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Achieving Positive Intelligence – Part 1

[ Leadership & Team Development ]

Most of us have likely used a Burt’s Bees product at some point over the past 10 – 15 years.  Burt’s Bees is a personal-care products company that was founded in 1984 in Maine and is now headquartered in Durham, North Carolina.   Burt’s Bees was purchased by the Clorox Company in 2007 for a whopping $925 million in cash.  Its original, “flagship” product was the famous Burt’s Bees lip balm which led to the company growing its unique personal-care products line globally.  Burt’s Bees has now expanded its footprint into 19 different countries.  A consumer can find Burt’s Bees products in most supermarkets, pharmacies, and even restaurants.

I recently read an article from the September 18, 2017 Encouragement Wired newsletter that talked about the high pressure growth environment that Burt’s Bees was able to successfully manage.  In many companies, a high growth scenario means numerous meetings, flooded e-mail boxes, and constant urgent demands.  The Burt’s Bees team has been able to successfully avoid operating in the expected “state of high anxiety” environment which tends to effect a group’s problem solving capabilities.   The secret to this success has been an encouragement for Burt’s Bees employees to work with a positive mind-set.   Research shows that when people work with a positive mind-set, performance on nearly every level related to productivity, creativity, and engagement – improves.   Most individuals equate a positive mindset with personal happiness which is the assumption that we’ll take in this blog.  By the way, this will be the first of four blogs related to achieving what is called “Positive Intelligence.”Happiness is probably the most misunderstood driver of job performance.  One misunderstanding many people have is that success precedes happiness.  For example, many of us think that “Once I get a promotion, I’ll be happy” or, “Once I hit a certain sales goal or personal job performance target, I’ll feel great and be happy.”  But because success is usually a moving target – as soon as we hit our target, most of us move on and raise the performance bar again.  Consequently, the happiness that results from achieving that goal and realizing success doesn’t stick around for very long.   In fact, for many individuals, it works the other way around.   Those are the persons who cultivate a positive mind-set and perform better in the face of challenges.  Shawn Achor of Encouragement Wired calls this the “happiness advantage” where every business outcome shows improvement when the brain is positive.  Numerous studies have found strong evidence of a direct correlation between life satisfaction and successful business outcomes.

Another common misconception is that our genetics, our environment (i.e. home or work), or a combination of the two determines how happy we are.  Now, we have to be honest with ourselves that both factors can have an impact.  But the truth is that a person’s general sense of well-being is surprisingly “malleable.”    The habits we cultivate, the way we interact with our team members, how we think about and handle stress – all can be managed to increase our happiness and our chances of success.

Developing New Habits

Training our brains to be positive is not so different from training our muscles when we work out.  Recent research on neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to change even in adulthood – reveals that as we develop new habits, we can rewire our brains.   In essence, we rewire the way we think.

Achor notes in his article that engaging in one brief positive exercise every day for as little as three weeks can have a lasting impact. An example that Achor gives is related to a consulting engagement he provided to tax managers at KPMG.  The purpose of the engagement was simply to see if he could help these tax managers become happier at the beginning of what was expected to be an extremely busy tax season.

Achor asked the tax managers to choose one of the following five activities that correlate with positive change:

  • Jot down three things they were grateful for.
  • Write a positive message to someone in their social support network.
  • Meditate at their desk for two minutes.
  • Exercise for 10 minutes.
  • Take two minutes to describe in a journal the most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.
The client managers performed their chosen activity every day for three weeks.  Several days after the training concluded, the participants and a control group were evaluated to determine their general sense of well-being.  The evaluation included metrics such as were the participants engaged or were they depressed?  On every metric measured, the participants’ group scores were significantly higher than the control group’s scores.  Both groups were evaluated again four months later, and the managers group still showed significantly higher scores in optimism and life satisfaction.  Specifically, mean scores on the life satisfaction scale – a metric widely accepted to be one of the greatest predictors of productivity and happiness at work – moved from 22.96 on a 35-point scale before the training to 27.23 four months later.   The conclusion was that just one quick “positive intelligence” exercise a day kept the tax managers happier for months after the training engagement had ended.  Happiness for the tax managers had become habitual.


It seems that each of us has a personal need to consider the importance of “Positive Intelligence” in our lives. The first task for all of us is to truthfully self-evaluate ourselves to determine where we are in terms of happiness and life satisfaction.  The second task is to determine what intentional and purposeful action can we take to improve our own “scores” in these areas.  The third task is to take action to replace being habitually “unhappy” with being habitually “happy” as we travel through this journey of life.

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

C. S. Lewis

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