3 questions to ask when you are stuck

I’m stuck!  Oh, we are. So often!

From time to time, we feel like we are stuck deep mud

Have you ever driven a car into deep mud? It’s infuriating.  Your first impulse is to gun the engine. Your wheels spin. And you sink into the mud!

Arrgh! We got into the mud because we were in a hurry and in frustration we’ve made it even harder to get out!

Knowledge matters when we are stuck in mud

  • Try explaining to a driver stuck in mud that they must inch out!
  • Try explaining that they must put the lightest touch on the accelerator and give the wheels a chance to gain traction!
  • Try explaining that we might need to put something dry under the wheels to give them some grip.
  • Try explaining that pushing and heaving is not the answer.

Patience and know-how is going to win the day!

Change driver? I would but it is your life!

When people sink real cars into real mud, it is often easier to tell them to get out and let me drive the car out. Especially if they are blokes. They don’t listen to women about driving!

But in the real world, you have to drive yourself out. I can’t do that for you.  I am also going to leave you if you are so engrossed in your own wobbly that all you want to do is put your foot on the pedal.

When you are willing to calm down and work patiently to get out of this muddy dilemma, then we can work together.

These are the questions we will ask and answer when you are stuck in mud

  • Where are the wheels? Where are our traction points? Where are our points of contact with the world or the problem?
  • What could we put under the wheels? Is there some gravel or cardboard or grass we could put under the wheels? What can we do to help the world help us?
  • Can we be trusted to put the vehicle in first gear, or even reverse, and apply our feet very lightly to the gas pedal? Can we be relied upon to inch out with out getting into other mud, splattering your helpers, or driving into them? Will you concentrate?

Of course you can get out of a difficult situation

But you have to want to. You have to have some idea that this is an important task. You are going to have to ditch your temper tantrum. You are going to have to work with what is workable – what is in touch with the world and how can we strengthen the connection.  You are going to be controlled – a light touch to allow the world to respond helpfully. You are going to have to know your tools and use them to express your respect to the world.

You can’t try this and then that and then something else. Control is of the essence here.

  • Review the situation and find the points were we make contact with the world.
  • Improve the traction at those points.
  • Inch out using touch-and-feel to improve the traction.

Are you up for getting out of stuck?

Psychologists, mentors, coaches help you keep your nerve. But you will do the work. And you can begin right now by taking a deep breath and listing all the points in the system where something works – anything that works.

Take that list to your psychologist. Well, you might save yourself the fee and solve the problem yourself!

For people who don’t get Twitter, Facebook, etc. Nice story ~ other people can read it too

This is a long story and a tame story in many respects, read on . . .

I am a psychologist. Any one who has majored in psychology knows that we are trained at university and college to be distant from our clients. We are even trained to call people “subjects” – or we were in my day.

We are also trained to see ourselves as people who have facts – to see ourselves as right, because we know the truth.

This is how we demonstrate to ourselves and our peers (other people trained like us) that we are right. We predict what will happen, and after what was supposed to have happened happens, we check whether we were right, preferably by counting something. Not all bad, but wait.

Positive psychology often continues this tradition. Positive or appreciative management goes further. The critical idea is one of generativity – that we engage with other people without defining our objective. So we cannot say what will happen, and because we cannot say what will happen, we cannot check whether we are right. That has psychologists of my generation heading for the hills! And that is a pity, because positive psychology has something to say.

Anyway, that is the back story – psychologists had to learn a way of thinking at college. We learnt it, and learnt it well. Now we encounter a new way of thinking, we find it hard – disorienting actually. Giddy making. It is difficult to follow what is good about appreciative management when it clashes so fundamentally with the way we learned to think early in our careers.

How 2.0 helped me

My task. I undertook to make a presentation on the new psychology to psychologists. Using the principle of going from the familiar to the unfamiliar, I wanted to keep in the step of checking results and I needed a reference or idea to fill the hole.

How did I do it? Fairly predictably, going to Google and Google Scholar didn’t help. What I did was check through my del.icio.us bookmarks and see what who had similar interests to me. And I found my paper on the evaluation of generative methodologies! Bookmarked by one other person! Amazing. In half-and-hour to an hour, using what I saved on del.icio.us for earlier projects, I found exactly the rare article I needed!

How was this different from the way I did things before? Wasn’t that what we have always done? Searched around libraries until we found something? Ah, I didn’t search around the Library. I searched around people I didn’t know and who don’t go to the same conferences and meetings as me. Not only did someone I not know help me, they helped me in good faith, that I would help the next person and the next person, etc. This is the O’Reilly principle that web 2.0 systems get better the more we use them.

So what did I need to do that I didn’t need to do before?

  1. I must join in with a view to finding like-minded people rather than experts.
  2. I must put a trail of my activity out there. The end of the rainbow is where my trail intersects with the trail of someone else – not lots of people – one person. At the intersection is the person who interests me – and it is very likely that I interest them.

Could I have been more 2.0?

Yes. I could have engaged and reciprocated! I could have written to the author, thanked him and allowed him to benefit from my project.

Sorry! I was still in 1.0!

Wolf in sheep’s clothing or sheepdog in charge of the flock?

The lottery of Stumbleupon may have delivered an article on “luckiness”. Today, my fingers typed zero zero instead of OO and Launchy retrieved something dubious from the depths of my computer – a post modernist view of management.

Rants that pretend to have substance

Yes, I read that sort of thing, so you don’t have to – and just in case the author knows something we don’t.

I read a little of the article as I tried to figure out what I was looking at and how it came to be on my screen. I found a rant.

In short, Nike pays Tiger Woods as much per day as you or I earn in a year. And more than one of their workers earns in a lifetime. The writer was disgusted. I am sure the writer is correct – factually and morally.

But, when I looked more closely, I thought the pot was calling the kettle black. First, there was the rant. Then, there was some obscure theorizing. The author plainly didn’t see the his argument could be applied to him.  He lives in the West very well.   How many people around the world support his lifestyle with their poverty?

So, I wondered, what is a morally acceptable position?

I think we have to put our money where our mouth is.

Shouldn’t we be honest about what we will fight for and what we are trying to win – at least to ourselves?  Don’t we have to fight for the right we talk about?  Don’t we have to get out there and fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the people we champion?  Don’t we have to risk as much as they do?

Isn’t anything less hypocritical?

My 4 rules of a honest life

#1 It seems to me that as I cannot do everything with everyone, I should choose what I will do with whom, and join them, winning with them and losing with them.

#2 I think I have to tell the story from our own side.  Who did this post-modernist represent as he stood in his Western classroom?  I don’t know.  But I’d better know whom I am representing when I stand there!

#3 I need a clear goal.  And I prefer to be able to say it aloud in other people’s hearing.  I like to think through what the people who pay for my goal will have to say about it.  Not the people who pay me – the people who pay for my good fortune.  Will I be fleeing with them at my heels?  I don’t say this out of cowardice.  I am happy to annoy people if I believe in what I am doing.  But I am not going to pretend that my goals have no impact on other people.  Let me be clear about the inconvenience and upset that I cause.

#4 And not least, I need to respect that other people will pursue their goals equally vigorously.  To expect them to do anything less is crazy.  I may need to defend my projects from theirs.  If I find their projects totally unacceptable, I might feel compelled to stop them.  And I might get hurt in my efforts.   That’s why diplomacy is the preferred first strategy.   Perverting Clausewitz- war is just diplomacy continued through other means.

Player or spectator?

But just to rant?  Not for me.  I talk and write to figure out what I think, so that I can act.  I prefer to be a player.  Always have.

I very consciously chose to teach in Universities and to do consultancy because in these roles I am a line manager. I know that neither look like action to you!  But I am a psychologist, so it is in these roles that I run a business. I set the direction. I allocate resources. I solve problems. I am accountable for the outcomes. I couldn’t bear a role with no responsibility.

But that is my preference. What is yours? Are you a player?

Little known secrets about what a work and organizational psychologist will do for you in a recession

My job is to help you find forward momentum

I’m a psychologist. What this means, in short, is that you come to see me when you feel frustrated and it is my job to help you find a way forward.

Clinical psychology, social workers, lawyers & doctors

For some people getting out of a bad situation is complicated.  Quite often they are in extremely difficult circumstances and they need social workers, doctors, lawyers, etc. to help them solve practical problems.

They may also have lived in difficult circumstances for so long that they no longer recognize easy circumstances.  Helping them unravel their view of life and live an easier life is the work of clinical psychologists.

Work & organizational psychologists

Most people who come to see me are not in a bad situation.  They are at one of the normal turning points in life where they have to make a decision and they do not have sufficient information.  These turning points are often frustrating and scary, but they are essentially about questions like which organization should I join?  Or, how do I improve my status and my income?  Psychologists like me work less like clinical psychologists, who work with what is in your head, more like social workers, doctors and lawyers.  We help you understand and manage the external world, and in particular the world of organizations and work.

Indeed, we are quite often work for organizations rather than individuals and when we do, we are architects of systems.  We design selection systems.  We design disciplinary codes.  We design bonus systems.  HR systems are just formalized ways of making a lot of personal decisions about what we are doing and where we are going.  When we design the systems well, we give people an easy framework to make their own decisions well.  And we also strengthen the organization, by providing a place where we live and work comfortably and easily.

Work & organizational psychologists ask a lot of questions about work & business

To design good systems, we need to know a lot about jobs and business.  Of course, we don’t know as much as the people who run the business and who have worked in it all their lives.  Businesses and technologies change fast too.  So we are less in the business of knowing, and more in the business of asking questions.

Learning about the financial crisis

I started writing this post this morning after I read a post from the redoubtable Alice Cook, who provides a graph showing that financial debt has grown disproportionately to consumer and corporate debt in the UK.  I knew that generally but didn’t have a graph at my finger tips.  So thank you.  I like to have data stored away neatly.

Personal action during the financial crisis

I am amazed, though, that anyone is amazed by these figures.  Like many people, I feel that the managerial classes in the UK have a lot to answer for.  They should have known these figures intimately and acted accordingly.

The trouble is that blaming others is pretty useless as a psychological technique.  Professionals & business leaders may be to blame.  We might be right to hold them in contempt.  And personally, I wouldn’t feel unhappy if they were prosecuted.  But blaming others doesn’t help us feel better, and more importantly, it doesn’t help use get things right.  So I’ll leave that to others.

As a psychologist, what I have to say is this.

Until we are all a lot better informed, we will simply lurch from one crisis to another

Listed below are the bare bones of an information system that I am used to having at my disposal.

  • Trends in our industry
  • Current economic figures supplied monthly by our bank
  • People around me who read the figures
  • Key figures pertaining to our industry
  • Data on databases so that computer savvy people (including youngsters) can play with data and ask questions
  • Key figures that show the strength and resilience of our business
  • Key figures readily available so computer savvy people can play with them and ask questions

It is true I have not seen this information being made freely available to employees since I have arrived in the UK but I’ve lived elsewhere where a key player in the provision of information to people in business has been, ironically, British-listed banks.

If we want to get out of the biggest mess since the great Depression, we are going to have to do something. And to do something, we have to begin.  The first steps I will tell you, being a psychologist, is to ask questions.

Some easy no-cost first steps that individuals and small business owners should take

You have a computer and internet?  So let’s go.  If you haven’t already done it, it’s time to set up your own economic intelligence system.

FIVE steps will do it.  Set up folders on your email, feeds reader, bookmarkers and hard drive,  and a page on your blog.

1. Google Alerts.  Set up Google Alerts for your industry.

I have alerts for UK jobs and UK GDP and use a ‘rule’ to send them straight to my “intelligence” folder in email.  I read them once a week or when I need a break from other tasks.

2.  As you find useful blogs, subscribe in your feeds reader.

I scan these at my leisure and make a point of reading The Economist on Thursday evenings.

3. Bookmark articles you might want to come back to.

One big folder works better than many little ones.  Bookmarks saves you Google-time when you want to re-call something.

4.  Save useful graphs, data and pictures on your hard drive for the presentation you will make later!

5. Blog from time to time to organize your thoughts.

Then make an index of useful posts on a separate page where your readers can find all your writings on the future of your industry and local economy.

So will being economically-savvy help?

Keeping an eye on the economy does not stop other people from being foolish, of course.  And it can also make you feel panicky when you see a trend that no one else seems to care about.

I find that understanding the economy is like knowing the motorway ahead is congested.  I have created choice for myself.  I can keep driving and join the throngs inching along and losing their tempers.  Or I can pull off, and take a longer route through the back roads.

Neither may be a great outcome and it is also possible to put far too much effort into deciding the best alternative.  But I prefer a leisurely drive down the back roads enjoying the country view than boiling with frustration on an ugly motorway.

And I quite happy to leave behind badly run organizations for a business venture that is smaller and more likely to be here tomorrow.

Follow the good money

If you haven’t already done so, begin.  Spend a few hours a week following the economic data.  It gets easier.

And if we all do it, we won’t be routed by unscrupulous managers, at least for a while.

79 flowers to brand your work

Carnation~
Image by edzahid via Flickr

I’m carrying a torch for you!

A red carnation.  I think that is mine.

I set 5 hard questions about business models in the age of the internet that I am having difficulty answering myself.

So let me start close in, so to speak.  Which flower represents the commitment a psychologist has to client?

A red carnation – I am carrying a torch for you.

Which flower captures the heart of your work?

Do bookmark my blog and come back to tell me.  Please.

Sorry, the flower page seems to have been removed.  I’ve looked around the internet and haven’t found one I like so much.   Have a look at pages listed under “flowers meaning”,  just to help you put your finger on the essence of your relationship with your customers.

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How our training as psychologists inhibits our ability to understand generative, positive and appreciative psychology

The way psychologists were taught to think

I suspect that the most interesting concept in positive psychology, if you are a psychologist, is the relationship between the past, the present, and the future.

Our training is based predominantly on on linear models. We are trained to think that if we are X today, we will be Y tomorrow. Most of our tuition taught us to define and measure X’s and Y’s and took for granted that today and tomorrow are independent.

The way psychologists will be taught to think

Positive psychology is based on recursive models. The past does not predict the future; it is part of the future. Mathematically, we predict the value of X in the future, rather than the value of Y in the future.

Is the future a separate place?

David Whyte’s Midlife and the Great Unknown begins by addressing the relationship between future, present and past. To feel well, to feel vital, to feel alive, we need to be active, to be acting our future in the context of the present. In other words, always to be doing now what we want for the future, without the future being a separate place.

Everyone’s story is unique

I particularly like David Whyte’s idea that we are all unique – well of course we know that, but do we act that way? Do we look at all our relationships with people, with events, with places and even with things and see a unique story that is unfolding and interesting in itself?

Mindfulness as experiencing being present

Related is the concept of mindfulness – to be fully present in events, not to experience their beauty or their ghastliness (ghastliness is real) but to experience being present.

It is a hard concept for we psychologists!