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
- Adopting a unique lens or an alternative perspective entails looking at circumstances as much as possible from a positive perspective.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 ContentThe 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:
- 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
- Positive Emotions: positive energy, positive emotions, subjective well-being, passion, socio-emotional intelligence, and group emotions
- Strengths and Virtues: virtuousness, forgiveness, humility, compassion, hope, courage, justice, integrity, positive ethics, leveraging strengths, and character strengths in global managers
- Positive Relationships: high-quality connections, relational coordination, reciprocity, intimacy, civility, trust, trustworthiness, humor, and psychological safety
- Positive Human Resource Practices: career development, mentoring, socialization, diversity, communication, conflict resolution, negotiating, and work-family dynamics
- Positive Organizational Processes: resourcefulness, collective efficacy, the design of work, mindful organizing, goal attainment, organizational identity, organizational energy, innovation, and organizational boundaries
- Positive Leadership and Change: appreciative inquiry, positive change attributes, implementing positive change, authentic leadership, leadership development, peak performance, strategic change, and strengths-based strategy
- 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
- 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.