5 speed gears for the recession

A sheepdog taking a break in some wool, Victor...
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As energetic as a sheepdog!

On another one of my many international flights, a hyperactive attendant was running up-and-down barking orders like a sheepdog as one of my fellow passengers put it. Hyper-energetic people can be tiresome!

Initiative

For a few days now, I’ve been writing about initiative because I’ve become irritated with people sitting around complaining about the recession and ‘all the bad people’ who brought it about.  These complaints claim no responsiblity and worse, promise no contribution to getting us out of this mess.  Before I became too irritated and bossy like a diligent sheepdog, I decided to use a week to review the essence of initiaiive.  Why is it that sometimes we get on with things, and other times we do not?

3 types of initiative

Michael Frese of Giessen University divides initiative into self-starting (jumping in and making tasks our own), proactivity (mentally preparing ourselves and learning about the world) and persistence (dealing with distractions on their own terms and coming back to our own goals).  Self-starters may seem the opposite of planners and persistent people may lack flexibility.

In truth, we need to understand how the world works so we can make an adequate set of plans.  If we do that, we can distinguish between distractions that call for our attention right now, and our own goals that we will get back to soon.  Then we find that our work rate goes up, and we feel goal oriented and on top of our to do list (and the world).

When is it time to chill?

But do we want to be hyperactive all the time – like the flight attendant who behaved like an a collie dog herding sheep?

  • Sometimes we are on a learning curve.  When we’ve had bad news – and what else is the recession than bad news? – then we also have to go through an emotional curve of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  That is our goal and our task immediately – to be patient with ourselves and to work through the curve.
  • Sometimes it is time for a rest.  We want to be like the collie in the picture who is taking a rest in the wool!  There is time for everything and recreation is important.
  • Sometimes it is time to wait.  On these long-distance flights, the worst thing we can do is look at the screen telling we how far we still have to go.  12 hours, 11 hours – it will drive you mad.  Sometimes our task is to wait.

Can we afford to wait?

That doesn’t mean we are doing nothing though!

  • The pilot is driving the plane.  Everything is in hand.
  • We are allowing a well understood process to unfold.  Should we be required to help out, in an evacuation for example, having listened to the safety instructions, we’ll act promptly and decisively.
  • We understand that people around us may be restless, disorganized, agitated or confused.  We make a comfortable social bubble where they can settle down and relax for the ‘long haul’.
  • We relax ourselves knowing that we will need energy for sorting out hassles at the other end.
  • And we enjoy the flight – the movies, our book, a bit of day dreaming, the life stories of our neighbours.

Sometimes initiative means chilling because initiative means letting a process unfold the way it should!

The right speed and the recession

Having lived through an economic melt-down before, I’ve learned we can predict ahead how people react.  These are my estimates.

  • A lot of people will ‘hold their breath’ for another year hoping that the recession will just go away.  They are ‘happy’ to be in the denial or anger stages.
  • Many people will ‘bargain‘ and try to cope individually.  They will trim expenditure and try to be extra-sweet at work to avoid redundancy.
  • Some will lapse into nostalgia and talk endlessly about better days.
  • A handful will find opportunities and be working on them regardless.

What will the first four groups do in a years’ time when the world has moved on?  I think the fifth group needs to think ahead to how to incorporate people who will not have made much preparation for 2010.

Come with me!

What is your feeling about the speed at which we will adjust to the crisis?

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3 channels of initiative for the recession

A financial earthquake

For five years, I lived in New Zealand – earthquake country.  Every household was asked to keep sufficient food and basic supplies for a week.  I religiously rotated tinned food and bottled water (yep that too!).   And next to the food and water store was a medical aid kit, matches and candles.

The so-called ‘recession’ is not unlike living in earthquake country.  We don’t quite know what will happen.  But we know the worst could happen at any time.   And it makes sense to be prepared.

Some people are so spooked, though, they are doing the equivalent of retreating indoors and not coming out!  My colleague in the next office at work had taken some elementary surgery lessons.  When I lectured on intiative, I used to quip that a sensible person should buy a house next door to him!

So what is initiative?

What is an adequate response to the unpredictable and unknown?  What is a sufficient response to prepare us for whatever might happen?

Michael Frese of Giessen University breaks initiative into three parts.

Self-starting

Self-starters get going quickly.  When they are given a task, they dive in, explore, and make it their own.  Gen Y are self-starters, and they confuse Gen X and Baby Boomers who don’t expect young people to step up and own their work.

Self-starters also like feedback.  They continuously monitor what is working and adjust quickly.  Gen Y, too, are notorious, of course, for asking for feedback!  They are results-oriented.

Self-starters aren’t likely to be phased by a recession.  They’ve tightened up their finances already, and they are keeping an eagle-eye on their cash flow and credit lines.

They’ve already started exploring what their customers want in cash-distressed times.  And they are experimenting with new lines.

Above all, self-starters are asking their customers for feedback about their tweaked services.  Self-starters are quick to action and they are continuously monitoring whether their activities are taking them towards their goal.

Proactivity

Proactive people are not just quick to action, they think ahead.  They are the planners of the world.  Because they are so good at thinking ahead and planning for various alternatives, sometimes they seem lazy.  They are those quiet people who don’t have to run around.  They’ve played through so many scenarios in their heads, they are ready for whatever comes up!

The proactives among us have already talked to everyone who remembers past recessions and they are able to run foward-cashflows for several scenarios.   They are on the look out for opportunities and they are busy working out how to arrive at the end of the recession in style & ready for the upturn.  They may even be organizing people and resources to exploit new opportunities!

Persistence

Persistent people are not stubborn.  They are quite flexible!  When distractions come up, they give them full attention, and then return to their work.  German psychologists have shown, for example, that expert computer programmers don’t make fewer errors than novices.  They just solve errors faster.  Getting back to our goals is important.

Persistent people know how to ‘conduct their blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind‘.  They know their strengths and their purpose in life.  For them the recession is not a distraction.  It is another context in which to make their special contribution to the world.

What’s your pattern?

I was always a bit of a self-starter – I always started an exercise before the teacher finished explaining!  I certainly feel alive when I am out-and-about the town talking to traders and the people I am inviting to my community site, Olney100.

With age, I’ve become less proactive.  I’ve come to believe the world is less predictable than I thought in my younger years.  And I would like to have better economic and financial knowledge!  Until I do, I’m working on two principles. We will find salvation by looking after each other and developing new industries which have the potential to sustain our standard of living.

Though I am a completer-finisher, with all the turmoil I’ve seen in the last ten years, I’ve come to believe that positive psychology is key.  It’s important to focus on what really matters in life.  If something makes me unhappy, I consider getting rid of it!  If a mortgage is keeps me awake at night, maybe I should lose it or radically restructure.  I am a work psychologist and I live in a town of 8000 souls.  A company of 8000 employees is small for me – so this is not the best place to live!  Nonetheless, I like it, and the best thing I ever did was to write down on a piece of paper 6 months ago this question: how can I bring my work to Olney?

Positive theorists estimate we can radically change our lives in one to two years by focusing on those things that are deeply important to us and simultaneously important to the well-being of others.

If you are being pulled in several directions at once, maybe you need the courage to write your direction down on a piece of paper and trust to your persistent instincts to work out an answer?

Come with me!

I don’t want to be over prepared for the recession.  Nor do I want to be frozen in fear.  If I were to sum up the work on initiative in three words, they would be : mindfulness, solidarity and self-compassion!

  • Have you done what needs to be done and have you made your work-routines your own?
  • Are you working with other people and sharing know-how about how to do business in a recession?
  • Are you being kind to yourself (and others)?  Do you recognize what you want out of life and what you uniquely contribute?  Are you allowing your special contribution to this world to work its way to the top-of-the-pile?

[MSC : Mice Seek Cheese]

Initiative – are you interested in taking charge of our destiny?

What are we waiting for?

As the financial crisis gathers like a tempest around us, I am struck by what people are doing, and not doing.

When we receive bad news, we go through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And we go through the stages at different speeds.  We do need to be patient.  I need to be patient.

What distinguishes

  • people who might get moving if someone bellowed “all hands on deck” in their ear
  • those people who are already on deck and who got there immediately it was obvious we were in trouble
  • and the people still sitting below in the mess room clutching a cup-of-tea?

This seems to be the question of our time.

Are you waiting for someone to tell you what to do?  Or have you got to work already?

My task this week: initiative

I don’t want to feel impatient, or worse express impatience, with people I work with.

So I’ve set my task this week to review the work of German psychologist, Mike Frese, who writes on initiative.

What readies us to take action and to remain effective even when the world is swirling and crashing around us?

Come with me!

I am going to read over Mike’s work and explain it during the week.   I’d be interested to know of instances of action and inaction that puzzle you.  And whether Mike’s work, or my my explanation of Mike’s work, helps you solve the puzzle!

What does hope have to do with a positive attitude towards error?

Hope is a central concept of positive psychology

I’ve just spotted this brilliantly titled blog on the WordPress Dash and landed on a post about hope, made topical by the man-of-the-hour, Barack Obama. I also believe that hope is key to wellbeing. Without hope, we are so miserable.

As a concept, it is tricky to handle though. In English, hope is often used ironically and so much so, we think of hope as pie in the sky as in “I hope so”.

Hope is seeing the way ahead

Hope is more about seeing the way ahead. And seeing the way ahead depends on your knowledge, both academic and real-world, your ability to bring different bodies of knowledge together, and your knowledge of your own abilities.

Showing the importance of hope in a lab

Two psych experiments are very important.

If I put you in a room with a boring and unpleasant task to do, you will persist longer if I also put a button for you to call me when you have had enough.

I don’t have to connect the button to anything (sigh, psychologists!) because you are never going to use it. Just having it there is enough for you to think you have an ‘out’ that is under your control!

I spotted a post yesterday, but didn’t hang on to the link, about someone who gave up his family wealth and went downtown with 25 bucks in his pocket. In 9 months, he had demonstrated the American dream by building up to an apartment and vehicle. Not to be down on this guy, but he hasn’t really worked his way up. He always knew he could opt out, which is what he did eventually. Working your way up without the opt-ut button is much harder because it is scary.

The morale of the story is keep your contingency fund. Keep your social support. And provide that life line for others too!

You must see the way ahead in our mind’s eye. They must see the way ahead in their mind’s eye.

The second interesting experiment is the famous marshmallow experiment.

We put a little kid in a room with a marshmallow and tell him or her: if that is still there in 15 minutes when I come back, I will give you another one. Kids that wait to get two (delayed gratification) do better in life.

Now let’s try a thought experiment. Say the kid knows I cheat and I am not going to deliver. Or worse, when I come back, I will take the first one away as well. They’d do better to scoff the first marshmallow in an instance.

The world must also work for us and we need to know it works for us.  Hence we plan but don’t overplan. We bring things under our control but leave enough room to adapt to circumstances as they unfold. Michael Frese of Giessen University has shown this with entrepreneurs all over Africa.

The key: be realistic. Hope is not pie in the sky. It is built on a realistic understanding of what we are doing and for most of us, that gives us a very real pleasure.

Hope and the entrepreneur or creative artist

Will your relatives and friends undermine your entrepreneurial efforts, or your dreams to be an artist, or your determination to do something different?

Sure they will. They don’t know what you know.

So you must help them. Give them some time lines. Give them some concrete markers. Don’t expect them to see the world through the same lens as you. Your lens is your knowledge of the situation, your knowledge of the way ahead, and your knowledge of your skills.

That is hope, and it is delicious and self-affirming and encouraging and magnificent and even miraculous.

Learning about hope through movies

To explore hope further, try contrasting these movies:

Shawshank Redemption for knowledge and intricate planning.

Polyanna (is it called Tomorrow?) for optimism and infectious cheerfulness (for those doubting Thomas’)

The Legend of Bagger Vance for accepting social support and trusting to the coherence and timeliness of your ideas

Hope and Mistakes

And what has any of this to do with making mistakes? What will seem like a mistake to others is simply a learning curve to you (at least most of the time).   We are positive about errors when we trust the task, ourselves and the partners in our adventure.

Thanks for the stimulating post. For more ideas on entrepreneurship, go here.