Positive Psychology and Perfect Project Outcomes

Finding the other side of risk – opportunities for perfect outcomes – isn’t done in lieu of finding risks; it’s the complement.  Science tells us that this is true and necessary.happiness

I’m getting ready again to present “The Other Side of Risk.”  Each time I do it’s a journey to a better understanding of what I’m trying to say.  This journey stumbled across the concept of “positive psychology.”  It’s reinforcement for the importance of seeking perfect outcomes and a perfect journey so that our projects leave our organizations better than we found them.

In my presentation, I talk a little about Appreciate Inquiry or AI.  AI is a technique of organizational planning and change that emphasizes finding and building on organizational strengths to promote positive growth.  In AI, the organization enquires into its strengths to:

  • Discover processes and practices that work well (rather than those not working well)
  • Dream of perfect outcomes of applying these strengths
  • Design a path to improved processes and practices
  • Deliver on the design part of which is continually looking for what is going right

Looking deeper into AI in preparing to talk about it again, I clicked on Wikipedia’s “positive psychology” link in the background section of its article on AI.  AI is based on the concepts of positive psychology.

The positive psychology link also gave me a deeper understanding of why it’s important to look for the other side of risk.  Here are four clips from the article:

  1. “Positive psychology is primarily concerned with using the psychological theory, research and intervention techniques to understand the positive, adaptive, creative and emotionally fulfilling aspects of human behavior.”
  2. “Positive psychology is the latest effort by human beings to understand the nature of happiness and well-being, but it is by no means the first attempt to solve that particular puzzle. Different westerners have their own individual views of what positive psychology actually is. Hedonism focuses on the pleasure as the basic component of the good life. The Early Hebrews believed in the divine command theory which finds happiness by living according to the commands or rules set down by a Supreme Being. The Greeks thought that happiness could be discovered through logic and rational analysis. Finally, Christianity was based on finding happiness in the message and life of Jesus, which is one of love and compassion.”
  3. “The “positive” branch complements, with no intention to replace or ignore, the traditional areas of psychology. By adding an important emphasis to use the scientific method to study and determine positive human development, this area of psychology fits well with the investigation of how human development can falter. This field brings attention to the possibility that focusing only on disorder could result in a partial, and limited, understanding of a person’s condition.”
  4. “Positive psychologists are concerned with four topics: (1) positive experiences, (2) enduring psychological traits, (3) positive relationships and (4) positive institutions.”

So, how can positive psychology apply to us as project managers?  Let’s break down the four clips from Wikipedia:

  1. We want our project teams and environment to be positive, adaptive, creative, and emotionally fulfilling.
  2. We have to understand the culture and value systems of our organization and team members.  Culture and values come from our sense of what brings happiness and well-being.  This varies from place to place, generation to generation, and person to person.  (Think about it: as a project manager, are you hedonistic (let’s have fun), Hebrew (let’s follow the rules), Greek (lets be logical and figure it out), or Christian (let’s take care of one another) or some of all of these).
  3. We have to balance negative with positive.  Balance, and knowing what balance is, is all important.  We can’t just focus on control and risk management and be in balance.  We have to consider aspirations for perfect project outcomes and a perfect journey to get them as well.
  4. Understanding the positive psychology of our project requires understanding what we see as our strengths, building new habits so that we seek positive as well as negative, and looking at our own self-interests combined with those of our co-workers and organizations so that we work to leave our organization and people better off than we found them.

We can use this to build on last week’s post to help us find balance and be better at finding what can go right on our projects.  Last week we looked at how our language influences how we think.  Language framed in positive outcomes may in fact surface ways to get to positive outcomes.  This week we can see that there is a whole field of study – positive psychology – that compels us to balance our risk finding thinking with opportunity finding thinking.  Doing this can change the psychology of ourselves and our organizations in ways that improve the chances that our projects will leave us better than when we started in lots of ways.

I love it when science supports my random musings about project management experiences and philosophy.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2013 Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk”

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