Posts Tagged ‘positive psychology’
Posted April 25, 2010on:
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.
- If freckles were lovely, and day was night,
- And measles were nice and a lie warn’t a lie,
- Life would be delight,–
- But things couldn’t go right
- For in such a sad plight
- I wouldn’t be I.
- If earth was heaven and now was hence,
- And past was present, and false was true,
- There might be some sense
- But I’d be in suspense
- For on such a pretense
- You wouldn’t be you.
- If fear was plucky, and globes were square,
- And dirt was cleanly and tears were glee
- Things would seem fair,–
- Yet they’d all despair,
- For if here was there
- We wouldn’t be we.
- e.e. cummings
Teaching the challenge of morality
I’ve spent a lot of my life teaching young adults. Once we have gone beyond the “declarative knowledge”, the labels for things, we move on to “procedural knowledge”, getting our hands dirty.
At school, a friend of mine didn’t like putting sulphuric acid on zinc chips She was convinced that she could hear them squeal with pain.
In social sciences, we are required to considered to fill in forms in lieu of considering ethics. We even go to great lengths to remove the effects of what we do from experiments.
Of course, all this is a nonsense. Everything we do affects people we do it with. And we are affected in turn. This is the lesson that students should learn. They need to learn to listen and to understand how other people are affected by their even seemingly innocuous actions.
And then they must decide. Are they going to act anyway, and why?
Somewhere buried in there is a hard lesson of life – that are our actions and circumstances don’t always reflect well on us ~ and that we are never comfortable with that. The day that we are uncomfortable with the uncomfortable, then we have lost it. We should feel bad about bad stuff.
But we also have to make choices despite the fact we are not going to feel good.
I like that Cummings ends with We wouldn’t be we. Because the journey that brought us together into this uncomfortable place is our shared journey. Our discomfort is a product of our shared journey. I may not like that I am in this bad place with you, but I am. That cannot be denied. And I have to act anyway. I just try to act thoughfully, knowledgeably, fairly. Often I don’t even achieve that, but I try.
And that I act does not deny that all this is bad. It’s bad. I act. That is.
And that it is bad does not change that tomorrow may not be bad. With you or without you. That is too. It just is. And to pretend that we don’t have agonizing choices to make denies that We are We. That is bad. Very bad.
Offer your problems to God, and they may open opportunities that you never imagined.
I am not religious, and if they haven’t clicked away already, my friends who are ‘evangelical atheists’ will think I’ve taken leave of my senses
Management theory is reconsidering its philosophical rots
[Yes, I did mean roots but the typo is apt.]
I heard the idea of presenting one’s problems to God from a Rabbi on Radio 4 today and it is an idea that has been forgotten by management theorists for a long, long time. It is being actively and vigorously revived though, and if you want to be involved in modern management education, “opening yourself to the imagination of the universe” is an idea that you have to get you head around.
Old school management sucked the life juices out of us
“Old school” management is goal-oriented, and fundamentally arrogant and negative. It goes like this. “I define the goal and until you have completed it, you are not up to scratch.”
We might even say that old school management is evil. It is even evil even when we are setting our goals for ourselves and not others. It’s arrogant to believe that we know what is right, not only for today, but for tomorrow whose shape we barely know. It is very arrogant to believe that we know and the other does not. It is evil to undermine the worth of other people and to daily put ourselves and others in situations where we are not up to scratch.
But how do we open ourselves to the imagination of the universe?
For all my exploration of modern management theory, I am still a psychologist and I want to know “what am I going to DO?
“offering a problem to God”, as I understand it, does not mean letting go. It means beginning where we are, with our sense that the present does not meet our sense of what is right and wrong. We begin by accepting our negative evaluation, our arrogant assertion that on this matter we believe we are right, and our overbearing willingness to judge others. We accept that this is ground we stand on at this moment. This is our reality at the minut.
Then, we put this evaluation on the table, probably privately, it is offensive after all. And at last, we listen to what the universe has to say. What does the universe have to say about this problem?
We’ve raised the flag. We’ve said we will hear. Now we listen!
But are we predisposed to listen?
The difficulty is though, that in this mood, when we feel the world is wrong, and we are right and that we are allowed to tell others they are wrong, in this mood, listening to anyone is far from our minds.
Positive psychology, an overlapping school of positive organizational scholarship, kicks in now and has a lot to say on how to reach a point that we can listen and hear.
We begin by reminding ourselves that it is quite natural, housed in a human body, to feel alarmed when we notice something is wrong. Our biology is programmed that way. It is natural . . . well . . . to exaggerate. When times are rough, and we reel from trauma to trauma, or just from hassle to hassle, it is not long before we begin to shut down and focus solely on what threatens us, or simply annoys us.
Positive psychologists help us stay out of this zone of despair, cynicism and negativity. We look to them to keep us in that positive space where we can notice that something is wrong (or a least not to our taste) and listen to the universe. It is a tough balancing act.
Positive psychologists are not our only resource, though. Most world religions have rituals to manage this emotional housekeeping. Balancing our ‘alarm systems’ and listening to others is such an important skill that all cultures have ways of explaining the challenge. What is saying a brief prayer before a meal but a momentary regaining of balance where we take stock in an appreciative not panicky way?
In our secular world, we explain every thing more wordily but we are not necessarily wrong. Just ploddy. Two other very important factors in maintaining ’emotional tone’ are exercise and friends.
The contribution of positive psychologists
Positive psychologists advocate a simple ritual of a gratitude diary. A few brief notes at the end of each day makes the difference between believing that we have to solve every problem ourselves and “hearing” what the universe has to offer.
Offer your problems to the universe and allow yourself to be delighted by opportunities you never imagined.
And to my evangelical atheist friends, if you are such an objective scientist, try it before you knock it.
Happiness, big media and blocked comment
Today, Hamish McRae wrote an article in the Independent on happiness and what national survey of happiness tell us about the role of government in our live.
I wrote a comment only to find comments partly blocked off. So here it is.
Economist should find the maths of happiness easy
Basically, I suggested that Mr McRae might like to to look up the more sophisticated models of happiness. Economist should find them easier to follow than most and might take the lead in an informed debate on happiness.
Then I followed through trying to explain the implications of using Lorenz equations to understand happiness by likening happiness to clean hands.
Lorenz equations and Losada’s model of happiness
You might like to Google Losada’s work on happiness and review the mathematical model underlying his thinking. Happiness surveys presume that happiness is a linear phenomenon where happiness is more-or-less and can be measured as a fixed point with an error score.
More sophisticated views of happiness see it as a phase state (fractal type) defined by a handful of variables linked recursively to each other. In this model, a fixed point (the measure of happiness above) would indicate severe mental illness. In other words, someone who is resolutely cheerful despite the circumstances is ill.
Managing happinesss (and unhappiness)
As one commentator said, you are possibly writing about unhappiness. We know how to create that. Simply have people reeling from petty difficulties all day long with little respite and they will sink into misery.
Hence the buffering techniques such as gratitude diaries and appropriate ways to deal with distress (funerals, grieving etc.)
Just as hands get dirty and must be washed, our lives have misfortune which must be dealt with. But misfortune isn’t dealt with by ignoring it just as dirty hands aren’t dealt with ignoring it.
A gratitude diary works like the washing of hands putting dirt where it belongs and reminding us of the pleasure of clean hands. We know our hands will get dirty again but that is the cyclical process of much of life.
Getting involved in the national debate on happiness
Anyway, economists should grasp the Lorenz equations easily and might add to a more informed public discussion of happiness.
The rest of us can experience the management of happiness in simple ways: mourning and grieving for what has past, keeping a gratitude diary, focusing on what goes well and not what goes badly. These alone stop us sinking into misery and spreading it around.
Posted March 25, 2010on:
I once worked with people who hated other people ~ or so they said. I hated broccoli (I like it now) and I hated doing my tax return.
Sometimes I loathed someone. Or I disliked someone.
The nuances of emotional words are interesting. We have poor emotional vocabularies as a general rule.
The other day, I dipped into Kate Fox’ Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour.
The nuances of Englishness
Kate Fox suggests the English accept serious but not solemn and sincere but not earnest. I looked up the differences in my COBUILD dictionary that was built from a corpus of actual English usage (Collins Birmingham University International Language Database). It wasn’t very enlightening.
Serious not solemn; sincere not earnest
So I am on the trail to distinguish solemn from serious and earnest from sincere.