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Going with the Flow

The nature of the business owner and a source of pride for them is that they are relentless in their desire to see the weaknesses in current products and services available in the market (including their own products and services) and exploit an advantage they believe their offering can provide.  In order to maximize the identification of the weaknesses and opportunities in current choices available to prospects and customers, it lends itself to thinking in terms of problems, failures, and negative outcomes.  Once identified, the thinking would be to modify or change some component, process, ingredient, or factor within the product, service, delivery mechanism, etc. to provide an improved offering. This conventional approach to building a business has proven successful for the duration of commercial transactions, but is not the only method to achieving success.

Positive Psychology

There is a relatively new stream of psychological thought called, “Positive Psychology.”  For most people, they traditionally think of the application of psychology as the response to mental illness, emotional distress, depression, or people suffering from some deficit in their life that has prevented them from being all they can be and accomplish.  Just like the business owner seeks to take a negative and turn it into a positive, the assumption that many people have is that psychology is best applied to situations and people who are struggling, weak, or suffering.

However, the field of Positive Psychology chooses to look at building on positives and leveraging current strengths.  Sometimes referred to as the study of happiness, the concept of “Flow” emanates from the recognition that people can become so fully immersed in one’s work that they experience:

  1. intense concentration
  2. loss of self-awareness
  3. Challenged (neither bored nor overwhelmed).

The suggestions are not to solely focus on addressing the areas that are not currently at expectation, but rather builds on strengths, interests, and passions.  One of the founders of this branch of psychology, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi has identified nine elements of “Flow:”

  1. There are clear goals every step of the way,
  2. There is immediate feedback to one’s action,
  3. There is a balance between challenges and skills,
  4. Action and awareness are merged
  5. Distractions are excluded from consciousness,
  6. There is no worry of failure,
  7. Self-consciousness disappears,
  8. The sense of time becomes distorted,
  9. The activity becomes “autotelic” (an end in itself, done for its own sake).

How to Integrate it in Business

By looking at common business tactics differently and through a lens of positive actions, it can be influential in changing how decisions are reached.  For instance –

  • Meetings – rather than beginning with meetings with the introduction of some crisis, failure, or competitive encroachment; begin meetings with a review of successes and what made them successes. Acknowledging efforts, recognizing achievements, and sharing effective responses in an effort to improve future performance has been shown to be successful.
  • Performance Appraisals – commonly, the performance appraisal process focuses on providing a score or grading on various competencies and discussions around areas of improvement.  A positive psychology approach would look at strengths and interests of the employee and try to align tasks with skills and abilities that are challenging and in synch so that the employee can thrive and be productive at the highest levels of their potential.
  • Selection – rather than strictly reviewing a resume for highlights of job skills, a positive psychology approach would also incorporate looking for emotional strengths (sense of purpose, optimism, and emotional health) as those characteristics may have equal or higher indications of future success.

Businesses can be helped by looking at happiness factors at work

The Payoff

There have been studies by everyone from Abraham Maslow through Martin Seligman, to many others who have research that indicates that happpiness does have a positive impact on revenue, profitability, customer service, staff tenure, reducing accidents at work, etc.  And no matter what approach taken – be it looking at weaknesses to improve, or strengths to leverage; isn’t the bottomline something every business person can agree upon?


David Zahn