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Posts Tagged ‘hopelessness

in a blaze of glory

Image by Darwin Bell via Flickr

For the last two weekends, I ran a little poll here on your plans for beating the recession.  The full poll and results are at the end of the post.

Of the two score or so people who answered, this was the modal response.

I have only scenario planned the future INFORMALLY.  I am planning to 2010.  My business is YET to be affected by the recession.  I expect to grow 25% over a 2007 baseline.  I will find a RECESSION-BEATING strategy.

So are we confident or fool-hardy?

Let me add these three observations.

  • People who answer online polls are “geeks” or “geek-like”.  Maybe all of poll results are true.  We haven’t been badly affected and we understand what is going on sufficiently to improve our businesses.
  • A prudent economist friend of mine offers the following:  the stock market has dropped 50% since its peak of October 2007 (possibly more by today).  The average growth rate per year is 6%.  Assuming a good recovery, stock prices will recover their value in 50/6=8 years time (2016).  This simple arithmetic may be useful for people managing their portfolios or planning their retirement.  Notice that people in my survey (typically) assume 4x the average growth rate.  During coaching, some nudging towards practical plans might be necessary.
  • Before I left Zimbabwwe, and while it was already obvius that things were going wrong, my students ran a series of studies measuring and explaining “hopelessness” [not hope sadly but interesting nonetheless].  They measured “hopelessness” in various groups and NEVER EVER found clinical levels of hoplessness.

Explaining hope and resilience

Moreover, any one person’s sense of hopelessness could be explained by the level of social support they perceived from relevant others.  Here are some interesting results.

  • Wives of unemployed men looked to their churches for support.
  • Teenagers about to leave school after writing their O levels [school certificate/high school] felt more hopeful if they were supported by their families.

And feeling supported by their family was strongly linked to the number of family members having work or income

  • Working men in factories depended heavily on the social support of their supervisors. The mood of employees who were well educated and qualified was very much less affected by their managers

What did we take from these studies (and my little poll)?

  • People are naturally resilient.  They believe the best.
  • Social support is critical.

In hard times, it is very important for the management system to provide support.  This is likely to have a chain effect.  The CEO needs to show belief in his or her direct reports and they need to show belief in their direct reports.

  • Social support outside the firm is also critical and managers can help themselves by supporting external support systems.

Enourage people to remain within churches and sports clubs, help them stay in touch with their families and make it easy for them to do so.  Have we arranged for Hindu employers to have time off for Diwali?  Do we celebrate Eid?  Do we help people take time off for important events?

Collective efficacy, solidarity and business results

It is pretty likely that

  • collective efficacy (expressed belief in the importance and competence of our colleagues) and
  • solidarity (our willingness to support each other through thick-and-thin)

add a critical 5-10% onto our collective performance.

I wonder if there are any practitioners out there who are focussing on these ‘soft’ concepts and linking them to the ‘hard’ results of revenue in hard times?

Here is my original poll.  Thanks so much for contributing.  Despite my experience during other crises, I was still pleasantly surprised that we are so confident.

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Пробка на Космодомианской набережной в Москве.

Catch 22! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Have you ever been caught in a situation where you cannot move forwards and you cannot move backwards? It is like getting caught in a traffic jam. If you barge forward, you won’t be popular, and you won’t succeed. If you do nothing, nothing will change.

Chill?

Now sometimes, we do have to ‘sit tight’. The police are on their way and they will clear the jam bit by bit. It is best to chill.

Or change one thing at a time ~ strategically?

But sometimes that isn’t the choice. Sometimes if we sit and do nothing, that is where we will stay.

But what if there are cars to the left of us and cars to the right of us; cars ahead and cars behind. What can we do?

Obviously, we have to start just like the police will: with one car at a time. And we have to be strategic.

Remember those kids games?

Did you have one of those games when you were a kid ~ they had 8 squares in a 9 square space and you had to move them around? And at first it looked as if there was no solution?

That is what we have to do: unravel the situation like those games.  Move one square at a time. Patiently, and strategically.

This is easier said than done though, particularly when our emotions are involved.

Kids’ games prepared us for life

Corporate poet, David Whyte writes about a cyclical pattern in our lives where we come periodically to a place which is ‘a traffic jam’. Our task, in such times, is to find the smallest possible thing to ease, not just ourselves, but everyone around us, out of the impasse.

I have picked FIVE quotations from David Whyte’s poems to illustrate the process.

1. The beginning. “anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you” (Sweet Darkness)


2. The call. “You are not a troubled guest on this earth, you are not an accident amidst other accidents, you were invited . . .” (What To Remember When Wakening)


3. Reawakening. “When your eyes are tired, the world is tired also. When your vision is gone, no part of the world can find you” (Sweet Darkness)

4. The departure. “Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take” (Start Close In)


5. Begin the conversation. “”Your great mistake is to act the dream as it you were alone . . . Everybody is waiting for you.” (Everybody Is Waiting For You)

How long will we delay the first step – recognizing that there is a situation to be dealt with?


In more prosaic terms, our first step is always to notice we are in a jam, and rather than bluster and curse, consider the best thing to do about it. It is amazing how often we delay this simple first step.

How long will we take to recognize that the situation is not going away just because we don’t like it?

Our second step is equally as hard. We chose after all to be on the road at that time. We didn’t want this result, but after all, we chose to be here, and when think about it, the jam chose to happen when we were there. The jam is an integral part of us and we are integral part of it. We are part of its story, and it is part of ours.

How long will we take to signal to people around us that we would like the situation resolved?

And it doesn’t get any easier. Are we communicating? Or have we taken it for granted that everyone knows that we want the traffic to flow again? Do they think we are just trying to push in? Are we alert to other people who want the traffic to flow again. And can they recognize us? What is it that we do, or notice, that alerts them to our sense of what is possible?

How long before we imagine in our minds what the resolution would look like?

And are we holding back because it all seems too big? If the traffic were to flow again, what would we all be doing in unison, and what would be our part?

How long before we realize that nothing is moving because everyone is waiting for us?

And who is really holding everything up? Is it us? Is everyone waiting for us, to pay attention?

Is everyone waiting for us, to start the conversation?

Can we really be positive in bad situations?

I have never been totally happy, no pun intended, with positive psychology’s approach to objectively bad situations.  I am totally persuaded by our ability to make the best of good situation.  I am persuaded by our contribution to sort-of-bad situations.  I am persuaded that in a terminal situation, we may as well be happy.  I can also  point you towards little experiments that cost you nothing but your time and that you can try on your own.

Where positive psychology might have little to offer

But there are three situations where I am not persuaded positive psychology can help us much, though in truth, nothing much helps in these situations.

First, when you are in a bad situation alone, and I mean socially alone.  I haven’t looked closely at being physically alone.

Second, when other people will harm you, unless you harm them first.

Third, when you have experienced sustained social abuse and your fight/flight mechanism is on a hair trigger.

Thinking about tragedy with movies

I watched a Scottish movie over the weekend, 16 Years of Alcohol, that illustrated a combination of these three situations.  The protagonist grew up with an alcoholic father and joined a gang.  While he was generally terrorizing the neighborhood, he met a girl and was motivated to change his life.  The story is about his intelligent and thoughtful attempts and ultimately his death on the streets.

We can compare this story to Goodbye Mr Chips, which I watched last weekend, and the well known movie about hope, Shawshank Redemption.  In Shawshank, we have a protagonist who out-thinks and outwits people and is able to leave the situation by tunneling out of the jail.  In Goodbye Mr Chips, the protagonist has a mentor who is slightly above the situation and he is able to grow himself and ultimately change the environment around him.   Put this starkly, I think you already see the shape of my point.

In 16 Years of Alcohol, the agent of change, a young woman, was a resource but not sufficient to change the situation for the protagonist.  And  importantly, he did not exit the situation.  I’m afraid he should have left town!

Where is hope in a hopeless place?

The protagonist asks himself at one point: where is hope in a hopeless place?  There was an excellent line though where the young lady suggests to the protagonist that the past does not come looking for him – that he went looking for the past.  And he talks about stopping the past leaking into your heart.  These are good points – with slightly more resources and slightly less stress, he might have made it.

Extreme hardship and an abiding memory of struggle and courage

This is a realistic account of dealing with extreme hardship.  If you are interested in using positive psychology to move on from bad places, you should have a look.  Though a tragedy and not a feel good movie, you are left with an abiding memory of struggle and courage.  It is a respectful account of people brought up in the hardest places in our society.


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