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Tag: Losada

Demonstrating healthy leadership through a bad post

flip flop wheels by raiseyourflags via FlickrChris Jones asked for comments on his blog post about his views on Peter Senge’s work and Chris’ aspiration that

Cultures can, over time, be intentionally shaped and directed by visionary and resilient leaders. But the complexity of organizations, markets and other social ecosystems invariably worsens with scale, raising the bar for mitigation ever higher.

My thoughts about leadership are three fold

Leadership is about taking part not imposing

An organization ‘led’ by someone who aspires to impose preconceived ideas is not a healthy place for anyone.

Organizations are not forever

A contextually-sensitive organization also knows when it is time to die.  A healthy organization values purpose and will support other purposes when its own is not the most relevant to the wider ecosystem.

Organizations are healthy when they are dynamic

We don’t need a specific culture.  We need healthy psychology.  Losada’s model works for me

  • Positive to negative ratios of 3:1 or more
  • Context-sensitive slightly enhanced over internal focus
  • Asking questions (sincerely) slightly more frequent than advocating positions.

Testing this simple view of leadership with this post

This post does not live up to those three criteria.

  • Other than the link love at the top, I am rebutting throughout the post.  The Positivity:Negativity ratio is not good.
  • I am talking about management theory to other management theorists.  We need to be talking about the world!  Clay Shirky is a good example of commentators who comment on the world not the commentators!
  • I am advocating, almost exclusively.  Chris, I didn’t pick up from your post who you are (no About page) or your aspirations.  A post please?
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Coelho’s true path to wisdom

PauloCoelhoThe Pilgrimage

Finding Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage, in the local Oxfam shop, I bought it thinking I had already read it. I hadn’t. It’s marvelous; and packed full of wisdom that makes this a reference book to keep on your shelf.

True path to wisdom

One of the nuggets I thought would come up again is the advice Coelho is given by his guide who was called Petrus in the book.

“The true path to wisdom can be identified by three things,” said Petrus. “First, it must involve agape, and I’ll tell you more about this later; second, it has to have practical application in your life.  Otherwise, wisdom becomes a useless thing and deteriorates like a sword that is never used. “

“And finally, it has to be a path that can be followed by anyone.  Like the road you are walking now, the Road to Santiago.”

Writing to remember

I don’t have a good verbal memory so I like to write about things and link them to similar ideas.  That way, I’ll be able to recall the idea whenever I want to.  My method satisfies step 2, I suppose!  Blogging is practical.

Blogging also helps with step 3.  Anyone with a computer and internet connection and some literacy or a camera can blog.  About half the world, I suppose.  It’s not a protected activity, anyway.

But agape?  I write for a better understanding.  Yes, that is agape.  And I write to share. Not always well, but I try to be intelligible.

I worry though that I will reduce the ideas of Paolo Coelho to something prosaic and unworthy.  For what it is worth, these are two ideas from other domains that I immediately wanted to compare with Paolo Coelho’s ideas about the path to wisdom.

Happiness and chaos/complexity theory

Losada modeled happiness in a butterfly shaped space.   Contrary to views presented in the popular press, happiness isn’t  a consistently cheery mood.  It is appropriate reaction to events. We feel sad at sad times and happy at happy times but get stuck nowhere.

Ratio of positive to negative events

Losada uses three variables to model the space.  The ratio of positive to negative in our environment must range from 3:1 to 11:1.  3:1 is a lot.  For every jarring event, we need three good ones to recover.  5:1 is optimal.  Sometimes we struggle to maintain that ratio and the struggle captures our focus.  In these distressing times, we tend to exaggerate the bad by excluding what is good.  The good gets buried and we are in danger of slipping so far down the ratio we might never recover our composure.  Simply, we have to make a special effort to celebrate what is good in the situation to compensate our tendency to repeat the bad over and over again like a broken gramophone, presumably in the fear that if we don’t, it will bite us.  I take that to be agape.  The search for the good.

Other vs self

The second variable that Losada used was discussion of the outside world.  When we balance discussion of the world outside our immediate circle and the needs of our circle almost our mood swings throughout the spectrum.  We are less likely to see everything as all good or all bad.

To give you an example, I sometimes cheer myself up with an elaborate day dream of what I am going to do.  When I go out into the world, I am living my dream.  But people around me don’t see me that way.  It’s like meeting a bucket of cold water!  My immediate reaction is to feel small.  A better reaction is to build up the dream to include them too.  When my dream is not situated in the harsh realities of the world, other people will stop me, and more importantly my own sense of shock will stop myself.  And then I am unhappy because nothing works!!

Inquiry vs Advocacy

The third variable that Losada used is a balance of inquiry and advocacy.  At first sight, this is not the same as the criteria of universality, inclusion and humility that Coelho espouses, but when I put it like that, you possibly see the similarity.

Any way, I was struck by the similarity of ideas coming from different traditions and had to stop to test how far the ideas ran in parallel.

Social media

The second notion that struck me is that social media is successful because it also follows these principles.

Social media is a courteous world.   Sure it has its spammers and robots and flamers but the general ethos is to be helpful.    We simply get more done by celebrating what we can do together.

Social media is a practical world.  I watch my rankings not out of vanity, though of course there is an element of vanity too.  I watch my ranking and Google Analytics to help me find people who share my interests.   “5 best way” articles are very popular and that is partly a search for practicality ~ but they belong in the point below.  I write on blogs because they keep me grounded in reality (or at least more so than if I didn’t).

Social media is an inclusive world.  Through teaching, I know that a major difference between Gen Y and earlier generations is that digital natives test information in their own lives and absorb it or not when they find it useful.  When we can communicate useful  (not popular)  information, we see the response.  Of course, popular also wins.   Of course, tawdry also wins.  Not everything useful is deep or good.

I know we can take the analogy too far and the poetic description is far better than the stilted prose of a former academic.  I just wanted to test whether the three criteria ~ agape, practicality and openness ~ worked in other areas of my life.

Do they work for you?

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Why do we stop using a gratitude diary when we are happy?

Oahu's North Shore by ttrygve via FlickerHow often do you use a gratitude diary?

Do you use a gratitude diary? Some people recommend using one weekly.  I have used one daily but I’ve found that when I’ve had a particularly bad day or when things are going particularly well, I don’t use it.

Why leads us to skip our gratitude diary routine?

I pondered the latter, particularly.  At first, I thought that when I already feel positive,  I spontaneously avoid becoming more positive.  After all, after positive comes irrational optimism and I like to keep my feet on the ground.

My one-off test

Then I disciplined myself to jot down some notes on a lazy Saturday morning and I decided that the opposite is true.  It strikes me that we veer away using a gratitude diary when life is going well because it reminds us of our underlying anxieties.

It’s reasonable to avoid spoiling the party but anxieties are anxieties because there are serious matters in our lives that might not work out well.  Acknowledging anxieties does not have to be mood-dampening.  Cleaning dust out of a corner doesn’t make us think our house is permanently dirty (though we might marvel at how much collects).

Acknowledging anxieties keeps us in touch with rich tapestry of life and makes life fuller and more enjoyable.  At least, that’s my current thesis.  Time to get back to using a diary, I think.

What do you predict? ‘Events’ notwithstanding, will I be better off for cleaning out the subconscious anxieties that I  would be quite content to ignore if I thought I could?

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Happiness is managed like clean hands – regular washing?

Happiness, big media and blocked comment

Today, Hamish McRae wrote an article in the Independent on happiness and what national survey of happiness tell us about the role of government in our live.

I wrote a comment only to find comments partly blocked off.  So here it is.

Economist should find the maths of happiness easy

Basically, I suggested that Mr McRae might like to to look up the more sophisticated models of happiness.  Economist should find them easier to follow than most and might take the lead in an informed debate on happiness.

Then I followed through trying to explain the implications of using Lorenz equations to understand happiness by likening happiness to clean hands.

Lorenz equations and Losada’s model of happiness

You might like to Google Losada’s work on happiness and review the mathematical model underlying his thinking.  Happiness surveys presume that happiness is a linear phenomenon where happiness is more-or-less and can be measured as a fixed point with an error score.

More sophisticated views of happiness see it as a phase state (fractal type) defined by a handful of variables linked recursively to each other.  In this model, a fixed point (the measure of happiness above) would indicate severe mental illness.  In other words, someone who is resolutely cheerful despite the circumstances is ill.

Managing happinesss (and unhappiness)

As one commentator said, you are possibly writing about unhappiness.   We know how to create that.  Simply have people reeling from petty difficulties all day long with little respite and they will sink into misery.

Hence the buffering techniques such as gratitude diaries and appropriate ways to deal with distress (funerals, grieving etc.)

Just as hands get dirty and must be washed, our lives have misfortune which must be dealt with.   But misfortune isn’t dealt with by ignoring it just as dirty hands aren’t dealt with ignoring it.

A gratitude diary works like the washing of hands putting dirt where it belongs and reminding us of the pleasure of clean hands.  We know our hands will get dirty again but that is the cyclical process of much of life.

Getting involved in the national debate on happiness

Anyway, economists should grasp the Lorenz equations  easily and might add to a more informed public discussion of happiness.

The rest of us can experience the management of happiness in simple ways: mourning and grieving for what has past, keeping a gratitude diary, focusing on what goes well and not what goes badly.   These alone stop us sinking into misery and spreading it around.

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Oh! What poiesis taught me about auto-poiesis

Poiesis

I learned something very interesting just now.  The Greek word for poetry is poiesis – ‘making’.

That wouldn’t have been too dramatic a discovery but management theorists are fond of the word auto-poesis.

Auto-poiesis

Autopoiesis literally means “auto (self)-creation” (from the Greek: auto – αυτό for self- and poiesis – ποίησις for creation or production), and expresses a fundamental dialectic between structure and function.

We like this word in management because it expresses the constant interplay between our relationships with the world and ourselves.

Autopoiesis vs allopiesis

An autopoietic system is to be contrasted with an allopoietic system, such as a car factory, which uses raw materials (components) to generate a car (an organized structure) which is something other than itself (the factory).

Management theory in the 21st century

Much of the management theory I grew up with was about allopoietic systems.  How do we turn inputs into something that we will send out or away?  X and Y.

Indeed, even allowing for the transformation of X into Y is somewhat of a novelty for a psychologist.  To have a feedback loop from Y to X is so challenging that the loop mysteriously disappears from some text books!

When we think of ourselves as autopoietic, we allow that “if organization of a thing changes, the thing changes.”  Here we are saying that every time a bolt and a washer, or indeed anything enters a factory, or a car leaves a factory, the factory itself has changed.

We are less concerned with what goes in and what goes out and more concerned with way the factory reinvents itself minute-by-minute.

An example of an autopoietic system

It’s a bit giddy-making when we switch from one idea to the other.

For the research minded

It is easier for research, stats-minded people to see the idea when they think of Losada’s work on the maths of happiness.  Happiness is made up of three things yet any one these is not happiness, or even the beginning of happiness.  The three things are a positivity/negativity ratio of around 5 to 1, slightly more curiosity than advocacy, and slightly more interest in the outside world than ourselves.  We don’t add up these three variables.  Rather, they “feed” off each other. At any one time their coordinates (x,y,z) can be anywhere in a 3D space shaped like a 3D butterfly.

Happiness means we have a big plump space and the coordinates swoop around.  Unhappiness means they have a repetitive circle or limited space.  Here we see the dialectic between structure and function.

We are healthy when we are constantly regenerating ourselves in response to the world around us and what we were a minute ago.

We become ill when we don’t look after who we were one minute ago (right now in other words) and we don’t attend to what is going on around us.  We are ill when our head is anywhere except here and now.

There is room for day dreaming, planning and reminiscing.  But as the icing on the cake.  Devoting space to what we are not is not healthy. A healthy mind is asking what is going on now and celebrating what is rather than what is not.

For the non-research minded

For the non-research minded, lets think of a cake made of flour, eggs and sugar.  We can vary the proportions, or at least good a baker can, and by varying proportions we get a good range of delicious cakes.   To have one type of cake all the time is boring.  Happiness, in this analogy, is a wide variety of cakes from plain biscuits to luscious forest cakes.   We have a plain biscuit today and we feel like a rich cake tomorrow, and vice versa.

Life becomes grim when the recipe never changes or we try to swap eggs for something else (like potatoes).  We need constant variety within broad rules.

We need to enjoy each cake for what it is.  A dry biscuit is that.  It is not chocolate cake. It never will be.

We also need to bake the cake. Happiness is the cake. Not a line of eggs, sugar and flour on the kitchen table.  It is a baked cake.  It is the product of interacting parts mixed sensibly.

Poiesis

I didn’t know that poetry means makingAuto-poiesis is the poetry of ourselves. The constant interplay between structure (me) and function (the world).

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Grittiness is happiness . . and prosperity

smaller Lorenz_Ro28.
Image via Wikipedia

“It’s about survival, not ego”.

So said Techcrunch about Pandora’s founder.

Hmm. Losada used Lorenz equations to find 3 factors to distinguish successful business teams from unsuccessful teams.

  • Sincere requests for information slightly outnumber proposals for action
  • Positive comments outnumber negative statements by 5 to 1 (83% in other words)
  • Talk about the outside world slightly exceeds talk about the team.

So sometimes the team is complaining that the team is shite.   Inactive, negative and internal.  That’s fine.  As long as later in the day they are talking about what their customers like and the positive points they will push off from.

Unsuccessful teams get stuck in a place of gloom, or, in a place of self-congratulation.

Successful teams swoop gloriously around the whole emotional space like a happy butterfly tracing its own shadow and colouring in the outline in 3D technicolor.

Being in touch with reality in all its forms, good and bad, is what it is all about.

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‘Pull’ organizations

The military do pull management so why don’t commerce & industry?

As I left Xoozya at the end of my first day, I encountered an old college mate in the car park talking spiritedly with other Xoozyians about a concept I hadn’t heard before: “recon pull.”

I just have to hear the word “pull” for my ears to prick up.  Pull marketing vs push marketing.  Pull HR vs push HR.  “recon pull” sounds military, and so it was.  And old military too – of at least WW II vintage.  The phrase ‘command-and-control’ may come from the military but they aren’t wedded to the push models of commerce & industry.

Recon pull

“Recon pull”, as much as I have gathered so far, means local action that is taken by forces on the ground who vary their orders to suit the situation they find – within the broad framework of the “commander’s intent”.

Googling this term once I got home, I found one theorist distinguished “Soviet” and “German” models of military structure.  Interesting – I’ve always contrasted Soviet and Chinese models of insurgency and German and Anglo-Saxon models of organization.

Anyway, the Soviet-style model assumes that we plan in advance and execute the plans as agreed because it is not possible to adjust to circumstances as we go.  The German model assumes that a high degree of adjustment will take place.

Another author also attributed this school of thought to Sandhurst.

“We have learned,” responded the authorities at Sandhurst, “that a wild young man can learn wisdom as he grows older—if he survives—but a spiritless young man cannot learn the dash that wins battles.”

The German corollary is:

“The King made you a major because he believed you knew when not to obey.”

A “recon pull” model is consistent with both these philosophies.  Troops on the ground seek a weakness in enemy lines, break through, and pull the rest of the troops in behind them.  Within this model, if they are given an order and they realize it would be unwise to follow through, they stop without further instruction.  It they see an opportunity consistent with the commander’s intent, they grab it without further instruction.  Hmm, this is supposed to be consistent with English common law.  Everything that is not forbidden is allowed.  Roman law is the opposite.  Anything that is not allowed is forbidden.

The investment in ‘organization’ and ‘communication’ in the ‘Soviet’ and ‘German’ models is quite different.  In a model that assumes local decision making, everyone must be well trained.  They are also trained to act rather than not to act.  As a general rule, sins of omission are believed to be worse than sins of commission.

Well, would this idea of “recon pull” apply to other organizations?

Mmm, in the military world, there is a sense of  ‘ground’ to capture and an enemy to defeat.  Neither is particularly relevant to a young organization.  The market is not necessarily stable and consistent. (Military minds might say that about the ground too.)  There also isn’t an enemy.  In a young organization, we are rather, creating ground, or weaving a new set of relationships.

Commander’s intent

And what would be the commander’s intent?  A company like Google has a vision – to organize the world’s information.  It sounds concrete enough but it isn’t really. And it is probably also constrained by habit.  One day, someone will have a new vision that undermines the foundations of what is a fresh and innovative vision today.

The truth is that every employee has a ‘Sandhurst spirit’ to some extent or another, and every employee has a landscape in their mind.  They may not be vigorous or articulate about evangelizing their landscape but they are likely to have one.  Their landscape might also be well protected – to continue to use the military metaphor.  Or in broader terms, change may not be readily possible

Equally, lack of change may be stuckness.  Though the definition of stuckness is somewhat circular, sometimes situations can be unstuck.  This is the subject of Otto Scharmer’s presencing and of the idea behind golfing-movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance“.  Don’t force the shot. Let the shot find you.  Sitting and waiting is sometimes the correct response.  That is, the situation requires it.  Where we feel stuck (here comes the circularity), we argue for a return to listening to the environment.

So what is commander’s intent in a situation like Xoozya?

I think we each have a sense of intent and what is required is the ability or ongoing attempt to describe the world around us in a way that makes sense to others, and that highlights what needs to be done.

Shared understanding of the company

Following this thought process, part of my work as a psychologist is to highlight work in the firm so that people are able to see what is unfolding.

Old techniques for developing shared meaning

Yes, we have traditionally done that for the senior management team.  We carefully organize away-weekends with a series of presentations so that senior managers can understand each others view of the company.  We hold round-robin meetings to facilitate strategic planning to find consensus before final strategy meetings.  We might arrange town-hall meetings for staff.  We might arrange talks and training for staff.  But it is all rather piece-meal – rather Soviet?

Common dashboards

What we need is a set of dashboards so that as people look up from their own work, they can see where everyone else is, and take other people’s activity into account as they re-imagine what the world could look like.  The underlying value proposition or question is whether our own work, individually or collectively is enhanced by knowing what others are doing around us.

If I were to use a mechanical form of evaluation, it might look like this.

1   Is Xoozya committed to profiling the activities of its staff and how often are these profiles updated?

  • Because of the amount of work that this entails, it is likely that the profiles will be compiled on a Web2.0 basis.
  • As 2.0 websites as compiled by users they tend to be uneven and untidy and I would follow with this question. How is the availability of information reviewed and what is both our a prior and growing understanding of what the information will look like?

2   Do staff look at the profiles and do they feel that looking at other people’s work and having other people look at their work helps them?

  • Using an ‘extreme policy option’ technique that I learned from Professor Michael Riley at University of Surrey, are we making reasonable assumptions about human behavior?  What happens when we can see each other’s work-in-progress?  Are we competitive?  Are we cooperative?
  • Is emergent behavior more valuable or less valuable?  How can we understand this process?  Can we monitor feedback loops?  And are feedback loops the critical concept?

3  Have we seen generativity or amplification as a result?

  • What examples of value-added have we seen?

4   Are we competitive?

  • How can we monitor greater value-added?  How can focus attention on economic matters such as use of overheads, salaries, etc.  What is the big picture that we convey to members of Xoozya and does this help them focus on their work and be more creative and productive?

Applied Research of Shared Understandings

Yes, I can see potential research projects here.   For example, do University Departments have shared understandings of their work across their discipline?  Do Universities have shared understandings across their Departments?  Do students share these understandings?  Do local people share this understanding of their university?  Do professions have a shared understanding of the frontiers of their field?  Do the Departments, for example, who have common understanding of their frontiers amplify each others work more than other Departments?

And in companies, do the employees share an understanding of the common frontiers and how can we communicate those frontiers?

And is this the right way to think about monitoring shared meaning?  Or could we use proxy measures like collective efficacy – that would be easy to measure at least. Monitoring collective efficacy would entail asking which groups in the organization believe which other groups are competent?

Or should we use a model like Losada’s model of happiness?  Could we look at

  • interconnectivity of people
  • the balance of inquiry and advocacy and
  • the balance of interest in one’s own work and the work of others.

If these three variables predict the success of management teams, it is quite likely they predict the success of teams and organizations as well.

My tuppenny’s worth

Yup, this is what I would look for in an organization trying to exploit “recon pull”.

  • For substance, a vibrant 2.0 facility where we it is easy to see what other people are working on.
  • A review of process based on Losada’s work.  Do we have positivity/negativity ratios of 5:1, does our inquiry exceed our advocacy and are we slightly more interested in other people’s work than our own?

Indeed, this was a good evening’s work from a conversation in a car park.

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Are you doing less by doing too much?

My schedule does not tell me when to begin but when to stop

I woke up this morning from a half-nightmare.  I was part of a confused discussion, or meeting, evidently out of doors.  Someone thrust a “may pole” into the lawn and asserted: ” It is simple. We all focus.”

I awoke in a fluster thinking, “No, I don’t want to be facing inward looking only at a pole.”

Then, still groggy, I had another thought.  The reason why we have schedules and appointments is not to focus our attention.

We have schedules to tell us when to stop.  Schedules tell us when when it is time to stop work and pay attention to the world.

Some complementary evidence from academia

A man by the name of Boice, has extensively researched the productivity of academics.  Do you know that there is a differential of 7:1 between the best and ordinary academics?

Highly productive academics

  • work early in the morning (before the household gets up) for 1 to 1.5 hours (maximum)
  • work on one project at a time and work at it a little every day
  • work in snatches of about 15 minutes and take mini breaks
  • start before they ready
  • stop.

Of course, then they go into the office and attend to the busy-work of universities and the complementary work of teaching.

In working regularly every day and STOPPING, they achieve 7 times more than people who “binge” work.

Complementary ideas from the theory of happiness

Marcial Losada analysed recordings of business teams making decisions.  The best third regularly

  • had positive to negative ratios in excess of 3:1 (around 5:1)
  • asked questions as much as they advocated solutions
  • and importantly, talked about the outside world as much as they talked about matters inside the company.

Two questions to make sure I am not doing less by doing too much

Time for me review my working day and say how much of my attention each task can have!  When am I going to STOP?

When will I step back from a task and go about other business, attentive to the concerns of the world as they unfold around me?

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Happiness and research: looking for a research buddy

Breakthrough work on happiness

Happy networks

The blogosphere this week has been awash with comments on the article on happiness published by the British Medical Journal on happiness in social networks.  What does it mean that happiness is collective?   Are we also affected by our friends’ happiness online in networks like Facebook?

Expansive, successful business teams

Getting a lot less press, over at Pos-Psych, Marcial Losada has published two reports about increasing the emotional space in business teams and improving business performance.   Losada aims to develop teams whose positive to negative talk falls between 3:1 to 11:1.

New stats and new ways to think about psychological phenomena

The BMJ article relies on network theory and analysis.  Losada’s work relies on recursive differential equations.  Lost you? Exactly.  Few psychologists, and that includes me,  studied this type of statistical modelling  in their undergraduate years.

Moreover, these aren’t just new statistical techniques that we can plug into SPSS and go.  Both techniques offer epistemological and ontological revolutions in the way we think.

A zeitgeist

The ontological revolution is also happening in the qualitative areas of our field.  Take this phrase used by The Economist yesterday to describe India’s democracy: a political system that can cope with disgruntlement without suffering existential doubts.

That is a brilliant definition of happiness, though we might want a little more for flourishing!

Invitation

I started a wiki laying out the methodologies used by Losada in some detail and I would love a collaborator.  If you are interested, please drop me a comment and I will send you its name and password.

We are entering an interesting time in psychology and I can see all the textbooks being rewritten!

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