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A Powerful Collection (Book Review)

written by Kirsten Cronlund 6 July 2012

Kirsten Cronlund, MAPP 2008, is committed to helping others navigate the rough waters of divorce with resiliency, drawing upon personal experience and the science of positive psychology. She is now serving as the director of Bryn Athyn Church School. Full bio.

Kirsten's articles are here.

When I received The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship in the mail, I felt practically giddy. I tossed my bags down on the dining room table, ripped open the box, and immersed myself in the 1,076 pages of its richness – skimming first the table of contents, then specific chapters that caught my attention, and finally landing with more focus on the introduction written by the editors, Kim Cameron and Gretchen Spreitzer.

As a leader in an organization, I immediately saw the relevance of many of the ideas presented in the chapters. I wanted to explore the whole book at once, but I knew that I would get more out of it if I settled down and savored it. This article is my offering to bring you along on the first step of my savoring journey. Please join me in an exploration of its introduction and its structure. In the months ahead, more articles will follow that outline specifics in the book.

Book review: Cameron, K. S. & Spreitzer, G. M. (2011). The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Oxford University Press.

What is Positive about Positive Organizational Scholarship?

Before explaining the organization of the book, the editors lay the foundations, defining Positive Organizational Scholarship and exploring why the work is important. In their words, “Positive organizational scholarship highlights processes and practices that occur in organizations and are associated with positive outcomes, the empirical rationale for claims about positivity, and the theoretical rationale for the life-giving dynamics and outcomes associated with organizations.”

In other words, positive organizational scholarship examines why and how positive practices work from a theoretical and scientific standpoint. The field can inform and legitimize the efforts of anyone working within an organization who cares to incorporate evidence-based positive practices.

Recognizing the fact that the word “positive” is controversial and perhaps misunderstood in this context, Cameron and Spreitzer spend time outlining its scope and definition. They clarify that positive organizational scholarship does not deny the negative, but the field is unapologetic about focusing attention on the positive because it is beneficial to individuals within organizations, to the organizations themselves, and to those impacted by organizations.

“POS emphasizes what elevates individuals and organizations (in addition to what challenges them), what goes right in organizations (in addition to what goes wrong), what is life-giving (in addition to what is problematic or life-depleting), what is experienced as good (in addition to what is objectionable), and what is inspiring (in addition to what is difficult or arduous).” Cameron & Spreitzer, p. 1

The editors identify four approaches to the word positive as it is applied to organizational scholarship.

  1. Adopting a unique lens or an alternative perspective entails looking at circumstances as much as possible from a positive perspective.
  2. A focus on extraordinarily positive outcomes or positively deviant performance is the examination of outcomes that far surpass those normally expected in any given circumstance.
  3. An affirmative bias that fosters resourcefulness focuses attention on positive experiences and approaches with the understanding that long-lasting skills, relationships, and knowledge are built through positivity.
  4. The examination of virtuousness or the best of the human condition looks at purpose and forgiveness as they exist within organizations.

A Review of the Content

The introduction also explores the structure of the book, which is composed of the nine sections outlined below with the topics covered in the chapters in each section:

  1. Positive Individual Attributes: psychological capital, prosocial motivation, callings in work, work engagement, positive identity, proactivity, creativity, curiosity, positive traits, and the neuroscience underpinnings of POS
  2. Positive Emotions: positive energy, positive emotions, subjective well-being, passion, socio-emotional intelligence, and group emotions
  3. Strengths and Virtues: virtuousness, forgiveness, humility, compassion, hope, courage, justice, integrity, positive ethics, leveraging strengths, and character strengths in global managers
  4. Positive Relationships: high-quality connections, relational coordination, reciprocity, intimacy, civility, trust, trustworthiness, humor, and psychological safety
  5. Positive Human Resource Practices: career development, mentoring, socialization, diversity, communication, conflict resolution, negotiating, and work-family dynamics
  6. Positive Organizational Processes: resourcefulness, collective efficacy, the design of work, mindful organizing, goal attainment, organizational identity, organizational energy, innovation, and organizational boundaries
  7. Positive Leadership and Change: appreciative inquiry, positive change attributes, implementing positive change, authentic leadership, leadership development, peak performance, strategic change, and strengths-based strategy
  8. A Positive Lens on Problems and Challenges: managing the unexpected, healing after trauma, organizational recovery, responding to crisis, resilience under adversity, post-traumatic growth, ambivalence, and responding to stress
  9. Expanding Positive Organizational Scholarship: sustainability, critical theory, economic models, social movements, spirituality, positive deviance, and international peacemaking

How the Field Has Grown!

A first skim of the book reveals the comprehensiveness of its content. One hundred forty-nine authors contributed to 79 meaty chapters covering the theory and practice of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Authors include many that I already knew: Wayne Baker, David Cooperrider, Jane Dutton, Barbara Fredrickson, Adam Grant, Emily Heaphy, Gretchen Spreitzer, Jacqueline Stavros, and Amy Wrzesniewski. But there are so many new names to learn, so many new areas of expertise to learn about. Authors come from all over the United States and Canada, and from 15 other countries, including the UK, Norway, Germany, The Netherlands, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, China, India, and Korea.


The book builds on the work that was published in 2003 in Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline. The earlier book has 23 chapters and 38 distinct authors. Both the number of chapters and the number of authors have increased by well more than a factor of 3, indicating how much the field has expanded in the last decade. Looking forward, the new book also offers questions that are yet to be addressed, showing possible directions for future growth.

I hope that this glimpse into The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship leaves you eager for more specific information. Look for reviews of specific topics and chapters in the next few months written by Amanda Horne, Giselle Nicholson, and me. In the comment section following this article, please feel free to ask questions about the book and to make requests for topics you’d like to see explored.


Cameron, K. & Spreitzer, G. (2011). The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Oxford University Press.

Cameron,K., Dutton, J. & Quinn, R. (Eds.) Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, pp. 296-308. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.

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Lisa Sansom (@LVSConsulting) 6 July 2012 - 10:40 pm

Thanks for this great review! I’m completely looking forward to diving into the book, which has been sitting on my shelves for several months (or so it feels…)

When people ask me about positive psychology in organizations, I really do think that we have just started to scratch the surface of what’s possible. I’m greatly encouraged by the section titles and look forward to the growth of this field.

A question for you – does this book reconcile the difference between research as it’s done by psychologists and as it’s done in organizational development? I’d like to see that chasm bridged (thinking of Effectiveness VS Efficacy research where, stemming from the medical world, effectiveness relates to how well a treatment works in practice, as opposed to efficacy, which measures how well it works in clinical trials or laboratory studies – psychology clinical research seems to be more about efficacy; organizational development research, such as case studies, interviews, focus groups, etc, seems to be more about effectiveness…)

Thanks for continuing the conversation!

Scott Crabtree 7 July 2012 - 3:53 pm

Thanks for the helpful introduction to what sounds like a wonderful resource (if a bit overwhelming).

One question: I’m assuming the smaller 2003 Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline is now somewhat out of date? Or might you recommend that someone who hasn’t started either start with the earlier, smaller book?

I’m looking forward to reading more myself. Thanks again for the helpful intro.

–Scott Crabtree
Chief Happiness Officer

Kirsten Cronlund 7 July 2012 - 7:18 pm

Thanks, Lisa, for your enthusiastic response to this book review. I love your question, and it’s something I’ve wanted to see addressed for a long time as well. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know yet if this collection of articles addresses your point in a comprehensive way, since I haven’t read enough of it yet. As I read through the chapters, however, I will certainly keep your question in mind and attempt to answer it. Keep tuning in to the ongoing articles about this book in the coming months!

Kirsten Cronlund 7 July 2012 - 7:25 pm

Really good question, Scott ~ about the relationship between the 2003 volume of Positive Organizational Scholarship and this latest volume. I would say that I would certainly not discourage anyone from reading either volume. The information in the 2003 book is still relevant and applicable, so if a person finds that volume more accessible then they should start with that one. The new contributions of this new volume are that it addresses some of the concerns that came to light since the last book was published, it defines concepts and terms that caused problems previously, and it outlines next steps for the field of positive organizational scholarship. It provides new information from work that has been done since 2003, so it is definitely worth reading, but it doesn’t negate what came before it. Stay tuned for more specifics as I and the other authors contribute more articles in the coming months.

Oz 8 July 2012 - 1:53 pm

kirsten – what about a book on realistic organisational culture – a synergy of both the positive and the negative.

Amanda Horne 10 July 2012 - 12:50 am

Kirsten – thank you for setting the scene with this first article.
I have both books, and in answer to Scott’s question, I’d lean towards reading just the latest version. It is large, it is up to date, there is plenty to read (over 1,000 pages!).

Amanda Horne 10 July 2012 - 1:05 am

Hi Oz – the editors note that there is still much to learn and research in this area. They explain positive is an ‘orientation toward’, a leaning rather than a sitting squarely in a positive place that denies negative. The purpose of the POS research is to explore the benefits (or not) of this leaning/inclination. The call for a finetuning of theories, and research into whether there can be too much positivity. Chapter 73, Critical Theory and Positive Organizational Scholarship, brings a critical view.


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