Lose weight by weighing less: bad taunt, good science!

Lose weight by weighing less

So said The Atlantic in a side-swipe at Gary Hamel, the management professor.  They meant to damn him  They meant to say he was being tautological – or in plain language – saying black is black.  Unknowingly, they were being profound!  What they don’t realize is that management theory has moved on.  Like modern psychology, it has expanded its horizons.  The mathematical models we use have changed and to say we lose weight by weighing less is sound modelling.

Cause-and-effect was our first question

One hundred years ago, we were captivated by questions of cause-and-effect.  What causes overweight, we might ask. And we came up with models that said the more food went in the more fat on our body.    Food is is food.   Fat is fat.  They are different and one causes the other.

And so it went on.  We said intelligence led to success in later life.  We said that eating well led to intelligence.  On and on.

Actually few of these factors are independent of each other.  Fat is transformed from food.  And intelligence is a make-believable variable that exists only because it is associated with success.

Now we ask how a phenomenon changes over time

That said, we aren’t that interested in these models any more or the general question of what causes what.

These days we are more interested in recursive models.  Lose weight by weighing less is exactly what interests me.  Today I might way 60 kg.  Tomorrow I may weigh 59.9 kg or 60.1 kg.  What is the natural fluctuation in my weight and what leads to the weight getting greater (or less) and then reversing direction.

We know weight is caused by what goes in and what goes out.  And both of those are dependent on each other.  I will eat more more I have skipped meals and I will exercise less when I’ve had too much or too little to eat.    We are interested in all the relevant factors change in time and how they interact with each other in a highly fluctuating yet essentially self-correcting and stable system.

What doesn’t change may well be sick

Illness comes from lack of fluctuation. We should worry about utterly static weight and a completely constant appetite.

How do we shift systems?

Anyone who has tried to shift their typical weight, for vanity or to please their doctor, knows that it is quite hard to do.  There seems to be homeostatic levels which remain fairly constant given any set of circumstances.  Complexity theorists know that systems are self-replicating.  They also know the “shape” of the system matters.    We expect a system to fluctuate a lot but like our weight, in a general range.  When we get no fluctuation, or when our weight rockets or plummets, then we are ill!

Shifting entire systems requires a different form of thinking.  More on that another day.

For now, yes – we can lose weight by weighing less.  It is a weak system of change to look at the scales each day.  But it will work.  Just weigh less every day and you will lose weight.  Perfect mathematical model. Perfect science.

Sorry The Atlantic.  Misguided taunt.  Another one of these areas where the world has changed a lot in the last five years.  Now we do recursive models not cause-and-effect models.

Buzzing with expectation?

5 contemporary concepts for understanding why some groups buzz with expectation

Self-styled vagabond, Sam Brannon, asked a good question last weekend on Linkedin.  Are we in a state of learned helplessness?

I’m an inveterate shaper so I am always asking “is what we do important and are we doing the important things?” Because I ask these questions, it is possible I sense learned helplessness more than do others.   But, I am also much more interested in the the opposite of learned helplessness.

  • I love the crowd singing their local hero to victory.
  • I love the buzz of getting a group project done on time.
  • I love the feeling of belonging to an institution worth belonging to.

Indeed my love of that community buzz is key to my professional interest in work psychology and university teaching.  Sam’s post led me to list 5 contemporary concepts from psychology and management that, I think, are key to creating the spiral of group buzz and efficacy.

1 Collective efficacy

If we believe in each other, we add 5-10% on our effective results.  Collective efficacy is a simple yet powerful idea.  When the teachers in a school believe in each other, the school outperforms other schools who have equal resources!

Rule one:  The CEO needs to believe genuinely in his or her direct reports.  That process kicks off their belief in each other and in their direct reports, etc. etc.

P.S Faking doesn’t work.  The pre-requisite of leadership is genuine, heart-felt belief in one’s followers.

2 Solidarity

Rejection is enormously destructive.  Roy Baumeister, who blogs at Psychology Today,  has shown that being rejected by a computer (not even a person) is sufficient to stop us looking in a mirror.   Someone who feels rejected is not going to be feeling efficacious!

Rule two:  Don’t just walk around!  Walk around with a mission to create a sense of belonging.

P. S.  Be hyper-alert to the small minute and accidental ways in which we exclude people.  They are devastating to moral and self-confidence.

3 Personal Leadership

Social media (like LinkeIn) has awakened our sense of being at the centre of our own network.  Everyone is a leader.  The personal leader ‘school’ supports the development of individual leadership (see poet David Whyte).  I am also interested in organizations that recognise that everyone is a leader.

Rule three:  Tell our own ‘stories’ to show how the organization fits in to our personal destinies, and write an organizational story that depends upon our differences and uniqueness.

P.S.  A story that depends on us mimicking the boss defines us as irrelevant (a hole below the waterline for the organization!)

4 Positive psychology/positive organizational scholarship.

The work of Martin Seligman and David Cooperrider has shown the power of gratitude and appreciation.  Positive whatever-whatever sounds like touchy-feely stuff but it is pretty hard core.  Basically, it is an approach where we focus on what works and works well and we discard the rest.

There are good reasons why haven’t focused on what works well as a matter of course.  Simply, if we define leadership as one person knowing what is best, and telling the rest of us what to do, then we are always focusing on a gap – on something negative.

Rule four:  Scrap all the “gap” technology on which management and HRM was built.  Pinpoint what works and do more of it! Then keep the conversation there.

P.S.  Its scary to abandon the idea that we know best.  But when we get the hang of it,  we find out all the good stuff that is happening that we didn’t know about.

5 Globalization

Globablization has changed economics and shifted where and how we can make a profit.  We have to work harder now to create value that produces a penny of profit.  Working with this constraint produces fantastic results as we see in V.J. Prahalad’s value at the bottom of the pyramid.

The principle used by large companies to rethink their process is this: abandon the idea of trying to sell more and more at a better and better price.  Rather, ask what is needed at what price, and work backwards to what we can supply.  The ability to ask questions about the world outside the organizations is a key aspect of successful business teams.

Rule 5:  Forget about being a leader!  Ask how to develop a community who are interested in what we do.

P.S.  We do need to honour the community’s needs and trust it to honour ours (complete the circle).  When we don’t have this loyalty to each other, a buzz is not possible.  We simply don’t have the conditions for a high performing organization.  This is not the day!

[CSPPG : cheerful squirrels prepare parties toGether]

Everyday use of these concepts

I use all these ideas in running everyday projects, like university courses. I know students do better when they believe in each other.  My job, as I see it, is replacing their initial dependence on me, with, a strong belief in each other, a belief in their project of studying together in this year & in this place, and a deep pride in how they came to be here and how they will move on together.

That is the buzz of expectation that the whole world feels tonight with the US galvanized to get out and vote (or is just to get a free cup of coffee from Starbucks?).  That is the buzz we get when our favourite team makes the finals.  That is the buzz we get when you couldn’t stop us going to work even if you tried!

Have a winning week!

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Eric Schmidt talking to Gary Hamel

Listen (no pun intended – 70 minutes).

 

Notes:

Eric Schmidt is the CEO of Google.  Gary Hamel is a Professor of Management at Harvard.  Schmidt’s main message is that leaders of innovative organizations like Google must listen, listen, listen.  A good listen!

Can we manage without managers?

Quotations from Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management.

“My guess is that the most bruising skirmishes in the new millennium won’t be fought
along the battle lines that separate one competitor, ecosystem or economic bloc from
another. Rather, they will be fought along the lines that separate those who seek to
defend the prerogatives, power and prestige of their bureaucratic caste from those who
hope to build less structured, less tightly managed organizations that elicit and merit
the very best that human beings have to give.”

“Not surprisingly, most managers believe you can’t manage without managers. This is
the mother of all management orthodoxies”