Save Us From Our Strengths – via The Energy Project

Save Us From Our Strengths – The Energy Project.

I can see it now. Like in a dream. In the not so distant future, workplaces will be more efficient than ever.

Imagine a scenario when newly hired employees are pre-assessed, assessed again and then surveyed about their strengths before their very first day.

When they pull their hybrid hovercraft into the parking lot and shuffle through the doors, perhaps they’ll be handed t-shirts to wear that display their pre-determined strengths… “Superb Listener”, one organic shirt might say.

Okay, maybe this is overkill…besides, hovercrafts are SO 2050… but Tony Schwartz and The Energy Project make a serious case that spending so much time and effort on building “strength-based” organizations “narrow[s] attention to the preferred aspects of ourselves [and] vastly oversimplifies who we are, what stands in our way, and what it takes to operate at our best.”

“So, too, for strengths. The missteps we make and the damage we inflict on others is less the result of failing to fully utilize our strengths and more the consequence of overvaluing and over-relying on them — precisely because they come more easily to us.”

Are we afraid to let weaknesses enter the picture, for fear that no one will take the time and effort to change? 

The challenge in developing strengths is not to over-emphasize them or to use them to pigeon-hole your workforce. Instead, as The Energy Project indicates  it’s to learn flexibility, adaptability, balance, and empathy so then we can dial up or down our strengths at appropriate times and moments.

“No strength is reliably a strength by itself. Too much passion eventually becomes overbearing, but too much sober moderation leads to boring blandness. Too much introspection devolves into self-absorption, but too little results in superficiality. Confidence untempered by humility turns into arrogance. Tenacity unbalanced by flexibility congeals into rigidity. Courage without prudence becomes recklessness. Charm ungrounded in authenticity is simply disingenuousness.

To make the most of what we’ve got, we must instead take on the messy whole of who we are. That means making the best possible use of our strengths, but also slogging away at the weaknesses they can serve to reveal.

We don’t need leaders who’ve got it figured out. Rather, we need ones who feel confident in and clear about their strengths, but are also courageous enough to recognize and take on their shortcomings. It’s a paradoxical challenge we all face: to hold ourselves fiercely accountable for becoming more of what we’re capable of being, but to simultaneously accept ourselves exactly as we are.”


One link between emotion and creativity

Say you want to help a group be more creative. 

What emotion would best help the group achieve this goal?

This question was recently posed to students in a weekend workshop I attended on Emotional Intelligence at Columbia University.

The choices:

1. Happiness

2. Worry

3. Sadness

4. Anger

5. Other

What would you say? I listened as classmates, one after the other, suggested that negative emotions would fuel the creative fire.

Sure, we know that not everyone responds the same way, but could negativity really be the answer? It saddened me that this was the myth or common view floating around the University halls.

Results of a study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, set us straight.

The emotion that best helps a group promote creativity is happiness.  Why? An upbeat mood makes people more receptive to information, helps widens our lens and allows us to see connections we normally would have been closed off to otherwise.

In addition, happiness and laughter release dopamine which contributes to stress reduction.

Stress reduction and an overall relaxed state triggers responses in our brain that coincide with inhibition – and the ability to have more creative insights.

This blog post is brought to you by the letters “H.A.P.P.I.N.E.S.S” and Positive Psychology. Now go out and make someone happy!

What makes people more creative on some days and not others…

The million, okay, billion-dollar question: How do you create a culture of creativity, and make it last?

Harvard University Professor Teresa Amabile wanted to find out.

Discussing her research into the topic with Bloomberg Television, Amabile and her team compiled over 12,000 individual daily diaries over 5 months, from professionals who were working on creative projects within their company.

What she found, “People do their most creative work on days when they’re feeling most positive emotions, most pleasant thoughts about their organization and their co-workers and strongest intrinsic motivation in their work”.

To put it simply: inner-work life drives performance, and allows teams and individuals to come up with better, creative ideas.

Every area in business requires coming up with creative solutions – and to foster that kind of creative thinking takes more than waving a magic wand:

  1. create an atmosphere of trust and collaboration
  2. tap into those favorite intrinsic motivators of autonomy, purpose, and mastery
  3. Remember that “small wins”, making progress on meaningful work (Amabile’s Progress Principle) matters.

For more:


What’s the drill – July 24: A ratio to build up your emotional resilience

Researcher, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson wants you to infuse some more positivity into your life. And really, who could argue with that?

She discovered that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones leads people to a tipping point beyond which they naturally become more resilient to adversity.

Emotional resilience by purposefully building up your positivity muscle — seeking out positive experiences, expressing gratitude, looking on the bright side…

For some it takes more work and effort. But perhaps stay away from the dictionary when looking for positive emotion words and inspiration:

62% of the words for emotions in the dictionary are negative.


A note on happiness, by the godfather of positive psychology

‘Happiness’ is a scientifically unwieldy notion, but there are three different forms of it if you can pursue. For the ‘Pleasant Life,’ you aim to have as much positive emotion as possible and learn the skills to amplify positive emotion. For the ‘Engaged Life,’ you identify your highest strengths and talents and recraft your life to use them as much as you can in work, love, friendship, parenting, and leisure. For the ‘Meaningful Life,’ you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self.  — Martin Seligman


What’s the drill – July 2: Re-defining weakness

This morning I enjoyed a coffee talk with a fellow Applied Improviser. Deep into conversation, he shared this gem:

“A weakness is just an over-developed strength”.

This one threw me. Imagine if everything we once thought was a weakness – something that held us back before – could be spun in a way that made us less critical of ourselves, more accepting of others, and more growth oriented?

Would this change our view of let’s say, performance reviews, or even job interviews?

What is your definition of ‘weakness’?

To embrace uncertainty, start with this strategy

Paul B. Brown, Leonard A. Schlesinger and Charles F. Kiefer (authors of  Just Start: Take Action; Embrace Uncertainty and Create the Future ) give us a secret to a happier, more successful life:

“The thing to remember is this: Successful people work with what they have at hand— whatever comes along—and try to use everything at their disposal in achieving their goals. And that is why they are grateful for surprises, obstacles, and even disappointments. It gives them more information and resources to draw upon.”

Life is unpredictable and uneven. The strategies we use to embrace uncertainty in our everyday life can be no different from the strategies we as Improvisers use on stage.

To embrace uncertainty is to:

1. View mistakes as gifts

2. Accept whatever is in front of you

This weekend I led an improv workshop in the wilderness for a group of 50 adults and kids.  At one point, we were speaking about failure and what Improvisers do when we “mess up”. To improvisers, mistakes are gifts. Actually…

To Improvisers, everything is a gift. 

One participant chimed in, “well, not all mistakes are okay, it depends on the situation”. True, I responded.  But to accept a mistake as a gift, to be more tuned into what is happening around us, to stay focused on the positive and in the present moment are all strategies that help us thrive and grow in times of failure. It’s a mindset. And, if this mindset makes us more successful (however you define success), it’s a mindset worth working towards.

What’s the drill – June 14: Five questions to get you listening differently

Listen up (said with a friendly, have a comfy seat tone!)… here are five questions to get you thinking about HOW you listen.

To me, active listening means more than paying attention. What we choose to pay attention to when we listen is just as important.

1. Are you listening for potential? If not – what is it you are listening for?

2. Are you planning your response while the other person is still talking?

3. Are you listening with more than just your ears – are you paying attention to non-verbal communication?

4. When someone is talking about something they are really passionate about, or feel strongly towards – how can you listen for more than just the facts – listen in a way that focuses on their values, and what matters to them. What does this person care about, and how can you help? After all, it feels wonderful to know that someone understands you.

5. How can you listen with a focus on the future, instead of hanging onto the past?