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Broaden and Build Your Performance

Broaden and Build Your Performance

Mason Smith's picture
Mason Smith
February 5th, 2012

You are a business professional. You know your stuff. Before tackling any major business task, you familiarize yourself with best practices, design a plan, organize the appropriate people and watch a clip from your favorite comedy. Like many people, you may find the last step in this list out of place. Yet, it may be the most important step you can take to maximize your effectiveness.

Barbara Fredrickson, a leading scholar within social psychology, has demonstrated that positive emotions broaden our focus of attention, increase ability to process material in an integrated and flexible fashion, increase creativity, and broaden variety of action. According to Fredrickson, experiencing positive emotion creates the urge to play and develops interest, which promotes exploration.  Recurrent exploration increases a person’s openness and knowledge, enhancing their ability to develop more innovative solutions to any one problem.

Marcial Losada, the founder and executive director of Meta Learning, a consulting organization that specializes in developing high performance teams, has mathematically validated Fredrickson’s theory of positive emotions. He investigated the interpersonal dynamics of 60 management teams and identified 15 teams as performing high in profitability, customer satisfaction, and evaluations by peers, superiors, and subordinates. He found that these flourishing teams had the highest ratio of positive to negative emotion, maximizing their flexibility and innovation.

Figure: Losada’s model to describe high-performance (dark gray), medium-performance (light gray), and low-performance (white) teams.

The vertical axis in Losada’s model represents the intensity of emotions and the horizontal axis represents the degree of a team’s activity: The negative numbers represent amount of questions, and the positive numbers represent advocating one’s opinion. Thus, the more positive emotions a team experienced, the more engaged they were in the work, broadening their behavioral repertoires, increasing their flexibility and resilience to adversity, and helping them achieve optimal functioning.

The next time you are preparing to complete an important task that requires attention and creative thinking, take minute to think about your favorite comedy, a fun vacation, or memory. It may improve your mood and your bottom line.

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