Glass Half-Full And Half Empty
Editor | On 06, May 2018
After a while it can get quite wearing. Either-or questions. Are you a glass-half-full person or a glass half empty person? Yes.
It depends. Right? But for some reason we love to put people in pigeon-holes. Anyone that only sees me at work is likely to think of me as Mr Half-Empty. Ditto anyone that I see only when I go watch my football team play. Anyone that I only see at gigs, on the other hand, would probably describe me as the opposite. I’m both people, but which one I might be at a given moment in time depends on the context of that moment. If I’m in a problem-solving session and focusing on conflicts and contradictions, almost by necessity I’m forced to look at the world with a glass-half-empty perspective. Wearing rose-tinted glasses is not a good way to find innovation opportunities.
Being half-full and half-empty means solving a physical contradiction. The general situation looks something like this:
More often than not, solving physical contradictions means using some kind of separation strategy. I could solve the contradiction spacially by being upbeat and smiley while stood listening to the band and I can be downbeat and grouchy while stood in a workshop in France with a group of reluctant French problem-solvers in front of me. I could also say this is an example of separation in time since it will be difficult to be at the concert hall and at the workshop at the same time.
Space and time are always valid separation strategies to explore, but when it comes to the psychology of my relative state of optimism or pessimism, it’s far more effective – universally – to think about separation according to context. It’s usual for me to sit with my head in my hands when I watch Bradford City play, but it would be highly inappropriate to be un-moved to extreme joy during those rare moments when we’ve just scored a goal. Miserable people don’t often get invited to parties. Contextually-speaking, if everyone else is on their feet, fist-pumping and doing things 55-year-olds shouldn’t by rights still be doing, I should do it anyway… if I wish to remain part of the tribe…
…this is one of the great beauties of Edward De Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’ model. It very simply forces everyone present in the meeting to wear the same colour (hypothetical – usually!) hat at the appropriate stage of the proceedings. When we’re looking for contradictions, Dr DeBono will clearly tell us, we all ought to be wearing our Black Hat. Conversely, when we’re being tribal during the coffee break, Yellow is probably a more appropriate head-dress choice.
TRIZ being what it is, there are of course a host of other ways we can think about solving the Contradiction. When we encourage workshop participants to try and create the ‘worst possible’ solution to a problem, we’re simultaneously encouraging them to do and think of dumb stuff at the exact same time getting them to do some covert serious thinking about the challenges we’re all there to make sure we solve.
Similarly, there’s nothing to stop me smiling along with other members of my team while we cover a Function Analysis model with red pen writing during the part of the process when we’re trying to identify all the bad stuff in the system.
It pretty much all boils down to the J.P. Morgan aphorism. Or the redux version of it: people are glass-half-full or half empty for two reasons; the good reason and the real reason. The real reason for being half-empty is because it will make me more resilient as a person as well as a better problem finder/solver; the good reason for being half-full is because no-one likes spending time around a grouch. The real trick is being conscious enough to recognize that one part of our brain needs to be in half-full mode while another needs to be half-empty.