Is positive thinking helpful?

One of the challenges, in supporting people prayerfully in the church and otherwise, is knowing how much to encourage a positive attitude and how much to encourage people to be real about how they are feeling. Much of my work has been with families who are bereaved, and is informed by a knowledge of the Grief Process.* On the other hand, some people within Church circles seem to believe that there is a very close relationship between positive thinking and prayer. Indeed Jesus did say that whatever you ask for you should believe that you have received it and it will be yours.

I was interested and challenged by an extract in The Week of 16th January from Barbara Ehenreich's book Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World.

She speaks of the behaviour of those around her – and support groups in particular – to her breast cancer. She found that people were trying to make her collude with a “positive” culture that, because of its attitude that any problem is a gift, prevented honesty about feelings including anger and also prevented honest discussion about what was being done to prevent and treat the disease in the population as a whole.

I think a wise balance is needed. It is my experience in working with those suffering grief (which includes redundancy and serious illness as well as the death of a loved one) that long-term denial is not helpful and that people need to have time and space to be real about how they feel, and that finding good in the event – or adapting to it – is a good eventual outcome but takes time.

*Here's an overview of the grief process. There are alternative descriptions for the various stages.

Freemind

This week I heard some fascinating presentations about helping people to reach their full potential. The occasion was one of the regular get-togethers organised by the Institute of Business Consulting in South West Britain. The evening, yesterday, was hosted at At-Bristol by Veridian plc who wanted to tell us about their learning tool Freemind, designed by Tom Fortes Myer.

This is a collection of recordings on CD which individuals and organisations can use to get rid of the blocks to achieving their full potential. The underlying belief which Tom explained, and which I can agree with, is that performance = potential – interferences. So achieving potential is about getting rid of blocks. Before the talk I spoke to someone who had used Freemind. She spoke of how it had transformed her life since she started to understand that every situation she faced was an opportunity for her own development. That statement is, itself, transformative. by which I mean that it changed my own way of thinking.

The recordings are available on CD or by download from the Freemind web site, which includes some sample recordings free of charge.

Tom's talk was complemented well by a talk by Jan Childs of EQ4U about Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and how it is much more important in the development of leaders than IQ. I recommend her book “Understanding Emotional Intelligence in 90 minutes,” which can be purchased from the web site.

Part of my own fascination is the relationship between Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual Intelligence. Spiritual Intelligence is to me about the uniqueness, connectedness, and vocation of human beings in creation – which embraces the growing desire amongst employees in particular and people in general for meaning and purpose in their work. I notice that Jan heads off in this direction in her book, particularly in the final chapter, and I see the Tom's approach to unlocking potential as drawing together the spiritual and emotional.

Impressed by new businesses

Is it easier to find employment or to start a business in the current economic climate?

Last Friday I attended the Grand Final of the Wiltshire New Business of the Year Competition. Almost every town in Wiltshire, including Corsham, had a good handful of entries, and the winner from each town reached the final and won several thousand pounds and other goodies. The entrant who impressed me most (but did not win) was a nineteen year old from a local town who was fed up with being unemployed. She decided to set up her own dress shop because she saw there was no other shop in the town selling the kind of clothes she wanted to wear.

I hear people complaining about the lack of help for job seekers; I see the government seeking to help new businesses through Business Link and other schemes. I find myself wondering whether it is easier to set up a (successful) business than it is to find a job at the moment.

Robin Hood Ministries

In my work as management consultant and coach (Finding True North) I've been asked to do some interim management work for Robin Hood Ministries – to head up their staff team part time for six months to help steer the charity through its current growth stage.

The charity is based in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, and helps alleviate poverty in various countries by supporting projects that help communities to be more self-reliant.

They also encourage businesses to support them through the initiative Business Against Poverty.

What would Adam Smith think of our handling of his economics?

People seem to like to claim that important historical figures are on their side. One example is the way people will argue about whether Charles Darwin believed in God. The example I want to explore here is the “father of modern economics” Adam Smith.

I believe in business, in the sense that I see that trading is a way of creating wealth. This is one of Scotsman Adam Smith’s precepts. In his famous 1776 treatise, The Wealth of Nations, he wrote of his faith in self-interest. In using that language today, some of us may feel that self-interest is wise or inevitable: others may feel that the word is immoral. Adam Smith meant that he believed that, if a number of people were acting out of self-interest in developing their businesses, then society as a whole would become more wealthy and all would benefit. This is his concept of the invisible hand: he did not advocate self-interest, but he observed that it was commonplace and that more benefit seemed to come to society as a whole when people traded out of self-interest than when they sought instead to be philanthropic (there's a challenging thought). (By pursuing his own self interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good – WoN, 456).

It has been stated that the proof that wealth came through labour, through trade and not through hoarding gold, was seen in the growing wealth of countries such as the UK and America because at that time they saw growth through trade, whereas countries such as Spain which saw wealth as being about holding onto gold bullion languished.

I have been fascinated by the life of John Forbes Nash, Jr, Nobel laureate, whose work is depicted in the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind. In a captivating moment in the film, he watches some of his friends eyeing up women in a bar and suddenly declares, “Adam Smith is wrong!” His theory – the Nash Equilibrium – says that if people just work out of self-interest based on what other individual “players” are doing they will not produce nearly as good an outcome as if they collaborate with one another. In other words, trade may be good, but acting just as an individual player will not produce the best results.

Modern advocates of free trade derive their doctrine from Adam Smith. But will everyone benefit in a society that is just driven by free trade, by “the market,” whether they are totally self-interested or collaborate? There seems to be much disbelief today that free trade on its own is sufficient; there is a belief that certain groups of people need special care or protection.

So I was interested to read a speech given by Traidcraft founder Richard Adams to Durham University students. As an alumnus I read it in the Spring edition of the magazine Durham First that I was sent. Here is some of what he said.

The market is quite good at a number of things, as Adam Smith pointed out. It creates efficiency, it's good at encouraging profit-seeking behaviour, it delivers goods and services effectively to those who can afford to pay, and it created jobs for many, and wealth for some, in the process. But as we are finding out with a vengeance, it's not so good at recognising external costs like environmental damage and the exploitation of people and, given it's head, it will pursue profit to the wilder shores of greed and criminality. Smith recognised this and, being an Enlightenment professor of moral philosophy, assumed his market economics would be set within a moral framework.

So, 233 years on, how do we change the market? We make it grow up, give it values, a sense of responsibility, a conscience, a theology, a heart. This is what fair trade, sustainable development, ethical business is about.

This leads me back to my starting point, the significance of the context in which people set their theories, and the competing claims of modern commentators. Did Smith see market economics as set in a moral framework? And, whether he did or not, should we and how should we?

A satisfying week of work

This last week I have been pleasantly busy with work through my coaching and consultancy business (Finding True North). Having set the business up at the end of 2007, I find that it is gently growing, as I seek to help individuals and businesses to be more creative and profitable by operating in a way that draws on their unique personality and strengths.

This week I have completed consultancy work for a charity to help them to review their needs for larger premises, facilitated a vision-building workshop for some Church of England parishes that want to work as a team, and continued to provide spiritual direction.

A couple of contacts are pending for providing coaching training for the management team of a Wiltshire firm, and individual coaching for a recently promoted company director. Leadership and Management funding from the government for coaching and training continues to be a way to help these things to get started in the present economic climate.

This is all satisfying, as I like to spend more time delivering the service than seeking clients!

New coach

I'm delighted to have had my first meeting today for two hours with a coach/mentor that Business Link have supplied. Under this helpful scheme people volunteer to give their time free to be a mentor to a new business.

My coach, Lee, has a lot of sales background and is himself a coach. Hopefully this is ideal to help me expand Finding True North Development Coaching.

He is encouraging me to focus my business more, and to develop a talk that I can give at business gatherings as a way of encouraging business.