Monthly Archives: July 2012

The one with the mumbo jumbo

The year was 2005, the meeting was a regular customer launch project meeting and the person holding court was not making a point any time soon… I was sat next to one of my colleagues from manufacturing and we were having a whispered conversation about an issue that had been bubbling under for a few weeks. His take was erring towards ‘head between knees, kiss ass goodbye’, mine was more ‘let’s turn this problem into an opportunity’.

After a frustrating few minutes (whilst the other colleague continued to his ‘monologue without point’) I pointed at a glass of water and said something along the lines of “your problem is to you that isn’t even half full, it’s half empty and about to be drunk”. His response cracked me up and is something I’ve used on numerous occasions to illustrate different perspectives,  mindsets and accountability and it went something like this:

“What you don’t understand is I’m in manufacturing. It’s not about half full or half empty. It’s about Sales didn’t tell us how much water the customer wants, Marketing haven’t told us what type of water it needs to be, Technical haven’t calibrated it, Supply Chain haven’t got sufficient supply of water, Finance want us to do it half the people and report on something we don’t know yet and as for HR they haven’t got us the right people we need to do the job. Basically I don’t know how full it is and there’s a list of people who’s fault it is!”

I laughed. He laughed. Our colleague finally made his point and the meeting continued.

If you think about the half full/half empty debate there’s a third contender which is the vessel is holding half its available volume – the realist!

I think I sit somewhere in the third camp maybe with a hint of half full thrown in – I’m a realist who thinks there’s usually a solution to move the situation on. I have always and continue to struggle with those who automatically see the positive without acknowledging the realistic context.

My first brush with any form of positive psychology was in 1997 listening an author and speaker called Brian Tracy. Mr Tracy is a well known speaker and his book “The Psychology of Achievement” is very popular. As part of the seminar I experienced he talked about using positive affirmation to increase or reinforce self esteem. The exercise involved standing in front of a mirror and whilst making eye contact with yourself intoning “I like myself” 20-30 times. Not meaning to make light of his work I personally found this exercise massively uncomfortable and whether it’s my inherent ‘Britishness’ or the fact that this and other exercises set off my ‘manipulative’-ometer, his approach just didn’t land for me.

Having sat through several amateurish attempts of sales people enacting NLP techniques on me and seeing people buy-in and drop-off several similar programmes I spent most of the time ignoring the whole concept of positivity, positive psychology or however it is being referred to (mumbo jumbo) until fairly recently.

A fellow blogger, Sukh Pabial, is to put it mildly, a fan of mumbo jumbo positive psychology. He started listing daily the three things that had made that particular day a good day. I started playing along and still do, although mostly to myself on the train rather than ‘out loud’ on Twitter. This activity has yet to set off any –ometer and actually is like the ‘stopping and smelling the roses’ I wrote about here

Which brings me, finally, to the point. Sukh is holding a workshop on all things positive psychology and in a conversation about our differing points of view he as much as dared me to go along. I have some diary challenges which I am juggling but in dropping the gauntlet Sukh also offered me 2 free tickets for other people who may be interested. So here’s the challenge – the two people who come up with the best or funniest reason I should attend Sukh’s workshop get the 2 free tickets.




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The one with a sense of entitlement

The reasons for this post have been rattling around my brain for some time. This weekend watching a film, going shopping and having a conversation over lunch seem to have brought the rattle to fruition. And I warn you now it’s a somewhat ranty fruition.

Whether it’s the recent changes to our economy, the gradual shift of generations or the inevitable manifestation of an individualistic capitalist culture but it appears to me on occasion that the degree of individual entitlement that some people display is high.

There is no better testing ground for this assertion than a trip through London. If you travel into and through London on a regular basis as I do, you will observe people behaving with little or no consideration to others. The pushing and shoving, those pushing to get to the ticket barrier first, those jamming themselves into carriages ahead of those who’ve been waiting and my absolute personal favourite – the roller suitcase.

Saturday afternoon saw me as a guest of Neil Morrison and I must confess we had a 5 minute mutual rant about those who wield the roller suitcase. Let’s get one thing straight – a roller suitcase DOES NOT have human rights. It doesn’t invite the consideration that a small child would and ensuring it doesn’t cause absolute chaos IS the responsibility of the person dragging it. In the past fortnight alone I have been bashed, knee charged and had my feet run over on at least 4 separate occasions with no apology and no seeming embarrassment.

To me the unspoken understanding of public transport (and one of the reasons I love my car) is that you are in a public space, that everyone needs to get somewhere and that we need to observe the rules of polite human behaviour in trying to get everyone to everywhere they want to go as easily as possible. You are entitled to be part of that but it is NOT all about you.

Not that public transport is the only arena where you see this behaviour – on the roads, in supermarkets, in office buildings and as I found to my horror at outlet shopping villages. Herself and I braved Bicester Village on Saturday and although we only spent an hour there the lack of consideration both for the retail staff and other customers I witnessed absolutely astounded me. If it were a race to get the last loaf of bread to feed your starving family I could at least understand it but I am fairly secure in the statement that nothing contained in the Ralph Lauren store is life or death!

Working backwards in time, Friday night saw us crashed out on the sofa watching “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (charming film). At one point in the film Tom Wilkinson, playing a retired high court judge is asked why he loves India and he responds “The way the people see life as a gift, a privilege — and not a right.” It’s a nice line and has stuck in my head the whole weekend.

Yes we all have individual rights and yes we all have individual needs. I need to get to work on time, I need to buy food in order to cook dinner, I need to get to the M25 in order to get to the M4 BUT (and this is a huge BUT) other people have rights and needs to and none of us exist in a vacuum. Whether it be on public transport, on the roads, in a meeting or in a shop if we could all realise we are part of something NOT the centre of something then maybe life on a daily basis would just be that little bit nicer.

And if you do drag a roller suitcase BE AWARE OF IT!



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The one with the ungodly philosopher

So the story goes that University College London (UCL) was founded in the mid 19th Century as a reaction to perceived discrimination in other higher educational institutions. Specifically Oxford & Cambridge which at the time (not now of course…) required both wealth and religious affiliation as part of the entrance criteria and Kings College London which required the religious affiliation but not specific wealth.

The man described as its spiritual founder, Jeremy Bentham, was a leading philosopher who advocated amongst other things the separation of church and state and utilitarianism – fundamentally “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”. Some of this thinking can be seen today and is clearly impactful on positive psychology but we’ll leave that topic for another day. His mummified head can still be found on display at UCL and the origins of it’s formation lead it still to be referred to as ‘the ungodly college’ to some (and Gower Street Tech to others)

I recently wrote a post called ‘The one with the crowdsourced research’. The purpose of the post was two-fold, firstly to try to collect relevant data and case studies about the deployment of social networks inside organisations and secondly to understand people’s perceptions to social. I got some great comments and links (thanks to those who contributed).

The reactions I found most amusing/bemusing came from people who work specifically in this area who in some form or another ‘called me out’ for wanting evidence and one who went as far as to imply it was cowardice to seek validation – curious business development indeed! I think there was a misunderstanding that I was seeking to be convinced rather than gathering information to convince others and use a window of opportunity to get clear buy-in to change.

Around the same time I was revising for an exam on a college module entitled ‘Technology, Work & Organisations’ and in the course of my reading came across a reference to Bentham’s Panopticon. Despite the fate of the cat, my curiosity got the better of me and off I went to Wikipedia to try to understand what the hell it was…

The panopticon was envisaged by the same Jeremy Bentham as a prison design where observers could observe all inmates without the inmate being aware they were being observed. The basis of the design has been used in prisons all over the world. In the context of work and organisations the reference was the perception from within organisations that technology wasn’t just about enabling more effective and efficient working but a tool of managerial control – effectively creating a virtual panopticon.

The saying goes ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ and whilst I am pretty far from angelic there is a voice in the back of my head saying that whilst social has great possibilities the notion that everyone wants it and everyone will love it just seems ‘yet to be seen’ for me. Maybe it’s about specific purposes – collaboration, innovation, visibility, rather than just ‘social’s great – do it’. For the moment I’m going to keep working up my solution and give some more thought to how this will land on a very diverse group of prisoners people.

And I must close there as the red light on my Blackberry is blinking and if I don’t answer it in under 5 minutes…


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The one with the irrelevant collar colour

In 1924 a newspaper in Alden, Iowa described trade work as a ‘blue collar job’ and a term was coined. 88 years later at a conference in London I overheard a conversation discussing career development aspirations and the use of social media for blue-collar workers and it dawned on me how irrelevant the term has become, yet still used.

It doesn’t take much deduction to work out where it started – people ‘on the floor’ doing manual/unskilled work (you know classic Taylor stuff) would wear blue shirts as their clothes were more likely to become dirty whereas those in office jobs would wear white shirts as they finished the day like an English winger in the 6 Nations – pristine!

If you consider work today the notion that it’s only those in non-office based roles who do lower skilled or repetitive tasks (what we may consider blue-collar jobs) it soon becomes clear the distinction ended some time ago. Many call centre workers do work that is at best repetitive and some manual roles (like engineers and some of the more hands on IT roles) have a great deal of variety and autonomy in how and where they perform their roles.

A distinction I stumbled on whilst reading Daniel Pink‘s book “Drive” (worth a read) separates work not on the basis of location of where tasks are completed or the type of job being completed but rather into these two categories:

“Algorithmic – a task which follows a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion.
Heuristic – a task that has no algorithm, you have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution.”

Which seemed to me a far more relevant distinction for the diversity of roles that exist today.

The problem I then faced (in my head) was trying to put people in boxes (never a smart thing to do but I try none the less) which resulted in these questions:

  • Do those carrying out algorithmic work want a role with more heuristic tasks?
  • Do those carrying out heuristic work enjoy the challenge of finding a novel solution? [there are may connotations of these first two questions]
  • Is there a correlation between those who seek career development and the nature of the work being carried out?
  • What links if any are there between these two terms and the notions of job vs. career?
  • Can any of these questions really exist in a world where people wear purple and white checked shirts?

I didn’t really get much further than this. It did make me stop and check myself in some of the assumptions under which I had been operating and make me counsel myself (yet again) against the dangers of putting people in boxes. It served, to me at least, as yet another reminder that whilst we choose to study work at various levels every employee is an individual with an individual story. That story often spans and at times defies any classification we may choose to make in order to try to manage some of the processes that surround people.

I think at times it’s too easy to sit in a room and think that ‘people’ will want to do stuff (develop their career, engage in an organisational community, do work that forces them to think differently) when actually a person will want many different things for many different reasons. Damn them 😉

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