Today, I´ve delivered a keynote on Relational Energy in organization at a large coaching conference in Helsinki, Finland. You can find the charts to my presentation here. Addtionally, Nina Karlson has created this beautiful graphic recording:The evening before the event, I had the great honor to go out for dinner with Esa Saarinen (and his wife), one of my heros from academia. Esa is a kind of celebrity in Finland – but more important, a generous and awesome human being. You can find out more about his work here.
I´m super happy. After my official TEDx premiere at TEDx Bergen/Norway in 2014 (How to be the architect of your own fortune), as of today, my second TEDx talk is available on YouTube. It was filmed at the very first edition of TEDx EBS late in 2016. EBS University (or European Business School Oestrich-Winkel) is one of the premier business schools in Germany and, coincidentally, the place where I obtained my Ph.D.
The talk is named “Dare to Foster Compassion in Organizations”. It draws on research by luminaries such as Jane Dutton, Monica Worline, Adam Galinsky, Laura Little, Jennifer Berdahl, and the late Peter Frost (and even though they are neither mentioned nor referenced on a slide explicitly, Esa Saarinen, Adam Grant, and Robert Quinn).
I hope you will enjoy the talk! And if you do, please consider sharing the news. Thank You!
If you are interested in a (sort of…) transcript of the talk: this was published here a while ago.
The word compassion sounds “soft”. It invokes images of praying Buddhist monks, nurses taking care of the feeble, or a priest administering the last rites to a dying person. What surely doesn´t come to mind is the picture of a corporate boardroom, right? But why?
When we walk into to the office in the morning and someone asks us “How are you?” we´re supposed to say something along the lines of: “Fine! How about you?” It´s part of the language game in the corporate world. We know this. At the same time, we all know that quite often, people are presenting a white lie at this point. We know this very well precisely because we do the same every once in a while. We say “I´m fine” even when things clearly aren´t fine at all.
Life can be a bitch. Our loved ones become sick or pass away. We fight with our spouses, our children, our parents, our neighbors. There are bills to pay and sometimes the end of the month is still too far away. Hell, the Warriors lose to the Cavs after a 3:1 lead in the NBA finals. It´s tough.
This emotional load – we bring it into the office, no matter if we admit it or if we decide to cover up. Most people indeed choose to cover up – as somehow, someone decided a hundred years ago that businesses ought to be rational places, spaces where emotions don´t belong or even disrupt normal functioning (whatever that is…).
The problem is: It´s just not possible. People cannot shut down their emotions at discretion. At least not for longer periods of time – and certainly not without paying a price.
There is always pain in the room.
This sentence was coined by the late management professor Peter Frost, one of the pioneers studying and advocating compassion in business settings. It´s a quite powerful proposition, even though (Or maybe: because?) it states something very obvious. Shit happens to the best of us. We suffer – and sometimes, it takes us a long time to cope. We feel pain and sorrow and those feelings don’t bother to ask us if we are currently at work or at home.
So, how should managers and co-workers react? The common rules of business tell us to ignore or downplay the issue but in most cases, that´s not what really helps.
Not showing our suffering or downplaying the suffering of our colleagues is a perfect example of what Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen calls a system of holding back in return and advance. We don’t openly display our suffering because we expect from prior interactions that it will not be acted upon appropriately. Meanwhile, the others see no need to act compassionately as everything seems to be OK. Ad infinitum. And the longer this “non-reciprocity circle” is in place, the harder it becomes for an individual to make a first move in order to interrupt the chain of neglect.
Another way would be to act compassionately: To notice the negative feelings of our co-workers, to feel empathetic concern, and to act accordingly. Compassion does not equal to fully experiencing the same feelings as the person we´re compassionate to.
Put in a straight-forward way…
…being compassionate means to be willing to imagine how it would feel like to walk some miles in another person´s shoes – and then, upon recognizing this would probably be hurtful, trying to appropriately mitigate that pain or suffering.
That´s it. It´s not a mystic thing – and we don´t have to mediate in a cave for 20 years before we´re able to pull off that stunt.
We know how to be compassionate even before we can ride a bike. Small children act compassionately by nature. When they see another child crying, they instinctively show signs of distress – and then they try to help with their restricted means, e.g., by caressing their counterpart or sharing a toy.
But somehow, this get´s lost as we get our high school diplomas, university degrees – and then move on to become business people. Which is a pity, because businesses create a lot of pain themselves – it´s not all from our private lives. People suffer because they don’t get that promotion, because their buddies get laid off, or just because co-workers, or even worse, bosses behave in outright toxic ways. Again, we all know this to some degree.
Here´s the point: Science shows over and over again that by carelessly ignoring these emotional dynamics, businesses are hurting the bottom line. If you want to know how, I´d like to point you towards this superb review article written by science rock star Jane Dutton of University of Michigan´s Center for Positive Organizations and some colleagues (that´s also where I “stole” the graphic from):
Dutton, J. E., Workman, K. M., & Hardin, A. E. (2014). Compassion at Work. Annual Reviews of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior,1(1), 277-304.
Update 2: If you´d like to follow all of the accounts mentioned below, you can do so by following this Twitter list I´ve created this morning.
Update 1: Thanks a lot for all the positive feedback to this post. Within just 12 hours, it has become one of the most-read on Mappalicious. Via your suggestions, the list is now at 90 Twitter accounts. Therefore, I´ve decided to copy/paste this post to the (permanent) Positive Psychology Resources section. Further suggestions to the list will be added there, not here.
Over the last four years, Twitter tweets could not be found via Google. Now, both companies announced a new partnership which makes sure tweets will be part of the search results again. This means Twitter will become (even) more important in the future. So I guess that’s a good reason to see what Twitter has to offer with regard to Positive Psychology. Below, you’ll find 77 Twitter accounts of researchers, consultants, coaches, writers, bloggers, instititions, associations, news outlets, and software tools. As always, this is meant to be work in progress. So if you feel you know somebody (or an institution etc.) that belongs on this list, please leave a comment below this article. If you want to make a suggestion, please stick to people that either are in research, or otherwise display an in-depth knowledge of Positive Psychology (visible through e.g., a corresponding university degree).
On November 20, 2014, the University of Aalto, Finland hosted a conference by the name of “Being Better in the World of Systems” in order to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Systems Analysis Laboratory. The keynote speaker was internationally acclaimed management “guru” Peter Senge (author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization). His one-hour-long lecture is now available online:
Additionally, you can watch a lecturer by Esa Saarinen by the name of “Systems Intelligence as Life Philosophy”.
I´ve written 157 posts on Mappalicious in 2014. My learning: Content curation (when it´s well done…) really draws large audiences. Posts No. 1, 2, 4, 6, and, to a lesser degree, 10 are lists of Positive Psychology articles, books, and videos.
Then, video content obviously works: No. 7 & 9 are beautiful video clips on Positive Psychology topics.
I’m a big fan of the idea of Systems Intelligence, a concept by Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen and his collaborators that I’ve explored Systems Intelligence here on Mappalicious.
Recently, together with some colleagues from Aalto University, he has published a new book by the name of “Being better better” that explores Systems Intelligence in a way that addresses the layman. You can download a free PDF of the book here. I highly suggest reading it. Enjoy!
After having approval by the TED organization, I´m finally and officially allowed to share with you the TEDx talk I gave in Bergen/Norway on October 4. I talked about the issue of luck – and how we all can bring more luck into our lives. So please excuse me if the article’s headline was a little misleading. No here´s the talk. I firmly intend to get a least 100.000 views – so please share it if you like. And below, you´ll find a complete transcript (more or less…) and the history behind it all. Enjoy!
So here´s the story before the story that´s also part of the story. I gave the talk on October 4 (Saturday) – and was invited to give the talk on Monday of that same week – because one of the speakers cancelled on short notice. The week was a regular work week, so my time for preparation and rehearsing was really, really short. Typically TED speakers have a couple of months to prepare and they get coaching to deliver their talk right on point. I´ve had nothing like that.
I had to conceptualize and write my talk, tweak it, and learn it all by myself in some 15 hours. And given these rather difficult circumstances, I´m actually pretty proud of myself – which is a rather un-German thing to do. Typically, when I give presentations, I do have a script or something like that. I prepare my charts and give the talk ad lib – which works out pretty well (based on the feedback I get).
But giving a TED talk is totally different from hosting a presentation in a board room. Basically, you cannot “let the charts do the talking”. You have to be a true storyteller. And in order to be able to do that, I decided to do something which I haven´t done since early high-school: leaning something by heart´. I wrote down what I wanted to say word by word – and then tried to memorize it all, sort of like an actor in a theater. That´s why I´m able to share the script with you right here.
I´ve watched my talk three times by now to evaluate my performance. And it’s really interesting to note where I stayed true to the script, where I forgot something, or put something in ad lib – and how that made the talk better (especially a little funnier) than intended (at least from my point of view).
So here´s the transcript. Enjoy – once again!
A great storm came into a town and there was an emergency warning that the riverbanks would soon overflow and flood all the nearby homes. The officials ordered everyone to evacuate immediately. A faithful Christian man heard the warning and decided to stay, saying to himself, “I will trust God! God will send a miracle to save me.” The man´s neighbors came by his house and said: “We’re leaving and there is room for you in our car, please come with us!” But the man declined. “I have faith that God will save me.”
The flood rose higher into his living room and the man had to retreat to the second floor. A police motorboat came by and saw him at the window. “We will come up and rescue you!” they shouted. But the man refused once more, saying, “Go save someone else! I have faith that God will save me!”
Still the waters rose higher and higher and the man had to climb up to his rooftop. A helicopter spotted him and dropped a rope ladder. “Grab the ladder and we will pull you up!”, an officer screamed. But the man still refused, folding his arms tightly to his body. “No thank you! God will save me!”
Shortly after, the house broke up and the floodwaters swept the man away and he drowned. An instant later, the man knocked at the pearly gates, was let in, walked straight up to God and asked: “Hey Man, I put all of my faith in you. Why didn’t you come and save me?” And God said, “Geez, I´m so sorry about that. I really tried to save you. I sent you a car, a motorboat, a helicopter….
Today, I want to talk to you about luck. Serendipity. Fortune. Originally, I wanted to name my talk “How to get lucky”. Thank God I´ve found out just early enough that this means something else entirely…
So instead, I´ll call it “How to be the architect of your own fortune”. Let´s have a look at that word: Fortune. It can be derived from the name Fortuna – and Fortuna was the Goddess of luck and fate in the Roman mythology. There she is. What you can clearly see: she is blindfolded. That means: she is impartial. She can bestow upon each of us good luck and fortune, but also disaster. The point is: she´s not supposed to care about the recipient. Instead, she is an agent of chance. She is a symbol for the unpredictability of life.
That is what the ancient Romans believed: Luck, whether good or bad, is something that happens to us. We cannot interfere. Some people are born under a lucky star – and some are not. But it turns out that this view about the world is most likely incorrect.
Today, I want to convince you that we all can – at least to a great extent – be the architects of our own fortune. We can change our stars. We can learn how to be lucky. In order to do so, I will draw on the work of a few great scientists, and I will draw on the wisdom of some ancient and some contemporary sages. And I will also illustrate some points based on my personal history.
But let me start with you guys…
Here in my hands I have a bill. It is a 100 Kronen bill and it´s worth roughly 15 US dollars. Now the question is: does somebody of you want to have this 100 Kronen bill? It is real. Who wants to have it? Please raise your hands…
Ok, so would somebody please stand up and come to stage and collect the bill? … OK, thank you – a big round of applause to our lucky winner.
So what happened? Why didn´t all of you take to the stage? What were you thinking? I guess it was something like: “Ahem…is he really…no…he´s not really…oh wait he really is…damn…too late.”
What did he do? He/she acted. He said: yes. Go for it. And that is already a big part of the mystery. I believe that luck favors those of us who act. Those that go out and do something. Those, that take a chance. There you have it: take a chance! Luck likes people who say: YES!
Nico´s TED History
Truth is: I´m a lucky guy. I am not on a TEDx stage for the first time. This is the second time. I spoke about how to “not get mad in a traffic jam” at a TEDx event in Cologne last year. But: I wasn´t invited to speak. I was a regular guest just like most of you are today. One of the speakers cancelled right on that day – but instead of extending the break, the organizers did something else: They addressed the audience and said: “OK, so we´re going to split up those 18 minutes by three: and if you feel like giving an impromptu 5-minute TEDx talk, write your name down on a piece of paper, put it on the speaker´s desk during the next break.
So I wrote my name down and put it on the desk. And lucky me: my name was drawn from the stack and I gave my little 5-minute TEDx talk – and it was a big success. There was definitely an element of luck in there. There were 10 or 12 slips of paper on the desk. So my chances were roughly at 30%. I was lucky, definitely.
But: To be invited to give an ad-lib Tedx talk takes more than being lucky. For example, you have to be there in the first place. You have to buy a ticket and show up. That´s straightforward – but nevertheless crucially important. And then, in this case, you have to express yourself. You have to be brave and optimistic and write your name on that slip of paper and tell the world what you have to offer. And then, when your name is acutally pulled from the stack, you have to say yes. You have to go for it. You have to be brave. Just like the fellow who now owns 100 Kronen more than 10 minutes ago.
But that´s not the whole story. In order to give an improvised TED talk, you also have to be prepared. You need to have knowledge and stories in the back of your head. You have to be ready. The books I´ve read, and the seminars I attended, the hundreds of TED talks I watched – all that helped me to be prepared when the opportunity arose. And there we have four essential building blocks for being the architect of your own fortune:
Prepare – be there – express – and say yes! Prepare – be there – express – and say yes!
Sounds good, does it? Let´s look at those four elements in detail
Louis Pasteur – Prepare
The scientist Louis Pasteur famously said: Chance favors the prepared mind. I think he stole that from Oprah Winfrey. Chance favors the prepared mind. Pasteur was referring to scientific discoveries when he proclaimed that – but isn´t that just a special case of being lucky? What he meant was: You have to be able to understand what you see when you see something. You have to be able to connect the dots, discover a pattern – and make sense of it. And this ability, in turn, is based on training, prior knowledge, expertise. That´s what why we tend to get luckier the more we learn and grow.
Woody Allen – Be there
Let´s turn our attention to a slightly more modern sage: Mr. Woody Allen. He´s often quoted as follows: “80 percent of success in life is showing up.” And I think he´s absolutely right. We have to go places, meet people, we have to be curious. Be present. Be open. Be mindful. Luck seldom happens to us when at home alone. Luck mostly comes to us in the form of other people. Luck favors those that go out and mingle. If you don´t buy a ticket to a TEDx event, there´s no way you can step in when one of the speakers cancels. If you don´t apply for the job of your dreams, you´re definitely not going to get it. If you don´t talk to the beautiful stranger, you won´t get lucky – there, now I said it. We tend to get luckier the more curious and open we are.
Richard Wiseman – Express
Now let´s also look at some science: Richard Wiseman is a British psychology professor who is known for his unconventional research ideas. About 10 years ago, he´s published a book by the name of “The Luck Factor” – and a lot of what I tell you today is based on his work. He´s got a lot more to say on the topic – but let´s just look at a sentence from the summary section:
Luck is not a magical ability or a gift from the gods. Instead, it is a state of mind – a way of thinking and behaving.
One thing he found is: Lucky people are not really luckier, they just try harder. They display more Grit, as Penn Professor Angela Duckworth would frame it. Another important behavior is: expressing yourself. And let others express themselves. Show the world what you´ve got to give. Let them know. And listen to what others have to say and to give. Be open. present. Be mindful.
Richard Branson – Say yes
And finally: Say yes! Over the last weeks, I frequently stumbled upon this quote by Sir Richard Branson – and I´m sure he´s knows something about being lucky. The quote goes:
If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”
And that – once again – has a lot to do with the talk I´m giving right now. Actually, I was invited to give this talk just 5 days ago. I met one of the organizers, Tjorben, in Berlin in June. And we met again 10 days ago in London. We had dinner together and he told me how he´s working on the final preparations for this TEDx event. And I said jokingly: “Oh, that´s great. If you do it again next year, you can invite me as a speaker.”
5 days ago, he texted me via Facebook: One of the speakers had cancelled. And he asked me if I would be able to come to Bergen today to speak to you. Now here´s what a proper German should have said:
“Oh, Norway? This Saturday? That´s tough. You know, I have to do the grocery shopping on Saturday, and then there´s soccer on TV…and it´s a really long trip. Hmm. But I said yes. I´m lucky. Truth be told: First, I asked my wife for permission: But then I said yes. Yes is such a beautiful word. Let´s conclude: We tend to get luckier the more we say yes instead of no!
Steven Johnson – The Adjacent Possible
Let´s look at some more science: A couple of years ago, I bought this brilliant book at an airport: Steven Johnson´s “Where good Ideas come from”. In a nutshell, it´s a book about creativity and innovation – and why great ideas mostly do not happen anytime, anywhere, and to anyone.
A core concept of the book is the principle of the “Adjacent Possible” – which Johnson borrowed from evolutional biologist Stuart Kauffman. The idea at the core can be put like this: The adjacent possible is a yet unrealized state – or rather a multitude of unrealized states – of some entity. An adjacent possible is a potential state in the near future that may or may not be realized. But there are always constraints with regard to what is possible. An example from biology: in a world where there are only monads – one cell beings– the adjacent being cannot be a dinosaur. Life cannot jump from one cell to dinosaur directly. But jumping from one cell to two cells – that´s an adjacent possible. Then cell clusters, that turn to into more complex structures – and then, after lots and lots of adjacent possibles, you may get your dinosaur at the end of the day.
Johnson transferred this principle to the world of ideas and innovation. He´s able to show that innovation also moves along the path of the adjacent possible. You couldn´t have the first car without the invention of the wheel, oil refining, and the combustion engine. And you´d have to know about all of these things.
And I believe that´s also why some people are luckier than others. By going out and learning, and talking to people, and saying yes, they enlarge their personal sphere of the adjacent possible. They create an extended space of possibility. They make possible what for other people is absolutely impossible. Prepare – be there – express – and say yes!
Esa – Systems of Holding Back
Let me take this idea to another level – especially the “saying yes” part. The question is: Can we all together turn the world into a luckier place? Yes, we can. Enter Esa Saarinen. Esa is one of Finland´s most eminent philosophers – and he surely looks like one, don´t you think? I had the honor of being taught by him at the University of Pennsylvania shortly before Christmas. Together with a co-worker, Esa has developed a framework he calls “Systems Intelligence”.
A core concept in Systems Intelligence is the idea of Systems of Holding Back. More precisely: Systems of Holding Back in Return and in Advance. Again, the idea is very simple at the core – I´ll give you an example: Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl and wants to tell her. But he´s afraid she could say no. So he remains silent. Meanwhile girl also loves boy. But she´s frightened as well. So she also remains silent – and they never become a couple. End of story.
That is a small system of holding back in return and advance. The tragic thing is: This happens every day. Everywhere. Not only with lovers. But also friends, family, co-workers, political parties, governments, and nations. We want to make a contribution. We want to give. We want to do good. But we are afraid. So we hold back. And by collectively holding back we create the “systems of holding back” that make “holding back” even more likely in the future. It is a downward spiral.
Each of us has to pro-actively counter these systems: So please ask yourself:
What are you holding back, and what is the contribution you could make? Today, and in the future?
When are you saying “no” when you could and should really say “yes”?
How could you bring more luck into your life and that of others?
Yesterday, I told you that I would be going to give a TEDx talk at Bergen/Norway today. And that´s already history by now. I had a great time and would like to congratulate the TEDxBergen team for the great job that they´ve done (the event is entirely run by students!). Thanks for inviting me…
Since it´s probably going to take a couple of days until there´s a video available, let me give you a bit of advance information. My topic was: “How to be the architect of your own fortune”. I talked about how some People be seem to be luckier than others by sort of inviting luck into their lives.