The Practise of Positive Psychology

On Saturday I’m going to be talking at the CIPD Northern Area Partnership conference. Here’s what I’m going to be talking about.

Positive psychology is all about how to strengthen experiences of feeling good. We spend so much time living, that sometimes when good things happen we forget how to cherish those experiences and elevate the relevance they have in our lives.

Positive thinking is not the same thing as positive psychology. Positive thinking is useful for helping to reframe when something has happened to you and you need to think better about it. It is the wrong type of intervention to use when something serious has happened. It is definitely the wrong intervention when experiencing something traumatic.

Traditional psychology and therapy have focused on helping people move from a place of feeling depressed and needing support to a place of feeling neutral about those things. In and of itself that is not easy and can often take years of therapy, counselling and sometimes medicine.

Positive psychology is about techniques that help create lasting feelings of feeling good, improving wellbeing and strengthening a persons resilience. Where traditional psychology and therapy are about supporting a person to feel more in control and live their life, positive psychology aims to help people learn how to feel vibrant and thrive. It helps a person focus on their strengths and consider what is going right.

Carrying out a daily reflection of #3goodthings helps a person to learn how to appreciate the good moments and experiences they have had over their day. The importance of this is to cultivate appreciation of yourself and of others.

Research has shown that couples who have strong relationships have a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative statements. This helps us to understand that some conflict is healthy in a relationship, however what is more important is how partners share their appreciation of one another. In the workplace this reduces to 3:1 for a healthy and effective team.

Positive psychology is not about dismissing difficult or challenging situations or denying they happen. We learn a lot about ourselves when we are faced with these types of situations, and they force behaviours which we may not be comfortable with nor understand. This is reality and helps ensure that we have a sense of perspective of what good really looks like when compared to bad. In learning how to deal with these situations we increase our resilience and improve our chances of managing those situations better in future. Importantly, we learn that these situations are rarely permanent and we can find a solution which works.

Hope and optimism are important tenets of positive psychology. They help people feel that they are in control of what happens to them, that difficult times are transitory, and that they can feel good about the future. When we have hope and optimism we find the drive and motivation to do and achieve more.

When receiving good news, how we respond to the other person can either strengthen or weaken a relationship. Imagine the statement “I got a promotion”. There are four response modes:
– active constructive – we acknowledge, ask further questions, support and celebrate with the other person “That’s really good news! How are you feeling about it? Let’s go out for a meal!”
– passive constructive – we acknowledge with cursory words “Well done.”
– passive destructive – we don’t acknowledge and instead bring the focus to yourself “I think I’d like to go out shopping at the weekend.”
– active destructive – we acknowledge and seek to take apart the statement and find fault in it “Well that means you’ll be working harder and they’re only going to give you more work than you can handle.”

Most of us go to work and have a home life. These two things tend to be our first and second place. We can all consider how to find a third place where we carry out an activity which we are fully engaged in, helps us feel rejuvenated, we don’t notice the time passing, and we have no judgement or criticism about the activity. For me its skiing and when I’m not doing that it’s writing. This can feel like an indulgence. It might be.

Final thoughts will be on summarising the above, encouraging everyone to find a way for the different techniques to work for them and keep practising. As with most things in life, if something is worth doing then you have to take the time to learn how to make it work well.

Life, reality and the past

As time progresses, one of the continuing trends I’m becoming more aware of is how what used to be called hippy tree hugging bullshit is finding more and more business relevance.

Take views on sustainability and being green. Ten years ago, recycling was restricted pretty much to paper and cans/bottle recycling. At home, I now have to separate food, plastics, paper, card, glass bottles, and keep separate those that aren’t recyclable in a different bin. Local Councils now mandate that if I don’t do this, they won’t clear away my rubbish. I mean that’s one hell of a nudge if I ever saw one.

Ostensibly, though, these things were being argued about by the environmentalists long before these initiatives were introduced. What helped the cause was a scientific look at the effects of not being environmentally friendly on the planet. Once that became hard to refute, most people and most organisations saw that being environmentally friendly was a good thing.

Mindfulness as a meditative technique has been practised for more time than the Internet has existed and certainly longer than the radio and photography were a thing. And now with modern science we are able to understand that the capacity of the brain to work better when in a calm state and achieve more gives more gravitas to this thing.

Both of the above sound like I’m making a certain point. I’m not.

Because at the same time there are quite the very many who staunchly believe that natural remedies are a better form of medicinal intervention than using modern medicine. That is absolute total and utter nonsense. If that were true, life expectancy of circa anytime before 1800 would have been equal to life expectancy of today. One of the biggest factors that has improved this is that modern medicine can combat most diseases and medical conditions. Not homeopathic remedies, modern medicine. For sure some people will continue to believe in homeopathy because of the ideological resonance. Just as there are those who doubt negative impacts of industrialisation on the climate of the planet.

And there are very many who argue that life was simpler when we didn’t have modern technology. Well, yes. Of course that’s the case. If you have an absence of something, you don’t seek to have it if you never had it. But life being simpler and less excessive is little to do with the availability of modern technology. I wouldn’t give up modern technology for anything. It allows me access to creativity in its many forms from music to drama to art itself to images of the planet we live on. It allows me access to people’s thinking, debate on topics I don’t have the time to think on myself, learning at my fingertips and access to writing I may never know about.

Life wasn’t better in the past because they didn’t have access to or had technology. It isn’t necessarily better now either. Indeed we have excess in most parts of the western world and scarcity in many parts of poorer countries.

Life just is. It will continue to be and it will continue to be better for some and not enough for others. On my train carriage currently, one person has earphones in, one person is sitting with closed eyes, one is sitting with folded arms, and one is on their smartphone. Who’s to say if any of them are living a good or better life than any other?

Respond to this #learningcasestudy

Today on the blog I try something different. I want to see how people take a case study and respond to it. It’s a case study so there’s no right or wrong answer. Unless you answer wrongly of course.

A company wants to start improving their people’s ability to deliver presentations. They’ve noticed in team meetings, at board meetings and during project updates that presentations tend to be poorly delivered, lack structure and often with no clear information.

The company is a data driven company and their work is mostly on a business to business model. They win work based on the quality of the data they produce and the analytics they provide. One of the most regular pieces of feedback they receive is that the quality of their work is always impressive, however only a few people are able to talk through the results and deliver presentations. When someone new tries they often get caught up in being too detailed.

There are some people in the business who deliver presentations well. They are senior managers mostly and as such are relied on quite heavily for client presentations.

Internally they have modern tools to help them work well. They have a yammer network which they use to share stories about product development, project updates and seeking help from other colleagues. People are comfortable sharing an array of interesting articles and discussions are common.

What kind of learning solution(s) would you suggest for this company?

This is a fictitious company, so please do take some freedom with the information above and in how you respond. You can either respond in the comments below, or perhaps you could write your response on your blog? Please use the hashtag #learningcasestudy.

Is neuroscience anything more than snake oil?

It’s hard to know which things come our way as fads and which are here to stay. Which are snake oil and which are the real deal. Which are genuinely of value and which tell us nothing even though they persist.

Tarot card readers interest me. Random cards get drawn, interpretations are made and someone thinks their fate is laid bare before them. Of course it’s nothing more than mentalism at its best, but you can’t but help be taken in by it.

More closer to home, Learning Styles is one of those where the L&D profession needs to let go of this once highly held model of how learning can be delivered most effectively. The problem is that on the face of it, it seems to make sense. The reality is that there is no empirical or academic research to support the theory for practical learning transfer. You can be a steadfast believer in it all you want, but there’s just nothing there to insist we continue using this model in design of learning solutions.

Is neuroscience like snake oil? That is, is there anything about the study of the brain and how it works that we can doubt?

Sure there is. If you don’t think scientific methodology has validity then why pay attention to what this field of study tells us?

Here’s the thing though. We’re learning a lot about the mechanics of the brain which support a lot of the good practise we’ve been enabling in others.

Like giving praise to others and they receive it well? That’s probably because you’ve helped deliver the message well (kept the brain feeling safe), reinforced a positive message strongly (releasing neurochemicals that support a person feeling good) and allowed them opportunity to engage with the feedback (reinforcing a sense of fairness for the brain to assimilate the message).

Had an unexpected response from a team member about a piece of work they were doing? You were probably unclear about the task (creating uncertainty in the brain), told them what to do (taking away the persons sense of autonomy) and at the same time elevated their stress level (releasing a different neurochemical which shuts down brains capacity to think clearly).

Had a great connection with a colleague at work and feel like you’re getting along brilliantly? That’s probably because you’ve helped create a safe environment for them to talk with you (allowing the brain to feel safe with you), and helped them feel good and connected with you (releasing a different neurochemical which reinforces positive affect towards others).

Without the neuroscience, we understand why the above are good things to do, or why they could have gone badly. What we’re learning better is that there are very positive ways we can interact with and connect with others which is supportive of helping the brain to work much more efficiently.

It can all be ignored for sure. Psychology itself helps us understand a lot about the human condition, thinking and behaviours. The neuroscience behind it all is revealing interesting insights (like these neuromyths) and helps us to know what things we should be paying attention to and what we shouldn’t.

Digital Literacy and Inclusion

I first remember hearing about digital literacy a while back on Steve Wheeler’s blog. In talking about digital literacy he gave the comparison of driving a car. In England, we learn to drive a car, take a test, pass it, and go on to buy a car which we then drive regularly. Over time, we become adept at driving and can indeed step into any car and drive it. However, when going to the USA and hiring a car to drive over there, suddenly everything is different. The skill of driving a car is no different, but the rules have changed. Suddenly we become out of kilter with a once well understood manner of behaviours.

In the social learning space, there is a lot said about how learners are just doing it themselves. They’re out there on the social networks, collaborating in different spaces, networking in their own ways, sharing what they find and getting their learning at their point of need.

The population doing this isn’t as big as we might assume. It’s significant for sure, and there are a good many who will get this way of continued working.

But what about people whose role at work means they have no need to interact with the company they work for digitally? They may need to and have to because the world of work is moving that way, but for roles which aren’t office based and don’t require modern technology to do their work, what’s happening to them?

My fear is we’re just ignoring them.

Recently I read an interesting piece about Penguin Random House’s approach to raising the digital inclusion of their workforce, they gave their staff tablet devices. I like it. It’s accepting that people need the right tools to do the work we want them to do. It’s also bold. How many HR departments could convince their IT and Finance colleagues that this is a better investment?

For companies who can’t do this, though, I think we are at real danger of actively excluding people who want to work, but aren’t able to access all that work can offer because it’s all gone digital and they don’t know how to access it.

Linked to this as well is how user friendly the systems we use are. If the UX of the system is awful, then it doesn’t matter how digitally literate you are, you’ll hate using the system. We need to work with vendors and providers more in establishing good usability of their products.

I’m not simply talking about being trained in how to use systems and what have you. I’m talking about outright development programmes of digital inclusion which includes provision of devices, personal support in using them, helping them learn how to use MS Office suites, how to navigate the interwebs well, what it means to have email, how to write an email, and so much more.

Mervyn Dinnen wrote a piece on this for recruitment purposes and highlighted that digital skills will fast become a recruitment factor. Can’t use MS Office? Sorry, there’s 10 other applicants who can. That’s the impact of not growing a programme like this – people who are good workers, want to work, and are capable, but don’t have digital skills.

It’s something I’m going to be embarking on as a long term piece of work for my organisation. I’m setting out to do this because I want people at work to enjoy being there and for them to be able to access everything they’re entitled to. Once I’ve got that happening, then I can be confident of growing an organisation to take full advantage of learning and development in all its guises.

Membership, fairness and doing the right thing

A while ago I recall a consultant I worked with talking to a team about doing things right and doing the right thing. As business decisions go, sometimes we think we have to do things right as the way forward. Less often does it seem that we do things because they’re right to do.

This week I slighted the CIPD and the LPI and that was unfair of me. I accused them both of being arrogant in the digital learning space and that wasn’t right.

I’m not a paying member of either. I don’t have any direct formal relationship with them or with people involved in their activities.

I actively attend their events and have indeed been invited on numerous occasions to be a blogger at their events. So by proxy I am a supporter of both. I’m not deluded enough to think that my word has weight beyond my readership, but I am very aware that writing about them negatively in public, well it just isn’t cricket.

Ed and Andy, please do accept my apologies for the slight against both your organisations.

The CIPD are carving a new way of delivering their learning through digital means. The launch of their MOOC was pretty impressive in support of HR pros who want to understand digital environments better. They’re delivering the Level 5 in CIPD quals through entirely digital means, and that’s ace. Their events and content team are pretty excellent at producing shareable content which is not something a lot of people are doing.

The LPI are engaging with their members and non-member through some pretty impressive digital means. The launch of Learning Now TV is a big step change for the learning community. A regular hourly production of learning content relevant to the current topics related to L&D. If you’ve not watched one of the shows, check it out here. They’ve also created a social network just for L&D professionals called the Learning Professional Network. And very regularly they deliver free webinars for anyone to access and participate in talking about L&D content on a range of topics.

All of us in this space are part of the L&D community. I am an active member of this community. Where there’s good things happening I’m only happy to shout about them and praise them. Where I’ve been unfair and need to explain my support of the community, that’s the right thing to do.

Thinking about holistic learning solutions

Yesterday, I was writing about how LinkedIn has changed the face of learning by buying for $1.5bn. I wrote it in a purposefully polar way because I wanted to see what reaction it would get from people. Here’s some examples of how people reacted on Twitter.

Now the thing is, they’re all right.

What we need to start looking at when it comes to learning solutions as L&D practitioners is less about which method of delivery are we going to advocate best, but which learning solution provides a holistic approach to supporting a person’s development.

What used to be called blended learning is now quite dated and doesn’t quite capture the right ethos of how learning and development can progress.

For some purposes, a face to face workshop or classroom is exactly the right solution. You get to ask questions, debate with others, have your thinking challenged, see reactions, hear alternative points of view, gain live insights and a host of other interactions and connections.

For some purposes, social technologies can and do provide pertinent information which is accessible at the point of need. That’s the biggest win when considering this is a solution. People don’t need to wait for the learning they’re looking for, they can access it right away. The main consideration here is that people need to know how to find the information they’re looking for and that can either be a curated source, or it can be in educating others in how to find good sources of information.

For some purposes, social collaboration tools are the solution. Open, transparent working practices, sharing of information, sharing knowledge, are all ways in which people can develop their skills in safe environments where they are supported by others around them.

For some, coaching and mentoring are the ideal solutions. They have particular needs, understand how coaching and mentoring can be beneficial, have the motivation to act on their own insights and value having private and safe conversations with someone who is able to ask questions which prompt thought and reflection.

For some, being a part of a community of practise is the way forward. Coming together with a bunch of people all interested in the same topic or way of working and being able to develop your own skills as well as the skills of the group working co-actively, with shared interests and shared community.

For some, e-learning is a great tool for delivering their learning of need. It can give them the pertinent information, at their workspace, meet compliance need, and is a useful source of bite sized important information.

For some, watching videos is a highly engaging format of delivery. They get to watch a well scripted production, with useful insights, and some direction on how to develop their thinking.

And there’s a whole list of other types of learning and development activity I’ve not listed. Which is the point.

The future of the learning and development practise lies in the way we advocate for holistic learning solutions.

LinkedIn buying is a significant activity in our profession. It has signalled that there is a step change in the way learning and development operates and delivers its content. 350 million people will now have access to online learning when they want to access it. That’s a strong stance from LinkedIn, and it demands that L&D as a practise meets learners where they are, not where L&D are most comfortable operating.