Mappalicious | Corona | PTG

What doesn´t Kill us Makes us Wiser: Psychological Growth in Times of the Corona Crisis

I haven´t posted anything new on Mappalicious for quite a while – but I think now is a good time to do so. Yesterday, I was interviewed live on German TV, talking about the short-term and long-term implications of the corona crisis for psychological well-being. While getting home from Cologne to my hometown on an almost empty fast train, I had some time to reflect on the last weeks – and what I´ve towitnessed either personally or via the media.

Covid–19 constitutes a world-wide health emergency and an ensuing threat to the global economy. While addressing the nation on national TV some days ago, Chancellor Merkel said the situation presents a challenge to my fellow Germans that can only be likened to the herculean efforts that were invested after the re-unification 1989/90 – or possibly even when trying to rebuild the nation after World War II.

Nico Rose | Psychologist | TVSome people will definitely feel it might be too early to even think about the possible positive consequences of this dreadful situation. Yet, I consider myself an eternal optimist, I just can´t help it. We have already seen multiple accounts of environmental upshots and “nature” reclaiming some of its proper territory as an outcome of billions of people shutting down travel and other human activities that cause pollution. But, being a psychologist, my thoughts center on the possible long-term upshots for the human condition.

Beyond Resilience and Bouncing Back

After finally getting home, I revisited some of my earlier writing on a phenomenon that, in my branch of psychology, goes by the name of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG). While much of the research on the consequences of traumatic life events focuses on negative outcomes and their mitigation (coping with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; PTSD), by now there is a lot of research that hints at a path that, in the long run, is markedly different from just coping and eventually bouncing back. It is true that traumatic experiences can leave people shattered. But that is by far not the only possible trajectory.

A sizable body of extant research, initiated via seminal work by researchers Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun, is able to demonstrate that, over time and under the right conditions (especially lots of social support), people may manage to reach a markedly higher level of psychological functioning compared to the time before the critical incident. In case it occurs, PTG tends to manifest itself via five pathways that can occur separately, in conjunction, or somewhat consecutively (not necessarily in the order given below):

Now, while the corona virus is still rampaging and will likely continue to do so for quite a while, I cannot help but notice the incipient signs of PTG – basically everywhere I look. It is utterly terrible that so many people are dying or losing their jobs right now. But that is only a part of what´s going on. Globally, people suddenly manage to cherish the “simple things” again: The fact that they themselves and their loved ones are still healthy. The safe space of their homes, and at best, gardens. The music. That sizable stockpile of toilet paper (but that´s another story…).

Traditional zero-sum games suddenly are turned into non-zero-sum games. On a global scale, individuals (and even lots of for-profit organizations, for that matter) start supporting, caring, and rooting for each other in unprecedented quantity and quality. They freely share their resources, their knowledge, and their time. We swiftly learn how to lead, learn, and love in new ways, a lot of them involving the smart use of digital technologies.

While oftentimes, many people feel helpless in times of crisis and wait for some kind of savior (in Germany, mostly in the form of “the government”), I see folks getting creative about their personal lives and their businesses, ramping up their sense of self-efficacy and ownership, developing a distinct can-do attitude. I could go on endlessly with these observations – but you get the picture.

Outlook: Has Hollywood told us the Truth all along?

Now and then, I feel we´re all turning to that part of the plot from cheesy disaster movies where people, towards the beginning of the third act, recognize a sense of urgency and unity. Suddenly, they bury the hatchet and finally start to cooperate in order to beat up alien arses. Just, in real life it´s not cheesy at all. It´s strikingly beautiful (e.g., watch the Spanish police force root for hospital staff in Madrid). In more places than not, the corona virus brings out the best in people.

While I´m an optimist and tend to (force myself to) look on the bright side, I don´t classify as a naïve ignoramus. I am fully aware that, in all likelihood, most people will revert to more self-serving behaviors when we´ve found a way to adequately deal with this pandemic (first and foremost, when a reliable vaccine has been created). A quick look at history suggests this is a sure bet. My hope is that more folks than not will not go back all the way.

Time and time again, psychological research has exposed the fact that creating significant and lasting changes in human behaviors (without an external crisis) is strikingly hard. It becomes all the more difficult when people imagine that change to be a black-or-white, all-or-nothing game. In this spirit, I remember learning from management professor and leadership luminary Kim Cameron at University of Michigan, shortly before Christmas 2017. He imbued us with the idea that changing a behavior to the extent of just one percent, but then sustaining that effort for 365 days, will make a difference that makes a difference – be in our personal lives or within organizations. Now, this is what I hope for, for myself and all of mankind:

Let´s make sure we all sustain at least one percent of what we´re all doing better right now – when all of this is through. Let´s sustain one percent for a year. And then another one. And another…


Prof. Dr. Nico Rose is a German organizational psychologist. He currently teaches at International School of Management (ISM), Dortmund, Germany. From 2010 – 2018, he worked for Bertelsmann, Europe´s premier media company, most recently as VP Employer Branding & Talent Acquisition.


Credit: Hope picture

Feedback on Optimal Human Functioning: The Reflected Best Self Exercise™

Nico Rose | Jane Dutton

Nico & Jane Dutton at Ross School of Business

In mid-December, I got to spend a week in Ann Arbor at the Ross School of Business, taking part in an open enrollment course called The Positive Leader: Deep Change and Organizational Transformation. It´s a formidable tour de force through the most important frameworks and applications of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS). I´m going to write some more about my experiences over the upcoming weeks.

Today, I´d like to share with you the Reflected Best Self Exercise™, a powerful tool that helps people to learn more about their individual strengths and what they´re like when they display some form of peak performance (from the vantage point of other people). In short, the exercise is about asking a group of people to supply you with stories of times when they perceived you to be at your best. In other words, you ask people for feedback about your strengths and capacity for peak performance – and only about that.

What other people appreciate about us tends to appreciate over time.

What´s so special about receiving only positive feedback once in a while? It´s extraordinary because we typicially hear mixed messages, e.g., as part of a performance appraisal at work. What´s the point? Rick Hanson, author of “Hardwiring Happiness”, likes to say “our mind has velcro tapes for negative and teflon layers for positive information.” Even if the usual feedback we receive is mostly positive, our brain drives us to ponder almost exclusivley on the negative (= potentially harmful) information. This mode of processing has actually helped us to survive as a species over thousands of years (please see Bad is Stronger than Good for more background) – but it also keeps us from truly taking in any positive information, unless we explicitly allow ourselves to focus on that side of the spectrum, so we can learn and grow based on who we are when we´re at our best.

Learning from what´s already (more than) good

How are we supposed to improve and grow when we´re not focusing on our weaknesses? As the saying goes, “where attention goes, energy flows” (and results show). Learning about who we are when we are at our best helps us to:

The last bullet point seems especially important to me as it points towards the so-called Pygmalion Effect, the phenomenon whereby higher expectations by others lead to an increase in actual performance. When we ask people to reflect on our positive sides, we actually help them to perceive what Jane Dutton calls the “zone of possibility”, a reservoir of untapped resources and growth potential. Via authentically pointing us towards these strengths and capabilities, they help us to become more than we currently are. This is the true nature of appreciation. The typical connotation of “to appreciate” points towards a strong form of liking. But it also means to grow in value. What other people appreciate about us tends to appreciate over time.

Reflected Best Self - Nico Rose

How does the Reflected Best Self Exercise™ work?

  1. Collect stories from a variety of people inside and outside of your work. You should receive feedback from at least 10 people. By gathering input from a variety of sources, such as family members, past and present colleagues, friends, teachers etc., you can develop a broader understanding of yourself. Specifically, ask them to supply you with short stories of episodes when they perceived you to “be at your best”. Ask for specific and tangible examples, not general impressions.
  2. Recognize patterns and common themes: After gathering those stories, read through them carefully, allowing yourself to take and savor in the positive content. Then, go through them several times, making mark-ups and remarks with a pen. The goal is to search for common themes and recurring patterns within the different stories. These commonalities will serve as the base for your “Best Self Description”.
  3. Then, write a description of yourself that summarizes and distills the accumulated information. The description should weave themes from the feedback into a concise “medley” of who you are at your best. This portrait is not meant to be a complete psychological profile. Rather, it should be an illuminating image you can use as a reminder of your contributions and as a guide for future action (you can see the result of my own process in the picture on the right).
  4. Redesign your job (optional): Now that you you have crafted your “Best Self Description”, what are you supposed to with it? To start, it´s a very good idea to hang a print-out in some corner of your office so as to have an easily accessible reminder of you can be, for those times when things become stressful (and they always do in large organizations). This will help you to keep your composure and look beyond the constraints of the current situation. In the long run, it´s definitely useful to think about the larger implications of your best self:
    • To what extent is your current job playing to your strengths?
    • Can you change your current task and responsibilities so as to better reflect your best self? (please see: Job Crafting)
    • Or should you maybe think about a change of careers to realize your full potential?

I hope you will have tons of fun and insightful moments with this framework; I surely did. By the way, I´ve found out earlier this also works perfectly using social media channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn. You can read my account of this “experiment” here.

Resources

You can find a full description of the Reflected Best Self Exercise™, its application, and the underlying research via these articles:

You´ll find lots of resources with regard to the Reflected Best Self Exercise™ on the website of the the Center for Positive Organizations at Ross School of Business.

The Center for Positive Organizations at University of Michigan: a Book List

Kim Cameron | Nico RoseI´m the luckiest guy in the world. I get to spend the week at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, more precisely: the Ross of Business. Part of the Ross School is the Center for Positive Organizations – which without exaggeration can be described as the global focal point for research and application(s) of Positive Psychology in business (Positive Organizational Scholarship). It´s home to POS luminaries such as Kim Cameron, Jane Dutton, and Robert Quinn. Additionally, some of the big shots in the field have completed their Ph.D. studies here, among them Adam Grant and Amy Wrzesniewski.

I´m going to provide an overview of what I´ve learned here at a later point in time. For today, I´d like to provide a book list of works that been crafted by faculty of  the Center for Positive Organizations. After is, Christmas is coming up soon – and you might still be looking for something for your loved ones (or yourself)…

Also, watch out for Wayne Bakers upcoming book “Just Ask”…

Welcome to the Center for Positive Organizations

CPO_LogoSo, I’m sharing a commercial video here. Yes, that’s not the usual content on Mappalicious.

It’s just that so many of my academic heroes are gathered in this video (and thus, at the CPO, e.g. Robert Quinn, Jane Dutton, and Kim Cameron) that I’m actually eager to share it. The CPO is a fabulous place to learn. I know this ever since taking part in their Positive Business Conference in May.

Please also check out their fabulous website. They host a wide array of Positive Psychology resources, e.g., this extensive list of research papers on Positive Organizational Science.

How to Replenish Your Energy at Work? Hint: It´s Not the Caffeine

Man_Cookie_kleinMost of us know these days: You´re rushing from one meeting to another, squeezing in those important calls with the tax consultant and your child´s class teacher – while desperately trying to finish that presentation for your boss which is due at 06:00 pm. This is what days at the office look like for a lot of who earn their money as so-called knowledge workers.

To make it through days like this (and perform well!), maintaining a high level of subjective energy is paramount. In the words of Jane Dutton (Center for Positive Organizations at Ross School of Business), human energy is the “fuel” that helps organizations run successfully. Here, an interesting question arises: How do people manage – and in the case of depletion – replenish their energy while still at the office?

This issue was addressed in a paper by researchers Charlotte Fritz, Chak Fu Lam, and Gretchen Spreitzer via an article in “Academy of Management Perspectives” from 2011. In order to do so, they surveyed 214 knowledge workers across all hierarchical levels on their subjective levels of energy (separate for presence and depletion of vitality) throughout their work days – and additionally assessed what kind of (micro-)strategies these people employ to maintain their energetic balance – and how often they use certain strategies compared to others.  Here´s the key takeaway:

When trying to recharge at work, most people get it wrong most of the time!

Among the most frequently used micro-strategies to recharge were:

  • drinking water or coffee, or having a snack;
  • checking e-mails, switching to another task, or making a to-do list;
  • surfing the net or talking to a colleague about non-work issues (e.g., sports).

In the study, none of these behaviors was associated with a heightened energy level, and some were actually connected to further depletion. Instinctively, many people seem to resort to strategies that shift their attention away from the current task. Yet, the scholars show this may be a severe case of looking in the wrong direction. Those energy management strategies found to be most positively related to vitality are:

  1. learning something new;
  2. focusing on what provides joy in work;
  3. setting a new goal;
  4. doing something that will make a colleague happy;
  5. make time to show gratitude to a colleague;
  6. seeking feedback;
  7. reflecting on how to make a difference at work;
  8. reflecting on the meaning of one´s work.

It´s a mental, or sometimes, emotional shift that breeds success.

In a nutshell, all of these strategies are work-related and reflect notions of learning, relationships, and meaning at work. Accordingly, the key to fill your batteries while at work may be to see your job with different eyes without taking your mind off the tasks at hand. It´s a mental, or sometimes, emotional shift that breeds success.

By the way: The only functional non-job-related strategy in the study was taking time to meditate. What about micro-strategies like taking a short nap or going for a walk? Fritz et al. found that these activities were related neither to the presence nor the depletion of energy – they just didn´t matter all that much. The researchers conclude that these strategies may have more potent effects as sources of recovery while being away from work, e.g., during evenings or weekends.

Thriving not Surviving: Positive Business Conference (Day 2)

While the first day of the Positive Business Conference 2016 has been stimulating and inspiring, the second day was truly transformative for me – and mind you, I don’t use words like this lightly. But I will eloborate on this at a later point in time. The impressions are too fresh to put them in intelligible phrases.

For today, I’d like to recap the day in the same day I did yesterday: by sharing some of my and other participants’ tweets.

First, I discovered my next job title:

Then I learned about how to infuse a company with purpose.

I was impressed to learn how Ross School of Business strives to develop leaders that make a positive difference.

The early afternoon was reserved for a workshop on compassion in business led by Jane Dutton and Monica Worline. Somehow, this one made the difference that makes a difference. But as said, I’m going to talk about that in a separate post.

Fellow Penn Mappster Jessica Amortegui was awarded with the 1. price of the Positive Business Project competition for her work with Logitech.

Just like Alex Edmans explained yesterday: It pays off financially to invest in ethical companies.

Coffee makes the world go round – but only if it’s fair-trade.

Michigan Ross: Thanks a million for hosting that is brilliant conference. I’ll be back…!

positive business conference 

Passion. Purpose. Performance. Positive Business Conference (Day 1)

I’m absolutely thrilled to be at the University of Michigan, attending this year’s Positive Business Conference at Ross School of Business.This post is my personal summary of the conference’s first day, brought to you via some of the tweets I’ve put out there…

Prof. Vic Strecher shared some really intriguing upsides of having a strong purpose in life. More importantly, you should check out his fabulous app JOOL.

Prof. Jane Dutton had me change my mind on using the term rockstar only in contexts that involve electric guitars. She shared with us her Flourishing Triangle framework of organizational effectiveness.

I was equally thrilled to be able to learn directly from Prof. Alex Edmans, whose work on the financial impact of treating employees exceptionally well has been covered extensively on Mappalicious.

Prof. Joe Arvai shared some incredible research on how to help consumers make more ethical buying decisions. E.g., why is that we can consciously choose from what part of the world our coffee comes from (and how it was cultivated) – but not with regard to our gasoline? And what if we could

After lunch, I was thrilled to have the opportunity of attending a workshop led by Prof. Robert Quinn whose blog posts I share frequently via my Positive Psychology News Digests.

Once more it became clear to me that we do not really understand “a thing” (even if we’ve heard about it a lot of times) until somebody explains it to us in the exactly right words at the right time.

When you’re in the right space, the smartest “person” in the room is the room itself.

Jim Miller, VP at Google, shared insights on the special culture that drives the incredible success of the company.

Of course, there were more sessions, and more speakers, and an abundance of inspiring conversations while having delicious food – but I cannot cover it all here.

Yet, one last thing I found out is this:

Share and enjoy!

Positive Business Conference