We Can Do This, If…

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You’re in a meeting with your team and you’re delivering some news that will likely not be well received. You’re not going to be able to have the annual company dinner party this year because the current budget cannot cover the costs.

After the groans and eye rolls begin to subside, you go on to deliver even more bad news.

Needless to say, the meeting does not elicit any positive or motivating vibes…at all.

But this meeting did not have to be all doom and gloom. There could have been a silver lining, a glimmer of hope, an opportunity to learn, to grow, and possibly even transform.

But how?

It comes from a clever little phrase that elicits optimism and curiosity. I’m talking about the phrase, “Can if!”

Often when constraints come into play or problems arise, we find ourselves saying, “We can’t do X, because Y.”

Like we heard in the opening example, “We can’t have the company dinner party because we don’t have the budget to cover the costs.”

So, how do we turn this around? We start with “Can if.”

Instead of focusing on the problem before us, (We can’t have the company dinner party because we don’t have the money.) reframe it and set your sights on any possible solutions, by starting with, “We CAN have the company dinner party, IF…”

This puts a positive spin on the whole situation. Now we start thinking in terms of what is possible, because we are thinking that we can actually have the company dinner party. Woohoo!!! Let’s figure this out!

All sorts of ideas could emerge.

“We can have the company dinner party, if we reduce the budget of the holiday party.”

“We can have the company dinner party, if we change it a picnic at the park.”

“We can have the company dinner party, if we make it a potluck and we each bring a dish.”

See how different that feels?

It’s like a fun puzzle to figure out. Or a mystery to solve. That’s way more fun than wallowing in the negative feeling of betrayal, regret, or in this case, disappointment.

“Can if” thinking sets the stage for people to be optimistic and inquisitive, promoting more creativity and imagination, resulting in solutions that are affordable, aspirational, and attainable.

So, let’s look at five reasons “Can if” thinking is not just a pile of feel-good spin I’m selling.

  1. It keeps the conversation on the right question. When we use “Can if” people focus on how to move forward, not looking at what is holding us back. Using “Can if” does not allow for any other points of view, only “we can do this, if.”
  2. It keeps the energy of optimism continually in the process. When we use “Can if” people get enthused about what can possibly be. They find the energy to drive forward in the hopes they will find a workable solution.
  3. It forces everyone to take responsibility for finding answers rather than identifying barriers. Using “Can if” does not allow for bitching, whining, and moaning. It only promotes accountability for seeking solutions.
  4. It promotes a story that we are people who look for solutions, rather than problems or obstacles. Using “Can if” fosters a culture of can-do. We create an inner belief that we are problem-solvers and owners not victims.
  5. It is a method that maintains a mindset. When we use “Can if” we put into place a growth mindset that consistently looks to innovate by staying optimistic and inquisitive.

These five reasons should make it clear that reframing our perspective around problems works to eliminate the negativity and pessimism that typically find their way into challenging situations.

Can if thinking creates a culture that focuses on HOW it might be possible, rather than WHETHER it might be possible.

When we know that anything is possible, we work harder and more creatively to solve the puzzle.

So, how will you implement “Can if” thinking next time you encounter something that seems impossible to overcome? How will you encourage your team to embrace “Can if” thinking when morale is sinking? And how will you maintain your optimistic and inquisitive mindset when constraints double up or triple up?

Adopting “Can if” thinking may seem a bit challenging at first but it will prove to quickly turn the tables on negative talk and thinking because we are granting permission to think freely, create openly, and collectively achieve what was once thought impossible.

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