Cultivating a more positive outlook is a better way of boosting creativity than indulging a tortured genius, according to consultant psychologist and professor Neil Frude who has begun working with ad organization Havas Worldwide London to provide "positive psychology" training to the agency’s staff.
It’s all about creating a virtuous circle.
"There is a strong relationship between employee happiness and a workforce that is productive, creative, and flourishing," he says, pointing to lab studies designed to test creativity after participants have been made more and less happy, which shows creative levels improve when people are happier.
Furthermore, the positive effect of creative satisfaction produces, in turn, a further emotional uplift that feeds what’s known as "contagion of emotion," which benefits a group of people as a whole—be that an organization or simply a collection of friends and acquaintances.
It is an approach based on a relatively new branch of psychology called "positive psychology" which, in recent years, has been adopted as a management tool by a number of Fortune 500 companies.
"'Positive psychology’ is about playing to strengths—enhancing positive emotions, rather than the old approach of using psychology to fix problems," Frude explains.
"How we are using it is to demonstrate skills that help boost an individual’s sense of well-being—for example, ways of building resilience, or becoming more positive, or better managing your emotions in a positive direction by understanding what boosts or rewards you can give yourself to generate a positive emotional uplift."
Build happiness and well-being among staff and in an organization will benefit from a more emotionally intelligent workforce: people who not only understand their own and other people’s emotions but can more effectively manage their own and other people’s emotions, too.
Which is what inspired Russ Lidstone, CEO of creative agency Havas Worldwide London—whose clients include Credit Suisse, Santander, and Durex—to bring in Frude and his company, The Happiness Consultancy, to help boost levels of happiness, well-being, and resilience in his agency’s 240-strong workforce.
"Advertising is a business built on developing ideas where 80% of those ideas will end up cut," Lidstone observes.
"This makes it a tough environment to work in, made tougher still by economic conditions and a rapidly changing media landscape. The net effect can be greater stress, which is why resilience is an increasingly important factor for success."
However, as important is the opportunity positive psychology offers to build on strengths the agency already has, Lidstone says:
"Ours is a young culture with high levels of engagement—one of our agency’s strengths, and I was interested to see how we could magnify this across every member of staff," he adds.
"The notion that 40% of your brain can be trained to adapt is an interesting one. Another selling point for me is that a liberated mind in a more confident and secure individual is more likely to feel free to express itself in different, innovative, and ultimately more creative ways."
What all this means in practice is that, between now and the end of the year, every member of the 240-member staff based at Havas Worldwide’s offices in London and Manchester will undertake a four-week course in positive psychology run by Frude.
Each two-hour session is designed to share techniques, approaches, and interventions participants can then put into practice in the workplace. Then participants report back the following week.
"This isn’t about 'fixing’ a specific problem but making the organization work even better," Professor Frude insists.
"It’s about empowering individuals to get more out of their lives and enabling managers to recognize the potential positive (and negative) impact that can come from putting people with a particular outlook into a team. And it’s about providing those involved in communications with sharper tools to understand and engage through the positive messages they create."
Though these are early days, Lidstone says the experience has already impacted his approach as CEO.
"When times are tough, there can be a tendency to focus most on what needs improving. What I’ve been trying to do is create a more positive framework for feedback within the agency—taking time to ask what’s good that’s been achieved today and to recognize and bolster employees and colleagues," he explains.
"My hope is for a wave of little interventions across the agency over time that will lead, in turn, to both a healthier outlook and better output for us all—as a business and also at a personal level—by getting the best out of ourselves and each other."
Or to put it another way, Frude adds: "Learning to manage your emotional well-being is like teaching a man to fish—a skill that will keep you going for a lifetime."