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Building on the Positive When Faced With the Negative

August 6, 2012

We are all familiar with the principle that leaders should emphasize the positive, build on strengths, and focus on abundance rather than deficits. We know that providing positive feedback is likely to produce higher productivity and higher engagement that criticism and negative evaluations. Ten years of research in the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship has produced study after study confirming the importance of adopting a positive perspective and implementing positive practices in organizations, teams, and interpersonal relationships. Individuals, teams, and organizations do far better in a positive environment than in a negative, critical, or punishing environment.


Professor Jane Dutton’s passion for Compassion

May 1, 2012

Most would agree that compassion — sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress,
together with a desire to alleviate it — is inherently good and needs no justification.
Compassion crosses many societal, cultural, and religious traditions, and has been
a common thread connecting humanity throughout the ages. Why, then, has this
timeless virtue not fully made its way into our 21st century workplaces? In corporate
cultures, why do the words Aristotle espoused, that “Compassion is good in and
of itself,” seem inaudible next to the Darwinian-inspired idea that “Only the strong


The Unbearable Lightness of Meetings

March 7, 2012

By Adam M. Grant, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.'” ─ Dave Barry
In the summer of 2011, two managers in the financial sector reduced the time they wasted in meetings by 20%. “It freed up an entire day per week,” exclaimed Mario, and “I’m able to focus in on strategy and efficiencies,” said Jeanne. What did it take for both of these managers to free up so much time?

The catalyst was the Job Crafting Exercise™. Designed in 2008 by Justin Berg, Jane Dutton, and Amy Wrzesniewski, the tool enables people to map the current building blocks of their jobs, and develop a plan for reallocating their time, energy, and attention to achieve better alignment with their strengths, motives, and passions.


In Pursuit of a Career with a Heart . . . How Can People Negotiate That?

March 1, 2012

By Shirli Kopelman

The negotiated journey toward a career with a heart is important to understand, because having such a career can yield not only long-term love for what one does, but a host of beneficial outcomes for individuals and organizations.

Having a career with a heart means experiencing more than mere job satisfaction; indeed it means feeling enduring love and passion for one’s work. This pursuit is possible in any profession and occupation at every point along the career path.


Compassion Capability

January 2, 2012

By: Monica Worline, Jane Dutton, and members of Compassion Lab

What makes one group of people highly able to coordinate compassionate responses to suffering in their midst, while another group may fail to take notice at all, and another may exhibit a minimal response? In this paper, we take up this question by looking closely at one organizational unit that exhibited an extraordinary capacity to respond to the suffering of its members.


How do People Attempt To Promote Good Behavior and Deter Bad Behavior?

October 19, 2011

By Cynthia S. Wang, University of Michigan and National University of Singapore

Understanding how people react to honesty and deception can provide some of the answers. Research on this topic has a variety of implications, including increasing our understanding of how to encourage ethical behavior.

Research suggests that negative stimuli consistently affect us more than positive ones. However, our research finds that people do not punish deception (a negative stimulus) more than they reward honesty (a positive stimulus). We analyze this topic using a multi-level lens, from the individual, to the collective, to the societal structural level.


How Can We Create Ethical Organizations?

July 15, 2011

By David M. Mayer

Corporate indiscretion, wrongdoing, and corruption are perpetually the subject of media attention as well-known companies such as Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and most recently the News of the World, have been found guilty of unlawful behavior; and the U.S. economic crisis has in part been blamed on unethical actions from Wall Street. These corporate scandals and current financial woes have brought renewed interest to business ethics—namely, understanding the factors that promote ethical behavior in organizations. Although conventional wisdom suggests that unethical behavior is the result of a few “bad apples,” there is mounting evidence that in addition to the personal values of employees, the organizational environment plays a critical role in encouraging ethical conduct.


2010 Award for Best Paper in POS – The Call of the Wild

February 16, 2011

By Janet Max The work leading to the publication of The Call of the Wild: Zookeepers, Callings, and the Double-Edged Sword of Deeply Meaningful Work “started on a whim,” noted co-author Jeffery Thompson in the keynote address he gave with co-author Stuart Bunderson.  “It’s the most playful thing I think either of us ever did […]


Positive Deviance for a Sustainable World

February 16, 2011

By Nardia Haigh, University of Massachusetts-Boston

The pursuit of sustainability has become a crucial concern for organizations. Companies have invested much to reduce their environmental impact and become good corporate citizens. This focus has produced significant outcomes, such as reduced pollution and an emphasis on corporate social responsibility. However, large-scale social and environmental issues still abound, as social inequities persist and environmental systems continue to be eroded.

What would happen if, rather than focusing on reducing negative impacts (that is, addressing negative deviance), organizations turned their energies towards creating social and environmental abundance (or, creating positive deviance)? The switch is one of turning attention away from becoming “less unsustainable” towards becoming “more sustainable.” It is at once a simple shift in thinking and a magnificent leap forward in practice.


The curious case of new employees: Are new employees curious? Should they be?

September 30, 2010

By Spencer Harrison, Boston College

Bringing new employees up to speed is a critical concern for organizations. One of the dominant views is that employees are shocked, surprised, and up-ended by various unexpected experiences they encounter on their new jobs. In turn, these negative emotional events force them to learn the nuances of their new job and their new organizational environment. However, recent literature has turned this reactive portrait of new employees on its head, focusing more on new employees as proactive agents: individuals seeking out opportunities to learn and develop themselves. Curiosity, the drive for new information that motivates exploration, provides a new way for assessing why and how individuals explore their new organizations.