Hope Without A Burning Platform

May 17, 2011 / General /

By Shawn Quinn

I was working with a group of executives not long ago who were just a portion of the group expected to lead a particular change.  The group was discussing why a desired organizational change wasn’t likely because there wasn’t a burning platform.  Many problems and blockers were discussed.  People were passing off ownership to other leaders in the organization even though they were considered leaders as well.  The change was important over the long run, but all the group could see was what they couldn’t control.

You may remember Psychology 101 and how when someone is getting mugged their mind narrows in thought, they feel negative emotions and they respond in one of two ways; they fight or run.  While sitting with this group of executives they started focusing on what wasn’t possible, which brought in negative emotions.  Their minds narrowed and they moved into a reactive and defensive position.  They saw limited options for how to move forward and when they did talk about what they might do they literally used the word “fight” to describe how they would have to work with others in the organization.

Barbara Fredrickson’s research has shown that positive emotions broaden and build people’s thought and action repertoires.  In other words, when people feel positive emotions their minds expand and they see more possibilities and options.  Because they see what is possible they are more likely to believe they can do something to create their desired future.  Fredrickson’s research shows that certain emotions create certain kinds of reactions.

  • Joy . . . . . . . . . . . . . Play, push the limits, be creative
  • Interest . . . . . . . . . . Explore, take in new ideas, learn
  • Contentment  . . . . . Savor and integrate
  • Love  . . . . . . . . . . . . All of the above

Positive emotions are fleeting so we don’t experience them as long, but over time they add up to create resources that last.  We start to see what’s possible, have better social interactions and make more friends, we create more solutions and options, we integrate ideas, are more grateful for what we have and quite literally are healthier (Fredrickson and Branigan (2005). Cognition and Emotion 19 (3) 313 – 332, Click to read Fredrickson’s work).

Knowing the importance of positive emotions, we introduced the executives to some of the research about why focusing on the positive matters.  They were then introduced to a movie that helped them visualize and experience positive emotions.  It was interesting to see the change in the room.  The more they reflected on what they learned the more positive emotions came into the room.  My colleague asked a new question about what they could own to make a difference around the change.  All of a sudden there was a discussion around what was possible.  One person said, “We need to stop worrying about what we can’t control and go and make a difference around creating this change.”  During the next two days there were lots of ups and downs around what they could impact and not impact, but you could see how their mindset impacted so much of the conversation.

How can you help created more positive emotions in the groups you work with or lead?  What might you do to make sure you are feeling positive emotions before you enter a meeting?  Please share your answers below.