“Default Mode Network”, Positive Mood Increase Creative Problem Solving

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

“Aimless engagement” in an activity can enable a non-linear, integrative “free association” of ideas leading to creative breakthroughs, confirmed Drexel University’s John Kounios.

Graham Wallas

Graham Wallas

Many people recognize this experience of creative “incubation” while performing routine, well-rehearsed tasks, though they may not be aware that nearly 90 years ago, Graham Wallas of London School of Economics proposed this phenomenon one of four stages in the creativity process.

Michael D Greicius

Michael D Greicius

The brain’s posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and ventral anterior cingulate cortex (vACC) operate as a “default mode network” during this type of relaxed engagement, found Stanford’s Michael D. Greicius, Ben Krasnow, Allan L. Reiss, and Vinod Menon.

Rebecca Koppel

Rebecca Koppel

During free-flowing ideation, these brain regions “untether” thoughts from usual associational “mental ruts” to commingle in original ways.
Fixation forgetting” enables this innovative recombination of thoughts to develop innovative solutions, according to University of Illinois’s Rebecca Koppel and Benjamin C. Storm of University of California Santa Cruz.

Mark Beeman

Mark Beeman

Creative problem solving through insight also involves the right hemisphere’s anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG), an area associated with recognizing broad associative semantic relationships, reported Kounios and colleagues at Northwestern, Mark Beeman, Edward M Bowden, Jason Haberman, Stella Arambel-Liu, and Paul J Reber, collaborating with Kounios and Jennifer L Frymiare, also of Drexel, and Source Signal Imaging’s Richard Greenblatt.

John Kounios

John Kounios

They concluded that creative problem solving requires the ability to encode, retrieve, and evaluate information.
When insight is involved, integration of distantly related information is also needed.

Ruby Nadler

Ruby Nadler

In addition to these skills, University of Western Ontario’s Ruby T. Nadler, Rahel Rabi and John Paul Minda found that cognitive flexibility for problem-solving activates the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex, areas important in creative hypothesis-testing and rule-selection.
Additionally, they confirmed that creative solutions can be enabled by eliciting a positive mood.

Rahel Rabi

Rahel Rabi

The team induced positive, neutral, and negative moods using music clips and video clips, and asked volunteers to classify pictures with visually complex patterns.
People in the positive-mood condition showed better classification learning than those with induced neutral or negative moods, suggesting that upbeat music effectively enhanced creative thinking while boosting innovators’ mood.

John Paul Minda

John Paul Minda

Somewhat surprisingly, capturing ideas through handwriting or typing can attenuate innovation because recording requires a shift to a more linear organization of thoughts, posited Kounios.

-*How can you capture creative solutions while maintaining innovative momentum?

-*How can you prevent “fixation forgetting” from interfering with accessing information required for creative work?

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“High-Commitment” Workplaces Enhance Creative Problem Solving, Innovation

Organizations recognize the importance of continuous innovation to grow revenues, and often turn to human resources programs to ensure that employees produce their most creative work.

Richard E. Walton

Richard E. Walton

As a result, many organizations have experimented with “high-commitment work systems (HCWS)” described by Harvard’s Richard E. Walton, as a “lever” to exert greater control over employee productivity, retention, and innovation.

Typically, high-commitment employee benefits are intended to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to the employee to elicit reciprocal commitment and intrinsic motivation to support the organization’s objectives.
These programs may include:

  • Employee participation programs
  • Team rewards
  • Profit sharing
  • Extensive training
  • Opportunities to transfer and advance to higher organizational levels in preference to external candidates
  • Employment ”security.”
Song Chang

Song Chang

Organizations with “high-commitment” employee programs, measured by High Commitment Work System Scale, had highly innovative and creative employees when they worked with cohesive teams on complex tasks in a study of more than 50 technology firms in China by Song Chang of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, with Nanjing University’s Liangding Jia and Yahua Cai, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Riki Takeuchi.

Zhixing Xiao

Zhixing Xiao

“High-commitment work systems (HCWS)” can occur in organizations with very different approaches to human capital management, described by China Europe International Business School’s Zhixing Xiao and Anne S. Tsui of Arizona State University:

  • Anne Tsui

    Anne Tsui

    Mutual-investment (or organization-focused) strategies combine:
    -Specified, closed economic exchanges with
    -Unspecified, open-ended social exchanges that include implied trust and reciprocity leading to expectations of employment security

David Walsh

David Walsh

Although this job-focused approach to human capital management does not imply trust or reciprocity, many quasi spot-contract employers offer extensive employee benefits similar to those in “high-commitment” workplaces.

Joshua Schwartz

Joshua Schwartz

This contrast between the employer’s implied commitment to employees with “high-commitment” benefits but low commitment in “at-will employment” policies may appear incongruous to employees.
The result may be confusion, cynicism or disengagement.

David Walsh-Joshua Schwartz At Will Exceptions MapDespite these contrasting theories of employee relations, “high-commitment” benefit programs can enable “creative situations,” described by Harvard’s Teresa Amabile, in which individual motivation can contribute to commercial innovation.

Teresa Amabile

Teresa Amabile

She noted that organizations that establish productive “creative work situations” typically offer some, but not all of the “high-commitment” employee programs:

  • Job rotation
  • Extensive training to increase subject matter expertise
  • Job autonomy
  • Working in teams to solve problems and produce work products
  • Participative management.

Despite not guaranteeing employment tenure, these programs were associated with:

  • Egalitarian culture
  • High trust
  • Support for disrupting status quo.

Song Chang 2Workplace environment-shaping through “high-commitment” employee programs can lead to increased innovation and related commercial opportunities.

However, organizations that adhere to both at-will employment practices and offer “high-commitment” benefits can benefit from clearly communicating the limits of their commitments to avoid adverse employee reactions.

-*What are most effective ways to balance and integrate coexisting at-will employment policies with “high-commitment work systems”?

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Leader Self-Efficacy Beliefs Determine Impact of Challenging Work Assignments

Stephen Courtright

Stephen Courtright

“High potential” employees are often given “stretch assignments” to expand their organizational knowledge, skills, and contacts.

Amy Colbert

Amy Colbert

The individual’s “leadership self-efficacy (LSE)” expectations about personal capability to master the challenge and deliver “successful” outcomes determine the actual results, reported Texas A&M’s Stephen H. Courtright, Amy E. Colbert of University of Iowa, and Daejeong Choi of University of Melbourne in their four month study of more than 150 managers and 600 directors at a Fortune 500 financial services company.

Daejeong Choi

Daejeong Choi

Individuals develop self efficacy, according to Stanford’s Albert Bandura, in response to individuals’:

  • Personal accomplishments and mastery
  • Observing others’ behaviors, experiences, and outcomes
  •  Corrective feedback from others via coaching and mentoring
  • Mood and physiological factors
Albert Bandura

Albert Bandura

Bandura posited that people’s expectations about their personal efficacy determines whether they:

  • Use coping behavior when encountering difficulties
  • Apply exceptional effort in meeting challenges
  • Persist for long periods when encountering difficult experiences and obstacles

These behaviors lead to the “virtuous cycle” of increased self-efficacy beliefs and expectations.

Laura Paglis Dwyer

Laura Paglis Dwyer

A measure of leadership self-efficacy (LSE), developed by University of Evansville’s Laura L. Paglis Dwyer and Stephen G. Green of Purdue University, evaluates a leader’s skill in:

  • Direction-setting
  • Gaining followers’ commitment
  • Overcoming obstacles to change
Sean Hanna

Sean Hanna

Two additional Leader Self Efficacy characteristics were proposed by United States Military Academy’s Sean T. Hannah with Bruce Avolio, Fred Luthans, and Peter D. Harms of University of Nebraska:

  • “Agency,” characterized by intentionally initiating action and exerting positive influence
  • Confidence
Jesus Tanguma

Jesus Tanguma

Women generally demonstrated significantly lower leadership self-efficacy beliefs than men in research by University of Houston’s Michael J. McCormick
, Jesús Tanguma
, and Anita Sohn López-Forment, and a related post reviews women’s lag in expressions of “confidence,” with consequences for women’s representation in executive leadership roles.

However, Bandura found that these beliefs can be modified with intentional interventions like training, coaching, mentoring and cognitive restructuring practice, and the proliferation of these offerings for women provides these opportunities to enhance confidence and positive expectancy.

Courtright’s team reinforced popular understanding that beliefs both result from previous experiences, and can determine future outcomes, suggesting the importance of monitoring and managing these guiding ideas.

-*How do you maintain robust Leadership Self-Efficacy expectations even after disappointments and setbacks?

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“Surface Acting” At Work Leads to Stress Spillover

David Wagner

David Wagner

Employers, employees, and benefits providers recognize that experiences at work can affect employees’ quality of life outside of work, leading to increasing availability of work-life programs including Employee Assistance Programs, on-site medical centers, concierges, meals, and fitness centers in the US.

Christopher Barnes

Christopher Barnes

When employees mask their true feelings in work situations, they may engage in “surface acting” — or displaying appropriate, but unfelt facial expressions, verbal interactions, and body language.

Brent Scott

Brent Scott

Surface acting at work was associated with emotional exhaustion, work-to-family conflict, and insomnia outside of work for more than 70 volunteers in a high stress public service occupation, according to Singapore Management University’s David T. Wagner, Christopher M. Barnes of University of Washington and Brent A. Scott of Michigan State University.

Arlie Hochschild

Arlie Hochschild

Emotional labor” is Arlie Hochshild’s earlier term for “surface acting” in customer service interactions, in which employees present prescribed verbalizations and emotions, even when they are not genuinely felt.

She contrasted “surface acting” with “deep acting” in which the person:

  • Exhibits the emotion actually felt
  • Uses past emotional experiences to elicit real emotion and empathic connection with others, in a form of “organizational method acting.
Christina Maslach

Christina Maslach

Surface acting can lead to occupational “burnout,” characterized by emotional exhaustion and detachment from others and reduced workplace performance, noted University of California Berkeley’s Christina Maslach and Susan Jackson.

Céleste Brotheridge

Céleste Brotheridge

In contrast, high emotional labor via deep acting has been associated with a greater sense of personal accomplishment in research by University of Regina’s Celeste Brotheridge and Alicia Grandey of Penn State.

Veikko Surakka

Veikko Surakka

Recipients of “surface acting” are usually adept at detecting that it’s an inauthentic display, according to University of Tampere Veikko Surakka and Jari K Hietanen of University of Helsinki.

Patricia Hewlin

Patricia Hewlin

Related experiences can also take a toll, resulting in generalized stress and reduced quality of life outside of work, according to Georgetown’s Patricia Hewlin as well as to University of Lethbridge’s Karen H. Hunter, Andrew A. Luchak of University of Alberta and Athabasca University’s Kay Devine.

They identified stress-inducing behaviors including:

Kay Devine

Kay Devine

  • Impression management, characterized by ingratiating behaviors in two-person relationships.
    Terence Mitchell

    Terence Mitchell

    In the workplace, these can influence career outcomes, according to Georgia Tech’s Robert C. Liden and Terence R. Mitchell of University of Washington

Leon Festinger

Leon Festinger

Even people not performing customer-facing roles may encounter situations in which they must behave in “appropriate” ways inconsistent with their true feelings, and experience similar stress spillover from “surface acting” at work.

-*How do you prevent “burnout” when workplace settings seem to require “surface acting”?

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Ask a Narcissist

Confidence is correlated with career effectiveness and advancement.
However when people exhibit “too much of a good thing,” their behavior may seem “narcissistic.”

Jean Twenge

Jean Twenge

The narcissistic personality is characterized by:

-*How do you determine if someone is a narcissist?

Calvin S Hall

Calvin S Hall

One of the most frequently-used, well-validated assessment instruments is the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, developed by University of California Berkeley’s Robert Raskin and Calvin S. Hall, and used by researchers rather than by pre-employment screeners.

Sara Konrath

Sara Konrath

Raskin and UC Berkeley colleague, Howard Terry examined more than 1000 volunteers’ responses found seven constructs related to narcissism:

  • Authority
  • Exhibitionism
  • Superiority
  • Vanity
  • Exploitativeness
  • Entitlement
  • Self-Sufficiency, all based on observations and self-reports of 57 participants as well as 128 people’s descriptions of “self” and “ideal self.”
Timothy Leary

Timothy Leary

In addition, Raskin and Terry related these ratings to participants’ responses to the Leary Interpersonal Check List, developed by Harvard’s Timothy Leary more than 50 years ago – and before he advocated use of psychedelic drugs.

Though a valid and reliable measure of grandiose or overt aspects of narcissism, the NPI’s 40 forced-choice items is lengthy and time-consuming.

Brian P Meier

Brian P Meier

As an alternative, University of Michigan’s Sara Konrath, with Brian P. Meier of Gettysburg College and Ohio State’s Brad J. Bushman of Indiana University developed The Single Item Narcissism Scale (SINS) to measure grandiosity, entitlement, and low empathy characteristic of “narcissistic” behavior.

They used a question that anyone can pose: To what extent do you agree with this statement? “I am a narcissist.”
More than 2,200 participants answered on a scale of one to seven.

Brad J Bushman

Brad J Bushman

Konrath’s team demonstrated SINS’s value as a valid and reliable alternative to longer narcissism scales, because the SINS is significantly correlated with scores on the NPI, and uncorrelated with social desirability.
In addition Konrath and team provided a quick assessment tool for anyone puzzled by colleagues’ or friends’ behavior.

Erika Carlson

Erika Carlson

They found that people who score high on both the NPI and the SINS are generally unconcerned about what others think of them – “social desirability” – and are typically willing to admit what they know about themselves:  They act more arrogant, condescending, argumentative, critical, and prone to bragging than people who score low on the NPI, according to findings by University of Toronto’s Erika Carlson.

Team Konrath conducted 11 validation studies for the SINS, and found narcissism related to:

People who scored high for narcissism also showed behaviors that can be problematic at work:

However, they also showed positive attributes including:

If you think you’re working with a narcissist, you can confirm or disconfirm your inference by asking the person.
Interacting with a narcissist in the workplace can be challenging, and a previous blog post identifies recommended strategies.

-*How do you identify narcissists in the workplace and in personal life?
-*What are more effective ways to work with them?

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Concrete Helping Acts Increase “Helpers High” Happiness more than Abstract Goals

Melanie Rudd

Melanie Rudd

People experience greater happiness when they perform specific “prosocial” actions, like trying to make someone smile, rather than pursuing an abstract objective like “trying to make someone happy,” according to University of Houston’s Melanie Rudd, Jennifer Aaker of Stanford and Harvard’s Michael I. Norton.

Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer Aaker

Fifty volunteers were asked to “make someone happy,” or to “make someone smile,” in exchange for a gift card.
When they completed the task, participants described how they accomplished their assignment, and the degree of happiness they experienced.

Michael Norton

Michael Norton

Participants who completed the specific goal, “getting someone to smile,” reported greater happiness than those who worked toward the more abstract, “higher construal level” goal of “making someone happy” – no matter which action they performed to achieve the goal.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

Specific goals have a “low construal level”, according to Construal Level Theory (CLT), discussed by NYU’s Yaacov Trope and Nira Liberman of Tel Aviv University.
CLT distinguishes concrete, specific, contextualized, and personal actions from more abstract, distant options based on future time, remote space, social distance, and hypothetical probability.
Team Rudd’s findings demonstrate the emotional impact associated with completing specific prosocial tasks.

Nira Liberman

Nira Liberman

Rudd and team posited that concrete goals reduce the gap between expected and actual impact of one’s actions, and increase goal clarity, measurability, and achievability while setting more realistic outcome expectations.
The team evaluated this speculation by asking participants to rate the degree of similarity between the actual outcome and their expectations before they performed the specific or general task.
Those who performed the more specific action also reported greater similarity between expectations and actual outcomes, as well as experiencing more happiness as a result of their prosocial actions.

Edwin Locke

Edwin Locke

Abstractly-framed goals focus on “why”, broader meaning, and larger purpose, whereas concretely-stated objectives target the “how, found University of Maryland’s Edwin Locke and Gary Latham of University of Toronto.

Gary Latham

Gary Latham

Similarly, smaller expectation-reality gaps were linked to greater satisfaction, happiness, and well-being in research by University of Leiden’s Riël Vermunt and Herman Steensma. 

Riël Vermunt

Riël Vermunt

Rudd’s group replicated Vermunt and Steensma’s findings, for people had a previous friendship or no previous relationship with the beneficiary, and when the prosocial acts varied in magnitude.

Herman Steensma

Herman Steensma

Participants experienced similar degrees of happiness in performing small or large kind deeds, as long as thee specified actions like “increasing recycling of unneeded materials” instead of “supporting environmental sustainability.”

Volunteers were consistently inaccurate in predicting which charitable acts would make them feel most happy 24 hours after they completed the task.

Gal Zauberman

Gal Zauberman

Participants predicted that performing the abstract, “high construal level” task of “making someone happy” would make them happier than the specific task of “trying to make someone smile” – but they actually experienced greater happiness after they did a specific good deed.
Likewise, Wharton’s Gal Zauberman and John G. Lynch of Duke also found that volunteers had inaccurate expectations about future outcomes.

Anyone who has been disappointed when ambitious goals to help others did not result in the desired outcome understands the problems of “donor fatigue” or “helper burnout,” when there is a significant discrepancy between helper expectation and actual outcome.

Carolyn Schwartz

Carolyn Schwartz

This anecdotal experience is confirmed by University of Massachusetts Medical School’s University of Massachusetts’s Carolyn Schwarz, Yunsheng Ma, and George Reed, with Janice Bell Meisenhelder of Emmanuel College, who found that discrepancies between expectations and outcomes are linked to giver unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Allan Luks

Allan Luks

Rudd and team’s research suggests that much-needed helpers can experience a Helper’s High instead of “helper burnout” when their goals are concretely defined.
Helper’s High is even associated with improved physical health in addition to happiness, according to Fordham University’s Allan Luks.

Helping others is also associated with higher levels of mental health, found Schwartz’s group, although they found less relationship with physical health than Luks.

William Harbaugh

William Harbaugh

The Helper’s High has a physiological basis: “Pleasure centers of the brain” are activated when people make voluntary charitable donations as well as after receiving money for oneself, and even more than when individuals agree to a tax-like transfers to a charity, reported University of Oregon’s William T. Harbaugh and Ulrich Mayr, with Daniel R. Burghart of NYU.

Individuals can increase their experience of happiness by engaging in specific kind acts toward others, and philanthropic organizations can increase volunteer retention by framing requests as concrete, “low construal level” actions.

-*To what extent do specific prosocial actions increase your personal happiness?

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Is Being at Work Less Stressful than Being at Home?

-*Has the workplace replaced home as a preferred haven?

Sarah Damaske

Sarah Damaske

Both men and women showed fewer physiological signs of stress and reported feeling happier at work than at home, according to Penn State’s Sarah Damaske, Joshua M. Smyth, and Matthew J. Zawadzki.
However, their estimates of workplace were inconsistent with their actual physical stress levels.
This suggests that people report more stress at work than their bodies “register.”

Arlie Hochschild

Arlie Hochschild

Damaske’s team analyzed objective and subjective indicators of stress among more than 120 employed men and women and found support and counterpoints to Arlie Russell Hochschild’s 1997 Time Bind hypothesis, developed at University of California Berkeley.

 A 2013 Pew Research Social and Demographic Trends Report found that 56% of working moms and 50% of working dads say they find it very or somewhat difficult to balance work and family responsibilities, due in large part to a mismatch between available time to fulfill responsibilities at home and work:  More than 40% of working mothers of children under age 18 and 34%-50% of working fathers of minor children said they “always feel rushed.”

Joshua M. Smythe

Joshua M. Smythe

Participants in Team Damaske’s study showed lower physiological indicators of stress at work, measured by blood levels of stress hormone cortisol levels, and this effect was particularly significant for people with lower incomes or no children at home.

However, these same participants reported greater subjective feelings of stress on workdays than on non-work days.

Matthew Zawadzki

Matthew Zawadzki

Women reported greater stress and less happiness at home, perhaps due to the increasingly blurred boundaries between work and home, with work demands continuing at home with email, conference calls, and text messages, suggested Damaske’s team.

In addition, workplace concierge service, prepared meals, onsite health care and gym services may increase workplace attraction.
Further, emotional attachments at work may be somewhat less intense than at home, so it may be easier to “detach” from work relationships.

Jason Schnittker

Jason Schnittker

People who work have better mental and physical health than their non-working peers, according to research by Damaske, University of Pennsylvania’s Jason Schnittker, as well as Mark Tausig and Adrianne Frech of University of Akron, all in separate studies.

Mark Tausig

Mark Tausig

These findings point to the value of continued workplace participation, particularly in Results Only Work Environments (ROWE), which encourage flexibility in the time and location of work while delivering agreed results.

Adrianne Frech

Adrianne Frech

Online collaboration tools like teleconferences with video capabilities and document sharing, computer-based soft phones, and work email integration with personal mobile devices are programs that enable employees to manage personal responsibilities through telecommuting, paid sick days, paternity and maternity leaves.

Cali Ressler-Jody Thompson

Cali Ressler-Jody Thompson

These programs can increase employee productivity and retention while reducing employee stress at the junction between work and home, noted Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, who evaluated the financial and organizational impact of ROWE.

-*How to you reduce stress in the transition from home to work to home?

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