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2024 Positive Business Conference – Amplifying the Whole Human

author in 2017 conference sitting at the CPO booth
Center for Positive Organizations booth, 2017

Attending the Positive Business Conference (PBC) was a blast from the past for me. It was hosted by the Center for Positive Organizations (CPO) at the Ross School of Business – University of Michigan, where I worked seven years ago.

The Positive Business Conference is an opportunity for the researchers and practitioners of Positive Organizational Scholarship to share research, practice and learning. The 2024 theme: “Amplifying Human Enterprise: How might we find uplift amid upheaval?” 

But what is Positive Organizational Scholarship?

Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) is a sub-field of Management and Organizational Studies that strives toward the highest potential for humans in enterprise. According to Kim Cameron, Jane Dutton and Robert Quinn in An Introduction to Positive Organizational Scholarship, “POS is concerned primarily with the study of especially positive outcomes, processes, and attributes of organizations and their members.”

The field of study has grown significantly since the founding of the Center for Positive Organizations and that first publication. This conference is part of that growth.

The virtual Positive Business Conference experience

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was excited to learn new things. I started the day by creating my profile and watching the welcome videos. Chris Marcell Murchison was our virtual host, with us from Portugal throughout the day.

screenshot of Chris Marcell Murchison, including Pheedloop

The virtual platform, Pheedloop, offered an active chat, video resources, a specific networking feed, private chats, links to the organizations with on-site booths and images of the graphic recordings being created. The Pheedloop lobby was filled with resources, including a selfie booth. 

There were sessions specifically for virtual attendees, and the speakers were broadcast. The virtual experience included extra sessions and workshops designed for online. In-person attendees enjoyed a lunch, art workshops that couldn’t be replicated online and their own sugar cube where they got conference info and notes from others.

sugar cubes at the in-person conference - a wall of larger envelopes with names
Sugar cubes at the in-person conference – photo credit Lon Horwedel Photography

These are the sessions I attended:

  • The opening panel, stating the goal of understanding and improving worker well-being, included Monica Worline, Stacey A. Gordon, Bailey Mattacola and Jason Flynn.
  • Heather Raffo’s talk on using your unique connection to your culture and history to connect to your team.
  • Jane Dutton’s conversation with Susan Cain on her new book, Bittersweet, and the power of melancholy.
  • Taeya Howell and Shawn Quinn’s workshop on the healing abilities of hope in yourself, and those you lead.
  • Kelly Kagan Law and Marcus Collins‘ presentation, emphasizing the importance of a positive company culture to the productivity of your employees, and in particular the importance of supporting each other through crisis.
  • Ronna Alexander explored the power of art to calm the mind, body and soul, through group interactive art activities.

Opening panel

photo of main stage with Monica Worline, Bailey Mattacola, Jason Flynn and Stacey A. Gordon.  Photo credit Lon Horwedel Photography
Bailey Mattacola, Jason Flynn and Stacey A. Gordon joined Monica Worline – photo credit Lon Horwedel Photography

After the welcomes, Bailey Mattacola, Jason Flynn and Stacey A. Gordon joined Monica Worline on stage for a conversation to establish the conference theme.

Flynn shared results from Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends report saying, “Human performance is boundariless.” He explained that improving worker well-being ties directly to business outcomes and that there’s a multiplicative impact. 

Mattacola echoed the importance of worker well-being, “you cannot separate the human outcomes from the business outcomes.” She illustrated her ideas with stories from her work at Shinola. She spoke about the importance of investing in people and their training and how the watchmakers on her team spend regular time with experts and artists in Europe. Putting time and energy into setting up the human for success is essential, or no one will be successful.

Gordon spoke about the importance of diversity and inclusion as well as how businesses can redefine how they measure success. “We can change the rules and help people see blindspots.” 

She used the example of timelines to explain. Timelines can be a burden and stress but that deadlines are often false deadlines. Taking more time to execute a plan is okay. 

All of the panelists emphasized the need to be flexible, adapt and set new guidelines to measure success. Productivity isn’t the only metric worth measuring. Community is the place to start any conversation. Teams don’t have to look alike or be the same within larger organizations, but teams are necessary to create a culture for employees to thrive, so your business can thrive. 

Tell me your story

Heather Raffo – photo credit Lon Horwedel Photography

Heather Raffo’s workshop-like session focused on bridging cultures and how art can rework the world. She shared her story to illustrate the bridging of gaps in her own life and history, and how her Iraqi father and American mother forged a path despite divides. 

She led us through a series of writing prompts focused on our names. The desired intent was to connect us with our histories and families. Everyone has a name: its history is often an important part of our individual story.

Bittersweet: The Secret Keys to Creativity and Connection

Susan Cain and Jane Dutton – photo credit Lon Horwedel Photography

Jane Dutton, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations, sat down with Susan Cain, author of Bittersweet to discuss the book and Cain’s work. 

Bittersweetness is described as being melancholic or highly sensitive. Some people are predisposed to it, but life experience can also take you to it. 

There is power in a bittersweet outlook. There is a high correlation between bittersweetness and creativity. 

At one point, Dutton said what I was thinking. “We’re encouraged to display the sweet not the bitter. Women are to be good girls.”

Cain said not to pretend that the bitter isn’t a part of life, but you don’t need to act bitter. Being able to see the sorrowful and the beautiful is powerful. Getting lost in sorrow is where many lose themselves.

That resonated. But it made sense as the theme of amplifying the human includes many aspects of ourselves that we may not consider part of our business lives. 

Leading Hope and Healing in Yourself and Those You Lead

Screen shot of Taeya Howell presenting a slide in Pheedloop
Taeya Howell presenting

Taeya Howell and Shawn Quinn led an online workshop that explored the need for both hope and pain in business success. Hope is a framework for healing and productivity. People had the chance to share professional pains in the large group as well as small groups, and the sense of connection, despite being virtual, was a delightful surprise.

Amplifying The Human Through Culture

graphic recording illustration
Graphic recording illustration credit Alexander Ink

Marcus Collins defines culture as a system anchored in who we are. “There is no force more influential than culture. Who we are and how we see the world are how we navigate the world.”

The organizations we affiliate with become some of the ways we communicate ourselves to others. The stories we see in television, music and film all become part of how we express ourselves and how we see the world. There is a collective effervescence, both within organizations and in society. 

“Leadership is the ability to influence without authority,” said Collins.

Kelly Kagan Law followed up with strategies used at Snap to build a positive culture and connect teams. The company has a physical space for employees to gather to listen and share because “when an atrocity happens in the world we need to support one another.” This space allows the Snap team to learn about each other, connect and learn to be allies in an uncertain world.

Amplifying the human and giving time and energy to both the bitter and the sweet is embedded from the start of the company.

Workshops: leveraging art for the great good

Art was integrated into every aspect of the experience as Ronna Alexander of Alexander Ink drew graphic recordings of sessions. Conference attendees created art, too. There were seven workshops to choose from, including stitching, dance, painting and drawing.

Untitled design 2024 05 29T115520.183

I chose the online workshop, “Full Circle: Using the Mandala to Explore the Bittersweet in your Organization” with Chris Murchison. Mandalas are a tool of ritual and meditation. Murchison shared his experience attending a conference where monks worked on a mandala for three days, then brushed the beautiful work of art away at the end, focusing on the process, not the product.

Without any ability to draw, I jumped into the workshop, open to the experience. The process included micro journaling before beginning our mandalas, a circle with geometric patterns inside it. If they were ugly, it didn’t matter. And mine were ugly, but it was about the process.

At the end of 15 minutes with paper and markers, I found that my mind was quiet. The meditative nature of the mandala created a flow and calm. Yet another unexpected gift from the conference! The very nature of art is beauty and connection, and working with others on the same task serves as a connection to self and others.

Top 3 takeaways

  • The people in business matter. While I always knew this, it was clearly illustrated again and again that taking care of your team is step one in taking care of your business goals.
  • I am not alone in prioritizing the human in enterprise, but I often forget myself. Many of us have this particular problem: it’s easy to put our needs aside. This conference allowed me to explore that dichotomy with the many interactive sessions.
  • The circular nature of how culture impacts individuals and how individuals impact culture. Business culture can be managed, but not controlled. 

Form married function at this event: the holistic approach to the schedule, sessions and platform honored the message of amplifying the full human. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the virtual version of the conference, but I didn’t expect to be so engaged in an online setting. The Positive Business Conference 2024 delivered, in the expected way but even more so in unexpected ways. This was a masterclass in an engaging and insightful online Positive Business Conference experience.

Monica Worline at the podium of Positive Business Conference main stage
Monica Worline, Faculty Director of the Center for Positive Organizations, closing the conference.  Photo credit Lon Horwedel Photography

For more events, check out our coverage of Black Tech Week Detroit.

About the author

Suzanne Drapeau

Suzanne Drapeau taught writing at the high school and college levels for 30 years and recently joined Carlton PR & Marketing. She spends her “free” time working/volunteering for the Hyperemesis Education and Research (HER) Foundation, where her main role is managing social media and building partnerships with other maternal health nonprofits. She lives in Michigan but hopes to become a digital nomad when her children finish their educations.

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