quality

Why Positive Psychology is Essential for Quality

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

This semester, I’m sitting in on a Positive Psychology course offered by the JMU Department of Psychology. A lot of friends and colleagues have asked me why I’m taking a class in psychology when my research and teaching interests are, in contrast, related to quality and process improvement. But in my opinion, there’s no way you can be ultimately quality-minded, optimally productive, or blissfully innovative unless your psyche is relaxed, engaged, stimulated, and happy – and that’s what positive psychology is all about.

My favorite definition of quality originally comes from ISO 8402:1994 – “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” As quality professionals, we tend to focus on four types of entities: products, processes, organizations and teams. Although there have been some efforts to focus on the individual as an entity, in particular through the efforts of ASQ’s Human Development and Leadership (HDL) division, it hasn’t really caught on that the totality of characteristics of YOU will bear upon your ability to help create other entities that satisfy the stated and implied needs of a variety of stakeholders!

Your health and well being is a critical component of the chain, if not THE most important part! Think about you at your professional and emotional best, and imagine yourself on a team with other people who are working at the same level. Then, envision creating organizations where a spirit of quality will flourish. It’s a pretty powerful, innovative, inspired picture!

But then — think about how drastically the picture changes when you come to work distracted, emotionally drained, or unmotivated – in addition to just feeling down, you’ll drain the members of your workgroup or anyone else you interact with because of your own struggle to get through the day.

All of the following passages come from “Positive Psychology: An Introduction,” by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the January 2000 issue of American Psychologist. When I read these passages, it is clear to me that the science of POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY can provide QUALITY PROFESSIONALS with great insights about how to self-manage, how to cultivate high performance teams, and how to create high impact, innovative organizations and institutions. I’ll comment on all of these in later posts, but for now, I’m interested to hear what sorts of things the little voice in your head says as it thinks about these statements from positive psychology:

A science of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions promises to improve quality of life and prevent the pathologies that arise when life is barren and meaningless.

… the social and behavioral sciences can play an enormously important role… they can show what actions lead to well-being, to positive individuals, and to thriving communities. Psychology should be able to help document what kinds of families result in children who flourish, what work settings support the greatest satisfaction among workers, what policies result in the strongest civic engagement, and how people’s lives can be most worth living.

The field of positive psychology at the subjective level is about valued subjective experiences: well-being, contentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present).

At the individual level, it is about positive individual traits: the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent, and wisdom.

This science and practice will also reorient psychology back to its two neglected missions – making normal people stronger and more productive, and making high human potential actual.

At the group level, it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals towards better citizenship: responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic.

People and experiences are embedded in a social context. Thus, a positive psychology needs to take positive communities and positive institutions into effect.

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