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Month: February 2008

ReadWriteWeb has come alive . . .

. . . with great and interesting posts every day.

Today Alex wrote on the recession, which is worrying lots of people. I’m a Zimbo so I am going, ahh! this ain’t so hard. Forgive me. This is what I have to say.

1. I have never worked with a lazy person, ever.

I have worked with people who were thoroughly disengaged and very unhappy. I have worked with people who I thought were misdirected (yes I thought, they didn’t).

People like working. The great trick is integrating people. And I will be the first to say that can be hard. I always take the view that we hired someone because they are good. If we are falling out, the responsibility is mutual and we should help the person (typically with the least power) move on to a better place – where they are highly valued, better paid, etc. And if we are so far down the road of conflict we can’t see the good anymore, we should back off and let someone else manage the relationship. I want to kiss goodbye (with relief as right now we are on a path to hating each other) and recover our friendship in due course. We both mismanaged our relationship. It is time for us to recover and make good.

2. I don’t want to work in a place where some pigs are more equal than others . . .

I’m a conventional HR-based psychologist. I do selection – you know those awful tests and reports telling you who you are. I can run up a comp-and-benefit scheme explaining who gets more money and why. I predict labor demand within organizations and match supply (to make sure we don’t suffer too much when you leave). I run the hello and goodbye programs. And I bollock anyone who gets into a disciplinary scenario because of the paper work they make for us all.

But I don’t want to work in a place where one person is more important than anyone else.

Everyone is important otherwise why did we hire them? Floors are not cleaned as a luxury. Clean floors are essential to the smooth running of our business, etc. etc.

I hate the idea that we look after the top 10% of people.  Why do I select people, then, I hear you say? Because we have the technology to identify the matches that will never work – the extreme cases. Let’s make ourselves useful, folks. I am also happy when my deli refuses to sell me something because what I intend to do with their food is just plain horrible. There is nothing wrong with someone who knows, leaning over to someone who doesn’t, and saying, if you want to achieve X, do it like Y.  What a wonderful expression of goodwill. I am saved disappointment and I feel great that someone cared enough to tell me.

3. Can organizations be egalitarian? Don’t we need leaders?

I discovered Barbara Sliter’s blog Creatorship – courtesy of Galba Bright. Thank you so much.

I have stopped believing in leadership. I believe we thrust up people to represent us. It is a dynamic process, as we are seeing the States right now. The answer is not given, and the person who most respects the dynamic will win, by definition.

On a daily basis, in my conventional role as a work psychologist, leadership is shared. I deliver data, collected professionally and organized to inform action in the circumstances we are in. Our understanding of the situation evolves during discussions, as mine does. And “leadership” shifts with the part of the situation we are considering. The “leader”, be it the senior line manager present, or any one else, leads by representing our collective and considered view to us and to others.

Sometimes the senior line person is so much more experienced than the rest of us, they add an overview we all recognize immediately as bringing us together. Mostly, they are sufficiently experienced, in our line of work and in leadership roles (they probably started practicing at pre-school!) and recognize when we are reaching agreement which they sum up effectively so that we can move forward with full confidence in each other.

Often, they find the group view is very much at odds with their own, but they represent our view effectively anyway. They value their people. We are on the team for a reason. Together we will make good decisions. We won’t always be right. And sometimes we will be right, but won’t win.

But we will put our best foot forward! They know that.

Barbara Sliter puts this so much better than I do. People who haven’t had the privilege of working in professional, collegial settings are ready. Ready to co-create meaning at work.

What I can do, is add the stories and the robust HR technologies for the pay systems, etc. I’ve seen places where the “least senior” person chairs the meeting. It works. And why not? They will be the least opinionated after all!

4. Recessions offer opportunity too.

Go back to Zimbabwe I hear you say. Maybe I will. I haven’t heard that for a while – at least 6 months. I must be keeping good company.

What counts in life is finding opportunity in what looks like a negative space. A 3% downturn is not trouble, believe me! But it is disconcerting. The firms that sit down, and openly talk about what is opening up for them, will thrive.

To refer to the American elections again, I deliberately engaged with Obama-skeptics to find out their objections. They don’t want universal health insurance, presumably because it may cost them a little. My scampering mind screams OPPORTUNITY! Where is Melissa Clark-Reynolds? I don’t know if you are Kiwi, Alex, but Richard will know whom I mean.

Whomever asks the best questions under frustration wins! I’ve also just found Galba Bright’s blog. He has posted today a great heuristic for managing meetings and particularly tricky meetings. I am going to look at that more closely today.

Thanks, Alex. I liked your post. It is closer to the egalitarian world I like (provided I am in charge of course!). I like working with knowledge workers. And BTW, Gen Y really get this. I had a conversation late last night with a colleague’s son who had been deputed by his father to help me with a website. At one point the young man said to me: tell me a little more about your skill set so I know what you will be contributing. Yep, indeed. They hold their own!

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We are ready for more . . .

Don’t blog in a vacuum – comment on other people’s blogs

Any “coldie” as I have heard people from the 1.0 or cold-war era called, will hesitate to take part in online discussions, and is amazed that “post-coldies” do, and quite happily. Do! Do take part!

I have just discovered Barbara Sliter’s site Creatorship and I discovered it in inimitable 2.0 style. I went to the Chief Happiness Officer blog. Alex was doing something with snow (pardon me I’m from Africa); Steve Roesler was guesting; Galba Bright joined the discussion of one of Steve’s posts; he had a look at one of my blog’s and said you will enjoy . . . You are right. Thank you. I do.

Thanks Galba, Steve, Alex and not least, Barbara. If you are interested in leadership, personal development and real-world applications of complexity theory, you should have Creatorship on your feed reader.

The promise of the 21st century

I know a lot of people my age who are rather gloomy about the way the world is going. Change is certainly in the air. Whether we see it as good or bad, depends on the meaning we perceive and more so, on our intuitions about how we will be connected in the new order of things.

That is why I love Barbara Sliter’s site. She has the gift of pointing to a horizon that welcomes everyone, young and old, experienced and inexperienced, from your country and mine.

One excerpt:

“we’re ready for more: more meaning, more challenge, better environments, interesting work, balance in life. We’re ready to be co-creators”


What does positive psychology “do”?

Psychologists are very proud of being scientist-practitioners, and so we should be.  But if truth be told, we don’t write too many exams on the practice bit, and once we get to the practice bit, we get nervous if it doesn’t look like the science bit.

For people new to the practice of positive psychology, the part we have clients, this may help.  I wrote it when explaining my rather specialised blog, flourishing with 2.0.

“Positive psychology focuses us on the need to reach out, to engage with the world, and to pursue what we love and enjoy vigorously.”

Mmm, would you move that “vigorously” into the sentence?


UPDATE: As my contribution to keeping the internet free of debris, I shut down blogs that I have not being updating regularly.  Flourishing with 2.0 is one of those.

Here is the About page from that blog!

Why flourishing and 2.0?

I’m a serial migrant and I have become good at starting again in new places with new faces.

Fortunately for me, I am both a psychologist and media savvy. The task we migrants have, is to rebuild our psychological and social spaces at a lightening pace. We want and we need to become connected again in meaningful ways. We want and need to hear our voices again. And we want and we need to be heard again.

This site is not just for us though. We are not alone in this task of rebuilding our lives. Anyone going through a large transition faces the same task – students going to university, students leaving university, women whose children have left home, breadwinners who have been made redundant. We are all reconnecting and revisioning, rebuilding and regenerating, the way we live and who we are.

Though our changes are hard, we are also quite lucky to be making them now. Since the turn of the millenium, since 2000, both the internet and positive psychology have exploded. The read/write web, or web2.0 has brought a wider and better range of content generated by ordinary people. We can join in and speed up our connections to people around us.

Positive psychology focuses us on the need to reach out, to engage with the world, and to pursue what we love and enjoy vigorously.

Welcome. I am looking forward to this site and to your comments and feedback.



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putting Humpty back together again – the psychologist’s challenge

“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again”.

So goes the nursery rhyme, and for most psychologists, any understanding of a person in his or own terms.

We are trained, for our sins, to be analytical.  I trained other people to be analytical.   And I would still defend our training.  But after we have finished being trained, we have to learn to put Humpty together again.  How does all the information we have collected about someone, amount to a person with a hopes and dreams, with a history and with a future,  and with fears and determination.

Two key ideas for  understanding people

The first is the idea of a sense of self, that, through whatever means, begins to take shape quite early.

“Hold to your own truth, at the center of the image, you were born with”.   (David Whyte, p. 349, River Flow).

Well, maybe you weren’t born with it, but you probably started exploring images of who you are, quite early in your life.  And the question is, what images can you remember that you were drawn to?

I will give you an example.  At about 10 years old, I saw an American movie about a basketball team who put some magic bouncy stuff on their shoes.  I had never seen a basketball game in real life, we played netball, but I was fascinated.  Five years later (a long time when you are a kid), our school announced that we were going to drop netball and play basketball.  I immediately, and I mean immediately, within thirty seconds, asked my mother if I could play in the team (with all the expense that implied).  She happily agreed, as I was well known for not being able to catch a ball, and hey presto, I was captain of the Under 15’s within weeks.  How I loved that game and it took me from clutz to school hero.

We all have creative images, though some we aren’t going to blog about, and it is worthwhile thinking about them, because however bizarre they are, they are important to us.

The second key idea, which David Whyte makes again and again, but rather obliquely, is that these images are essentially social.  They talk to our relationship with the world and the relationship we want with the world.

Now I am not much of an exhibitionist, and I was rather shy as a youngster, but I think I was drawn to two things in the basketball movie: the shared excitement of the crowd and the nippiness of the game.  And those are the roles I played.   The fast break specialist and the ‘man-to-man’ marker.  These are results-oriented ‘closing roles’, bringing home the bacon so to speak, and roles which the crowds understand and set them alight. For someone lousy at sport, this was gratifying.  It was something I could do in a sports-mad school that helped me learn about how crowds become excited and why we enjoy it so much.

We weave our story from a young age.  We see movies quite by chance, and are taken by some and not by others.  Opportunities arise, and we respond to some and not to others.  And we move on, giving up pursuits of our childhood and adopting others.   It is always our story though, woven partly from chance encounters and partly through choice.  We learn as we go, working out what’s next, from the story we are telling to the world and ourselves.

Understanding this story, delighting in this story, cherishing this story, is the privilege of the existential coach.

We are happier as workmates and colleagues when our story is heard and when our current circumstances are woven in to what went before and what will come soon after.  There is no right or wrong.  Simply the unself-conscious bringing of who we have been, to whom we are with, and the celebration of the richness of our imagination in the past, with the shy pleasure of the growing imaginative awareness of a gentle birth into the future.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Gen Y rocks!

What has Gen Y done to the English language?

There was a time that I would have needed an interpreter to understand my title. After three years’ teaching a large management class (+-900 students) on the South Island of New Zealand, I agree with Scott McArthur, Gen Y rocks.

Dispel the myths about Gen Y

  • Far from being out-of-it, as young sociologist Maz Hardey at York University attests, mobile phones represent levels of interaction that our generation can barely comprehend. Games, as I know from talking to young games designers, represent a level of social design beyond anything envisioned by the social engineers working in 60’s and 70’s.
  • They don’t vote.  But this isn’t lethargy.  It is like helicopters blaring out “Paint it Black” as they go into combat.  And Forces’ radio “Good morning, Vietnam”.   We are seeing a similar attitude and I suspect, a revolution.

Celebrating the new Gen

And about time too. Gen X was horribly out numbered by the boomers. Gen Y is as powerful as the flower power, baby boomers, the contraceptive pill, protests against Vietnam and a VW Kombi.  Gen X is also known as the generation without a war. Gen Y have their war. They are turning out for Obama.  So let’s see.

As for me, I think Gen Y rocks. The 21st century is looking good!

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Synergy – an undervalued idea

Synergy is not a word I like but do we have a better word for describing productive interaction between people? Alex from alwaysnewmistakes writes on how essential synergy is to doing well. Yeah. What a great post contrasting Venice in the time of Vivaldi with Silicon Valley of today. True, true, true.

And Alex makes the further point that it is not enough to be close to abundance. One must take part. My favorite author David Whyte puts it like this:

“I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world with its harsh need to change you.”

Some months ago, I also picked some criteria for the conditions for synergy from an academic paper by David A Lane (I’ve lost the url, unfortunately.)

a. We must have a reason to interact (e.g., you make cheese and I like to eat cheese)

b. Our roles must be complementary (e.g, you sell and I buy)

c. We must interact often enough for a system to emerge (e.g., I must buy from you to keep you in business and you must have cheese to sell to me)

d. We must have permission to find solutions and opportunities to act.

David A Lane talks in terms of worrying less about the outcome and more about the quality of the interaction.  Indeed, I can go to my local deli and if they don’t have what I want, trust to them to produce something that meets my needs.   I once lived in a country where there was a flour shortage.  When the local bakery opened at 7am, I would go in and ask what is for breakfast? And eat what ever they produced!  Generative:  they were in the bakery business and I was hungry.   We could work out the rest imaginatively!   That is synergistic whereas going into a well stocked supermarket, isn’t really.

Synergy – I think it is an essential idea!


Hope and the great chasm

Do we really achieve more when we hope?

Alex from alwaysnewmistakes asks whether hope is responsible to achieving more than we think we are able.

3 perspectives on hope from 3 gurus

I think of three gurus.

Sun Tzu

I think of Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese General (Sun Zi if you are used to modern Mandarin).

He counsels us that battles are fought or won before they are started. He advises to pick our battles wisely and to only engage if the probabilities are with us.

To fight in the “hope” of winning is to court disappointment.

David Whyte

I think of David Whyte and his story of coming across a frayed rope bridge across a canyon in Tibet and freezing in terror.

I am not sure if he ever used the bridge. The point is that

  • often we are not happy with where we are
  • we are reasonably clear where we want to be (over the other side),
  • and we look at the gap between where we are and where we want to be, and our stomach lurches. In terror not hope.

The contribution of positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship is how to move forward when we feel the absence of hope – or when we feel puke-making terror.

The trick is to “Start close in, not with the second step or the third, but with the first thing”.

Starting with the ground beneath our feet is also called recrafting, appreciative inquiry, and building the bridge as you walk on it.

Our ability to stomach, rather literally, the original fear and to look at what you can do rather than at what you cannot do, is key.

Would I call it hope? Building hope, I think.

In my last post, I suggested ways of structuring to contain the terror of people around you.

Sometimes we have to start with ourselves. We can’t think let alone lead when we are paralysed with fear.

And if this sounds excessive, it is not. Even when we write a paper at uni, when we give your first lecture after the summer break, we can  freeze in fear.

We could also be facing a cashflow crisis, or the loss of your biggest customer through no fault of your own, etc. etc.

Things happen, to real people, and real people contain the fear and start “close in”.

With immense self-discipline, because they are fortunate to understand the mechanisms of hope, and that hope is grounded in what we can do.

Complex systems

The third guru, or set of gurus, are the people who work on generative psychologies.

Some of this work is very technical stuff on how we can produce more together than when we work alone.

Great advances hardly ever come from having the right answers up front. Great advances usually come from having enormous faith in the system.

Birds seem to fly in a flock by following each other and taking care not collide.  From those simple actions we get a flock.

leadership is when we pose a question (much as Alex has done for me here) and through engagement with the question and each other, we draw out answers we couldn’t have imagined. It can be done alone ,but we do so much together.   Alex’s point about synergy.

Great leaders

  • have a sense of what is possible (get across the canyon)
  • they contain their own terror
  • start working to establish the next step, usually on the basis of what we have in hand and what we are good at doing
  • and then they work with the group to work out what to do next.


  • Their belief in the ‘followers’ and customers and employees in business, must be massive. They must believe that the solution will emerge from the interaction.
  • must believe in the quality of people around them.

So is hope essential?

But it is not ungrounded.

  • It is so grounded that we can build the bridge forward.
  • It is so grounded, it is credible and infectious.
  • It is so grounded, we learn as we go with others with us on our journey.

Thanks, Alex


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.


Deciding what you want to do is the really hard part, doing it is easy

Fascinated by our capacity for inactivity

I have just discovered Jodee Bock’s blog. As I was whizzing down her latest posts, I found her piece on New Year Resolutions – aren’t we fascinated by our capacity for inactivity?  She reminded me of David Whyte and I have taken the liberty of quoting what she says with two lines from one of David Whyte’s poems.

“If the WHY is big enough, the HOW will take care of itself. The WHY is the PURPOSE. When we’re clear on the WHY, then we can set the vision, which will break the WHY down, maybe into time chunks, for example. Then goals will take a bite out of the vision, and allow us those measurable milestones.” Jodee Bock

“What you can plan is too small for you to live. What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough . . .” From “What to Remember When Waking” in River Flow (p. 351).

And is doing it easy?  I’ll write on that another day.

If the WHY  is big enough  .  .  .

Ask not the meaning your life give to you.  Ask what meaning you give to life!

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Employee priorities under high inflation

Zimbabwe has inflation of 150 000%. Yep, that is right. Prices go up about 2.7% per day. As fast as prices go up in most countries per year.

What are employees’ priorities under these circumstance? Here is a survey from a Zimbabwean HR consultancy firm, OEC.

We asked employees through our website surveys on their views concerning the question below.

(250 people responded)

I not leaving my current employer because I am enjoying


Free Fuel

13.33 %

Company Car

10.00 %

Good Basic Salary

6.67 %

The working environment

13.33 %

Relationships with work colleagues

86.67 %

Educational Loan/Assistance

6.67 %

School Fees

6.67 %

Could be because the pecuniary benefits aren’t there. Must ask them!

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