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Tag: generative psychology

Struggling with generativity?

The brilliance of psychologists

The best skill that you will learn as a student of psychology is to “operationalise” fuzzy ideas.  In plain language, we beceome brilliant at writing questionnaires.  What is an extravert? Someone likes going to parties. And so on.

Warmth is less valued

The skill that you will not learn as a student of psychology is to “encourage” or “enthuse” others.  You might have thought when you started your studies that that is what psychologists do. Sadly, warmth and connection will be beaten out of you as sin of “measurement error”.

And what of generativity?

So you may be really struggling with the idea of “generativity”.  At least know that you are in good company.  We all have to relearn what is means to help others see possibility and goodness, connection and meaning, in their lives.

Generativity step-by-step

To help you understand the meaning of generativity, as it plays out in our lives, here is a letter that seems to have entered the web via Harvard.

And as a good psychologist, note the elements:

  • The impact of chance on our lives
  • The effect of cutting away on defining who we are
  • The constant effort to broaden-and-build, nonetheless
  • The richness of connection to others to whom we are loyal and dreams we hold sufficiently dear to work at night and day
  • The vulnerability to the disloyalty and treachery of others whom we love and causes to which we have devoted the best years of our lives

And then poetically

And then read the whole.  The poetic quality of language is important.  I was never particularly poetic.  Sadly learning to operationalise didn’t particularly help.

Read the original and then take that step of thinking generatively about your lives and the lives of those you touch.


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Hope and the great chasm

Do we really achieve more when we hope?

Alex from alwaysnewmistakes asks whether hope is responsible to achieving more than we think we are able.

3 perspectives on hope from 3 gurus

I think of three gurus.

Sun Tzu

I think of Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese General (Sun Zi if you are used to modern Mandarin).

He counsels us that battles are fought or won before they are started. He advises to pick our battles wisely and to only engage if the probabilities are with us.

To fight in the “hope” of winning is to court disappointment.

David Whyte

I think of David Whyte and his story of coming across a frayed rope bridge across a canyon in Tibet and freezing in terror.

I am not sure if he ever used the bridge. The point is that

  • often we are not happy with where we are
  • we are reasonably clear where we want to be (over the other side),
  • and we look at the gap between where we are and where we want to be, and our stomach lurches. In terror not hope.

The contribution of positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship is how to move forward when we feel the absence of hope – or when we feel puke-making terror.

The trick is to “Start close in, not with the second step or the third, but with the first thing”.

Starting with the ground beneath our feet is also called recrafting, appreciative inquiry, and building the bridge as you walk on it.

Our ability to stomach, rather literally, the original fear and to look at what you can do rather than at what you cannot do, is key.

Would I call it hope? Building hope, I think.

In my last post, I suggested ways of structuring to contain the terror of people around you.

Sometimes we have to start with ourselves. We can’t think let alone lead when we are paralysed with fear.

And if this sounds excessive, it is not. Even when we write a paper at uni, when we give your first lecture after the summer break, we can  freeze in fear.

We could also be facing a cashflow crisis, or the loss of your biggest customer through no fault of your own, etc. etc.

Things happen, to real people, and real people contain the fear and start “close in”.

With immense self-discipline, because they are fortunate to understand the mechanisms of hope, and that hope is grounded in what we can do.

Complex systems

The third guru, or set of gurus, are the people who work on generative psychologies.

Some of this work is very technical stuff on how we can produce more together than when we work alone.

Great advances hardly ever come from having the right answers up front. Great advances usually come from having enormous faith in the system.

Birds seem to fly in a flock by following each other and taking care not collide.  From those simple actions we get a flock.

leadership is when we pose a question (much as Alex has done for me here) and through engagement with the question and each other, we draw out answers we couldn’t have imagined. It can be done alone ,but we do so much together.   Alex’s point about synergy.

Great leaders

  • have a sense of what is possible (get across the canyon)
  • they contain their own terror
  • start working to establish the next step, usually on the basis of what we have in hand and what we are good at doing
  • and then they work with the group to work out what to do next.


  • Their belief in the ‘followers’ and customers and employees in business, must be massive. They must believe that the solution will emerge from the interaction.
  • must believe in the quality of people around them.

So is hope essential?

But it is not ungrounded.

  • It is so grounded that we can build the bridge forward.
  • It is so grounded, it is credible and infectious.
  • It is so grounded, we learn as we go with others with us on our journey.

Thanks, Alex


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