What if we regularly framed our strategic dialogs from a strengths-based perspective instead of the common deficit/threat-based mindset? Instead of thinking what our association or chamber “does not have?” or “what is our weakness?” shift our mindset to ask the more powerful question of “what are we doing well and how can we increase capacity based on our strengths?”
Associations and chambers use a variety of strategic thinking methodologies or approaches to plan for the future, improve management practices, or to bring about organizational change. While these approaches may have different structures or goals, a common phrase associated with these processes is strategic planning. In the late 1950s, the design school of strategic planning can be seen at the University of California Berkeley, then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1962, and in 1965 at Harvard Business School. From these roots, the commonly used SWOT (strengths; weaknesses; opportunities; and threats) analysis came into use, as association management and chamber executives were urged to use this same analysis to assess the operating environments of their organizations.
While the association management and chamber communities were emulating the strategic thinking and planning processes of their for-profit counterparts for the past 50 years, the psychology community was considering an alternative strategic thinking approach slightly different from the traditional SWOT Analysis concept of deficit thinking and problem solving. During this same time, the concept of positive psychology connected positive psychology to positivity and considered that positivity applied to both individuals and organizations. Building on the positive psychology thought process, the Appreciative Inquiry based strategy thinking process was crafted. In 2003, several articles on the topic of appreciative inquiry (AI) and the subject of SOAR (strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results) was introduced as a “new framework for strategic planning” and the SOAR Framework was being tested in the corporate community. The idea of strengths-based strategic thinking continued to be explored as the usage of AI and SOAR expanded. In 2010, Chip and Dan Heath released The New York Times best-selling book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, which featured a core element in positive thinking, called bright spots, defined as “successful efforts worth emulating.” The bright-spot approach identified areas where the organization or individual is excelling and then explores why a particular area is doing well. The Heath brothers proposed that once those positive characteristics or practices are identified, the premise is to replicate that same bright spot in other areas of the organization with the hope of similar positive outcomes. This approach parallels the inquiry and positive-mindset process of AI and the SOAR framework.
The query for non-profit executives is to determine their capacity and desire to experiment with a new organizational strategy process. An important distinction was the capacity and desire may be in place for the association or non-profit executive but the organizations was not in the right place to experiment with a new strategic thinking process.