09/06/05 - optimism

In today's excerpt - Martin Seligman writes regarding the power of optimism in the workplace. Here, he has taken the work he has done with traditional psychotherapy patients, and is now beginning to use it in the workplace at the request of corporate clients.  In this case testing for the optimism of prospective insurance employees to predict their success as salespeople:

"We were stunned by how optimistic new insurance agents are. Their group average G - B score (the difference between explanatory style for good events and explanatory style for bad events) was over 7.00. This is far above the national average and suggests that all but the most optimistic need not apply. Life insurance agents, as a group, are more optimistic than people from any other walk of life we have ever tested: car salesman, commodity traders who scream all day long in the pits ,West Point plebes, managers of Arby's restaurants, the candidates for the office of President of the United States during this century, major league baseball stars, or world-class swimmers. We had picked exactly the right profession to start with, one that requires very strong optimism just to enter and extreme optimism to succeed in.

"One year later we looked at how the agents fared. As John Creedon had warned us, more than half the agents had quit; 59 of the 104 quit during the first year. ... Agents who scored in the less optimistic half of the ASQ were twice as likely to quit as agents who scored in the most optimistic half. Agents who scored in the least optimistic quarter were three times likelier to quit than agents who scored in the most optimistic quarter. In contrast, the people with the lowest scores on the Career Profile [the test already in place that did not test for optimism] weren't any likelier to quit than those with high scores.

"How about the bottom line, dollars produced?

"The agents from the top half of the ASQ sold 20 percent more insurance than the less optimistic agents from the bottom half. The agents from the top quarter sold 50 percent more than the agents from the bottom quarter. Here the Career Profile was predictive as well. Agents who scored in the top half of the Career Profile sold 37 percent more than agents who scored in the bottom half. Taking the two tests together (they don't duplicate each other; each contributes its own distinct perspective), we saw that agents who scored in the upper half of both sold 56 percent more than agents who scored in the bottom half of both. So optimism predicted who survived, and it predicted who sold the most. ..."


Martin Seligman


Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life


Vintage Books


Copyright 1990 by Martin E. P. Seligman


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