Here´s how Organizations create a Culture of extraordinary Creativity

For a long time, people have been interested in creativity, especially “creative geniuses” such as Mozart, Edison, or van Gogh. We´ve tried to find out what is “special” about these persons: was there something extraordinary about their intellect, their personality, even their brains?

While these are very interesting questions, there is another angle on creativity that may be somewhat more relevant to our everyday lives. Creativity and, in turn, innovation, are key facets of enduring success for most organizations on this planet. Most of this creative output will be “everyday creativity”, not some big mind-blowing leap into another dimension: small, incremental changes that lead to a competitive advantage at least for a while. So while it is surely helpful to ask “How can I get exceptionally creative people on board?” – an even more important question could be:

Killing CreativityHow can we create organizational cultures that foster creativity in each and every person?

As noted in the beginning, research on this special topic is more scarce than then the investigation of individual creativity – but it has been done. Researcher Laird D. McLean has published an article that reviews studies on the connection of organizational culture and creativity, roughly from the 1960s to 2000, incorporating findings from experts such as Harvard´s Theresa M. Amabile and Rosabeth M. Kanter.

Here are the key factors that separate highly creative organizations from the rest:

  • Organic design: influence is based on expertise instead of position, decision-making authority is decentralized.
  • Organizational encouragement: risk-taking is valued and evaluated supportively; collaborative idea flow and participative decision-making is fostered.
  • Supervisory encouragement: managers clarify team goals and support team’s creative work, support open interaction.
  • Work group encouragement: organization actively fosters/leverages diversity, integrating creative personalities into “organizational mainstream”.
  • Freedom and autonomy: organization grants sovereignty to employees with regard to determining the means by which to achieve goals.
  • Resources: finding the „golden mean“ with regard to time and money: scarcity produces fear, distrust, and burnout, excess decreases creative performance.

No rocket science, huh…? If you are a manager, now go out and do that… 🙂


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New Article in Professional Magazine: Workplace Happiness and Job Crafting

Mach Dich zufriedenFor my German-speaking readers…

In the October issue of managerSeminare, Germany´s premier professional magazine for coaching and training, the lead article is concerned with workplace happiness and job satisfaction. I´ve been interviewed for that piece and was able to contribute some notions on job-crafting as theorized by MAPP lecturer Amy Wrzesniewski.

The print article lies behind a paywall but I might be able obtain a PDF to share in some weeks. In the meantime, you might want to listen to a podcast based on that article. This is available for free. Enjoy!

By the way: an article from spring 2014 in that same Magazine, which deals with a more general introduction to Positive Psychology, can be obtained for free here.


The Eudaimonic Wellbeing and Happiness of Undertakers

UndertakerYesterday, I gave a one-hour introductory talk on Positive Psychology. Yet, the listeners weren´t your usual business crowd. The talk was embedded in a convention of about 100 undertakers (more formally: morticians); precisely, they were a youth organization (in this case meaning: under 40) of the “German Association of Morticians”. The convention was held in a larger hotel complex and there even was an exhibition for hearses, caskets, urns, and other…well…undertaker supplies. Actually, some of the regular hotel guests looked a bit scared.

While introducing Marty Seligman´s PERMA model of flourishing and talking about meaning in life, and interesting question came to my mind: Are undertakers happier or unhappier than the average person? And: are they experiencing higher levels of eudaimonic well-being in their lives?

Obviously, undertakers are confronted with death and mortality all the time – but not necessarily their own mortality. Yet, this could be the case, of course. And this, in turn, should lead to specific consequences. Making people think about their own death (inducing a “limited time perspective”) has been shown to increase prosocial behavior and diminish one´s “extrinsic value orientation”. And this is associated with higher eudaimonic well-being.

I did some straw polls with their participants. Most confirmed that they are leading fulfilled lives. But they also admitted there seems to be a high prevalence of burnout in that profession – probably as a consequence of the “emotional work” it entails.

Anyway, that should be an interesting study from many different angles: comparing undertakers with the general population. Anyone wants to do it?


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The Scientific Case for Compassion – feat. a TEDx Talk by Dacher Keltner

Even though the idea of compassion lies at the heart of virtually each and every religious and spiritual movement (with Buddhism and the Dalai Lama problably being the frontrunner), psychological science has ignored this important feature of our human nature for quite a long time, describing it as a subtype of other, more primary emotions. Starting with research on meditation, such as carried out by pioneers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, the topic has slowly but surely entered the “regular” academic discourse. Nowadays, the science of compassion is a full-blown discipline, being researched, e.g., at Stanford´s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) or Berkeley´s Greater Good Science Center (GGSC).

In 2010, researchers Jennifer L. Goetz, Dacher Keltner, and Emiliana Simon-Thomas authored a review article that sought to make a case for the idea that compassion is a truly distinctive feature on the continuum of human behavior and emotion. Here´s what they have to say in their conclusion:

Our review reveals compassion to arise out of distinct appraisal processes, to have distinct display behaviors, distinct experiences, and an approach-related physiological response. The state like experience of compassion, and the trait like tendency to feel compassion, fall under the purview of three evolutionary arguments: that compassion evolved as part of a caregiving response to vulnerable offspring, that compassionate individuals were preferred in mate selection processes, and that compassion emerged as a desirable trait in cooperative relations between non-kin.

If you want to hear the full story, please read the aforementioned article. You may also want to watch this TEDx talk by Dacher Keltner (who´s the director of the aforementioned GGSC). Enjoy!

Being your Best on the Job: The Case of Thriving at Work

A couple of days ago, I shared some videos where Kim Cameron elaborates on his ideas about organizational energy. Yesterday, I stumbled upon an adjacent concept that I find equally interesting: Thriving (at work). It was first described by a group of researchers comprising – among others – Gretchen Spreitzer and MAPP lecturers Jane Dutton and Adam Grant.

Striving is a seen as a two-dimensional construct. In short, we experience ourselves as striving when we feel a sense of a) vitality and b) learning. More precisely, vitality represents a sense that one is energized and has a zest for work. Learning, in turn, is signified by the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills to build capability and confidence.Together, these dimensions capture both the affective (vitality) and cognitive (learning) essence of the psychological experience of personal growth (Porath, Spreitzer, Gibson & Garnett, 2011).

There is some preliminary evidence that the experience of thriving as depicted above is significantly linked to favorable outcomes such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and even performance. In this paper, a questionnaire for the measurement of thriving is described. If you´re interested, please watch this short video of Gretchen Spreitzer describing the concept. Enjoy!

The Rise of Positive Psychology: Linking the Movement to the 6th Kondratieff Cycle

One very interesting question about Positive Psychology is: Why now? Meaning: Why is it booming at this point in time, why is it gaining so much momentum, why is it turning into a – sort of – movement, attracting the attention of thousands of researchers (plus: institutions that fund research) and practitioners in business, education, healthcare – and elsewhere?

An easy answer could be: Because Marty Seligman chose it as the central topic of his tenure as president of the APA in 1998. Apart from being a brilliant researcher, Marty has proven to be a very good “salesman” and is also highly skilled at securing grants and other third-party funds. But I guess this response is too simple.

The core ideas of Positive Psychology (first and foremost: looking at the “positive” side of the continuum that comprises human behavior and development) have been around for a while, starting with some of the Greek philosophers – and leading all the way up to 20th century humanistic psychologists such as Viktor Frankl, Erich Fromm, and Abraham Maslow. They all do have their well-deserved spot in the psychology hall of fame – and they are widely respected for their (theoretical) contributions. But they did not really manage to turn their ideas into a widely-accepted and especially well-researched “field”, a broad and comprehensive sub-domain of the academic community.

All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come. (Victor Hugo)

Turns out it may not be their fault after all. There is a good chance that they were simply introducing their ideas to the world…too early. Positive Psychology may be booming during this era of economic development (and human development in general) because it could be the decisive force to spur growth and well-being over the next 50 years (or so…).

Positive Psychology and the sixth Kondratieff Wave

Enter Nikolai Kondratieff (1892-1938). Kondratieff devised an economic theory that today is known as Kondratieff Cycles (often called „theory of the long waves“). They are a concept in macro-economics that describes the development (expansion, stagnation, recession) of entire economies. Yet in contrast to most modern economic theories, Kondratieff did not focus on cycles that last for a few years. He tried to describe waves that last approximately 50-60 years.

A core concept of the theory is the notion of “basic innovations”: Kondratieff posited that a wave arises from the clustering of technical innovations that consecutively serve to launch technological revolutions that in turn create leading industrial or commercial sectors (please see the following graph taken from a research report created by German insurance giant Allianz for a basic overview of the first five cycles – and a projection for the upcoming sixth cycle):

Kobdratieff Waves

As you can see our economy is depicted as entering the sixth wave since the first industrial revolution. What you can also see is a list of candidates for the basic innovations that are projected to drive economic growth during the upcoming cycle (e.g. nanotechnology, biotechology, green-tech).

But there´s another important candidate on the list that is also elaborated on in the Allianz whitepaper – but was introduced to the public a lot earlier through the book The Sixth Kondratieff by Leo Nefiodow (which has recently been reissued in a 6th edition): Holistic health. This encompasses all those products and (medical) services that cater to the needs of an aging society. But it also decidedly incorporates all the services that cater to the psycho-social wellbeing of the workforces in our organizations.

This is where Positive Psychology as a growth driver may tie in. Phenomena such as the burnout syndrome have been on the rise for at least the past 15 years – resulting in billions and billions lost for corporations and society as a whole as a result of absence from work and medical costs (…and I´m not even trying to incorporate the “psychological costs”; and the “social costs” for families, friends, communities). And according to Gallup, the U.S. economy loses some 450-550 billion Dollar per year due to a disengaged workforce (for Germany, the number is depicted at around 130 billion Euro).

Positive Psychology (especially positive organizational scholarship) offers well-researched and at the same time practical solutions for (a lot of) these problems, at the individual and organizational level. For an overview, you might want to check the recently published book How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact by editors Jane Dutton and Gretchen Spreitzer. Other valuable books can be found on this list.

To sum up: I propose Positive Psychology may be the decisive basic innovation of the 6th Kondratieff wave.

What do you think of this?