5 steps for rapidly understanding a task!

Do you understand everything that everyone does?

About 5 years out of college, you will begin to take responsibility for work that you simply do not understand.  Imagine ~ you are running a project and the accountants are totting up your numbers and running off terms like cashflow and depreciation that you are not really sure of.

The IT boffins prattle away about bandwith and JSON.

Anyway you get the idea.  People can baffle you with rock science and you wonder sometimes whether they are just having you on!

How do you manage someone who knows a heap of stuff that you know nothing about?

 

You want to know

  • Why this person is in your team
  • Why are they critical to your operation (why is their knowledge and judgment essential)?

5 straightforward questions to follow what they do and evaluate their contribution

1. Explain!

2. Show me!

3. What’s next?

4. When will we finish?

5. What is my role here?

Elephants shall never forget me! (Explain, Show, Next, Finish, My Role)

Distance lends enchantment to the view

Burning out?

Advice from an ‘old hand’ to a ‘new teacher’ whose class got the better of him: in Goodbye Mr Chips, which I watched over the weekend.

“You have some hours before prep starts. Go out. Out there under the sky. Look around. What is the saying? Distance lends enchantment to the view. Go out. Come back refreshed.”

Paulo Coelho offers the same advice. Don’t spend the day looking down. Look to the horizon.

David Whyte has the same advice. Sometimes the answer depends upon a walk around the lake.

Then go out, look out, reach out

Whenever life is bad, look to the horizon. Close your eyes and listen to the furthest sounds that you can hear.

And if you can, do it when you first awake in the morning.  Do it in short 1 minute break at work.  Do it commuting on the way home.

Is that why you pay so much for a house or office with a view?

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A masculine culture

Sociologists sometimes write of a masculine culture. Hofstede writes of masculine and feminine cultures.

The ‘prep’ scene in Goodbye Mr Chips illustrates this point. A pupil slams down a books while Mr Chips’ back is turned. This pupil has already challenged Mr Chips successfully on two occasions: mimicking his walk behind his back and disrupting his class spectacularly.

At first, Mr Chips does not know who is making the noise. He cunningly uses the glass of a large picture as a mirror and calls on the boy without giving away how he knows who is the culprit. Then luck would have it that the boy’s name is “collie” and he is able to humiliate the boy by suggesting that is the name of a dog. And so it goes on.

This is a masculine culture. It is based on pecking order, domination and humiliation.

We aren’t being rude about guys. Why should you put up with it either? The story line in Goodbye Mr Chips is that guys were challenging this way of life in 1910, one hundred years ago.

The alternative

If you want the alternative, look at the scene where Mrs Chips challenges the headmaster. The challenge is based on reason, persuasion, and persistence. Not domination and subjugation. The headmaster deftly avoids the challenge. He rejects an unfamiliar idea, which would be alright in its own terms. He rejects it, though, to restore his domination. Later, in the dance scene, being a wise man, he concedes the validity of the new idea (and validates it by including it in the hierarchy!)

Does life has to be a series of battles? Can we not trade visions? Can we not have Eureka moments when we learn something unexpected? Can we not do the equivalent of come up to a crest of a hill and be amazed by the vista in from of us?

If the 21st century will be about anything, it will be about a currency of visions rather than the currency of force.

What they say when we are gone . . .

An old, dear friend passed away this weekend living in his third country having been displaced by war & politics twice in his life time.  I’ve just received a eulogy from his daughter-in-law.

Bob was one of those rare parents who loved his children as they were. What they were was interesting but not essential: how they were was vital.

Bob, go well.  RIP

Law of attraction, positive thinking . . . how old is it?

A long back story

I took out Goodbye Mr Chips from my local library thinking it would be nice to relax for a couple of hours with this gentle, slightly sentimental, very inspirational movie. For non-Brits, this is a classic pygmalion, teacher story with romance thrown in. Think To Sir With Love, History Boys and Freedom Writers. I think when Yanks write pygmalion stories they are typically about basketball coaches. Britain has teacher stories.

Goodbye Mr Chips is a double-pygmalion story. Mr Chipping is an awkward “Latin master” in a “public school”.  If you are non-Brit, read exclusive private school (or prep school in Americanese – a prep school here preps you to go to public school which takes you to the army academy or university).

Mr Chipping has two mentors. A charming relaxed fellow teacher and his wife. They are the catalysts in allowing Mr Chipping, or Chips as he comes to be called, to incorporate the softer side of his nature in his teaching style, reform the rugged-masculine-bullying culture of the school, and to encourage boy-after-boy, and their sons after them, to blend the feminine sides of their nature with the masculine demands of their school and obligations to country.

I thought I was borrowing the musical version with Peter O’Toole from the library.   When I got home, I discovered I a new version with Martin Clunes, the star of the TV show, Doc Martin. He makes a marvellous Mr Chips with the mixture of clumsiness and kindness that we also see in Doc Martin. (He doesn’t sing btw, and nor do we hear the boys singing which we did in the earlier version).

The story seems slightly different too – but so be it. After this long back story, this is the quote I wanted to give you.

“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.”

Positive psychology is more than positive thinking

This is the concept which takes positive psychology far beyond positive thinking. It has echoes of the pygmalion effect, popularized in the musical My Fair Lady in which a flower girl becomes a lady. It includes the Galatea effect, ably researched by Dov Eden, who also researches the pygmalion effect in work settings. Basically, the Pygmalion effect is the effect of other people’s expectations on us. So a teacher creates clever pupils by expecting more of them. A teacher creates dull pupils by expecting failure and subtly communicating doubts and restricting the resources and time we need to learn. The Galatea effect works the other way around. It is the effect of our own self-perception.  It is not that seeing is believing. But that, believing is seeing.

Is this new?

George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion 100 years ago. 150 years ago Goethe wrote:

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Goethe

The idea that we shape the future is so new to us in the west. The idea that the universe comes to us sounds a little new age.

Of course, we cannot do anything. We don’t want to do anything.

But there are some things, we want to do. And if we can imagine those things, if we believe in them deeply without effort, if they make sense, if they seem right in themselves, if we believe in them enough to take the first hesitant step,

if we believe in them enough to take the first hesitant step,

then the universe conspires to help us.

Skeptical?

This is tautological, of course. It will work because it is right and it is right because it works.

Ask only whether what you want is right, and why you would want anything that doesn’t work!

Great quotations

No spark had yet kindled in him an intellectual passion.

George Eliot

~


Those who do not understand their destiny, will never understand the friends they have made, nor the work they have chosen, nor the one life that waits beyond all others.

David Whyte in All the true vows in River Flow, p. 349.

A big crunch and a big bang

I managed Newtonian physics OK, the stuff you do in high school, but I gave it up before I got to quantum mechanics. I rather suspect that is the same for most psychologists. Around us, our understanding of the world is changing and I wonder whether psychology is keeping up.

Neil Turok, of Cambridge University, won a TED prize this week for his work in mathematical physics and his parallel work setting up the Africa Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town. Neil was born in South Africa and grew up in exile (is that fair) in East Africa and the UK. So I am motivated to ‘have a go’ and see how much I understand of what he has to say and how it relates to us.

The beginning

Most of us have heard of the big bang. But the problem with the big bang is, what happened before the big bang. Where did the big bang come from?

No beginning

The new theory is that big bangs happen cyclically. They come and go like growth and contraction in an economy. And the big bang is the good part, the part where we expand and be different.

Big bangs are preceded by big crunches, the part signally the end of a phase of contraction in the universe.

Our beginning

So how does this affect us? Is a big crunch imminent? Not as far as I know. As I understand it, we are living in phase when things will go on much as we know them, at least in the grand order of things.

But we may think differently perhaps about our own lives.

A cyclical view of the world considers it quite normal to have good stages in life and bad. To have seasons which are not associated simply with good when you are young and bad when your are old. Bad necessarily precedes good and is therefore one and the same thing. If you want to know how new that idea is in the west, try writing it down in your own words and citing movies and books that illustrate the idea.

A cyclical view of the world suggests that there are many possible futures. We know that. But in psychology we have been trained to predict, in a Newtonian way. If we have these conditions at this time, that is NOW, then this will happen in a few minutes, in an hour, or NEXT. We’ve predicated a whole industry on making these predictions, and possibly a second on promising the world we make them a lot better than we do.

That we have many possible futures means that from HERE and NOW, there are many different routes that we can follow to many different places. Yes, says the classically trained psychologist, but to which one and which one is ‘best’.

To exploit the new model, we don’t ask that question. We ask what are the routes we can follow. Lets just write down the possible routes. Let’s just do that task of showing all the possible ways forward.