Opportunities or problems? Strengths or weakness? Can or cant? Polar opposites of what can make a huge difference in the performance of a team. Deficit thinking vs. Asset thinking, comes down to how you view what you think about and how that influences how you see the world and your ability to work with in it. The two are very similar, the words used in both are very similar and very small changes from one to the other can make a world of difference in team performance.
Deficit thinking is all about can’t, problems, weakness, obstacles. In a SWOT analysis, this kind of thinking leads to rather large weakness and threat sections. Or it leads to a company culture where change is very hard to create because there is a general feeling of, nothing can be done. Deficit thinking is more wide spread in the corporate world than most would like to admit. It is everywhere. You can’t trust candidates they may steal or be serial killers, so we have these fun background checks (deficit thinking). Corporate politics resisting change agents is another example; the old guard fears change and only see problems (deficit thinking). Employees steal search their bags before they can leave the building (deficit thinking). You can’t trust the entrepreneur, ring them dry of all control and reward, this is how a lot of venture capitalist operate today (deficit thinking).
At the end of the day, deficit thinking creates more problems. It creates a mentality of fear, of failure of never being able to rise above the situation. Have you ever experienced a corporate culture as such? I’ve seen many and it makes most sane people want to run in fear. I’ll never forget this one guy I had dinner with from a large telecom who was in such a department of deficit thinking. His only goal in life was to have his side business make enough money so he could get out of his full time job. He hated his job so much; he saw no reason to go to work other than to get the pay check. The real curse of the deficit thinking is that it creates a culture where change, even life saving change, takes an enormous amount of effort and energy that it leaves the organization exhausted. Moral is constantly low and management spends a fortune on the latest behavioral test and motivational consulting package. It’s like stuffing yourself with junk food and never working out; eventually you get sluggish, tired and lacking motivation.
Asset thinking is focusing on what works, on opportunities and building strength through positive efforts that move a business forward. Having worked in an environment with asset based thinking; I know the positive benefits that drive companies to the next level. It is not the rose tinted glasses view of the world or wishing away the bad. Case in point:
Once we had a really bad program experience with a client. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Some of the team was rather gloom and doom; they knew heads could really roll for that one. I didn’t see it that way, I saw it as the opportunity we needed to really get management to let us fix some of the areas they had been dragging their feet on. We analyzed every aspect we could and presented our findings and showed how we can improve. This energized the team because we were focusing on solutions and creating new opportunities. And we were able to really break through some areas where approval had been bogged down in committee, with the urgency produced by that bad project, we were able to get things done. That’s asset thinking.
This ties in with the theme of the year here, beliefs. How you see the world (beliefs) makes all the difference in how you interact with the world and approach situations. Do you believe you have problems or do you seek the opportunity? It’s not positive thinking, it’s not pretending bad things don’t happen; it’s searching for the route to better use of your assets.