The Continuum of Potential

The following expands upon an excerpt from the article Catalytic Thinking: A Framework for Creating and Scaling Powerful Results.

Practices that Bring Out the Best in People in Specific (Often Difficult) Situations
Sometimes people are just being people – whether that is at a staff meeting or the dinner table. Then there are times when people find themselves in situations.
   • Joe’s boss is being demanding.
   • Mary’s spouse is coming home from work later and later.
   • Bureaucracy in Liz’s workplace is making it impossible for her to do her job well.

What, then, does it take to bring out the best in people who are dealing with situations in their lives – those circumstances we think of as challenges to their potential?

To bring out the best in people in specific situations requires listening deeply, with the dual intention of meeting people where they are and opening the door to their potential to create positive results.

Catalytic Thinking provides several practices to accomplish those goals, including Catalytic Listening, and the Continuum of Potential.

The Continuum of Potential
We have all heard the expression, “Meet people where they are.” (I even used it in the section above this one!).

What that dictum suggests is that it is easy to know where people are. The truth is far from that. We often misread the signals people send us. As a result, we find it difficult to respond in a way that opens the door to their potential (or sometimes to even see any potential at all!).

The Continuum of Potential is a practice for understanding the verbal and behavioral cues that people are sending us all the time, that we simply are not trained to notice – or know what to do with when we see them.

Rooted in a combination of brain science, behavioral psychology and practical experience, the theory behind the Continuum of Potential is simple: When it comes to taking action about anything in our lives, each of us is at a different stage along a continuum of being ready to step into our potential.  

There are 8 basic stages along that continuum, beginning at the “If Only” stage, where we are waiting for an outside force to create our desired change for us. After several stages is the “I’ll try something new” stage, where we are willing to perhaps take a small experimental action (which may be no more than reading an article or attending a workshop). After several more stages, we are no longer doing the new behavior, but “being” it – it is who we are, until finally we are “teaching it by being it” – being an example to others, simply in how we relate to the world.

Using the Continuum, practitioners gain deeper insights into where individuals are in their own willingness / eagerness to step into their potential. They also gain insights into the kinds of responses that are likely to be received well and acted upon – the first step towards catalyzing positive results.

The Continuum of Potential addresses questions such as:

  • When we say, “Meet people where they are,” where exactly are they? What does it take to understand what someone’s potential really is?
  • In the same circumstances with the same stimuli, why do some people take action while others either fail to do so or even shut down completely?
  • What can our role be as catalysts for bringing out the best in those individuals?

We have all encountered situations where we have walked away thinking, “If you didn’t want my advice, why did you ask for it?” or “She’s always complaining about the same thing, but never doing anything about it!” Catalytic Thinking’s “Continuum of Potential” makes explicit what is really going on in that delicate interplay between where people are and where they want to be. By uncovering those realities, positive results can be replicated and scaled, so that anyone can consistently bring out the best in people who are facing issues and challenges, large or small.

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