Does it only take giving credit where it is due?

Unfamiliarity or lack of collective efficacy

I’m fascinated by the panic induced by the ‘hung parliament’ in the UK.

Turning our urban soullessness into a village square

Earlier today, I went shopping in the TESCO superstore.  Those superstores are soulless and too big to shop in comfortably but in theory, everything is thereHat tip by deepglamour via Flickr.  My logic in darkening their doorway is that they have a fresh fish counter and I can find the rarer items, like popcorn and sea salt, that I can’t get in my local Co-0p.

The reality though, is that the marketers have taken possession of the store and goods are not longer in categories.  I wanted little capers and following the logic that older English people might have cooked  a fish pie in a forgotten world, I picked on elderly shoppers to ask if they had seen any.  The first person was looking for poppy seeds; the next was looking for butter beans.  I sent the second to speak to the first – he found his beans.  Then he helped me find vanilla extract for my porridge (next to the flour not next herbs and spices – that’s where you find vanilla pod).

What is the point of my repeating his minutiae of English living?  Well, it is this – when we work together, we both enjoy the shopping experience and complete it more successfully.  I also learned a lot about older people’s use of computers, family finances and the English diaspora.  Many English people have children and grand-children living abroad.

Do the English like being alienated?

And I learned about attitudes to politics.

As a general rule, English people don’t want to know about politics.  They change channels when politics come on.  They think I am daft for thinking the current negotiations in Westminster are very healthy.

When in doubt though, I think that when we put our minds together we can work anything out. And it is fun, too.  I would prefer to be wrong for trying to get people together than to wallow in learned helplessness.

But then maybe I don’t get. After all I was feeling depressed about the political system on election day and it is the current process that makes me feel the system work.  I could be wrong again.

The psychologically powerful factor called collective efficacy

Psychologically, trusting other people is a spiral-effect.  We trust, we act together, we succeed, we trust more.

Collective efficacy is immensely powerful.  Extending research in schools and the work of management theorists at Case Western, just emphasizing where we are competent and where we believe each other to be competent, will give us an economic boost.

Think 10%.  That’s a lot.  No amount of money thrown at a problem produces that effect.

But to get that effect, we have to take the first step.  We have to acknowledge each others competence.

We know other people are not good at everything. They don’t need to be.

We just have to hat tip what they are good at.

Pleasure, engagement and meaning for a good life

Is happiness = pleasure?

Gaye Prior kindly commented on my post about poetry and positive psychology.

“Pleasure does not give life meaning and purpose and love. These are more important to me than passing enjoyment and survive even in the face of tragedy, horror, awfulness and loss.”

Do positive psychologists equate happiness with pleasure?

I’ve promised to reply in four parts describing the 4 puzzles of positive psychology.  This is the first part.

Principles of positive psychology

Let’s make the 1st principle of positive psychology the study of the positive (rather than the study of the negative or gaps or deficits.)

The 2nd principle is that well-being or happiness has three parts. As Gaye says “Pleasure does not give life meaning and purpose and love.”

Martin Seligman points out that well-being is made up of

The pleasurable life

The engaged life

The meaningful life

There is a questionnaire on the Penn Uni site that anyone can do. The items on the questionnaire flesh out the concepts.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page and pick “measures 3 routes to happiness” under “life satisfaction questionnaires” (2nd last on the page as I write).

Using the ideas of pleasure, engagement and meaning to enrich your life

Here is the description of the three levels of life provided by the psychologists at Penn Uni.

Higher scores on the Engaging Life (knowing what your signature strengths are, and then recrafting your work, love, friendship, leisure and parenting to use those strengths to have more flow in life) and the Meaningful Life (using your signature strengths in the service of something that you believe is larger than you are) have been shown to lead to greater satisfaction with life. Higher scores on the Pleasant Life (having as many pleasures as possible and having the savoring and mindfulness skills to amplify the pleasures) don’t add to satisfaction. To measure your satisfaction, use the Satisfaction with Life Scale.

Keeping pleasure, engagement and meaning in balance

Few of us have our lives in balance. That is the message for people who live in abundant circumstances.  Seek balance (and stop complaining!).

Seeking pleasure, engagement and meaning in difficult circumstances

For those of who do not live in abundant circumstances, we have serious shortfalls in one area or another and these shortfalls are not under our control.

I am always uneasy about casual interpretations of positive psychology that dismiss reality. Life can be awful.

The point though is what can be done about it?  If something is not under our control, there is little point in railing about it. It it is not under our control then it is not under our control.  Focusing on what is out-of-control just makes us feel helpless.  That was Seligman’s original speciality btw ~ learned helplessness.  Continually focusing on what cannot be done destroys our ability to do anything.

What we can do is work with what we’ve got, and work with whomever will work with us, to leverage whatever we can. We may not be able to change reality but we can do what we can.

Taking control of what little is under our control increases our chances of surviving difficult circumstances

Doing what we can with people who are important to us also seems to increase our chances of survival. Those chances might be minimal, as they were for later psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who survived an extermination camp. But they improve.

The overriding rule

We must remember that we have to work with what is under our control. That is you, me, the people around us and what works. Those are our tools.

The importance of pleasure

We should also not neglect the pleasurable life. We should respect fine food, the sunset and the rose growing in the garden. Oddly, savoring and mindfulness, though nowhere near the whole story of positive psychology, start a positive spiral.

Gratitude diaries provoke a spiral of well being.  On a really bad day, feel the earth under your feet. Look at that unexciting doorway of brick and mortar as the most magnificent invitation.

The unfairness of engagement

The engaged life is easy for professional people. We work and like to. Engagement is much more problematic for young people who generally only find ‘flow’ in sports and hobbies. One of the reasons that computer games are popular is that they provide the autonomy, social interaction, opportunity to learn, and opportunity to belong to something meaningful that is often not possible in our educational system.

People in low level jobs also have trouble finding flow in jobs which are poorly designed, micro-managed, and in which they are treated with rudeness and contempt. It is common for people in low level jobs to “recraft”. Why is it that security guards in Zimbabwe are more knowledgeable than shop assistants? Why are domestic help loyal? There is an element of Stockholm syndrome, but there is also a natural tendency to create a job that is satisfying to do.

The fragility of meaning

The meaningful level is provided by being part of something larger than ourselves.

I imagine more wars are created by violating this level than by anything more complicated. We are sensitive to exclusion and exclusion ‘crashes’ our psychological structures very quickly indeed (5 to 10 minutes does it.)

When we are victims of exclusion, we can create a temporary protective buffer with savoring, mindfulness and gratitude diaries. Some people use the pleasure principle badly, of course, and take to overeating and drink, both of which have their place in celebration but are ill-advised compensation for lack of  belonging. A walk or smelling a rose allow us to avoid adding a punished body to a battered soul.

Exclusion is devastating.

I hasten to add, that we shouldn’t be too judgemental about people who ‘get it wrong’ because exclusion is devastating.

There is a saying

“when someone in authority like a teacher describes the world and you are not in it, it is like looking in a mirror and not being able to see your face.”

I imagine this is why migrant who “walk both sides of the street” settle better than those who try to assimilate.

Buffering oneself from the impact of exclusion

The antidotes to institutional exclusion (that go beyond a painful social slight) are to develop empathy with others, to show solidarity, and to work on healthy political structures.

We all know the do-gooder who ‘helps’ others. I mean travel the same road as others. Suffer the same risks and share the same glory.

Solidarity is a long road but it is the best road. Mindfulness matters again but not the mindfulness of concrete pleasures. This time we want mindfulness towards the dynamism of the universe.

Simple techniques like closing one’s eyes and listening for the furthest sound can break the cycle of intense stress. Paolo Coelho’s post of today tells us to look expectantly for the magic moments that arrive unannounced and are gone in a twinkle. When we think there is only one microsecond of possibility a day, we pay attention.  Even David Whyte’s line of “everybody is waiting for you” suggests to us that we need to reach out.

In teaching, we often use Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese to show that we are part of any situation in which we find ourselves and by showing compassion to ourselves (as opposed to self-pity and indulgence), we help to feel in touch with the movement of the universe. I’ll add the poem at the bottom.

Three levels of a good life

In summary, Gaye identified the three levels of a good life:

  • pleasure ~ respect for beauty and comfort
  • engagement ~ enjoyment of work
  • meaning ~ belonging to something bigger than ourselves

With this layout, pleasure seems as if it is the lower level. It is a level that is easily abused but so to is over-identification with achievement or subordinating ourselves to readily to others.

All three are part of the good life. When life is in a mess, try doing an audit of what is going well in each area. Sometimes the map that follows is surprising.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

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Positive psychology on despair and world conflict

To arrive is scary.  What will be our journey, if we are already there?

As I’ve watched the supersonic work pace of Barack Obama, I’ve also been annoyed with the curmudgeonly spirit of many commentators.

I believe they are scared.  Not because of anything Barack Obama may or may not do, but because Barack Obama may be the person we all want to be.   If it is possible to be articulate, poised, present, warm, honest, then we don’t have to be scared, hesitant, insecure, insincere and most of all ‘outsiders’.  We can just ‘be’ and ‘be accepted’.  To arrive is scary.  What will be our journey, if we are already here?

Don’t let disappointment be an excuse to delay arrival

Nonetheless, I was very disappointed by the bombing of Pakistan.  Sending an unmanned drone into a civilian building seems to me a murderous act.  How can we defend this?  I would like this to stop.

We want what we don’t like not to be

My emotional reaction to this event follows a spiral that, I believe, is quite common when ordinary people follow politics and world events. I read the reports and I felt disgust.  Then I felt judgmental.  And then I wanted to reject what disgusted me.

And when reality does not cooperate, we sulk

But the source of my disgust is in power (and popular).  Rejection is not an option open to me. So, I felt down and dejected.  Feeling that there was nothing I could do but endure the undurable, I withdrew, at least emotionally, and felt alienated, despondent and dejected

Curmudgeonly behavior is a mark of esteem in UK but it is “wet”

It is very likely that many people who express a curmudgeonly view are going through a similar process.  Something specific disgusts them, and they allow that one point, important as it may be, to allow them to feel despair about all points.  Positive psychologists call this ‘catastrophizing‘.   We go from one negative point to believing that we lack control.  Not only do we believe that we lack control on this issue, we go on to believe that we lack control on other issues too.  And we don’t stop there.  We go on to believe that we will always lack control, to the end of time.  In other words, we feel that what has gone wrong is persistent, pervasive, and personal.

So what am I going to do?

Put the strength of my feeling in words

Well, this issue is important to me.  I am sickened by the bombing of civilian targets.  I am ashamed it was done.  I leaves me uncomfortable and embarrassed and feeling that our condolences are woefully insufficient.  I don’t even know how to express this adequately.

Be a player

But it is also wrong to write off the hope that has come to the world.  One day I may be in a position to influence decisions like this.  And if I am to open a conversation with influential people, I need to be informed, and much more informed than I am now.  So I will become so.

List specific small things that I can do

And for now, should I meet my MP, who is a UK specialist on the conflict in Afghanistan, I will ask him.  I will tell I am unhappy and that I want to know more.  And though the whole matter makes me want to throw up, I will listen and learn.

Stay where the decisions are made

If we want the world to be as we wish, we cannot pick up our toys and go home every time we don’t like something.  I am afraid the art of politics is to be where the decisions are made.  Sometimes we have to stay and engage.

Stop the decline into ineffectiveness

Positive psychology does not say that the problems of the world will go away.  But it does help us not sink into despair and become ineffectual.

Come with me!

  • Is there something that makes you angry and fearful?  Are you overgeneralising from one issue, thinking it is ‘persistent, pervasive and personal’ – catastrophising?
  • If you put aside your general despair and remain in the forum where decisions are made, what do you need to do to become more effective at influencing our collective decisions?
  • And having thought this through, can you see a way that you may be able to influence events in future?

Hope: how can this touchy-feely stuff help me during the recession?

“I hope so.”

How many times have you said that, and in the true spirit of England meant “I very much doubt it”, or ,”It had better, or someone must watch out.”

Hope was out of bounds

When I studied psychology, we didn’t study phenomena such as hope.  ‘Behaviour’ was ‘in’.  If we couldn’t see it, it didn’t exist.  If it didn’t respond to the experimenters’ manipulation, it was unimportant.

Character, intent, and morality were out.  Be like a rat, or psychologists wouldn’t pay any attention to you.  (Hmm, good idea perhaps?)

Virtues

Positive psychology, under the leadership of Martin Seligman, has changed all that.  Now we study virtue.  Are you zestful?  Are you prudent?

And we aren’t going to impose a menu on you either.  We’ll help you label the virtues that are dear to you, and have been dear to you for a long time.

Then we’ll help you build your life around them.

Hope

Hope is one of these virtues, but it is a tricky one.  It has a double meaning for positive psychologists as it does in lay language.  Some of us ‘specialize’ in hope as others ‘specialize’ courage, humility or love of beauty. If you want to label your ‘specialities’, you can take the virtues test here.

This is how positive psychologists define hope.

Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]
Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about
Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness – You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.

Hope is linked to control

Sadly, this defintion does not distinguish what we can control  from what we cannot.  People who want to control everything are likely to get very frustrated.  Too much hope of this kind is likely to be anything but a strength.

Equally, we know that hope is essential to all of us.  It is not just a ‘speciality’ chosen by some.  When we have hope, we are less stressed, even when conditions, objectively, are bad.  Those of us who design organizations and institutions as part of our professional work know that leaving control in the hands of individuals is the foundation stone of a viable, vital and vibrant collective.

Torturers understand the importance of hope and deliberately take control out of people’s hands. That is the nature of terrorism, whether it is a bomb on the tube, bullying in a school or factory, or threatening to drown someone when we question them for information.  The intent is to break our will by inducing “learned helplessness”, or the collapse of hope.

Hope is not just a virtue; it is as necessary as air

And there we turn the full circle.  If we are living in the shadow of a bully who is intent on removing hope, it is so, so, important not to let them get to you.  They are likely to succeed, at least in part, because we aren’t miracle workers.  But for every glimmer of hope we retain for yourself and others around us, we are winning.  They only win if they remove hope completely.

Positive psychologists often quote a concentration camp survivor who went on to train as a psychiatrist: Vaclev Havel.

“Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

Sometimes life sucks

We have to remember that sometimes life sucks, and sometimes ‘shit happens’.  And sometimes it is big stuff that we didn’t invite and cannot control.  When focus on the randomness of life, we rehearse our sense that life is nonsense.  We deny hope.  And we break our own spirt as surely as a torturer.

But what can we do instead?

How do we nurture hope?

When we start to ‘take inventory’, to ‘start close in’, we express faith that our strengths were given to us to use in the situation we find ourselves in, and that we should use them even if the situation is awful and indeed, because the situation is awful.

Hope is not belief in an end point.  Hope is belief in a beginning point.  Hope is a belief in you and in me.

Come with me

What is your beginning point?  What is the best part of being you? I need to know too.  It strengthens my hope that it will all ‘make sense regardless of the way it turns out’.

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

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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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Feeling good in the credit crunch and bank bailout

Harvard on the credit crunch and bank bailout

Two weeks ago or so, Harvard staged a panel discussion on the “credit crunch” and the “bank bailout”.  SocialMediaToday have video which is longish (1:36) but worth watching.

Many people will not watch the video fearing they will not understand it or because they think, so what – I can’t influence the politicians anyway.

First, the video is accessible.

Harvard professors are where they are because they are informed and communicate clearly.  They are refreshingly clear about how the mess developed and what might be done about it.  I found I developed a clear idea of the discussions I want to take place and the parts of the system I would be happy to see disappear.

Second, understanding leads to a sense of control.

When all is said and done, happy people exercise control.  By understanding what can and cannot be done, we figure out where to act and then we act.  Not understanding makes us feel anxious.  Saying “I cannot influence politicians” is “learned helplessness”.  It makes us feel awful!

Happiness is taking part

I am certainly going to trot down to the pub to meet my local politician on his rounds and ask him clearly what he will be doing.  I have a rough idea of the questions I will ask and I will watch the video again so I can summarize my ideas and keep it short.  Nonetheless,  I’d better be prepared to buy him a stiff whisky!

Once I start the conversation in the village in which I live, I am sure I will be educated further not only about what can and cannot be done, but also about other people’s hopes and fears.

Thereafter I hope we move to a positive consideration of what are we going to do about the impending changes in our lives.  I don’t want just to hunker down and hold my breath.  I want to be part of a conversation which looks at ways of taking the community to a better place for everyone – a place where we thrive in the increasingly competitive global knowledge economy.  I’ll let you know if I gain any insights.

I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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