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What do work psychologists do?

Do you know what work psychologists do?

Thirty-one years ago, I decided to study psychology. And for 28 years, I have practised as a work psychologist. Can you imagine my surprise when some readers said this blog was their first encounter with my esteemed trade? So what do we do?

What do we do all day?

I love being a work psychologist and I think it is important for you to know I go to my “office” every day with a spring in my step, looking forward to the people I will meet during the course of the day.

Most of our lives are spent “on the road”. We usually work at our clients’ factories and offices and we need strong arms to carry around briefcases laden with confidential papers.

When you see us, we are likely to be taking part in some HR exercise – recruitment, selection, or team-building, say.

When you don’t see us, we will be reconciling paperwork, doing computer work, or talking to senior managers about the direction of the company and ways to organize, lead, up-skill, confront challenges, and look after each other.

Why do clients hire us?

We deal with the pulse of the organization. Ideally, we want everyone to enjoy their work as much as we do. There is fascination in what we do, but little mystery. Our understanding of how organizations work has grown in leaps and bounds over the last 100 years.

The last ten years have been particularly interesting as the limits of old ‘mechanical’ organizations have been reached and we’ve begun to embrace the fluidity and flexibility of the internet. [Let’s update the situation in 2021.]

The psychologist’s role is to bring to the party up-to-date information about the way work practices are changing around the world, hands-on experience of changes in other companies, and deep commitment to supporting you as you think through changes in the immediate and foreseeable future.

What is special about what we do?

Just looking at us work is not sufficient to see the value we add. You can see us talking to people – lots of people do that! You see the briefcases – a prop?

The key to what psychologists do is deep training and ongoing exposure to work situations around the world. When we talk with you, we are not asking whether we like you. Nor, are we are asking about things we want.

Our interest is in accurately understanding your motivation and your circumstances, reflecting them against the changing world of business and work, and helping you work through the mix of emotions you feel as you cast your story in terms of today’s economic conditions – globalization, credit crunch, and new technologies. [Let’s review this for 2021 too.]

Casting your story in today’s terms is a complicated process. Even in the simplest business, we have on the one hand the things we want, and one the other, “what’s out there”. And that gap in knowledge is not all we cope with. When we really want something, we feel fear and trepidation.

Our job is to stay with you while you work through your anxiety and take the first step towards what will ultimately be success and very deep satisfaction.

Psychologists understand this process of seeing what we want, what you want against the circumstances we find ourselves in.  We see this process as normal and we are there to help steer you through all three questions: you, your opportunities, your emotions.

When we work in most modern businesses, 5, 10, 15, 10 000, 100 000 of us are going through the same process. When I decide, for example, to pursue my story in certain ways, my actions change your circumstances.

The key to good organization is that the give-and-take between us as we follow our own dreams strengthens us individuals and as a group. Therein, the discussions we hold with senior managers.

Some case studies next?

Do let me know if I have made it any clearer what we do for a living!

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What is robopsychologist or psychologist of robots?

Jurica Dujomovic (@JDBrandManager) published a description of robot psychology in Market Trends.

I have condensed it quite bit here.

Purpose of robopsychology

Our purpose is to understand AI and actively work on it to develop machines that are efficient, easy to use, and responsive to our purposes.

Tasks of a robopsychologist

  1. Analyse learning and decision-making algorithms and adjust them to function better in real-world scenarios
  2. Teach ethics to AI in a way the machine can understand, “internalize” and prioritize during its decision-making process.
  3. Use algorithms and robots to test theories before they are applied to humans (e.g., similarly to agent-based modelling)

Important value-added tasks of robot psychology

  1. Track learning/decision-making errors and issues that artificial intelligence can’t resolve on its own and adjust a robot’s learning pattern to allow for correction and continuation of the learning process.
  2. Help AI acquire information and enable better decision making.

Watch this space!

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A neat trick to help me learn Mandarin

I learn Mandarin and while the vocabulary, tones and characters take lots of practice, the sentence structure requires experience.
To step me through the vocab, speech and writing in congenial company, I use the social network LiveMocha. I don’t find the lessons particularly well designed, but the community is friendly, and it is easy to find a study buddy who will guide you in return for your help in their English studies.
Sentence structure requires another approach. If I were in China, I would read and hear sentences every day. But in the middle of England, without a Mandarin speaker in earshot, I need a way to read regularly.

For this I signed up to service from Transparent Language that sends me a sentence a day. I receive a new word every day in a sentence in pinyin (our script) and I can click through to see the Chinese characters and hear the pronunciation. Sadly that is in Flash and we can’t copy and paste the characters into Google Translate but the essential purpose is achieved. I am regularly being exposed to normal sentence structures.

昨天下 了大雨

Zuó tiān xià le dà yǔ

Yesterday it rained heavily

Literally: Yester day under(past tense) big rain

This sentence was quite fortuitous.  We have an unusually heavy wet spell at the moment in the UK.  The sentence also shows why this additional homework is so useful to me.  Though the sentence uses common characters and is much simpler than an English sentence, it is not at all like English. Experience is simply as important as learning examples.
I recommend the service highly as a supplement to your efforts to learn Mandarin.

May 2017: I use mobile apps now.  Not as sociable but contemporary apps (just five years later) check my pronounciation.


An organization: a place where we progressively learn to take responsibility for the whole

Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.

Chinese Proverb

I don’t know the provenance of this quote. I got it from @mr_gadget on Twitter. But I like it.

We follow when

  • We see someone move in a way that is not easily reversed.
  • When others copy.

Our reasoning, if we could call it that, goes something like this.

  • Whatever they have noticed must be really important – well really dangerous.
  • So I had better run too.

The ‘reasoning’ sucks. This is what is happening.

  • We are startled and our startle response unleashes a wave of adrenalin or noradrenalin and we have an overwhelming impulse to run.
  • And so we run.

When we think about what we have just done, we justify our actions by saying that there might have been danger. Well, we justify our actions by what Daniel Kahneman calls anticipating our future remembering selves. We don’t want to look back and say we didn’t move when we should have done. And of we are wrong, we can easily justify ourselves to ourselves because other people were alarmed too.  So running when other people run checks the boxes for the future remembering self.

Reacting in panic is a bad idea; keeping cover is a good idea

But really, some people are volatile rather than observant. They might react in alarm to just about anything and run straight into the jaws of a lion.

Basic military training is geared-up to teaching us not to start running every time we get a fright. We can learn something from the foot soldier. Our job is not to scamper about wildly in all directions but to remain under cover where we won’t get shot at.

My more exuberant character chaffes as the idea of taking cover. It smacks of fear and deprives me of what I like – wide open spaces with distant horizons. So let me develop that idea.

I am able to walk freely and joyfully in my wide open spaces, not because they are there – though that certainly helps.

I can walk in my fields because at a collective level we have institutions that keep us ‘under cover’. We have gun control (this is the UK not the US). We are relatively prosperous and you don’t get mugged (much) in the countryside. We have time (contrary to all the grumbling).

We have safe spaces and though we take them for granted, we keep them safe through collective action.

But can we be too safe?

Of course, people who have never lived in unsafe conditions might never develop any awareness of danger. They might even become rather silly and use their biological flight response for entertainment.  How can we design spaces so that we each have to do our fair share of being the proverbial sentry?  Can each of us ask “What lions and marauders do we look out for on behalf of the greater community?”

I think that is why children are given responsibilities early, in like: to take out the trash, to feed the dog. Thinking ahead and thinking broadly – well thinking – is what they are practising. When they have to take out the trash because we are too lazy to do it – that is different – we are using them as servants and not developing them at all.

Create environments where people increasingly take responsibility for the group

Yup, I think I got it. We will react like birds given half a chance. Many of us are bored so we are fascinated by the idea of mobilizing people with as little effort as a cry or an irreversible action. This cannot be our goal. This is what relatively mindless birds do.

Our goal, or at least my goal, is to create environments where people share the responsibility for creating a safe space and we start taking on responsibility in an age-related way – taking full responsibility for an important task to that we learn to think and not simply react like an impulsive creature.  So we start to take out the trash and start to think about the business of keep a place hygienic. And we move on and up, learning to weave many responsibilities together.

Good quote but a different conclusion! When the birds take off, I’ll sit tight. Rapid, panicky reactions are not what it is all about.

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Can you beat my 3 simple rules of conduct?


Quite recently, we got a TESCO’s, a little one.  We have a Co-op tucked away in a side court.  But we don’t have a Boots or WHSmith.

This is a little town and we don’t have a Timpson’s either.  I had never heard of them until I heard one its owners talking on Radio 4.  They are an odd jobbing kind of firm that do your shoes, your keys, and so on, and have branches right across the UK.

Well what is this to do with you?

They say they have two rules in their code of conduct

1.  Look the part

2.  Don’t steal our money

What are your rules?

I have three rules of conduct

1.    Look after yourself

2.   Look after us

3.   Always be ready for a customer who walks through the door

Can you make them any simpler or clearer?