Get a 'Lift' from Professors' New Book

Aug. 13, 2009 — Creating positive change in organizations may be no harder than modeling the change you want to occur, says a father-and-son author duo that includes a University of Virginia business professor.

Ryan Quinn, a professor in U.Va.'s Darden School of Business, teamed up with his father, Robert E. Quinn, a professor of business and management at the University of Michigan, to co-write a new book, "Lift: Becoming A Positive Force In Any Situation."

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story:

Ryan says his father started writing the book and then invited him to co-author. Both father and son have been heavily involved in a movement in the field of organizational behavior called "Positive Organizational Scholarship." They brought complementary expertise to the question of how people can become "a positive force in any situation."

In the introduction to "Lift," published in June, the authors write, "We lift others by lifting our own hearts and minds. Whenever we do this, we become a positive force, whatever our situation may be. Like Orville and Wilbur Wright, who used physical science and practical experience to build the first airplane … we can also use social science and practical experience to rise above the constraints of everyday life and lift the people around us."

To illustrate the concept of "lift," the authors present four questions that can guide readers into an "uplifting" state that will tend to contagiously uplift others around them. These four questions, the Quinns explain, distill the insights of hundreds of studies in business management, organization theory, sociology, psychology and other fields:

"What results do I want to create?"
"What would my story be if I were living the values I expect of others?"
"How do others feel about this situation?"
"What are three (or four or five) strategies I could use to accomplish my purpose for this situation?"

As a companion and supplement to the book, the Quinns have also created a "Lift" blog, where they and Monica Worline – another colleague active in Positive Organizational Scholarship – regularly reflect on how to apply the ideas in the book to daily life. For example, Ryan Quinn shares how he manages to become more patient when his 3-year-old son wants to dress himself, which requires 20 minutes, even when the family is already late for church.

The blog posts introduce readers to research findings from the field of Positive Organizational Scholarship, but they also explain how leaders can use these findings in their work and give practical illustrations from both work and personal life. As a result, the blog is full of personal vignettes, concrete examples from the business world and thoughtful explanations.

Some of the interesting topics include:

When, why, and how is extending a work deadline a good idea?

How to instill courage in organizations

How the principles of "Lift" can be applied to remedying the underlying causes of the global financial crisis

How to build a workplace where positive relationships flourish

How patience is a combination of three other virtues self-regulation, persistence and open-mindedness.

The motivating power of hearing personally from a beneficiary of your work. Telemarketers raising money for scholarships were more than twice as productive after they met with one scholarship recipient.

How to manage conflict within a company in a way that leads to collaborative solutions. Simply labeling a conflict as an opportunity is a good start.

Ryan Quinn teaches and conducts research at Darden on change management, with specific interests in high-impact conversations, innovation, energizing the workplace, high-performance experiences, organizational learning, power and courage. His research has appeared in journals such as Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Review, Organization Science and Human Resource Management.

— By Beth Schmid and Brevy Cannon