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Rough Weather Makes Good Timber or How Asset-Based Thinking Came To Be

If my brother Jim had not died when he was 22 of a usually easy-to-survive illness called mononucleosis, I am sure I never would have written 9 books.

I know I would not have founded The Stress Center at Saint Louis University. I certainly would not have dedicated my career to discovering what it takes for people to be resilient, optimistic, and confident as they face the great losses and disappointments of work and of life.

If it had not been for Jim’s death, my approach to life would be very different—far less alert, far less eager, far more ordinary. Instead, I learned from other stress masters and from my own attempts at coping to use my profound hurt as fuel for making my own life more on-purpose and more inspired.

The Origins of Asset-Based Thinking

As it turned out, my desire to create mental coping strategies was only the beginning. The more I worked with leaders and teams, the more I realized that finding the courage and gumption to pursue a great personal aim is just as important to living a rewarding, meaningful life as is bouncing back from traumatic loss. This is the short version of the story of how I came to coin the term Asset-Based Thinking (ABT).

With this newfound understanding of the opportunities hidden within loss, I left The Stress Center and founded The Cramer Institute (TCI), a consulting, coaching, and training practice that shows people how to become Asset-Based Thinkers when dealing with big problems and big opportunities.

You see, both sides of life’s ledger (the upside and the downside) are stressful, and mastering either side requires that you focus the majority of your attention on assets (i.e., your own talents and strengths, what others can positively contribute, and the possibilities inherent in the situation.)

Once you can zero in on the assets of a given circumstance, good or bad, you can take action to leverage them.

In contrast, deficit-based thinking (DBT) is a focus on what is weak, missing, problematic, and debilitating. It is fueled by our brain’s natural “negativity bias,” that is, our neurological hard-wiring to be more sensitive and reactive to what threatens us than what inspires us. Fortunately, new findings in neuroscience, along with my work with cultivating an ABT mindset, show that we can generate new neural networks in the brain to create a “positivity bias.”

With a bias toward noticing assets (instead of deficits) we put ourselves on a course to turn setbacks into stepping stones and stepping stones into success. We are able to glimpse what is possible and take greater leaps forward.

ABT is the foundation of this blog and of my newest book, Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do.

For those of you at the beginning of your Asset-Based Thinking Leadership journey, here are three questions to ponder and respond to.

What if the leaders in our midst learned to:

  • See more possibilities than problems?
  • Say more about “why” and less about “what” and “how”?
  • Do the courageous thing instead of operating out of the comfort zone?
Dr. Kathy Cramer

Kathryn D. Cramer, PH.D.
Founder and Managing Partner, The Cramer Institute