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What goals and how goals – part 2

Posted by Andrew Cooper on February 10, 2009

Way back in mid-January I posted about the distinction that sports psychologists make between outcome goals and process goals.  In a nutshell, focusing on winning a race (an outcome goal) can be counterproductive because everyone else has the same goal and simply wanting to win clearly doesn’t guarantee that you will.  It’s much better, they argue, to focus on the things you need to do to maximise performance (process goals). 

Here’s the excellent Oliver Burkeman making similar points with better examples in his Guardian column last Saturday.

Posted in management, planning, psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

What Goals and How Goals

Posted by Andrew Cooper on January 18, 2009

adlington

Someone who has just achieved an objective goal

Last summer the UK experienced a rare fortnight of success in sport.  Having only won nine gold medals in the 2004 Athens Olympics, and a total of 30 altogether, we had no great expectations of success in 2008.  Instead ‘Team GB’ (a moniker which can only have  been picked to annnoy the Northern Irish) won a total of 19 golds and 47 in total.  Rather astonishingly, we finished fourth in the medal tables.  Most of the residents of these islands experienced a growing sense of disbelief as the medal tally grew.

There are a number of possible explanations for this dramatic improvement.  Our team focussed its resources onsports it was good at, in particular the ‘sitting down’ sports: rowing, cycling, sailing and so on.  

It was also interesting to listen to the competitors talking about their success.   Some of them talked about the sports psychology that had been applied by their coaches.  In particular they mentioned the distinction between process goals and objective goals.  An objective goal would be to win a heat or to win a medal.  Focussing on an objective like this can be stressful and unproductive, particularly given that its reasonably certain that every other competitor in a given event will have the same goal.

Process goals are to do with the ways in which success if achieved.  Sticking to a particular training regime, improving technique, achieving a target weight and so on.  I remember one athlete talking about the fact that process goals were about things she could influence directly: she could determine whether or not she achieved her process goals.   She found this much more helpful than focussing on winning per se.

A lot has been written about the topic of process and objective goals.  This simple idea rang lots of bells with me because I have for many years thought in terms of ‘whats’ (aka, amongst other things, objectives’) and ‘hows’ (aka, amongst other things, processes).  Also, I’m a big fan of simple ideas.  

(Incidentally, one of the items that my Googling into this topic threw up was this astonishingly accurate forecast.) 

 

 

Part of

Posted in Change, management, planning, psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

How frightened are you?

Posted by Andrew Cooper on January 13, 2009

 

The BBC's 'the end is nigh' logo

The BBC's 'The End is Nigh' logo

Since early this morning the lead story at the BBC News website has been this report on a survey of business confidence in the UK.  Clearly the ‘business leaders’ (the British Chamber of Commerce) who conducted the survey reported in the item are running out of adjectives to describe the awfulness of the current economic situation.  So ‘frightening’ is what they went for.  Dramatic stuff.  

Having lived through three recessions (1973-5, 1979-82 and 1989-92) I can’t remember any of them being described as ‘frightening’.   

The BBC, meanwhile, continues to pile on the agony with it’s ‘hell and damnation’ logo featuring on all TV news broadcasts and web pages related to what it is still calling a ‘downturn’.  Downturn is much too mild a word, don’t you think?  If they really want to scare the bejaysus out of us I would have thought ‘Meltdown’ at the very least or perhaps ‘The (economic) End Is Nigh’.    I wonder if they’ll replace the logo with an upwards pointing arrow if and when the downturn ever becomes an upturn.

Language is so important when discussing these things, isn’t it?  I don’t want to underplay the seriousness of our current situation – inasmuch as anyone actually understands it –  but I can’t help feeling that the use of such hyperbolic language by the media, politicians and ‘business  leaders’ is helping to ensure that a vicious cycle is deepening by the minute.

It’s at times like that this that real leadership is needed.  People who really can change the way that people think and act.  On this side of the Atlantic at least, real leaders seem to be in very short supply just now.

Posted in economic meltdown, government, politics, psychology | Leave a Comment »

Daily Mash explains why Bank of England didn’t spot looming meltdown

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 22, 2008

This seems entirely plausible to me.    Not so sure about the BBC’s version of the story, though.  The deputy governor of the bank says that they knew that borrowing was ‘crazy’ but they didn’t think it was ‘serious’.  

In what sense was he using the words ‘crazy’ and ‘serious’, do you think?  As I understand the situation (i.e. not very well, which means that I’m well qualified to run the BoE) a large part of the problem was that the accumlated debt was being converted into derivatives that no one really understood and which were being traded on the markets.  

This led to a vicious cycle: the investment bankers wanted more and debt to trade.  In the face of this insatiable demand,  the lenders handed out more and more money to people who would never be able to afford to repay it. Once the value of the underlying assets started to fall, the whole house of cards collapsed.   ‘Crazy’ certainly seems to be an appropriate adjective.  

As I pointed out in a previous post, psychologists have confirmed that everything – even things that didn’t actually happen – seem perfectly obvious given the benefit of hindsight.  Perhaps we should insist that the Bank of England’s board – and probably all other corporate boards – must include a fully qualified psychologist.

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Epictetus and CBT in the first century AD

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 10, 2008

David D Burns, one of the original exponents of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (see various previous posts) once pointed out that the underlying principles of the approach are nothing new.

He mentions the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus who, as you will see from his Wikipedia entry, was born in 55 AD.  Epictetus suggests that ‘suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power.’

CBT is based on the ideas that what we think (our ‘cognitions’) determines how we feel and that we can exercise some control over what we think.  Epictetus said, for example, that “”Men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the things” and as this book points out, Taoism and Buddhism both regard cognition as a primary force in determining human behaviour.

Epictetus had views on every subject under the Sun.  Here are just a few of them.  One of them is clearly the original of Shakespeare’s famous CBT related quote.

Incidentally, I came across an advert earlier in which IBM claim that they can help to ‘solve business challenges’.  Further evidence that ‘challenges’ are what we used to call ‘problems’, I think.  Before long ‘challenge’ will have the same negative connotations as ‘problem’, so we’ll have to think of something else to call them.  Can’t be ‘issues’ though: that’s already been taken.

Posted in cbt, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, consultancy, consultantese, psychology, thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Cognitive surplus, The Vision Thing, Kurt Lewin and Newton

Posted by Andrew Cooper on November 15, 2008

 

Newton

Newton

George H Bush allegedly said that he didn’t do ‘the vision thing’ (although, following two minutes extensive research via Google I can’t actually find a source for that so perhaps he didn’t).

Either way, his son’s successor is very big on Vision.  And following on from his extraordinarily successful use of the web to help back up his job application for the Leader of the Free World post he’s about to take on, he’s using the web to collect visions.  

Anyone interested in change management and psychology is bound to have been thinking about the central message of Obama’s campaign.  If you spend $30.00 on an Obama victory T-shirt (I’d want a victory sweat shirt at that price, particulalry given the current dollar/pound exchange rate, but I suppose that’s not the point) you will be able to wander around broadcasting the message – ‘Change can happen’ – to anyone who happens to read you.

This is a pretty safe promise, of course.  Change can happen. We’re all agreed on that. There’s an implicit suggestion that the change in question, if it does happen, will be beneficial, but the slogan provides a safety net just in case it isn’t.  

thankyou_bannerThere’s a lot that could be said about managing change and it’s a fair bet that the large management consultancies are queuing up to say it to Obama’s transitition team in the hope of landing massive contracts of the kind that our own government, here in the UK, has handed out to them over the last eleven years (see various previous posts in which I’ve suggested that this isn’t necessarily a brilliant idea.)

I’ll limit myself to just one thought. Kurt Lewin, who died in 1947, is one of the best known theorists on change management. He is also, as the wikipedia article points out, known as the ‘father of social psychology’.  His ‘force field analysis’ approach is one of those lessons from pscyhology which I would put in the ‘obvious when you think about it but nevertheless useful’, category of ideas.  

Force field analysis is like a restatement of Newton’s First Law of Motion which, as you will recall, states that ‘”A body continues to maintain its state of rest or of uniform motion unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force”.  Lewin said that social situations are like this.  They remain static because a set of balancing driving and restraining forces keep them that way.  So, if you want them to change, you must reduce the restraining forces and/or increase the drivers.  

As the wikipedia article also explains, Lewin talked in terms of ‘unfreezing’ a situation, making the change happen and then ‘freezing’ it again. 

All this is massively difficult to do and although I’m a SLLL (sceptical lilly-livered liberal) I can understand why the right in America is aghast at the idea of an interventionist President attempting to change things using the Federal government machine.  (So aghast, in fact, that Representative Paul Broun has already played the ‘Hitler’ card by comparing the President elect with, yes, Adolf Hitler.  This is, of course, a sure sign that he has lost the argument.)

(The video is, incidentally from the excellent Daily Show website: fellow card-holding LLLs will appreciate why it’s been my main source of intelligence regarding recent goings on in the USA – the show’s website is excellent.)

Anyway, Obama certainly has one thing in his favour at present.  If you want to engineer large scale change you need a large shock to unfreeze the existing status quo.  In this respect, at least, Obama and Hitler have something in common: large scale economic shocks.  Hitler had the depression and its consequences for Germany.  Obama has the credit crunch induced world economic crisis.

It’s going to be an interesting few years, one way or another.  

My vision for America, incidentally, is that all American citizens are provided with one of my very-nearly-ready-to-sell Mindworks approach starter kits so that they can think things through properly instead of rushing out and changing everthing willy nilly.

The starter kit has been slowly fermenting away over the past couple of months, and has recently been renamed ‘Mindworks BrainGear’ after someone rightly pointed out that ‘Mindworks Approach’ didn’t exactly grab his attention.   The second part of the process around which the kit is based, incidentally, exploits force field analysis.  I talk about bridges and barriers rather than driving and restraining forces, but the idea is exactly the same.  Just thought you’d like to know, Senator Obama.

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There’s no such thing as a sure thing

Posted by Andrew Cooper on September 19, 2008

A banker

A banker

Of course there isn’t.  We all knew that.  Even the investment bankers who have triggered, as G W Bush put it, some ‘adjustments’ to the world’s financial systems, knew it.  Why, then, did they behave as if there was?

Yet again, it’s all psychology.  Economics plays no part whatsoever.  If they had behaved rationally, they wouldn’t have built an enormous bubble of pretend money using financial instruments that the vast majority of them (including, critically, those at the top of the firms which have failed) didn’t understand.

The situation obviously wasn’t helped by deregulation or rather, self regulation.  (‘Now children, here’s a big box of delicious sweets.  I am going now, but I want you to make sure that none of them are eaten although frankly I’m not that bothered.’)  But at the root of it is good old cogintive dissonance.  If you’re paying yourself a few million (or tens of millions, in some cases) a year you really want to believe that the machine that’s generating all that pretend money is reliable, fault free and will continue to do so, even though deep down you have an uncomfortable feeling that it can’t.  Cognitive dissonance simply says that if you want to believe something you will, despite any evidence that your belief makes no sense whatsoever. 

If you come across a fact or argument that is ‘dissonant’ with your belief, you rationalise it away so that you can hold on to your beliefs.  Beliefs are very much more important to us than facts – they are a vital part of the mental models we use to understand the world around us.  And as I’ve mentioned in posts on cognitive behaviour therapy, you feel how you think.  These guys really did think that they’d mastered the system and it made them feel good.  They certainly didn’t want to think that they were wrong.

But they were, and spectacularly so.  Astonishing, isn’t it, that no one spotted this coming?  Actually, no: It’s not astonishing at all.  Most of those who might have spotted it, and done something about it – notably our governments, which deregulated financial markets in the first place – were subject to cognitive dissonance as well, of course.   They couldn’t afford to admit that they’d allowed far too much deregulation.  And they really did convince themselves that the children would behave, even when faced with a very large box of delicious sweets.  

Virtually everything seems obvious with hindsight.  But we often don’t spot obvious things in advance. There are good reasons for cognitive dissoance being part of our highly evolved mental software: we need well developed mental models to make sense of the world around us.  But these internal models can have dangerous side effects.   As Mark Twain said, we can easily end up ‘believing things that just ain’t true’.

Here’s the BBC’s Robert Peston writing on his blog this morning:

“The breathtaking rises in the price of bank shares this morning are symptomatic of a stock market that is bereft of reason and is being driven almost purely by hysteria and momentum.”

Posted in economic meltdown, economists, psychology, thinking | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

A Consultantese/English Dictionary

Posted by Andrew Cooper on September 16, 2008

A dictionary

A dictionary

Whitehall Webby Jeremy Gould has posted some excellent examples of the awful management jargon which messes up the minds and thinking of managers in organisations, including government departments.  It’s particulary tragic, as I noted in a previous post, to see this going on in Whitehall.

Many years of campaigning against this toxic misuse of language has failed and it seems that we are doomed to live with it forever.  So the best we can do is to attempt to understand what it all means, so far as that is possible.  With this in mind, in 1997 I wrote a Consultantese/English Dictionary.  I updated it a little in 2004 and I’ve just added a PS.

You can download a small PDF of the document here.  Please feel free to pass on a link to this post, or the PDF itself if you prefer, as I’m obviously doing this in an attempt at shameless self promotion.  (Unlike the mega-consultancies, I don’t have a mega advertising budget.)

As you’ll see, the PS is a request for more examples.  Unfortunately there are hundreds, if not thousands, in common use.  Only one of Jeremy’s top 5 actually appears in my dictionary, for example. Perhaps we should turn this into an open source project.  When I have a moment I might set up a wiki.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that organisations would be getting the message about this.  They aren’t. Take a look at this example which I came across only last week, but be warned: you’ll need a strong stomach if you’re going to get past the horrendous first paragraph.

Please ignore the odd typo: I’ll sort them out at, er, some point.  I actually quite like ‘…rather than the latte.’ and might leave it in, just for fun.

Posted in consultancy, consultantese, dictionary, jaron, psychology, thinking | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Invention number 2: the genetically engineered, lawn mowing slug

Posted by Andrew Cooper on September 14, 2008

A while ago on this blog I invented the nuclear powered tea pot as a way of illustrating the difference between an invention and an innovation.

A slug

A slug

I’ve just been outside looking at our lawns (that makes them sound rather grand, they aren’t but there are two of them) and the slugs who, as it’s now dark, are happily grazing on them.  

It’s been a great summer for slugs, thanks to the fairly constant rain, and dozens of them have grazed our lawns every evening.  Unfortunately, they don’t graze sufficiently well to prevent me having to mow the lawns, which I did this afternoon.

I have, therefore, invented the lawn mowing slug.  This is a species of slug which has been genetically engineered to sleep harmlessly in flower beds (i.e. without eating all the flowers) during the day and then move onto the lawn in herds (or whatever the collective noun for slugs is) and graze systematically from one end to the other, thus obviating the need for mowing.  

Obvious, isn’t it?  Why has no one thought of this before?  Please feel free to patent and develop the idea, particularly if you are a genetic engineer.  Do drop me a line when you’ve cracked it.

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Why didn’t they tell us before?

Posted by Andrew Cooper on September 14, 2008

Some unpredictably nice weather

Some unpredictably nice weather

I’ve been wondering a bit recently why economists are so bad at forecasting things.  After all, the one thing you really want to economists to be good at is forecasting, isn’t it?  Perhaps something is going seriously wrong in our universities.  The one thing you’d want architects to be good at is designing buildings which have roofs that don’t leak, but all the large building projects around here recently (such as our PFI funded FE college and Vodafone’s Global HQ) have featured leaky roofs from day one.

Anyway, returning to economics, Alastair Darling, in his infamous interview with Decca Aitkenhead, confessed that the credit cruch had come as a complete suprise: I believe he said that the first time he knew about it he was on hoilday when he read about it in a newspaper.  

On holiday?  Read about it in a newspaper?  There he was, probably the best equipped person in the land when it comes to getting economic advice, and he has to read about it in a newspaper just like the rest of us. After all, who could possibly predicted, except in general terms, that the combination of runaway personal debt and massive increases in property prices would all end in tears?  And if they did, why didn’t they do anything about it?

On reflection it’s not surprising that economists are bad at telling us what’s about to happen.  I mentioned my former boss’s ‘for every economist there’s an equal and opposite economist’ crack in an earlier post and that probably explains some of it. Also, the global economy is very much like the climate: pretty much unpredictable if you try to look further ahead than next Tuesday.  Unless you count ‘cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer’ as a prediction.

I came across this guy recently.  As you’ll see, he’s the world’s first stand up economist.  An academic economist who is also a stand up comedian.  It sounds like an oxymoron but he’s very funny and, coincidentally, mentions one of my Desert Island Quotes in his first Youtube clip so he must be OK.  He says ‘microeconomists are wrong about specific things while macroeconomists are wrong about things in general’.  LOL!  Believe me, if you’ve ever worked in a building populated almost entirely by economists, as I have (see biog, it was the same building in which A Darling is currently working, although possibly not for much longer) you’ll think that that’s very funny indeed.  

I’ll try to remember to say something about pscychological research into the phenomenon of hindsight in a future post.  The main reason that economists are always wrong about the future is, in fact, all to do with psychology.  But you knew that already because in a previous post I pointed out that psychology is relevant to everything.  This is a bit ironic because some economists are trying to argue that all psychology is economics.  They are, without doubt, wrong about that: I’d draw you a Venn diagram if I had a whiteboard.

The photograph, incidentally, was taken durng a holiday in Cornwall in 2004.  Those of you who know Cornwall may be able to recognise the spot.

Here’s another photo, taken from the excellent and environmentally friendly National Trust cafe at Kynance.

Posted in economists, psychology | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Cognitive surplus – mind mapping

Posted by Andrew Cooper on September 6, 2008

I first came across mind maps in the 1970s at an Open University summer school and have been using them ever since.  According to this article, mind maps were being used back in 13th Century (and perhaps a lot earlier) but the man who is most associated with them these days is Tony Buzan who has published some good books on the subject (and also trade-marked the term ‘mind map’ – perhaps I should trade mark ‘er, but’ and make millions!).

Anyway, most of my mind maps are scribbled in note books: I use them questions for interviews, plans for reports and projects, to do lists, brainstorming and so on. I’ve never been much of a fan of computer based mind map generators and am not impressed by Buzan’s iMindmap product.  However I came across this online mind map generator, which hails from Rumania, last night and it looks very impressive.  Give it a go and see what you think

Posted in cognitive surplus, creativity, innovation, psychology, thinking | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Time, please

Posted by Andrew Cooper on September 4, 2008

A hostage taker

A hostage taker

I’d really like to post about two TLAs: CBT and NLP.  Regular readers will know what TLA and CBT stand for.  NLP is Neuro Linguistic Programming.  I’m not a fan of NLP (someone once tried to sell me something using some crude NLP techniques: nothing has ever made me angrier!) but many people are, and I’d like to compare and contrast the two approaches.  When I’ve completed my retail product – just one final push needed – I’ll get back to that.

Meanwhile, I see that the Whitehall Innovation Hub’s Google listing has finally overtaken mine.  Simon Dickson’s post is still one place ahead of them, and Google currently shows an extract of my comment on Simon’s post ‘not entirely sure why it’s a ‘Whitehall’ innovation ‘hub’ etc.’

Let’s hope they start innovating very soon.  The Chancellor’s attempt to drive the economy into recession even faster than it was already heading in that direction can’t have made him very popular with his next door neigbour, IMO.

Do you think, incidentally, that Darling might have been a victim of Stockholm syndrome, when he made those remarks?  Snuggled up around a peat fire with the lovely Decca Aitkenhead (see photo), perhaps sipping on a dram or two of a fine single malt (make mine a Laphroaig, if you’re buying), he’d not only been taken hostage by the enemy (as his former boss, T Blair, clearly saw journalists) but had begun to show signs of, er, loyalty to the hostage taker.

No doubt it’ll all come out in his memoirs, which he should be able to start writing fairly soon.  As Charles Clarke has pointed out, many Labour politicians are going to have a lot of spare time on their hands in the not too distant future.

If I had any confidence in any of the alternatives to New Labour I’d be happier, but – as I’ve pointed out before – it’s not the people who are at fault: the system is broken.  As the late, great, Douglas Adams almost said, the last people who should be put in positions of power are those who ask to be there.  We need a system that puts people who at least have some of the leadership qualities needed by those at the top of government.  Darling, Brown and – increasingly, I feel – Milliband ain’t got ’em.

There aren’t political points. I’m a management consultant.  I hate seeing things badly managed, whether it’s Dell’s online ordering system (of which more anon), hotels or the country.  If the UK were a major corporation shareholders would be calling, very urgently, for its board to be replaced.  As it is, the current crowd are going to stagger on for as long as they possibly can, as they system allows them to do, like a group of wounded wildebeest hunted by some very hungry lions.   And, as I say, the method we have for replacing the current board doesn’t guarantee that we’ll get a better team next time around.

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Back and blogging again

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 25, 2008

Well, Dorset was very pleasant indeed as you can see from the photo.  But I’m now back, recharged and blogging again.

View from the farmhouse in which we stayed in deepest Dorset.

View from the farmhouse in which we stayed in deepest Dorset.

While I was away I wrote (as in ‘with a pen, in a notebook’) a short review of Here Comes Everybody (see numerous previous posts) for Newbury Library’s newsletter, Bookworm.  Mrs Mindworks, who works at Newbury Library, suggested this.

I’ve set up another WordPress blog so that I can introduce readers of the newsletter to some of the social media that Shirky mentions, together with some of his reference sources.  You can find the blog via www.cognitivesurplus.net, if you’re interested in finding out more about the book.  I’ll be adding more material and links over the next couple of days.  Incidentally, the review won’t be published in the newsletter until at least next month.

More news re. developments on a number of projects I’m working on, including my retail experiment, will follow later this week.

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