Civil Society Inequality Makes Us Anxious

THE SPIRIT LEVEL: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, Bloomsbury Press, 2009.

Reviewed By David B. Grusky Spring 2010
Why is inequality so bad? It’s not just that the poorest people in highly unequal societies may go without food, shelter, or other basic subsistence goods. It’s not just that extreme inequality makes it difficult for the less fortunate to participate fully in their country’s social institutions. It’s not just that lavishing mansions, cars, and jewels on a few lucky people violates some primitive sense of justice and what’s fair. Although inequality may well be problematic for these conventional reasons, The Spirit Level tells us that it’s mainly bad because it makes status differences more extreme and salient and thus generates insecurity about our worth and where we stand in the social hierarchy. We should dislike inequality, in other words, because it produces anxiety and because such anxiety in turn leads to chronic stress, health problems, and other undesirable outcomes.

The great achievement of The Spirit Level is documenting that this inequality-induced anxiety has so many bad effects. It makes humans feel stressed and deprived and more likely to get depressed, smoke, overeat, or engage in violent behavior. It also leads to conspicuous displays of consumption, such as buying fancy cars, big houses, and luxury clothes, all of which serve no obvious social function save that of reassurance about one’s place in the hierarchy.

The Spirit Level is, for the most part, a straightforward empirical tract documenting this two-way relationship between how unequal a country is and the frequency of “bad” outcomes within that country (such as overeating, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse). The data reveal that the relatively equal Nordic societies and Japan have low rates of the bad stuff and the highly unequal societies, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have comparatively high rates.

In pushing their argument, Wilkinson and Pickett make do with simple graphs of the bivariate association between inequality and bad outcomes, and they’re not therefore testing their preferred story about how this relationship is generated. Although they argue vigorously that bad outcomes are generated because inequality makes us anxious and stressed, there is rather little in The Spirit Level that would dissuade one from the alternative view that high-inequality societies fare poorly because (a) they tend to have lots of poor and disadvantaged people, and (b) poor and disadvantaged people tend to be sick, depressed, or otherwise unhealthy because they live in polluted and dangerous areas, don’t exercise or eat well, are excluded from full participation in their society, lack access to high-quality health care, and so forth. If this alternative account is on the mark, it implies that anxiety isn’t the exclusive culprit and that headway can additionally be made by simply improving the substandard material conditions to which less fortunate people are routinely exposed. The case against inequality doesn’t necessarily have to be predicated on the anxiety it generates.

Is the latter (exceedingly mild) criticism unfair? It has to be conceded, after all, that The Spirit Level is as much a call to arms as a straightforward presentation of scientific evidence, and it’s reasonable to look beyond narrowly drawn scientific questions and ask instead whether it will succeed in mobilizing anti-inequality sentiment. It’s relevant in this regard that The Spirit Level resonates well with the emerging anti-inequality zeitgeist. There is growing concern that extreme income inequality, far from increasing a country’s economic output, may in fact reduce total output. It’s also relevant that an idiosyncratic constellation of highly publicized news events in the last five years has both exposed troubling inequalities (such as Hurricane Katrina) and legitimated the presumption that we should care about them (the election of Barack Obama). This all suggests that the underlying conditions for a successful call to arms are in place.

Even so, one can’t overstate how hard it will likely be to sell the Wilkinson-Pickett premise, at least in the United States, where the opportunity to amass great wealth is understood as a fundamental form of liberty. It is arguably naive for the authors to conclude, “Now that we have shown that reducing inequality leads to a very much better society, the main sticking point is whether people believe greater equality is attainable.” The main sticking point, I suspect, will instead be convincing powerful people and corporations to experiment with a new egalitarian society that wouldn’t seem to serve them well.

Although Wilkinson and Pickett argue that even the rich and privileged will profit from a more equal society (by enjoying better health, less alienation, and so forth), in fact the calculus is a rather complicated one, because the privileged will not just be giving up massive economic benefits, but also will be giving up the softer privileges that accrue to them by virtue of occupying a privileged place in the social hierarchy. It follows that The Spirit Level may not appeal to those at the top. At least in the United States, one can arguably make more headway by railing against poverty, especially the poverty experienced by (blameless) children.

To be sure, that I’m even asking whether The Spirit Level fills the bill as the standard bearer in a new War on Inequality is testimony enough to the importance of this book. We are in the midst of a historic moment in which many forces have come together and suddenly raised the prominence of debates about poverty and inequality. This type of moment comes along only rarely, and it’s important that it’s properly exploited with a pitch-perfect delivery, one that’s consistent with our most fundamental values and thus resonates. If The Spirit Level isn’t quite pitch-perfect, it may nonetheless be the closest we get.

David B. Grusky is professor of sociology and director of the Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality. He is the coauthor or editor of many books as well as coeditor of the center’s new magazine Pathways.


Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening

“Integral philosopher Steve McIntosh weighs in on EnlightenNext founder Andrew Cohen’s new book, Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening

Andrew Cohen’s important new book, Evolutionary Enlightenment, demonstrates spiritual evolution on every page. Rooted in the venerable soil of Eastern nondual teachings, while simultaneously expressing an emerging new form of evolutionary spirituality, Cohen’s insights provide rich nourishment for the discerning seeker. Evolutionary Enlightenment clarifies what it means to transcend one’s ego and sheds new light on the true nature of the self. Moreover, this deep yet accessible book effectively integrates the science of evolution and the new integral philosophy of development into a livable form of spirituality that will transform all who practice it.

Even though my personal spirituality is rooted more in the Western theistic tradition than the Eastern nondual tradition, I nevertheless find Cohen’s teachings to be compatible with my own sense of spiritual truth. And I am especially grateful for his discussion of cultural evolution in Part IV of the book, with its emphasis on using our spirituality to catalyze the emergence of a higher form of civilization. Cohen himself has evolved considerably since his last book was published ten years ago, and his current teachings now reflect the leading edge of spiritual evolution in our society. Evolutionary Enlightenment is a modern-day masterpiece—a splendid contribution to the new field of evolutionary spirituality.” —Steve McIntosh is the author of Evolution’s Purpose, and Integral Consciousness.


Co-Creation–an Evolutionary Impulse

Venkat Ramaswamy and Francis Gouillart wrote The Power of Co-creation: Build It With Them to Boost Growth, Productivity, and Profits published by Simon & Schuster, Free Press, in October 2010.

“Co-creation is about engaging people to create more value together. It involves redesigning interactions through the experiences of individuals. Through co-creation, organizations can unleash the creative energy of people — especially employees and internal stakeholders, but also customers, suppliers, and related external stakeholders and communities — to create mutual value.

The net result is transformative; engaged individuals and a powerful, co-creative enterprise.

As individuals, people experience something new with co-creation, an awakening of sorts, and this leads to an experience that many simply do not want to end. It is this latter part — the quest for continual engagement — that explains why individuals who have experienced co-creation become nearly evangelical about it.

Building from the powerful engagement of individuals, organizations find that the mobilization of groups of people around key sets of interactions is also inherently transformational. The outcome is dramatically lower risk and cost, combined with the reigniting of growth and increased capacity for innovation.

The Power of Co-Creation: Build It With Them to Boost Growth, Productivity, and Profits (Simon & Schuster, Free Press, October 2010) demonstrates to managers how the co-creation of value is the next business paradigm for all enterprises in the 21st century, and how the next generation of organizations entails building capabilities for a co-creative enterprise.

The book provides an accessible framework useful to managers at every level of an organization through a case-study rich overview of the ways that leading organizations are using “engagement platforms” to generate results in marketing, sales, R&D, product development, and management by co-creating both inside and outside the firm.”

See There is a link for an excerpt of Chapter 1, “Becoming a Co-Creative Enterprise.”

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The Person Causing Your Pain

Iyanla Vanzant: The One Person (You’d Never Expect) Who’s Causing Your Pain As told to Leigh Newman OWN TV | March 23, 2012

The author and relationship expert reveals four ways you can begin to get past the hurt you feel.

Something that we often forget is that we all play a role in the creation of the pain we experience, even if someone else is involved. We don’t recognize that we volunteer for that pain. We show up for it. We tolerate it. Once we acknowledge our own contribution, the healing can begin. Here’s a four-step plan that can help you stop nurturing the very things that hurt you.

1. End the BPs

One of the ways that people avoid taking responsibility for their role in their own pain is what I call the BPs—blame and projection. Blame is straightforward: Somebody hurts us, and we say things like, “They did this to me. Look what they did!” Projection is slightly different and happens when we blame other people for our problems, even if they didn’t do anything to us (in other words, we just don’t want to look at what we did).

As long as we’re blaming and projecting, we don’t become accountable to ourselves for how we accommodate, excuse and tolerate behavior that causes pain—whether it’s our own behavior or someone else’s. Let’s say you stay on a job for 15 years, miserable and complaining. Then you get fired and you’re upset. But you didn’t want to be there! How many times did you say “I gotta get out of here”?

Well now you’re out! Why are you upset with your boss? Because she moved first? You accommodated the discomfort. You went every day. The work wasn’t challenging you. But you kept on showing up. How is your boss or company supposed to know you’re unhappy? What steps had you taken to either remedy the situation or get another job?

2. Understand Your Whats and Whys

One way to understand your own role is to review what happened: why we did what we did, and what we got as a result. Say you have a friend and you always show up to help her, but when you need her, she never shows up for you. So you end up being angry with your friend.

That’s the exact time to do some self-reflection. Did your friend ask for the help you offered? Or did you volunteer? There is a difference—but if the friend did ask for assistance, why did you say yes? What is it that you desired, expected or wanted to get out of the situation? To feel needed or useful? To get her to feel as if she owed you something? Maybe you were afraid she wouldn’t love you anymore if you said no. In any of these cases, you extended yourself for you, not her.

3. Plan for the Noes

So many of us don’t ask for what we want. To go back to the example of a friend who doesn’t help, maybe you never asked for favors but only hoped she’d offer to do what you clearly needed (as you’ve done for her). Most of us put up with or ignore or excuse whatever it is that shows up.

I experienced this in my own marriage. It was a 40-year-long relationship, and I didn’t ask for what I wanted. I accepted what I thought my husband was capable of giving me. I avoided what I thought would upset him. I allowed myself to believe that his needs were more important than mine. That doesn’t make him a bad person, and it doesn’t make me an idiot. It just means that I needed to learn how to ask.

But to do that, you’ve got to be willing to hear “no.” Just because you ask for what you want doesn’t mean that you’re going to get it. Take money. Sometimes people will ask for it, and then, when they don’t get it, they add on another level of pain because the no feels like rejection to them. They may even wonder if they’re not smart or good or cared for enough to deserve the money. They’re not ready for the possibility of a negative response, so they stop, paralyzed. But if you are prepared for it, you’ll know what your next steps are going to be, and you’ll get busy taking those steps instead of getting hurt.

4. Learn the Uncle Boo-Boo Lesson

The way you ask for what you want or need is also crucial. Say you have an uncle, and whenever the family gets together, he gives you a long, unsolicited and unnecessary critique about how you look and what you do. You don’t go up to him and say, “Uncle Boo-Boo, I wish you wouldn’t make fun of my hair and job at the dinner table.”

No! Wishes may or not be granted. First you ask for what you want, and then you inform Uncle Boo-Boo of a specific, clear consequence. You say to him: “I’m no longer giving you permission to speak to me in that manner. And if it continues to happen, I will no longer be a part of these gatherings, and I’m going to let everyone else in the family know why.”

People often engage in behavior that causes pain because there’s no consequence. You have to create that consequence; otherwise, the asking is just wind in the air. But I want you to remember: You’re creating a boundary—not a wall that isolates you, just a boundary, one that can be communicated with compassion. So when I get ready to speak to Uncle Boo-Boo, I’m not going to yell at him in front of the whole table. I’m going to say, “Uncle Boo-Boo, can I speak to you for a moment?” Then I’m going to take him on the porch, in the hall or in the living room where there’s no one else and discuss my need, because this is between him and me. If I am feeling pain, I’m no longer going to permit, facilitate or deny it. I’m going to own it and deal with it, and then, no matter what he says in response, I can begin to heal. This is a natural process. Over time, you’ll have more awareness. You learn to accept more of who people are, and, most importantly, you learn to accept more of who you are.

Iyanla Vanzant’s most recent book is Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through (SmileyBooks).


Ancient Civilizations Reveal Ways To Manage Fisheries For Sustainability

(Forgetting the respect that ancient civilizations had for the earth and its resources, we often see sustainability referenced as a new idea rather than a deep reach into the human past.cgb)
March 24, 2012

In the search for sustainability of the ocean’s fisheries, solutions can be found in a surprising place: the ancient past.
In a study published on March 23 in the journal Fish and Fisheries, a team of marine scientists reconstructed fisheries yields over seven centuries of human habitation in Hawaii and the Florida Keys, the largest coral reef ecosystems in the United States, and evaluated the management strategies associated with periods of sustainability. The results surprised them.
“Before European contact, Native Hawaiians were catching fish at rates that far exceed what reefs currently provide society,” said John “Jack” N. Kittinger, co-author and an early career fellow at the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. “These results show us that fisheries can be both highly productive and sustainable, if they’re managed effectively.” In contrast, historical fisheries in Florida were characterized by boom and bust, with serial depletions of highly valuable species for export markets. Today many species that were the target of 19th and early 20th century fisheries in Florida – including green turtles, sawfish, conch and groupers – have severely reduced populations or are in danger of extinction.
“Seven hundred years of history clearly demonstrate that management matters,” said Loren McClenachan, co-author and assistant professor of environmental studies at Colby College. “Ancient Hawaiian societies used sophisticated tools similar to innovative conservation strategies used today, like marine protected areas and restrictions on harvest of vulnerable species like sharks.” The difference, the authors explained, was in the way fisheries governance systems were structured. Regulations were developed locally with the buy-in of community members, but they were also effectively enforced with methods that now would be considered draconian. “Today, no management system comes close to achieving this balance, and as a result, resource depletion and collapse is common,” said McClenachan.
The authors were able to characterize historical catch rates in Florida and Hawaii through an extensive review of archival sources, including species-specific catch records from the 1800s and archaeological reconstructions of human population densities and per-capita fish consumption back to the 1300s. Such information is relatively rare in coral reef areas. They then characterized management regimes associated with periods of high sustained yields using a variety of sources, including published work of Native Hawaiian scholars. This work revealed that sustainable fisheries existed during periods in which regulations were strict and socially enforced in ways that were often class and gender based. For example, many vulnerable species—like sharks and marine turtles—were reserved exclusively for high priests and chiefs.
Ancient Hawaiian societies depended entirely on local resources and needed creative ways to avoid resource collapse. For example, fishpond aquaculture was used to sequester nutrients and reduce pollution on reefs. In contrast, much of today’s aquaculture requires large inputs of wild caught fish and antibiotics, often resulting in increased pollution. “Ancient Hawaiian society effectively practiced what we now call ecosystem-based management, which is something that modern society often struggles to achieve,” says McClenachan. “Incorporating some of these ancient techniques into today’s policy may be the key to sustaining our fisheries.”
The authors of the study, entitled “Multicentury trends and the sustainability of coral reef fisheries in Hawai’i and Florida,” point to the U.S. National Ocean Policy as an example of emerging attempts to manage ocean ecosystems more holistically, and local fisheries co-management as a modern way of including community members in designing effective fishing regulations. However, the authors caution that effective enforcement needs to go hand in hand with the development of local governance. “The ancient Hawaiians punished transgressors with corporal punishment,” observed Kittinger. “Clearly, we don’t recommend this, but it’s easy to see there’s room to tighten up today’s enforcement efforts.”

Image Caption (unfortunately not able to be copied here): Historical fisheries in Florida were characterized by boom and bust, with serial depletions of highly valuable species for export markets, according to researchers at the Center for Ocean Solutions and Colby College. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce
Source: redOrbit (

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Strategic Planning at Interface–A Company Committed to Sustainability


What to do when you’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit
Posted by Nadine Gudz on Thursday Mar 22nd at 9:40pm

Since early 2008, an intentional, global, and mostly internal dialogue has been going on to address the question of how Interface will accelerate its sustainability journey to meet our ambitious goals of zero environmental footprint by 2020.
The company has accomplished significant milestones thanks to a passionate, driven team of dedicated individuals guided by Ray Anderson’s vision, but today we find ourselves just halfway to Mission Zero with eight years left to make good on our promise to eliminate any negative impact our company might have on Earth.
Many of our EcoMetrics that show such impressive cumulative accomplishments since 1994 have actually plateaued in recent years, and it’s understood that there is no more “low hanging fruit.” We are in the “tall canopy” zone and have been for several years.
It’s also understood that no one individual, team, or business unit can tackle the rest of our sustainability journey alone, nor can Interface. This journey is about redesigning our supply chain and reinventing commerce — which necessarily requires collaboration internally across multiple scales spanning individual roles, departments, business units, regionally and globally, and, of course, external collaborators.
Against a backdrop of global climate, economic, social and ecological destabilization, how do we continue to advance, accelerate no less, a bold mission and weather the storms?
This is not the first time Interface has found itself in uncharted territory on its sustainability journey and the one thing that is certain is that we will need to adapt and learn together. In fact, we believe that continuing to develop our ability to learn as an organization, even in the face of economic uncertainties, holds the key to achieving Mission Zero while growing our business globally.
In the early days of Interface’s sustainability journey, the learning was fast and furious and one of the most effective initiatives was the QUEST program — Quality Utilizing Employee Suggestions and Teamwork. The goal was to eliminate waste but the process relied heavily on frameworks of organizational learning — team learning, systems thinking and shared dialogue. The cadence of meeting globally every six months kept the heat on to get results quickly.
In the face of the economic knockout combo of the Dot-Com Bubble, Y2K, and 9/11, the global aspect of our QUEST meetings was no longer funded and instead local QUEST efforts were relied upon to continue the good work of eliminating waste (resulting in $438 million in cumulative avoided costs to date). While the local QUEST efforts have proven to be effective, hindsight brings to bear the question of missed opportunities from sharing our local best practices quickly and effectively across our global operations.
Economic downturns continued to be an impediment to more consistent investment in organizational learning when in May 2008, we launched the Next Ascent Global Summit, to reignite the global aspect of Interface’s efforts towards accomplishing our 2020 goals and putting additional visioning into social sustainability. Designed using appreciative inquiry techniques and action learning frameworks, enthusiasm was created and new global relationships formed. But once again, the economic downturn in Fall 2008 resulted in budgets cuts and curtailed further work for global organizational learning.
We are left to wonder what the cost has been of all the stops and starts. To a certain extent, we end up reinventing the wheel in each economic cycle. What would be possible for Mission Zero if we designed a more resilient system for organizational learning that could drive rapid progress even in bad times?
Next Page: Pushing the boundaries to create a more sustainable future.
Lessons from appreciative inquiry inspire us to reflect on the question: “When were we at our best?” Truly, we are at our best when we are pushing boundaries and creating the future, asking questions that haven’t been asked before (“How would Nature design a floor?” or “How does an industrial company become restorative?”) and seeking solutions that may not drive business results this quarter, but often become the basis of our future success.
A recent global brand survey found that even as our business expands globally (over half our business is now done outside the US), our company culture and sustainability mission are remarkably consistent. As leaders of the Global Organizational Learning team at Interface, our goal today is to carve out a focused, ongoing space for learning that connects the organization from place to place, in good times and in bad. Our team has the opportunity to plan for these cycles and avoid “one-off’s.” Ultimately, Interface believes Organizational Learning is a mindset — it’s the pathway to 2020 and beyond.
The Global Organizational Learning team was born out of our most recent (May, 2011) Global Innovation Summit to tackle the question “How do we spark global innovation to accelerate progress on our Mission Zero Journey?”
Employees from across the globe were asked to share their insights on how and where to innovate, explore ideas and solutions to achieve the company’s sustainability vision. The feedback collected to date indicates that we need to become better communicators, collaborators and learners, not just within our global business, but in partnership with external stakeholders.
We have been able to ride past successes and existing relationships, but it became apparent that we had retreated to siloed business unit structures. Cross-organizational learning efforts were isolated to specific supply chain or product related issues such as a global yarn team and a global carpet backing team.
True to the historical pattern, business slowed down again following the Summit (we seem to have stumbled upon a leading economic indicator). Belt-tightening has ensued, but this time not at the expense of Organizational Learning which was one of six global teams funded to continue the exploration of Global Innovation at Interface. Perhaps we are indeed learning.
Ray’s epiphany was a gift. It was the beginning of a powerful, shared story. It was an invitation to participate in an unprecedented journey to transform outdated notions of the industrial enterprise. The journey itself is ever-changing as it adapts to changing environments.
The world is a very different place from how it was in 1994 when Interface began its “mid-course correction”, and it will be an entirely different place in 2020. As Interface continues to evolve, it will likely undergo additional course corrections — perhaps some more subtle than others.
We are hopeful that these course corrections will be more easily facilitated as Interface develops its organizational learning capacity and velocity. As Interface learns its way into the future, not only will the business enhance its capacity for innovation, but just as importantly, for resilience.


Praise Is Fleeting, But Brickbats We Recall

Professor David Cooperrider notes Appreciative Inquiry among other forms of positive learning and experience can counter tendencies such as those cited below.

By ALINA TUGEND NY Times Published: March 23, 2012

MY sisters and I have often marveled that the stories we tell over and over about our childhood tend to focus on what went wrong. We talk about the time my older sister got her finger crushed by a train door on a trip in Scandinavia. We recount the time we almost missed the plane to Israel because my younger sister lost her stuffed animal in the airport terminal.
Enlarge This Image
Stan Grossfeld/Boston Globe, via Associated Press

Fans will always remember the error Bill Buckner of the Boston Red Sox made in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series against New York Mets.

Since, fortunately, we’ve had many more pleasant experiences than unhappy ones, I assumed that we were unusual in zeroing in on our negative experiences. But it turns out we’re typical.

“This is a general tendency for everyone,” said Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University. “Some people do have a more positive outlook, but almost everyone remembers negative things more strongly and in more detail.”

There are physiological as well as psychological reasons for this.

“The brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres,” said Professor Nass, who co-authored “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships” (Penguin 2010). Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones, he said. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.

Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University, captured the idea in the title of a journal article he co-authored in 2001, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good,” which appeared in The Review of General Psychology. “Research over and over again shows this is a basic and wide-ranging principle of psychology,” he said. “It’s in human nature, and there are even signs of it in animals,” in experiments with rats.

As the article, which is a summary of much of the research on the subject, succinctly puts it: “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”

So Professor Baumeister and his colleagues note, losing money, being abandoned by friends and receiving criticism will have a greater impact than winning money, making friends or receiving praise.

In an experiment in which participants gained or lost the same amount of money, for instance, the distress participants expressed over losing the money was greater than the joy that accompanied the gain.

“Put another way, you are more upset about losing $50 than you are happy about gaining $50,” the paper states.

In addition, bad events wear off more slowly than good ones.

And just to show that my family’s tendency to focus on the negative is not unusual, interviews with children and adults up to 50 years old about childhood memories “found a preponderance of unpleasant memories, even among people who rated their childhoods as having been relatively pleasant and happy,” Professor Baumeister wrote.

As with many other quirks of the human psyche, there may be an evolutionary basis for this. Those who are “more attuned to bad things would have been more likely to survive threats and, consequently, would have increased the probability of passing along their genes,” the article states. “Survival requires urgent attention to possible bad outcomes but less urgent with regard to good ones.”

And Professor Nass offered another interesting point: we tend to see people who say negative things as smarter than those who are positive. Thus, we are more likely to give greater weight to critical reviews.

“If I tell you that you are going to give a lecture before smarter people, you will say more negative things,” he said.

So this is all rather depressing. There is an upside, however. Just knowing this may help us better deal with the bad stuff that will inevitably happen.

Take the work of Teresa M. Amabile, a professor of business administration and director of research at the Harvard Business School. She asked 238 professionals working on 26 different creative projects from different companies and industries to fill out confidential daily diaries over a number of months. The participants were asked to answer questions based on a numeric scale and briefly describe one thing that stood out that day.

“We found that of all the events that could make for a great day at work, the most important was making progress on meaningful work — even a small step forward,” said Professor Amabile, a co-author of “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011). “A setback, on the other hand, meant the employee felt blocked in some way from making such progress. Setbacks stood out on the worst days at work.”

After analyzing some 12,000 diary entries, Professor Amabile said she found that the negative effect of a setback at work on happiness was more than twice as strong as the positive effect of an event that signaled progress. And the power of a setback to increase frustration is over three times as strong as the power of progress to decrease frustration.

“This applies even to small events,” she said.

If managers or bosses know this, then they should be acutely aware of the impact they have when they fail to recognize the importance to workers of making progress on meaningful work, criticize, take credit for their employees’ work, pass on negative information from on top without filtering and don’t listen when employees try to express grievances.

The answer, then, is not to heap meaningless praise on our employees or, for that matter, our children or friends, but to criticize constructively — and sparingly.

Professor Nass said that most people can take in only one critical comment at a time.

“I have stopped people and told them, ‘Let me think about this.’ I’m willing to hear more criticism but not all at one time.”

He also said research had shown that how the brain processed criticism — that we remembered much more after we heard disapproving remarks than before — belied the effectiveness of a well-worn management tool, known as the criticism sandwich. That is offering someone a few words of praise, then getting to the meat of the problem, and finally adding a few more words of praise.

Rather, Professor Nass suggested, it’s better to offer the criticism right off the bat, then follow with a list of positive attributes.

Also, perhaps the very fact that we tend to praise our children when they’re young — too much and for too many meaningless things, I would argue — means they don’t get the opportunity to build up a resilience when they do receive negative feedback.

Professor Baumeister said: “If criticism was more common, we might be more accepting of it.”

Oddly, I find this research, in some ways, reassuring. It’s not just me. I don’t need to beat myself up because I seem to fret excessively when things go wrong.

It turns out that a strategy I started years ago apparently can be effective. I have a “kudos” file in which I put all the praise I’ve received, along with e-mails from friends or family that make me feel particularly good.

As Professor Baumeister noted in his study, “Many good events can overcome the psychological effects of a bad one.” In fact, the authors quote a ratio of five goods for every one bad.

That’s a good reminder that we all need to engage in more acts of kindness — toward others and ourselves — to balance out the world.

Excuse me now. I’m off to read my kudos file. And if you would like to add to it, feel free.



Establishing a Perspective

I think the following written by Marcello Spinella offers a perfect, clear
statement of an important evolutionary leap in a life…..

…there’s that atmosphere at conferences, in journal publications, etc. But
I don’t think it’s too different from other competitive jobs or situations,
like oh…family functions. 🙂 So I think the same skills and strengths
can apply.

The one that I have found indispensable is perspective taking. Any criticism
or competitive interactions become much more of a problem when we
personalize them. People will criticize and judge and compete with us in
life. So what? Why is that a problem? Because we get upset about it. We only
make it a problem (and then get upset) when we personalize it and have
expectations that it shouldn’t be that way. But a situation can be handled
appropriately with or without a great deal of emotional upset.

With perspective taking, one gains greater ability (not necessarily absolute
ability) to regulate their emotion without depending on the rest of the
world conforming to their expectations. Shantideva said if you want to
protect your feet you can either cover the world with leather or you can put
sandals on your feet.

Or as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without
your consent.” In other words, it means a person becoming more aware of the
implicit choices they are making that leads to them getting upset. Making
this metacognitive shift from wanting the world to be a certain way to
regulation of one’s own cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to it is
empowering. Perspective taking is one of the tools I have found to be very
useful in making that shift.

It’s easier said than done, of course. But it’s a skill, and like any other
skill, the more practice one gets and the greater challenge one uses it in,
the better one gets at it. It’s not a quick fix, but it is a workable
strategy. I used to need to do it on paper for a while at first, and then
got to the point where I could work through it in my head. Now it’s become
an ingrained habit. Things that would have caused a tailspin in the past
barely shows up on the radar, but not for any lack of awareness.

Marcello Spinella’s unpublished post to Friends of Positive Psychology
List–used with permission. Thank you so much Marcello!

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Creating a positive work culture Positive psychology goes well beyond positive thinking—it helps to channel emotions and create powerful work relationships

March 4 2012 Wall Street Journal LiveMint

Komal Sharma

Q&A | Sarah Lewis
The state of mind of the people who make up an organization decides the well-being of the organization. Grounded in psychology and management research, Sarah Lewis’ new book Positive Psychology at Work offers insights on creating appreciative and positive cultures at work. Lewis is an associated fellow of the British Psychological Society and the managing director of Appreciating Change, a business psychology change consultancy in the UK, where she works as a facilitator and consultant.
Feel-good: Some people are able to energize and inspire others in even the briefest of interactions.
In the book, Lewis has addressed matters of performance, communication, decision making, and more. In an email interview, Lewis separates the mumbo jumbo of positive thinking from scientific and research-based positive psychology. Edited excerpts:
At face value, positive psychology can be taken to mean positive thinking. How are they different?
Positive thinking has a different and separate history to positive psychology and it is unfortunate that they are sometimes confused. Positive thinking, at heart, believes that positive affirmations, “I am a millionaire”, “I am beautiful”, “I am successful”, and so on will cause that state to come to pass. Presently this set of beliefs is reflected in the “ask the universe” movement. There is some unarticulated psychology present in this form of superstitious thinking but essentially positive thinking is highly unscientific; worse, it can be dangerous to health and well-being. The most obvious pernicious effect of this thinking is when those unfortunate enough to suffer from fatal diseases are instructed to “think their way to health” through only thinking positive thoughts. When this advice leads people to neglect seeking out medical advice, it slips from “alternative” to highly unethical, in my view.
Positive Psychology at Work:Wiley-Blackwell,246 pages, $39.95 (around Rs. 1,970).
However, positive thinking does cross over with positive psychology in two ways. One, it understands that body and mind are as one and the state of each affects the other. And secondly, that visualization is a powerful mental tool. Where they differ is that positive psychology locates these understandings in a set of scientific articulations that can account for causality without resorting to a belief in mysterious universe waves or in the general benevolence of the universe.
Positive psychology is a science-based approach interested in understanding how people and institutions achieve a state of flourishing. Among the things we have learnt as various researchers have got to grips with questions such as “What are good emotions good for?” is that the factors that contribute to success, enjoyment, excellence, vitality, well-being, etc., are not the absence of, or the polar opposite of, the factors that contribute to poor states. In other words, we need to do different things, behave differently, to be able to flourish in our lives rather than just escape languishing in life.
Appreciative Inquiry has come to be recognized as development methodology. What does it mean?
Appreciative Inquiry is an organizational development approach developed by David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University, US. Based on an understanding of the organization as a living human system, it takes a social dynamics approach to achieving change, recognizing that both stability and change are properties of how we talk and relate to each other on a daily basis. Appreciative Inquiry emphasizes people as emotional, imaginative, and relational and works with these features of our common humanity. In this it stands in contrast to most change management approaches that perceive the organization to be essentially a rational problem to be solved. Appreciative Inquiry shares with positive psychology an interest in the effect on people and groups of positivity—feeling good—and of playing to strengths. They share an interest in creating abundance as well as reducing deficit.
There seems to be a direct relation between positive psychology and performance at work.
A number of features have been identified through positive psychology research as positively affecting work performance. Feeling good is a key one. When we experience positive emotions—excitement, amusement, awe, passion—our brains are flooded with serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters. What this means, in effect, is that our brains are able to work better, faster, deeper. We are able to deal with more complexity and ambiguity. We are more creative, we learn faster. In addition, we become more sociable. Generally these states are assets at work.
Understanding and using our strengths is another. When people are using their strengths, they are more energized, they find things easier to do: They are engaged. Experiencing states of flow means that people are working at their full capacity. Using positive psychology we can also affect general health and well-being and resilience, these are also key to performance in challenging environments and times.
It’s scientific: Sarah Lewis.
Work mostly entails team process and interaction. How does one enhance his/her ability to create powerful work relationships?
If you can leave everyone who works with you feeling better after their interaction with you than before, you are well on the way. Research in this area has tracked the energy networks of organizations, and also explored high-quality interactions. It is clear that some people have the ability to energize and inspire others in even the briefest of interactions. Use your micro-moments to build relationships. In general, it is good advice to be helpful, generous and supportive. Behaving like this is good for you and for the recipient.
We are often told to separate our personal and professional lives. But our emotions tend to reflect in everything we do. How does positive psychology help in channelling emotions?
Most of the time, we can operate as if work and home were separate spheres, and this is the way both our partners and our bosses tend to like it. But as we all know, events in one sphere regularly spill over into the other, particularly in their emotional effects. Positive psychology offers the observation that negative emotions —anger, despair, fear, frustration—are important as they tell us something is wrong and needs attending to. However, they are a poor fuel for producing anything much other than fight, flight, or freeze behaviour. Learning how to get ourselves into a more positive emotional state allows us to access a whole load of other behaviours and resources to help us work creatively and productively with the situation. So yes, emotions are an important fuel for our energy and motivation, and different emotions produce a different kind of fuel.


Thoughts on Capitalism

March 16, 2012
The Good, Bad and Ugly of Capitalism

On Wednesday, Howard Schultz, the chairman and chief executive of Starbucks, will take the podium at his company’s annual meeting and talk about the importance of morality in business.

Yes, morality. I don’t know that he’ll use that exact word. But there can be little doubt that in recent years, especially, Schultz has been practicing a kind of moral capitalism. Profitability is important, he believes, but so is treating customers, employees and coffee growers fairly. Recently, Schultz has defined Starbucks’s mission even more broadly, creating programs that have nothing at all to do with selling coffee but are aimed at helping the country recover from the Great Recession.

In the speech, Schultz plans to make a direct link between Starbucks’s record profits and this larger societal role the company has embraced. He will make the case that companies that earn the country’s trust will ultimately be rewarded with a higher stock price. “The value of your company is driven by your company’s values,” he plans to say.

I bring up Schultz and Starbucks because this week we saw a different kind of American capitalism on display — the “rip your eyeballs out” capitalism of Goldman Sachs. In the corporate equivalent of the shot heard round the world, Greg Smith, a former Goldman executive, wrote an Op-Ed article in The Times as he was walking out the door in which he described a corporate culture that values only one thing: making as much money as possible, by whatever means necessary. According to Smith, Goldman views clients as pigeons to be plucked rather than customers to be valued. Goldman traders vie to see how much profit they can make at the expense of their clients, even if it means selling them products that are sure to “blow up” eventually. “It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off,” Smith wrote.

In the wake of Smith’s article, plenty of people raced to Goldman’s defense. Michael Bloomberg, New York’s billionaire mayor, whose company sells Goldman expensive computer terminals, went to Goldman Sachs’s headquarters in a show of support. The editors of his eponymous firm published an editorial that mercilessly mocked Smith. They and others pointed out that Goldman clients are big boys who can take care of themselves. Even some clients agreed. “You better not turn your back on them,” one Goldman customer told The Financial Times. Yet, he added, “They are also highly competent.”

But there’s a reason Smith’s article has struck such a chord. It is the same reason that Goldman Sachs, despite having come through the financial crisis largely unscathed, has become the target of such astonishing venom, described as a vampire squid and the like. The reason is that the kind of amoral, eat-what-you-kill capitalism that Goldman represents is one that most Americans instinctively find repugnant. It confirms the suspicions many people have that Wall Street has become a place where sleazy practices are the norm, and where generating profits in ways that are detrimental to society is the ticket to a successful career and a multimillion-dollar bonus.

Goldman bundled terrible subprime mortgages that helped bring about the financial crisis. Smelling trouble, it unloaded its worst mortgage bonds by cramming them down the throats of its clients. It secretly allowed a short-seller, John Paulson, to pick some especially toxic mortgage bonds that were bundled and sold to Goldman clients — with Paulson profiting by taking the “short” side of the trade. Just recently, Goldman had to admit that one of its investment bankers had acted as a merger adviser to the El Paso Corporation while holding stock in Kinder Morgan, which was trying to acquire El Paso. It would be hard to imagine a more blatant conflict — yet no one at Goldman bothered to tell El Paso.

These practices may not be illegal, but can you really say they represent the values that we want to see on Wall Street or in our corporations? I can’t.

And Goldman shouldn’t either. What has been amazing is that, despite three years of nonstop criticism — including Congressional hearings and settlements with the government — Goldman has not changed one iota. That is another reason Smith’s article resonated. It confirmed that suspicion as well. Goldman’s response to every controversy these past three years has been to bury them in a blizzard of public relations. And this has been its response to the Smith article, releasing, for instance, a companywide e-mail from Lloyd Blankfein, its chief executive, insisting that Goldman does, too, care about clients. Consistently, Goldman’s attitude has been: This, too, shall pass.

So far, though, it hasn’t. And maybe, just maybe, it won’t. Maybe the time has come for Blankfein to watch what Howard Schultz is doing at Starbucks. Sometimes, the best way to do well really is to do good.