Finding the Light in Darkness: The Heliotropic Effect

July 18, 2014

By: Allison Sheehan


If you walk into a dark, unfamiliar room, what is your first instinct? Probably to find the nearest light and turn it on. If you’re stressed and under a lot of pressure at school or work, why do people say, “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel?” And why was there an Oprah quote on my Starbucks cup today, telling me to “know what sparks the light in [me],” and to “use that light to illuminate the world”? Finding “the light” is a common thing that people are searching for.

This natural search for light can be referred to as the “heliotropic effect,” which simply means that every living system has a tendency toward light and away from darkness, or a tendency towards that which is life giving and away from that which endangers life. For example, if you put a plant near a window that faces the sun, you will soon notice that the plant begins leaning toward the light. In other words, it is leaning toward the light that gives it life.

When trying to figure out how to “convince” people to use POS in the workplace, or when trying to convey why using positive practices is beneficial and not just the newest fad, an explanation of the heliotropic effect can be a useful tool. It shows that it’s natural for us to want to find the most beneficial thing for us. We want to perform as our best selves and achieve flow and virtuousness in our work. Companies who encourage and enable employees to succeed in these areas will receive benefits from happy and engaged employees. Companies that use positive practices have happier employees who want to come to work, which in turn leads to a more efficient and profitable workplace, which then leads to a workplace mindful of the decisions it’s making that may affect the greater community. When businesses are able to take into account people, profit, and the planet, everyone benefits. No, it’s not a perfect world where everything runs smoothly and every practice applied will work the first time, but having the willingness to try and try again is what’s important.

Finding ways to make your employees feel important and purposeful may seem like a large task, but when everyone is working together to figure it out, it creates a community of coworkers that feel safe and trusted, which can lead to a more efficient business. Successful companies like Cascade Engineering and Zingerman’s are proof that using positive practices and focusing on both employee and community satisfaction are integral parts to running a successful business. For example, Cascade started a “welfare-to-work” program, and after three attempts to make it a successful endeavor, it has had a great impact on the company and the community. Another example is how Zingerman’s has weekly “huddles,” or meetings, in which all of their employees talk about the good things that happened that week, as well as the things that need to be improved. This is also a time for employees to share ideas they have and to catch up with one another. This practice has also proven to improve efficiency and create a more welcoming environment for employees and customers. There is no specific formula that every company should use to create a thriving environment, but each company does have the ability to find positive practices to incorporate at work. If companies incorporate these practices, they will reach a new level, above normal standards.

Are you still wondering if applying positive organizational scholarship will work for your company? If you shine the light of positive practices on your employees, they’re going to follow it, because when lightness shines on darkness, human tendency is to follow the light.

Allison just finished her freshman year in the College of Literature, Science, & the Arts. She heard about the Center from a Peer Advisor and was drawn to it because of its new and unique way of looking at organizations. Now she is part of the Social Media and Blogging Team as a Summer Fellow. She is excited to be a part of the fellows program and the environment and to learn about all of the aspects of the Center’s work, while discovering how to put positive meaning and leadership into the workplace.

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