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Month: January 2009

Sing and dance to the music of the recession!

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance & the financial crisis

Over the last one -and-a-quarter years, since the run on Northern Rock, I’ve been making a concerted effort to understand the credit crunch, the financial crisis and the recession.  The nature of understanding big, bad events is that we are so busy trying to understand them that we have little time to reflect.

Typically, we follow a five stage process.

  • First, we deny the crisis either saying “I’m OK – it doesn’t affect me” or conversely ranting “This can’t be happening.”
  • Then we move on to anger, when we are quite clear we are not to blame and that someone else such as politicians and bankers should be punished for getting us in to our mess.
  • When we are a bit further along, we work out what will stay the same in our lives and what we can can cut out.
  • The next stage is to resign ourselves to our mess dragging on for twenty years or so,  and we are actually secretly relieved because if the mess is that big, there is nothing you and I, ordinary Joe citizen, can do about it.
  • And eventually we begin to dig beneath the surface of the crisis and, in this case, set about upgrading our financial know-how and skills.

Where are you?  And where are the people around you?

My job as a psychologist

I have a page where I store good, accessible explanations of how we got into the financial crisis and I will expand it to include the financial know-how that you and I should have.

Being a psychologist though, I think it is my job to bring to your attention key psychological ideas that equip you for understanding the recession and the ways we react to it.

  • The first psychological idea in this post is described in the at the beginning.  We often respond to bad news in five rough stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  We go through these stages when we hear of the sudden death of a loved one.  And we are going through similar stages as we get our heads around the idea that our financial system has been subject to a the equivalent of a major earthquake.
  • The second psychological idea in this post is that objective knowledge matters.  Positive psychology emphasizes that our attitude to a problem makes a big difference.  It does, and I will return to that in other posts.   But objective information matters too.  It is foolish to pretend that a large box isn’t heavy.  We are much better off when we understand the principle of levers.  We do need to take charge of our education about the financial system.  We clearly did not understand it well enough to play our role as informed voters, wise buyers and sellers of stocks and shares, and savvy consumers of mortgages and credit cards.
  • The third psychological idea is the one I wanted to highlight today because I think it will be key to the mental housekeeping required to come to terms with the recession.

In the west, we have a weird idea that time is linear

Of course, we ‘know’ that yesterday was before today and today comes before tomorrow.  Unfortunately our separation of time into yesterday, today and tomorrow, has some peculiar side effects.   This works in two ways.

  • In good times, we spend like mad and rack up debt.   We take ‘Carpe Diem‘ or ‘seize the day’ far too far.   Tomorrow features insufficiently in our thinking about today, and when tomorrow comes, we are in a mess.
  • Equally, in bad times, we look ahead, see a diminished tomorrow, and we feel dejected.  In short, we bring tomorrow far too much into today.

This inability to act appropriately in time is an inability to ‘give unto Ceasar’ or to accept that ‘for everything there is a season’.  The net effect is that we enjoy life a lot less.  We also rack up unhealthy deficits and one day we wake up very disappointed with our lives and where we have taken ourselves.

And then we are into the five stage process I described at the outset. This cannot be happening. It is not my fault.  OK, I will compromise.  Oh, this is impossible.  And then ultimately: OK, I’d better get on and understand this.

Are you acquainted with philosopher Alan Watts?

At the end of this post is a video presentation, about 3 minutes long, that accompanies the late English philosopher, Alan Watts, talking about the way we confuse time.

He begins “you get into kindegarten, then you get into first grade  .  .   .”  And ends, life “was a musical thing and you were supposed to dance or sing while the music was being played”.

Do watch it!

I grew up in a competitive culture so this resonated with me.  I have long protested that we should let 3 year olds be 3, and 18 years olds be 18.  Preparing for the next year is part of a 3 year old’s experience but it is not all of their task.  And being 3 should never be dreary.  Nor should being 84!

Recessions are simply part of life

Like preparing for a test or examination, they are there to be enjoyed (!) along with all the other activities that come at the same stage.

It takes time to work through the five stages of our reaction to bad news.  And we work through at different paces.  So we need to be patient with ourselves and each other.  But we also do need to resolve not to become stuck at any stage.

We may be in for a long and difficult time in this financial crisis.  What I am suggesting is that we sing and dance to the music nonetheless!

Come with me!

Here is the link to this great presentation accompanying Alan Watts.  Do enjoy it and have a good weekend!  There is a season for everything!

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How am I getting along with my one line job description?

Deal with work overload by writing a one line job description

Two weeks ago, I posted my system for dealing with overload. I wrote myself a one line job description “During 2009, I needed to achieve A, B, C, D and E, simultaneously”.

I wanted to stop today and tell you how this job description is working.

To refresh your memories – I began by taking all my goals for 2009 and putting them in a circle on a piece of scrap paper.   Amazingly, they clustered naturally into five groups.

Then I took the back of an old Christmas card, put 2009 in the centre, and drew five spokes.  I marked off ‘quarters’ for each spoke, and then months for the first quarter, and jotted down what I wanted to achieve.  I also labelled the spokes.  Then I propped the card up nicely below my second screen.

So how did it go?

Guess what?  I didn’t look at it again – for ten days.

When I did, my first thought was – oh, so you forgot about this pretty quickly!  Then I looked at the drawing more closely.

  1. Yes, on two spokes I am far ahead of my goals.  I am on target to achieve much of February too.
  2. On a third, I am doing fine and will achieve everything provided I don’t drop the ball.
  3. In the fourth, I am a little behind but there isn’t much too do.
  4. The fifth has been neglected but when I labeled the spoke, I had made it much clearer why I was doing this work.  With that in the back of my mind, I stumbled on a solution bye-the-bye in the course of other work.  I only expected to find the solution in months and months!  Now I can tackle the tasks on this spoke more efficiently and with more verve and energy.

Yes.  This works.  I’ve even redrawn the card and increased the goals somewhat.  I am my own worst boss.

I’m still busy.  And I will still  prune and prioritize.  But picturing has helped, a lot.

The next stage is to do this for another two fortnights, I think.

Come with me!

Anyone want to keep up with me and reduce their job to a 5×4 card?

UPDATE: As I tidy up this blog, I am also tidying up my office.  And I have lost my card.  I know one spoke is far ahead, one is very far behind but there is a clear way forward.   Two spokes have morphed into another project.  Can’t remember the fifth spoke.  It will be interesting when I find the card.

And then I will have the fun of seeing how far I have come – on each spoke and on reducing the feeling of being pulled in all directions!

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Positive psychology on despair and world conflict

To arrive is scary.  What will be our journey, if we are already there?

As I’ve watched the supersonic work pace of Barack Obama, I’ve also been annoyed with the curmudgeonly spirit of many commentators.

I believe they are scared.  Not because of anything Barack Obama may or may not do, but because Barack Obama may be the person we all want to be.   If it is possible to be articulate, poised, present, warm, honest, then we don’t have to be scared, hesitant, insecure, insincere and most of all ‘outsiders’.  We can just ‘be’ and ‘be accepted’.  To arrive is scary.  What will be our journey, if we are already here?

Don’t let disappointment be an excuse to delay arrival

Nonetheless, I was very disappointed by the bombing of Pakistan.  Sending an unmanned drone into a civilian building seems to me a murderous act.  How can we defend this?  I would like this to stop.

We want what we don’t like not to be

My emotional reaction to this event follows a spiral that, I believe, is quite common when ordinary people follow politics and world events. I read the reports and I felt disgust.  Then I felt judgmental.  And then I wanted to reject what disgusted me.

And when reality does not cooperate, we sulk

But the source of my disgust is in power (and popular).  Rejection is not an option open to me. So, I felt down and dejected.  Feeling that there was nothing I could do but endure the undurable, I withdrew, at least emotionally, and felt alienated, despondent and dejected

Curmudgeonly behavior is a mark of esteem in UK but it is “wet”

It is very likely that many people who express a curmudgeonly view are going through a similar process.  Something specific disgusts them, and they allow that one point, important as it may be, to allow them to feel despair about all points.  Positive psychologists call this ‘catastrophizing‘.   We go from one negative point to believing that we lack control.  Not only do we believe that we lack control on this issue, we go on to believe that we lack control on other issues too.  And we don’t stop there.  We go on to believe that we will always lack control, to the end of time.  In other words, we feel that what has gone wrong is persistent, pervasive, and personal.

So what am I going to do?

Put the strength of my feeling in words

Well, this issue is important to me.  I am sickened by the bombing of civilian targets.  I am ashamed it was done.  I leaves me uncomfortable and embarrassed and feeling that our condolences are woefully insufficient.  I don’t even know how to express this adequately.

Be a player

But it is also wrong to write off the hope that has come to the world.  One day I may be in a position to influence decisions like this.  And if I am to open a conversation with influential people, I need to be informed, and much more informed than I am now.  So I will become so.

List specific small things that I can do

And for now, should I meet my MP, who is a UK specialist on the conflict in Afghanistan, I will ask him.  I will tell I am unhappy and that I want to know more.  And though the whole matter makes me want to throw up, I will listen and learn.

Stay where the decisions are made

If we want the world to be as we wish, we cannot pick up our toys and go home every time we don’t like something.  I am afraid the art of politics is to be where the decisions are made.  Sometimes we have to stay and engage.

Stop the decline into ineffectiveness

Positive psychology does not say that the problems of the world will go away.  But it does help us not sink into despair and become ineffectual.

Come with me!

  • Is there something that makes you angry and fearful?  Are you overgeneralising from one issue, thinking it is ‘persistent, pervasive and personal’ – catastrophising?
  • If you put aside your general despair and remain in the forum where decisions are made, what do you need to do to become more effective at influencing our collective decisions?
  • And having thought this through, can you see a way that you may be able to influence events in future?
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A comprehensive 2 x 2 x 2 on HR and the recession

Organizing ideas about HR and the recession

Many people are landing on this blog looking for information about HR and the recession.  I suspect, though without any evidence, that many people seeking this information may be students, or people deputed to write a position paper on what HR should be doing.

This is intended to help you out. It is a summary, though a long summary, of earlier posts. I’ve also framed it with ideas you will find in classical text books on HR. I am writing mindfully that you may want to use the information for a presentation.

Any one else reading might like to check through to see what I have forgotten. You might also be interested in my inclusion of positive HR that is not yet in most textbooks. It is a long post though, and you may want to bookmark it for later.


HR strategy, in business or in other organizations, be they public or private, follows a disciplined logic. Before we decide what to pursue in the HR arena, we ask 4 questions.

  1. What are macro-environmental factors that affect everyone – us , our customers and our competitors?
  2. What business are we in, and what are the institutional factors that affect all firms in our line of work?
  3. What are the micro-environmental factors that set us apart from our competitors?
  4. What are the laws and regulations specific to the jurisdiction where we will be hiring people?

A recession falls mainly under the first question. Recessions may also affect the other three questions as well. For this post, though, we will look only at the way a contraction across the entire economy changes the general pattern of HR, no matter what business we are in.

HR managers struggle, typically, to assert itself within the management team. To clarify our role, initially to ourselves, we typically look at our contribution along two dimensions: hard to soft, and strategic to administrative. ‘Hard’ HR looks at issues like productivity and legal contracts. ‘Soft’ HR looks at emotions, morale, loyalty and engagement. Strategic HR asks the big questions about the type of HR that we need – much as we are asking in this post. Administrative HR is the HR we all see – the forms, the interviews, the communications.

We need to be good in all FOUR areas, and all four areas change in emphasis when the economy slows down. I’ll summarise those changes in a moment.

It being 2009, we also need to add a third dimension: positive HR to ‘gap’ HR. Gap HR is the HR that is commonly described in textbooks, which sadly are always somewhat out-of-date. In gap HR, someone – somewhere – has decided what is good, and the rest of us are required to live up to that ideal. It is akin to a jigsaw puzzle. The picture is known, and we are the scrambled pieces to be put together following a preordained pattern. Positive HR is generative. We may have a picture in mind, but we do not believe it is the only picture. Indeed, we define a good day as the day that we discover a better picture than the one we had previously imagined. This is akin to leggo. We have building blocks which we use to test out possibilities.

With three dimensions, each crudely broken into two, we have 2x2x2 or 8 types of HR, that we can think about and ask systematically, how they change when we move at a national economic level from positive to negative growth.

And then we can ask how we can integrate our observations into a general approach to HR in a recessive economy.

1 Hard, strategic, ‘gap’ HR

A typical task of hard, strategic, ‘gap’ HR is scenario planning. Along with other people who are responsible for the future of the organization, we imagine how the economy might change and we anticipate how we, our competitors and our customers will react to each scenario as it unfolds.

Small business owners do this too. They follow discussions about the economy and they will typically look at a worst case, best case and a likely scenario. Yesterday, a business owner told me that he was working on the economy contracting until around September 2009, and then beginning to grow very slowly.

From this thinking, we are able to make ‘guess estimates’ of sales, and work backwards to the number of people who are needed by the organization and the skills they should have.

2 Hard, administrative, ‘gap’ HR

At the administrative level, it is likely that we will bring some contracts with employees to and end using redundancy provisions – so we pull those regulations off the shelf and dust them off. We are also likely to be pulling out the early retirement rules. We may be recruiting less – so we will try to maintain our relationships with the colleges and schools in the area, while tactfully indicating we will be hiring fewer people. We will also be looking out for government-backed schemes to train people and to subsidize employment in one way or another.

3 Soft, strategic, ‘gap’ HR

At the other end of the hard-soft continuum, we imagine what our organizations will look like, and the way members will interact with each other in five years’ time. We discuss, for example whether Gen Y are different from Gen X and baby boomers.

Planning the way we interact is the most likely area of HR to be sacrificed in difficult times.  Letting this area go is the biggest mistake we can make.  Managers will react under pressure, in the way we all do, by over-emphasizing their fears, and putting too much faith in their own judgement. We will hear a lot of talk that dismisses the views of other people.

When we hear this talk, it is the sign of an organization in deep trouble. It is in trouble financially. It lacks depth in its leadership. It lacks loyalty to its employees and other stakeholders.

HR leadership needs to be there, to turn around this emotional climate.  We should not let this go.  This is our main contribution during a recession.

4 Soft, administrative, ‘gap’ HR

On the soft side ,at the administrative level, much training, whether it is directed at productivity, or soft interactional skills, is also sacrificed, while more money is spent on stress-relief (usually for senior people) and counselling for people facing redundancy.

It is important to help people cope with the emotional distress of extremely unpleasant changes to their lifestyles, but regrettably in a ‘gap’ system, HR usually steps in after the distress has occurred.  We would be better advised to step in earlier.

5 Hard, strategic, positive HR

Turning now to postive HR, we should note at the outset, that positive management styles are not necessarily cheerful.  To be cheerful all the time is like expecting a 12 month summer, and a harvest every week. Positive management styles accept that life is changing, and that we need to change our ways consistently with changes in the real world. Hard, strategic positive HR attempts to take us, from worlds we know, into worlds we don’t know.

It is an obvious fact that we don’t enjoy recessions because we are losing a world we like. As in winter, we see little sun, and as in winter, if we don’t know how to dress warmly and to cook comfort foods, we may have a difficult time.

This recession that we are encountering now, though, is more like an earthquake or tsunami. We aren’t just dealing with a season that we encounter every year. We are dealing with a large mess that arrived abruptly. Structures, we have formerly depended upon, have been destroyed. What else can we do but rebuild, and rebuild better structures, that will last us for the next 50 to 100 years?

Just as in a natural emergency, first we attend to safety. We count heads and we count our supplies and we set about giving everyone the basics : water, food, shelter, medicine. Then without a break in our stride, we depute appropriate people to work on the bigger issues. We set about searching for missing people. We put people in groups to identify priorities. And we put people to work.

BTW, it is standard practice to fly in psychologists to emergency areas to ‘debrief’ or help people cope with the immediate shock. The psychologists are rotated, and are debriefed themselves as they are pulled back ‘behind the lines’. Emotion is contagious, and emotional sanitation, sorry to call it that but to make the point, is as important as clean water and ways to handle human effluent.

In short, we deal with the situation in which we find ourselves in. There is no going back, and the only forward is together, respecting our distress, and making use of all our resources, within which we will find our answers.

The HR leader understands this process and brings it into the practical work we are doing on a day-to-day basis.

6 Hard, administrative, positive HR

As with hard, administrative, gap HR, we will be looking at regulations but with an eye for possibility. We want to be like the on-line out-sourcers who responded to Hurricane Katrina, and put their computer systems at the disposal of authorities. We want to be associated with ‘delivering a bigger bang for our buck’.  We don’t want to be associated with cutting costs and bringing misery to people who depend on us and trust us.

An example from UK, is the offer of a four day week to KPMG staff. It is a positive move. At the same time, computer geeks in the south-east have got together to make business services available to people starting their own businesses. It would be good to see large firms, who are essentially very profitable and who made a lot of money when times were good, reach out to help parts of the community who are far more distressed than they are.

We can have immense satisfaction and even in triumph in our use of routine facilities.

7 Soft, strategic, positive HR

Soft, strategic positive HR is the most demanding of our 8 areas, and is needed more during a recession than in good times. When we are faced with loss, it is extremely difficult to sit down with other people to think of ways forward. We become very concerned that we will lose out, and we tend to focus more on what we will gain personally, than on what we can create together.

We need soft strategic, positive HR  to proactively help leaders remain generative. Once they’ve moved into a psychological position where they are prepared to be disloyal to their employees, it will be difficult to turn them around. We need to act swiftly to keep their mood positive, so they can imagine possibilities and see constraints as enjoyable hurdles.

To neglect early soft strategic HR will be our biggest failure. From that we can never recover.

8 Soft, administrative, positive HR

Soft, administrative positive HR is slowly coming in to focus in an area dubbed .personal leadership.. Personal leadership is easiest to understand when we observe the 24/7 nature of the internet. Whatever we do, where ever we do it, becomes visible as someone photographs us and tags us on Facebook, or another network.

The internet provides both the challenge, and the opportunity, to live coherently and authentically. No longer do we go to work as one person and change into another at the door. Gen Y are used to being the same person all day long, and though employers have found that confusing, it is now an advantage.

Gen Y are very receptive to setting personal goals that are big enough to include the company, but also not totally dependent on the company. They make energetic partners, who sense wider possibilities, which they bring into the firm. Yet they are willing to move on if necessary.

HR’s role is to ensure that everyone has developed their personal plans and are pursuing them with gusto.

Putting it all together

Eight parts of a portfolio are many parts, and these are only the features of the macro-environment, the first of the four questions we asked at the start. But lets pull together these 8 ideas before the patchwork grows any more complicated. This is the order in which I would think about an HR policy during a recession.

  1. Look after ourselves. In a recession, we feel as if someone has taken away our toys. We aren’t happy, and what’s more, we worry, that someone will come along and take away some more. Our first goal, in this state of stress, is to restore a mood in which we can deal with threats objectively, and return to a generative and imaginative outlook. In short we must be as good at winter as we are at summer. And because winter makes us gloomy, we need to look after ourselves and deliberately allocate time and resources to nurturing an appreciative outlook. Are we enjoying the winter?
  2. Be purposeful, one and all.  Recapturing a positive mood is not simply a way to have a party. We have a purpose. After a recession, and particularly this one, we are not going back to where we were. This is the equivalent of a hard winter that will affect the next summer, and harvest as well. So we need to set up goals for the cold season, and the seasons that follow. Each person should have a goal. If mum and dad are retiring to have quiet mumbles, leaving the kids to do whatever they see fit, they will be surprised the day there is no food on the table. Our task is to get everyone to discuss the practical issues openly and calmly, to work out the schedules and goals, and to monitor our progress. Our goal is not to carry on as usual. It is to understand the meaning of a hard winter and to find roles for ourselves where we contribute to the common good.
  3. Weave in dreams.  Nonetheless, we don’t really understand what is going on and there is some panic about. We might be trying to hide our panic but, to continue the analogy, kids know more than we think, and can solve appropriate age-related problems quite well. People like being consulted and depended upon, so we should put people onto solving the problems where they have the greatest expertise. The hardest problem to solve is the disappointment of people who need to delay life plans – a person who has to delay going to college, for example. Our task as leaders is to acknowledge the difficulty, and to bring the person’s life story into the frame. What are the things that they could be doing now that they are particularly good at, that help everyone else too, and that get them ready for their life ahead? There is a a lot of work doing this with everyone in even a small firm, and we must remember that we too, need to rest, recover and attend to our own dreams.
  4. Let former experts work on well understood problems. Though there is much we don’t know, there is still plenty that we do. I would ask a mixture of implementers and defensive pessimists to explore and plan our responses to well known issues.
  5. We still need the regulation gurus. New government regulations will almost certainly come into play. People with detail-oriented, administrative minds and experience will take charge of this for us.
  6. Bring all the good ideas together and let people see them. All this while, people are generating good ideas that are grounded in their own work and experience. We want to catch the ideas and weave them in to our plans, in an open wiki, so everyone can follow how our ideas are developing.
  7. Celebrate our past, good and bad, as our foundation of the future. And finally, I would capture the essence of what we are doing and show how we are carrying the strengths of our past with us into the future. I wouldn’t bury the negative. I would look to it for what we learned, and the relationships which emerged from our difficulties.

Come with me!

I hope this helps you. I have started a wiki called MGMT101 to organize ideas about managing in the 21st century. If you would like to add your own ideas, or comment on others, please do drop a comment here, and head over there to add your thoughts.

Have a winning week!

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3 rules for beating the recession!

Are we making the recession worse?

On Friday, official statistics confirmed what many have us have known for a while.  The UK is in recession.

What the government statisticians cannot tell us, is how long the recession will last, or how deep and painful it will be.

The extent and depth of our economic pain depends on us: on what we do, and on what we are able to persuade other people to do.

Many people in Britain believe that we are making the recession worse by reacting to all the news in the press. To stay on the safe side, we cut back our expenditure. We don’t spend our pounds, and the people we used to trade with are now short. They have to cut back, and by-and-by, the recession happens, and comes rounds to reduce our business in real terms. Now we genuinely don’t have the pounds to spend, and the spiral continues depressingly downwards.

But what else can we do?

It’s a matter of psychology. If we think of the economy as a soccer game (football to British readers), we are in defence. We have moved back into our own half, and we are defending our goal. Our defenders become very important, and our strikers are the supporting cast.

Rule One, in bad times, is defend the goal and to make very controlled passes. In business terms, we defend the bottom line, we make sure every process is profitable, and we are careful not to provide shoddy service. The opposition will capitalise in a flash on any inability to satisfy our customers.

Now if we continue thinking of the economy as a soccer game, we are in a bizarre position, where both sides have retreated into their half to defend their goal. Picture that for a moment – an empty centre field.

If we continue like this, we’ll have no game at all. That is we will slide into a depression, where the economy, or game, evaporates in front of our eyes.

We need to play against the other side to have a game!  We do to do business to have an economy.

Rule Two, is keep the game going. Keep the forwards looking forward. Dominate the mid-field, and take the game to the opposition. The difference between this, and the game in good times, is simply that our defenders are defending, assiduously. They are not going to move far up field. They are going to do a good job, and be seen and heard to do a good job, so that the forwards can move forward in confidence and do their job!

In a large business, these are the questions we ask.

  • Who is on defence? And are they confident they can defend our goal? When will they need the forwards to come back and help them? How will they know in good time, when to call us back, and what will be the signal?
  • What is our attack game with fewer people at the front? Where are the weaknesses in the other defence? After all they are concentrating their defence too!  What targets will we go after, clinically and surgically? What are our plans to move rapidly into defence when we are called back?
  • And how will we bring both these plans together to dominate the midfield?

In my youth, I was a basketball player. My high school were long term champions. When I went off to university, my university was the opposite. We did well not to be relegated! Playing in such different teams taught me a key element of strategy.

In my high school days, when we were under pressure, as the better team, we slowed the game down. With better ball skills and better training, it paid us to slow the game down, be more measured, and use set pieces. Our total score was lower, but the other side had to work harder to get possession, and were unable to rack up a better score.

At university, playing in a scrappy team in the city league, we took the opposite approach. When we played the very good sides, we took advantage of our youth and played a very, very fast game. When we got hold of the ball, we moved like lightning to score before the other, better side, could get the ball back. And when they had the ball, we hustled and hassled until they made a mistake. If they did not understand this basic rule in strategy, which they often didn’t, they gave us sufficient opportunities to win, or make a very respectable showing.

Rule Three: Though basketball and soccer are very different games, this is the basic rule. Play the game depending on your relative strength.

The big guys will try to slow the game down. They are the guys on defence! The weaker side needs to be quick and agile, but of course, not so dumb as to leave their goal undefended when they have the ball. The strong side may be playing slowly on purpose, but it will move quickly to capitalise on our errors!

The game will be ow scoring, but it will be a satisfying game. We must just remember to get into the midfield and play!

So how do we apply these rules if we are employees?

Do remember that we are not the big strong team!  A lot of advice on the internet is the advice that the big corporations need to follow. We don’t need to slow the game down.  They do. And they will try to convince you to slow down, because it gives them an advantage.

Don’t! You are the young and vigorous team! Play a fast game but also be focused. Name your defence, and keep you goal defended. Get out and hustle, and take your breaks. You have the big guys in their own half. They will sit there for the whole recession hoping for a 0-0 draw. As long as you aren’t rash, you have nothing to lose, and you win on a 1-0 scoreline!

Come with me!

Let’s make a plan to play this game! Why are we camped around our goal when the other team is 100 yards away camped around their’s?

Let’s send out some scouts!  Tell me what you find out! And we will stand together on the winner’s podium!

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


A Plan Big Enough To Include Now: We Call It Mindfulness

I am tidying up my blog and I like this post that I wrote in January about Obama’s arrival at the White House.  Obama’s worldwind activity foreshadows how we will all work in future. Fast, decisive and above all, very dependent on our colleagues.

I am an Obama-fan.  You may not be.  But then it is all the more important to study the effectiveness of ‘his machinery’.  Read carefully!

For psychologists, coaches and aspiring leaders, I’d be interested in your comments on the four points of effective living in the networked age the summaries that I added in italics and how life has changed.

I’ve also highlighted in red the work of leading a huge immensely talented team. Since I wrote this in January, I have become convinced that management and leadership will not change much in the networked age.  It will just rest less on command-and-control and more on orientation, synthesis and coordination.  I’d love your thoughts.

Learning from Barack

Day Two, Barack Obama continues with his extraordinary pace.  With Hillary Clinton, on her first day, he appoints experienced Special Envoys to the Middle East and Afghanistan and Pakistan.  His Communications Director gives the first press briefing, and he tours the Press Room personally in a surprise visit.  He signs Executive Orders, closing Guatanamo, and reinforcing the Freedom of Information Act (or US equivalent).

Importantly, he has done all of this in public view.  For many of us, this is a welcome inclusion in the process of government.  For others, this is a useful preview of work, leadership and management in the decades ahead.

Networking our work

We are seeing networked government in action.

Obama’s Blackberry is its symbol.  He uses rapid, brief electronic communication, but his communications are neither thoughtless nor ephemeral.  Indeed, as President, all his communications are recorded.

Everyone in the network was invited in for their experience and professionalism.  They are able to assimilate new information quickly, point out what they don’t know, and act accordingly.  Not everyone is old.  His Director of Speech Writing is 27 and has acquired experience, confidence and judgment through successive elections.

The network moves with dazzling speed.  Though they were able to prepare for these two days, they have been moving office, moving house, and waiting for confirmation of some senior people.

Networking our work

All work is going the same way, and we have questions.

How do young people get experience to join in at this level?  How do we work with a leader whose vision is different to ours?

There seem to be 4 rules to this new way of living and working.

#1  Find our own vision

We have to find our own vision, build our own networks, and develop the mindful working skills to work with very skilled people in networks that are forever reforming and reshaping as they responding to world events.

Even the youngest among us needs to adopt a posture of leadership.  We all need to be bold enough to work out our vision and identify the best people to take us there.

#2  Act

Dreaming is not enough.  We need to reach out and be the bridge between people who are part of our vision.

#3  Be present

Personally and electronically, monitoring and nurturing involvement and direction.

#4  And because we need to be present, we can only pursue “one vision at a time”.

Whatever we pursue should be big enough and important enough for us to spend all our time with it.

Learning from the master

I am glad we can watch the President at work.  He helps me pinpoint 3 challenges to ask myself at any moment.

#1 Those of us who grew up in hierarchical systems at home, school and work, may find it difficult to imagine a system where we are all leaders and that we are actually guiding an entire network at the moment when ‘the ball passes to us’.

At this moment, I am holding the ball.  I am mistress of the universe. Quick!  What is my vision?  What do want for the world and what am I promising to work at with all my heart and all my might?

#2 Before the internet, we were able to compartmentalize our lives, putting on a mask as we went to work, and taking it off again on the way home.  In this interconnected world, like the President in the gold fish bowl of the White House, we need to live as we mean to live, wherever we are, and whatever we are doing.

Is what I am doing ‘so together’ that I am happy for everyone to see it?  If not, why am I wasting time and energy on it?

#3 And hardest of all, the old systems allowed us to ‘sleepwalk’ and blame the inadequacies of our lives on the ‘owners of the vision’.  There was no need to be fully present, and it was probably better not to be.

Networked work requires us to be mindful.  Just as we are part of a large fast moving network, today is part of a seamless stream of yesterday, today and tomorrow, and for today to play its part, we need to revere today and live it fully.

If this place that I have come to is not where I want to be,  what must I attend to fully to take me on my way?

Day Three

So today is Day Three.  The President will have another tight schedule.  He relies on the many competent people he has brought in to play their part without minute direction, but with minute coordination.

His role and contribution is to keep the common vision alive, to acknowledge and value the smallest contributions, and to ensure that the network gets rapid feedback about the way the world receives our actions, so we are able to respond effectively and appropriately in real time.

Our Day Three

Networked times have come and take some readjustment of our thinking.  It is good to watch Obama in a White House that seems to have developed a glass front.

Our role is to start to take part.  And our first step is to work on a personal vision, which is important enough to pursue with all our heart and all our mind, beginning in the situation in which we find ourselves today.

It is a big task.  I am on to it.  Are you?

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Awakening: A new era begins

Today, Barack Obama spent his first day in the office

This is the week of the new Presidency in the US of A and I’d resolved to write in response to events.  My business, as it does, demanded my full attention today, and as evening came around, I was tired, with still lots to do, and very little idea what Barack Obama had done in his first day in office.

My favourite business in the village, Much do, had set me up with dinner – cold roast turkey and cherry foccacia (made by Gareth – I recommend it), and I was able to catch up with the events in Washington while I ate.

What a work ethic

I was amazed by what Barack Obama achieved in one day.

He spoke or requested to speak to each of the leaders closely involved with the dispute in Gaza.  He spoke to his own military leaders including a linkup to the General on the ground in Iraq.  He suspended activities at Guatanemo, pending review.  He pronounced an ethical code including strictures on salaries in the White House.

A role model for role models

I felt a little sheepish at my fatigue, and also inspired.  It is quite extraordinary how a role model, enacting a full and organized day, motivates us to do the same, and not by lessening what we have done, or chiding us, or exhorting us, but through showing the road ahead clear of obstacles, and suggesting that our contributions, too, are valued and invited.

We are not trouble guests on this earth

David Whyte, the poet, has a line that says

“You are not a troubled guest on this earth, you are not an accident amidst other accidents, you were invited from another and greater night than the one from which you have just emerged.”

From ‘What to Remember When Waking’ in River Flow.

What have you been inspsired to do by Barack Obama’s election?

Have you too, been tentatively, resurrecting projects, which you had pushed to the back burner in those hard decades, thankfully ended, when too much was rejected as too idealistic, too charitable, too sincere, too including, too worthwhile?

I’d be interested to know what today you believe possible and previously would only whisper when no one could hear.

I am watching with interest what tomorrow brings.

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Belonging: what was your take on the inauguration?

Yesterday, January 20 2009, was an exciting day, an astounding day.  I watched almost the entire inauguration, from about 11.30 EST, on Sky’s brilliant HD service, thanks to the tipoff from @stewbagz.  At about 10 o’clock American time, I rang up BT to connect my local deli, the famed MuchADo, owned by Brooklyn-lite, Matt, and with a long phone call, they successfully connected us to WiFi.  So if you are driving up (or down) the M1, plan to exit on J14 near Milton Keynes and drop in for brunch, lunch or tea!   The best deli between London and Edinburgh!

Up-and-running, I apologized to other coffee drinkers and offered to turn down the sound, but they elected to watch too!  I later reconnected at home to Sky’s brilliant HD service and watched through to the end of transmission at midnight British time.

For me, I watched the crowd, which was enormous, and seemingly ‘relieved’ and in a gentle mood.   I watched the organization which leaves me gob-smacked in its size, intricacy and well-oiled machinery.  I listed out for the poetry, and of course, for the speech.

When it was all over, I asked myself what did I really feel under this tidal wave of emotion.  What was the key image?

For me, the key image was undoubtedly the dignitaries coming down to the podium, mostly two-by-two and interspersed nicely to give the commentators a chance to do their thing.

Like so many people, for the first time, I felt that the corridors of power were mine, that I was represented there, and that I could be there just as easily as people I was watching.

For the first time, I feel that if I have a complaint, I can do something about it.  Just do something about it.  Not wait and not beg permission.  Simply raise it to the attention of people who need to know and organize a solution.

For the first time, I feel that if I have a plan, I should just lay it out, discuss it with people who care, and do something about it.

And of course, now the corridors of power are ours, the future is entirely what we make of it.

As a non-American, of course, the corridors of power that I saw are not mine in a  literal sense.  But what America achieved today was a sense that democracy belongs to us.  Thank you.

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A day of awe

Do you remember this day?

Inauguration Day

Isn’t it quite astonishing that we welcome a politician with such excitement and anticipation?  I would so love to see pictures and videos of what you are are doing as you watch Obama take the oath of office and make his first speech as President.

Today, I chatted online with another “non-American” who added the usual “touch wood” caveat that I mentioned yesterday.  None of us want to be too excited “just in case”.  And to work through our anxieties seems  ill-timed.

Good leadership is about us

The level of our excitement teaches us an important lesson about leadership.  Good leadership is not about the man or woman walking in the leader’s shoes.  It is about us.  It is about our expectations of ourselves and of the people around us.

Do Americans trust themselves?

How much do we believe in Americans, and how much do they believe in us?   How much do Americans believe in each other, and how much are they willing to reach out to each other to show that commitment?

A day of belonging for many

Today is the day of those who have worked long and hard for this moment, and who lived their lives believing that this day would never come.  Today is the first day they believe they fully belong.  This day is theirs to celebrate and to cherish.

A day of reflected joy and marvel for us

Today is the day we get to bask in their reflected joy and to marvel at their resilience, determination, loyalty and generosity.  There are not many moments like this in a lifetime when we stand in awe of people who have accomplished so much.  It is a day of gratitude when we are happy for no reason than the world has taken us gently by surprise.

A day when we quietly wonder whether we are much better than we though we were

It is a moment in which we ask  – are we not a little better than we thought?


Noon 20 January 2009: what will you be doing?

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama
Image via Wikipedia

Tomorrow, Barack Obama takes office and around the world people will be stopping work and staying up late to see the inauguration, to hear Americans rejoice, and to watch with curiosity what the new President does in his first 36 hours.

The inauguration seems to me like a family wedding. It is a day to be marked. It is a day when you have to be there. It is a new beginning with new alliances. It is continuity and hope. And a touch of nervousness about life with our new in-laws matched with care not to speak these uncertainties aloud!

On this day, we put our best foot forward knowing this is the foundation of the rest of our lives.

I hope you are marking the day with photographs, meals with family and friends, acknowledgements of hope. I would love it so much if some of my American readers would send me a video or picture of what they are doing at twelve noon.

And perhaps how their children and grandparents described the event?

I think I will visit my American friends in the village and drink a glass of wine with them!


PS I did.

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