P is for People Seeing Positive Possibilities  


Some people see possibilities while others see only problems. Being positive realists, however, they read reality quickly. They then aim to find practical solutions to challenges.

During the 1960s and 70s I was fortunate to meet great practitioners in the fields of therapy, education and business. Many were considered to be sages – rather than shouters – in their particular fields.

They were positive pragmatists who often helped people to find solutions. When helping individuals or groups to deal with challenging situations, for example, they often explored the following themes.

Practical Questions

What is actually happening in the situation? What are the facts? What are people doing in behavioural terms? Is it possible to see any patterns? What will happen if these patterns continue?

Positive Possibilities

What are the positive possibilities going forwards? Bearing in mind what people can control, what might it be possible for them to achieve? What are their options? Which of these possibilities do people want to pursue? 

Picture Of Success 

What are the real results people want to achieve? What is their picture of success? How can they do their best to achieve these goals? What is their action plan for working to achieve the picture of success?

During the past few months many people have taken a similar approach to dealing with challenges thrown up by the US Presidential Election. Initially disheartened by the result, they then rallied to explore the positive possibilities.

Some environmentalists, for example, reframed the next few years as an opportunity to rally people around a clear mission. Do we work to save the planet for future generations or do we burn it to make money? The donations to conservation groups rocketed to unprecedented levels.

Whatever the challenge, there are virtually always positive possibilities. These are not always apparent, of course, and people may go through a stage of mourning. After awhile, however, they begin to explore the potential futures.

Looking back on your own life, can you think of a situation when you were eventually able to explore positive possibilities? This could have been after experiencing a setback or a success.

You may have done this after losing a job, ending a relationship, having an illness or experiencing a disappointment. Alternatively, you may have done it after achieving a goal, getting promotion or winning a contract.

What did you do to deal with the immediate emotions? What did you then do to explore the positive possibilities? What did you do follow up these ideas?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you explored positive possibilities.

Describe the specific things you did to explore such possibilities.

Describe the specific things you did to, if appropriate, follow up these ideas.




Sages often look for humanity’s possibilities. They focus on the potential of an individual, team or society. From the late 1960s onwards I met several mentors who took this approach.

Alec Dickson, the founder of Voluntary Service Overseas and Community Service Volunteers, was such a person. He looked for what people could do rather than what they couldn’t do.

He gave the example of working with people in Northern Ireland who had lost limbs from bomb blasts during the Troubles. Speaking to a group of them, he asked if any would be prepared to use their experience to counsel others who had recently lost limbs. He said:

“Everybody in the room put their hands up. They wanted to show how it was possible to recover from such setbacks and go on to live meaningful lives.”

Several of the mentors I met took the strengths approach. They used the following framework when looking at individuals, organisations or societies.


What are people’s strengths? When do they come alive? When do they perform brilliantly? What are they doing right then? How can they follow these principles in the future? 

Specific Goals 

What are their specific goals? What is their picture of success? What are the key strategies they can follow to give themselves the greatest chance of success? What is the support they need to achieve the goals?


How can they do superb work? How can they find solutions to challenges? How can they do everything possible to achieve the picture of success? 

From the 1980s onwards I worked with pioneers in business and other fields. One team, for example, ran the world’s first School for Intrapreneurs. Other aimed to show the way forward by building successful prototypes.

Many were pacesetters in their chosen fields. They aimed to take the lead, maintain the lead and extend the lead. They aimed to make the new rules for the game. They believed that:

There will always be challenges. Some can threaten your existence. Some can help with your evolution.

Such people echoed the approached described by Paul Hawken. He reached millions of budding entrepreneurs through his 1987 book and American Public Television series called Growing A Business


Paul advised people to produce quality. Even in a recession, customers will pay for quality products delivered in a quality way. He suggested ‘recreating something that has been lost’ by providing great service and following the eternal rules.

First, build on your strengths. Do what you do best and do it brilliantly. Second, find sponsors – employers and customers – who have a need and will hire you for what you do best. Third, use your strengths to help them to achieve success. He also underlined another rule:

Businesses will always have problems.

Paul once searched for magic solutions. Providing he read more books by business gurus, he felt, one day he would find business nirvana. Enlightenment would make all his problems disappear. The truth hit him one sunny autumn afternoon. Paul wrote:

I had my nirvana, all right, but it was the opposite of what I had been seeking. On that pretty afternoon the actual truth finally struck me: I would always have problems.  

In fact, problems signify that the business is in a rapid learning phase. The revelation was liberating. I couldn’t understand why other people hadn’t told me this earlier.

Paul went on to become a leading practitioner in showing how clean energy could boost the economy. He also showed how people could use their strengths to make their best contributions to the planet.


Many pioneers are superb problem solvers. When faced by a challenge, they often ask questions that focus on the following themes.


What is the challenge? What are the real results people want to achieve? What is their picture of success?  


What are their possible choices for going forward? What are the consequences – the pluses and minuses – of each option? Are there any other creative solutions?  

Concrete Results

Which is the route – or combination of routes – that people want to follow? How can they translate this into a clear action plan? How can they do their best to achieve the picture of success?

Sometimes this calls for seeing the positive possibilities in the situation. Looking back in later years, people see how the challenge gave them the opportunity to develop. They chose to evolve rather than go out of existence.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may want to see positive possibilities? This could be in your personal or professional life.

You may want to take this approach when making a transition, shaping your career or tackling a challenge. You may want to do it when building on your strengths, capitalising on a success or passing on your knowledge to people.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to explore positive possibilities.

Describe the specific things you can do then to explore such possibilities.

Describe the specific things you can do to, if appropriate, follow up these ideas.




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