Expectation shapes reality?

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As often seems to be the case we had a really great meeting this week – on Monday morning no less – that was characterised by lots of enthusiasm, positivity and creativity.  In my mind these three elements are interconnected with positivity possibly being first amongst equals.  The power of positivity is well documented; be it from John Gottman and his remarkable work on marital stability and relationship analysis; or from Barbara Fredrickson and her Positivity Ratio.  At this meeting there was a very positive atmosphere that led to some great ideas emerging which in turn almost seemed to create a virtuous circle or more enthusiasm and positivity.  

Thinking about this virtuous circle also made me reflect on a recent change management exercise we ran with a client where participants are separated (in different rooms) into a large and a small group who are given a brief that explicitly states that they are required to cooperate with the other group to achieve a task.  However there are some other, very subtle, cues in the brief that inevitably – i.e. every time we have used the exercise – cause the groups to be suspicious of each other and find themselves in a destructive, (but very funny to observe!) doom loop pretty much from the start.

When we debrief the exercise both groups tend to be more than a little bashful about how quickly they fell into playing to stereotypes in their perceptions, thinking and behaviour.   Some of this can be explained by the brain’s change averse nature and it’s default expectation that change will be painful and unpleasant – a model that served our ancestors well in times long since passed.  However, in the world of work, with incessant change this subconscious, default ‘change is bad’ mental model tends to be very unhelpful as our expectation of how things will be has a very significant impact on how we perceive them to be – the actual reality of the situation tends not to get much of a look-in.

So maybe we had a great meeting because we have had lots of them recently and so expect them to be great?  Food for thought maybe if you are having lots of ‘predictable, boring, unproductive’ meetings in your world at the moment?