A Cappella music and Pentatonix

Sometimes I go off piste on the blog and talk about things completely unrelated to what I normally bang on about. Like this one.

I’m a fan of the a cappella band Pentatonix. Many of you will remember the epic base tones and high tones of the cooler than cool Boyz II Men. Here’s a little reminder of who they were >>

And just because I’m a big fan of the US chat show host Jimmy Fallon, here’s one of him with The Roots singing We Are The Champions and you may recognise a few famous people helping him out.

In recent years, I’ve come across Pentatonix. In fact this was the first piece I remember watching of theirs >>

The level of skill and ability in that video just took me away. The two doing beats and sounds (Avi and Kevin) have epic ability. They clearly practise hard and it pays off because they lead the vocalists so well.

And when you hear the three vocalists (Mitch, Scott and Kirstie) do their thing, it’s just a pleasure to listen to. Sure they’re just covering popular music of the ages, but they’re doing it completely a cappella.

It’s when you start to watch and listen to their recent stuff like their version of Daft Punk, which is a medley of Daft Punk songs that you realise their ability. There are no musical instruments being used. None. Even Boyz II Men with their talent couldn’t resist and ended up using instruments in their songs.

Just watch this. Then re-watch it to see how much talent they have >>

I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I’ve watched this video. It’s just a sheer joy to listen to.

It’s taken them some time to break free of just doing covers, as talented as they are, it’s hard to sell just covers. So I was quite pleased they started to release their own songs and here’s one they did called Love Again >>

They haven’t hit mainstream yet because they haven’t quite got the right marketing backing and management to boost them onto modern media channels as we might be used to with other talented artists. They’re totally out there, though, on the iTunes and the Spotify and tours and the rest of it.

With anyone that shows talent, one of the major elements of success is who decides to sponsor you. These guys are helping the sound system company, Bose, to show off the quality of the system. When you’re next in a electrical shop and they have a Bose set up to display, go check it out and you’ll be able to watch and hear these guys do their thing. That’s how good they are. Unfortunately I can’t find a link, so you’ll have to trust me on this and check it out yourselves.

That’s it, nothing more to see here, just some love for a really talented group. Oh, here’s another of their original songs, Can’t Sleep Love >>

Resilience and Humour

There’s lots of good advice available on how to maintain your resilience for your wellbeing. It’s a topic I keep coming back to. With regular talk of the world moving at pace, that we live in a VUCA world, and one where technology is forcing new behaviours for the workforce, concern about wellbeing has never been higher.

I listened to Dave Coplin recently, he’s a smart guy over at Microsoft and speaks very well about the potential of technology and how it can truly help us live better lives. At the same time he cautions us to not be beholden to technology and be far more purposeful about our use of tech in day to day life. If in the moment tech won’t help you have a better experience, then you should probably seek to just live the experience.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Dave’s talk was his humour. He’s clearly giving many talks and he has found very good ways to display great humour on a topic which is seriously interesting and insightful. Most good speakers do this. They find good humour that you can join in with and help alleviate some of the seriousness.

Laughter, for people, is an oft taken for granted thing. Recently I shared a TED video by Prof Sophie Scott and in the talk she shares that children laugh far more regularly than adults do and adults more than the elderly. It’s an interesting insight and one that bears further thinking. I agree with Sophie that I don’t think we find less things funny as we age, more that our humour becomes refined as we age, and so the things we find funny is dependent on our experiences, what we choose to find humorous and how acceptable we think it is to laugh at various things we experience.

It’s the good feelings we have when we laugh, though. The rush of things like endorphins, the release of stress, the belly aching, the aching jaw, the relaxing of the body. All of that strengthens the body’s natural resilience in being strong. It also really helps with our mental health and in providing those mental reserves to persevere or to find moments of personal balance and maintaining self care. One of the most common myths of people suffering depression is that they don’t find things funny. That’s not true, they can if they’re not in the grips of depression. Being depressed doesn’t tend to be persistent all the time, there are times of raised feelings, and in those times finding humour is an important self care element.

In the workplace, we have good relationships with many people. Some may be friends, some may be people we can have good banter with, and others will be people we just enjoy the company of. When I facilitate workshops and sessions, I always try and build in elements of humour. Not fun necessarily, but certainly ways for people to have fun together or join in some collective humour. I do that because when we experience humour collectively we are better able to have tough conversations. As a group, there is often a need to galvanise and create strengthened feelings. I use humour and good feeling conversations to help create a strong sense of team.

On workshops where I talk about positive psychology, I often use humour to help people understand that there is value in laughter and in smiling. As well as the social benefit of building relationships, there is also the personal benefit of providing that self balance and perspective of humour.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to talk about that resilience is a topic we don’t talk enough about and we should become far more conversant in. There is a regular need and demand in organisations for people to be productive and achieve things. As well as striving for places that support wellbeing, part of that conversation has to be about how we support the resiliency of our people at work.

Too much of a good thing?

I read a paper recently published by Adam Grant and Barry Schwartz entitled ‘Too Much of a Good Thing: The Challenge and the Opportunity of the Inverted U‘. It’s a long read, and it’s in academic speak, so if you do, take the time to digest it. It’s an interesting one that takes the time to examine some of the work claimed by positive psychologists and evaluate the extent to which we should take heed of the approaches/techniques suggested.

There are a few key concepts that the authors use which are central to the piece. The first is what they call ‘nonmonotonicity’. ‘Monotocity’ says that if you do X activity, and it brings benefits, the more you do, the more you benefit. The authors argue that with the techniques advocated for by positive psychologists, when you carry out the techniques you reach a peak after which continued practice brings deficiency or lower benefits – ‘nonmonotonicity’.

The Inverted U is an illustrative way to understand this concept as highlighted in the image below.

The Inverted U curve

What the paper helps to provide thinking on is that when we talk about use of strengths in day to day life, we have to be mindful that used in excess our strengths can start to hinder our performance / wellbeing. The paper talks in more detail about what this looks like, and I do encourage you to read it to understand how this plays out.

Or you could have a chat with Ian Pettigrew who does a lot of work on strengths based coaching.

It’s a useful bit of reflective thinking to help provide some balance to the many pieces of advocacy and seemingly relentless push for positive thinking, positive living and positive stories.

This isn’t about moderation of happiness either. It’s about finding the right levels of activity which produce longer lasting feelings of positivity and are supportive of wellbeing overall. As we know, no one activity is beneficial without being part of a whole. Our bodies and minds are complex systems and require us to develop whole being approaches to improving our wellbeing.

And I present caution that this paper doesn’t just confirm ‘common sense’. It presents a useful way to consider what are the effects of carrying out particular behaviours in their extreme and how they negatively impact on performance/wellbeing.

The challenging thing about finding your right levels of activity is that it ends up being quite the journey to go on. It’s not about one thing over another, and it’s not about trying one thing one time. Life persists because it has a natural habit of evolution. Life evolves because of natural iterative processes. If we want to be more determined in living positive and better lives, it takes time and effort to find practices, techniques and stuff that works for us as individuals.

When I deliver talks on positive psychology I’m always careful to not position it as a model which can make you feel infinitely better about love, life and the universe cos it’s just not about that. No model or way of thinking can offer you that. Used together, with other models/theories/thinking, that’s how we develop and understand more about what we need to be our best selves.

Positive psychology is quite clearly about how to live a well life. The techniques, models and the theory itself is useful, but it has its limitations. If you’re dealing with particular traumatic experiences, or very difficult life circumstances, it’s not the right support you need. It can form part of the support, but is not enough by itself. If someone is being discriminatory, hurtful or abusive, positive psychology can’t provide you with the tools to fight that or to prevent it from happening. It can help in the support once you’re free from those things, but isn’t particularly useful for dealing with them.

I’m glad to have read the paper. It’s helped to provide me with clarity on what happens when we overuse our strengths. I’m also now better considering on how to speak with clarity on what positive psychology is useful for, how it can support wellbeing and how the techniques have clear and specific purposes.

The language of bias and prejudice

I’ve always been a fan of the English language and the capacity of the language to allow us to describe many things we come across in our lives. I love that we can find many subtle nuances to describe minor differences between thoughts, feelings, intentions and so much more. Our ability to articulate because of the words available to us is something I constantly marvel at.

It’s not just that we can articulate ourselves so well, though, it’s that through the power of words we can move hearts and minds. We allow people into our very beings when we use English and use it so well. That’s why many corporates and PR and comms types are constantly battling with using language that people can understand as opposed to business speak. People can’t be affected by corporate and business speak, they can be affected by words of meaning.

And further, it’s the ability of the English language to have the capacity for such articulation that we can be far more inclusive in how we are with other people. We can be inclusive in our thinking, our acceptance of others and in our actions. The way we use language to be inclusive has always been known, and it takes effort to be inclusive.

You see, it’s not about political correctness or about simply accepting difference in people when it comes to the language of inclusivity. It’s about the purposeful use of words to be inclusive. Recent examples have highlighted for me how I still have much to learn on moving beyond accepting difference to actively using language which is inclusive.

In a regular Twitter chat on Friday mornings (8am UK) using the hashtag #ldinsight, the topic of how to deliver better L&D to over 50 workforce was being discussed. I found myself regularly falling foul of saying things that were unintentionally offensive. I was saying that people over 50 “are still capable”. I was rightly challenged, by being asked to clarify what that meant. At a recent work meeting, I described a new team member in another team as the “old lady who joined” and was rightly challenged by using such a judgemental phrase.

I’ve been reading more and more about transgendered people and the very real challenges of how best to describe someone once they have completed transition. Not only that, but I’m discovering a whole new language related to gender based conversations and in defining gender that I never knew existed. My learning curve is steep on this, and at the same time I’m not sure what I’m meant to do with the knowledge I’m gaining as it’s not often I’m writing to raise awareness of issues related to transgendered people.

For people who suffer mental health issues, I’m learning that there is a wide range of support available to help their care and support, and at the same time there is still a lot of lost patience with how we actively seek to help those with such care and support needs. Thinking and acting inclusively here, I’m learning, required better understanding of the person, their context and how to help them in the best way for them. Again, I’m not often writing about raising awareness of such issues, so how do I best share what I know to build that language?

What I’m learning is that it’s not enough to accept that we should base our judgements on the merits of the people we meet. Yes, intellectually we will all understand that. It’s the purposeful use of our language which shows whether or not we seek to understand, seek to be inclusive, or seek to be exclusive.

Ultimately, my personal belief is that we have to be inclusive. Acting exclusively in any form is, in my opinion, an outdated and non-useful way to operate in the world today. There are a good many who won’t agree, can’t agree, and will argue about the virtue of exclusive practice. I’ll not be convinced easily on this.

And this is not about writing better policies or about well written e-learning or courses. Nor is it about work practice where everything and anything goes. Clearly boundaries need to be respected. This is about the active measures we take to help people know they have a place. We often say that feedback should be about the behaviour we observe and not the person. The same is true of inclusive language. It should be about the language we use not the person we’re trying to include.

Quick thoughts on Amazon, metrics and learning

I had a really good conversation with a friend about how we assess the impact of online learning tools.

It got me thinking about Amazon and their approach to selling products. Ultimately you know if it was worth placing your product on Amazon if it was sold. That’s the ultimate feedback and measurement right there.

Because of their sophisticated systems they can tell you all sorts of information about the experience of buying: how long someone was on the site, the page, what else they viewed,  how many items were in their basket before they bought, if a special offer made a difference, and so on. But ultimately none of that information matters. Did the product sell? That’s all that matters.

In the world of L&D and online systems specifically, what matters is performance improvement. Did performance improve because of the time spent using the tool? The hard part of answering that question is in the client defining and being very clear on what performance improvement looks like.

If they can’t, then all the supplier/provider can do is to report on the metrics of the experience. That will be useful information for the client to know, but they are the ones who need to define what an improvement in performance looks like.

Modern working and the learning challenge

Some recent blogging from different people has got me thinking more about the world of work and therein the challenges that lie ahead for the world of learning at work.

Mervyn Dinnen wrote a piece where he spoke about the rise of what’s called the gig economy and questions whether HR are ready to support such a changing relationship with a workforce who aren’t entirely employees but kind of are. Jane Hart wrote a piece last week where she highlights the challenge of modern workplace learning. Essentially she argues that there is a growing split of traditional L&Ders who don’t accept that workplace learning needs to move beyond classroom based and e-learning and on the other side modern workplace learning professionals who understand how work demands different ways of providing performance support. And David James wrote over on LinkedIn how technology has enabled people to do more learning in their own time and their own way than ever before.

You bring all that together and you start to gather that not only is the workforce itself changing, not only is the way we recruit people changing, and not only is technology changing work patterns, but also the skills needed and the knowledge needed for a successful company are no longer dependent on what the company says it needs.

If ten years ago you were to know about the roles being hired for today, you’d not even know where to begin in training people and getting them skilled up. Instead what’s happened is people have clumped together, directed their own ways of working, created new behaviours for getting work done, and found better ways to share knowledge and learning.

The work environment used to be a place where you received everything you needed to do your job from your employer. For a lot of companies that remains the case, but what’s changed is the way that learning needs to be delivered. People can’t wait 2 months for a company induction, or 3 months for the next workshop, or next week to learn about the new product, that’s all too late and not at the point of need.

The world of work is moving rapidly, be you on the bandwagon or not it doesn’t matter, the way you’re expected to work is moving on. For us L&Ders, that presents huge challenges to the way we provide learning at work.

If your workforce is changing to accommodate flexible workforces, contingent workforces and full time workforces all at the same time, how are you changing your learning delivery to meet all their needs? And let’s not be naive enough to start making claims that agency workers must receive their learning from their agency and other nonsense like that. Workplace learning demands that workers have access to content which is of value to help achieve goals. We can’t keep working in ways where we only provide content to permanent workers and hope everyone else will learn by osmosis.

We also need to be stronger at making our case for modern learning to the businesses and organisations we’re part of. If you’re being told to run workshops and courses but you know there are better learning solutions available, find a way to make that happen. It might mean experimenting and finding safe ways to play with discreet groups so that you can build evidence. It might be that you circumvent regular ways of working to make something happen (provided of course you don’t get into trouble for it). It might mean that you build a stronger and better professional network of people who can support you delivering these modern solutions.

What is certain is that the people who are coming to work will be there for a range of reasons. Being at work means that they need access to learning content that can help them be successful. There’s no easy answers here, and no easy solutions to implement. It’s a challenge we’re all faced with and we need to start stepping up our game to meet this ever increasing need.

3 degrees of influence

I was at an Action for Happiness talk the other evening by Nic Marks. He’s authored The Happiness Manifesto and came up with the Happy Planet Index. He was talking about his thoughts on what he called Intelligent Happiness. A play on Emotional Intelligence and a term he freely shared is one that may need to be evolved.

Part of his talk he was speaking about the influence of our network on how we feel, and this is something I’ve come across previously, and really starts you thinking about who is in your network and why they’re there.

Research has been able to inform us that our likelihood of feeling happy is directly impacted on by how happy others are around us. This can be the case with what has been called three degrees of influence. That is, how happy you feel can be affected by how happy your friend’s friend’s friend is.

The opposite is also true, that how sad or unhappy you feel is influenced in a similar fashion, but the impact of positive emotion is greater than the negative.

Which is really something.

We are all well aware that the immediate people in your life matter, and the influence of them on your wellbeing has a direct link. For a long time we’ve known that if you have friends who have a set of habits you will be influenced by them and you in turn will influence them with your behaviours and habits.

I watched a TED video today by neuroscientist Sophie Scott, which spoke about the relevance of laughter as a function. Why do we laugh? What’s its purpose? Essentially it has a social and an intimate purpose. Laughter signals socially that we want to build rapport and relationships. With loved ones it signals that we share interests and are emotionally moved on similar topics.

What this all helped me to understand better is that being happy has a direct societal impact that often we just take for granted. A happy person will be able to influence how happy someone is three times removed from their immediate circle.

There’s a lot of insight there for how we choose to act and how we choose to understand the influence we have on people we didn’t realise were being affected by our mood.

And there is a cautionary piece here too. This isn’t saying that we need to be displaying happiness all the time. Happiness, laughter, joy, are all useful concepts and are part of the mechanisms around resilience. What we know from positive psychology is that you can’t just positively think your way into better situations. Sometimes we have to understand that living a positive life means doing things in very different ways to what we may be used to. That’s not always easy and it may not be the right set of choices to make.

What I find helpful about Nic’s talk is an understanding that when others share good news or stories with me, my feelings of positivity will be raised because of it. Likewise, if I can share good things then it may have a positive impact on others. And what Sophie’s TED talk helped me to consider is the social and personal benefit of laughter. Sometimes it’s ok to do the polite laughter to cultivate relationships and when you have a personal relationship a real hearty laugh signals lots of positive intent towards them.

And here’s the TED talk by Sophie Scott which is well worth watching.