I'm not kidding and where of all places did I discover it? The Sun, no less.
Those of you familiar with the magazine know that finding extraordinary pieces there is no surprise. But the April issue, with "The Science of Happiness," Angela Winter's interview with psychologist Barbara Frederickson, is surprising, not just because of the general idea--that there is a science to the upward turning corners of the mouth--but also because of Frederickson's "collaboration with business consultant Marcial Losada," to which I will return shortly but first a bit more on Frederickson's work.
Her new book is Positivity. Think less of the made-up-ness sound of the word (even if it is in the dictionary) and more of words like chemoreceptivity and hyposensitivity, in other words, science-y. The Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Principal Investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at the University of North Carolina, Frederickson has been asking why people have positive emotions for a long time. From the interview:
Positive emotions tell us not just what the body needs but what we need mentally and emotionally and what our future selves might need. They help us broaden our minds and our outlook and build our resources down the road. I call it the "broaden and build" effect.
So there's a lot to consider and I haven't read the book or anything else by her but...I was stopped when I came across the reference to Frederickson's work with Losada. Turns out that Losada, whose work I am not familiar with, specializes in high-performing teams. In his observations of sixty business teams, he found that:
...high-performing teams had about a six-to-one ratio of positive to negative statements, whereas the low-performing teams had ratios of less than one to one, meaning that more than half of what was said was negative. People on the high-performing teams had an even balance between asking questions and advocating for their own points of view, and also an equal measure of focusing outward and focusing within the group. The low-performing teams had asked almost no questions and almost never focused outside the group. They exhibited a self-absorbed advocacy: nobody was listening to each other--they were all just waiting to talk.
Apparently, mathematical modeling is Losada's hobby and working with nothing more than "a laptop on his dining-room table and loads of data from past observations of business teams...[he] wrote algebraic equations reflecting how each stream--the questioning, the positivity, and the outward-inward focus--related to the others."
What did he find? That his equations matched the Lorenz system, the bit of chaos theory that explains nothing less than the "butterfly effect"--you know, flap wings here, global economic meltdown there. In other words, positivity creates positivity (more complex than that as we're ultimately talking complexity theory here) and I want you to buy, nay, subscribe to The Sun (the ad-free, 35-year-old monthly, with nearly 70,000 subscribers).
But I can't get away with that, can I, say the complex systems theorists reading here. I quote Frederickson again:
Underneath the dynamics for the high-performing teams was what physicists call a "complex chaotic attractor," which produces unpredictable or novel outcomes. So high-performing teams produced novel creative results. Underneath the structure of low-performing teams was a "fixed-point attractor" that caused the teams to spiral down to a dead end. There were also medium-performing teams, which showed some creativity, and at times it looked as if a complex chaotic attractor was trying to emerge, but then a moment of intense negativity would occur, and they'd never bounce back. What's interesting is that the negativity always arose within the realm of self-absorbed advocacy and not asking any questions...
...Using the Lorenz equations we were able to algebraically predict that a ratio of three positive events to one negative event should be the tipping point where things become chaotic--in a good sense--and a medium-performing team becomes a high-performing one.
I'm so absorbed in looking at the article, typing sections here, then looking back (it's not online yet) that I risk just going on and on. You get the point. Teams, you must look in and out. Say/think/perform three positive things for every negative one.
What a simple formula for coaxing high-performance out of our teams.