We can afford what we create

The golden rule of economics and politics

It is all that we need to know really.  We can afford what we create.

Our plan of work tells us what we can afford

And from the golden rule ~ we can afford what we create ~ we have two other rules.

It is better to work with others than alone

None of us can create everything we want, or need, to afford.  It matters that we belong to a bigger group or tribe.

The collective to which we belong tells us what we can afford.  Our family, our company, and yes, the country, the sovereign state to which we belong, define what we create and our lifestyle.

When I am writing, someone is creating the electricity that powers this laptop.  While another person is making my washing machine (running in the background), I am looking for easy-to-understand writing on our economy that cuts through the obfuscation delivered by politicians.

The system matters.  Our place in it also matters.  But the whole,  the collective, is what we must keep our eye on.  Where we draw the boundary matters.  Because we can afford what we can create. Who is weBetween us, we create what we can afford.

Draw a circle around who we trust, and who lives and breathes because we live and breathe, and we have defined what we create and what we can afford.

If that circle is too small to define the lifestyle we want,  there is our first task.  Widen the circle. Widen the  magic circle of trust.

We need leaders who instinctively read that circle and work with our neighbors, suppliers and customers to widen our system.

Tell me what you are going to do.  Economics will follow.

The second rule that follows the golden rule is that value comes first.  We can check the economics afterward.

The clear writing economist, Ann Pettifor, makes this point well.

The central bank in each country should set the money supply to match the economic capacity of a country.

She doesn’t like using a household or small company as an example.  So let’s use a giant multinational.

When a giant company needs something done, and they are pretty certain it will work out, they put up the budget and let the managers and workers get on with it.  Money comes first in time.  But profits, and worrying about profits comes last.  Paying back the investors comes last.  We will recover our money provided we only put up the amount of money that the work was worth.

But we will never make money unless we have the money to bring a team together and get going.

The skill in managing, and financing, a major investment is understanding what venture is worth.

Before you tell me that business does not work like that.  It does.  Don’t confuse where you work with successful companies and successful public service.  I’ve consulted to them.  I’ve led in them.

I have two rules:

  • What do you want to do?
  • After you’ve told me, we’ll run the numbers to make sure it is economically viable.  If not, we go back to question 1.  What do you want to do? We begin with the value.  We begin with what you want to create.  Economics follows.  If you want to do it, we will back it.

We can afford what we can create

These are our questions.

What can we create?

Who do we create it with?

What is our potential that we are not using?

To find our potential: ask people.  What do you want to do?  When that is on the table, we’ll run the numbers.  If the numbers hold together, we back their plans.

The golden rule and Britain’s government deficit

Ann Pettifor puts this story in the context of Britain’s government deficit(which is large but not nearly as big as the bank bailouts).  She is standing for parliament but don’t let that dissuade you.  She writes clearly.  That alone is a good reason for electing her.

The collective, Britain, defined by the reach of the Bank of England and the reach of the pound sterling, has potential.   Fund it.  A simple message.  Fund what we can create.

The only question that I ask, and I’ll go to her blog now to ask the question, is how quickly will we recover the money?  I think I would like to see the numbers run by month, quarter and year.  Then I would feel more comfortable.

Then my trust would increase  Then the collective strengthens.

Sometimes economists (and lawyers and accountants) forget that everything they do depends upon us believing it.  Yes, the outer boundary is the reach of the pound sterling.   The real boundary is our belief in each other.  Some people call this belief ‘confidence’ but that is the wrong measure.

Confidence  is self-efficacy.  The correct measures is collective self-efficacy.  The question for that is “Do I believe that you will do better economically this year?” When we answer yes to that question, then we will boom.

But first the question of timing.  I must ask Ann that.

For now I am thankful for finding that quotation.  Simple.  Pithy.  We can afford what we create.

Followed by my two rules.

  • People matter.  Who is we.
  • We’ll check the economics after we have decided what we want to do.

P.S.  I googled “we can afford what we create” and I didn’t find any other reference to it.  Did Ann coin this phrase or is it a well known economic expression?

Give up control to be in control. Make any sense to you?

Yikes, our psychology is old fashioned

Here we are close to 2010, wrestling with philosophy and physics that was well documented half a century ago.

Let’s look at what most of us think of as science.

If I throw a stone, in theory, I can predict where it will land.   I like that. It is certain. I like that I know exactly what is going to happen.

But, of course, I don’t know where it will land.

  • I am no good at throwing stones.  It could go anywhere.
  • My ability to calculate the physics of the trajectory is limited (I’ve forgotten and can’t do it in my head in real time).
  • And other factors kick in such as the wind.

All in all, that stone becomes unpredictable. Oh, I don’t like that.

I don’t like the idea that what I thought was certain is not. It’s as if the earth shook under my feet.

Let’s look at what we think of as weakness of character

I hate it even more when I become unpredictable.  Yesterday, I woke up thinking a project was hopeless.  By the evening, I was so excited about the exact same project that I could not sleep.  My judgement should not swing about like that ~ at least if I am a person of substance, or so we are brought up to believe.

The truth is that nothing is predictable.  Least of all us.

So why do we persist in believing the world is under our control?

This is how it works. We have is a few factors under our control.  When we focus on those factors, we feel calm.  We feel efficacious.  And therefore we persist in whatever we are doing.

It doesn’t mean that we are effective.  It just means that we are willing to persist.  We pay attention. We are more likely to do what we are thinking about than what we are not thinking about. So we get done what we are thinking about.

In a circular fashion, we think we will succeed, we feel in control, so we persist and therefore we try, and sometimes we do succeed.

There is still a huge factor of chance involved though.  There is  so much else happening around us that can affect an outcome.   We’ve simply narrowed the range of outcomes by paying attention.

Is it a good thing to control our attention?

It’s interesting that in the western world that we put such a high premium on predicting results.  We really want to feel in control, of course.  Not be in control, feel in control.

We aren’t really in control. We are just ignoring what is out of our control. We are just writing a story of us in control. It is the story of being in control that we love! Take that away, and we really feel helpless!

You don’t believe  that we just like to think we are in control?

Let’s look at the west. It is more successful than the rest of the world. It is richer.

Yes, it is. And dirtier. Where do the emissions come from? How much energy is used to make this life style?

We are richer because we consume. That’s what wealth means in this sense. We have learned to consume a lot.

And if that is a marvellous thing, then aren’t we are being silly ~ we are destroying the world’s ability to sustain the thing that we say is so important.

Aren’t we just behaving like a person who barges to the front of the queue? It is true we get there. But at the expense of becoming very unpopular.

The point is that we barged to the front of the queue, not because being in the front was important, but because we wanted to feel in control. Now we are in the front, do we feel in control? No we don’t. All those people behind us will get their own back at the first opportunity! We’ve reduced our control.

High control needs

Now I am an in control type of person. Anyone who knows me, knows that. I like being in control. I look for ways to understand the world. I think we do more when we understand the world

But I shouldn’t mistake

  • My desire to be in control
  • The mechanisms that explain the behaviour of plants, animals, things and other people
  • My ability to control all these things

These are three different parts of the system.

Paradoxically, to be in control, I must give up control and join a system in which many mechanisms interrelate.

Oh, I can carry on being me. Enthusiastic, energetic, zestful. But that is just me being exuberant. Exuberant people are part of the universe. Take us into account in your calculations!

But my wish to control does not make things controllable. It means I will spend a lot of time researching what is controllable. I will not stop trying to make things controllable. But that does not make things controllable. I must distinguish my urge from reality.

The truth is that all the forces of the world exist because other forces exist and interplay with each other. I can learn what is humanly possible. I can learn as much as I can of the considerable knowledge of the world that there we have at our disposal. I can try to use the knowledge.

But I should never confuse my need to control with the ability to control. Indeed if I want to be effective, I should stand back a bit and not confuse the tunnel vision of will with the mindfulness when we pay attention to the world around us.

When we enjoy the world, when we celebrate everything around us, we get a lot more done.

Am I making any sense? This is hard to get.

For an inspiring 20 minutes: JK Rowling @ a Harvard commencement

Just in case you don’t know, JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books. She was also invited to address a Harvard graduation day (they call it commencement on that side of the Atlantic.)

JK Rowling tells her life story and she is very very funny. She also illustrates positive psychology. You will be inspired

One and two: Twenty minutes together.

Before you rush off again, slow down and touch the luck

Luck – some people have it!

A few days ago, Stumbleupon quite appropriately threw up an old Telegraph article on Richard Wiseman’s work on luck, or luckiness.

Quite briefly, Wiseman showed in an experiment that unlucky people have tunnel vision. They are so focused on what they want that they miss good stuff happening under their noses.

More interestingly, Wiseman ran a ‘luck school’ and helped luckier people get luckier and unlucky people become lucky.

The ‘luck school’ is hard to find

I’ve searched and searched but I cannot find the Wiseman’s exercises Nor has the work developed much traction under Google Scholar. It seems that Wiseman is breaking his first principle of luck – get out there.

Firewalls, copyright, hopes for a bob or two from a book sale, consigns interesting work to oblivion.

Failing in my search for what Wiseman actually did, I reverted to first principles – in plain language, worked it out for myself. Reinvented the wheel!

Luck & positive psychology

Since Wiseman did his work, positive psychology, positive organizational scholarship and the mytho-poetic tradition in management have burst into bloom. So I’ll start there. Does Wiseman’s work add to what we know about having a good life?

#1 Wiseman talks about self-fulfilling prophecies, which are devastatingly powerful ,as we know from Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. When you are treated like a lady, you act like a lady. We are immensely influenced by 0ther people’s expectations of us. And we are also influenced by our expectations, when we believe them.

Simply put, it’s a good idea to work on our story and to write down the best one that we can believe in. And then write it again, and again. As we live out the best one that we believe in, we’ll create opportunities that allow us to imagine another, and then another!

#2 Psychologists are wizards at ‘reframing’. That’s what most psychologists do for you when you have a bad case of the blues. You can teach yourself to reframe too. That’s what a gratitude diary does. I stumbled over a permutation of the conventional gratitude by playing with the Montreal app Inpowr.

This is what you do. Jot down what happened in your ghastly day and ask what went wrong – just as you normally do.  Remonstrate with yourself – why did I . . . etc. etc. etc. When you are done beating yourself up, ask yourself what you will do better next time. Great. That’s where most coaches take you.

Now fly! Ask yourself this: why did I do so well? You are not saying you did well, but why did you do  well? And then you notice the positive mechanisms that were jumbled up in the mess. You’ll feel better immediately andsee your ‘pushing off’ points in a flash. A good night’s sleep, and you approach the next day positively.

#3 Psychologists, and even more so positive organizational scholars and mytho-poetic practitioners, also encourage us to think through our story.  What brought us to this place?  What is the road we are travelling?  What is our journey?  We are often in tizz because we feel rejected. Bad events challenge our sense of self-worth.  When we recall our journey and see the hazards as part of that journey, then we put them in perspective. Yes, the situation is bad. The situation is bad. We are not. If we have done bad things, we can make amends. But we should never, ever confuse the bad situation with ourselves. We should also watch out for people who try to confuse us with the situation. People who are insecure in themselves think because we are confronting bad situations that we are unlucky and edge away from us.   Reassure them. Then, see if they come to help. If they don’t, fine. Every journey includes people who help and people who obtruct!

In short, we chose the story we live. Something brought us to this place. We must own our story that led us to encounter the bad stuff, but not the bad stuff itself.  That’s just bad.

#4 And then get out there! We can’t win the lottery if we aren’t in it. If we meet the same people every week, we cannot meet anyone new. The trick in life is to add a little variety and chance to our daily comings-and-goings. We can take a different route home. Or, sit in a different carriage. Or, travel at a different time. We can talk to people in a queue or to our neighbours on the street. We can take a walk at lunchtime or do something uncharacteristic – go to a museum, buy lunch for a homeless person. Mix it up, a little.

This too is a feature of the positive approach to psychology in this way. Just as we are not bad because the situation is bad, we are not good in and of ourselves either. We are our interactions with the world. Our life is situated in those interactions. If our relationship with the world has got stale and boring, then we can give it a quick fluff up as we might a cushion. Now remember, don’t give the world a fluff up, and don’t give yourself a fluff up – give your interactions with the world a fluff up!. That is why makeovers are so cheap and easy to do. A smile rather than a frown. A different route to work. A quick polish of the glass after you washed it. Little acknowledgements that the world is there.

Poet David Whyte says: when our eyes are tired, no part of the world can find us. Relax your eyes and let them wander. You will be amazed at who & what says hello.

Luck is more than positive psychology

What does seem to be different about the work on luck is its attention to variation.

So much of western psychology tries to remove variation from life. We are expected to walk in lock-step like soldiers on parade. We are taught that mistakes are bad. We demand punctuality (yet we have inefficient transport and we lose data on trains).

Everyone who has studied stats knows that we look at two numbers : the average (or mid-point) and the spread.

If we just attend to the average, we would be like an army that buys the average size boots and asks every soldier to wear them whether they are much too big or much too small.

There is an old joke too that armies line up the recruits on the first day and send away the tallest and the shortest – because they didn’t buy uniforms in those sizes.

When an army does that they have recognised that they have variation – but they are still trying to make variation go away.

There is an alternative. To ask how variety will work for us. That is what we can learn from the work on luck.

Our personal goals and stories should embrace the richness of the world, and the variety out there. Our personal goals and stories should embrace what we don’t know and the way other people can surprise us.

A colleague of mine, a British/Norwegian psychologist, trained executives to listen to presentations and to hold back their reactions until they had asked these questions:

  • What surprised me about what you just said?
  • What would I like to know more about?

Once they’d explored disconcerting events or requests, then they could make decision.

Slow down, and put your finger on the luck, before you rush off again?

I am good at dealing with recessions!

or will be!

Professional responsibility can be demanding

In an earlier incarnation, I had a reputation for taking on the tough projects – multiple constituencies, vested interests, and consequences for everyone involved.  I loved that work.  It took listening, carefully; it took discretion; and it took carefully working through details to find solutions that others had missed and being very clear about the consequences we asked each party to tolerate.

During most of the time I did this work, I also taught at the local university.  Students were always surprised when I told them, usually to encourage them when they were losing heart over a project of their own, that there was a moment during every project when I felt the project was going to beat me.  There was always a moment when I had felt that this would be the one.

Running a small business is a lot scarier

Starting a small business took anxiety to a whole new level, and the question I ask myself, is why?  Why is worrying about cash flow so much more scary?

Is it because we are so much less in control?

Is it because the stakes are higher – if we mess up we may have to pack up the business?

Is it because running out of money assaults our middle class identity more severely than not acing a professional project that was regarded as difficult in the first place?

Is it because I have higher self-efficacy or self-belief in professional work?

Is it because professional work is for other people and I am less motivated to look after myself?

Psychological advice almost seems flippant

There is a lot of advice around for dealing with debilitating anxiety and I have dispensed a lot of it myself.

  • I like to be well prepared so I have no reason to be anxious.
  • I make sure I have a fall back position.
  • I remind myself of good times.
  • I value my social support – I know it helps.
  • And I make sure I get exercise, sleep, and eat sensibly.

The truth is is when we feel deep anxiety, it detracts from anything else.  We don’t feel prepared.  We don’t have a fall back position.  Good times in the past aren’t really relevant.  We’re on our own.  And now we, can’t sleep, can’t eat or eat too much, and exercise makes us feel like we will pass out.  And if we are really lucky, we have a full scale anxiety attack that looks like a heart attack to anyone watching.

Lao Tzu might have better advice

I pondered this problem for a day and equally pondered the inadequacy of our advice.  We are able to tell people how to deal with theoretical fear, not the real thing.

Then I stumbled on a saying on the Positive Psychology Daily News New Year blog (which is worth reading for itself – check out the Garbage Truck video and the Gratitude Chain).   About four authors down, Kirsten quotes the Chinese Philosoper, Lao Tzu.

Seek not happiness too greedily and be not  fearful of  unhappiness.

This is very much like Franklin Rooseveldt”s “there is nothing to fear but fear itself”, but it says more.  It does not suggest that we should dismiss negative emotions, or try to arrange our life to avoid them.

A full life includes the positive and the negative, all four seasons, spring, summer, autumn, winter, and we need to be competent in managing all of them.  To think of winter as the absence or negative of summer, distracts us from learning how to deal with winter, and more importantly, how to enjoy it.

The idea of happiness promoted by Losada’s work on the dynamics of happiness makes us think of emotional space that includes joy and grieving, linked together on a trajectory shaped like a three dimensional butterfly.  It is just as healthy to be in a place of grieving or fear, as one of joy and pleasure, provided it is a place we are passing through and approached  in a spirit of inquiry, inclusion and emphasis on what works.

After reading the Lao Tzu quote, the mental trick I found useful was to think of myself inside fear – not looking at it, but being inside it, looking at it around me.  That seems to restore a sense of what I am doing.

I have to get good at this!

It is not accepting unhappiness, which one reading of the quotation might suggest, but seeing myself dealing competently and effectively with negative situations.

I hope that this helps anyone else who faces perilous decisions this year!

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

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Do you double-guess yourself? Get a mentor!

The puzzle of politicians and other ambitious people

Many years ago, a student of mine, Phil, asked a simple question: why do people elbow their way onto committees and into public positions, and then not do what they have yelled, screamed, kicked, agitated, mobilized to do?

Isn’t it odd to put so much energy into something and then not do it?

A study of student politicians

Phil’s study was simple.

Students spend a lot of time in queues. He used his queues to find student leaders who had promised publicly to do something for their club or society the very next day.

He was looking for

  • elected leaders (who had volunteered for that job out of all the public posts available in a University)
  • volunteered to their task
  • offered and promised to do it in front of other people
  • expected to do it and complete the next day.

He found his leaders as he queued for lunch or the library or whatever and secured their agreement to be interviewed fully that evening in their study-bedroom and then again, the following evening, after the task was completed.

Two interviews : one before and one after an action that they had promised publicly to a valued group.

Findings

This is what he found:

Success rate

  • 100% of students were totally confident that they would start and complete the task the next day
  • 100% began the task
  • 50% succeeded completely (yep, only 50%)

Effects on confidence

  • 95% turned up for the post-event interview and two who were late courteously left notes rescheduling
  • The confidence of those who completed remained high.
  • The confidence of those who had not completed had plummeted (as we would expect).

Reasons for success and failure

  • When we analyzed what had gone wrong, in every instance, students had tripped over their own naivety. They tried to buy 100 T shirts of the same color without a prior order, for example. Or they hadn’t realized that long distance calls need to be pre-approved.
  • It seemed luck whether someone tripped over a practical detail or not; and therefore, luck whether they had succeeded in their task or not.

Response to failure

  • Though it was essentially luck whether they succeeded or not, if they had tripped up, their sense of self-worth (or self-efficacy) plummeted. The students had no way to see the pattern of events and no way of knowing that their success or failure was down to luck.

Intrepretation

In the West, we are always being told to take responsibility for our lives. I am not sure I buy into this view. I think it is more important to understand cause-and-effect, and what can be influenced, and how.

In the case of these students, they had now way of seeing the overall pattern – after all that is why we were doing the research.  But, an experienced mentor or coach could help them interpret their own success or failure.

This is the advice that they would have got from an experienced mentor

  • If the day had gone well, good – enjoy the buzz of success and set a new challenge in the morning.
  • If the day had not gone well, sorry – you are feeling down, take note of what went wrong, Learn That You Cannot Anticipate Everything, and set a new challenge in the morning!

Without a mentor, life gets tough

How can we possibly distinguish between what is “down to us” and what is the normal ebb-and-flow of life without a good mentor?

Having good uncles, aunts, pastors, teachers, bosses, company-appointed mentors probably influences a youngster’s prospects in life more than anything else.

More than money, more than good looks, more than brains, more than personality. I didn’t put parents on the list because we might be too close to the action to advise young people well.

The big question that people might ask is where are the mentors today? Where do we find mentors as we go through life?

What is the process of mentoring in the UK today?  How do people following very different paths from their parents find mentors?

I’d be willing to argue that the strength of a modern society is our ability to mentor youngsters who come from very different backgrounds from ourselves.

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