Skip to content →

Month: December 2009

The Noughties, Positive Psychology and New Year Resolutions

The psychological breakthrough of the noughties

One of the most surprising yet little understood results of psychological research this decade has been the Losada ratio.  Simply, you will get depressed if you experience more than 1 minor negative event to every 3 moderate positive events.

How do we remain sane on trains and tubes and cramped uncomfortable workplaces, I wonder.  Well we don’t.  We languish.  We become inflexible.  Our creativity drops.  And all our energy goes into managing the negativitiy.

Of course, we should become resilient.  Some even say we should become ‘hard’.  But we aren’t saying we should extinguish all negative results.  When negative stuff falls below 8%, we get manic.  The flip side of the 3:1 ratio is 11:1.  We need to be somewhere in between.

We will take 17% of nonsense

The optimal rate is 5 moderate positive to 1 mild negative events.  Let’s spell that out.  People will take a mildly negative comment in the company of 5 moderately positive comments.  You can be mildly unpleasant 17% of the time without demolishing the creativity productivity and creativity of your team. Surely that is sufficient quota for you!!

A simple model of 3 factors

The amazing thing about this research result is the positivity/negativity ratio is believed to interact with two other ratios.  In addition to being positive, it is also healthy to ask slightly more questions about facts, figures and other people’s views than to put on the table what we already know.  Moreover, it is healthy to be slightly more concerned with life outside the group than with internal processes.

Groups that interact in these ratios have moments when they are positive, questioning and externally-oriented and moments when they are negative, internally-oriented and pushing their own point of view. They also have all manner of combination in between the two extremes. If we assume they are one-or-the other, they have 2x2x2, that is 8 states they can be in.

Understanding whether a group is healthy

How can we tell whether a group that is presently negative, internally-oriented and pushy is permanently in that state,  or in a natural swoop of mood?

Simply we cannot tell, until they change. Life isn’t a spectator sport.  If we want to know what  kind of group we are in, we have to hang about long enough to find out.

Funnily enough, if we are curious enough to stay, if we are willing to put our eggs in their basket, then they are more likely to swing into a more positive state.  We should remember though that emotion is contagious.  If they are in a very bad mood, take care to give yourself space to stay positive.  And don’t preach.  Ask! Or as Ben Zander says, apologize and invite. Preaching to preachers doesn’t get them to listen!

Understanding whether a group will stay positive

Also remember, that joining a positive team that seems on top of the world is no guarantee that they will stay there.  Indeed, if they are healthy, they will not stay there.  They will swoop downwards and they are probably about to begin a downward sweep.  So be sure you are happy to join them on the ride.  Be happy that you will join them  . . .

That’s the way to judge a project.  Are you welcome and do you trust this group enough to put up with the bad times?  In sickness and in health?

The question for New Year’s Eve

Remember life isn’t a spectator sport.  Who exactly are you loyal too?  That is the question for New Year’s Eve.  That’s the reason for New Year’s Eve.  To remember those to whom are we deeply committed in the year ahead.


Courage to live fully in 2010

New Year’s Resolutions – fragile for some ~ too sturdy for others

Tonight we have fun, and tomorrow we break our New Year’s Resolutions.  That’s how it goes for most people.

People like me achieve New Year’s Resolutions.  We are the  “get it done” sort of person.   We also understand that goal-setting is not everything.  Worse, it can be dangerous.  When we set goals, we develop tunnel vision – that’s how it works.  We focus on one thing and disregard side-effects.

“Get it done” people have a bigger challenge to explore life fully

Those of us who find goal-setting easy have a bigger challenge ~ to explore life fully.  Do we have the courage to explore what we can’t control and do we have the courage to explore with no intent to control? Do we dare leave the light and explore the dark?   Could we do a that job we hate without getting wound up about it?   Can we learn to relax in the company of someone we dislike?

Do we have the courage to simply stand in awe of the richness of our lives and all its possibilities ~ without acting ~ without trying to make the world do our bidding?  Do we have the strength of character to simply stand in awe?

Can that be the New Year’s Resolution of 2010?  To Live Life Fully and Be Still?

As ever, here is a poem by Raine Maria Rilke on the courage to live fully.

Ignorant Before the Heavens of My Life

Ignorant before the heavens of my life,

I stand and gaze in wonder. Oh the vastness

of the stars. Their rising and descent. How still.

As if I didn’t exist. Do I have any

share in this? Have I somehow dispensed with

their pure effect? Does my blood’s ebb and flow

change with their changes? Let me put aside

every desire, every relationship

except this one, so that my heart grows used to

its farthest spaces. Better that it live

fully aware, in the terror of its stars, than

as if protected, soothed by what is near.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Leave a Comment

Dilute confusion. Find and explode our mist.

The day before New Year is the day of rash and ill-thought out resolutions.  What better day for the colorful and incisive poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks?

Garbageman: The Man With The Orderly Mind

What do you think of us in fuzzy endeavor, you whose directions are

sterling, whose lunge is straight?

Can you make a reason, how can you pardon us who memorize the rules and never score?

Who memorize the rules from your own text but never quite transfer them to the game,

Who never quite receive the whistling ball, who gawk, begin to absorb the crowd’s own roar.

Is earnest enough, may earnest attract or lead to light;

Is light enough, if hands in clumsy frenzy, flimsy whimsically, enlist;

Is light enough when this bewilderment crying against the dark shuts down the shades?

Dilute confusion. Find and explode our mist.

Gwendolyn Brooks

One Comment

2010 and the age of networked manufacturing

We can turn a plane on a dime

The 787 flew ~ at last ~ 2.5 years late.

The 787 was put together with a 20 page specification and takes 3 days to assemble parts from around the world rather than 40 days to assemble the plan manufactured on site.

We can turn a plane on a dime.  And if we can manufacture a plane in a global network of local modules, then we can make anything.

Is modularizing work a good thing ~ for us?

Harvard Business Review blog are awed and skeptical in equal measure.

  • They are sure the world will copy the “lego” model.
  • They are sure that Chinese firms will give Boeing a run for their money.

I too, am sure that Chinese firms will Boeing a run for their money.  They will give all of us a run for our money.  What interests me is who will win the race, and how this new race will change the future of work.

Key skills in the future of workn

Clearly there are key skills in this new form of work

  • Clicking the “lego” parts together
  • Negotiating the specification of the parts and adjusting for inevitable “drift” as parts are made
  • The credibility to organize the network of suppliers, customers and capital.

It strikes me that clicking the parts together is not key.  Managing networks is the key.  A firm can be judged by the size of the global network that it can organize and manage profitably.

Welcome to 2010 and the race to networking skills and managing global networks of local manufacturing modules!

Leave a Comment

Get the internet on your side in the career of your life

Dynamic not static portfolios

For some time now, I’ve been interested in creating online portfolios for students. Students could start a blog, they could start a chat room. They could do any number of things.

In the long run though, they don’t just want a portfolio of who they are. Life isn’t only about ‘stock’, it is about ‘flow’.

We want students who are at ease with the interconnected world and who can get things done when and where they need to get this done. Our portfolios need to be organized dynamically, around ‘doing’ and ‘action’.

Jane McGonigle lists the social characteristics of ‘new’ work.  Adnan Ali has a list of 6 technical skills which we should all be able to do in a rudimentary way.

6 technical skills for getting the internet on your side in the career of your life

I think it would be reasonable for students to have a course where they do a project on each of these 6 skills. Moreover, they should think up experiments to ‘break’ their work ~ that is, to test its limits. In that way, they learn to think analytically rather than subjectively about what they are doing and move from being amateurs to professionals.

1. Market Identification

Understand the structure of the internet as it lies today.

Which keywords do people use to label their work and how do the keywords vary from one group to another?

2. Conversion Model Development

Understand the actions that are taken on the internet.

What action do they want people to take on their page? How is that action depicted? How is it counted? How is it aggregated to have value to the business?

How are various actions connected onwards, for example, through petitions, paypal, etc?

What proportion of visitors are likely to take these actions?

3.  Landing Pages

Understand the ease with which people use the internet

What do visitors see when they arrive and does the page fulfil their needs? What are the different kinds of landing pages (FAQ, blog, profile, etc.) and what solution it is providing? How usable is the page and how does usability affect conversion?

4.  Traffic generation

Understand how people find pages on the internet

How do people find a website through Google? How does a page rise to the top of search? How do advertisements draw traffic? How can we compete for advertising space that draws the best traffic (for us) and how much does it cost?

SEO, Pay per Click, Pay per Acquisition are the technical skills here.

5.  Conversation Management

Understand the 2 way web and our preference for interaction on sites where we control part of the conversation

How can we stimulate conversation between 2 or more people? Why does bringing them together assist them (and us)? What is our role? Should we host the conversation or take part in a hosted conversation? What makes a good conversation?

6.  Analytics Tracking

Understand the mechanics of tracking web traffic and simple experimentation

Track every part of the value chain and run simple experiments to test proposed changes using Google Analytics and other automated tracking mechanism.

Career Psychology and the Internet

One of the principles of career psychology is to train at the ‘level’ that you intend to work.

We want students to manage their entire career, not small parts of it. From the outset then, students should set up a portfolio and ask themselves each week and each month, what did I achieve? How did this portfolio help me achieve and how have I displayed my achievement?

Then each month, they should take one of the six parts and do a focused project to learn more skills. Let’s imagine they have done this 7 times from the beginning of their GSCE curriculum (2 rounds), through university preparation (2 rounds) and through their bachelor’s degree (3 rounds). It is very likely that they will be highly accomplished and goal oriented by the end.

For those of us late to the party, well we can just begin! In a year, we should be as good as a 16 year old! We’ll get there!!

One Comment

New Year’s Resolution: Look beyond the light

Look in the light?

I’m sure you all know the story about the man who was looking for something under a street-light.  A passer-by stopped to help and asked what he was looking for.  “A sixpence,” the first man said.  “I dropped a sixpence.”  “Where did you drop it?” asked the second man.  “Over there”, the first man said, pointing outwards into the dark.  “Why are you looking for it here, then?”, said the newcomer.  “Because here is where the light is”, answered the first.

So many of us run our lives on that principle.  We know we need light.  So we head towards the light.  But so has everyone else.  And in business-terms, that patch is “over-traded”. In social terms, the “in-crowd” is there.

Look beyond the light

It is good to be there too.  But who is being excluded?  And why?

In many countries, we are approaching the Christmas festival and many of us will be packing up preparing to criss-cross the globe to rejoin family.  We are heading towards the light and warmth of the family hearth.

In the Christian tradition, it is also a time to think about those who are not included around a family hearth.  It is a gesture of kindness and compassion to reach out.

It is also in our self-interest.  Poets remind us that it is in the dark, the place where we generally do not look or listen, where the value of our lives might be.  Paying attention to the dark might bring value to the hearth.

Poetry about looking beyond the light

Here is a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke on making friends with the dark.  Maybe that should be the New Year’s Resolution for 2010.  To spend a moment each day looking beyond the circle of light into the dark beyond?

You, darkness

You, darkness, that I come from

I love you more than all the fires

that fence in the world,

for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone

and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything-

shapes and fires, animals and myself,

how easily it gathers them!

– powers and people-

and it is possible a great presence is moving near me.

I have faith in nights.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Leave a Comment

For those dogged moments when we just have to get things done

As Once the Winged Energy of Delight

As once the winged energy of delight
carried you over childhood’s dark abysses,
now beyond your own life build the great
arch of unimagined bridges.

Wonders happen if we can succeed
in passing through the harshest danger;
but only in a bright and purely granted
achievement can we realize the wonder.

To work with Things in the indescribable
relationship is not too hard for us;
the pattern grows more intricate and subtle,
and being swept along is not enough.

Take your practiced powers and stretch them out
until they span the chasm between two
contradictions…For the god
wants to know himself in you.

Rainer Maria Rilke

For the god wants to know himself in you

As we approach the end of the year, many of us will be trying desperately to clear our desks so that we can take a few days off to be with our families.

Many of our tasks will be tedious.   And our “to do” lists will be long.

This is the time to take each task “as it is”, one at a time, to do it with pleasure, not thinking about the other tasks, disregarding our fatigue for a moment, and to see the link between our task and our deepest dreams, not in a tortured way, but with the delight of a child.

We need to do the task with a caress and a verve “For the god wants to know himself in you.”

Leave a Comment

Get a Career Director to stop you making rash job choices. Yes, even now.

Hire a Career Director when you look for a job

I once worked for a man who said you cannot Manage & Direct a project at the same time.  I didn’t really understand this statement, so I stored it away in the back-of-my-mind, to understand as time went by.

Now I have a good example of what he means. You cannot sell and do business development at the same time.

When you are looking for a job, you need a career coach to do your business development while you “sell” yourself.

This is why.

We need to separate execution from directorial oversight

When we are selling things, the marketers open up a market for us, the business developers find the prospects, & the sales people close the sale.

Once the sales process begins, the sales person will press on turning objections into opportunities. Quite rightly, because this is their job, sales people take the view that every sale is a good sale and they disregard every sign that they should walk away from the deal. In sales parlance, they counter sales objections. This is good selling, but dangerous business.

The business development people have a watching brief during the sale and watch how the sale unfolds. Sometimes they simply have to step in and say, “No, we are sorry. That prospect and that deal looked good but it is time to walk away.”

The Director/Manager distinction operates in the same way. The Manager executes and does everything to press on and solve problems. The Director watches from the sidelines and calculates the value of a project. Sometimes they too have to step in and say, “Yes, I know you can pull it off and complete the project, but it is not worth it. We have to pull the plug on the project but it is not a reflection on you. We were simply wrong about the value of the project and we must move on to something better.”

We need Career Directors

Whether we make our living as employees, freelancers or entrepreneurs, we have the same dilemma.

We open up opportunities on many fronts. And we press on to a sale. We are keen to make a sale and we disregard warning signs that this is a bad deal.

We need a mentor or coach to review the terms of “our sale”. We can try to do it ourselves but that is not reasonable. Psychologically we are in “close the sale” mode.

Even if we mentally put a different hat on, walk to a different desk, and open a file that says business development, we will find it difficult to backtrack from action to analysis. Moreover, if we do succeed, we will find it very difficult move back to action. Analysing our own actions will take “the wind out of our sails” completely.

At that moment, we want the deal and nothing else makes sense to us. Any friend who tries to give us any advice, is likely to get an earful!

That is where a professional coach comes in. Most career coaches help you to “sell” yourself. Selling is important too! Get a selling coach as well.

But you need a business development coach. You need someone to sit you down when you least want to and go through the details of the deal.

  • What you are emphasizing?
  • What are you missing?

Choosing a Career Director

You need someone who you will listen to. And it shouldn’t be someone with whom you have another relationship. You shouldn’t have a “dual relationship” as we say in the professions.

The professionals in your life often have to give you bad news and you may want to shoot the messenger. Professionals understand that. As long as you pay your bill, you will be welcome back after you have calmed down. Professionals are there to save you hide while you go off and sell yourself!

Framing your career search to avoid rash selling

Until you get a professional business development coach, here are a few rules-of-thumb that people use to stop them getting too carried away with any deal.

#1 Apply for 100 jobs, get 10 interviews and choose 1 job

This is a good tactic when you don’t know the market well and you need to get out there and explore what is available.

Focus on drawing a map and try to get 10 interview close in time to each other to give yourself a proper choice.

#2 Apply for 500 jobs, get 5 interviews and choose 1 job

Use this tactic when you are completely unknown in a market and you are building relationships.

Focus on meeting people and understanding who knows whom. Concentrate on moving into a circle of people who are motivated to look after you.

#3  Have 3 talks with other employers open and humming at any one time

Use this tactic when you have a job that is OK and you can take your time. In this way you explore the 3 best opportunities at any time and explore them in depth yet never be rushed into a bad choice.

#4  Send out 1 CV each & every month

Use this tactic when you have a job that you like and expect to move one in a year or so. This tactic helps you keep your CV in order and your eye on the market. When you are ready to move, the shift into choosing a job will be more considered.

#5  Deliberately plan to move employers every 2 to 3 years

See every job as a “project” within your career and work out how this job will lead you to the next job. What must happen in this job to allow you to move to the next one? Which of 10 organizations will be supplying the job after this!

This tactic will focus your mind on the essential features of the job that you must get right (for you).

Career Direction and Unemployment

If you have been a victim of the recession, restoring positive cash flow is probably urgent for you.  you may be feeling impatient. If you read this far in that frame of mind, well done!

Appreciate though, that the pressure of cash may lead you to make a bad decision. You definitely need a Career Director.  A Career Director will also share the burden of navigating the current job market will also make life considerably easier for you. Think about it!

How has the recession changed job searches?

I’ll leave you with these questions

How do you manage your job search? Do you have a career coach whose job it is to make sure you make a wise decision? Do you have a attention-management strategy that I can add to the ones above?

Leave a Comment

I have the power, but dare I use it?

The Power Of One

One song can spark a moment,

One flower can wake the dream.

One tree can start a forest,

One bird can herald spring.

One smile begins a friendship,

One handclasp lifts a soul.

One star can guide a ship at sea,

One word can frame the goal.

One vote can change a nation,

One sunbeam lights a room.

One candle wipes out darkness,

One laugh will conquer gloom.

One step must start each journey,

One word must start each prayer.

One hope will raise our spirits,

One touch can show you care.

One voice can speak with wisdom,

One heart can know what’s true.

One life can make the difference,

You see, IT’S UP TO YOU!

Author Unknown

A Psychologist’s View of the The Power of One


Most people who consult a psychologist feel powerless, or at least overwhelmed by circumstances.  They don’t want to hear about the power of one!  First, they want simply to be heard.  They want to be acknowledged and not feel foolish for feeling powerless.  Then ideally they want the power of many.  They want the circumstances fixed ~ now!  Of course, that’s the psychologist’s job:  to help put their predicament in perspective and to stay withe them until they are willing to move forward again.

Portfolio workers

Increasingly though, work & organizational psychologists help people who run portfolio careers. Portfolio workers often consult us when they are feeling powerless, or unappreciated!  The reality though is that they have massive power.  In a sense, each person works in a niche.  In reality, they work at the nexus of a great network.  Everything they do, or don’t do, potentially makes a massive difference to the world.

Portfolio workers are the new bosses

There are many things that frustrate us and on which we voice an opinion in the pub or on a blog.  In the ‘olden days’, solving those problems would be in the gift of a ‘boss’.  In our interconnected world, we can do anything about anything.  Because we are so powerful now, we need to take the responsibility of ‘bosses’ on our shoulders.

Are we ready to change the world?

Do we really want to solve the problem in the way we say?  Have we thought about the side-effects?  Are we willing to take responsibility for the side effects?

We have become so powerful that the fun of complaining in the pub is over for us!

And use our influence wisely?

What we really have to do is to list all the changes in the world that we want to see.  Put them in order of importance.  Become sufficiently expert to understand the ripples that we will cause and the costs of our solution to other people.  And do it.

The interconnnected world is also a moral world.  Sitting around complaining when you have the power to act marks us as parasites.  But action requires moral accountability.

Are we willing to be accountable for the small things we do, and not do?

Leave a Comment

Tight planning or joyful priotizing for 2010?

Do you plan your time carefully?

When I was a young psychologist, I advised people to schedule their time. My boss, an organized goal-oriented man, disagreed. He said that as long as you are doing something important, then it doesn’t matter what you do.

Before we went to meetings with clients, he would go through the our goal and sub-goals, which he would put in a meeting planner. Clients were well aware that he had a check list because they could see him looking at it and ticking things off.

He also ran the office with tight deadlines. He would phone in that he was coming to pick up his overnight work and he expected someone to be at street level to hand it to him through the car window.

His work was returned in the morning and with a ‘rinse and repeat’ the next night, all our work was turned around in three days.

But he didn’t do schedules.

What is the alternative to schedules?

I read a long post today from someone who scheduled his time for a whole year – very precisely.

I think working out how much time we have available is helpful so that we can work backwards to sensible work practices.

  • We can find a daily, weekly, and monthly rhythm that is enjoyable and effective.
  • We can discover what is important

Yes, we have a year, a month, a week, a day or an hour to spend. What will we do with it? We have a year, a month, a week, a day or an hour to spend. What would be the most enjoyable and satisfying thing to have accomplished in the next hour?

We need a system to make to find our priorities

Long “todo” lists and massive schedules are oppressive. I find people who have “calendars” simply fill them up and then claim they are very busy.

I don’t want to be busy. It only makes me impatient with others.

My 2010 priorities

I simply ask whether what I am going to do in the next hour enjoyable, satisfying and meaningful?

I simply ask how my day will be enjoyable, satisfying and meaningful.

Right now, I am asking why this week (or weekend) will be enjoyable, satisfying and meaningful

How will the remainder of this month be cherished and celebrated?

As I take my blank calendar for 2010, where are the moments in 2010 that will be enjoyable, satisfying and deeply meaningful!

And I will leave time, plenty of time, for events to surprise me and make the year better than I could ever dream.

In the words of poet, David Whyte:

“What you can plan is too small for you to live. What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough for the vitality hidden in your sleep?”