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How Positive Emotions Ignite Innovation

Positive Emotions Ignite Innovation

I was recently working with one of my San Francisco Bay Area executive coaching clients – the president of a mid-sized company. We discussed how to ignite innovation by inspiring people to think and act positively.

My executive coaching client and I further discussed how to create a culture of positive well-being where people live and breathe innovation. I am coaching my client on how company leaders can change the way people think and act to create a more positive culture and achieve extraordinary results.

The Broaden-and-Build Model of Positive Emotions

Unlike negative emotions, which narrow our focus with respect to possible actions, positive emotions achieve the opposite: They open us. Positivity expands our social, physical and cognitive resources.

Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, has conducted extensive research in this area. She outlines her “broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions” in Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity and Thrive (Crown Archetype, 2009).

Dr. Fredrickson suggests that positive emotions (enjoyment, happiness, joy, interest and anticipation) broaden our awareness and encourage novel, varied, and exploratory thoughts and actions. Over time, this expanded behavioral repertoire helps us build skills and resources.

In contrast, negative emotions prompt narrow, immediate, survival-oriented behaviors. For example, anxiety sparks a primal fight-or-flight response, which we needed to survive during our caveman days. When anxious, we narrow our focus to shut out distractions—important for cavemen, but often counterproductive in business.

On the other hand, positive emotions take your mind off stressors. Over time, the skills and resources you have built through broadened awareness serve to enhance your professional survival. (They are essential for innovation, customer service and employee engagement.)

Dr. Fredrickson conducted studies in which participants watched films that induced either positive (amusement, contentment), negative (fear, sadness) or no emotions. Viewers who experienced positive emotions showed heightened levels of creativity, inventiveness and “big picture” perceptual focus.

Dr. Fredrickson emphasizes two core truths about positive emotions:

1. They open our hearts and minds, making us more receptive and creative.

2. Consequently, we can discover and build new skills, ties, knowledge and ways of being.

Are you working in a professional services firm or other organization where executive coaches provide leadership development to grow emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who inspire positive emotions in their people? Enlightened leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more positive culture.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a leader who cultivates positive emotions including enjoyment and happiness in employees?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their high performance leadership development program.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help you create a culture where all employees are more positive and fully engaged. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist, executive coach and trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies and law firms assess, select, coach, and retain emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

For more information, please go to, write to, or call 415-546-1252.

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