Building Positive Organizations

The first assumption of organizational life is that people are self-interested. Many people are fascinated by the notion of positive organization. Yet they resist pursuing and implementing the associated notions because they fear the reactions that will follow. Since everyone knows that everyone is self-interested, everyone knows that positive organizing cannot work. Here I want to use a simple story to illustrate a profound point.
In the building where I work there is a delightful woman who is an administrative assistant. Over the years she has become deeply interested in the research from the Center for Positive Organizations. She has chosen to become a positive deviant at work. She continually engages in positive acts that are outside her job description. Here is an example in her own words:
The other day I saw a link to the 30 most colorful cities. Of course I clicked and continued clicking on one city after another. I thought to put them on the wall outside of my office with the inkling that they might elicit some enjoyment and happiness for my colleagues. I was pleased and also happily surprised as I watched that unfold beyond my expectations. 
As is usual with the ways in which I extend myself, I felt like I was breaking a taboo, in particular taping 30 pieces of paper to the wall outside of my office, tape on the wall, pictures in the hall taking up the visual space of our very clean white walls, a distraction, too busy for beauty. I printed them out and taped them up.
What I thought might happen is that they would invite a little pause, a break in the action of zipping from one place to the next — and that I did see. I saw and heard from my office as busy students, staff and faculty, stopped, scanned, gazed, considered and appreciated. One of our professors thanked me and said he pauses to look at two or three each time he passes by. Another commented on their beauty and thanked me for putting them up there. I felt happy all week not for the thanks, but for the big impact I witnessed in this small action.
Then something else happened.
People are moving so fast with busy minds and in different directions that rarely do their divergent paths cross.  I wondered, might the beauty draw two people from different directions at the same time? Yes. I got even happier as I watched people engage in a short shared enjoyment about the color, the beauty, and the places. Sometimes with someone they were walking with, sometimes it was a coincidental yet mutual pause.
I had a feeling about this and my feeling was that this has something to do with love.  I made a quick search and in support of my inkling I found this quote:  “Love blossoms virtually any time two or more people — even strangers — connect over a shared positive emotion, be it mild or strong.” Barbara Frederickson, in Love 2.0
So this simple effort of following my inclination and running an experiment had a positive outcome for others but also for me. I feel happy and gratified when I see what I have done positively impact others and I loved witnessing their shared enjoyment. It’s the kind of love that makes my day.
At first this seems like one more “nice story.” Please reread the last paragraph of her statement. It illustrates a profoundly important fact. When we internalize the positive mental map, we begin to pursue the collective good which includes our own good. In seeking to build positive organizations, would-be implementers would do well to ponder, understand and teach this crucial notion.

  • How is the job of administrative assistant usually designed?
  • How can an administrative assistant live in love at work?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


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