredth time may yield some new ideas that make your work more interesting, more enjoyable and more productive.

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© 2004 Chris Chittenden