ICAN speaker: Positivity is 'the greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy'

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Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 12:00 am

Sometimes, all it takes is a smile.

That's what one hospital found when it began training all of its employees to smile at every patient or guest who came within 10 feet of them. Six months later, the training resulted in more referrals and more engagement from doctors, which made the hospital more productive and, in turn, more successful.

The story was one of many author and positive psychology researcher Shawn Achor shared Wednesday with nearly 2,100 people at the Institute for Career Advancement, or ICAN, annual Women's Leadership Conference at the CenturyLink Center.

“That was one behavioral change worth tens of millions of dollars,” Achor said.

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Achor's message focused on the importance of choosing happiness, and how positivity is “the greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy.” He argued that success does not lead to happiness, but happiness leads to success.

And that happiness is not found in the external world, he said, but starts in our brains. The greatest predictors of success, Achor said, are optimism, strong social connections and perceiving stress as a challenge rather than a burden.

“Only 10 percent of happiness is based on your external world,” Achor said. “Your external world doesn't have a tyranny over happiness.”

He recommended things to do every day for 21 days in order to break out of a cycle of negativity, such as sending one text or email per day to someone telling the person why he or she is meaningful, meditating for two minutes each day and journaling about a positive experience. “It's like reliving it,” he said. “Your brain can't tell the difference between visualization and the actual experience.”

“It's a confirmation of what I've always felt before,” said Pat Hannan, an IT supervisor with the Omaha Public Power District. “Happiness is a choice, and I always knew it was a choice.”

Some attendees said they already recognized things their workplaces were doing to spread positivity to employees, clients and customers.

Karen Way, a risk analyst at First National Bank, said she sends an inspirational quote out to a group of her colleagues every day. The group started with about five people and has now grown to 20. “It helps get people on the track of what we're learning today,” Way said.

Sean Moore, director of sales at Borsheims, said his business understands “the power of positivity.”

“I think we validate and live that on a daily basis,” Moore said. He said all employees are encouraged to smile at everyone who walks through the doors. He said he would be sending an appreciative email or text each day at Achor's recommendation.

It was Moore's first time at the full conference, which, for the first time, added a men's half-day track. About 100 men attended the conference this year, up from 30 to 50 in the past, said ICAN CEO Mary Prefontaine.

Achor also delivered a breakout session, a part of the men's conference track, expanding on his morning keynote. Other breakout sessions included topics such as managing stress, taking advantage of opportunities in the moment, job interview tools and conquering self-doubt.

The afternoon session featured keynote speaker Sherry Cooper, global economist; a panel discussion on women and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics); and keynote speaker Norah O'Donnell, co-host of CBS's “This Morning.”

Several attendees said they would be using a few of Achor's tricks over the next 21 days. “I'm sending a text right now,” said Patty Coates, a combustion turbine technician with OPPD.

“When he put a percentage to how many people are affected by this or that ... it made it real. That was proof,” she said. “Just like misery loves company, I think happy loves company.”

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