How do we cope with abundance?

Abundance & scarcity

On Monday, an American said something to me which struck me as profound and worth storing away to think about.  “People from your part of the world take something and do everything they can with it.  British take something and do as little as possible with it.”

With that in the back of my mind, this morning I was reading the reports on Clay Shirky’s opening address to NFAIS.  We know what to do about scarcity.  But abundance confuses us.

The two ideas connected at once.

Maybe in conditions of abundance it is wise to do as little as possible with each thing that you have?

Does that chime with you?

Have three things to do. No more. It’s hard.

Three goals, only

At any one time in my life I have three goals. Only.  For example, when I ran a large entry level course in New Zealand, my goals were

  • the course
  • settling in New Zealand
  • my family in Zimbabwe

Whatever I did had to fit into one of those three boxes.

Settling on three goals is hard

Since I have moved to the UK, I have struggled to settle down to three goals.  I need three catch-phrases that I can remember and that will persist for a few years at least.

As an academic, the three goals are easy: research/writing, teaching, community service.

Jim Collins has three goals: creativity & writing (50% plus), teaching (30%), other (20% or less).  He has three stop watches in his pocket and he switches them on and off all day long.  I could never be that compulsive but I like three goals and I like the way he commits half his time to one of them.

Then he has the “big jump” or mission.  To leave a lasting body of work.  Just in case you don’t know, Collins is know working on narratives of companies as “anti-heroes” – the story of failure.

What are your three goals?

Can you settle on three goals and state your “big jump” in a phrase?

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My predictions for the future of business psychology

Facets of business psychology

Being a business psychologist can be giddy-making. Well, that is our job.  To have the giddy-experience so other people don’t have to.

Industrial or work psychology

When we want to improve productivity, we ask “what is the best way of doing this work?”  Whether you do it or whether I do it, what is the best way (and when we get sophisticated, what is the error range and variance)?

Personnel psychology

When we want to choose someone to do the job, who will find it easiest to do the job?

Organizational psychology

What is the best way of organizing the work so that we can all get along with the minimum of emotional friction?

The thinking behind business psychology

The answers to these question do not necessarily contradict each other but the thought process behind them is contradicting.

Work psychology assumes we are all the same and can learn easily. Personnel psychology assumes we are all different and our differences are hard to change.  Work & personnel psychology looks at what we do as individuals and organizational psychology might ask us to sacrifice efficiency for the sake of the group.

Who’s right and who is wrong?  No one.  Each question offers a slightly different perspective.  And that is giddy-making.  What we are good at is separating the questions  and asking them one at a time so that we don’t end up with a confused, useless mess. That is what we are trained to do and we train for a long time – 5 years.

Modern questions in business psychology

Our giddy life doesn’t stop with the 3 traditional questions, though.

Old management theory assumed that change was slow, that there was a ‘best way’, that people were happy with the social and political relationships suffered and enjoyed by their forefathers, and that someone, somewhere knew what to do and how to do it and that the world would be sufficiently obliging to wait while they decided what to do and told everyone in the organization.

We know now that the world is not like that.

Work psychology

Laying out work for others to do while we decide is so, so, last century and bankrupt motor corp, we should be shot for suggesting it.

We’ve known for I don’t know how long in the military, and at least 40 years in psychology, that we should set a goal that is appropriate for a person’s skill level, give them the resources, free access to incoming feedback, and let them get on with it.

People cannot function with our constant back-seating driving.  And the world will not wait for an organization that is that slow.  It might seem like it will wait but that is probably because of some artificial barrier to entry.  Best to see how much that barrier costs and how long that will be sustained.  More under organizational.

Personnel psychology

Much of the work we do in personnel psychology is for really large organizations, like armies, where gathering “objective” information and allocating people on a “best fi”t model makes sense.   We introduce efficiencies for everyone.

In smaller organizations, we are expensive ,and frankly managers don’t listen.  Why is it that?  This is an organizational psychology issue not a personnel psychology issue. So let’s move on.

Organizational psychology

Getting along in an organization is about human relations and “passing the ball” without dropping it.  Management and organizational theory comes into play along with a raft of other issues, including politics.

The biggest issue in organizational psychology is “what is in it for me?” When managers are insecure, they will look for people who will protect their interests.

In big organizations, it is our job to reassure the managers and put the brakes on their worst self-interested excesses.  We flag up artificial barriers to entry that are maintained at huge financial and moral cost (e.g. apartheid in South Africa and excessive privilege like doctor’s payments in the US).  We put in procedures to balance managerial interest with organizational interest, in pay, for example, and in the selection of people who are good for the organization and not simply good for the manager.

We provide stability, in other words.  Sometimes we even introduce a generative, healthy upward spiral.  Though world events in the last two years show clearly that preventing a destructive tail spin would be a pretty good outcome.

We have to include people.  Honorably.  Allowing a core group to take over is very, very destructive.

Future organizations

Having said that.  What is the future of large organizations?

We are much more likely to move towards a system of local modularization in which smaller companies cooperate to complete specific contracts as the aerospace industry did with the Boeing 787.  Our business will change accordingly.

My predictions for the future of business psychology

This is how I see our profession moving.

Work psychology

In depth understanding of the work of an industry and the critical factors affecting productivity and learning in each sub-sector.  We will become a mirror to the industry.

Personnel psychology

Continue to show people the limits of occupations.  To give an obvious example, if I am a sprinter I’ll run the sprints not the marathon, and so on.

Beyond this well developed technology that needs to be updated to keep us informed about the limits of new professions, we might possibly change our focus to understanding careers over a lifetime: how do we develop a narrative that sustains us over the rapid changes in industry structures that we are likely to see over 50 years of our working life?

I think developmental psychology might become more important than personnel psychology and understanding business might become more important that the brute horsepower of “intelligence”.

Organizational psychology

The biggest change will be the nature of organizational life and the work that we are called upon to do. Companies will become smaller and more specialized and a new beast will emerge. Akin to entrepreneurial and holding companies, and replete with negotiation-minded supply chain specialists, these new organizations will create the projects and organizational conditions that set the boundary conditions for specialists to work together to be creative.

Specifically, it is my best guess, at March 2010, that these new organizations will analyse the markets and flag up what markets want, host discussions between relevant suppliers and arrange consortium funding, and carry the market risk themselves, though conceivably they may make innovative arrangements on the demand side too.

Further, some firms will specialize in backing up the market “seers” with infrastructure to allow global cooperation – firms like Cisco and firms specializing in virtual law and financing.

And then we will have people doing their stuff.  The producers.  Who are doing what they love and who morph and develop as they respond to the market. Hmm, I think there may be a role for people who develop the industry, much like the aerospace industry in the UK.

These aren’t my ideas. The first three strands were developed by Hagel & Brown, now of Deloittes.

My advice to young business psychologists

In not so brief words, that’s where I see us going.  My advice to young psychologists is

1. Pick an industry that you love and understand how it is developing and changing and the skills needed within it.

2. Learn more developmental psychology and narrative counselling than psychometrics.  Testing is a mature field.  Little is happening there.

3.  Think whether you want to serve producers, coordinators or entrepreneurs.  Maybe try all three out. Maybe in you industry you have to do all three.  Or, maybe you should specialize.

You need to map the ecology of your industry, see where your heart is, and join the people you love to serve.

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We must believe so deeply in those we lead and serve that we want them to be at our side in the heat of enemy fire.

Art Kleiner

I haven’t read any of Art Kleiner’s books.  How did I miss him?  Well, I seem to have missed him and it is time to make good.

Managers & the Core Group

I am taken with the idea that every organization has a core group. The group could be corrupt, of course, but every organization does have a core who are part of the value chain.

I joined a university early in my career for that reason.  As an academic, I was part of the core, while as a psychologist in HR, I was not.

The perils of neglecting the core

Many of the tensions in modern organizations arise because ‘managers’ have tried to dominate the core – the academics in universities or the doctors in the health service.  It doesn’t work.  Trying to dominate the core, or heart, eats away at its vitality.

Nurture the core

We, managers and administrators are here to serve.  When we understand the core, or heart, and help it function as it should, our organizations flourish.

Managers & the Influencers

And of course, within the organization are groups who are very important because they influence the process in a critical way.  Radar in MASH is much more powerful than the Colonel.  And Hawkeye, a Captain, dominates the Majors with his wit and grasp of the essence of war.

Social dynamics

Kleiner points out that when we first start working with an organization, that we must read the social dynamics. Who has undue influence?  Who has privilege. Formal rank may not matter very much.  When does it, and when does it not?

On the periphery

When we are on the periphery, irritating as it may be, it is worth acknowledging how the system really works. Then we can influence the system, even if we will never be part of the core.

Supporting the core

When we are managing an organization, we can acknowledge who is the core ~ not to give them further privileges, they have those already and will defend them to the last ~ but to subtly influence their acknowledgment and influence of other stakeholders who may not be core, but who they cannot do without.

In the university world, there is a cute poem that begins with students who splash through puddles, then associate professors who can jump over puddles, and Professors who are so magnificent that they can jump over the University Library, the Vice Chancellor who can speak to god and the Departmental Secretary ~ she is god.

Managing organizations

Helping an organization maintain its vitality doesn’t take a lot of heavy-handing action.  Indeed, the opposite.  It takes a little system thinking.  A gentle nudge here and a tactful reminder there.  Sometimes a good humored reminder of reality when we stand aside and stop protecting people from their own arrogance.  When the harm will not be permanent, a lesson in cause-and-effect can be salutary.

The core will always be there.  We destroy value when we deny it. And we risk corruption when we sweep relations between stakeholders under the carpet.

Relationships matter. Interests matter.  We need to get real.

Look harder for an organization whose core you respect

Art Kleiner makes an important point.  There are many organizations whose core is rotten ~ who are evil at heart.  We may be in that core, or we may be fretting about our lower status on the periphery.  What counts is whether we essentially believe that the interests of the core group are good for the organization and our community.  If we believe that, then we stay.

Otherwise, we need to look harder for an organization whose core we respect.  It’s best to be part of the core.  If not, we can serve it.  Gracefully.  Thankfully.  With a little reverance, but with understanding that the core needs others too and that we should help them manage their relationships with others.

Remember power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We should never let something we respect become so isolated from reality that it corrupts itself with meglamania.

But to change an organization, to nurture its vitality, we must believe that the interests of the core are the organization’s interests.  We need that deep down belief to respect the core and to help it confront issues about its relationships with others.

Am I rambling?  I like the acknowledgment of the core or heart of an organization.  Remember in the words of Colin Powell, leadership is follow me.  We must believe so deeply in those we lead and serve that we want them to be at our side in the heat of enemy fire.

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If you want to change an organization, mix it up. Just a little. And let the tensions leak away.

Art Kleiner

If you want to change an organization, you start by changing the patterns in which people talk together, the things they talk about, the frequency of their contact and the makeup of those who overhear them.” –Art Kleiner, Who Really Matters

Yesterday, thanks to Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace, I discovered Art Kleiner.  My, he writes well.

When you thought there was nothing left to do but grind your teeth

If you have ever been situation where you are helpless, oh, what am I talking about, you feel that every day when you are stuck in traffic, when you call you bank’s call center and when you sit through interminable ineffectual meetings.

Every time you feel helpless, mix it up a little.  Not loudly or aggressively or even mischievously.  Just talk to someone else. Shift the pattern of interactions.  That’s all.

And watch the stifling atmosphere dissipate.

If you are in traffic, let some one in or if you are always letting people in, indicate that you want to go next and let people help you.  Bank call centre’s defeat me, I must admit, but try beginning the call by sincerely asking about their day – that is a lousy, lousy job.

If the meeting is dull, actually listen to the bore and look at them.  OK, not for too long but try half a second?  If you usually speak, try taking notes.

Mix it up.  Just a little.  And let the tensions leak away.

UPDATE: Wow, I didn’t preview the format.  Mixed up for sure.




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Which sector are you in to and how does that affect the social media that you do?

Social media, advertising & FMCG’s

Lots of my friends in social media have been chasing what, I imagine, they see as lucrative work for advertising and media agencies. Seeking Alpha has an article today that they should read.

Seeking Alpha explains the income statement of FMCG firms.  FMCG’s, like Coca-Cola, stack them high and sell them cheap.  FMCG = fast moving consumer goods.

Collectively, FMCG’s account for 40% to 50% of the world’s advertising.

The flip side of this small fact is this.  If you are chasing advertising accounts, then you are probably chasing work with FMCG’s.  It’s worth knowing that.

The alternatives, of course, are durables and cars, which are relatively slow moving; capital intensive firms like aerospace.  There must be a 4th category.  There always is in business theory which is fond of 2×2’s.  The public sector is another.

Social media and collective purpose

Personally, I am a little more interested in social media for collective purposes – like disaster response, for example. When we compare the task of coming together to achieve something quickly with individual behavior, like grabbing a fizzy drink, we can see that social media has to be be vastly different.

Which sector are you in to and how does that affect the social media that you do?