day one at WCPP

First day at WCPP started out with an evening talk by Martin Seligman, the modern founder of Positive Psychology, and Phil Zimbardo, creator of the iconic Stanford prison experiments. What a rush to see these two giants on stage together, presenting some new and old ideas – but especially the new!!

Seligman talked for the first time about how positive psychology is a “pull to the futre” – whereas traditional psychology, that which has its premise on illness and a negative focus, has provoked movement through a push from the past. Very interesting to hear this expressed for the first time.

MS talked about how happiness dissolves into positive emotion, positive character, positive institutions and now, for the first time, positive relationships – the social life. MS also argues that each is teachable, and MS outlined several positive interventions which have been proven to be effective.

He says, provocatively, the world is at a “Florentine moment” where we can decide what to do with the wealth that has been created – and perhaps it should be about creating well-being, as the Medicis decided to create art…

Zimbardo covered his work on evil, highlighting his study on the Standford prison experiment and comparing it to the atrocities at Abu Ghraib. I won’t go into the details, but there were saddening pictures to really highlight how good people can turn evil. He talked about the “bad apples”, the “bad barrels” and the “bad barrel makers” as all being germane to the situation- but notably the barrel-makers, who must be held to account for their roles.

PZ mentioned that a “secret ingredient” in creating the “bad apples” seems to be the BOREDOM of the captors. And he referred us to his book, The Lucifer Effect. ( – I have not yet checked it out.

However, one thing that I really took away from both speakers was to know where your exits are. Let me explain.

In MS’s work on learned helplessness, the helplessness came from not having an exit – there was no way out of this horrible situation. In PZ’s work , the prisoners also had no way out, except through breakdown (which several did). Also consider the work by Stanley Milgram (research on obedience to authority) – the “shockers” felt they had no way out in resonse to authority. We KNOW that there is always a way out, but perhaps knowing that in advance, and planning for it in advance, might make people more apt to choose that route, and disobey unjust authority. Something to consider…

Lisa Sansom

Lisa Sansom has her MBA from the Rotman School of Management, and over two decades of experience in teaching and training. Her years of work in the organizational development field have included projects on change management, employee engagement, leadership development, team coaching and employer of choice strategies.

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