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Reviewing Methods for Developing Potential

Where has all the potential gone? | How can you raise Self-Esteem? | What's in your Success Store?

Where has all the potential gone?

Watching young children at play is almost as interesting as watching adults watching young children at play.

Many of my climbing friends have been quick to point out how their toddlers have a natural talent for 'climbing'.

Other parents watching their offspring's antics think their children will make good clowns.

When toddlers grunt or bang spoons, friendly adults say they will be pop stars.

When babies smile, aunties say they'll be famous models.

And when babies dribble witty uncles say they'll make good
football players.

Every micro-sign of potential gets identified and magnified - in the first years of life.

But ten or fifteen years later the OPPOSITE is happening. Every micro-sign of a problem gets noticed and commented on by teachers, parents and other critical adults. Most teenagers will tell you this is so.

And ten years later in the workplace it is WEAKNESSES and MISTAKES that will often attract more attention and comment than strengths and potential.


How on earth can 'potential' develop in such unfavourable circumstances?

In 'The One Minute Manager', Hersey and Blanchard implore managers to catch people doing things right, and to reverse expectations that ''management = fault-finding''.

'Learning Organisations' can help to reverse this negative spiral - but ONLY IF their learning culture gives sufficient attention to successes and possibilities - so as to balance the inevitable (and necessary) attention that learners give to mistakes and difficulties.

Appreciative Inquiry is a philosophy and a bundle of practices that is designed to counteract such negativity. It is an approach to research, to organisation development and to personal development. It is optimism turned into a science. And there is plenty of evidence that it works.

Making the switch in emphasis from fault-finding to talent-spotting is the key to developing potential. Faults should not be studied in isolation from the very forces that can prevent and solve them.


How can you raise Self-Esteem?

5 confidence-raising combinations of activities and reviewing

Ask learners to repeat an activity. Second time round highlight their relative successes during the review. You can emphasise the difference by asking them to perform two ACTION REPLAYS back to back. The first replay shows edited highlights (or freeze frames) of the problems and difficulties experienced. The second replay highlights things that went better second time round. This method is well suited to reviewing TEAM performance.

Review positive experiences in ways that highlight how INDIVIDUALS contributed to success. This can be done retrospectively, but a lot of important contributions to success may have passed by unnoticed. So it is better to have OBSERVERS (participants or facilitators) looking out for examples of POSITIVE behaviour. These observations can be saved until the end of the activity, or you can have a review break as soon as the observers say they have positive feedback for each member of the group. Always invite participants to add any positives that went unnoticed by observers. [If everyone wants to be part of the action, then set up a 'buddy' system in which each individual is responsible for taking special notice of one other person while taking part in the activity.]

Use activities in which people already feel confident. Then use review techniques that help individuals to EXPRESS and CELEBRATE their feelings of confidence. You can also invite personal feedback amongst learners through GIFTS or ROUNDS. A nice way to give feedback actively is through SNAPSHOTS... Split a group into subgroups.  Ask subgroup A to think of moments where they think individuals in subgroup B would like to have had snapshots (or MOVIE CLIPS) taken of them - because they were doing something well. Subgroup B prepares in the same way for As. The subgroups come together and present their feedback in snapshots, movie clips or both. [If there are 3 subgroups, subgroup A gives feedback to individuals in subgroup B, B gives feedback to Cs, and C gives feedback to 'A's.]

Do an activity once - to overcome a fear. Don't leave the review at the point ''Well done - you overcame your fear''. To increase the chances that the individual will be able to use this experience to overcome other fears, carry out a detailed review in which the individual tells the STORY of before, during and afterwards. Ask what was going on 'inside' during this process, and what was going on 'outside' (e.g. was there support and encouragement from others?). To bring the story alive, everyone in the group can help ACT OUT THE STORY as it is told - with the space inside a rope circle representing 'inner' thoughts and feelings, and the space outside the circle representing the visible 'outer' world of things and people. A nice set up for such reviews is to invite each individual to record their feelings about a challenging activity on AUDIO-TAPE just before embarking on it - and then playing back their words as a prelude to their story-telling.

Use a VARIETY of review techniques in order to give individuals plenty of scope for expressing their positive experiences. Remember that individuals learn in different ways, so provide opportunities for private reflection as well as for small and large group reviews. Also provide opportunities for art work, writing, talking and for acting or performing. Vary the pace. Vary the setting - use indoor and outdoor locations for reviewing. Include music. Use meandering, open-ended methods. And use business-like tightly structured ones. Involve learners in setting the agenda, but don't abandon your own. The more variety you provide in reviews, the more you are helping learners to mobilise their WHOLE BRAINS for learning. Stimulation is as important during reviews as it is during the activities being reviewed.

BALANCE: In all these strategies, ensure you achieve an optimal balance for development. By building a platform on success you will be more able to tackle failure in a constructive way. See the pages about balancing success and my review of Professor Emler's 'Self-esteem: The Costs and Causes of Low Self-Worth' - a thorough review of self-esteem research that questions many common assumptions about self-esteem.


What's in your Success Store?

The more learners know about their own ''recipes for success'', the greater the chance that they will use them again. Also the very process of studying the ''secrets of this success'' makes future success more likely - whether or not clear recipes are produced.

Ask learners to imagine they run a SUCCESS STORE.

This store is full of items that will help them to be successful. Ask them to take a look in their store and tell you what they
see. This is similar to the 'My Ten Best Points' exercise. But 'best points' is about things that people ALREADY do well, and may not reach into their latent capacity and unformed potential. The 'Success Store' identifies early signs of success. It catches them in the bud. If success is not spotted and encouraged in its early stages it may not put in another appearance. Supporting the early stages of developing a new talent is the most critical job in developing potential. Mature lifelong learners may need even more support at this stage of learning than do young lifelong learners.

Ask people from time to time to check the shelves of their 'Success Store' and tell you what they see. As they get used to the idea, the shelves will slowly fill up. See it as a stock-taking exercise.

This is NOT a needs analysis (That would involve itemising what is NOT on the shelves). It is an audit of what you already have - even if in only small quantities, or even if it is something that is not always visible on the shelf. Every 'Storekeeper' also works as a 'talent scout'. They need to get used to the idea of noticing what is in their own store and what is in other people's stores.

When a group first meets, or when a familiar group starts out on new projects or adventures, no-one quite knows what they will find in their own store or in each other's stores. Initial thoughts might be:

    ''Do I have what it takes?''
    ''Do we have what it takes?''
    ''What will we find out about ourselves and each other?''

There is a natural curiosity to ask such questions at the start of any training programme - whatever the nature of the challenges it presents. The 'Success Store' builds on this natural inquisitiveness. (It is tempting to rename it the Curiosity Shop!) To start with the shelves are fairly empty. That is not because people lack talent. It is because people's talent is locked away in the store cupboard at the back and is not out on the shelves.

In many work cultures, the prevailing humour is often about 'empty' shelves. It involves cutting people down to size by focusing on their blind spots. Such humour can at times be very funny - especially when it is an attack on pretentiousness or when it is someone laughing about their own empty shelves. Pretentiousness is people pretending to be greater than they are. But many people play safe and pretend to be less than they are - and get stuck like it - sitting on their latent abilities.

So a key strategy in reviewing (represented here by the 'Success Store') is to provide people with a whole range of opportunities in which they will discover untapped potential in themselves and in others. Ideally this variety of opportunities extends throughout a programme - and applies BOTH to the learning activities AND to the reviewing methods.

    When did you last look at your own 'Success Store'?
    How carefully did you look?

The point of this stage of reviewing (we're not finished yet!) is to get people tuning in to each other's qualities, talents, interests, strengths and potential. That's a fairly random list. These can be labels on different shelves. Each label represents different sets of qualities that individuals might draw on in order to help them achieve their objectives.

An appreciative review helps to develop potential. There are many ways of structuring and showing appreciation. Where groups are not naturally appreciative, or where people are not specific about the qualities and talents they are appreciating, it is necessary for facilitators to do some structuring and enabling.


The 'Success Store' provides a useful metaphor, especially if it captures people's imaginations. Alternatives in the same family of appreciative reviewing techniques are: 'My Ten Best Points', 'A Vote of Thanks', 'Personal Recipes for Success', 'Team Recipes for Success' and appraisal sessions in which there is a built in positive bias together with an opportunity to use symbolism. This is because symbols and imagery can capture qualities that are difficult to describe adequately in words alone.

This is where appraisal exercises such as 'Gifts' can be particularly useful and powerful. Action Replays can be even more effective for highlighting and celebrating successes. Replays tend to be most useful for celebrating a group success. But replays can be directed in such a way that individual contributions to success are clearly highlighted and celebrated.

You can track down details of the 'alternative' reviewing methods mentioned above via the search box on my home page or by searching the Tools for Change page.


When trying out new reviewing exercises like 'Success Store', test the water with an abbreviated version. If the metaphor catches on, build on it - or encourage learners to do so.
Keep an eye out for what's working well - and use it. If you prefer to put all your eggs in one basket, don't let me stand in your way! But remember that more cautious approaches also pay off - IF you are observant enough to work with early signs of success, and astute enough to know when it's time to try something else.

Be prepared and be prepared to change what you have prepared! By staying alert to opportunities and obstacles, and by believing that people do have plenty of untapped potential, the above tools, strategies and tips will help you to create luck for yourself and others. And when this happens - tell me about it: !


The original version of this page was published in
Active Reviewing Tips 2.11

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Where has all the potential gone? | How can you raise Self-Esteem? | What's in your Success Store?

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