Expand your life: one frontier at a time

Where is your frontier?

Where are the places in your life where you are trying something new and where you know neither the rules and the outcome?

Why those places?  And where are the places that you don’t want to try?

One frontier at a time

I think that like good Generals we can only have one frontier at once.  By their nature, frontiers are scary and ask for all our attention.  Maybe we can have one-and-a-half frontiers – one serious one and one hobby.

Which frontiers are become possible?

More interesting are the frontiers that terrify us.  Aren’t those worth looking at again?  Maybe we can edge towards what we couldn’t contemplate last year.

What terrifies you?  Of this list, which might be quite long, which might you actually want to make your frontier for 2010?  Your frontier where you know neither the rules nor the outcome?  (Breath and breath out slowly!)

I think I will go to bed thinking about the frontiers that frighten me!

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!

3 models to re-design jobs to add-value during the recession

Tell your MP you support the Flexible Working Hours Bill

 

Image by Finsec via Flickr

How is your business coping with the recession?

  • Are you taking a cynical view of less business, less of a talent shortage, less work for me?
  • Or are you being asked for ways to improve productivity and be more attractive to customers and employees?

Do we know how to design jobs to enhance productivity?

To coin a phrase, Yes, we do! And we have known for some time.

1. Hackman and Oldham (1976)

Before Gen Y were a gleam in their father’s eye, American psychologists, Hackman and Oldham published the Job Characteristics Model. It is a five point model which is handy for reviewing a job and for designing “events” such as lectures which must be comfortable for each of the 400 students in the audience.

a. Is the task a whole task? Is it designed to be started and finished by the same person or team?

b. Is the job important? How does it relate to the work of other people?

c. Does the person doing the job get feedback? Are they able to tell how well they are doing the work from the task and from the people who use the results?

d. Is the job contained? Does the person doing the job have control over the resources including the way the job is done and when it is done?

e. Is the job interesting? Does it call for a variety of skills and is the person doing the job able to learn new skills?

We are NOT talking about Taylor as you can see.

[A C F C V : Auto Connect Friends Responsibly & Variously]

2. Job design and Gen Y

I notice that much of the talk about Gen Y follows this very same agenda. So hats-off to the young. Maybe we will get well designed work at last!

Of course, Gen Y haven’t thought this model up for themselves. The model is embedded into two phenomena that older people love to hate.

Social media, like Facebook, allow

1. Autonomy: the choice of taking part on your own terms, personalizing your input, and managing your time and attention.

2. Competence: tasks that encourage deep engagement, flow, internal goals, internal feedback and intense concentration.

3. Relatedness: multiple ways to interact, collaborate, share, express gratitude, and expand one’s social network.

3. Computer Games develop similar attitudes

1. Bottom-line, results orientation: how am I doing and is the ranking fair?

2. Collaboration with dissimilar others: who do I need to complete this task with me and where and how can I work find people with the skills I need?

3. Problem solving in novel situations: experimentation to learn the rules, and to experiment with the rules.

Devil’s Advocate

If I am to play the devil’s advocate, I can ask:  does every one respond well to a game-like environment. No ~  some people do like utterly repetitive boring jobs. I am sure you will recognize them if you meet them. But I suspect you might have difficulty finding them.

More importantly, people of the 21st century don’t like being “gamed”. They will play the game, but the game must satisfy their interests. If they feel “gamed”, they are likely to resort to passive aggression.

People like taking responsibility and if you ask them to do the impossible, you will stress them – visibly.

Benefits

What benefits might you expect from improving job design. These are benefits I have seen:

  • The burden of day-to-day management fell away and managers were able to spend their time on problems outside of the firm: negotiating power, fuel, major deals, etc.
  • Employees passed messages from customers to the right people. Customers satisfaction and sales shot up.
  • The percentage of work passing quality control increased by 12x and workers pushed aside deficient work which they fixed for free on Saturdays.
  • Production increased 3x and workers were able to go home at noon (an effective pay increase!)

Practical steps

Would you like a working heuristic?

One side of paper only

1. Require managers to delegate all the goals for all their subordinates on one side of paper. The brief should include the bigger picture (the boss’ boss’ goal), the boss’ overall goal, a goal for each subordinate, any non-standard resources, how they will coordinate.

Communication is in the mind of the receiver

2. Check that each employee knows how to reach their goal (and has done something similar before), and can list their resources, authority and main professional guidelines.

Concentrate on coordination rather than control

3. Check each employee knows when they should signal that they are ahead of schedule and could affect other people’s work, or behind schedule and need more resources.

Concentrate your efforts on redesigning the manager’s job

4. If the manager interferes with the work or does not respond immediately to requests for rescheduling, redesign the manager’s job! They have too much or too little to do!

Count & celebrate!

5. Record the group’s progress. And celebrate!

And then to fine-tune the system:

  • Order tasks on a 1, 2, 3 system. The first time we learn, the 2nd time we polish, the 3rd time we get bored.
  • Allow people to rotate. Someone might have to go to round 4 before a rotation comes up. Never mind! It is better than no rotation.
  • Allow people to set internal goals and improve their work. Someone may want to stay longer in job because they are working on a way to do it better.

Relatedness

Organizing the workplace.

  • Gen Y are savvy about modern media. Let them use it. Review your confidentiality policies with them, of course, and let them design security!
  • Give people private places to work where they control access to their desk, their time, and their attention. And communal places to meet informally and formally.

ROI

The return on investment depends on your starting position. Because the investment is minimal, we can look at improvements as our return.

Remember you will have constraints: machines go at maximum speeds and may be erratic too. Production may produce, but can sales sell. Do start in a sensible place and take into account the way sections feed into each other.

Collaboration

If you have done any job redesign, I would be really interested in collaborating with you.

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

Curriculumillusione

I’ve just found Curriculumillusione, a Dutch interface (pick the English top right).

Pick a user name, set your date of birth and the year you wish to die.  The programme prompts you to consider the most important thing you want to accomplish in life and corollary events.

And it won’t let you stay too long!  It sends you packing after a while and tells you to come back in 24 hours!

I look forward to your comments when you’ve had a chance to use it.

Hat tip to Everything 2.0.

 

UPDATE:  I’ve gone back a few times to CI.  It is tremendously difficult to do.  Few of us have really thought through the way the world is going and our place in it.

I think it is worth checking in once a quarter and asking ourselves ~ what do we need to know to fast forward the world.  And then doing some research.

Reminding myself of the importance of recreation through Steve Pavlina’s personal development forum

I’ve just joined Steve Pavlina‘s personal development forum. The posts are a bit reminiscent of “Dear Auntie Jane” though the younger people in the group won’t remember the one-to-many days when people wrote in to a newspaper or magazine. This is truly many-to-many in 2.0 spirit and people who join are knowledgeable about personal development and willing to share their ideas.

I posted a few replies to youngsters who felt disoriented and benefited in 2.0 spirit from reflections on my own life. I moved countries last year having done so five years earlier (so fourth city in five years). I was well aware how much time I was spending networking professionally and attending to functional things.

It’s really important to lead a full life with relationships close and social, casual and professional. Everyone should be pursuing a good range of sport, cultural and social activity. It reminds me of David Whyte quoting Rainer Rilke’s poem about the fire and the night. We don’t want to concentrate on the fire. It ignores the night. We want to look at the night which holds everything including the fire.

Hard as it can be when we are under pressure of immediate things-to-do, we need to cherish our wider night of activities we hold dear. Mindtools has an database system for building goals in all areas of our lives – though you can do it on paper too. It is well worth an annual springclean to check through our appreciation of the fullness of life and let the mundane details and work take their place in the wider scheme of things.

Minutes after  I drafted this post, I discovered MindGym, a coaching site with a fresh approach.  Oddly, they think it is a good thing to be taking work home with you.  Sure, we all do – but a good thing?  Must take that up with them.  And folks, the MindGym is British! Yeah!  Must definitely get in touch with them.