“What we can learn from Positive Psychology…”


Didier Marlier

October 25, 2009

From Disruption to Engagement

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I AM A (suffering) NOKIA FAN!!!  Increasingly felt like “the last of the Mohicans” when our 11 years old, Thaïs, told me: “Pai, I bought an I-Phone, as one of their applets emits a powerful sound based repellent against mosquitoes…”

Against that, I see in Friday’s Financial Times that my favourite brand seems to have chosen defensive strategies (sue Apple for patents infringement and another regorganization). What could be an alternative?

In 1998, Martin Seligman, President of the American Psychological Association, threw the challenge to his fellow psychologists: to seek to understand what made some people happy and blossoming in life. Positive Psychology has been “booming” since. The first interesting conclusions of their research showed that those who are successful and happy on a sustainable basis have two things in common: A strong sense of Purpose and a feeling that they can influence their environment.

So what for our businesses? Anyone who knows for example the rich Finnish culture has heard about “Sisu”, a word meaning something like resilience and perseverance. Finnish people have consistently demonstrated “Sisu” during their history when their independence was at stake (a very strong Purpose) and won their freedom, each time against all odds, the last when they twice pushed the soviets out of their territory during WWII.

When crisis pops-up (or victory as well by the way), the temptation is high for us, leaders to go and micro-manage. Roles, rules & procedures take over from entrepreneurship and creativity to become… the purpose. This alienates the energy and passion our people need to win their battle against the circumstances. For example, Apple has excelled  at understanding the new “Open Source Economy”, working around an amazing business model where thousands of geeks work for free (until hopefully cashing on commissions) to propose amazing applets which are far more important than the relatively inferior hardware… Apple has managed to create a strong sense of purpose, followership and loyalty amongst the “Geeks & Other Nerds Community” who bring it their best, creative energy, particularly during week-ends…

Feeling that one can influence their environment: When a company grows big, here as well the risk is that it becomes sclerosed in hierarchy, in “seniority is superiority”. People feel that the destiny of their company is not in their hands anymore and that “those at the top should do something” as they feel totally helpless and disempowered. Let us take a look at the many signals in our own organizations which could indicate that our people are in the “doom circle” rather than feeling truly in charge of their destiny. The strength of a Jørgen Vig Knudstorp in his “salvation of LEGO” has been to make people feel that LEGO’s survival was in their hands: his messages were simple and clear, people were given time and space to “own” the new strategy, rules and procedures were kept to a bare minimum, energy was unleashed to a maximum…

I am inviting you all to explore how you create a strong sense of Purpose in your organization and how you ensure that your people feel that they can influence its destiny. At the moment of closing, the wise words of G.B. Shaw strongly resonate: “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them”… and sometimes our people need our help for that!!!

On my way to a marathon week between São-Paulo and Lyon… Have a great week all!

1 Comment

  1. Marcial Losada

    Having given seminars both to Nokia in Helsinki and Apple in Cupertino, your posting regarding this issue resonates with me. It hurts to see my two favorite companies involved in legal suits.

    Both Apple and Nokia have a large number of high performing teams. The success of these highly innovative companies is no doubt due to their teams and the way they connect not only among themselves as a team, but how they connect with the outside world. To be able to do this, they need to generate what I call “complex order.” When you face a tough competitive environment, you need to generate complex order in the way you interact both internally and externally. Otherwise you’ll be history sooner than you expected it.

    When I look at the patterns generated by high performing teams, I find something quite revealing. Because they are able to balance other (external enviroment) with self (internal structure) as well as inquiry (asking questions) with advocacy (pushing their point of view), they are also able to create expansive emotional fields that open possibilities for action. Emotional fields are expanded by increasing the P/N ratio and keeping it within the Losada Zone (P/N greater or equal than about 3:1 but no more than about 11:1).

    People often ask me, Why isn’t the P/N ratio 1:1 like the other variables in your model? Why does it have to be higher in favor of positivity?

    If the P/N oscillation pattern is in a 1:1 ratio, you’ll have two equally opposing forces. The pattern would be strictly periodic. But when the P/N is within the Losada Zone, its pattern is not periodic (it cannot be decomposed with Fourier or harmonic analysis which is a linear technique). You need to use nonlinear dynamics. When we do this, we find that the pattern has complex order (“complexor dynamics” as I call it–mathematicians call it “chaos,” one of those words that says exactly the opposite of what it should mean). Low performing teams interaction patterns can be analyzed with Fourier analysis, their patterns are less complex. High performing teams require nonlinear dynamics to understand their pattern of interaction. Fourier is not enough for them. This was one of the most beautiful discoveries I made. It also has enormous implications for the training of teams. If you use linear models and linear thinking you are not going to be able to generate sustainable change; teams will go back to their old patterns.

    The Nokia-Apple fight is one of those cases where the Meta Learning model (ML) model can help. It was actually incorporated in a recent NSF proposal to deal with Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The ML model says that until we change the “what is in for ME?” for “what is in for US?” we will be stuck in impasses, law suits and the like. We never truly find ourselves unless we find ourselves in others. That’s why one of the critical balances in my model is that between self and other: Dissolving the “I” in the WE. It is worth noting that the “I” is not lost in the WE. The WE is its natural container. I, Apple OR Nokia, has to be translated into WE, Apple AND Nokia. I, Israeli OR Palestinian, has to be translated into WE, Israeli AND Palestinian.

    The ML model says that when I balance my self interest with the interest of others, I am able to ask generative questions that in turn generate stronger defense points (advocacy). These two balances will have a nonlinear effect in the P/N ratio thus generating emotional fields where we can see more possibilities for action than legal suits.

    Let’s hope, Didier, that our two favorite companies don’t lose themselves in the I and find themselves in the WE.


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