Positively Intelligent 1

Have you ever experienced your mind racing off with negative “mind chatter” while trying to shoot a free throw or making an important presentation? The book Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential AND HOW YOU CAN ACHIEVE YOURS (albeit a fairly wordy title and with a potentially broken Caps Lock involved) is an exercise in  introspection.  Author Shirzad Chamine’s goal is to help you achieve your potential and become as productive as you can be by focusing your mind in positive way and eliminating negative thinking.

Definition of Positive Intelligence (from the Saboteur Assessment tool report): Positive Intelligence is an indicator of how much mastery you have developed over your own mind. Your Positive Intelligence score (PQ) is a measure of the relative strength of your Sage versus your Saboteurs. Without a solid foundation of Positive Intelligence, many of your attempts at improving either your performance or happiness fizzle due to self-sabotage. Compelling evidence from a synthesis of research in psychology, neuroscience, and organizational science shows that with higher PQ teams and professionals ranging from leaders to salespeople perform 30-35 percent better on average. They also report being far happier and less stressed.

It’s no surprise that Chamine, as an academic researcher, created metrics for his concept.  His formula is described as a positive thinking vortex.  If the ratio of positive to negative is 3:1 or higher (75%+), a team or individual will spiral upwards in to success or conversely spiral down in to a bad place.  He has some research to back this number up, but the key takeaway here is having a rough guideline to be cognizant of and able to monitor.  The saboteur assessment mentioned above is a quiz that shows your current PQ number if you want to gauge how you’re doing (and it can change over time).

Shirzad goes on to discuss the difference between the so-called survival brain and the PQ brain, essentially the “fight or flight”, risk averse and self-limiting part of your mind versus the positive intelligence (or “PQ” brain).  The survival brain will be familiar to those of you who have read Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? where he describes the similar pitfalls of your “Lizard Brain” and how to quiet that part of you mind.  Positive intelligence goes farther in digging in to your subconscious and giving names to those inner voices or “mind chatter” so you can deal with each of them accordingly.

The most important and valuable contribution of this book builds on these ideas by identifying the voices in our heads and giving us a more easily understood way to categorize them, deal with them accordingly and nourish the good ones.  He does this through characterizing them as one of 10 saboteurs or as your sage.  I think of it this way: I’m going to kick the little angel and devil off my shoulders whispering in my ear and replace them with a rational Yoda but before doing so I need to figure out who they are and maybe how they got there in the first place.
“The Judge” is what Chamine calls the master saboteur. The one that “… finds fault with self, others and circumstance” and ” causes much of our disappointment, anger, regret, guilt, shame and anxiety.”   A caveat for readers is that Shirzad refers to this most negative of saboteurs as “The Judge”, but he actually encourages renaming it.  Try replacing it with something like “The Overly Self-Critical Judge”, which implies not an honest self-criticism but the voice in your head that unnecessarily chastises.


“The Judge” works with accomplice saboteurs. These inner voices (saboteurs) are: The Stickler, The Pleaser, Hyper Vigilant,  Restless, Controller, Avoider, Hyper-Achiever, Victim and the Hyper Rational.  For a very detailed description of each saboteur that is also a great preview to the book, you can take a  saboteur assessment  on the Positive Intelligence website to see which of 9 saboteurs are more dominant that you can work on.  With these saboteurs you are “not seeing reality as it is, but reality through the lens of a saboteur.” An important idea to remember as you asses yourself.


In exploring the thoughts that cause the saboteurs, the feelings that arise from them, the justifications that keep them alive and their impact on you and others, you can actually mute their impact.   The best way to limit the the damage of the saboteurs is through introspection, to identify them and not accept them as your friend or a significant part of who you are.
Conversely, “The Sage” perspective is about accepting what is, rather than denying, resenting or rejecting what is. The Sage perspective accepts every outcome and circumstance as a gift and opportunity.”


One of the author’s thoughts particularly helpful in identifying why some of those overly critical negative voices in our brains are not useful is that, “Both your Saboteurs and your Sage may lead you to success, but they do so by taking very different paths. The Saboteurs push you into action and success through anger, regret, fear, guilt, anxiety, shame, obligation, etc. But the Sage pulls you into action through compassion, curiosity, creativity, the joy of self-expression, a desire to contribute and create meaning, and the excitement of action. Would you rather be pushed or pulled?”


One of the techniques he suggests to strengthen your PQ mind and Sage is the idea of a PQ rep, similar to the presence, yoga body scans or mindfulness exercises you may have heard about.  I was initially more than a bit wary of this concept before I took a workshop in self development at my MBA program at the University of Toronto.  But after awhile, when practicing public speaking with a voice coach, I understood how the bringing of attention to the physical sensations of your body, feeling your feet pressed to the floor, one could, mind and body united, focus on the task at hand, and less on what others are thinking.  I no longer heard “what will they think?” and instead, eyes straight to the horizon, I felt the power in my voice and of the the words I was speaking reverberating throughout my body and the room with a quiet calm mind.


Overall, the ideas in Positive Intelligence have value in that together they are a useful framework to identify, analyze and eliminate negative thinking and hone your best advisor (your mind) to help you become successful and happy.



About Taylor O

I'm a project management consultant based in Seattle, Washington where I work predominantly on engagement between IT and business on projects generally centered around a major software implementation and resulting change in how business is done. You'll find me exploring whatever new city I happen to move to in the local music venues, SCUBA dive sites or learning some new skill. I have an MBA from the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management where I focused on Innovation and Strategic Management. I also have a masters in Information Systems from Indiana University and a BS in Business from Miami University (Ohio not Florida).

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