Work, Data and Happiness

Advocating and believing in a practise isn’t the same as blindly believing in it as a thing. I learned this a long while ago. Mostly I learned this because of religion. Then, as time went on, and I learned how to advocate my practise, I learned that not everyone thought like I did. Well, of course, but you know I was younger in them days. I used to have strong beliefs and extreme views on stuff. Then I grew up and learned all these shades of grey I never thought needed to exist.

I’m a better person for it. These days I know, of myself and of most things in life, that some things are true for some people. Some things are wrong for some people. And some things are just the wrong things. It’s all hazy right? There’s a delicious discomfort in not knowing, if you know how to be comfortable with that as a concept.

There are many a consultant type who will claim things like:

Imagine working on only those things you’re great at doing. Why would you want to do anything else?

If you do only these things, you’ll be protected from bad things!

And other sorts of blithe nonsense.

See, the problem isn’t the intent of what these types are saying. They’re trying to convey things like positivity and good actions and what have you. Of course I’m on board with the intent of those things.

But the thing which is missing from all of those types of messages is reality.

It’s one of the things I’m really careful about when I talk about positive psychology. Yes, you can do a lot of good and positive things, and they can and are likely to help you feel better about yourself, increase your long lasting feelings of happiness, and give you a better outlook on life.

But only if you are prepared to deal with the reality of life and what it throws your way. Sometimes, life really sucks and it can be hard to feel or act positively when all you might be experiencing are hard times. Your personal resilience can be tested really hard and it’s a gift to just get through a day at times.

So I come back to those types of statements above. And I think about working life.

See, I do believe that we can do a job we love doing.

But I also believe we have to acknowledge that you will still have to do things you don’t want to do. Like the filing. Like admin. Like using Excel. Like being creative. Like going out on work socials. Like writing reports. Like following process and policies. Like having a difficult conversation with a colleague. Like coaching someone.

They are working life. Organisations have had these things forever. Why fool ourselves into thinking we can exist without them?

We can tolerate them better, and maybe that’s what we need to advocate better?

Recently I heard two things which made me question the blurred vision we sometimes are presented with.

The first was that in L&D, if we align to the business and deliver results which positively affect performance, we’ll be protected against being cut. That’s the biggest load of nonsense I’ve ever heard. I know of, and have experienced, cuts of the harshest kind to L&D departments, and this was in the midst of great business focused projects, and business results. That’s reality, and no amount of good and positive action was going to mitigate against that.

The second was that working on your passion means never having to deal with data. God, really? Even independent consultants and the likes have to submit their accounts and deal with data to produce reports and the likes. That’s reality talking again.

And a short word on data. We’re in a world now where data is becoming more important than knowledge. App developers and techy types rely on the way we interact with technology in order to make their monies (or that’s their plan anyway). In a world like that, things like happiness and personal fulfilment take on different meanings and different answers arise.

What was true, may remain true, but it may not. Data will continue to drive the things being developed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but what it does mean is that new questions will be asked about how life is lead, how work gets done, and what the future looks like. No-one can answer those until we’re mired in those realities. And once we’re there, we can define a new happiness, and maybe answer questions about work-life balance along the way.

Look out! There’s a Baby Boomer about!

For a long while now, I’ve been interested in the debate about Gen Y. With stats like 50% of the workforce in 10 years will be average age 25, (don’t quote me on that, cos you know, it’s a half truth) it certainly looks like there’s something about to turn the corner which businesses need to be attuned to. And with statements being bandied about like how they are all digital natives, it certainly feels like this is a force heading their way into business to disrupt the normal flow of things. And carry that on with observations that they just need to touch the button of a Google Glass and whoosh they’re off, and you really do get the feeling that this is just all a bit too much and it’s gonna leave businesses standing still.

And we know to take this all with a pinch of salt, so I’m not concerned about who believes it or who not.

What concerns me is where the debate has been heading. And it seems to me that we’ve run head long into an argument which is redundant and completely missed the point.

See, the thing is, it’s not about Gen Y at all. It’s about everyone else in the workplace.

There are a lot of people in the workplace who are on board with new working practices, the need for technology to support new ways of working, and the proliferation of smartphones, apps and digital as a way of life. I mean if my mum (who’s only in her 60s) and my dad (in his 70s) can use a Chromebook with relative ease, the ‘digital native’ concept is so ridiculous that it’s creating a lot of discussion about nothing.

What we’ve missed, completely totally and utterly is the workforce who aren’t ready or prepared for the new world.

They’re the ones who have always caused heartache and pain to managers and HR teams and the likes. But perhaps, just perhaps we’re the ones who’ve had it wrong all along. We’ve bemoaned this lot we have. They’re stuck in their ways. They don’t want to learn new things. That’s just how they are. They’ve always got away with it.

And yet, there in front of us sits a way to understand these perspectives in the form of neuroscience, and in the form of cognitive psychology. Partners in crime, and suddenly a world of insight readily unfolds.

You see, the people who are adept at manoeuvring and keeping with the pace of change are those who have geared themselves up to make that happen. Their neuroplasticity is at a developed enough level that when change comes their way, they can adapt to what that means. They are used to creating new schema in their mental models, re-evaluating what they know, and keeping things moving along.

Be it Gen Y, be it Gen X, or be it your grandparents, we all have that capability and ability. Schooling, for all that critics and cynics rail against education, helps create and prepare us for these constant changes. Our brain doesn’t stop forming and creating pathways unless we let it. Our mental models of the world can readily change, if we accept that can happen.

See, what we’ve known for a long time, and what we know now, marry up in terms of psychological models and modern scientific models.

For our workforces, then, this means that we have a better way of understanding the barriers for helping them be their best self at work.

Ambition exists in all people, we just need to find ways to help that come through. When people are already battling with fixed patterns of working and fixed patterns of thinking, things like motivation, ambition and passion are such far off concepts that they are almost another language. But it’s not because they’re not willing to have those conversations, it’s that they need to understand what they’re stuck with at all.

Understanding how the brain operates, and how cognition develops, help us to understand the challenge we face in the workplace with people who we classify as ‘not willing to change’.

What I haven’t got to, yet, is how we resolve this in an organisational context. What I have got to is that not only is the Gen Y debate dead and buried in my head, it’s that we never should have worried about them in the first place. They’ll adapt just as much as anyone wired up to adapting will do. It’s everyone else at work who is seemingly neglected at the expense of these other groups.

Commerciality, corporateness and collaboration

With changes to the way social housing (and many other services like the NHS) is funded in the UK, it’s forcing these organisations to fundamentally address the way that they make money. Money matters, and without it most organisations of this sort wouldn’t exist. There seems to be a drive amongst the current political environment to not support long held public sector organisations or socially important organisations with public money, and force them to move to a more commercial model where they have to make money in new and interesting ways.

You’ll find now in a lot of public sector organisations, financial models where they are growing new business areas with the sole aim in mind of making money so that they can continue with their core purpose. That makes sense to me, and is a reflection of the evolving world of work we live in.

As I’m part of the social housing sector, I see what this change means, and how it affects organisational development. And although we’re more a social enterprise than we are public sector, we do still receive government grants, so are tied up with and into public sector challenges.

For the workforce in these organisations, they’re faced with some real challenges in the new focus. For many, they are used to a laissez faire approach to work, which is now no longer acceptable (if ever it was acceptable in the first place). The move to becoming commercial organisations equates for many to losing the heart of what they are there for. When I worked in the NHS, many nurses and health practitioners were uncomfortable with commercialisation of the hospital even though they understood it had to happen otherwise services would be shut.

That’s a real barrier to overcome when it comes to staff motivation. In care and support organisations, staff don’t really care about making money, they care about helping people who need it, and helping them to try and live an independent life. Then they’re hearing about how they have to act commercially, and it’s a whole new world for them.

This need for commerciality often means these organisations are seen as becoming more ‘corporate’. I find it hard to understand that as every organisation is a corporate entity. But that’s not what is meant here. What is meant here is that decisions get scrutinised, processes become tighter, procedures become formal, and the feeling is that staff can’t be trusted. Comparisons start to get made with the likes of banks and big companies like Amazon or John Lewis.

And for some, they don’t like this new approach. It’s far removed from their reality.

And the one remaining challenge, which exists for all organisations no matter the sector, is how to be more collaborative. In the face of commercial imperatives, and battling the perception of becoming more corporate, how do we cultivate a collaborative culture? Is collaboration conducive to those purposes (Yes, it totally is). Does collaboration actually work? Why should I collaborate if others don’t?

It matters to discuss these things with staff, and that’s where OD happens at its best. For those of you working with these organisations, this is part of the reality many of the staff face, and I’m hopeful it provides an insight into what they face. For those of us who are practitioners in these organisations, it means we have a mammoth task on our hands of helping move people to a completely different way of working.

For all the talk of Gen Y and how they’re going to change the world of work with their new demands and their technology, I actually don’t care about them. What I care about is how to help the staff who’ve been around for 20 years, do their job really well, but need to understand the changed world, and how they can adapt best to it. In terms of neuroscience and psychology, that’s the hardest thing to shift. We’re dealing with 20 years of working practise to completely re-write and help them do that in a safe and comfortable way.

That’s what the challenge of tomorrow is about. Gen Y will be fine. They’ll adapt and get on. It’s everyone who doesn’t live that lifestyle because they’ve never needed to, and now they need to be commercial and corporate and collaborative, that’s the space where OD will find its challenges, and that’s the space we can help people be their best.

Emotion, modern life & siblings

Originally posted on e3ctc:

20140922-195459-71699207.jpgSo the siblings reference in the title is a bit of a play as this is a sister post to this one by Sukh Pabial. Most people that know me know I am exceptionally interested in the two things that are mentioned in that post ‘emotion’ and ‘life’ and so when I saw it I decided to write this post. I also agree with Sukh (with my small addition in Underline), ‘understanding our emotion(s) how they’re triggered & happen in ourselves and others is quite possibly the greatest challenge ahead of us’.

In his post Sukh raises some questions about how it can be that emotion that served us so well as a species to evolve from homosapiens and cavemen to where we are today can still apply now. My take on it, because the purpose of the emotion still remains, it is what triggers it or calls it…

View original 473 more words

Emotions and modern life

I am fascinated by our emotions and how they impact on us as humans. Next to understanding the brain and the human body, understanding our emotions is quite possibly the greatest challenge ahead of us. Some people understand emotions really well. Others, like me, have an ongoing fascination with them, and want to understand them better.

But why?

Well, partly it’s the psychologist in me. I’ve always enjoyed learning about what makes people tick. How does the human mind work? What is the development of cognition? How do we learn language? How do humans influence each other? How do we learn spatial abilities? What do we know about the brain and how it develops? Does a lobotomy actually help cure some mental illness? Why do people become mentally ill? What is senility? How do we adapt when we lose senses?

It’s only in recent years, though, that I’ve been realising just how fundamentally vital our emotions are to our very existence.

Big statement, huh?

Emotions don’t just help us to feel. They are there to help us survive and thrive. Equally, they can be our downfall.

There’s a common misconception that some emotions are good and some are bad. The truth is, that emotions are neutral. Each emotion we feel prepares the body in some way for its next action. And in most cases there are definite chemical reactions for each emotion felt. It’s our interpretation of our actions which determines if we saw it as a good emotion or a bad one.

We know from neurophysiology that the brain is made up of several important functions. One of these is the limbic system, where (amongst other things) our emotions reside. Our pre-frontal cortex is the executive functioning part of the brain. Both of these are at odds with the other. Our emotions demand we act in a certain way, and our pre-frontal cortex demands we act in logical and rational ways. It’s the marrying of the two which allows us to make the decisions we do daily. Sometimes, one influences the other because of the weight behind each initial action.

If our emotions help us to live our lives, it can be really hard to understand how they help us to do this at all.

With me so far?

When we move from there to understanding the purpose of different emotions, that’s when things become more complex. Because, as we might be aware, we don’t tend to experience emotions in isolation. They tend to come together with others in varying combinations. But before we even consider those combinations, there’s something more fundamental for me.

Why do the emotions exist at all in the modern age?

It almost feels like that we should be able to do away with one or two emotions and find a better and higher purpose for living.

The caveman argument is redundant for me these days. Yes, our emotions protected us and served us importantly when we didn’t have the ability to reason or the ability to communicate. But we’re more advanced now as a human race. Our thinking, creativity, intelligence, language and communication skills are so far evolved, that our emotions almost feel like they’re out of place. (also, when put into context like that, really makes you wonder what are the skills we think we’re hiring for in organisational settings)

Of course, it’s our emotions which help drive many of those things. Our emotions will either give us the drive and ambition to be our best, or will drive us to do some bizarre things, and sometimes make us act fatally towards ourselves or to others.

Which is the thing that confuses me. We don’t face the same dangers we did thousands of years ago. The modern day equivalent of being attacked by a tiger can range from flying an aeroplane, to being in a crowd of people, to fear of spiders. And that’s what fascinates me. How are those things the modern day equivalents? Logic and reason tell us otherwise. But our emotions, they make those things such a physiological reality, that it almost defies belief.

So when we talk about emotional intelligence, and many of us do, it’s not as easy as helping others to gain self-awareness. We’re talking about an essence of our being dating back to the very beginnings of homo-sapiens.

Creativity and big ideas

I enjoy watching other L&Ders do their thing. Regardless of if someone is delivering well or not, there’s just something about how people choose to interact with their stage. It’s their arena, and whatever they’ve learned works well for them, is what they bring to the party.

I watched a number of people show their craft to others at last weeks Learning Live conference. I had a lot of respect for Andrew Jacobs from his writing, and from a lot of conversations we’ve had. Seeing him do his thing was excellent.

In his session, he took his blog post on 50 big ideas to change L&D and wanted to play with the content. What I saw happen was very interesting for what he was asking for.

He took 5 of his big ideas, and asked the group to exercise some creativity in producing ten small ideas for every one big idea. His hope was he would have 50 small ideas by the end of his session. Specifically, he asked for volunteers and directed to them that they would now be curators. What happened was, these L&D professionals defaulted to becoming facilitators, because that’s what we do best.

It raised some interesting thoughts for me. Primarily that as L&D professionals, creativity is meant to be our absolute bag. Every learning intervention, every interaction, every facilitative piece, every collaboration, every design is meant to be creativity personified. But I witnessed so little, that I got quite annoyed.

The curators all sought input via a bulleted list, and stopped there. This, for many in the room, fulfilled the brief given. Now maybe it’s my make up, but I take a brief at face value before taking creative license with it. I seek to understand what I’m being asked for, list out all the obvious stuff (to me), and then I go to town.

See, when you’re carrying out something as straightforward as a brainstorming activity, part of the challenge is to discard the rubbish. If you want 10 good ideas, you need at least 100. Seems like overkill, doesn’t it? Who has the time to do that? And surely that’s just a waste of ideas, right? And if you need 10, why produce 100?

There’s no ratio to this. But no one in the history of good ideas ever had just one. They have one idea, they play with it, and they move on to the next. Often, the best ideas are the ‘n’th number down the list. Not because all the others were crap, but because they weren’t refined enough. That iterative process is something many of us in the world of work just aren’t used to.

In the world of technology, that’s known as being in perpetual beta. That is, everything is changing all the time, so there is no right answer.

In L&D (and arguably HR), we get so caught up in responding to queries and being responsive that we forget how to use some critical skills to assess if things are worth doing or not.

Case in point – Bob thinks we should have a poster campaign for the Premier League Football final. Everyone says ‘great idea!’, then leaves Bob to get on with it. No one chimes in to say, ‘that could work, but how about we hold a poster campaign challenging one of the other departments on the same thing?’.

Why don’t we do that? Because we’re afraid we’re going to upset Bob and we don’t like upsetting people. Instead, we just accept what’s provided and make do. Neil Denny described it best in his keynote when he said we fight to accept mediocrity. I tweeted something about this, and someone responded saying that most people don’t like to challenge or criticise. That’s true, they don’t. But we’re in a privileged position in being in L&D. We’re actually not meant to be the pink and fluffy types. We’re meant to be the performance support types, but if we have trouble with creativity, how are we ever going to achieve that? If we don’t know how to criticise, how will be produce the big ideas that will change the world of work?