The second Bigelow Forum was held September 2009. Peter Worrell, Managing Director at Bigelow LLC, opened the 2009 Bigelow Forum by asking participants to make an “intellectually muscular deposit into our collective bank of intellectual capital.” He explained that, “We are not going to spend time with the usual boring investment banker speak about the state of the markets, transaction multiples, the latest supercharged common equity techniques, or how to fix a broken balance sheet. What we ARE going to spend time on together is the study of STRENGTHS: our mutual client’s strengths, and asking questions about our own strengths…We are living in extraordinary times, ones that open up opportunities that never existed before. It is genuinely “The Age of the Entrepreneur.”
Featured speakers Chris Peterson and Nansook Park offered an introduction to the exciting new field of Positive Psychology – which they define as the “scientific study of what makes life worth living.” Professors Peterson and Park discuss the VIA Character Strength Survey, which has been taken by hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world. The survey is a tool for shifting the conversation away from “pathology,” which has dominated the field of psychology for the past fifty years, and toward a discussion of what makes people happy, healthy, and productive. The professors reported that the Forum attendees who completed the survey scored exceptionally high in the character strengths of zest, perseverance, perspective, judgment, and honesty – all valuable traits in an advisor!
Peter Worrell continued with a more in-depth discussion of the Entrepreneur Strengths Study: Results from a Preliminary Study of the Brief Signature Strengths and GRIT-S Scale of Seasoned Entrepreneur, a landmark research study completed by Bigelow LLC in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate Program in Positive Psychology. We asked: Does the entrepreneur have different strengths than the general population? For the purposes of this study, a “successful entrepreneur” was defined as an owner-manager who had built and sustained a business with an enterprise value in the tens of millions of dollars. The top five character strengths identified in this survey were: authenticity, leadership, zest, fairness, and gratitude.
A ten-minute video, The Case of the Uncertain Entrepreneur, featuring David Linton, Managing Director at Bigelow LLC and the fictitious owner-manager of Reeder Pumps portrayed a typical Bigelow conversation with an entrepreneur (Shannon) who is trying to sort out her business and personal options for the future. David introduced the video by asking “How many of us today in our respective practices are seeing the symptoms of clients being overwhelmed with an unprecedented degree of uncertainty…in their everyday lives and in their businesses? How, as advisors, can we most effectively help them?” The video served as a springboard for lively small-group discussions.
Our keynote speaker was Barry Schwartz – psychologist, Swarthmore professor, and best-selling author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. Dr. Schwartz first discussed the book’s main premise – that too much choice leads to paralysis and dissatisfaction. Dr. Schwartz closed with some advice to advisors and their entrepreneur clients – for how to “re-moralize work”:
- Make work a calling; pay attention to the mission
- Celebrate moral exemplars
- Embody wisdom in everyday practices
- Nurture wisdom in the people you supervise
- Watch out for the incentives that are actually operating
In his closing remarks, Peter Worrell challenged the participants to put the concepts of Positive Psychology to work in their professional practices. “Our experience is that all seasoned successful entrepreneurs are intrinsically motivated and BIG optimists. They don’t incur the tremendous personal and professional costs necessary to become successful in their environment for mere financial gain. They do it because it makes them happy, in some cases deliriously happy, and oh by the way, it results in profit and wealth creation. Entrepreneurs have among the highest potential to make contributions to society, both financial and intellectual. As advisors, we can help unlock this potential, not by asking them to work on their weaknesses, but by understanding, validating, and adding resources to their strengths.”