Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

How to Leverage the Happiness Advantage in the Office

Question: What steps should businesses take in order to leverage the happiness advantage?

Shawn Achor: I think the biggest discovery that’s wrapped around this revolutionary finding of the "happiness advantage," that our brain works better at positive, is the recognition that our leadership needs to change.  I think oftentimes I think of a good employee or a good leader is one that sacrifices all the type of happiness that they can have to make the company more successful.  When we see individuals do that, they might thrive in a very, very short period of time, but in the long run, we find that those individuals burn out, their productivity goes down, their success rates go down, they can’t keep clients, and their turnover rates at their companies skyrocket.  

You know, I even talked to this trader on Wall Street and he said that the way that he manages his team, one of the things he looks around is if he sees somebody that’s smiling on the trading floor, he knows they’re not working hard enough.  That type of mentality is the opposite of the science we’re actually finding out what causes an employee to thrive.  So what it means is that, first of all, a mindset shift.  We need to make sure that we’re actually emphasizing the role of social support, the role of optimism, that we have in our companies.  That if those start to... if we sacrifice those, we need to realize that we are sacrificing the success in the long run.  

The second thing that needs to happen is we need to start doing more trainings.  I think a lot of the things we do at our companies are focused on the technical skills and the intelligence.  And if I know all the technical skills and intelligence of an employee, I can only predict 25% of the differences in their job successes over the next five years.  

Seventy-five percent of our prediction of job success has nothing to do with the technical skills or intelligence that we normally train people on, but on three other factors.  The first is the believe that you’re behavior matters, which is optimism levels.  If you believe that your behavior matters, you keep working even in the midst of challenge.  

The second is your social support networks.  Your manager, your teammates, your family members and friends at home, that social support network is extremely crucial in predicting the success rate of that individual.  

And the third is, everyone experiences stress, but some people experience stress as a challenge and other people view it as a threat.  And when you view your stress in a positive way and manage your energy in a positive way, what we find is those success rates rise.  So what we need to do at our companies and at our schools as well is to be able to focus our trainings on that 75%.  On the part that actually predicts the long-term success of not only an individual, but an entire company.  

I gave a talk at a private school.  And they said, we know long term it's not just the intelligence and what we teach in the classrooms is going to keep the success of our individuals of our students working really well in the workforce, so once a year we have a wellness week where we try and cram in all the rest of the things that we don’t normally talk about and we have those experts come in.  Monday night, for example, we have an expert coming in speaking about depression and Tuesday night we have somebody talking about eating disorders, and Wednesday night is elicit drug use, and Thursday night is school violence and teen bullying.  And then Friday night, we’re trying to decide between either having a talk on risky sex or happiness.  And I listened to them and I was like, well I’d be happy to come speak, and that sounds like most people’s Friday nights, but that’s not a wellness week.  That’s a sickness week.  All we’ve done is we’ve focused upon how do we avoid all those negative things.  

I think what we need to do in not only our schools, but our companies worldwide is to start to focusing on things that are our strengths.  Not only the individual levels when we do performance interviews, but as leaders we need to be able to come into a situation and be able to realistically assess it, but also maintain the belief that our behavior matters and focus upon those three other elements, the parts that actually predict long term success; the optimism, the social support, and our ability to manage energy and stress in a positive way.  If we do so, I really believe that the greatest competitive advantage in a modern economy is a positive and engaged workforce.

Question:
What barriers prevent people from embracing positive psychology?

Shawn Achor: I think one of the greatest barriers to us not using the happiness advantage more at our companies and at our schools is that we have a formula for success that’s flawed.  Almost every company or school I’ve worked with worldwide—and over the past two years I’ve traveled to 42 different countries so I’ve seen a broad diversity of experience, and I’m finding the same formula in almost all of them.  And that is, "If I just work harder, then I’ll be more successful.  And If I’m more successful, well then I’ll be happier."  The problem is, that formula which undergirds most of our  managing styles, most of our parenting styles, most of our economic theories about how the world works, philosophies, the problem is that that formula is broken.  

It’s broken scientifically for two reasons.  The first is, every time we have a success our brain merely changes the goalposts of what that success looks like.  So somebody gets into a good school, great.  But they can’t be happy unless they’re getting good grades.  Well they got good grades, but that doesn’t matter because now they have to get a good job.  Well they got a good job, now they have to rise up in the ranks, and they have to go back to school and they have to rise up in the ranks again.  Now, their kids have to do well.  

And if happiness if on the opposite side of success in the formula, then what we’ve been doing as a culture is we’ve been pushing happiness over the cognitive horizon, we could keep running after it, but we’ll never quite meet it.  The biggest problem though is that the formula works in the opposite direction.  All the science we’ve been doing in the field of positive psychology over the past 10 to 15 years has found this.  That your brain works better, faster, more accurately, with more energy when you’re positive as opposed to negative, neutral, or stressed.  

Which means, the formula actually works if you could raise up your levels of happiness, your levels of well being, your levels of positivity.  Then your success rates rise and then you are able to work harder and faster.  There is a conference board survey that came out in January of this year reporting that even in the midst of high unemployment we’re seeing the greatest amount of job dissatisfaction in 22 years of polling.  I think the reason for this is most of our companies and schools, we find ourselves chasing after so hard of happiness that is seems elusive.  When if we change the formula and actually focus our time, energy, and priorities or raising up our levels of happiness, we then see those success rates rise, not only at the individual level, but at the company level as well.

Recorded September 9, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

Achor says bosses would be wise to heed his advice, because a happy workplace is a more productive workplace.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
Keep reading Show less

What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
  • But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
  • These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
Keep reading Show less

Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
  • They also found the shark is able to retract its eyeball into the eye socket.
  • Their research confirms that this giant fish relies on vision more than previously believed.
Keep reading Show less

NASA releases first sounds ever captured on Mars

On Friday, NASA's InSight Mars lander captured and transmitted historic audio from the red planet.

NASA
Surprising Science
  • The audio captured by the lander is of Martian winds blowing at an estimated 10 to 15 mph.
  • It was taken by the InSight Mars lander, which is designed to help scientists learn more about the formation of rocky planets, and possibly discover liquid water on Mars.
  • Microphones are essentially an "extra sense" that scientists can use during experiments on other planets.
Keep reading Show less

A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

Quantcast