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Month: August 2008

Priest, Knight or Gentleman? And your character strengths . . .

Character Strengths & Virtues as Classical Roles

This is one of the times when I am blown away by the depth and elegance of something on the internet(hat-tip to dubhlainn)

Micheldaw has recast the character strengths & virtues of Peterson & Seligman into the three classical roles of

  • Priest/Scholar
  • Knight Errant and
  • Renaissance man.

(Girls, women, females, don’t worry, it works for us too!)

His document is on Googledocs.  I”ve also linked to it on my positive vocabulary wiki.  If you would like to contribute to that wiki, BTW, the password is “thankyou”.

Which are you?

And for the pundits:

  • What do you think of the expansion of his list?
  • Has he left anything out?
  • What do you feel about the ancient 3 way grouping?
    • I think it has overtones of McClellands three needs for achievement, power and affection?
  • Does this list flesh out Bijoy Goswami’s three types: Maven, Evangelist and Relator?
  • Which is linked to Malcolm Gladwell‘s Maven, Salesman and Connector?
  • And of course the three themes in the Bhagavad Gita: Intellect (jnana), Action (karma) and Emotion (bhakti) – have I got that right?

Does Micheldaw’s work add value to your personal sense?  And to your ability to help others?

PS Micheldaw, I didn’t comment on your post because you make us login!

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Passionate temperaments and questioning minds

So, are you moody and is that positive?

Last week, I stumbled across a YouTube video of Dr Kay Jamison speaking on her work on Exuberance.  Dr Jamison teaches in the States and in Scotland.   Her life work has been on mania and depression and she has recently extended her work to the happy, intoxicating feeling of exuberance.

Just listening to here and her language is balm for the soul.

Passion, imagination, greatness – the great, high emotions.  We don’t study them in psychology and psychiatry but in theology.  We give more credibility to suffering than joy and vital positive emotions.

What are our words for passion for life?  Infectious enthusiasm.  Contagious joy. Exuberance lures us from common places  . . . delight is its own reward.  Adventure its own pleasure.

. . . to quicken, draw together, exalt and celebrate.

in that pleasure is power.   . . it excites, it delights . .

A leader is a person able to create infectious enthusiasm.

A leader is incapable of being indifferent.


HRM: do you show your bottom-line impact?

I am back in the traces teaching HRM at under-graduate level and Strategic HRM at post-graduate level.

The undergraduates have been well prepared and readily match HRM ideas to ideas they have already learned in Management.  I mention “hard & soft”; they counter with McKinsey‘s 7 S’s.  I talk about strategy; they counter with contingency theory and scenario planning.

The HRM book that we are using is not quite up-to-speed, I think.  We are always lamenting that line managers don’t take us seriously.  Yet, we readily regress to operational HR.  No where in this book do we make a direct case for impacting on the bottom-line.

My post-grad class includes an owner of a bus company.  His business provides a ready example of bottom-line impact.

  • If I have 5 buses and 4 drivers, I am losing the opportunity to make money out of the 5th bus.
  • If I have 5 buses and 6 drivers, then I am paying wages for someone to do nothing.
  • If I have 5 buses and 5 drivers, what do I do when someone is ill or on holiday?

This looks like “hard HRM”, and so it is.  But “soft HRM” provides solutions to the same dilemma.  I might have a ‘culture’ in which a bus driver happily takes on other tasks when s/he is not driving; just as I might have a culture in which I readily reschedule work to allow drivers to attend to personal business.  I might have a culture where bus drivers cooperate so buses don’t “all come together”.  They informally resolve scheduling problems that would otherwise be the province of expensive management scientists.

Good HRM delivers economy.  The ratio of HR costs to Sales Dollars should be optimal.  As a rule-of-thumb, in manufacturing 10 cents of every sales dollar is spent on HR.   Without the “soft”, I will never achieve this goal.  Without the “hard”, I may achieve my goal but I would never know!

I wish HRM textbooks would show the “vertical integration” they talk about and show the link to the bottom line!  And on that note, I must ask the bus company owner to ask his accountants what is their ratio of HR costs to Sales. And we can call up a few other companies to compare!

Teaching is perpetually fascinating!

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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Psychology, chaos theory, complexity theory, happiness and Batman?

Michael Keaton as Batman in Batman (1989)Image via Wikipedia

Any of these topics – psychology, chaos theory and complexity theory – is heavy reading on its own.  All three together?

David Pinctus’ new blog explains chaos and complexity theory in psychology and is tucked away at the end of the Self-Help blogs on Psychology Today.  David’s blog is probably far too heavy reading for the typical self-help audience.  It is important reading for anyone interested in positive psychology and where this new field is going.

  • Psychology has traditionally looked for linear models.  We look for phenomena that grow bigger or smaller in direct proportion to something else.  Happiness is likely to be a non-linear phenomenon.  A small thing can make us very happy; a large event can wash over us.
  • Psychology assumes that my behavior is essentially unconnected from yours.  Our models require all our observations to be independent of each other – do you remember that distantly?  Though much of the positive psychology empirical research is still conducted in the ‘old school of research’, it is our interconnections with others that are more interesting.
  • Psychology has difficulty with time.  We are taught simply to use time as sparingly as possible in our models.  As a consequence we have little idea “what will happen next” or how long anything takes.  If tomorrow is a result of today, how do we describe that trajectory?

David Pinctus explains “non-linear dynamical systems“.  Though he hasn’t talked directly about positive psychology as yet, listing him under “Self-Help”, tells it all.

He also devoted three posts to a series on Batman.  Ordinarily, you would have had to drag me along kicking-and-screaming to a batman movie.  I hated it too!  But his review gave the movie depth I wouldn’t have fathomed on my own and a useful way of thinking about the deep, festering conflicts in many organizations.

I am glad to have a blog written by an academic who has deep mastery of the methodology in this field and who writes well. I am subscribed, watching, reading and learning!

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Simultaneity: The future is an arrow that arrives at our feet

Yesterday, I posted on my difficulty explaining the simultaneity principle in positive organizational scholarship and extrapolating the implications for organizational design.  If you can help me, please do!

Today, I followed up a review about a book on New Zealand history in The Economist.  I’ve extracted this quote wholesale:

“Christina Thompson is a New Englander from a trim town outside Boston with a white church and a green. Seven belongs to the Ngapuhi tribe and his family lives in a ramshackle settlement at the end of a dirt road. Ms Thompson is an intellectual in the tradition of the Enlightenment, an editor of the academic Harvard Review. Seven, with his belief in ghosts and aliens, is the very man that tradition hopes to enlighten. She weighs options and makes plans. He sees the future not as an arrow he shoots ahead of him, but as an arrow that arrives at his feet.”

The future is an arrow that arrives at our feet.

I intuit it.  Who can explain it further?

UPDATE:  I first thought of this as the future coming from behind me.  Now I think of myself as standing still and the future coming towards me.  How about you?


Is engendering curiosity a pertinent goal in positive psychology?

How do you explain the simultaneity principle of positive psychology?

Last week, I gave a talk on positive psychology to psychology students at the University of Buckingham. I structured the talk around the five principles of appreciative inquiry which I used to explore positive psychology and the poetry of David Whyte some months ago.

As I linked each principle to what we might do in our lives, when we coach others, and when we design organizations, I felt a little inadequate on the simultaneity principle.

How can we simply explain ideas of emergence and exploring one’s relationship with the world to beginners in our field?

Is curiosity the quality we are hoping to create in our approach to life?  Is curiosity a virtue to be engendered in organizations as part of job design?


Do you double-guess yourself? Get a mentor!

The puzzle of politicians and other ambitious people

Many years ago, a student of mine, Phil, asked a simple question: why do people elbow their way onto committees and into public positions, and then not do what they have yelled, screamed, kicked, agitated, mobilized to do?

Isn’t it odd to put so much energy into something and then not do it?

A study of student politicians

Phil’s study was simple.

Students spend a lot of time in queues. He used his queues to find student leaders who had promised publicly to do something for their club or society the very next day.

He was looking for

  • elected leaders (who had volunteered for that job out of all the public posts available in a University)
  • volunteered to their task
  • offered and promised to do it in front of other people
  • expected to do it and complete the next day.

He found his leaders as he queued for lunch or the library or whatever and secured their agreement to be interviewed fully that evening in their study-bedroom and then again, the following evening, after the task was completed.

Two interviews : one before and one after an action that they had promised publicly to a valued group.


This is what he found:

Success rate

  • 100% of students were totally confident that they would start and complete the task the next day
  • 100% began the task
  • 50% succeeded completely (yep, only 50%)

Effects on confidence

  • 95% turned up for the post-event interview and two who were late courteously left notes rescheduling
  • The confidence of those who completed remained high.
  • The confidence of those who had not completed had plummeted (as we would expect).

Reasons for success and failure

  • When we analyzed what had gone wrong, in every instance, students had tripped over their own naivety. They tried to buy 100 T shirts of the same color without a prior order, for example. Or they hadn’t realized that long distance calls need to be pre-approved.
  • It seemed luck whether someone tripped over a practical detail or not; and therefore, luck whether they had succeeded in their task or not.

Response to failure

  • Though it was essentially luck whether they succeeded or not, if they had tripped up, their sense of self-worth (or self-efficacy) plummeted. The students had no way to see the pattern of events and no way of knowing that their success or failure was down to luck.


In the West, we are always being told to take responsibility for our lives. I am not sure I buy into this view. I think it is more important to understand cause-and-effect, and what can be influenced, and how.

In the case of these students, they had now way of seeing the overall pattern – after all that is why we were doing the research.  But, an experienced mentor or coach could help them interpret their own success or failure.

This is the advice that they would have got from an experienced mentor

  • If the day had gone well, good – enjoy the buzz of success and set a new challenge in the morning.
  • If the day had not gone well, sorry – you are feeling down, take note of what went wrong, Learn That You Cannot Anticipate Everything, and set a new challenge in the morning!

Without a mentor, life gets tough

How can we possibly distinguish between what is “down to us” and what is the normal ebb-and-flow of life without a good mentor?

Having good uncles, aunts, pastors, teachers, bosses, company-appointed mentors probably influences a youngster’s prospects in life more than anything else.

More than money, more than good looks, more than brains, more than personality. I didn’t put parents on the list because we might be too close to the action to advise young people well.

The big question that people might ask is where are the mentors today? Where do we find mentors as we go through life?

What is the process of mentoring in the UK today?  How do people following very different paths from their parents find mentors?

I’d be willing to argue that the strength of a modern society is our ability to mentor youngsters who come from very different backgrounds from ourselves.

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Is the essence of a happy life a point-of-view?

I read a great post this morning suggesting the Clay Shirky has it wrong.  We don’t really have a cognitive surplus, or we cannot make use of the cognitive surplus, because people prefer desultory entertainment to purposive action.

Positivism vs constructivism

The author writes in a scholarly genre: dealing with facts and evidence in a positivist way.  I almost responded likewise.

What if the author, Steve, looked at the world through other eyes?

What if the mytho-poetic tradition, a la Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey, are correct and we like to hear a narrative?

  • Does that explain why we prefer to watch stories about someone?  Rather than a read explanations of some thing?

What if we like to write stories in a narrative (even though it was beaten out of us at college)?

  • Would we feel more cheerful, me and Steve included, if we were allowed to tell stories about
    • action,
    • purpose,
    • calling,
    • doubt,
    • triumph?
    • All the human attributes banned from psychological reports?

Positive psychology and the narrative

Positive organizational scholarship, for example appreciative inquiry, are quite clear that a positive approach includes social constructionism – in other words, our voice and the voice of others.  The positive principle is expressed not only as something positive and not negative, but as something purposeful, compelling, engaging, enduring, exciting, soothing, validating.

Positive psychologists (as opposed to positive scholars) tend to retreat back to questionnaires to measure their strengths and virtues.  Just as happiness strictly refers to a life well-lived (not a mood, person or moment in time), I suspect someone better read than I can explain why a strength or virtue belongs in a narrative, probably as a ‘calling.’

In short, the Hero’s Journey, or narrative structure is still to be adopted by positive psychologists with vigor.

The essence of positive psychology is a point-of-view

Would I be going too far on this Saturday morning to suggest that the essence of a positive approach is a point-of-view?  We all want to hear who does what, and why.  What was their deep moral case for spending time the way we do.

And is it so wrong to relax by following the moral case of others?

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