By Karen Golden-Biddle & Jane Dutton
How does Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) enrich and enliven how we think about and understand social change?
We invited 37 authors to engage this question in a new book called Using a Positive Lens to Explore Social Change and Organizations (Routledge, 2012). The book unleashes new insights about how social change happens, showcasing in particular a richer portrait of the human processes and structures that facilitate and are created in social change, and a fuller spectrum of impacts arising from social change. The book zooms in on three social change domains—Environment and Sustainability, Health Care, and Poverty, and Low-Wage Work—where a positive lens is particularly useful for uncovering insights for theory and for practice. The book also has a special section dedicated to the topic of individual and collective change agents. Three core insights (among many) shine brightly from applying a positive perspective to social change and organizations:
Insight #1: When understanding social change, we need to consider a broader range of resources that not only propel social change but also are created in and can result from social change processes. The book uncovers numerous cases where hope, energy, legitimacy, and positive relationships are critical resources that shape the processes and outcomes of social change. For example, two chapters highlight hope as an essential resource in helping people realize that their actions can make a difference, and in jumpstarting and accelerating real effort toward achieving desired social change (Branzei; Golden-Biddle, and Correia).
Insight #2: When studying or engaging social change it is valuable to consider how individual and collective strengths can facilitate the change process, as well as be outputs of social change. For example, several chapters document the development of humility occurring through meaningful engagement in social change processes (Christensen). In these cases, humility in individuals and in groups was a direct product of social change. Other chapters note the power of collective humility in enabling learning and resilience, which are critical to ensuring momentum and progress with challenging social change issues (Riddell et al.). Thus, a positive lens writes strengths into accounts of both the causes and outcomes of social change.
Insight #3: Application of a positive lens to understanding social change issues uncovers new forms of generative dynamics, those life-building, capability-enhancing, capacity-creating dynamics in and of organizations. For example, several of the chapters (Riddell et al.; Sonenshein) refer to processes in change that are generative where tensions are intentionally not resolved, but instead are seen as a form of creative abrasion (Pratt, Fiol, O’Connor, and Panico) that facilitates rather than retards social change. Other chapters develop insights that link self-transformation and organizational or system transformation as critical engines of movement and resource generation in change (Myers and Wooten; Wells).
We invite you to engage this exciting new frontier of understanding about social change that is opened up by application of a positive lens. Not only does it enrich theory, but it uncovers important new possibilities for impact by practitioners who care about social change processes and outcomes.