A Parallel Universe of Positivity

That behavior was not appropriate; you did not finish that project on time; you made a mistake; you did not do it right; you did not build consensus; you did not do enough. Create an improvement plan, eliminate the shortfall, make up lost ground, re-attain the schedule. All negative, all day. I could scream.

We dissect people, identify areas for improvement, and put together plans to  improve weaknesses. How depressing. How demoralizing. How de-energizing. We demand folks become more of what they aren’t at the expense of what they are. And, to top it off, it takes a lot of our energy to manage this systematized negativity. We spend all our time on the folks who didn’t, can’t, or won’t. This is crazy.

Now, imagine a parallel universe of positivity. All positive, all day. Say nothing negative is the mantra. Ignore the negative and let it wither. Strengthen strengths. Help folks be more of what they are. Focus on the best performers. Ignore the can’ts, don’ts, and won’ts. This is a respectful universe, a supportive universe, a happy universe, but also a highly profitable and productive one. A good place to work and a great place to make money. Is this crazy?

It may be crazy. But do an experiment and see for yourself. Next time you feel the urge to snuff out bad behavior, ignore it. And instead, stoke the blaze of fabulous behavior. Throw diesel on it, throw gas on it, do all you can to make it spread. Send the fire trucks to draw a crowd. Roast marshmallows. You’ll have fun and it’ll feel good. I guarantee you’ll get more fabulous behavior. And the bad behavior? Who cares.  Let it wither.

5 Responses to “A Parallel Universe of Positivity”

  • Dave:

    I love it – As an engineer, all day long I work to eliminate the potential negatives from my designs/programs; that is simply the way the job works. Think negatively all day to try to catch the negatives before they happen – it attracts people who think that way to the profession. Engineers who fail to catch the negatives don’t last long.

    On the other hand, when dealing with people, this is a massive failure. People respond to a very limited amount of criticism (internal or external) and then spend tremendous amounts of mental energy defending themselves from it.

    So while the concept is cute – Norman Vincent Peale has legions of followers to prove it – it would be nice if you could come up with some practical ways (short of complete schizophrenia) that an engineer can maintain this split mindset, i.e. remain a practicing engineer with a reasonable track record while still not appearing too negative to those around him/her. I would personally thank you if you could, as I am trying to get to that place right now in my current project!


  • Chris:

    I couldn’t agree more. As a people leader, and technology development manager, I am astonished at the amount of emotional energy wasted on “performance improvement” activities. At best, I find these things serve to polarize emotions and even more, groups of people that are trying to accomplish a common goal.

    Celebrate success! When individuals feel recognized for their efforts and perhaps more importantly, feel aligned with the mission of the organization, I find that overall performance of a team increases.

    I am currently swimming against the tide in an organization that seeks out negative feedback, celebrates it by issuing one dictum after another (with little teeth behind it)and conveniently forgets to celebrate success by stating “that’s what you get paid for”. In a scant three years, we have developed an overall level of performance that I would say is mediocre at best, but is definitely decreasing over time. When you feel that all your good work is marginalized, and your “skills that need improving” are highlighted, it is a quick and slippery slope to “cover your a**” and “blame the other guy”.

  • Al:

    Great little piece, Mike!

    Reminds me of a book that circulated back at my old company. “First, Break All the Rules”, by Buckingham and Coffman. It’s a good read and emphasizes that good managers don’t waste their time working on improving people’s weak spots, but rather focus on making their strengths even stronger. The book really resonated with me as did the sequel, “Now, Discover Your Strengths”.

    It would be great if most organizations had your perspective. It would certainly make worklife much more enjoyable for the many folks out there that are stuck in the death spiral of negativity.

    Thanks for the article.

  • Spot on! This has inspired me to renew my efforts to work more consciously in this way

  • Mike:

    Mick, I’ve found it difficult to walk-the-walk in this regard, but I do my best. Every once in a while I get a such a wonderful response from reinforcing positive behavior it keeps me working at it. Mike

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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