“You Can’t Build on Broken”

I was awed by Angela Blanchard when I heard her speak at Business Innovation Factory Summit #7.


This morning I was re-inspired listening to her talk from TEDxHouston 2011. My head is spinning thinking about how to take what she’s learned about asset based community development and try it in other situations, and just how powerful that could be.

Blanchard begins by explaining that we’ve been trained to analyze what is wrong with poor people and neighborhoods. We look for all the deficits and problems, designing programs to “help” which are “built on broken” and often don’t work.

Her experience of coming from poverty and finding success has informed her work. She describes her young parents doing the best they could to build a life out of their imaginations, not knowing they were broken. She did not see herself as broken and she does not view the people she works with as broken.

In her work, Blanchard shifts the lens from a view of what’s missing to focus on what is present and strong. She feels this changes everything about how you work with people and how they respond.

Her three major strategies are:

  1. Ask new questions – not what is broken but what is working? Ask individuals:  What do you need? What do you have? What works? What is strong? Look for examples of strength and resiliency and build on what is already working.
  2. Listen – find out what matters most, what individuals are driven to do because they care deeply. When you work with what matters to a person YOU don’t need to try to motivate them, they are already motivated and inspired to act.
  3. Work WITH – since you don’t view the person as broken, you can stand side-by-side and work with them to reach their goals.

Blanchard’s experience using this approach in the poorest neighborhoods of Houston and with groups of people relocated from the Hurricane Katrina is instructive and motivating.  She gives examples demonstrating that when you change the questions, it changes how people view themselves. They can see their potential when you respect that they all have deep aspirations and imagination for what they want to do in their life. They are encouraged and better able to move forward. She concludes:

“ If we can move a neighborhood, we can change a city, if we can change a city, we can inspire a country, and .. we can change the world.”    Angela Blanchard

I’m wondering, can we apply her model to education?

What if we took this approach with our children and our students?

Empowered them and tapped into their motivation?

What if we changed our assessments and instead of looking for deficits we looked for strengths?

Asked them to tell us what is working? What they know how to do and can do well?

What if we really listened and asked:

  • What do you care about?
  • What are your hopes and dreams?
  • What really matters to you?

What if instead of telling our children or students what to do, we stood beside them to help them accomplish their goals and solve problems?

Imagine, could we change our families, a classroom, a school,… the world?

Maybe we should give it a try.

What do you think?

3 thoughts on ““You Can’t Build on Broken”

  1. This is the greatest tragedy of our school system. We teach so many intelligent, creative young people that they are broken and reward those who blindly obey.

    We wonder why businesses are failing. We wonder why a generation is forfeit.

    We sacrificed the mind on the altar of power, control, and security.

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