flowing motion

Archive for the ‘positive psychology, wellbeing & poetry’ Category

Sleeping, resting or procrastinating before a big task

Have you ever noticed that minute you have to sit down to do a big task, such as write a paper, or get up to do a big task, like hoover the house, you want to go to sleep?  You dither, you fuss, you try to talk yourself out of it.  And you waste hours getting cross with yourself but doing nothing?

Procrastination is sane

Well you are in good company.  Sane company.  Your body is resisting being enveloped in one distracting task.  It knows better.  It knows everything else goes to wrack and ruin while you attend to this one big thing.  At best, it wants a good rest before your start.

Work little-and-often

So how do you get round your dilly-dallying?  Fussing and cursing certainly doesn’t help.  It just wastes time.

The secret is in little-and-often.  Yup, little-and-often.

Folks, 15 minutes is a long time for our alert, sociable, curious human brains.  Go much beyond 15 minutes, and you body will protest (in advance).  You might need an enveloping time slot of an hour to do that 15 minutes of work.  In reality, you are only going to do 5 or 10 minutes, but you will need a buffer zone to remember what you were doing, get out your tools, do the work, and put it away.

What work can be done little-and-often?

How can you do this, you cry?

Successful people work little-and-often.  That is why they are successful.

Successful professors, by which I mean professors who publish 7x as much as the run-of-the-mill professor publishing at 1x, get up earlyish each day and put aside 1 to 1.5 hours to write something, anything.

They get up. They go to their desk.  They look at what they were doing yesterday.  And they do a bit more.  And the next day rinse-and-repeat.

And they don’t break the chain.  They work little-and-often daily.  Because when they take a break, they’ve added the additional task of trying to remember what they were doing.   And then the task gets too big.

They write daily.  Adding something.  If they have two productive slots of 15 minutes in 1.5 hours.  Great!  But they just get something done.

When they have a real break, like a long vacation, they start again.  They get up. They go to their desk.  And they start work.  The first few days might be spent in remembering.  But they don’t get stressed.  That is the beginning point.  Because they have good work habits, they know the work will get done.

But what should I work on little-and-often first thing in the morning?

The trick though, is knowing our priorities.  What is the big task that we will attend to regularly and get finished as a landmark of achievement?

Professors have a simple (though remarkably bruising) work life.  They publish. They teach.  They do community/university service.  But they are only promoted for what is written and published.

So their priorities are clear.  The first and essential task everyday is to write – with a conference in journal in mind.  Then they go to campus and teach and “do” research for the next paper – tasks that are so much easier because they are sociable.   Their “day-job” is relaxed ,setting up a feed for the real job, that cocooned writing time first thing every morning.

Can we copy the little-and-often work routine of successful professors?

When we are procrastinating, we can be sure that we’ve left a task get too big for a series of 15 minute slots.  Or, we have left it too late and we have to do it in one fell swoop.  If nothing else, this is what university life teaches you.  Work little and often.  And begin.  Begin before you are ready.

To get into a comfortable working rhythm, we need to

  • Establish priorities (ONE, and two, three – no more)
  • Do what we are judged on first, before the house gets noisy.
  • Then do the feeder tasks during the day.

The solution is not reducing procrastination.  The solution is knowing our career priorities.  What are we judged on?  If we are judged on published papers, then we need to go one step back – where do they come from – we write them.  So writing is the main task.

How do we write?  Well, while we are writing one article, we are preparing for the next.  But without interfering with the main task.  Which is done in small time slots, little and often, beginning immediately.  The writing is the main task that must be protected.

The trick is understanding our priorities.  But that is hard.  A good mentor might spell out what we need to do.  Until w have those 3 priorities clear in our mind, then we will  be stressed and uncomfortable.

If we are in a readjustment phase,  and not clear about our priorities, we might have to weather the discomfort for while, but we shouldn’t let that stop us moving towards that clarity.  That is the hallmark of success and a comfortable, achieving life.  Clear priorities.

What will I work on daily, little-and-often?

There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of blogs out here in the blogoshere on HR, on psychology, on positive development, on management, on productivity, on running your business.  We don’t really need another one, particularly one dedicated to the esoteric features of HR, running an organization, choosing a career, and making your way in the business world.  Or do we?

Serious ideas for fun and prosperous workplaces

This blog is intended for people who are fairly serious about the people-side of a business, who read widely, and yet are practical and look for ideas-turned-into-method that they can use in contemporary workplaces.

The good, the true, the better and the possible

The blog is biased towards the emerging field of ‘positive organizational scholarship’, which is not to be confused with positive thinking or positivism.  20th century thinking assumes that the person at the top is all-knowing and all-seeing.  The ‘commander’ defines the direction and the ‘ground that we should capture’.  Our task is to follow and implement.

Positive organizational scholarship abandons that idea.  No one is capable of defining direction and by the time we have defined it, it is too late.  The opportunity has passed.

The task of 21st century organizations is to be nimble, flexible and resilient – ready to move quickly and defining our objectives on the move.  It is what we have always done.  We just acknowledge it now.

The task of management scholars is to describe how we do this and to help us talk and think more clearly about what we are doing.  This blog is about that emerging conversation.

How are organizations nimble?  How can we describe them?  And what are the advantages of talking about them more articulately?

Me

I write this blog from a small town in England, United Kingdom.  Olney is on the Great Ouse which flows across several counties.  About 8000 souls live here and we are in the Milton Keynes, Bedford, Northampton triangle.  We are in commuting distance of London and the Midlands and all the international airports in the south.

I am a work & organizational psychologist by training and I moved here two years ago after a joint career in university teaching and HR consulting.  I am used to creating large HR systems for very competitive organizations and central critical organizations.

In the last two years, I have been shifting my work into social media – meaning blogs, Facebook, etc.  I run a small private company, Rooi Limited.  We are interested in the virtual world as a collaborative resource.  How can we and do we, use social media to work with other people to explore activities of interest to us?

Strengthening organizations, communities and economies

As we are work & organizational psychologists, we tend to work in the economic space.  Our first project was  Olney100, a social network for the town of Olney.  It had as its byline – Talking to neighbors over our horizon. That is the general principle of our work.  We use virtual communities to talk to people who are at the 2nd or 3rd degree of connectedness – the friends of our friends.  By using the virtual world as we once used the telephone, we are able to strengthen organizations, communities and economies.

More communication, cheaply

This is a straightforward goal and we often feel we could do just as much without the internet.  We could.  The internet just makes connecting faster and easier.  It is economical, in other words.  It allows us to connect more for very little cost.

More ad hoc fun and profitable projects

We are not just saving money either.  The trace left on the internet ‘captures data’ and allows us to position ourselves relative to other people more easily.  We can form a flock, in other words.  Like birds we can soar and swoop together without colliding.  In addition to our successful journey, we can journey with others.

More invitations, more possibilities

And like birds, when we are on the internet, we are high up.  We can see further.  We can dream bigger.  We find new destinations.  The world from the internet is both bigger and smaller.   We see further and see people beckoning us to join them.

Academics

Complexity theorists, who have read this far, will be recognizing the concepts I am using.  I hope theorists will find this interface between theory and practice useful.  My intention is to talk to people who are running organizations beginning with the organization of one, otherwise known as ‘my career’.  I will be adding practical heuristics though, and I would love your comments on whether I have represented ideas about complexity accurately.

What is happening on this blog now

This blog has been running for just over a year and there is lot of material here.  I will be re-organizing it during the next few months.  I am also writing a science fiction account of a company called Xoozya.  Xoozya is run in a strictly bottom-up fashion.  It has few rules and as yet, as a newcomer to Xoozya, I am not quite sure what business it is in!   It is my experiment to see how far I can fashion an organization that has extremely permeable boundaries.  Always happy to have comments.

Thanks for stopping by and reading so far!

Jo Jordan

Olney, May 2009

My Manifesto

My BHAG

“I am young, I am British, and I love my career.”

That, is my BHAG – my big hairy audacious goal.

What is your BHAG?

If you are here, you are probably interested in that possibility of a startlingly lovable and enjoyable career. So welcome!

  • If you are young, we would like to hear your stories.
  • If you are British, we would like to hear about exciting opportunities that don’t get attention from the mainstream media.
  • If you have thoughts on careers to die for, we want to know!

Who am I?

I am a work psychologist. I am not young, and I am not 100% British.

I have had an interesting career doing work I love – helping people coordinate their careers with the careers of other people.

I did career guidance & coaching. I’ve computerized HR departments. I’ve facilitated strategic planning for turnarounds. I’ve provided redundancy counselling. I’ve mediated pay negotiations. I’ve selected pilots and army officers. I’ve selected apprentices and executive directors for the C-suite.

All this is the glue of large hierarchical organizations. These are the systems behind the traffic lights that allow us to flow through a large organization without bashing into each other.  These are the systems you only notice when they go wrong.  Like Victorian children, good psychologists are seen and not heard.

Where am I going?

Work has changed though. The financial crisis is shining a spotlight on changes that have been coming for a long time. The changes were partly the cause of the crisis as well, but only because they were ignored by business leaders who didn’t understand them or willfully ignored them

Young people of today will have very different careers from my generation. Opportunities will be different.

Knowledge work & Science

#1 We know, for example, that most work in the west is knowledge-based or service oriented. More importantly, we are on the brink of massive discoveries in the all of the sciences. TED talks give us a leisurely and enjoyable way to keep up to date. Because science is where the future lies, if you have the opportunity for a scientific education, take it!

International & Languages

#2 The world has got smaller. Young people travel readily. You will also work across borders more. You will take assignments across borders and work with people all over the world using the internet. China, India, Russian and Brazil are the the countries of the future. Learn a second language! This is no time to live in mono-lingual world!

Networked Economy & Social Media

#3 The internet changes more than our scope. Facebook and Twitter may seem like play-things but they represent an important social innovation – the power to talk directly to each other. As internet thinker, Clay Shirky, says: Group action just got easier. Suddenly, large organizations are not as powerful as they once were. This is a shock to people whose career was tied up in conquering and commanding a large organization. The collapse of the newspapers and broadcast media is all over the news as I write. Importantly, younger people who grew up with Facebook, Spotify and other platforms expect direct, egalitarian interaction. They are ready for new types of organizations and they will move smoothly into the organizations that displace the old powerful hierarchies. Play on social media. Get used to it!

Positive Psychology & Personal Portfolios

#4 The world has also become more respectful of the individual. As “bosses” become less relevant, so too does the Victorian notion that one person knows best. We no longer have shape ourselves in someone else’s mould. We are free to ask: what do we love to do and who wants to do it with us? Whether it is to sail around the world alone or make a new scientific discovery, we have to ask ourselves what it will take to do what we want to do. We have to take ownership of our dreams and have the courage to invest in what we believe is worthwhile. This brings responsibility as well as opportunity and the freedom, and requires skills that few of us developed in the past. We have to learn to manage ourselves and bring supporters and collaborators around us. This is true for the magnificently talented and the ordinary, the scientist and the artist, the crafts person and the sales person. Writing an engaging story is your job now! Don’t wait for someone to write it for you!

Networked Business &  New Business Models

#5 And we have new ‘technologies’ blossoming in this atmosphere. Boeing is trying to build aeroplanes by making the fuselage in one place and the wings in other and bolting together the big pieces like so many pieces of Lego. Mining companies are throwing open their geological records and asking the public to find the veins of gold that they missed. We come to care about design and the experience of the user. We like to make activities playful and sociable and fun. Where obedience might have been the currency of work in days gone by, today the currency is fun. He or she who creates fun wins!

How do work & organizational psychologists contribute to these changes?

For individuals, we have a clear role in helping each one of us take charge of our dreams and to take the first rather scary steps of gathering people around us. For this, we use positive psychology and interventions like gratitude diaries. We also freely put poetry and stories to work and and encourage people to organize their stories as an epic tale using the Hero’s Journey.

When we talk about groups and organizations we are less articulate. We will bring forward many of the techniques of the past. We’ll also study the work of internet watchers like Clay Shirky. We’ll study the work of contemporary anthropologists like David Logan on Tribes.

But then we are on our own trying to figure out what new organizations will look like. What traffic lights will be needed to aid the smooth flow of people through the organization? How will we design the systems that deliver traffic lights that go on and of at the right times?

This blog

This blog is a chronicle of my thinking in that direction. It is a patchwork. In the spirit of the age, I don’t try to produce a finished product. I just write every day making notes about what I hear on the radio and read on the web. I note. I connect. And I sort. Eventually, I understand.

What a work & organizational psychologist does for you

When I understand, then I can explain.  And when I can explain, then I can deliver the services needed by individual performers and the managers who help them coordinate.

When they have an issue, I help them resolve it quickly with

a) A clear model to organize the questions

b) Vicarious self-efficacy through the stories of other people at a similar junction

c) Continued social support by sticking with them till they are done.

So, to work!

What are the issues of working in the 21st century? Who is taking a playful approach to their work? Where are they? And how can pursue the work we love?

Do leave comments.  Only 10% of readers comment.  Wouldn’t it be great if the British internet were different and 20% or 30% of people felt free to add their voice to the debate?

Jo Jordan

Olney, England

2 May 2010

Tonight

Do not strike the chord of sorrow tonight!
Days burning with pain turn to ashes.
Who knows what happens tomorrow?
Last night is lost; tomorrow’s frontier wiped out:
Who knows if there will be another dawn?
Life is nothing, it’s only tonight!
Tonight we can be what the gods are!

Do not strike the chord of sorrow, tonight!
Do not repeat stories of sufferings now,
Do not complain, let your fate play its role,
Do not think of tomorrows, give a damn–
Shed no tears for seasons gone by,
All sighs and cries wind up their tales,
Oh, do not strike the same chord again!

Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Leaving adolescence

It’s interesting when we start to take control of our lives.  We make a plan.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.  And we resign ourselves to being powerless.

Encountering adulthood

Then we get a bit older and we resolve to make things work.  And we do. When a plan threatens to come apart, we jump around and keep it altogether.  And feel very good for it.

Muddling through middle age

It’s only much later that we realize that we weren’t really keeping things together. We were feeling better. We were exploring other stories about ourselves in the world.

Not confronting the experiences of middle age

I see the converse too.  I know people who are brilliant at retelling a story as if the world does it’s bidding.  They can’t countenance a notion that sometimes the world really is not on your side.

They’ve never made the transition from that early stage of needing to be in control.  They’ve just learned to divert their strong need to be in control to a story that convinces .  .   . well, them.  It doesn’t convince anyone else. They are still aiming to feel better and they are willing to pervert reality to regain that feeling.

Living honestly with our lack of control

I can’t believe that this self-deception is a good thing.  Misreading the world is dangerous.  The world simply doesn’t do our bidding.

Our best bet is to position ourselves in the river and go with the current, steering lightly but not fighting.   It’s tough though. I still don’t like being washed along.  I have to reverse attitudes I worked so hard to learn.

But maybe I can achieve more through inaction?

There!  I still want to achieve.  Maybe by promising myself that prize, I can experiment with inaction and simply enjoy the river in all its tumultus chaos?

Sometimes my heart feels like a solid rock.

Time to step back and ask if I am going in the wrong direction?  Life shouldn’t be this hard.

“The world is made to be free in.”  David Whyte

Gratitude or selfishness?

When I first encountered the idea of a gratitude diary, I was discountenanced by feeling grateful for things like . . .  well, my coffee.  I suspected greed, not gratitude.

Once I started using a diary, then I realised that I was often thankful for the meals I had had that day.  I am grateful for a homemade soup, for example. but am I grateful just because I could have been out all day and been subjected to junk food?  Partly.  Yet  when I feel grateful for soup, I never simultaneously think of the disgusting fare served up as food up-and-down the arterial transport spokes.  I am think of much I appreciate a well made home made soup.  I experience pleasure not gluttony.

In short, I experience me.

This still seems selfish, doesn’t it?  But it is my job to see me.  It is my job to appreciate who I am.

The funny thing is that we cannot see who we are, or appreciate who we, are except in the eyes of the world.  It is when I reach out to some thing I value and treasure, when I recognize what is good in the world, that I recognize the good in me.

Khalil Gibran talks of adventuring a path and meeting the soul.  Not a soul.  The soul.

David Whyte talks of the universe taking its ball home too, when we get up and take our ball home. He points out that universe is not punishing us.  It is just that without “the faculties of attention, there is nothing to be found.”

We are what we are grateful for

We are what we are grateful for.  It’s a simple as that.  When we remind ourselves of what we truly appreciate, we remind ourselves of ourselves.  We are validated.  We belong.

But because we are simple folk and all these word feel like mental contortions, we can listen rather to the words of Mr Chips’ fellow teacher.

“I found that when I stopped judging myself harshly, the world became kinder to me. Remember I told you once, go out, and look around the world. Do that now. Only this time, let the world look at you. And the difference, I assure you, the world will like what it sees.”

Will you die from an overdose of satisfaction?

The delightful Paolo Coelho quotes Salvador Dali in his blog today.  I deduce that Dali is an artist.  But you and I are probably more interested in his attitude to life.

“The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant. At the age of six years I wanted to be a chef. At the age of seven I wanted to be Napoleon. My ambitions have continued to grow at the same rate ever since. Every morning when I awake, the greatest of joys is mine: that of being Salvador Dali. There are some days when I think I’m going to die from an overdose of satisfaction.”

Do your ambitions continue to grow?  Do you like being you?

I am pretty sure you do.  I’ve never met anyone whose eyes don’t light up when we acknowledge their existence.

But so many of us are trying to be someone whom we are not.  We are exhausted by our constant pretending.

It’s so much easier to look at each day and marvel at the moments when we were just doing what brings us alive.  We can put aside the long commutes and grubby trains.  We can put aside the dentist’s chair.   As we pick our way through the rubbish tip of western life much as a small child does on the rubbish dumps of third world cities, we can still find time to celebrate not only what fascinates us but that we are fascinated at all.

Can we celebrate being us and not airbrush ourselves out of the picture leaving only the rubbish dump for the world to see?  Hey this is us. Why should we bring our lives down to the tip around us?  I nearly said, “sorry not me”.  But I am not even going to give that possibility that much airtime.  I’m too busy.

Put rubbish in the rubbish bin where it belongs

I say to university students, “when something is rubbish, pick it up and put it in the rubbish bin where it belongs.  And move along.”  They are always so relieved. They think they are obliged to honor rubbish.  They aren’t.  They just have to bin it.  With gusto and applomb.

They are too busy and too interesting to waste time on refuse.  That belongs on the dump.

Have your ambitions being growing at the same rate – chef at 6, Napolean at 7?  If not, then it is time to bring your life alive!

Thoughts on stray cards on my desk

I confess just to tidying up my desk and wanting somewhere to put a sentence I wrote on the back of one my business cards.  Looking at the card, I must have written this 18 months to 2 years ago.

“The give-and-take between us as we follow our dreams strengthens us as individuals and as a group.”

A touchy-feely sentiment perhaps but also a profound statement of the essence of business.

Give-and-take is the heart of business

The heart of any business is the give-and-take between us.  Give-and-take is not something we add as a layer of style or a way of resolving tension. Give-and-take is the heart.  Our business exists only to give-and-take.

We have give-and-take with our customers. We have give-and-take with our suppliers.  We have give-and-take among ourselves.

Too many businesses, though, set the process of give-and-take in stone.  The give-and-take evolves and it is the ability to build a business the grows the give-and-take that is genius.

Losing the give-and-take

Let me give you examples of misunderstandings of give-and-take.

Some Terms & Conditions on the internet put all the responsibility on the user.  Totally back to front.  The Terms & Conditions should phrase the responsibility and limits on the person who offers them.   In plain English, the T&C should state what I bring to the table and how I will honour you.

A standard role play in assessment centers sets up a “customer” as a bit of buffoon.  Managers, particularly those with accounting and legal training, often try to put the customer in the wrong and wring out of them monetary concessions based on the letter of their contract.  The smart manager judges the situation and looks at it as a way to deepen the relationship with the customer and the customer’s reference group.   A bad situation is simply an opportunity to grow the relationship and do more and better business.

How many times do employees tell managers that something is going wrong only to have their “heads bitten off”?   It is usually productive to ask for more details of the “symptoms” and to find out what the employee proposes.  Both are likely to be interesting.

Open-ended interaction is not always right nor is it predictable

It’s tough to interact with people and just to “see what comes of it”.  I don’t want to do that all the time, of course.  I am not really interested in “generative moments” with an immigration officer at the airport.  Beyond being as cheerful as possible, I just want to have my passport stamped quickly.  On a short haul flight, I also have no interest in manufacturing social moments, though I might do it to lessen the pain of standing in those ridiculous queues.

Long haul flights are quite different.  Being cooped up for 12 hours is a recipe for climbing the walls.  But the nature and quality of the interaction depends on my neighbor as much as me.

I’ve moved out my seat to allow someone two seats and the possibility of a nap.  I’ve asked the airline to find me a bank of seats so I can sleep. I’ve baby sat.  I’ve had people help me.

The story unfolds in a an unpredictable way and the flight is always better for flexibility rather than rigidity.  Of course, I hope there has been no vagueness about the fuel or the engineering.  But most of the human side is generative.  And we are more likely to chose an airline again when the interaction went well.

Give-and-take and management theory

Give-and-take is a difficult concept though.  Too often, in the management sciences we treat organizations as if they are the sum of individuals.  It is true that the interactions between individuals depends on the individuals.  I doubt Professor Stephen Hawking would find my thoughts on physics very stimulating, for example.

But after, all if the interaction of physicists wasn’t stimulating, then it wouldn’t really matter who was around him.

As it is much harder to stimulate and manage generative interactions than it is to find and hire people (buy their time), firms who understand interaction are likely to be the winners.  Brilliant people are probably better off in the company of less brilliant people who interact well than with other brilliant people who interact badly.

The practice of give-and-take

This is all theory though.  I didn’t want to lose my pithy little statement and this blog is my filing cabinet.  What I want to keep goes here.

Hope you find it food for thought.

If nothing else treasure the interactions you have with others.  Guided by their dreams, we grow stronger together.

Live neither in the past nor in the future, but let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your widest ambition

Sir William Osler (1849-1919) Canadian physician and instigator of medical residencies

Sometimes it is really hard to live mindfully. We want to reminisce, or we left the past untidy and it bothers us. Or we are are excited by future possibilities or anxious about negative side-effects.

How would we feel if we were stranded, in the great grounding of planes by volvcanoes, in a place we didn’t want to be? Most of us will fret until we have a plan.

Organize agilely and leanly

That is the secret, isn’t it? To become ‘agile’ and ‘lean’, so that each day matters for what it is.

What if we rephrased the day’s purpose “from get back home because that was my plan yesterday” to “let’s see what is possible and let’s have fun working out what my choices”.

Leadership vs management

On another channel, some of us have been lamenting the lack of leadership in British politics and the distinction between management and leadership came up, as ever.

I don’t think that leadership and management are ever far apart. We cannot manage without leadership. What looks like management is just clerical work when it is separated from judgment, moral responsibility and poetic imagination.

Leadership, when exists apart from management. probably exists because good management, happening quietly in the background, allowed us to think about what we are doing today without stressing unduly about yesterday or tomorrow.

When the world gets in a muddle, we need leadership AND management to get our heads straight again and the world orderly again so that we can give unto today our full attention.

But that is our goal – to let today be enough to absorb all our energies.

When life is out of order, to put some effort into straightening out the way we think.  Sometimes it is a trial.  But we do have to ask ourselves how much energy we waste fretting.


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