My Take: 2017 World Congress on Positive Psychology

I recently attended the fifth annual World Congress on Positive Psychology (WCPP) in Montreal with Aimee and Karen. It was four amazing four days of inspiration and reflection. I’m already looking forward to the next WCPP in Melbourne in 2019 (it’s a bi-annual event).

As I did after the the last congress, I’m sharing my thoughts and observations from the four day event. There were many concurrent sessions, so my notes only reflect a small slice of the event.

What is Positive Psychology?

In case you’re wondering what Positive Psychology is all about, here’s a definition from the Positive Psychology Center:

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

The field is still pretty fragmented, without many standardized definitions. Many of the thought leaders have created their own models (and related books), which push the field into many different (and mostly interesting) directions. Amongst all of that diversity, here’s my takeaway on what positive psychology is all about (and why it’s so important to what we do at Temkin Group):

  • People have the intrinsic ability to be happy and to flourish.
  • Changes in mindset can improve physical and mental well-being.
  • It makes good business sense to help customers and employees flourish.
  • The world will be a better place if more of its inhabitants can flourish.

Highlights from the 2017 WCPP

The 2017 WCPP provided a wide array of content over four days of keynote speeches and breakout sessions. The keynote content was heavily focused on research that covered the connection between positive psychology and education, physical well-being, and organizational effectiveness. Here’s a very, very small portion of highlights from some of the sessions:

  • Martin Seligman shares 5 career highlights. Seligman, who many consider the godfather of the positive psychology movement, shared his thoughts about the five big ideas that he’s been involved with over his career, and where he thought they might be headed in the future. What an inspirational kick off to the event! Here’s a brief glimpse into the five areas:
    • Learned Helplessness: Helplessness is a learned behavior — usually caused after experiencing an adverse situation. Clinical depression and related mental illnesses are often the result  from a perceived absence of control. The research in neuroscience may be able to “unlearn” helplessness and eliminate depression.
    • Preparedeness: Human beings are prepared to learn some things and not others based on how coherent the information is to evidence already in our minds. But why are some things we learn sticky? We tend to listen/observe for 60 seconds and then a default circuit kicks in about every 60 seconds so that we can compare what we’re learning against our existing ideas.
    • Learned Optimism: Optimistic people believe that the cause of problems are temporary and causal, and this thinking can be taught through resilience training. Since pessimistic thinking is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease, this training can be very helpful for people who have heart disease and depression.
    • Homo Prospectus: We used to think that people think and behave based on what’s happened to them in the past, when in fact people are future oriented. So treating problems with anxiety and depression must deal with how people view their future, not their past.
    • Positive Psychology: The PERMA model has defined what well-being means, and he is seeing it being brought into class rooms, families, organizations, and even nations. He believes that this movement can bring unprecedented prosperity in the world, and it can create a level of human flourishing that only comes along every 500 years.
  • David Cooperrider is improving the world. Cooperrider is one of the most unassuming and amazing people that I have ever met. He’s the creator of appreciative inquiry, which he’s successfully applied to industries, religions, and the United Nations. He’s planning a world summit that is focused on radically improving early childhood education. The approach he will use (which he’s been very successful with in the past) is to bring together representatives from every aspect of the entire system (educators, administrators, politicians, parents, etc) and run appreciative inquiry sessions. This is like a large-scale, co-creation form of design thinking that he calls “Design Democracy.” He expects that this summit will be the start of a decade long effort.
  • Kim Cameron shows the power of positive energy. Cameron shared some of the work being done at the Center for Positive Organizations. He discussed how positive energy is a more important element to understanding the health of an organization than is a mapping of hierarchies or influence levels. The bottom line is that people in organizations who add positive energy (Energizers) are much more more valuable to the performance of an organization than are those who subtract energy (De-Energizers).

  • Steve Cole discusses well-being and genomics. His research was fascinating, as it examined the actual connection between mind and body. He found that eudaimonic happiness (the pursuit of personal fulfillment)  improves a person’s genomes, while hedonic happiness (the pursuit of pleasure) does not.
  • Alejandro Adler improves education. Adler is a postdoctoral fellow at UPenn who won an award for his amazing work on the field of education. He’s shown that infusing well-being into educational curriculum can have a dramatic impact on the success of the children. He discussed extraordinary results with large-scale interventions in Bhutan, Mexico, and Peru.
  • Johannes Eichstaedt measures well-being via social media. Eichstaedt used text analytics to study the correlation between well-being and the language that thousands of people write on Facebook and Twitter. He showed many fascinating connections, including the topics that are predictors of heart disease (see below). He then examined differences by locations and political affiliations.

  • Elissa Epel discussed the biology of aging. Epel showed that our pace of aging is not pre-determined, and that our perception of stress impacts our genomes. Her research shows that chronic stress shortens telomeres, which leads to increased inflammation and disease. In other words, we can lengthen our lives by better coping with stress.
  • Laura King inspires us to appreciate what we have. I need to say this… King was awesome. Her speech was passionate and impactful. She explained that people constantly seek and find meaningful associations in the world… like pavlov dogs. She made the case that we should not strive to “find meaningfulness,” but instead we need to recognize that our meaning in life is deeply rooted in our everyday experiences. We just need to open our eyes and notice the meaning in our lives.

Hopefully some of the connections between positive psychology and customer experience are pretty obvious. In a later post, I’ll more explicitly discuss the linkages between what we heard at the WCPP and CX.  For now, I’ll end with a slide from Kim Cameron’s presentation and urge that you inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.

The bottom line: You can make a positive difference in your life, and in the lives of others.

Happiness Affects How Consumers View Companies

After an inspiring weekend at the 2017 World Congress of Positive Psychology in Montreal, I decided to take a look at some of our data that connects positive psychology with customer experience. I started by examining the question:

Does the innate happiness of a consumer influence how she perceives her experiences with companies?

The answer is yes!

I analyzed the happiness of consumers (based on the degree to which they agree with the statement “I am typically happy“) and the Temkin Emotion Ratings ( a subset of the Temkin Experience Ratings) that they gave to companies with which they’ve recently interacted. The data represented more than 106,000 interactions across 20 different industries.

As you can see in the graphic below, consumers who are happier are more likely to rate their interactions as being positive emotional experiences and less likely to rate them as being negative emotional experiences.

The bottom line: Happy people make more emotionally connected customers.

Positive Attitudes Differ By Gender And Age

As part of our ongoing consumer studies, we measure a number of different attitudes. Given our belief in the importance of Positive Psychology, we recently started tracking a few new ones:

  • I feel loved and appreciated
  • I am optimistic about my future
  • I lead a purposeful and meaningful life

Since I’m in Montreal at the World Congress of Positive Psychology, I decided to examine these attitudes in our most recent benchmark study of 10,000 U.S. consumers. I analyzed the data by gender and age (“genderations”) and found that:

  • Older people feel the most loved and appreciated, along with 25- to 44-year-old males. Females older than 45 feel more loved and appreciated than males, whereas younger males tend to feel more loved and appreciated than females.
  • 25- to 34-year-olds are the most optimistic about their futures. The largest gender gaps are with 45- to 54-year-olds, where females are more optimistic, and with the oldest group, where males are the most optimistic.
  • Older females and 25- to 44-year-old males most frequently agree that they lead a purposeful and meaningful life. Females older than 45 are more likely than males to believe they are leading a purposeful and meaningful life. The opposite is true with younger consumers.
  • Across all three attitudes, 45- to 54-year-olds fall to the bottom.

The bottom line: We all can (and should) find ways to flourish!

The Human Side of Employee Engagement

As you probably know, Temkin Group spends a lot of time researching and writing about employee engagement. It’s one of our Four CX Core Competencies and a critical component of a customer-centric culture.

While our research typically focuses on the work environment that drives employee engagement, that’s only one part of the picture. To fully understand employee engagement, it’s important to look deeper at the people who are our employees. Why? Because employee engagement is driven by two things: Human Attitudes & Work Environment.

What do I mean by “Human Attitudes?” Your employees are people who have a set of feelings and beliefs that they bring with them to work. These underlying attributes may have absolutely nothing to do with their work. Here’s some data that looks at the level of employee engagement based on two sets of attitudes, the degree to which people feel happy, and the degree to which they feel loved and appreciated. (Note: we used the Temkin Employee Engagement Index to assess the level of engagement).

As you can see, people who are typically happy and those who feel loved and appreciated are significantly more engaged employees than other people. While their work may contribute to these feelings, it’s more likely that they feel this way because of their underlying perspectives and as a result of what’s going on in the rest of their lives.

The first implication of this insight is that you need to do a better job of recruiting and screening for people who are more likely to be engaged. This data shows that more positive people tend to be more engaged employees. So look for those people when you are hiring.

Another implication is that organizations need to deal with the underlying attitudes of their employees. In addition to applying traditional employee engagement strategies, you need to help employees develop more positive attitudes. There’s a lot of good resources to tap into from the Positive Psychology movement.

I’m joining other members of our team at the bi-annual World Congress of Positive Psychology in Montreal in July where we explore this focus on employee engagement in more detail. After the previous congress, we published this table connecting positive psychology to customer experience (including employee engagement):The bottom line: Employee engagement requires human engagement.

 

 

 

Human Beings Are Driven By Their Personal Predictive Analytics

In yesterday’s NY Times, there’s an excellent article, We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment (written by Martin Seligman and John Tierney). It discusses how human beings process information, and the emergence of a new field called prospective psychology. Here’s a very simplified summary of what it says…

Human beings:

  • Are distinctive from other species in our ability to focus on, value, and plan for the future.
  • Store our memories in three different components: what happened, when it happened, and where it happened.
  • Use our mental “downtime” to run many, many simulations about the future by reconfiguring the elements of our memory in different ways.
  • Tap into the results of simulations to make fast decisions by predicting the likely outcomes of different options.

My take: First of all, we pay attention to whatever Seligman says; he’s the father of the Positive Psychology movement (see the post, Positive Psychology Meets Customer Experience). This view of human psychology describes that the brain as if it is constantly running a very advanced suite of predictive analytics. Here’s why this is meaningful for CX professionals:

  • Humans’ focus on the future is what gives power to Purposeful Leadership, as it creates the motivation for people to be part of achieving something important in the future alongside other people.
  • Since people selectively reconfigure their memories, we need to design experiences to create specific memories. That’s the cornerstone of what we call “Design for Real People,” which is one of the strategies of the CX competency: Customer Connectedness.
  • The myriad of simulations provide people with an expectation that doing something good for someone else will likely lead to a good emotional outcome, which is what creates empathy.
  • To motivate customers, employees, or leaders, it’s helpful to introduce future scenarios that tap into elements of their previous experiences.

And here’s why prospective psychology is important for everyone: it determines your happiness. Like any predictive model, it needs fine tuning. If your model is always calculating the worst-case outcomes, then you’ll tend to be sad and depressed. On the other hand, if your model is looking for positive scenarios, then you’ll stay happy and motivated. We’ll be following the research to see how people can adjust their personal predictive models.

The bottom line: Pay attention to prospective psychology.

Amazon Makes Smart Move to Positive Employee Feedback

Last year the New York Times published an article describing Amazon as having a “bruising workplace,” a performance-based environment that often brings employees to tears. It seems that Amazon is changing its ways a bit. It recently announced that it was adjusting the way it evaluates employees. A spokesperson for Amazon described the change as follows:

We’re launching a new annual review process next year that is radically simplified and focuses on our employees’ strengths, not the absence of weaknesses. We will continue to iterate and build on the program based on what we learn from our employees.

My take: Great move. There’s a growing body of research showing that people perform better when they receive positive feedback. 1611_positivitymattersIn my post Positive Psychology Meets Customer Experience, I mention an approach called “appreciative inquiry,” which is a technique for motivating employees that focuses on their strengths.

To highlight the impact of this phenomena, I analyzed our data on more than 5,000 U.S. employees. As you can see below, when bosses give more positive feedback, employees are more likely to recommend the company’s products and services, to do something good for the company that is unexpected, and make improvement recommendations.

1611_employeerespondtopositivefeedback

The bottom line: Positivity is a strong human motivator.

Positive Psychology Infuses Customer Experience

In case you missed it, here’s a recording of a recent Temkin Group webinar, Positive Psychology (PP) Infuses Customer Experience (CX). It shows how principles of PP can be used to enhance an organization’s efforts to improve CX.

We’ve been using some of the underlying principles of PP within our work for years, but never labelled it that way. Going forward, we plan to tap more into the growing body of research in the space, and also hope to provide a leading voice in areas such as organizational culture and experience design.

If you like this topic, here are some posts that you may find interesting:

The bottom line: Positive psychology + customer experience = a world of positive experiences.

Positive Psychology Meets Customer Experience


See webinar with Bruce Temkin and Aimee Lucas:
Infusing Customer Experience With Positive Psychology


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Last week, the Temkin Group leadership team attended the World Congress on Positive Psychology in Orlando. Kudos to the International Positive Psychology Association for putting on such a great event. It was inspirational for us, as it confirmed what we fundamentally believed; positive psychology can be an incredibly valuable tool within the world of customer experience.

What is Positive Psychology?

Before we go any further, I want to make sure everyone understands what positive psychology is all about. Here’s the definition from the Positive Psychology Center:

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

It’s a new branch of psychology where the emphasis is not on fixing psychological ailments, but on helping people “flourish.” You may want to read the book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin Seligman, who many consider the godfather of the positive psychology movement.

Highlights from the World Congress

Seligman was one of the keynote speakers at the event, which included the who’s-who list for positive psychology. Here’s a small dose of highlights from the keynote speakers:

  • Martin Seligman, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania. The latest research is showing that helplessness is a natural reaction in the brain and rather than trying to unlearn it, it is possible to create a “hope circuit” in the brain by building an expectation of control or mastery of the situation. In the World Well-Being Project, positive psychologists are now monitoring world wellbeing by creating word clouds based on millions of social media from around the world. What emerges is a clear picture that positive and negative emotions each have their own lexicon. The question this research raises: if we can change the words people use, can we change their life satisfaction?
  • Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D.: When it comes to understanding and helping people through change, rather than studying a “sample of the average,” study the “growing tip” where individuals or organizations are performing at their best. This shift to focusing on peak performance can help to “democratize excellence” and push through what Goleman has referred to has the “honeymoon effect,” where after some initial success the change is not sustained over the long term.
  • David Cooperrider, Ph.D., Case Western University: Flourishing enterprises support the development and engagement of their people and have a culture and identity based on sustainable values. As he put it, “human beings are not a resource that gets used up, but are a source that can intensify and increase in value and contributions.” These sorts of organizations can be agents of world benefit, and Cooperrider put the spotlight on efforts like Google’s Balloon Project, that brings Internet connectivity to extremely rural areas lacking infrastructure through the use of large balloons. To discover and design positive institutions, we have to view organizations as solutions and use techniques like appreciative intelligence to bring out the best in the system (and the people within the system) in order to drive change at the scale of the whole.
  • Jonathan Haidt, Ph.D., New York University: Haidt put forth that capitalism is the most transformative force since the domestication of fire. And in order to “increase the total tonnage of happiness around the world,” capitalism can be a means to create the right kind of happiness. Rising prosperity brings rising security in society, which lets the attention shift away from simply surviving. With that shift comes a change in values away from the traditional, a push for greater freedom, investments in education (especially for women), and additional powerful benefits for society.
  • Tom Rath, Gallup Consulting: To have the energy they need for sustainable performance, people require three things: meaningful work, quality interactions, and energy. Meaningful work aligns our interests and natural talents with the needs of others. Quality interactions are those relationships with people we enjoy being around, which can have a profound impact on individual health and wellbeing. Energy comes from recognizing that how we eat, move, and sleep work in parallel. Across all three elements, small wins can generate meaningful outcomes when it comes to individual wellbeing.
  • Rollin McCraty, Ph.D., Institute of Heartmath: Of the four energy domains—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual—the emotional domain is the primary driver of physiology and is the biggest way to lose or gain energy as a result. Researchers have identified a nerve center within the heart that sends signals to the brain to help regulate emotion. It is possible to apply some specific techniques to control variable heart rate and self-regulate emotion in order to build capacity for resilience and sustain energy over time.
  • Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., University of North Carolina: The center of this presentation was the Upward Spiral Theory of Lifestyle Change, still a work in process in the research world. Early findings show that the more you enjoy a wellness behavior you undertake (swimming, meditation, etc.), the more you will have spontaneous positive thoughts about that activity resulting in an increased passion for that behavior. In short: you are more likely to stick with a wellness behavior over time if you enjoy it from the start. With the upward spiral, wellness behaviors become more rewarding over time and our motives to pursue them also increate over time. When it comes to prioritizing positivity, people should be proactive about arranging their day to incorporate activities that increase their positive emotions rather than trying to “will themselves happy.”

Infusing Positive Psychology Into Customer Experience

Hopefully this brief introduction to positive psychology has made it clear why there is so much potential value for customer experience.

To make the connection explicit, here are three of the many themes from positive psychology that we will be infusing into our work:

  • Positive emotions support sustained behavior change. People are more apt to continue an activity if it results in positive emotions, which supports more sustainable results than sheer personal willpower.
  • Positive emotions increase human capacity. People are more thoughtful, creative, and adaptive when they experience positive emotions, and it also improves their physiological health and well-being.
  • Meaningful work amplifies positive emotions. People experience more positive emotions when they find meaning in their work, and this can be heightened when their work and efforts are appreciated.

We believe that these themes can affect every aspect of customer experience. Here are some of the many ways that they connect with our four customer experience core competencies:

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Positive Psychology Within Temkin Group Research 

We plan to increase our focus on positive psychology within Temkin Group’s research and advisory services, but positive psychology is not a new theme for us. You can see elements of it across many of the things that we’ve already published, including:

The bottom line: Positive psychology and customer experience are a natural fit.