This type of negativity is so pervasive it’s almost invisible. It’s everywhere; we have processes built around it; have organizations dedicated to it; and we use it daily to drive action.
Take continuous improvement for example. It has been a standard toolset and philosophy for making things better. Yet it’s founded on negativity. It’s not anti-people, anti-culture negativity. (In fact lean and Six Sigma go on their way to emphasize positive culture as a key foundation.) It’s subtle negativity that slowly grinds. Look at the language: reduce defects, eliminate waste, corrective action, tight feedback loops, and eliminate failure modes. There is a negative tint. It’s not in your face, but it’s there.
I’m an advocate of lean and I have advocated for Six Sigma, both of which have moved the needle. But there’s a minimization thread running through them. Both are about eliminating and reducing what is. Sure they have their place, but enough is enough. We need more of creating what isn’t, and bringing to life things that aren’t. We need more maximization.
Negativity has become natural, and positivity has become an endangered species. When there’s a crisis we all come together instinctively to eliminate the bad thing. Yet it’s fourth or fifth nature to come together spontaneously when things go well. Yes, sometimes we celebrate, but it’s the exception. And it’s certainly not our first instinct. (Actually, I don’t think we have a word for spontaneous amplification of positivity. Celebration is the closest word I know, but it’s not the right one.)
Negative feedback is good for processes and positive feedback is good for people. Processes like when their flaws are eliminated, and people like when their strengths are amplified. It’s negativity for processes, and positivity for people.
There should be a rebalancing of negativity and positivity. For every graph of defect reduction over time, there should be a sister plot of the number of good things that happened over time. For every failure mode and effects analysis there should be a fishbone of chart of strengths and the associated actions to amplify them.
It’s natural for us to count bad things and make them go away, and not so natural to count good things and multiply them. Take at the meeting agendas. My bet is there’s far more minimization than maximization.
I usually end my posts with some specific call to action or recommendation. But for this one I don’t have anything all that meaty. But I will tell you how I’m going to move forward. When I see good work, I’m going to publicly acknowledge it and send emails of praise to the manager of the folks who did the good stuff. I’m going to track the number of emails I send and each week increase the number by one. I’m going to schedule regular meetings where I can publicly praise people that display passion. And I’m going to create a control chart of the number of times I amplify positivity.
And most of all I will try to keep in front of me that everything we do is all about people, and with people positivity is powerful.
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Mike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.