What are you working on and why is it important?

Day One at Xoozya (cont’d)

Back to my office with my three goals:

  • Explore the communication system
  • Catalog skills that I use and must look after, skills that I need to learn in the forseeable future, and skills that I am likely to stop using because they are no longer useful
  • Describe my current project – what am I doing by joining Xoozya?  What is important to me and why is my success important to others?

My current project

At first, I though describing my current work would be hard. How many of us feel we can explain openly why we have joined an organization?  But it turned out to be refreshingly easy.

  • I believe that the world of work is on the cusp of radical change.
  • As a work & organizational psychologist, I want to understand the changes that are taking place.  But no, that is not all.  I want to be in command of the changes.  I don’t want to be in charge of the changes, because I think the changes are emerging out of changes in the business environment.  I want to understand the changes fully and describe them to others.
  • And why is it important to others for me to have this command?  Work & organizational psychologists are midwives.  We help change occur.  Traditionally, psychologists have three roles.  When someone is facing a situation they find difficult, we provide models to think about the situation in an orderly way, we bring experience from working with people in similar situations, and we provide support while the person is working through the issue.

Being a psychologist at Xoozya

  • So what is my work here at Xoozya?
  • What models can we bring to this new organization that is determined to work in modern ways?
  • Can people cope with this open-ended assignment – describe your project and tell me why it is important to you and others?

My knowledge of ludology is not very good – that is one of the reasons I want to work on Xoozya – to learn more.  An idea from the games industry, that I read on Chris Bateman‘s blog, is useful for helping me think around these questions.

In a new environment, children, and adults, tend to play.  We take a new gadget out of a box and play around with it.  Only afterward do we say “should have read the manual”.  Bateman calls this paidia – free form play – and it is inspired by the combination of elements.  For example, pebbles and water tempt us to throw a pebble and try to make it bounce.

The opposite of paidia is ludus – or organized play, like sport.  Ludus is what Jane McGonigle specialixes in.  Play with an objective and rules.

Chris Bateman argues that a good game begins with paidia.  We are tempted to try things out in a playful way.  As we get used to the elements at our disposal, on our own or with others, we develop norms and sports-like rules.

This perspective is not very different the principles of work psychology that I grew up with.  And nor should they be. Good psychology is good psychology.

Cross-cultural psychometrics

Learning my trade in Africa where cross-cultural psychology and cross-cultural psychometrics are important, I was taught four principles for introducing people to psychological tests.

  • Give people easy obvious tasks to do directly and immediately.  For example, “write your name on the top”.
  • Begin with easy quick tasks like clerical and speed and accuracy.
  • Assume that the hardest thing to do is to find where to put the answer.
  • Show people what to do and check they’ve done it.  Eliminate strategies that are not in the candidate’s best interest.

These principles seem to represent the idea of helping people play with the elements, though in the context of testing, keeps an eye out for novel arrangements that would hurt the candidate.

Action theory

An action theory approach to work has demonstrated experimentally that the best way to train people on new technology is to introduce it as a functional level.  In other words, don’t teach people to type or to copy a letter.  Teach them how to save, to edit, to copy.  This seems to be equivalent to introducing people to the ‘elements’.

Another recommendation from action theory is to let people play with technology and to make ‘errors’.  Making errors builds our mental map of technology.  From my very limited experience of playing games, I also think free exploration makes early learning more purposeful.  We want to find out what we can do, and not do, and we adopt this broad goal without being told to.

Group stages

The five stages of group formation reminds us that in the first stage of joining a work group, people are quite dependent on the ‘leader’, in much the same way as we are dependent on a landmark for finding our way in a new city.

In the second stage, we begin to make errors and we evaluate whether we want to stay in the situation (or game).  Error recovery is central to our willingness to continue.

In the third stage, we become playful, often in groups, and are willing to accept goals.  We move from paidia to ludus, perhaps?

Then we become goal oriented – ludus? Sports-like play that morphs into work?

The fifth stage is ‘adjourning’, which is not so relevant here.

So how could I improve the induction?

What are the elements that people need to learn, explore and manipulate?  How can we bundle elements so they signal obvious affordances for the noobe?

How can we encourage a playful approach that encourages exploration and mastery?

How can we arrange the elements so that people explore them on their own, safely and profitably?

What do I want to have achieved by the end of the day?

Is it sufficient to say, hello I am Jo.  I am a psychologist and I joined Xoozya to be part of one of the most innovative contemporary experiments in management & organization.  I am interested in what you are doing and can swap the experience I gained consulting to multinationals and big organizations, where that is relevant.  What do you do here?

Is that enough for day one?  Time to go home!

And if you want to leave me a message saying what you are working on and why it is important to you and to others, I’ll read it gladly!

Why some people stay cheerful in spite of the recession

Psychology of loss and gain

Economists who study behavior will tell you that we value something we lose, much more, than we value something we gain.

This is a pertinent emotion during a recession.   Most of us will lose something.  We may not get the  increase in salary we worked so hard for, or we might make less profit.  We might suffer a large loss, such as our job, or our business.  Some of our possessions may get repossessed.  We could even lose our houses that we saved and skimped and spent many weekends working on.  What chumps we will feel!

Loss is devasting, and distracts us from possibility.

Tom Peters today passed on a fabulous anecdote about Kurt Vonnegut,  Joseph Heller and a hedgefund manager.

“At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, ‘Yes, but I have something he will never have … enough.'”

Amen!
And thank you, John Bogle!
(And Judith Ellis.)

Coping with loss

It’s really difficult not to focus on loss when it happens.  Indeed, we shouldn’t move on too soon.  Grieving has its place.

I find the advice from the 5 stages of group formation useful: forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning.   The leader’s task during ‘adjourning’ is to help an individual break their tie with the group, and to proceed back into the world quite happily as an individual.

Applying that advice to the horrible events that happen in recessions, we have three broad steps.  We need

  • Signal that change is going to happen in sufficient time
  • Plan a rite of passage (like a graduation ceremony)
  • Get people visualizing life without the group (or house or whatever).

No, that’s not quite right.  To talk about ‘life without’ brings our attention back to what we have lost.

Endpoint

We need to talk about our story, all the good times we have had, and gradually get to the point that we see jobs, companies, businesses, not as the end in themselves – just as ENOUGH.  They are there to help us get what we want.

What do we want?  And how are those projects going!  Incredibly hard to focus on those things when confronted with loss – the economists tell us so!

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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