Favorite Reads March 2011

March 14th, 2011

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work
By Shawn Achor
Crown Publishing Group, New York, NY. 2010 

Success leads to happiness? Wrong-o! Shawn Achor, former Harvard Professor and now international consultant, proves this is backwards thinking with a fascinating collection of examples from personal experience, observation, and research. Happiness leads to success, not the other way around!

Here are a few of the proofs that we found compelling:

  • Happy workers perform better as leaders, receive higher performance ratings, higher pay, more promotions, and take fewer sick days than those with average or lower happiness measurements. (Read the book for multiple documented examples!)
  • Optimistic sales people outsell pessimists by 56%.
  • Brain research has proven that small bursts of happiness prime the brain for creativity and innovation. One example-  Doctors who were given a small gift of candy were able to make the correct diagnosis twice as fast as the control group who didn’t receive the gift.
  • A new area of research is devoted to Post Traumatic Growth – individuals who grow and flourish after experiencing something traumatic.

There is also an interesting link to mindfulness, best illustrated through a quote from John Milton in Paradise Lost, “The Mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

The author, Shawn Achor, details his take on seven principles to increase happiness and thereby increase personal and organizational success. He includes many easily adoptable ideas to develop happiness enhancing habits and to positively reprogram your brain for success.

We thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to any and all forward thinking individuals.

Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard

By Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Broadway Books, NY, 2010

Switch is an intriguing, illuminating, invaluable guide to leading major transformations. The authors put forth a mindful (present-tense focus coupled with long-term vision) approach to the challenges of leading less-than-enthusiastic people to a preferred future.

The Heath’s are a couple of story-telling, secret-revealing organization development experts who weave the three basic concepts: crystal clear direction, how to engage people’s emotions, and how to shape the path, into compelling real-life stories.

Most revealing was Chapter 5. The concept put forth in “Find the Feeling” seems to be a significant missing piece in most tips, tools and techniques for leading organizational change. Simply stated (which is the way all of the Heath’s principles are put forth), most leaders think about change in this order:

Analyze: Assess the present situation, identify the gaps and the costs.

Think: Figure out what needs to be different.

Change: Adopt new ways of operating to achieve what needs to be different

According to the authors, “trying to fight inertia and indifference with analytical arguments is like tossing a fire extinguisher to someone who is drowning.”

A better method is to “Find the Feeling” which can be accomplished through a different three-phase order:

See: Make visible to the target audience what needs to change in a way that captures their attention. Example: Present visual depictions of the preferred future state. A new line of products, or a different factory layout, or a new approach to emergency room procedures.

Feel: To dispel positive illusions about the status quo, ask the BIG question “What if we could do this?” The authors rebuke the “set the platform on fire” approach to leading organizational change. Their research indicates that encouraging negative emotions such as fear, anger, or frustration are not as powerful as building positive anticipation.

Change: New behaviors are driven by feelings of energy, hope, and creativity.

The Heaths provide detailed techniques for setting the stage for change, integrating the analytical and emotional minds of followers, and creating the environment and habits for large-scale, long-lasting change. Switch is every leader’s guide to creating a better future!  

WE – How to Increase Performance and Profits through Full Engagement
By Rudy Karsan and Keving Kruse
John Wiley & Sons Inc, Hoboken, NJ. 2011
As the title indicates, the authors are out to convince you that there is nothing more important for an organization – or an individual – than full engagement. Karsan and Kruse argue that when employees work in engaging jobs, using their best talents, with inspirational leaders, the outcome is breakthroughs in productivity, customer service, profitability, and shareholder value. Even more significantly, when individuals work in engaging jobs they have better health, stronger relationships, and greater overall happiness. The authors offer a smorgasbord of research, anecdotes and testimonials to invigorate, or reinvigorate, you to gain the many benefits of a more engaged, aligned and committed work force.WE is an easy read, full of provocative quotes, easy to use assessments, and loads of charts, lists and graphs. If you are aware of the research on organizational effectiveness you know about the value of engagement. The book will offer a fine refresher about why it’s important with data to motivate you to strive even harder to enhance engagement. If you haven’t been aware of its importance, this book will stimulate you to get that white horse out of the stable, clamp on your armor, and ride out to change your world.

The separation between work and private life is a relatively recent distinction. For most of human history people did not separate what they did as work from other aspects of their life. Karsan and Kruse argue that we should get rid of those distinctions. We should not try to “balance” our work and private lives; we need to integrate them.

Great leaders focus on growth, recognition and trust to build a culture of engagement in which everyone feels valued and has opportunities for personal growth. Great leaders build a culture of communication and teamwork which results in, you’ve got it: high quality work and organizational success.

The book is stimulating and fun with a nice little “tool box” at the end of every chapter with chapter summaries, key takeaways and bonus material which includes a link to a web site with PowerPoints and recorded presentations.

Get it. You’ll like it.