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Weinstein, the Nazis and you

in Editor Pick/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by

In the red corner is Harvey Weinstein. Weighing in at over 250 pounds and a net worth of $250 millon. Nominated for over 100 awards, Academy awards winner, with an influence over some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

In the blue corner, every single person in society including: disgusted members of the public, former actors and actresses who knew directly or indirectly of his actions, assistants, victims of abuse, and almost every person in the media.

Each day, the number one story across the globe appears to be Harvey Weinstein. Yet another person comes out to share their experience. And, each day, commentators in the media and important global figureheads frown with disapproval. ‘Why would so many people stand by and let this happen?’ Indeed, if you weren’t confronting Weinstein, you have been dubbed an ‘enabler’.

The reason why the Weinsteins of the world do what they do without fear of retribution is something that has long been studied and understood by social psychologists. And it has to do with an anecdote about Nazis. Yep, our favourite real life and Hollywood villains.

Early studies in social psychology attempted to explain how seemingly normal people could commit atrocities, like the Nazis in World War 2. Were these people truly evil or placed in circumstances that made them do horrible things?

Many are familiar with the Stanley Milgrim experiments where under pressure students would administer seemingly painful electric shocks to other students. Some would do so even to the point of the other student screaming in pain. However, this was all a façade. Nobody was truly in pain. The study was simply examining whether a normal person would follow orders even in the face of cruelty.

Since these early experiments, social psychologists have demonstrated that people behave in peculiar ways when surrounded by others. For example, we are willing to ignore or downplay evidence so that we can maintain harmony with a group—groupthink. Some believe this can lead to catastrophic outcomes when risk is downplayed and overlooked.

Many of our phobias are related to how we are perceived by others. We may fear public speaking even though there is no true physical threat. Job interviews tend to be the more stressful than they should be. The first day of school or a new job are confronting experiences because of the unknown social aspect.

In public, we all instinctively conform to fit in with our surroundings. How many of you feel uncomfortable to hold a phone conversation on the train in the morning when everyone is quiet? How difficult is it to disagree with the majority in a workshop when it may mean slowing down progress or having to debate an issue?

It’s probably not too surprising to social psychologists that Weinstein was able to do what he did. Through his sheer physical size and powerful personality, he could intimidate. But he also has a ridiculous amount of money and influence from his position. If you’ve ever hesitated about speaking up on a workplace issue, then imagine how impossible it would be to challenge the might of Weinstein, surrounded by others who played along.

But, interestingly, research also shows how individuals can overcome intense social pressures. In one study, a participant was asked to judge whether a line was shorter, longer, or the same as another line. If they were placed in a room of people who purposely misjudged the length, the participant would also align their view with the rest of the group. However, if only one person disagreed, it was enough for the participant to feel comfortable to disagree.

Doesn’t this sound like what’s happening now with Weinstein? All it took was a few people to speak out to give others the confidence to do the same.

What we can learn from Weinstein isn’t just a lesson on morals, decency, and corruption. It is also a lesson on how we as individuals can fight the social current in any context and bring out change. You might even find people jumping in to support you.

Ding ding, ding!

Seven Dwarf leadership styles. Which one are you?

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

My first job ended with a triumphant walk out. I threw my Safeway name badge on the ground and never returned (except to buy things later).

This was not to be a trend in my career nor was it a sign of my immature youth. It was in response to a manager who lost his temper and decided to grab me by the arm, drag me across the store and berate me in front of customers. Let’s call him Grumpy.

Grumpy had an up and down personality. He was volatile one day and gregarious the next. Research suggests that an unpredictable personality is worse than someone who’s just difficult or unfair all the time. Uncertainty is the best friend of anxiety and worry. At least with a bad tempered person, you know you’ll be unhappy.

On this particular occasion, he was grumpy because someone had been stealing all the painkillers from Aisle One. When I approached him, he was standing in the corner of the aisle on a covert operation to catch the thief red handed.

Apparently, when I interrupted the critical mission, he thought it was appropriate to drag me across the store and give me a dressing down in front of the customers. I walked away, a little shook-up and a bit angry and proceeded to go back to work.

Grumpy wandered by a few minutes later with a jovial smile. ‘False alarm’, he said.

It was only when a younger colleague joked about the incident and Grumpy’s temper, that all the lightbulbs in Aisle four went off. ‘That wasn’t right!’, said a young pre-doctor/pre-psychologist (i.e. me). The badge fell to the ground and I only ever returned to stock up on bread and milk.

Then the phone calls came through. Grumpy was terrified I’d report him to Safeway management because he was under probation for sexually harassing a female colleague at another store.

In retrospect, it may have been appropriate to report him but, like most people, you just want to move on to something new and forget the past.

The only benefit of being man handled and embarrassed was Grumpy gave me a glowing recommendation when I applied for my next job.

It would be easy to think that Grumpy was the exception. With all the managers—senior and otherwise—across the globe, true leadership is a pretty important but is hard to find. Here are a few leadership styles that I’ve observed.

Sleepy

Sleepy leaders are those that are essentially asleep at the wheel as the workplace and world around them changes. They are personified by the worst kind of decision—indecision. Ideas are brought to them to improve their business and they fail to see the potential. Poor performers pass under their radar and may even be promoted. The sleepy leader is uninvolved and inspires apathy from their followers.

Sneezy

Sneezy represents the distracted leader who becomes so preoccupied with their immediate circumstances they are as effective as someone having a sneezing fit. I remember one leader who just couldn’t sit still in a meeting to hear a briefing. He’d wander around the room, interrupt you with side stories and even massage your shoulders. I used to liken it to trying to have a discussion whilst someone is juggling and swallowing swords in front of you.

Bashful

The bashful leader is simply lacking self-confidence and steel. I worked with a colleague who felt deeply uncomfortable when their manager confided in them about how they didn’t feel like they could lead. This manager would worry, feel ineffective when they made decisions and were concerned that their team didn’t respect them. Every leader has doubts, nerves, and fears. A leader should be self-aware and honest but, let’s face it, we don’t want to work for someone who doubts themselves all the time.

Dopey

The dopey leader simply makes poor decisions or does not have the subject matter expertise to have an educated opinion. I recall a manager who was facilitating a workshop after a major safety incident. The manager commanded the room and started writing a list of punitive and ineffective actions on the whiteboard. They were commanding from a place of ignorance. A sensible leader needs to defer to the experts and facilitate. A dopey leader makes the decisions from a place of complete ignorance.

Happy

Everyone loves the happy leader who inspires laughter and fun in the workplace. At best, these leaders can help motivate and promote a positive culture. At worst, however, they may not always be realistic and can even side-step issues that drain their energy levels. When I worked in the public service, I observed many a happy leader worn down over time by their worried, more conservative colleagues who wanted to tackle the difficult issues. They would sometimes joke or make light of a situation as their concerned counterpart was more interested in getting an outcome than feeling good about it.

Doc

Then there’s Doc, the natural leader. They don’t necessarily have any particular characteristics that stand out other than the fact that everyone listens and follows them. Workplace psychologists have long studied the various traits, styles, motivations, and thinking that goes into a ‘Doc’.

Docs don’t worry too much but worry just enough. They’re happy enough but happiness isn’t their priority. They’ve got the smarts but rely on their peers as well. They take action and have the guts to do the job without being too overconfident.

Oh, and they usually don’t man handle their employees.

5 times Disney used the force with Star Wars: The Force Awakens

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by

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A long time ago in a blog far far away…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens made one billion dollars at a light speed of 12 parsecs, sorry, days. In doing so, it has further expanded the Disney Empire to a size that would turn Darth Vader’s mask green with envy.

Not before too long, Stars Wars has obliterated Titanic’s record like a Death Star and is currently force choking the life out of Avatar.

Success like this comes along every few years for the movie industry. Depending on what figure you like to use—no. of tickets, prices adjusted for inflation—there’s no doubt Disney has been using the force in its production and marketing strategies.

Here are five simple strategies that must have the Disney execs fist pumping to John William’s force theme…

Nostalgia

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Disney’s goal was to make a ‘retro’ film. This term basically means they wanted to restore the connection to the original Star Wars trilogy.

Humans in this galaxy reflect on our past with nostalgia. It’s believed the emotions and thoughts associated with nostalgia, help us derive meaning from our existence.

The familiar faces, music, and even similar ideas and scripts has bought them kudos with Star Wars fans who celebrated the return of their favourite film franchise with multiple viewings.

Cultural Icons

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Another way of connecting with our past is through cultural icons like Darth Vader and Harrison Ford’s character Han Solo. Director JJ Abrams was clever in introducing the melted mask of Darth Vader—who perished in Return of the Jedi made almost 30 years ago—in promotional trailers, toys, etc.

Cultural icons are believed to help us connect with our society and culture. The Darth Vader mask is symbolic of blockbuster films and the broader entertainment culture of Western society. In the film, the mask is a symbol for the martyred villain, Darth Vader.

Our celebration of such icons is much like a modern-day religion. Recent psychological theories suggest that they can go as far as to make us feel less anxious about death because they help us feel more connected with something bigger and more enduring than ourselves.

Basically, it’s Earth’s alternative to turning into an immortal blue force ghost.

Mystery & Surprise

One of the more recognised events in the Star Wars saga was the reveal in The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. At the time of its release in 1980, it was a lot easier to keep this secret to shock the audience.

The modern audience often walks in to a film having watched multiple trailers and read spoilers for films online. Disney was notoriously secretive about the Force Awakens, in particular about keeping the mysterious absence of Mark Hamill’s character, Luke Skywalker, under wraps.

Mystery and surprise are no stranger to successful companies that know how to intrigue their customers. For example, Steve Jobs enjoyed delighting audiences by declaring ‘just one more thing…’ during Apple announcements, before revealing a surprising new product or feature.

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Surprise is considered to be one of only four core emotions we experience as humans. So it’s no surprise than when we experience this emotion, we find a special event even more memorable and are more likely to share our experience.

Branding

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Star Wars branding is so extensive that there’s even a Darth Vader toaster that literally brands each slice of toast with the logo ‘Star Wars’.

As successful as ticket sales have been, Disney have been especially dedicated to exhausting the pull of the familiar Star Wars brand and its beloved original cast.

It has been slapped on a series of spin-off films as well as the obligatory figurines and toy lightsabers. But it extends to canned corn, body wash, runners, band aids, mascara, Star Wars themed parks and bottled water. There’s even a Darth Vader watch for $28,500!

Disney knows that the ticket sales are only bought once or twice. The real game is in the long-term merchandising of their new brand, which is set to make $5 billion in its first year. The brand is currently circulating across the galaxy (or planet) like an army of Stormtroopers.

Customer Focus

As obvious and as boring as it is to highlight the importance of understanding the customer, it’s amazing how easy it is to forget and become overconfident like the evil Emperor from Return of the Jedi.

George Lucas showed us what happens when you indulge in your own creative ideas—as he did with the Star Wars prequel trilogy—instead of listening to the customer, the notoriously obsessive Star Wars fans.

The reviews and fan reaction were never kind. Fans weren’t interested in trade blockades, senate debates, and overly cheesy romance stories.

Although financially successful, the films never reached the cultural significance of his earlier trilogy and are still widely criticised today.

Disney, however, aren’t wedded to artistic integrity. It just wanted to make a crowd pleasing film. This difference in philosophies later had Lucas jest that he felt like he sold his children to ‘white slavers’.

I’m surprised he didn’t say he turned them over to the darkside or, at least Jabba the Hutt. Perhaps Disney also acquired the rights to his Star Wars jokes too?

Are safety practices scientific?

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

Don’t be too quick to take on the advice in this blog. Avoid nodding in agreement or giving it more credibility than it deserves. It is, like most blogs, the views and observations of one person tied into a convenient narrative.

You may feel more at ease agreeing or listening to my advice if I said it was based on research or established empirical findings.

Perhaps a four quadrant model or a series of circles with arrows pointing might also lend it some credibility and closure.

Theories

Mysteriously, the one thing that is likely to reduce your confidence is if I use the word ‘theory’.

Theories are often perceived as intangible, unreliable, and untrustworthy. The term is also used to try to discredit ideas. For example, some individuals attempt to trivialise the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution by saying ‘it’s just theory’.

It’s a suggestion that you have come up with an idea but don’t really have much in the way to back it up.

A scientific theory, in reality, is the result of extensive research based on many observations, experiments, and peer reviews. In science, theories help researchers consolidate studies, identify patterns and explain exceptions to predictions.

Theories are the result of research being tested, refined, and, yes, even discredited.

What scientific theories drive safety?

In safety, processes, procedures, models, frameworks, ‘evidence-based’ approaches, methods and risk matrices are preferred as they are perceived as being more practical. We often lose sight of which theories, if any, helped guide these approaches.

Observations and viewpoints from individuals—and heaven forbid blogs like this—with opinions are also valued.

At best this type of information can be useful but at worst it signals we understand exactly why a problem occurs and how to fix it.

To illustrate, let’s take the well-known James Reason’s error model. It can be used to categorise errors and breaches to rules. For example, employees often circumvent procedures to maintain workplace productivity—a violation for organisational gain.

One reason we fail to prevent future such issues is that we don’t often land an explanation as to why the behaviour occurred. It always seems to boil down to a generic explanation like ‘there is culture of rule-breaking’ or that the process and system was not followed.

We rarely stop to contemplate whether the practices we’ve put in place should have worked in the first place.

Applying theory to safety

What if we applied an approach that is based on a contemporary theory supported by recent evidence and application?

For example, regulatory focus theory explains that the person who broke the rules to increase productivity was adopting a ‘promotion focus’, which means they were motivated by achievements, accomplishments and other rewarding outcomes.

This theory explains that we all adopt a promotion focus from time to time but some individuals are more prone to doing so. Some individuals are more disposed to adopting a prevention focus, which is a sensitivity to warnings and reprimands.

In contrast, promotion-focused individuals are not sensitive to these warnings and reprimands.

They are also superior at processing patterns not details. So, they tend to have a ‘big picture’ mindset, perhaps focusing on the broader workplace’s success rather than ensuring they comply with all the details.

They will also do their best work in environments that promote autonomy, rather than those that dictate compliance.

The benefits of a theory that explains behaviour

Immediately, we can see that a deterrence model, such as issuing corrective actions, is unlikely to shift the approach of this promotion-focused individual. Even worse, reprimands could simply demotivate the employee, reduce their creativity and make them focus on simple linear trends and patterns.

As such, their situation awareness is likely to suffer. Their mindfulness of their surroundings is impaired. Their resilience and attention is also undermined.

In short, awareness of regulatory focus theory allows us to tap into an extensive literature of research that can help us explain behaviour and, therefore, address problems more appropriately.

Such theories can help explain why deterrence models can fail to produce behavioural changes. Without the theory, we may just assume that greater rigour, investment and enforcement is needed to apply the model.

The downside of theory

There are some areas of caution, however. Many theories are based on norms and beliefs about how the world operates with researchers confirming what they already believe to be true—the confirmation bias. As such, the theory can be a formal way of validating the way we want the world to work not how it actually works.

Some researchers have attempted to address this shortfall by intentionally examining non-intuitive research findings. This forces theories to address exceptions to our predictions and ensures we don’t build our knowledge on pre-conceived ideas and assumptions but, rather, scientific findings that may be counterintuitive.

Theories have also been criticised on the ground that they provide a narrative fallacy, where we are more likely to be convinced by a compelling story rather than look objectively at the evidence. Just like this blog.

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