Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Tangible (but Limited) Benefits of Positive Thinking

We are going through a very exciting and nerve wracking time at work these days. My company, which is a technology start-up, is about to launch its first commercial product in just a few short days. This is a high-stakes and highly emotional time for us. Our ability to raise more funds and to survive in a very tough market are at stake. When you are so involved in "the game" it's tough to maintain your long term perspective and to identify the long term positive trends. The progress you are making is only visible if you compare your current position to where you were several months prior. On a day to day basis, it's tough to avoid getting on a roller coaster of hopes and disappointments as potential deadly challenges appear and are overcome.

I believe in the power of positive thinking. No, I am not one of those starry eyed individuals who believe in the power of holistic medicine or in faith healing. I am squarely on the side of science and atheism. However, it is clear to me that in an organization there is such a thing as momentum. Momentum is a self reinforcing trend whereby success breeds success and failure leads to more failure. I am not sure what the mechanism whereby positive feelings lead to positive results are, but I feel strongly that it has a lot to do with motivation.

When people see the rest of the team is feeling positive, or when they feel that things are going well, they recognize that they are part of something good and that success is within their grasp. They are motivated to try a little harder to achieve that success. The same is true in the reverse case - if people believe they are going to fail, they have no motivation to work hard. Why should they? Whatever they do, they can't succeed... failure is then sure to follow.

Last year we had a little bit of negative momentum going in the organization. One part of it was a leadership problem. The other was a lack of focus. Over the past several months, momentum has decidedly shifted to the positive due to some good management decisions and a little bit of luck. Our team is energized and confident. Yes, you can still hear the odd negative voice out there, but overall it is clear to the team that things are moving in the right direction. Which brings me to my "No Bad News Friday" initiative. I started this as a joke, after a week of technical set-backs. In a meeting with some of the engineers where many of our technical challenges were discussed, I said "fine, but since tomorrow is No Bad New Friday, I expect some positive results". Call it a coincidence, and it certainly was a coincidence, but that Friday we had some very encouraging developments.

Since that time, everyone in the office is talking about No Bad News Friday. I am not superstitious enough to believe that anything real is happening here, but I do know that the overall sense, attitude and motivation of the team is improving. There is nothing wrong with encouraging people to feel good about themselves and about what they are doing, provided that you don't stick your head in the sand and refuse to deal with reality as it is. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with pushing bad news to Monday... :-)

Take a look at a few other career related posts from around the PF world:

Debbie of American Consumer News has a post about how to avoid lay-offs. One of her tips: pretend like you just got your job and need to impress people.

Boston Gal offers a glimpse into the world of the unemployed. It's rough out there. No doubt.

Jim of Bargaineering offered a post about the top paying companies. Interested, but I am wondering if those averages aren't skewed by a a relatively small number of highly paid individuals.

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