A glass sits before you, and the age-old rhetorical question comes to mind. Is the glass half-empty, or is it half-full? The implication of this question reveals an individual’s perspective on the world as to whether it is an optimistic view (half-full), or pessimistic view (half-empty). It also can reveal a scientific viewpoint (half-liquid, half-gas), which is an answer that will guarantee at least one eye-roll and a groan.

Despite the cliche nature of this question, it is one that still garners some compelling dialogue with those willing to consider the implication of the riddle. The glass-half-empty represents a depleting state, a problem that must be solved to extend the having of the fluid contained within the glass. With each sip, the consumer’s concern, stress, and conservation increase, and enjoyment decrease. As the final drop skids its way along the descending angle of the glass toward the consumer’s lips, an undoubtedly sorrowful wave of frustration envelops the consumer. The reaction is not only due to the fluid’s absence but also in the futility of the effort.

The glass-half-full represents a state of gratitude. It is an understanding that it is more common to have an empty glass than to have one containing fluid. It is an acknowledgment that others have provided the glass’ contents with the expectation of leveraging it to its utmost potential. Much like the glass-half-empty scenario, a mind of conservation arises but not for preservation, but rather, for its impact. The consumer does not carelessly spill its contents on the floor when his neighbor is panting in thirst. When the glass stands dry upon the table, the consumer is awash with joy, knowing that its contents have increased their impact and influence.

Encountering problems with your data, your workflows, and your projects manifest the common glass question in the real world. Indeed, the weaknesses of the design or plan have contributed to the problem at hand. Also, the potential threats, if unattended, are real and can be significant. It would be careless to deny or underplay these factors. However, your response to the situation quickly reveals whether you are in the glass-half-empty or glass-half-full camp. The reaction of the glass-half-empty team is one that seeks to lay blame and sharp criticism for their predecessors. They expend much energy and time in complaining and pursuing a punitive response (i.e., fire him!).

Alternatively, the glass-half-full camp quickly recognizes the opportunity found within the problem at hand. They understand that we all operate in a limited capacity, and despite all efforts to anticipate the future and exceptions of the process, we are not omniscient. They know that problems will inevitably arrive and when they do, they carry with them the opportunity for improvement and learning. When these problems arise, they will be solved by those who are prepared for the moment and will deliver the situation as not merely as a fix, but rather, advancement for the entire organization.

Which camp do you find your organization, your team, and yourself in when the inevitable problem presents itself? Many of us have pitched our tent in one or the other by habit or by influence. It is through intentionality that a change of perspective arrives. When we can distill a problem into is opportunities, our work is more enjoyable, effective, and impactful. It is the secret to excelling in the workplace and the marketplace. When you find yourself toasting your co-workers over the latest success, consider the contents of the vessel in your hands and how your perspective of it contributed to the celebration.