Unless you are an exceptional person, you are a natural critic. From an early age, we have learned to analyze and criticize anything new. Now that we are adults, being critical is a second nature. We are experts at it.
What is your typical first impression when someone proposes a new idea? Do you usually say something like “That is fantastic”, “That is a great idea” or “That’s really interesting”? Probably not.
Although there may be few exceptions, most of us come preprogrammed with the ‘automatic no” response. Through training and conditioning in school and at home, we have learned to criticize and think later. It’s almost as if we have learned that it is better to reject something new outright than even to consider its potential value as a solution.
An Exercise in Negative Thinking
To illustrate this automatic ‘no’ tendency, here is a little exercise to do by yourself. Take five minutes to write down every negative response you can think of to a new idea. When finished, compare your list with the following one. Chances are that there are a lot of similarities, if not direct duplications.
Our problem is different.
We tried that once before.
We don’t have enough time.
We don’t have enough help.
Our system is too small for this.
We’ve always done it this way.
Our present method is time-tested and reliable.
It’s ahead of its time.
It’s behind the time.
We are not ready for it yet.
We’ve had too much of this lately.
We can’t teach an old dog new trick.
Our young, progressive group doesn’t need it.
It will require heavy investment.
It will never pay for itself.
If no investment is required, how do we expect it to work?
It’s too radical.
It’s almost the same as we are doing now.
It looks good on paper, but it won’t work.
It violates professional standards.
The board won’t like it.
It’s outside my scope of responsibility.
It conflicts with policy.
The present method is working. Why rock the boat”
You probably could think of many more examples with little effort. Now, what would happen if you tried to make a list of positive responses? Try it. Take five minutes to write down every positive response you can think of to a new idea. Most likely, this second list will be shorter than the first. It’s much more difficult to think of positive responses.
Develop Balanced Responses
To break out of the negative thinking groove, try to develop more balanced responses to new ideas. There are a number of ways to do this. Here are three of them:
1. Try viewing ideas as raw material; that is, initial ideas are the fragile creatures we often transform into workable solutions. So be gentle. Support and cradle all new ideas – They frequently can be modified or can help stimulate new versions.
2. Every time you hear a new idea, train yourself to think or say, “What’s good about it”, “What is at least one positive feature of that idea”? If you think o0f one positive aspect, then you will benefit from what may initially have appeared useless. Moreover, the positive feature may stimulate a better idea.
3. Use a balanced response to evaluating new ideas. Say (or think) what you like about the idea, what you find interesting about it, and then what you dislike. This might help prevent the negative climate in individuals and groups that often accompanies responses to ideas.