Orin Davis

Understanding Positive Organizational Psychology With Dr. Orin Davis

Last Updated on November 16, 2020

We are excited to welcome Dr. Davis to the blog to share all of the lessons, research, and expertise he has around organizational psychology. This is something that is foreign to most of us, so we’re excited to dive in and learn more!


Tell us a bit about yourself!

Here’s my current bio:

Orin Davis earned the first doctorate in positive psychology, and is a self-actualization engineer who enables people to do and be their best. He consults for companies from startups to multinationals on hiring strategies, culture, innovation, and employee well-being. As the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory, he conducts research on flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. Dr. Davis also serves as an adjunct professor of business, psychology, entrepreneurship, and creativity, and gives workshops and lectures globally about human capital, creativity and innovation, and positive psychology. He is a startup advisor who helps early-stage companies enhance their value propositions, pitches, culture, and human capital, and writes and speaks avidly about human capital, creativity and innovation, and positive psychology.

For more of a story, I was always interested in self-actualization, and discovered that the workplace is one of the main venues in which human beings are able to pursue self-actualization. So, I started focusing on how to match the right people to the right jobs. I started looking at this at a very micro level when I was an undergrad at Brandeis – I was going to major in chemistry, but the neuroscience department snagged me. After finishing work in cognitive and computational neuroscience, I spent a few years doing neuroimaging research and realized that I was more interested in straight up behavioral research (something a bit more macro). Around this time, I came across Csikszentmihalyi’s research and asked him if I could do a doctorate with him – he agreed, and the rest is history. I finished my dissertation on microflow in 2010, and continued working on flow, creativity, mentoring, and hypnosis research. Since my doctorate was a dual concentration, and I was strongly interested in selection processes, that became one of my main foci as a consultant. I wanted to be the kind of person who bridged the theoretical and the practical, and thus I became a scientist-consultant who works on maximizing human capital in the workplace (i.e., enabling flow, creativity, and high-level teamwork) through selection processes, culture, mentoring, and diversity/inclusion.

What in the world is “positive organizational psychology” and why is it important?

I would define positive organizational psychology as the study of the aspects that promote thriving for a business and its employees (separately and jointly). A business cannot have sustainable profit without ensuring the wellbeing of its employees, and thus positive organizational psychology looks at the interaction between financial and human wellbeing in light of the interaction between culture and strategy.

What are some of the most applicable takeaways you learned from research that can be applied by companies or people in general that weren’t obvious before?

(We could probably spend a whole day discussing this one!)

  1. Just because you have data to support your conclusion doesn’t mean your conclusion is worth even the time it took you to state. A conclusion is only as good as: a) the expertise applied in interpreting the data; b) the quality of the method used to analyze the data; c) the quality of the method and instruments used to obtain the data.
  2. A good data analysis is effective only at the start of a conversation about human behavior. If the data have the last word, your conclusion will always be flawed. Human beings are not, and never will be, reducible to data points.
  3. Most people are motivated to work, and they actually want to work. As long as their work is an opportunity for them to apply their skills to a meaningful task, develop personally/professionally, and experience respectful relationships (this includes proper recognition and fair compensation), they will make incredible things happen.
  4. No one gets to the top without good mentoring. Mentoring, however, is both a personal and professional relationship, and fosters growth in both areas.
  5. Everyone over the age of 18 has an extraordinary tale of personal awesomeness (yes, that’s what I call it) that commands respect.
  6. Hiring for “soft skills” like emotional intelligence and creativity is like shopping for an engagement ring by going into a jewelry store and asking for “a rock on a hoop of metal.” You might think that what you mean is obvious, but the failure to be highly specific is going to get you screwed.
  7. Everyone can be creative. Not everyone can produce world-changing creativity. Both are good things.

Tell us about a common issue you see in a lot of companies when it comes to hiring/diversity/culture and how you help them solve it

The way they view talent and fit. People create such narrow scopes of talent and fit in their job descriptions and reviews of applicants that they miss out on exceptional people who could do great things for the company. When I work with companies, I help them develop a targeted scheme that allows for getting the right talent in the door and then retaining it, and it starts with changing how they envision the new hire. (Examples here: https://42hire.com/4-proxies-for-talent-you-should-stop-using-16ac57f9b2ae)

How can somebody increase creative output, both individually, and also as an organization?

(Again, I could talk about this all day.)

Find alignment between tasks you enjoy doing, tasks you find meaningful, and tasks that others find meaningful. Remember that creativity is about producing that which is both novel and useful. Most people avoid being creative because they are incentivized to do so, and that usually because failure is so heavily punished. There is no creativity without risk and failure, and most companies and people lose their innovative edge because they fear failure more than they want success.

What tips do you most frequently give to hiring managers and candidates going through the process that you feel might be counterintuitive?

  1. If you aren’t sure if the candidate can do the job, don’t interview them.
  2. Give your interview questions out in advance and allow candidates to prepare. Even improv actors prepare like hell before actually improvising. If you’re that scared that candidates are going to cheat on the process just to get a job they can’t hold once the veneer fades, you have much bigger problems.
  3. For every round after the first application screening, make some random applications advance as a check. If those randos get past the screening, you have a bad system.
  4. Be yourself. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a polished version of yourself, but hiding things or lying just to get a job/employee always backfires.
  5. Hiring isn’t a fair process, and it never will be. That doesn’t preclude trying to make it fair or seeking out companies that try to make hiring fair.
  6. Interviews are conversations, not interrogations. Never ask a question you aren’t prepared to answer yourself.

What book(s) do you frequently gift or recommend to others?



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