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From SWOT to FOAR: Teaching Your Brain to See the Positives

Appreciative inquiry makes it possible to focus on what can drive your success.

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This article was translated from our Spanish edition. Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
  • The process of appreciative inquiry invites you to practice the FOAR method, consisting of the review of Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results.

Within the broad world of human behavior we know that there is a tendency to see more of the negative than the positive in situations. Our brain processes about 60,000 thoughts a day. Many of them are negative, absurd, or repetitive. More than 90% are repeated and around 80 to 90% are negative, with the consequences that this represents in the reality of that person: negativity, judgments, disappointment, frustration, fear, stagnation, unhappiness.

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The psychologist Martin Seligman, promoter of the so-called positive psychology, affirms in his book " Authentic happiness " that for every one hundred articles that talk about sadness, only one is published about happiness. A proportion similar to what happens with the news shown by most of the media.

There is a valuable tool as individuals and also for companies and teams, called appreciative inquiry , which allows focusing on the contributory aspects of the issues to be managed, instead of focusing exclusively on those that remain in the search for solutions.

To be clear: it is not a question of denying reality and what is lived, but of resignifying it and highlighting the aspects that do help to resolve it.

From SWOT to FOAR

In the business world it is very common to use the SWOT matrix (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats; also known as SWOT) to analyze different aspects to solve.

Applying a similar model, here aimed at improving decision-making and enhancing human behavior, the appreciative inquiry process invites us to practice the FOAR method, consisting of the review of Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results.

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Appreciative inquiry draws on the contributions of Professor David Cooperrider from Case Western University in the United States, and defines it as “the 4D's” of appreciation: Discover, Dream ( Dream in English), Design and Plan ( Deliver in English) ). And we cannot change them, because the opportunity presents itself as it is and when it appears; although you do have the power to accept or reject it.

Let's review each of the aspects of the FOAR matrix:

1. Strengths

It is the starting point, discovering the tools you have. Everything that is already good and that contributes to the success of the objective is detailed; even when applied to solve challenges.

To focus, it is important to use triggers, for example, what skills do you have, how much do you know about yourself or the topic to be addressed, what values influence your strengths; and also what contributory beliefs -those that we know as positive-, in addition to asking “In what do I recognize that I have or have a lot of talent?  

2. Opportunities

This quadrant of FOAR contemplates open-mindedness and the change of internal models to expand beyond the known. There are internal opportunities , for example, the permission you give yourself to experience the new, the predisposition, the encouragement and the enthusiasm to face your process of personal and professional improvement; and also external , where you learn to detect everything that the environment offers as opportunities for improvement - such as taking a course, accessing a contact to resolve a situation, a book that triggered a lateral thinking that you had not considered.

In this area of opportunities, imagination, creativity and innovation become strategic allies to be able to expand your power of perception to solve the different issues that previously concerned you and today you are sitting on them from new perspectives.

3. Aspirations

Everything that you cannot see yet does not mean that it cannot happen in the future. That is why the FOAR model relies on the world of possibilities .

Possibility is born from internal openness and predisposition for good things to happen. Everything that you aspire to, dream of, want to discover, and yearn to achieve, can find a way of realization through the opportunities you are visualizing, no matter how distant they may seem at the moment.

To determine your aspirations and those of a team, it is necessary to review the strengths and opportunities and specifically establish the goals you want to achieve. As triggering questions: What is really important and what am I passionate about? Where do I or do we want to go? How do I concretely envision the future? (Create a mental image as if it were in HD) How will the successful result of these aspirations be in the concrete? What emotions will be present?

There is an interesting exercise that I would like to propose: make a positive portrait of yourself, and you can also propose it to your team: take a photograph of your face -and it can also be of each member of a team- , and begin to write with a firm hand qualities in different places in that photo. For example, qualities related to vision where you want to go in the eye area; those of communication, in the area of the mouth; that of creativity, on the forehead; empathy and listening skills, in the ears, and so on, you will associate spaces in your photo with qualities that help in appreciative inquiry. You will be surprised by the result. If you need to develop any of these aspects further, view the photo for several weeks in a row daily for a few moments, and let your subconscious mind do the rest.

4. Results

This is the final consequence of the actions you have taken to reach the goal. It is the concrete effect of an event activated in time.

In this quadrant of FOAR you will define the tangible and measurable indicators of what you want to obtain. Achieving the sale of a certain number of units of a product, opening a new business in a certain strategic location, successfully overcoming a challenge that can empower the person or company, or the conclusion of a negotiation, are some practical examples and concrete.

To achieve the results, it is necessary to draw up the action plan, establish goals using specific methodologies, develop the strategy, determine those responsible and the time in which this point will be reached, and measure partial progress.

It is known to all that results are not obtained without focused action, available energy and clarity to activate everything that is necessary to achieve it. Because just dreaming or imagining it, and even simply having it in a plane of aspiration without action, will not be enough to make them happen.

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Discipline, clarity and permanent focus, adjusting deviations and correcting in a positive sense, will be other indispensable tools to achieve this.

Taking into account the structure of the FOAR model, you will be able to enhance the aspects that will help you move forward, and possibilities will arise that perhaps were not taken into account in the traditional SWOT model.

The invitation is to observe, always and permanently, the positive and contributory aspects in all situations. What will happen if you do? You will positively modify your mental model, turning towards one focused directly on what brings you closer to the results you want to obtain, in a more overcoming way, versus that old pattern of having the focus on what you lack or the obstacles.