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Month: January 2011

The psychological significance of the poetry by William Carlos Williams

The Red Wheel Barrow

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

William Carlos Williams

William Carlos William

I discovered William Carlos Williams poetry through his poem This is Just to Say, his magnificent poem about eating undeserved plums from the refrigerator.  We use This is Just to Say to illustrate savoring and mindfulness, two key ideas in the blossoming positive psychology.

Celebrating the world as it is through American rhythms of speech

I understand The Red Wheel Barrow is even more popular and represents William Carlos Williams’ belief that poetry should portray the essence and meaning of familiar life in simple language using the rhythms of American speech.  Someone has helpfully provided a chart to help us read the poem on Wikipedia.

Mindfulness and Happiness

“to draw his themes from what he called “the local.”

“try to see the world as it is”

Isn’t that what we call mindfulness today?

It’s interesting that he had worked out this philosophy before World War II.

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The Buried Life by Matthew Arnold: Positive Psychology

Piper by noah.manneschmidt via FlickrMatthew Arnold & The Buried Life

At Richard Holbrooke‘s funeral today, Barack Obama quoted part of his favorite poem: The Buried Life.

I read the poem and recognized immediately the philosophy of positive psychology.  I also recognized my own ignorance. I thought Mathew Arnold was a novelist – maybe he is that too.

But he was a poet and a poet talking to the changing sensibility in Victorian England in the mid 1800’s.   According to Wikipedia

Arnold’s philosophy is that true happiness comes from within, and that people should seek within themselves for good, while being resigned in acceptance of outward things and avoiding the pointless turmoil of the world. However, he argues that we should not live in the belief that we shall one day inherit eternal bliss.”

He did visit the US and he was knowledgeable about the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, another philsopher providing roots for the positive school.  I have my homework cut out for me.

Here is the poem in full. I’ve highlighted the lines Obama read at Holbrook’s funeral in green.

The buried life

Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!
I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll.
Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,
We know, we know that we can smile!
But there’s a something in this breast,
To which thy light words bring no rest,
And thy gay smiles no anodyne.
Give me thy hand, and hush awhile,
And turn those limpid eyes on mine,
And let me read there, love! thy inmost soul.

Alas! is even love too weak
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
Are even lovers powerless to reveal
To one another what indeed they feel?
I knew the mass of men conceal’d
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal’d
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
I knew they lived and moved
Trick’d in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves–and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!

But we, my love!–doth a like spell benumb
Our hearts, our voices?–must we too be dumb?

Ah! well for us, if even we,
Even for a moment, can get free
Our heart, and have our lips unchain’d;
For that which seals them hath been deep-ordain’d!

Fate, which foresaw
How frivolous a baby man would be–
By what distractions he would be possess’d,
How he would pour himself in every strife,
And well-nigh change his own identity–
That it might keep from his capricious play
His genuine self, and force him to obey
Even in his own despite his being’s law,
Bade through the deep recesses of our breast
The unregarded river of our life
Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;
And that we should not see
The buried stream, and seem to be
Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,
Though driving on with it eternally.

But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us–to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.

And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves–
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress’d.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well–but ’tis not true!
And then we will no more be rack’d
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
Their stupefying power;
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day.

Only–but this is rare–
When a beloved hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,                                               80
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen’d ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d–
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes.

Matthew Arnold

Who would have though positive psychology was buried in Victorian England?  Every day is an adventure.

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What to do about loafers in commercial open space teams?

I'm telling you guys - it's *that* way to Times Square. by Ed Yourdon via FlickrHave you used open space technology in a commercial setting?

I’ve been thinking about the emblematic situation of the network age.  We get together and we figure out what we are going to do, and, then we do it.

Anyone who has been to hacker’s day is familiar with the process.  And if you have been to many hackers’ days, you will wonder what the fuss is all about.

But let me tell you when it all falls down – when we have two questions:

  • What are we going to do together?
  • Who are we going to sell our output to?

As soon as there is money involved, people start ‘social loafing’ and maneouvre to get the most money for the least work.

Learning from Shakespeare: dealing with ‘social loafing in networked supply chains?

I haven’t tested this solution but some lines from Shakespeare might provide the answer:

“That which hath no stomach to fight

Let him depart; his passport shall be made,

And crowns for convoy put into his purse:

We would not die in that man’s company

That fears his fellowship to die with us.”

Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3

What do you think?  Is this crass “with us or against us” or the very principle of open space technology:

  • Whoever are here are the right people
  • Whatever we do was the only thing that could be done

Solutions to social loafing  commercial open space technology?

Is the simple solution to social loafing in networked businesses to

  • Refuse to talk sales until the hack is made


  • Define the sale and then ask who can contribute and what they can contribute?

Can we ask First Who, then What when we still have to define the work?  And which question is the better?

What do you think?

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Supply networks, co-creation, open technology made simple

Suppliers rule!

In the later days in Zimbabwe, I would walk into the Greek Bakery (hey, it was called that) and say, “What’s for breakfast?”.   Whatever they had, I ate – happily.  Samosa and salad.  That’s OK.  Coffee machine working?  OK, tea is fine.

Restaurant at Art Village not the Greek BakeryI developed an appreciation of the best deal on offer and the loyalty of traders who give me the best deal they can.

What can you do for me?

It was little different in New Zealand.  I taught a massive class of 800 students, and then some.  And they all worked.  Supermarket, department store, restaurant – the people serving me were students and quite likely my students.

That’s great, isn’t it, though the university had strict rules about accepting favors.

A hop-and-a-step in my thinking told me something else. They were students – smart, obliging, but totally unqualified for what they were doing. They were hired because they were cheap and because the managers thought raw enthusiasm was a sufficient substitute for sound training.

Well, how hard is it to say “Would you like fries with that?”

But it is hard to keep  raw enthusiasm done and I soon learned to wave away the menu and decline to “look around”.  I went back to my Zimbabwean ways.

Waste no time on over-specified supply chains

I wasted no time on the loss leaders and dramatic deals that might have caught my eye but were essentially scammy.

I wasted no time specifying solutions that the enterprise ‘should’ have delivered but wasn’t going to because the staff weren’t trained and would probably have no idea what I was talking about.

I simply asked what they could do for me.


And so my style of co-creation was formed and practiced.

  • This is what I need done and what I can pay for.
  • What solutions can you provide?

Supply networks working fabulously

I got good service.  Happy service.  The raw enthusiasm worked fabulously.  I got what was available and what staff could deliver and it was often better than I had looked for in the first place.

This is the essence of supply networks of the 21st century.  The customer is not king (or queen).   The customer contributes a need and a readiness to pay.

All the players in the supply network scratch their heads and say “ You know what?  We could .   .  . “

By staying in the range of what we can do, we do better.

  • First who, then what.
  • Whoever comes are the right people. What we decide is the only thing that we could have decided.
  • And when it is over, it is over.

Supply networks, co-creation, open technology – tiz all the same.

And it works in scarcity and abundance by being reasonable and collegial.

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Serene or frazzled?

Yellow and red orchids - Bai Orchid Farm by avlxyz via FlickrThe Aliens

Charles Bukowski

you may not believe it
but there are people
who go through life with
very little
friction or
they dress well, eat
well, sleep well.
they are contented with
their family
they have moments of
but all in all
they are undisturbed
and often feel
very good.
and when they die
it is an easy
death, usually in their

you may not believe
but such people do

but I am not one of
oh no, I am not one
of them,
I am not even near
to being
one of

but they are

and I am

I imagine its good to know whether you start from a place of serene calm or constant agitation.

Then the challenges are the same?

To be vital.  To live at our frontiers?  To have faith in our temperament?

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Triumph of the Human Spirit

Sadness by Ed Yourdon via FlickrI ask not for good health, but for an alert and discerning mind.

I ask not that things go my way, but that I have perseverance and courage.

I ask not for less responsibility, but for increased strength.

Master Cheng Yen, Tzu Chi

Hat-tip: Psychological Resilience

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Demonstrating healthy leadership through a bad post

flip flop wheels by raiseyourflags via FlickrChris Jones asked for comments on his blog post about his views on Peter Senge’s work and Chris’ aspiration that

Cultures can, over time, be intentionally shaped and directed by visionary and resilient leaders. But the complexity of organizations, markets and other social ecosystems invariably worsens with scale, raising the bar for mitigation ever higher.

My thoughts about leadership are three fold

Leadership is about taking part not imposing

An organization ‘led’ by someone who aspires to impose preconceived ideas is not a healthy place for anyone.

Organizations are not forever

A contextually-sensitive organization also knows when it is time to die.  A healthy organization values purpose and will support other purposes when its own is not the most relevant to the wider ecosystem.

Organizations are healthy when they are dynamic

We don’t need a specific culture.  We need healthy psychology.  Losada’s model works for me

  • Positive to negative ratios of 3:1 or more
  • Context-sensitive slightly enhanced over internal focus
  • Asking questions (sincerely) slightly more frequent than advocating positions.

Testing this simple view of leadership with this post

This post does not live up to those three criteria.

  • Other than the link love at the top, I am rebutting throughout the post.  The Positivity:Negativity ratio is not good.
  • I am talking about management theory to other management theorists.  We need to be talking about the world!  Clay Shirky is a good example of commentators who comment on the world not the commentators!
  • I am advocating, almost exclusively.  Chris, I didn’t pick up from your post who you are (no About page) or your aspirations.  A post please?
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What a social scientiest learns about your business from social media

Listen, I'm just a farmer from Iowa - I don't want your discount ticket to see "Mama Mia!" on Broadway..This week, Clay Shirky went over the precepts and misunderstandings about social media and was suly covered by The Economist.  The principles of social media are now so well known that they will probably be a mandatory undergraduate essay soon!

I started to summarize what The Economist said Clay Shirky said (!) and found myself mashing and extending.  Very quickly, I’d move to what sophisticated social media users are doing and what social media coaches do to help people use social media better.

Following below are

  • The three misunderstandings of social media listed by The Economist, mashed up, followed by three questions we like to ask

Then I’ve rewritten the ideas as

  • Three questions I would ask you if I were helping you with your social media.

This is a first draft.  If you have any comments, I would like to hear them.

Point 1: Social media is not part of the information age!

As poet David Whyte says, “This is not the age of information . .  . this is the time of loaves and fishes. People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand.”

Social media is not a call center where we ‘push’ a script, or, try to ‘steal’ information from unwitting customers.

Social media is a conversation.  We join in, in the way of all conversations, adding, extending, asking questions, never knowing where our exchange is going and preferring – all the while – not to know because surprise is delight, and delight brings us all back again!

We might eavesdrop, of course.  We can also try to dominate the conversation.  But we also have the opportunity to join the conversation, wherever it is and wherever it takes us!

  • Where is the conversation?
  • Who is coming and who is going?
  • What are they talking about and how does the conversation change as people come and go?

Point 2: Social media is not technology!

The road, the telegraph, the penny post, the telephone, the radio, the television – communication became safe, fast, cheap, shared, visual.  The intrepid, the adventurous, the business-like, the sociable, the opinionated, the entertaining– one by one, we all benefited.

The internet is one more step along this road of inclusion.  But it is different from earlier technologies in one important respect.  It self-heals. Take any one of us away, and the conversation closes over as if we were never there in the first place  The internet searches, and continues searching, until it finds the conversation it needs.

We often treat the conversations as static and fixed.  This is misdirected because it is the morph that is really interesting. What is the conversation now?  What is the conversation in a few moments?  What will the conversation be in a few moments?

Which morphs are interesting?   And what causes them?

  • How are people connected to each other?
  • What are the unspoken rules of their interaction?
  • Which external cues influence their conversation?

Point 3: Social media is not research!

Social media is, well, social, and sociable.  We are part of the conversation, and while we are in the midst of one conversation, we are taking part in others too.  We are talk to a lot of people at the same time.  We have multiple identities and many goals, all of which are important to us.

To the left, to the right, above and below, there are other conversations.  We can look only at one conversation at a time, but the edges ring the changes.

  • What other conversations are happening around our people?
  • When do these conversations command attention?
  • What morphing takes place as the edge becomes more interesting?

Social media and you

If we were working together, this is what I would want to know and the questions I would be asking

I want to know which conversations interest you

You might already be very clear about the conversations that matter to you.  And you might be central to the conversations that matter.

Social media boosts our sociology and anthropology.   Computers mean data.  Data means analysis.  Analysis means insight.

I would ask: Do our social media numbers tell us anything more about the conversation; who is part of it: and how participants come and go?

  • What do we already know and who is the curator of our knowledge?
  • What social media numbers are easily available?
  • What do our social media numbers tell us, over and above, what we knew already?

I want to know who influences the players in your industry

Who studies the players in your industry?  Do w know?  Have their been any studies on your social networks?  Or, any wider anthropological or sociological studies about who are the players and how they act together?  Do we understand how players relate to each other (or not)?  Do  we understand the external cues and events that attract their attention?  Do we have any hunches or naive theories?

  • What morphs have caught our eye and ask for explanation?
  • What information do we have about the player and what can we find easily?
  • What insights can we generate with quick and simple studies?

I want to know who influences players in your industry

It’s very likely that you already know who influences the people you work with.  They are also very sensitive whom you talk to when you are not with them.

  • What other conversations are the players having?
  • What do we know about those conversations?
  • How do changes in those conversations ripple through ours?

These are the questions I would ask you when we sit down to talk about you and your social media.

  • What conversations are happening?
  • How to the conversations change and why?
  • How are the conversations affected by other conversations?

Seemingly esoteric, I know, but these three core issues are not new.  Social media just makes it possible, practical and urgent to track them and position your business accordingly!

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. . .unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket. . .

Dear Benedict XVI: I want to be free, and ride my bike into the sunset! by Ed Yourdon via FlickrDavid Whyte

The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.

These are the words of contemporary poet, David Whyte, quoting his associate, Benedictine monk, Brother David.

Whatever you plan is to small for you live.

Charles Bukowski

Says the same but in his inimitable harsher style.

So You Want To Be A Writer

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

Trust what you will do wholeheartedly?

Do you have the patience to do what you can be bothered to do wholeheartedly?

I don’t always but I am glad when I do.

Think you are bound hand-and-foot to task you have to do, should do, and nevertheless hate doing?

Try this exercise. Nightly, add to your gratitude diary a line on

Style. The style you wrote to your life today.

Simplicity. An activity you conducted with aplomb and elegance (or more than you do usually).

Story.  Re-write the story of your day in a few lines with you in charge being the person you want to be (I designed this for employees turned entrepreneurs – put your employee story aside and write as an entrepreneur and business owner.)

Simultaneity. Note when you panicked about living wholeheartedly and ask why you cannot make your choice and act your choice at exactly the same time (the way an owner must make a business decision and take the fame or blame or whatever).

Is this impatience?  Hmm.  I don’t thinks so.  It’s just stopping our storyline wandering off into impatience.  And we begin to trust the world a little more.

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Happiness Index: Practical useful stuff

Three chess games, Jul 2009 - 19 by Ed Yourdon via FlickrHappiness Index

We have to take happiness seriously. Yes, we do! The UK government is going to measure our happiness and as we all know, what gets measured gets done!

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology has been around now, in a formal way, for over 10 years. That is not long but after all Google has been around for about the same time. And Facebook for a fraction of that.

Of course, happiness is a lot older. To make a more precise statement about ‘happiness’, academic psychologists in Western countries have been studying happiness with a sense that ‘it is right to do this’ for a decade.

So what have we learned from ten years of the formal study of happiness by psychologists?

What does positive psychology tell us?

Positive psychology is little different from other topics in social sciences. It doesn’t tell us answers. It helps us ask the right questions. Most importantly, it helps us put aside questions that are simply the wrong questions.

What are the wrong questions to ask about happiness?

Are some people more happy than others?

We love to ask who is more intelligent, who is more good-looking and after all, who is more worthy. We like to line people up with the best in front and thereafter claim they will beat the front of the line forever and because they are in the front, permanently the best, that they are worthy of more respect, more love, more care, and sometimes even more food.

We know this is the wrong question for three reasons.

Wrong question – Reason 1

Yes, some people are better and some people are worse at specific tasks and they keep this rank order for a short space of time. They are also likely to build a portfolios around their strengths of today, but they don’t stay permanently on top. A top cricketer might become a cricket coach in time, for example, but he will no longer be the top batsman or bowler. Sensible people retire from competition at the right time!

If we are going to compete in the happiness stakes, most of our lives we must be losers.  Logic fail?

Wrong question – Reason 2

Being good at one thing does not make us good at everything. Indeed, learning a skill takes time (around 10 000 hours of practice as a rule-of-thumb or ten years of organized practice) and we can generally only be good at one thing.

If we think about being good at something, we are going to make a choice. Some of us can choose to be good at happiness. Others will have to make do with being good at something else.  Logic fail?

Wrong question – Reason 3

Asking who is the happiest is simply not a worthy question.

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that one person  is permanently good at one thing and with great good fortune also good at two or three other things: does that make them a more important person than someone who is not very competitive at any activity?

Should one child be loved more than another? How corrupting is that for the child who is supposed to be so much better? Lets not go there for if we do it is a case of morality fail, not so?

What is the right question about happiness?

If asking who is the happiest is the wrong question, then what is the right question?

What is happiness?

All these discussions about who is happy and who is not begs a simpler question: what is happiness?

Most of can recognize happiness in the same way that we recognize the difference between a good meal and an indifferent meal.  We just can without necessarily being able to create a good meal ourselves.

Partly we fail to create good meals because we don’t want to learn the skills and do the work that goes into making a good meal. We try cheating with recipes. We add ready-made sauces. We can work on one or another principle ideas – for example, buy good ingredients (would we recognize them?).

The truth is good meals are produced by many factors brought together by someone who understands the issues, who has had a lot of practice, and who is paying attention on the day. Happiness is the same.

• We work with what we have in the moment

• We understand the issues

• We pay attention adjusting as we go

What are the issues surrounding happiness?

Positive psychologists and management theorists in a related field, positive organizational scholarship, have settled on a checklist of FOUR issues to guide our thinking at any moment.  The four issues have been compressed into an acronym PERMA.

• Positive emotion

• Relationships

• Meaning

• Accomplishment

Positive emotion

Positive emotion simply means play nice – not only with others but with ourselves.

A simple trick is to review each day and after reviewing what we feel and the stories we are telling ourselves (and others), we look over our stories and highlight what we went well.

It is astonishing how negative processes are allowed to crowd out positive processes. In part, it’s a survival thing – we attend to what scares us.

The trick to restoring a positive outlook is to make a (written) checklist of what did go well and mark what we would like to repeat and expand.


We are intensely sociable animals. Even the most introverted among us like to do things that make sense socially.

Sometimes an activity done alone, like writing poetry, really is sociable, as is the commute of a person who treks long hours to earn an income for his family. We will always prefer the activity that links us to the people we care about.

Indeed, we care about the people when we do things together.  We like the people we do things for and with.  Games designer, Jane McGonigal, suggests we like people better when we play games with them, for this reason. Sports bring us together, etc. etc.?

Giving mental space to our relationships makes even the most introverted of us happy.


Life also makes sense when we are working on something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes that means commuting for the sake of our families. Sometimes we use the ‘bigger than’ line as an excuse, e.g. when we go to university because the system requires us to. But we know the difference because when we don’t care about the wider meaning, we hate what we are doing and feel exhausted.

We have limitless energy when we really care about the ‘story that we are writing’. This is a good exercise as well. Write a few lines of your autobiography each night and ask whether you are writing about who you want to be – or about someone else. In a previous post, I’ve suggested that (necessity) entrepreneurs rewrite their story nightly. Writing our story coherently helps orient ourselves to what we care deeply about.


How we love to achieve! Solving problems is lovely. Triumphing over adversity is invigorating. Dreadful jobs are dispensed with so much more easily when we set them up as little challenges that we can tick of – there! there! there!

Setting little hurdles for ourselves improves the day.

Happiness Happening near you!

If you haven’t already seen Jane McGonigal’s presentation at School of Life (sermon actually) on 26 October 2010, it follows below.

Jane McGonigal is a games designer. She explains the theory of positive psychology. She explains how she used the theory to accelerate her recovery from concussion.  She illustrates the theory by replacing the dreary world of ‘to do’ lists with the PERMA checklist. She weaves her vision for the world into the template of sermons as a children’s story.

It’s fun to watch and shows you where this happiness stuff has got to and where it is going.

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