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Month: January 2010

Happiness & sorrow are two sides of a coin; it’s in the maths

4 puzzles of positive psychology

I forgot to finish my series on the 4 puzzles of positive psychology, but I was reminded by lines I read in Khalil Gibran.

The maths of happiness

Old school

It is easy to forget that everything written about psychology is based on an underlying mathematical model.  Psychologists like measuring things and as soon as they do, they’ve made an assumption, whether they realize it or not, about the shape of the thing measured.

Much of our work uses as straight line – like the ruler we used as school.  We fill in questionnaires. We get points and we get a score. We think of intelligence, for example, as being a straight line.  We have more. We have less.   And we can describe our intelligence as a point on that line.  A point.

New school of positive psychology

Positive psychology tosses that assumption of as straight line out of the window.  Mostly.

We stop seeing something like intelligence or happiness as being more or less.  We discard the line.  And we definitely discard the point.  Points will now signify illness. And what’s more, serious illness requiring hospitalization and round the clock care.

The new school of positive psychology psychological phenomena in terms of “flourishing” or “languishing”.  Are we moving around the world freely, or are we stuck in the mud unable to move in any direction?

The mathematical model that we now use describes what is means to be flourishing.  It is a model of movement, not a model of stillness.  It is a model of action & reaction and how we change from one moment to the next.  It is not a model of how we stay the same.  If we are a fixed point, then the new model regards us as ill.

Kahlil Gibran came to my rescue to explain the combination of happiness and sorrow  in poetry

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Sorrow and joy are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other.  When our life is all one or all the other, we are ill.  We are living in a make-believe world.”

Personal, persistent & pervasive

But being what we are, we humans tend to think that “what is” will continue forever.  When times are bad, we tend to feel that bad times will continue forever.  We often feel that a situaton is “personal, persistent & pervasive” when in reality is nothing more than  a natural oscillation that in this moment is giving us particular pleasure or sadness.

The danger is that in our anxiety we might bring our worst fears to pass.  The trick of a flourishing life is to mourn that which should be mourned but not to over-generalize and claim that everything else is also a source of sorrow.  Nonetheless, over-generalizing is a trap that we all fall into sometimes.

Happiness is not a point – it is constant movement between many points

Enough for now.  The important idea to grasp is that happiness is not a question of a mark on a ruler.  Happiness exists only in contrast to sorrow; so it coexists with sorrow.  Oscillation between the two, and all the points in between, is normal and healthy, because without sorrow, it would not be possible to be happy. It would not be possible to appreciate happiness.  If nothing changed, if nothing ever changed, we would not even notice it were there.  It is impossible to be happy all the time because if we were, we wouldn’t notice.

Not a contraction; just maths

It is not a contradiction to say that happiness includes sorrow.  It just depends up on the maths that you assumed at the beginning  : a line of fixed points or constant movement in space.



Social media is a river of social purpose undermining old companies

The challenge of social media

I’ve recently been given two independent but related challenges.

Joe Tooman of BizLink asks:  Which of the FTSE100 companies will use social media in the next 3 years and what for?

Tom Morris, warrior geek philosopher set this formal philosophical test:  Which business in the world will not benefit from social media?

My Answers

I painstakingly looked up each of the FTSE100 companies and sorted them into piles. I found myself thinking about the purpose of the company, rather than its raw materials, processes or customers, and that led me to what has been my chief insight.

Competition between businesses will not matter very much. Once social media kicks in within a sector, the sector will change so much that we will effectively have a new segment.  Now the Boeing 787 has flown, who will seriously ever try to build a plane from start to finish (yeah, I know, AirBus).

Old strategic models matter less than our social purpose.  What is it that we want to do?  And what are the different ways of achieving our purpose.  Hence the title:

Social media is a river of social purpose undermining the foundations of old companies.

As for Tom’s question, I think it is excellent.  When I first began thinking about business models and social media, I thought there might be some businesses, like mining and the army, which would be scarcely affected by social media, but his question sharpened my appreciation.

Social media is like the telephone and the penny post. It is such a radical change in communication that it affects everyone and everything.   The only question will be how and when.

A new question

So that is the question.  How and when will social media affect any particular business?

Let the party begin!


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Hacking then and now

The wheel has turned.

Corpus linguistics, then

Twenty years’ ago, I put together a corpus of English Language with the help of the English Department at Birmingham University.  Books were scanned by hand and we culled the misreads by hand working through the night wearing every item of clothing we possessed to make our computer budgets stretch further.  We used several mainframe computers switching from one to another to complete different tasks.

Then we moved the whole bang shooting match back to Zimbabwe on computer tapes and carried on analysing the content using UNIX.

Munging, now

I had forgotten the word grep.   Well youngsters don’t grep anymore. They search for ‘regular expressions’. They’ve never heard of computational linguistics.  They talk about the semantic web.  They munge.

And they are doing fine work using HTML mark up and linguistic markers to search the web for information such as the schools attended by Conservative MPS or the names of officials who have signed off large grants to private companies.

When will hacking stop being a hobby?

Open data has surely begun though it still seems to be at a hobbyist level.  While academics are moving (wisely) from analysis to design (synthesis), hackers want the cut-and-thrust of a quick sortie – a raid on the establishment.

One of the growth areas on the next few years will be learning how to test the quality of answers provided by hackers.

Hack.  Your business depends on it.

In the meantime, learn to hack.  Because if you don’t, you’ll be hostage to the views of the world they put forward.

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Myers-Briggs and Executive Coaching

Gaye asked me to interpret “INTJ”.


I am sure you remember the LIFO?  An oldish test that casts people into 4 type?

  • Controller-Taker (extraverted neurotics)
  • Adapter-Dealer (extraverted stable)
  • Conserver-Holder (introverted stable)
  • Supporter-Giver (introverted neurotics)


The Myers-Briggs is also old.  It is based on Jung’s types from circa 1920.  The test itself was developed and published after WWII.

It casts us into 16 types as follows.

  • Introverted or Extraverted (I or E)
  • Sensing or Intuiting (S or N)
  • Feeling or Thinking (F or T)
  • Judging or Perceiving (J or P)

Myers-Briggs and Executive Coaching in business

The test is still widely used for coaching and people often know their ‘type’.  And as with all personality classifications, we are also quite ‘fond’ of our type and believe it is the best type in the world!

Introverted – Extraverted is quite easy to follow: we like to spend time alone or feel better in company.

Sensing types like dealing with hard data.  They will often be in jobs which deal with facts and figures though a surprising number of accountants and engineers are N and see the world as patterns.  In the HRM world, the high S will be trainers and OD specialists.  The high N will deal with strategy and more abstract issues, quite possibly being quite out-of-it on the front-line work.

Feeling and Thinking is also obvious.  Feelers and Thinkers have a hard time understanding each other.

Judging and Perceiving can be confusing.  Judging people are planful but also judgmental.  Things must be just so but they also get things done.  Perceivers let things ‘unfold’.   They go with the flow.  I used to tell people visiting Zimbabwe to be High J, be ultra planful, but expect everything around you to be high P and go with the flow.  High J need to be doubly planful so they can adapt readily.  High P, of course, ignore High J and just smile sweetly and carry on as they were regardless.   Judgers also have to be careful not jump to conclusions and should always stop to think and ask themselves: Do I have all the relevant information?  Have I looked at this from all points of view?  Simply, they need to listen to the high P who see the bigger picture much more easily.

The interpretation of the types becomes a lot more sophisticated with what-you -see and what-you-get following some complicated patterns.

For most purposes, it is instructive to know someone’s preferred style.   But it is that, a preferred style.   By understand the ecology of preferences in an organization, we learn to appreciate people who “jump” in a completely different direction to ourselves and to build a mixed team around us.

Here is a link to an online Myers-Briggs questionnaire.

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A poem for INTJ ‘s everywhere

Sense of Something

I am like a flag in the center of open space.

I sense ahead the wind which is coming, and must live

it through

while the things of the world still do not move:

the doors still close softly, and the chimneys are full

of silence,

the windows do not rattle yet, and the dust still lies down.

I already know the storm, and I am troubled as the sea.

I leap out, and fall back,

and throw myself out, and am absolutely alone

in the great storm.

Translated by Robert Bly

Rainer Maria Rilke

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Lao Tzu to Contemporary Management via Psychology

Suspicious of poetry

As a young psychologist, I bought into the notion that psychology must tell us something that is not common sense.  Many leading psychologists still think this way.  I don’t think it is right.  The profession is setting itself apart from the world, above the world, beyond the world.   It is now other worldly.

We should be more like management scientists.  You know those tough guys who schedule the plans and manage the electricity grid so an airport never has more planes and people than it can cope with and the national grid doesn’t fall over when we all make supper at the same time?

Hard core scientists don’t set themselves up against common sense.  They support common sense.  Maybe they also read poetry.

Bridging the divide between poetry and management

That being said, maybe we need some prose to help people take the first steps.  Writing coach, Joanna Young, tweeted this Lao Tzu quote today.

Kindness in words creates confidence.

Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.

Kindness in giving creates love.


The core of contemporary management thinking

Sounds soppy, but these words from 1500 years ago are the core of modern management thinking.

Kindness in words creates belonging and the possibility of collective efficacy.

Kindness in thinking leads to creativity and strategic clarity and hence provides the bedrock of common action.

Kindness in giving creates the common ties that allow resilience and flexibility.

Some time on Google Scholar and you will drown in academic references.

Leadership, management, human resource management

Leadership:  who are we journeying with and why are they essential to our journey?

Management: which way are we going and what can each of us do to help?

Human Resource Management: who feels secure with us and will be with us tomorrow?

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Humorous MP reminds HRM of their responsibilities

Do you follow your MP?

I always read the questions asked by my MP in the House.  If you don’t follow your MP, you might find yourself impressed.  They Work For You will send you emails directly to your inbox.

I quickly learned though not to bother clicking through to reading the reply.  But today I couldn’t resist.

Mark Lancaster (Shadow Minister, International Development; North East Milton Keynes, Conservative)

Can the Secretary of State estimate how many pages of guidance his Department has issued to teachers in the past 10 years and tell the House whether he considers it sufficient?

Edward Balls (Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Normanton, Labour)

I think that the answer to that is no-I have never sat down and counted all the pages of guidance. What I have done is reform the national curriculum to reduce the burdens on teachers and give them more discretion over the primary and secondary curriculums. It is a great pity tha.t, rather than support the national curriculum, the Opposition propose to abolish it.

Lessons for HRM and staff officers everywhere

Early in my career, I worked for a company whose CEO insisted that if those of us in HR wanted to change a page in the manual, then we need to walk around and change the page ourselves.  Physically walk from office to office.  Do you know how many manuals you printed and where they are exactly?  When did you last check that there is a manual at arm’s reach of every one who might need it?

This dictat taught me important truths about ‘being staff’.

  • Don’t get in the way of the line.
  • Don’t waste trees.
  • Don’t abdicate your responsibilities.

If we believe a policy is necessary, it is incumbent on us to show that it is necessary, effective and costs considerably less than the problem we seek to solve.

I know we have intranet these days.  That simply makes the challenge harder.  Do people know that we have changed the page?  Will they be able to find the page in a fraction of a second when they need it?  Are the steps that must be followed laid out from the point of view of a person on the spot?  Is the rationale clear?  Can an intelligent person understand the principle?

Is our advice good enough to make a difference?  Is our advice good enough to last a reasonable length of time?

If we were in the situation ourselves, would we be able to implement our own advice or would we find it wanting?

Our MP can defuse a bomb and be funny

Yes, indeed.  How many pages and do we regard them as sufficient?  Wonderful British humor.

No, the Minister is not reviewing the effectiveness of his policy or his policy machinery.  But then I didn’t think he might be.  I just needed confirmation that our MP, who does bomb-disposal in his spare time, is really this droll.  He is.

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Thinking about modern careers in the words of Khalil Gibran

Fill each other’s cup but not drink from one cup

I am reading Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet.  His words on marriage might well be a manifesto for modern day careers and organization.

“Fill each other’s cup but not drink from one cup.”

Careers & work of the future

Switching to contemporary times, if you want to skate to where the puck will be rather than where it is now, find opportunities to work in exchange with others, “to replenish their cup”, rather than subsumine yourself to the goal of a larger institution or one boss or teacher.

Careers & sustainability

But also remember, Khalil Gibran’s words

“When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”

In prosaic contemporary terms, think about a wider system that provides enough to drink for everyone.  We don’t need to share one cup except when there is only one.  When we make many cups and fill each other’s cups, then we we are in a healthy place and we want to strive to make that so.

  • Take your cup, allow others to fill it.
  • Take your cup, and fill those of others.
  • Ponder those who have no cup and no one to fill it.

Using the old wisdom of Khalil Gibran to extend management theory

All this is obvious though not so if you teach management theory.  Old management theory charges us with drinking from our line manager’s cup and ultimately from the company’s cup.  There are legal reasons (and mainly legal reasons) for this.

We could also train young people to understand the company as a mega-system that must benefit all stakeholders ~ all stakeholders ~ if it is to sustain itself.

We can train young people to understand power, its use and misuse, and how to work thinkingly yet safely with people who deny others their own cup.  But never to give up their own cup.

I want to see young people exploring the whole system in their online portfolios.  I would like to see youth support systems put youngsters in situations where they must sort out which cup is which, who is filling which cup, and how they can act in small & gentle ways to drink from their own cup, to fill the cups of others, and to influence the wider econ-system.  It’s an important skill to learn and many of us lose it along the way.

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4 questions to compare how you will make money in your career and make money in your own business

To the accountants who read my blog, this post won’t tell you anything new, except possibly the details of muddled-thinking that the rest of us bring to corporate valuation.  If you spot anything egregiously incorrect, please do say.

3 times when we want to know if a company is makes money or not

For the rest of us, let’s begin with the basics of valuing a business.  There are three times when we want to know if a company is healthy or not.

  1. When we are thinking about investing in a company by buying stocks & shares on the stock exchange, or lending money to somebody running a small business.
  2. When we are thinking of joining a company
  • As an employee
  • As a supplier who will sell the company something
  • as a buyer who depends on goods & services being delivered on time and the warranties and other long term commitments being met.
  1. When as general citizens we trying to understand what is happening in the economy and how to position ourselves for growth, decline or stagnation.

The key step to judging whether a business makes money

The first step is to “think company”.  Accountants do this all the time. Their job is to worry whether the company is a “going concern”.  Will the company still be there tomorrow?

Corporate financiers ask a slightly different but related question.  If I put $1 into the company, will I get back 10c a year, or 20c, or nothing, and moreover find that when I sell my share I get back 85c not $1?

Can lay people really judge the value of a company?

We might ask whether it is so easy to do this. After all, look at all the people who mistook sick banks for healthy banks.

One thing is for sure, though, if we don’t start paying attention, we will get bitten again.  We as employees, suppliers, buyers and citizens will pay the price of not paying attention.

4 basics for understanding whether a business makes money or not

Yesterday, I came across an article valuing companies in the shipping industry.  I am not particularly interested in shipping but the article was well structured and it provided a checklist that we can use as a starting point for understanding any business.

#1  How does organization or company finance itself?

  • Does the company finance itself by borrowing money from a bank or from other lenders of money? That is, with debt.
  • Does the company finance itself with money from investors who will put money into the company for a share of the profit and if it comes to that, be prepared to lose their money? That is, with equity.
  • Does the company finance its new ventures out of profits they are making? That is, from revenue.

The answer will tell you a little about the pressures on the company.  Who are they answerable too?  And what for?

#2  What kind of contracts does the organization or company finance itself?

  • Does the company have any long term agreements with customers or do they come and go?
  • What are the advantages & disadvantages of the ways they have chosen to structure their relationship with their customers?

#3  What dividends does the company or organization pay?

This question about dividends looks as it is for investors who buy stocks & shares.  And so it is. If I buy a share for $1, how many cents can I expect back in each 6 monthly dividend?

We can also ask the question more broadly.  Where does the money go in the business?

Have a look at the director’s offices & vehicles? Check out their bonuses. Company’s like to flash money around in a rather school boy manner and it is a bad sign not a good sign. Flash means money is being used to show off and not being used to run the business.

An agricultural economist once said that he could see on arrival at a farm whether or not it was viable. If they had more vehicles than drivers, then they were in trouble because their money wasn’t being used well.

So look around and followed the money.  Use some common sense.  Sound business people don’t skimp on the necessities, and they don’t allow money to sit around unproductively either.

If they must have to have ‘flash’ assets to impress people in the business they are in, are they really flash, or are they copies, and do they look after their assets. Do they protect their re-sale value?

If they give high bonuses, do they look after their staff, or do they exhaust their staff and then wastefully buy more expensive ones from the market.

It can be tough to separate the appearance of money with sound business. When money is being chucked about, quite naturally we would like to get our hands on some of it. Just stop to do a proper evaluation. How long is this money-wasting going to last?  And when it goes bang, will you be sucked down with it?

#4  What are their assets?

In a shipping company, this is easy. Which ships de they own? In a mining company, we can ask what mines do they own?

In some businesses, they organization owns very little. Is it the John Lewis Shops who deliberately don’t own the buildings they use?  Holiday Inn and Coca-Cola are the same?  They own some of their hotels and some of their bottling plants but they generally stay out property business.

Universities are the opposite. Their wealth is usually in their real estate and you can see immediately the problem. The need to protect their real estate value might become more important than anything else.

With banks in recent times, and indeed now, we have to ask what exactly do they own. This is the ‘mark to market’ debate. The value of their assets is volatile.

But let’s keep it simple for now and ask, what exactly does this company own and how do the assets impact on the business?

Will your career make money?

Now if you see you career as a business, will your career make you money?  Would it be better to start a business.  Let’s compare two scenarios.

Scenario 1

Let’s take a young person who leaves university and goes to work.  The 4 questions apply equally to them.

  • They support themselves through revenue and are paying off the debt of their student loan.
  • They have committed themselves to one customer to whom they are wholly dependent.
  • Their income is their salary and their profit is their salary less their debt repayment, their taxes, insurance, and the expenses of going to work (which in the UK can hit 10000 before tax)
  • Their assets are their qualification which is declining in value by the minute as knowledge replaces itself.

They have one more intangible item which is “career capital”. But I’ll leave that to another post.

Scenario 2

Now let’s take a young person who leaves university and starts their own business (or who prepares to while they are taking some starter jobs to get some experience).

  • They support themselves through revenue and are paying off the debt of their student loan. They could look for venture capital and share their profits with a financier or they could work with friends and share their future profits as partners. They can also borrow more money from family and friends. Those are their basic choices.
  • They will be thinking through who their customers are. In their early stages they probably go to one of two extremes. They have lots of small customers on B2C model or they desperately look for one large customer who acts like an employer. They have many choices though. Will their customers be consumers or businesses? What kinds of contract go with the services they offer? How can they encourage repeat business & loyalty? What mix of customers do they want? For many people, solving this puzzle is the key to future autonomy and freedom for dependence on “rats & mice” business at the one extreme and dependence on an employer at the other.
  • The income of the young person is now salary & revenue from the business, less student loan, less taxes, insurance and going to work & of course, expenses of running the business.  Other choices the young person needs to make are whether to spend their free money on travel, on property or investing in the business. It is very likely that someone climbing the corporate ladder looks fairly flush. They are travelling to and from work (at 10 000 per year), they are buying expensive clothes for another 1000 or so, and they are probably buying a good house.  A large salary helps get consumer credit and living will look good.  Look twice though. What is their eventual wealth going to look like> And what will happen if their one and only customer lets them down?  And what is the probability of their own an only customer, their employer, letting them down?
  • Their assets remain their qualification and their ability to keep it up-to-date. What else do they have?  What exactly are they working on that has value over and above their own skill and know how? You can see I am in services because this section is thin. Maybe somebody else can flesh this section out.

4 questions to manage your career and your business

So there you are. Here are your choices.

  • How do you intend to finance your company? Debt, investments or revenue.
  • What kind of contracts with customers match your style of business (and why)?
  • What do you intend to spend your proceeds on? Consumption or building your base further?
  • What assets are you developing that you could sell or convert into regular revenue?

That’s not hard, is it?   Now why didn’t we understand the banks were in trouble?  Because we confuse consumption with wealth.  Consumption is the opposite of wealth.   Look twice when someone is living large.  Something is wrong.  At best, they don’t know of any way to make their money work for them.

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In darkness and frustration, belonging matters

I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
to truly consecrate the hour.

I am much too small in this world, yet not small
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.

I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.

I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.

I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everyday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

Rainer Maria Rilke


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