Positive Image, Positive Action: The Affirmative Basis of Organization

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p.92: … one essential and empowering thesis: that there is little about collective action or organization development that is preprogrammed, unilaterally determined, or stimulus bound in any direct physical or material way.

p.92: In direct contradiction to materialist and behaviorist doctrine, where everything is supposed to be governed from below upward through microdeterminist stimuli and physiochemical forces, the new mentalist view gives subjective mental phenomena a causal role in brain processing and thereby a new legitimacy in science as an autonomous explanatory construct.  Future reality, in this view, is permeable, emergent, and open to the mind’s causal influence; that is, reality is conditioned, reconstructed, and often profoundly created through our anticipatory images, values, plans, intentions, beliefs, and the like.

p.93: To a far greater extent than is normally acknowledged, we human beings create our own realities through symbolic and mental processes and that because of this, conscious evolution of the future is a human option.  … the artful creation of positive imagery on a collective basis may well be the most prolific activity that individuals and organizations can engage in if their aim is to help bring to fruition a positive and humanly significant future.

p.95: Is it true that the central executive task in a post-bureaucratic society is to nourish the appreciative soil from which affirmative projections grow, branch off, evolve, and become collective projections?

p.95: These propositions … converge around three basic conclusions

  1. Organizations are products of the affirmative mind
  2. When beset with repetitive difficulties or problems, organizations need less fixing, less problem solving, and more reaffirmation — or more precisely, more appreciation
  3. the primary executive vocation in a post-bureaucratic era is to nourish the appreciative soil from which new and better guiding images grow on a collective and dynamic basis.

Positive Imagery, Medicine, and the Placebo:
p.99: positive changes in anticipatory reality through suggestion and belief play a central role in all placebo responses.

Pygmalion and the Positive Construction of the Other
p.100: As a special case of the self-fulfilling prophesy, Pygmalion reminds us that from the moment of birth we each exist within a complex and dynamic field of images and expectations, a vast share of which are projected onto us through an omnipresent environment of others.

p.101: One of the remarkable things about Pygmalion is that it shows us how essentially modifiable the human self is in relation to the mental projections of others.  Indeed, not only do performance levels change, but so do more deeply rooted “stable” self-conceptions. (Parsons and others, 1982)

p.102: Taken together the prophesies, possibilities, and normative valuations combine to create a broad brushstroke picture of interpersonal expectancy that has its pervasive effect through two primary mediators — expectancy-consistent cognition and expectancy-consistent treatment.

p.103: The key point is that all of our cognitive capacities — perception, memory, learning — are cued and shaped by the images projected through our expectancies.  We see what our imaginative horizon allows us to see.

p.104: We are each made and imagined in the eyes of one another.  There is an utter inseparability of the individual from the social context and history of the projective process.

Positive Affect and learned Helpfulness.
p.106: According to the work of Alice Isen and her colleagues, mood, cognition, and action form an inseparable triad and tend to create feedback loops of amplifying intensity.  positive affect, the evidence indicates, generates superior recall or access to pleasant memories; helps create a heightened sense of optimism toward the future; cause a person to think about positive things; and, as a result, predisposes people toward acts that would likely support continued positive affect, like the prosocial action of helping others.

The Off-Balance Internal Dialogue
p.108: functional groups are characterized by approximately a 1.7:1 ration of positive to negative images.  Mildly dysfunctional groups demonstrated equal frequencies, a balanced 1:1 internal dialogue.

p.110: What kinds of cognitive environments maximize the “human possible”?  What kinds of cognitive ecologies are we generating, and why?  Can cognitive ecologies be developed, transformed, or enhanced?  And what kinds of cognitive ecologies do we want?

The Positive Image as a Dynamic Force in Culture
p.111: Fred Polak (1973): The rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures.  His conclusions:

  1. Positive images emerge in contexts of “influence-optimism” (belief in an open and influencable future) and an atmosphere that values creative imagination mixed with philosophical questioning, a rich emotional life, and freedom of speech and fantasy.
  2. The force that drives the image is only part cognitive or intellectual; a much greater part is emotional, esthetic, and spiritual.
  3. The potential strength of a culture could actually be measured by the intensity, energy, and belief in its images of the future.
  4. The image of the future not only acts as a barometer but actively promotes cognition and choice and in effect becomes self-fulfilling because it is self-propelling
  5. When a culture’s utopian aspirations die out, the culture dies: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)

Metacognition and Conscious Evolution of Positive Images
p.113: To the extend that the heliotrophic hypothec has some validity — that human systems have an observable tendency to macrodeterministically evolve in the direction of those “positive” images that are the brightest and boldest, most illuminating and promising — questions of volition and free agency come to the fore.  Is it possible to create our own future-determining imagery?  Is it possible to develop our metacognitive capacity and thereby choose between positive and negative ways of construing the world?

p.114: evidence repeatedly indicates that positive self-monitoring [look for what works] significantly enhances learning on any task and is especially potent in the context of novel or poorly mastered tasks.

Toward a Theory of the Affirmative Organization
p.115-118: Scholars are recognizing that the power of positive imagery is not just some popular illusion or whish but an expression of the mind’s capacity for shaping reality.

  1. Organizations as made and imagined are artifacts of the affirmative mind.  An understanding of organizational life requires an understanding of the dynamic of the positive image as well as of the process through which isolated images become interlocked images and of how nascent affirmations become guiding affirmations.
    … Organizations exist because stakeholders who govern and maintain them carry in their minds some sort of shared positive projection about what the organization is, how it will function, and what it might become.
  2. No matter what its previous history is, virtually any pattern of organizational action is open to alteration and reconfiguration.  Patterns of organizational action are not automatically fixed by nature in any blind microdetermist way — whether biological, behavioral, technological, or environmental. [Instead, it depends on]
    1. The prophetic image — expectancies and beliefs about the future
    2. The poetic image — imagined possibilities or alternatives of what might be
    3. The normative image — ideological or value-based images of what should be.
  3. To the extent that organizations’ imaginative projections are the key to their current conduct, organizations are free to seek transformations in conventional practice by replacing conventional images with images of a new and better future.
  4. Organizations are heliotrophic in character in the sense that organizational actions have an observable and largely automatic tendency to evolve in the direction of positive imagery.  Positive imagery and hence heliotrophic movement is endemic to organizational life, which means that organizations create their own realities to a far greater extent than is normally assumed.
  5. Conscious evolution of positive imagery is a viable option for organized systems as large as global society or as small as the dyad or group.  Also, the more an organization experiments with the conscious evolution of positive imagery, the better it will become; there is an observable self-reinforcing, educative effect of affirmation.  Affirmative competence is the key to the self-organizing system.
    p.119: An organization will rarely rise above the dominant images of its members and stakeholders.
  6. To understand organizations in affirmative terms is also to understand that the greatest obstacle in the way of group and organizational well-being is the positive image, the affirmative projection that guides the group or organization.
  7.  [Missing from document?]
  8. The executive vocation in a post-bureaucratic society is to nourish the appreciative soil from which affirmative projections grow, branch off, evolve, and become collective projections.  Creating the conditions for organization wide appreciation is the single most important measure that can be taken to ensure the conscious evolution of a valued and positive future.


Primary Goals sits at the intersection of three core ideas about communication:
  • Leaders create vision by communicating a compelling future to their teams.
  • Teams create success based on how effectively the communicate and coordinate with each other.
  • Entrepreneurial ventures are successful only when they communicate value to people with a concern that the business can take care of
In all cases, it’s about Conversations for Committed Results.  That’s our Primary Goal.  



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