Friday, March 28, 2014

"...An Old, Old Wooden Ship..."

David Feitler, Senior Program Manager at NineSigma and Program Director for the Ohio Third Frontier Program, has a blog post at the Harvard Business Review on team diversity. Feitler explains that

Ben Jones and colleagues at the Kellogg Business School of Northwestern University published a paper in Science last year focusing on diversity in the production of new knowledge, as reflected in the research literature. Looking for patterns across some 17.9 million papers indexed in Thomson Reuter’s Web of Science, they demonstrated that the most influential papers (most highly cited) were those that exhibited an intrusion of interdisciplinary information. They also found that groups were more likely to foster these intrusions than solo researchers. This is entirely consistent with Fleming’s findings for industry, and his attempts to dispel some of the mythology around lone inventors

"It isn’t all about novelty or conventionality. It’s about both," Jones explains. "You want to be grounded in something that’s well understood and yet be adding in the piece that’s truly unusual. And if you do those two things [and] stretch yourself in both directions, then you radically increase your probability of hitting a homerun.” Co-author Brian Uzzi states, "Many of these novel combinations are really two conventional ideas in their own domains. You’re taking established, well-accepted ideas, which is a wonderful foundation—you need that in science. But when you put them together: wow. That’s suddenly something really different.” Teams were more likely to produce this "virtuous mix" by bringing diverse specialities together. While we often speak of diversity of people, it is really a diversity of disciplines and experiences.

I'm reminded of Jack Beatty's description of the great interdisciplinarian and management expert Peter Drucker:

Learning is his mind's pleasure, a gift to share with his readers, not an invitation to pomposity. The Druckers raised an intellectual, not an academic. For sixty years Drucker has taken on a new subject every three or four years and read up on it to the capacious limits of his curiosity. One year it might be Japanese art...another year it could be sixteenth-century finance; yet another the history of technology or of work--or of American statesmen or of British rule in India. He recommends intellectual omnivorousness as a form of self-renewal. Certainly it has worked for him.[1]

Perhaps this is why we are told to "seek diligently...yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118). Innovation, creativity, inspiration, and revelation seem to be intertwined. To be revelators and ministers, we must be interdisciplinarians as well. Drawing from D&C 88, Elder John A. Widtsoe sums it up this way:

Things both in heaven—Astronomy.

And in the earth—Everything pertaining to the cultivation of the soil.

And under the earth—Mineralogy, geology, etc.

Things which have been—History, in all its branches.

Things which must shortly come to pass—Prophecies.

Things which are at home and abroad—Domestic and foreign politics.

Wars—perplexities—judgment—The signs of the times, by which the observer may know that the day of the Lord is at hand.

A knowledge of countries and kingdoms—physical and political geography, languages, etc.

These studies, the Lord considers necessary...God does not require all His servants to become doctors, or professors, or even profound students of these subjects, but He expects them to know enough of these things to be able to magnify their callings as His ambassadors to the world.

The knowledge we gain here is not trivial. And we should seek more of it.


1. Jack Beatty, The World According to Peter Drucker (New York: Free Press, 1998), 7. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Aesthetically Pleasing

This building is boarded up because nobody has a use for it. Nobody has a use for it because nobody wants to be in it. Nobody wants to be in it because the thing is so damned ugly. - Roger Scruton

The above comes from philosopher Roger Scruton's BBC special Why Beauty Matters. Elsewhere, Scruton has argued for "a more comprehensive view of the city as an aesthetic creation. Cities degenerate when they are seen as mere instruments, temporary structures that are abandoned when their purpose is fulfilled."[1] While recognizing architecture as a "useful art"--i.e. possessing a function beyond aesthetics--Scruton points out that "a functional building" that fulfills its function "is not, for that reason, beautiful. In referring to architecture as a useful art we are emphasizing another aspect of it--the aspect that lies beyond utility. We are implying that a work of architecture can be appreciated not only as a means to some goal, but also as an end in itself, as a thing intrinsically meaningful."[2] The "knowledge of architectural function is important to the judgment of beauty; but architectural function is bound up with the aesthetic goal...In other words, when we take beauty seriously, function ceases to be an independent variable, and becomes absorbed into the aesthetic goal."[3]

A lack of beauty can have a negative impact. For example, one teacher in the 1960s Boston inner-city school system collected letters from his fourth grade class describing "what they saw in front of them each day when they came into school." The letters consistently mentioned how dirty and rundown the classroom appeared. As this teacher explained,

The insult to aesthetics, the affront to cleanliness and harmony and sweetness, are continuing realities as well for children who must go each morning into morbid-looking buildings in which few adults other than their teachers would agree to work day after day...There is no misery index for the children of apartheid education. There ought to be; we measure almost every other aspect of the lives they lead in school. Do kids who go to schools like these enjoy the days they spend in them? Is school, for most of them, a happy place to be?[4]

Aesthetics can and should play a role within organizations. While "open-plan" offices have been the rage since the 1990s (with its focus on collaboration), evidence continues to mount that this design can be distracting and unproductive. Google has in some sense attempted to merge the functional with the beautiful. As one expert put it, "Aesthetics are just the first layer and they are only going to work if they are aligned with deeper levels of change."[4] In other words, "the aim is to respond to the business and cultural drivers of an organization." There is some research that demonstrates aesthetics (apart from ergonomics) can have an impact on employee well-being.[5]

Samuel M. Brown
Zackary Berger and Samuel Brown make an excellent case for aesthetics in hospital design in the Annals of Internal Medicine:

The Johns Hopkins Hospital (JHH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), 2 of the most prestigious training hospitals in the United States, both harbor vestigial figures that remind us of what hospitals used to be. The Johns Hopkins Hospital is home to a much-visited statue of Jesus, the divine healer. With the recent hospital expansion, this statue feels like a quaint relic relegated to an old hospital building where important committees consider patients in the abstract but never in reality. At MGH, the actual body of an Egyptian scribe from the Ptolemaic period, Padihershef (Padi), stands watch over the illustrious Ether Dome, far from patient and visitor traffic, in the figurative shadow of recent massive expansions of the hospital’s physical plant. Both Jesus and Padi represent an age when medicine was often found in the context of specific faith and cultural traditions. Part church, part museum, part distinctive cultural space, the earliest hospitals were often operated by religious order or religiously minded civic groups to care for the desperately ill who were too poor to receive care in their homes.[6]

Technological advances and upgrades have left many hospitals "massive and modular, generic and cold." Patients no longer "imagine themselves as human beings," but instead as "collections of medical problems waiting to be solved."[7] Berger and Brown suggest that hospitals include "more living things, more spaces to sit quietly and reflect, perhaps even specific works of art or curios."[8]

When it comes to the ancient triad of Truth (science), Goodness (ethics), and Beauty (aesthetics), most organizations most of the time get the first two right. It's time to bring in the third.

1. Scruton, "A Plea for Beauty: A Manifesto for a New Urbanism," Society & Culture Outlook 1 (AEI, March 2012): 5.

2. Scruton, Beauty (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 17.

3. Ibid., 22.

Some researchers have suggested that invoking a sense of "awe" in students could help children develop a sense of purpose. Awe is typically generated from an experience with beauty. This "aesthetic experience" is what Sir Ken Robinson describes as "one in which your senses are operating at their peak, when you're present in the current moment, when you're resonating with the excitement of this thing you're experiencing, when you're fully alive."

5. See Elisabet Schell, Tores Theorell, Helena Saraste, "Workplace Aesthetics: Impact of Environments Upon Employee Health?" Work 39 (2011): 203-213.

6. Zackary D. Berger, Samuel M. Brown, "Should Hospitals Look Like Airports?" Annals of Internal Medicine 159:7 (2013): 492. See Allen Hansen's "
Missionaries and Modernization" at Difficult Run for the impact of medical missionaries.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid., 493.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The First Vision and Forgiveness

Due to a friend's request as well as the LDS Church's new Gospel Topics article on the "First Vision Accounts," I thought I'd post a letter I wrote to my sister-in-law while she was serving her mission in Chicago. I've modified the format for citations and added a couple extra resources in the footnotes. My sister-in-law wrote the following:

I did have a question for you. Something that the Anti guy asked was "How could Joseph Smith have seen God and not been cleansed from his sins?" He said that many of the ancient prophets had been cleansed first and that it would be impossible that Joseph Smith could have seen God without being cleansed. I know that he had to have been transfigured, but thats all I really understand about that. Do you have any info on this particular argument?

Here was my response:

That I do. Joseph Smith's first written account of his vision (1832) reads,

...while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord in the 16th year of my age a piller of light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of God and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying, "Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee..."[1]

Forgiveness of sins was actually the emphasis of Joseph's first account. This is what D&C 20:5 means when it says, "After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins..." Compare this portion of D&C 20 to Joseph Smith - History. The "manifestation" regarding the "remission of sins" spoken of in D&C 20 took place before Moroni. It is a reference to the First Vision. It must be recognized that the vision at first was understood as a personal revelation about his personal salvation. The full impact was not realized until the official account:

[Smith] was most impressed with [the vision's] assurance that he was personally forgiven of his sins and the instruction that he was to join none of the existing churches...The 1832 account paints a picture of the boy's concern for his own soul and his sense of forgiveness as the Lord speaks to him. Later there is more specific indication of the background of sectarian controversy, the desire to know which church was true, and the divine instructions that Joseph Smith himself would later be an instrument in restoring the true church to the earth...If the later version was different, this was not a result of inventing an experience out of whole cloth, as an unscrupulous person might readily have done, but rather of reexamining an earlier experience and seeing it in a different light. As a teen-ager Smith had probably seen the experience primarily as a relief from anxiety about his sins and concerns about the jarring claims of different sects. By 1838 Smith was head of a church, his prophetic status challenged both from without and from within.[2]

The First Vision was not heavily circulated and was therefore not central to the Church in the earliest days.[3] However, external sources confirm that Smith's First Vision was known early on and remained fairly consistent with and accurate to their earliest tellings.[4] Smith's visionary report wasn't entirely unique for its time. Reports of visionary experiences were well known. The pastor (mentioned in Joseph Smith - History) that dismissed Smith's vision as a boy would have been familiar with these experiences. It was most likely because of this visionary culture and its negative reputation that Smith's earliest visions (First Vision, Moroni, etc.) were downplayed originally. The Book of Mormon was the main focus in early missionary efforts, with little to no mention of Smith's visions. If you think about it, we don't even have a detailed account of the angelic restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood. This distancing from the contemporary visionary culture combined with the similiarities it shared probably aided in Mormonism's success and appeal. Ultimately, however, Mormonism transcended and outlasted them all.[5]

The Lord declared Joseph to be forgiven within the context of the vision. Moroni did likewise years later. Compare this to Isaiah 6, in which Isaiah's lips are cleansed by the angel with a coal from the temple altar. In this sense, the prophet becomes a member and messenger (literal translation for Hebrew malak; also translated "angel") of the divine council. Joseph Smith's accounts fit the ancient concept, though their expression more so conform to 19th-century visionary literature. The revelations through Joseph Smith also contain these Hebraic notions. For example, the Book of Mormon fits the ancient Hebrew concept perfectly. Notice that 1 Nephi opens with Lehi's vision of, introduction into, and calling by the divine council: "And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God" (1 Ne. 1:8). This parallels ancient throne theophanies like Ezekiel, Micaiah, Isaiah, and others. It also compares favorably with ancient pseudepigrapha, many of which were unknown to the scholars of Joseph Smith's day.[6] While no throne is mentioned in Smith's First Vision accounts, his 1835 version does say, "I saw many angels in this vision."[7] Smith recorded, "I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me" (JS-H 1:25). David Bokovoy writes,

Ancient Israel witnessed its fair share of false prophets who feigned divine authority in their predictions. Hence Lehi's biblical contemporary, the prophet Jeremiah, specifically identified a true messenger as one who had "perceived and heard [God's] word" (Jeremiah 23:18). In Jeremiah 23:18, "perceived" is the King James translation for the Hebrew verb raŹ¾ah, which means, in its most basic sense, "to see." Therefore, according to the stipulations provided by Jeremiah, a true prophet had both seen and heard God's word. In his own account, Nephi demonstrates an evident awareness of this biblical standard. Immediately after describing his father Lehi's experience with a biblical-like pillar of fire, Nephi specifically notes that Lehi "saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly" (1 Nephi 1:6). Nephi also informs his readers that Lehi "went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard, ...and he testified that the things which he saw and heard...manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah" (1 Nephi 1:18—19). In this opening chapter of the Book of Mormon, Nephi matches his apparent effort to portray Lehi as a true prophet, who had seen and heard God's word, with a continuous repetition of the biblical designation my father.[8]

Both the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's experience meet the standard. There was an article by Old Testament scholar Margaret Barker and Kevin Christensen called "Seeking the Face of the Lord: Joseph Smith and the First Temple Tradition" in Joseph Smith, Jr.: Reappraisals after Two Centuries.[9] ...In it, Barker reviews the ancient biblical concept of "seeing God" in the temple. Christensen takes her views and applies them to Joseph Smith's own temple theology and visionary experiences. It turns out that Smith's ideas fit very nicely into Israel's First Temple theology. Barker (who is actually Methodist) drew the same conclusion elsewhere:

[Terryl] Givens spoke of the scandal that Joseph Smith claimed "direct communication with God."
We now recognize that King Josiah enabled a particular group to dominate the religious scene in Jerusalem about 620 BCE: the Deuteronomists. Josiah’s purge was driven by their ideals, and their scribes influenced much of the form of the Old Testament we have today, especially the history in 1 and 2 Kings. The Deuteronomists denied that anyone had a vision of the Lord (Deuteronomy 4:12), they denied that anyone had revelations from heaven, and they insisted the Ten Commandments were all that was necessary (Deuteronomy 30:8, 11–14). Nothing more was to be added to them (Deuteronomy 5:22). Prophecies were genuine only if they had already been fulfilled and had no more power (Deuteronomy 18:21–22). The Deuteronomists had no place for angels, and so they did not use the title "Lord of Hosts." These were the minds that eventually led to the closed canon of scripture and the cessation of prophecy. But the prophets did have visions of the Lord and the angels, they did speak in the name of the Lord, and their unfulfilled prophecies were carefully preserved. Not everyone shared the views of the Deuteronomists, but the writings of these other people are often outside the Bible.[10]

As for transfiguration, Orson Pratt's rendition of Smith's First Vision in his An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records (1840, pg. 5) states that Smith was "enveloped" in the pillar of light and that it "produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system." Joseph himself said that, following the vision, he "found [himself] lying on [his] back" with "no strength" (JS-H 1:20). This is similar to Moses' experience in Moses 1:9-10.

All in all, Joseph Smith's First Vision fits ancient visions quite well. But more importantly, it invites us to seek similar experiences and a remission of our own sins through the Savior.


1. Printed in Dean C. Jessee, "The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision," BYU Studies 9:3 (1969): 4; bold mine.

2. Leonard J. Arrington, Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints (New York: Knopf, 1979), 6-8. However, we shouldn't stress the difference in emphasis too much, especially when we analyze the Methodist context from which Smith's visions emerged. "While forgiveness for his sins preoccupied the earlier account, and the concern with which church was right consumes the later narrative, within the Methodist tradition, the two were not mutually exclusive questions. In fact, they were intimately tied together. Perhaps Joseph Smith asked “which of all the sects was right” precisely because he felt that forgiveness of his personal sins was intimately tied to his joining a certain church" (Christopher C. Jones, "The Power and Form of Godliness: Methodist Conversion Narratives and Joseph Smith's First Vision," Journal of Mormon History 37:2, 2011: 110-111). Historian Don Bradley has argued that it was after Joseph's First Vision that he became a seer. See his 2013 FAIR presentation "The Original Context of the First Vision Narrative: 1820s or 1830s."

3. See James B. Allen, "The Significance of Joseph Smith's "First Vision" in Mormon Thought," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1:3 (1966).

4. See Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision through Reminiscences," BYU Studies 9:3 (1969); Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Confirming Witnesses of the First Vision," Ensign (Jan. 1986).

5. See Richard L. Bushman, "The Visionary World of Joseph Smith," BYU Studies 37:1 (1997-1998).

6. See Blake T. Ostler, "The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form-Critical Analysis," BYU Studies 26:4 (Fall 1986).

7. Jessee, 1969: 6.

8. Bokovoy, "The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon: Still Losing the Battle," FARMS Review 18:1 (2006): 8.

9.  Edited by Terryl Givens & Reid Neilson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

10. Barker, "Joseph Smith and the Preexilic Israelite Religion," BYU Studies 44:4 (2005): 71.

Friday, January 24, 2014

If Only

This would've helped me with my current statistics course. 

Then again, given how I was in high school, maybe it wouldn't have. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Gritty Hiatus

"I can never enjoy Sundays because, in the back of my mind, I always know I've got to go back to school the next day. It's like trying to enjoy your last meal before execution."

The Spring semester has finally reared its ugly head. Due to my tendency to be easily distracted from my schoolwork, my blog posts will likely become more sporadic than they already are over the next few months. As all three readers of my blog probably know, I'm working on my MBA in Strategic Management at UNT. Some reports make me wonder why I'm pursuing it in the first place, while others give me hope. If I'm lucky, my modest work experience combined with my newly-minted MBA will translate into the 20% return that research has found. As for the actual education, I've already written about the state of business education and my views on it (the humanities aren't much better). Given that 42% of college students never read another book after they graduate, it makes me wonder if Will Hunting was right. 

Despite my slight pessimism, I'm hoping that the following weeks will be an exercise in willpower and focus and thus play a small role in the development of grit: the "perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course."[1] Unfortunately, I am one to get bored (and not in the "Einstein-got-bad-grades" kind of way).

What is fascinating is that grit trumps IQ and other various traits when it comes to success. Therefore, I think we could all use a little more of it.

So, I'm going to make a feeble attempt to develop this trait (perhaps as a likely ill-fated New Year's resolution) and focus my energies (mostly) on school. Wish me luck.

1. Michael D. Matthews, Angela Duckworth, "Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92:6 (2007): 1087-1088.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

"I Have Seen Hell..."

A November post at By Common Consent made the following observation:

Frankly, telling an eleven-year-old sex slave or a Congolese child soldier about Jesus will do nothing for them in their current situation, their current situation being far more critical than a post-life salvation, which surely they are guaranteed in their current circumstances anyhow. Further, in societies without any semblance of social justice, Jesus means nothing—except for the hope of peace in a post-apocalyptic world, and I truly hope Mormonism offers more tangible, practicle [sic] outcomes than this. Jesus, in many ways, is social justice manifest, alleviating the needs of the poor and down trodden and elevating the outcasts of society...Lastly, the reality is, duty or no, we are not capable of taking the gospel of Jesus to the far corners of the earth. However we are capable of doing more to help those that live in hell. As long as Satan rages in the hearts of men, it is only the hearts and minds of men that can fix it.

The post was based on Elder Christofferson's Conference address "Redemption," which stated that "our greatest redemptive service will be to lead [people] to Christ. Without His Redemption from death and from sin, we have only a gospel of social justice." I've written about Christofferson's talk before, stressing the social justice aspect. However, the BCC post's separation of "social justice manifest" in this world and "post-life salvation" in the next seems to ignore Mormon metaphysics as much as those who worry more about "the hope of peace in a post-apocalyptic world." However, I think it is worth reviewing the outlook of the ancient world and how Christianity revolutionized its understanding of mankind. As Eastern Orthodox philosopher David B. Hart explains,

The average person [in the ancient world] had every reason to assume that all the familiar institutions and traditions of his or her world were more or less immutable, and imbued with a quality of divine or cosmic necessity...There was really, therefore, no such thing as history, though there might be annals, oral or written, recounting certain predictable fluctuations in earthly fortune...There was of course a sense of time and time past, but no concept of the future as a realm of as yet unrealized possibilities; there was only the prospect of the present, or of something only inconsequentially different, more or less interminably repeated.[1]

Christianity instead "produced a vision of this world as the gratuitous gift of divine love, good in internally coherent reality that by its very autonomy gives eloquent witness to the beauty and power of the God who made it...The absolute partition between temporal and eternal truth had been not only breached but annihilated."[2] The salvation in and through Christ made every human personality "capable of exceeding even its own nature in order to embrace another, ever more glorious nature. This immense dignity--this infinite capacity--inheres in every person, no matter what circumstances might for now seem to limit him or her to one destiny or another. No previous Western vision of the human being remotely resembles this one, and no other so fruitfully succeeded in embracing at once the entire range of finite human nature, in all the intricacy of its inner and outer dimensions, while simultaneously affirming the transcendent possibility and strange grandeur present within each person."[3] Christianity "provided an unimaginably exalted picture of the human person--made in the divine image and destined to partake of the divine nature...In short, the rise of Christianity produced consequences so immense that it can almost be said to have begun the world anew: to have "invented" the human, to have bequeathed us our most basic concept of nature, to have determined our vision of the cosmos and our place in it, and to have shaped all of the deepest reaches of consciousness."[4] That people are "not only something of worth but indeed something potentially godlike, to be cherished and adored, is the rarest and most ennoblingly unrealistic capacity ever bred within human souls."[5] Such a change in human dignity can be seen in the Gospels' description of Peter, a Galilean peasant, weeping over Jesus, which would "have seemed an aesthetic mistake" to its audience and more at home in the "comic literature" of the day (such as "the self-pitying expostulations of a witless peon"). Thus, the inclusion was "not merely a violation of good taste," but "an act of rebellion."[6] The ancients would have been scandalized by "the bizarre prodigality with which the early Christians were willing to grant fully humanity to persons of every class and condition, and of either sex."[7] In the case of Christ's resurrection, God "entirely reverses [the] judgment" of "his alleged earthly representatives...and in fact vindicates and restores to life the very man they have "justly" condemned in the interest of public tranquility. This is an astonishing realignment of every perspective, an epochal reversal of all values, a rebellion against reality."[8]

This worldview should obviously encourage action on behalf of our fellow brothers and sisters who are suffering. This is beyond dispute. But to be the victim of abuse and tragedy is to often have one's feelings of dignity and self-worth stripped. It is not merely a future peace or salvation that is being taught when one preaches Jesus: it is an identity; a recognition that "the worth of souls" (including one's own) "is great in the sight of God" (D&C 18:10). For people who are used to hearing this in their churches or (in secular form) their legal systems or politics, this may seem trivial. For one that has known nothing but the evils of existence, it is a profound revelation. And we should not deprive those we help of it.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship...It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal...Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. - C.S. Lewis [9]


1. Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 199-200.

2. Ibid., 201.

3. Ibid., 211.

4. Ibid., 213.

5. Ibid., 214.

6. Ibid., 167.

7. Ibid., 169.

8. Ibid., 173-174.

9. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 45-46.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Engaging Heaven: Further Notes on "The Upward Path"

In our latest Worlds Without End post "The Upward Path," Allen and I compared the Widtsoe/Roberts view of "joy" with several aspects of worker engagement: flow, progress, and mastery. While all three of these are related, it is worth pointing out that they are not synonymous.  As Daniel Pink notes, "Flow is essential to mastery. But flow doesn’t guarantee mastery—because the two concepts operate on different horizons of time. One happens in a moment; the other unfolds over months, years, sometimes decades. You and I each might reach flow tomorrow morning—but neither one of us will achieve mastery overnight."[1] 

Furthermore, the use of the word “engagement” in our post could easily mislead a reader to conflate it with any of the three points above. However, engagement is defined as 

an active, positive work-related state that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption. Vigor refers to high levels of energy and mental resilience while working, whereas dedication refers to being strongly involved in one’s work and experiencing a sense of significance, enthusiasm, and challenge. Absorption is characterized by being fully concentrated and happily engrossed in work, such that time passes quickly. Work engagement is different from job satisfaction in that it combines high work pleasure (dedication) with high activation (vigor, absorption); job satisfaction is typically a more passive form of employee well-being. Work engagement is different from work-related flow in that it refers to a longer performance episode; flow typically refers to a peak experience that may last only 1 hour or even less. Finally, work engagement is different from motivation, in that it also refers to cognition (absorption) and affect (vigor)—in addition to motivation (dedication). Not surprisingly then, work engagement is a better predictor of job performance than are many earlier constructs.[2]

As alluded to above, engagement leads to better performance for several reasons. A major reason is that "engaged employees often experience positive emotions, including gratitude, joy, and enthusiasm. These positive emotions seem to broaden people’s thought–action repertoire, implying that they constantly work on their personal resources (Fredrickson, 2001)."[3] A systematic review of the literature found that positive psychology interventions in organizations led to increased employee well-being and performance.[4] Positive emotions “generate “upward spirals” toward optimal functioning and enhanced emotional well-being…by broadening individuals’ habitual modes of thinking and action and building lasting resources that promote future experiences of positive emotions."[5] In organizational studies, positive emotions have been linked to predicted improvements in supervisor evaluations, pay, social support for both supervisors and coworkers, and productivity. Furthermore, positive emotions have been linked with increased accuracy in decision-making tasks and interpersonal effectiveness in leaderless group discussions.[6] Positive emotions are contagious and "propagate within organizations…because positive emotions stem from—and create—meaningful interpersonal encounters. That is, the behavioral outcomes of one person’s positive emotion (e.g., compassionate offers of help), become interpreted—or imbued with meaning—by others (e.g., when offers of help are recognized and appreciated as altruistic gifts). Accordingly, the broaden-and-build theory predicts that positive emotions in organizational settings not only produce individuals who function at higher levels, but may also produce organizations that function at high levels."[7] In short, "efforts to cultivate positive emotions may help organizations avoid stagnation and achieve harmony, energy, and perhaps even prosperity."[8] 

Engaged workers also "experience better health. This means that they can focus and dedicate all their skills and energy resources to their work." They also "create their own job and personal resources. Finally, engaged workers transfer their engagement to others in their immediate environment (Bakker & Xanthopoulou, 2009). Since in most organizations performance is the result of collaborative effort, the engagement of one person may transfer to others and indirectly improve team performance."[9]

Engagement--along the positive psychology underlying it--is important not only for modern corporations, but organizations like the Church and communities like Zion. By engaging the earthly, we engage the heavenly. Through this lens we can begin to develop a realistic view of human flourishing, progression, and eventual divinization.




1. Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009), 118. 

2. Arnold B. Bakker, “An Evidence-Based Model of Work Engagement,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 20:4 (2011): 265.

3. Ibid.: 267.

4. Arnold B. Bakker, M. Christina Meyers, Marianne van Woerkom, "The Added Value of the Positive: A Literature Review of Positive Psychology Interventions in Organizations," European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 22:5 (2013): 618-632.

5. Barbara L. Fredrickson, “Positive Emotions and Upward Spirals in Organizations,” Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline, eds. Kim S. Cameron, Jane E. Dutton, Robert E. Quinn (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2003), 169. 

6. Ibid., 171.

7. Ibid., 174. 

8. Ibid., 175.  

9. Bakker, 2011: 171.