11TH AUGUST 2020


Problem or opportunity?

It sometimes surprises people to know that my professional background is in corporate finance. The thing about working in finance (and the same is true of engineering and the law too) is that we are very good at spotting issues: the essence of good finance training is learning to anticipate and manage risks, putting measures in place to ensure they never materialise. When I was working as a financial controller over 20 years ago, I recall a colleague saying, ‘the problem with finance people is that you see everything as a problem when you need to see it as an opportunity’. At the time, I had absolutely no idea how to do this. It was only later, when I came across Carol Dweck’s concept of the growth mindset that I found out.

How to see a problem as an opportunity and learning to pivot

Learning how to apply the growth mindset theory and principles has enabled me to successfully transform my career from finance to psychology; I now work as a positive psychology consultant, trainer, MAPP lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, and writer. The manuscript of our latest book (devised and written by a group of positive psychology academics and professionals, including Dr Sue Roffey, Professor Felicia Huppert and Vanessa King) was delivered to Routledge a few weeks ago and will be published in early 2021.  Amongst many other topics, “Creating The World We Want To Live in: How Positive Psychology Can Build A Brighter Future” discusses how working life can be transformed by the application of positive psychology, including playing to ones strengths, meaning and purpose, and the growth mindset. In the book we explore how positive psychology can have a much greater positive impact on well-being in the world than simply individual well-being. The late Professor Chris Peterson’s definition of Positive Psychology: “Other people matter” is an apt summary.

How can you pivot in the pandemic?

A growth mindset is essential for both resilience and success in difficult times. The economic news for many countries is not good; the Covid-19 pandemic has devastated many businesses and industries, especially those in service sectors like hospitality, entertainment and training which rely on face-to-face contact with customers and clients. The BBC news today (11/8/20) reports that one third of firms is expecting to make redundancies. When feeling low and thinking negatively, many people are panicked into assuming that they have to find the same or a similar job in the same or a similar sector, thus creating huge competition for a few jobs in industries which are already shedding staff. If this is a situation you’re facing, the opportunity is to develop existing or new skills.  Perhaps you could get a student loan for higher education (many degrees are very practical and open to students of all ages), an internship, or do one of the hundreds of free or low-cost courses online in a subject you are passionate about. The gastro pub in one nearby village has pivoted into making and selling takeaways and delivering local beers, using the lockdown to repaint and rebrand the pub, whereas another pub close by has simply shut up shop – it’s been closed for months, not only depriving residents of a useful service but possibly losing goodwill in the process. Who knows if the publican will have a business to return to, or how soon? To pivot successfully, a growth mindset is essential.

My training partner Miriam Akhtar and I have faced a similar issue. Back in February 2020 we were discussing ‘what next?’ for our popular and successful Positive Psychology Masterclasses. We have been running them face-to-face in Bristol for over a decade, training nearly a thousand people in small groups in that time. We always take feedback from participants, adjusting and updating our content with new research and techniques. At the time, Covid 19 was something we’d heard of, but not something we thought would transform the way we work. When the UK lockdown was enforced at the end of March, we had no option but to cancel all our bookings for the year ahead, with uncertainty about whether and when we would be able to get back up and running. Miriam and I were faced with a real dilemma: how could we continue offering practical PP training and education to professionals, which we are both so passionate about, when we could not meet them in person? We’re thrilled to say we have successfully pivoted to delivering our training online by converting all the practical tools and techniques we cover in the Masterclasses into ones which can be explained and carried out remotely. This has been a challenge which we have relished, having to flex our strengths of creativity, love of learning and openness along the way. We have both gained a huge amount personally and professionally through this process too. 

I hope that the story of our efforts over the past four months gives you hope that having a growth mindset does work. We could easily have said, ‘Going online will be just too hard’, ‘People won’t enjoy an online Masterclass” or “People won’t benefit as much as they do from the face-to-face training’. But we decided to try and see, because, even if it didn’t work exactly as planned, using a growth mindset we were confident that we would be able to adapt the Masterclass and create something that participants would value. Getting feedback like this:

“I would definitely recommend the Positive Psychology Masterclass…Miriam and Bridget really made the delivery via Zoom the best learning experience. Through their relaxed approachable style they created a real community space…Through the balanced blend of partner and group work in break out rooms they also allowed us time to bond and interaction. I came away with lots of tools I can use personally and in my work. Thoroughly enjoyable… and being online meant I could easily fit the training around work” has made the effort worthwhile.