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A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

The Complete Guide to Thriving, Compiled By Scientists

If you’re reading this, you’re doing alright and can apparently survive. But do you know what it takes to thrive?

Some people seem to blossom in all conditions. They perform well, rise to challenges, and overcome obstacles. Instead of getting totally stressed out, they appear to enjoy the challenges and even personally evolve. Now you too can be one of those people by using a new, comprehensive definition of human thriving published in the journal European Psychologist.

The first 21st century edition of American Psychologist was dedicated to the burgeoning field of “positive psychology” and predicted that psychology would gravitate away from the study of malaise and toward wellness, figuring out how to thrive rather than just survive. Since then, countless studies on wellness have been published in scientific journals. Yet scientists haven’t reached a consensus on what it actually means to thrive.

To come closer to a unified understanding of this elusive state, researchers from the universities of Bath and Portsmouth in the UK reviewed 13 influential studies on the topic published between 1995 and 2014 to find commonalities in all their definitions of “thriving.” They also attempted to isolate the essential elements of the state...

Even Leaders Have to Follow Sometimes

We spend a great deal of time talking about what it takes to lead. Perhaps we should devote a bit more time to what it means to follow.

  • There are no great leaders without effective followers.
  • There are no successful transformations without effective followers.
  • There are no successful innovations without effective followers.
  • There are no successful organizations without effective followers.

Followership is underrepresented in our professional development curricula. It is certainly underrepresented in our coverage of leadership. When is the last time you took a course or attended a seminar on what it means to be an effective follower?

I’ve been exposed to exactly zero courses or programs offering guidance on developing as an effective follower. It’s no wonder I’ve struggled with following during much of my career. Sure, I was taught from an early age to “Be a leader, never a follower.” Talk about a built-in cultural bias practically from the cradle. The intent was positive, but it missed the reality that we all have to follow. Even our leaders spend much of their time as followers.

Instead of fighting the label and role, it’s better to define and embrace it on terms we can...

When Employees Screw Up, Don’t Screw Up Your Response

If there is one thing employees fear at work, it’s being shamed for the mistakes they make. Few things are worse than the sting of rejection that comes from being called out on slip-ups. It can have a negative effect on someone’s performance and life for a very long time. And when others see someone else shamed, it makes them less likely to admit their own mistakes.

When that happens, your employees and your organization stop learning. This can impact attrition, your ability to meet goals, and even the bottom line.

So consider some ways to make it safe for people to own up to their mistakes, while continuing to learn and grow:

Praise publicly, correct privately. This timeless advice remains true and effective. As a leader, once you “call out” someone publicly for a mistake they’ve made, you’ve lost control of a culture that may previously have been trusting. And it will take a very long time to get trust back. And don’t forget to look for and call out the things employees are doing well; people will respond positively, and there is almost never enough praise in organizations.

Listen and ask to understand...

Acting Territorial Kills Creative Feedback

Managers work hard to foster creativity in the workplace, but “territorial marking” can squash the free flow of ideas among colleagues, according to new research.

“We are not talking about putting up walls or physically de-marking a space,” says Markus Baer, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Territorial marking comes in all sizes and shapes. However, just saying, ‘I consider this to be my idea,’ when asking others for their input can have far-reaching consequences for collaboration.”

Baer and his coauthor, Graham Brown of the University of Victoria, conducted two research studies. They found when a person claims an idea as her or his own in the workplace, it’s likely a sign of that person’s deep sense of ownership. However, in a professional context that stresses creativity and collaboration, that territorial marking discourages creative, constructive feedback from coworkers.

The researchers showed that when someone marks an idea and then presents it to others, less creative feedback is provided. Marking made it less likely that others felt a sense of responsibility associated with the concept’s outcome, and so lost motivation to provide input. Not only does this stifle...

Neuroscientists Have Figured Out Why You Can’t Concentrate at Work

Even though most people think about themselves as primarily visual beings, neuroscience reveals a complex “connectome” of brain cells that connects all of our senses. Try writing a report in a noisy, uncomfortable place with the smells of the office microwave wafting over to your desk, and the importance of other senses becomes clear.

As a neuro-architect, I study how the brain processes all of our senses when we experience design. After all, design isn’t just aesthetic: It also includes the senses of sound, touch, and smell, as well as integrating information we receive from our sense of balance, pressure, pain, and the position of our body within a given place. Together, the perception of all these senses informs our response to architecture—and our attention.

This is particularly true of sound. Studies at the Human Experience Lab at Perkins+Will have revealed how important workplace acoustics are to performance and satisfaction, and that good acoustic design equals good business. Our 2016 study of brainwaves showed how different sound environments are associated with distraction and interruption in the workplace. The results also showed us statistically significant changes in creativity scores associated with different acoustic conditions: Workers reported that they...