Enablers vs Disablers

I’ve met two kinds of people in my life when it comes to taking on risk and new ideas. They are enablers and disablers.

As a side note, I do understand there are those who can enable and disable negative behaviour and feel that many of these traits however are still relevant.

So you have a new idea or you want to reinvent something – maybe it’s reinventing yourself. You turn to people for advice/feedback and support and these can vary from family, friends, colleagues, strangers and peers. Often due to their relationship with you, you will get a varying brand of ‘support’ based on emotional and physical context. Eg your mum will worry more than a stranger on the street about you riding a motorbike for instance.

You will meet these two kinds of behaviours – and they can even come from the same person depending on the situation and their emotional relationship to you and the content of your idea.

Enablers

Enablers are people who first look for possibility rather than limitation.

Whatever the idea, they look for the reasons you could/should/would do it. When asking for feedback, they tend to lean towards asking questions followed by supportive opinion. They are usually excited for you, use positive reinforcement and generally believe anything can be done, it’s just a matter of how. You may get some concerns but you will feel it’s them being pragmatic and helpful because they received your idea at first with huge positivity rather than rushing to find the holes.

Enablers are about validation and whatever the context (good and bad), we all seek validation that we’re worthy, likely to succeed and perhaps onto something.

Disablers

Disablers are people who first look at their past experience before your vision.

Whatever the idea, they look for the reasons you couldn’t/shouldn’t/wouldn’t do it.  When asking for feedback, they tend to lean towards expressing opinion and evidence of past events. They often refer to themselves as devil’s advocates just providing constructive criticism/feedback. You will get some positive reinforcement from them but it will often feel like a token gesture not to hurt your feelings rather than because they generally want to help you work out how to make it work – even if they are.

Disablers are about ‘feedback’ and whatever the context, we all think we need feedback because we might miss something and fail and then look stupid so we begrudgingly approach them.

Which one do you want to be?

The question is, how much feedback do you need? Both of these roles have value in your idea, but it’s a matter of when you introduce them. Feedback is good but you will never find the courage and energy to try if you start with disablers. For whatever reason, you believe your thing will work, so embrace that energy. Be an enabler, find and attract other enablers. Motivation, excitement and the drive to want to try and fail always beats scrutinising a plan to death.

Remember that once upon a time, the general world belief was that flight was a fantasy and there were plenty of people with reasons why. It’s always easier to shoot something down that put it up on the air in the first place.

Interestingly enough, people are always more attracted to being enabled than disabled. 

Next time someone presents their idea to you, make a point only to ask ‘how will you…’ type questions, be really excited for them and find a way to help enable them rather than disable them. Don’t worry, you will still get to provide feedback in good time plus it will be received with open arms. It’s about asking these questions in a positive manner and enabling them to answer them in their own time and come to you for feedback.

They’re not actually wanting you to force your limited imagination down their throat – after all those people are a dime a dozen.

5 thoughts on “Enablers vs Disablers

  1. Interesting post.

    Given that you’re an Australian now in the U.S., what cultural component do you see in this behavior? I moved to the U.S. from my native Canada in 1988 and one reason was the huge difference in attitude between the two countries — Canadians in general are far more risk-averse and negative, always looking for the downside to any new venture, while I’ve consistently found an openness to innovation here that I really appreciate.

    While trying to sell my first book (I then had collected 19 rejections) two Toronto friends said, “But you don’t really expect to sell it, do you?” Yes, I did and six more rejections later, I did.

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    1. Thanks Caitlin for your reply!

      Firstly, congratulations on your book and I’m glad that you persisted!

      Well Canada is much like Australia in this case with regard to the conservative and more ‘industrious’ type view point on work, reward and risk taking so I can relate.

      I’ve found that regardless of where I’ve lived and visited, I have experienced both types of people. Whilst I believe there are less disablers in San Francisco where I live due to the entrepreneurial ecosystem here, there are still those who see the world from a perspective of ‘yeah but…’ as opposed to ‘so how can…’

      I think the underlying theme of this behaviour is just generally how people see life whether that may be from a position of trying new things to sticking with what’s safe.

      Hope that answers your question on my perspective and thanks again for taking the time to reply!

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  2. Hmm…Yes…great post Paul. I think Australian’s in general have the ‘tall poppy’ thing going on which leads many of them to be ‘disablers’ but I also think our natural tendency to fear failure leads us to have a predisposition towards giving ‘disablers’ and their 2c worth more weight in our own minds than ‘enablers’. It can be very difficult to put aside the negative feedback, opinions, tales of woe and other less than inspiring info we get when we put an idea out there, but perhaps that’s a test of our own belief in the concept? We need to make sure that we believe in ourselves enough to confidently clear the hurdles ‘disablers’ and our own fear of failure present.

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    1. I feel there’s a new time and opportunity for people who do nothing but look for what’s right about something. If as much energy was given to making things work vs finding reasons for not making them work, I’d be curious to see if the result would be cheaper/faster/happier.

      Best example of this is bureaucracy! Most of the time, it’s about reactively fixing problems because of policy which is a disabling response rather than designing a system that works even though it might go against policy which is an enabling response! 🙂

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  3. Although I can see your point (and applaud it!), there is a misconception on the “labels”. Strictly speaking, an Enabler is a person who is in a relationship, however loosely, backs up poor behaviour by another be it drinks, drugs, physical or emotional. What you’re discussing is encouragement – which is great and I love that. We need more of those people!

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