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It’s simple, just do the Opposite

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

I started our business Opposite two years ago.  Since then I have done the complete opposite of what I used to do. I sleep during the day instead of night. I walk backwards. I yell at people in the cinema rather than whisper. Backwards blogs my write even I.

Ok, I am not so much of an extremist that I would ever take the concept of Opposite to absurd levels. The idea was simple. Perhaps there were workplace practices that were so broken that doing the complete opposite was the solution. In short, we needed a name that implied we were willing to challenge the status quo.

Here are a few successes and challenges along the way.

 

The successes

Do you really need that procedure?

One of the most enjoyable component of work has been able to challenge the status quo on procedures and processes. We have developed simple websites and mini-workplace tools to replace boring, lengthy and unreadable procedures. We’ve engaged people with graphic design competitions and gamified solutions to deploy business processes. At its core is the idea that procedures and processes are often viewed as important technical documents rather than engaging instruments of change.

 

Human Factors

When I started Opposite, I was planning on moving out of the field of Human Factors for a change until I realised it was an area that people were talking about. This contrasted my previous 10 years experience, educating people about the importance of Human Factors. Somewhere in the past few years, it has become topical.

People are recognising that many failures and problems with technology, infrastructure, and workplace processes need Human Factors thinking. That is, a formal understanding of how and why people interact with their environments.

In many ways, considering Human Factors in they way we conduct work is ‘opposite’ to the way it used to be done: build it and then get people to adjust to it.

 

Developing solutions not just insights

I used to roll my eyes when consultants would come in to educate the business about principles and frameworks. I didn’t need someone to tell me that the customer is important or that clear accountabilities are critical. Most of us understand the basics but just need help coming up with the ideas and solutions to address these principles.

At Opposite, we didn’t want to just write a report with 20 recommendations and move on. We are more interested in helping workplaces develop the specific tools and workplaces practices that help implement the recommendations. This is the hardest part for workplaces and consultants because nobody has the precise solution.

 

The challenges

Paperwork culture

An unfortunate element of work today is the fear of prosecution when designing a solution that has safety implications. The end result has been many workplaces are so afraid to try the opposite and  innovate. This is unfortunate because most if not all people want to see greater focus, more creativity, and activities that add value. Paperwork often serves one purpose—to cover the workplace—not to drive business improvements.

 

Time

Time continues to be a predator that pursues you at every turn. Workplaces have increasing demands and seem to fit more and more in everyday. Our workplace is no different. Since running my business out of our humble home in 2015, we are now working with five consultants. With more people, it seems that there are even fewer and fewer hours in the day. In the tradition of Opposite, more resourcing has seemingly left less time for home and recreation.

I have yet to see a workplace that somehow reaches equilibrium and strikes the right balance of work and recreation. Work is addictive, rewarding, restricting, fun, and stressful. The creative projects sometimes get put on hold because we simply need to deliver that report.

 

Next steps

Going forward, we are venturing into finishing some new projects and ideas. Here are a few that are in production:

Launch. We’ve developed the first prototype of a workplace productivity tool ‘Launch’. This has been a slowburn project that is nearing completion for testing.

Brandbattle. We’ve developed a website that pits brands against each other in a competition. The website is developed as well as a tool that assesses your ‘logo personality’. Just a few more tweaks and we’ll launch it soon.

Gamified & Interactive Training. We are currently developing a game-based team development program as well as Human Factor training that allows users to explore and immerse themselves in 360 environments. Sounds cool. We just need to address that ‘time’ issue above so we can devote the time it needs.

We are also looking to partner with organisations and to keep testing our ideas. If you have a particular workplace issue that needs some opposite thinking, then drop us a line.

And thanks to everyone who has helped support and grow Opposite, especially our team: Conor O’Brien, Marty Lynch, Christine Antoniou, Patrick McGrath, Ray Misa and Andres Meneses.

The imperfections of being a perfectionest

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

Are you addicted to getting that font colour just right? Do you see errors in everyone’s work? Do you sometimes feel like the only reason something failed was because you weren’t involved?We’ve all worked with perfectionists. We’ve probably all been perfectionists ourselves from time to time.

The trouble is that being a perfectionist has some unfortunate drawbacks. Imperfections perhaps. Studies show that individuals who are perceived as having greater self-discipline and control are also more likely to be assigned extra work.

These perfectionists then feel that they have made regular sacrifices for their co-workers only to be burdened by the extra workload.Unfortunately for the perfectionists, their fellow workers don’t perceive them to be burdened. That is, because they are perceived as being so disciplined, others think the perfectionists don’t have to work as hard.

You can immediately see how this could play out. A perfectionist can’t help putting in the extra hours and effort. Others see this happening and think they are the best candidate to take on more work. The perfectionist puts in even more time and effort, perpetuating the endless build-up of work.

All this might be ok if the extra effort led to better outcomes.

However, perfectionism can also lead to excessive attention to working hard under the misguided notion that the more effort that’s expended, the higher its quality. Psychologists refer to this as the effort ‘heuristic’.

It reminds me of when children keep mixing different paints hoping to get the most amazing colour only to discover that it produces a muddied brown or grey.

I also think about all those cooking shows where the contestants want to wow the judges with more and more sophisticated flavours and combinations until the dish is no longer edible.

Being a perfectionist might just lead to you working really hard for not a lot of extra gain.

And now time to wrap up this blog. I won’t try and wrap it all up nicely because I’m not a perfectionist.

Um, so what exactly is Human Factors? A Space Odyessy

in Work Psychology by

There’s a moment in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey where our distant, ape-like, evolutionary ancestor spontaneously comprehends how a large bone can be used for violence.

Shortly after this moment he clubs an animal over the head and provides dinner for his furry pals. The weapon is then used as leverage to conquer a small, rival society to obtain access to a water hole.Depending on your background, you will probably view this scene in a few ways.

A risk expert may view the ape-man lowering his risk of starvation and exposing himself to a valuable survival opportunity. A project planner may consider this a perfect example of strategy, planning and execution, overcoming the exposed, unorganised society.

Social psychologists would be interested in the social dynamics of the groups bonding and uniting to promote their own survival. Useability experts might be more interested in the bone being used as a tool. The end-user finds it useful in achieving what they want to achieve.

Culture change individuals might be more interested in the shared values and attitudes of the ape-people, as well as the environmental influences that are promoting this change in group dynamics.

What would a Human Factors person think?

Human Factors looks at how all of these factors—risk, social dynamics, tools, planning, and so on—dynamically interact to influence outcomes.

The ape-man is being influenced by his culture and society and his basic need for survival. The tool and his social group assist him in achieving this goal.

The bone isn’t a tool unless it is used. The tool isn’t used if there is no drive for survival. The tool isn’t perceived as useful if the ape-man can’t comprehend its functionality and so on.

In the same way that reading this blog you don’t read the individual words or letters.

You don’t read the final paragraph and lose the meaning of what you read at the beginning. You also read my message in light of context provided from a movie released in 1968 and you assume that I am a person with a particular motive or message to deliver.

In short, somehow all the parts come together to deliver a message. Or to use an old cliché, ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’

But maybe my message isn’t clear. Have I planned it appropriately? Have I underestimated the risk of you failing to comprehend it? Perhaps the message isn’t a useable one. It’s too long or boring.

Perhaps it needs some Human Factors?

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Afraid of making a bad impression?

in Work Psychology by

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In meeting rooms across the globe there are people terrified of being themselves. They project their workplace selves, showing how conservative, cautious, ambitious, collaborative, assertive and clever they are.

They are less likely to talk about their nerves, worries and confusion. Let’s not be human when we’ve got colleagues, clients and managers to impress, right?If we care to admit it, we have all been concerned with making a bad impression.

I had a friend who walked into a shop to ask a girl on a date. She declined and he felt bad about it. However, he was also quick to recall all the other things that magnified the rejection making him feel even worse.

His hair and clothes were a mess. He felt people were staring at him from the moment he walked in until the moment he made his deflated exit.

At that point in time the whole universe seemed to focus attention on his scruffy, rejected appearance. Of course, this was just a memory fuelled by emotion.

Fear of rejection makes us better at recalling these negative experiences. It can also make us disapprove of others.

In one study individuals were told they were going to meet someone and were instructed to be sure to make a good impression.

In a subtle change to the instruction, another group of participants were told to avoid making a bad impression.

Each group then read a list of personal characteristics supposedly nominated by the person they were about to meet. Shortly afterwards they also read a description of the person.

They were then were asked to recall as many of the characteristics they could remember from the list.

Those participants instructed to avoid making a bad impression were more likely to remember the negative qualities of the person, compared with those instructed to make a good impression.

They were also more likely to instinctively dislike the person (who they never actually ended up meeting).

It seems that when we are preoccupied with not making a bad impression we are also more sensitive to possible problems and threats. So, we start to see others through the same negative lens and are more attuned to their negative qualities.

The researchers suggest this is one reason why individuals concerned with loneliness and rejection also feel the loneliest and most rejected. Their perception is distorted by their fear.

It can explain why so many individuals dread being asked to deliver a presentation or give a speech. Even when successfully delivered, the fear of making a bad impression can leave lingering negative thoughts about the experience.

Perhaps instead of trying to avoid a bad experience, individuals should simply refocus on the strategies and tactics for making a good impression. It’s a subtle shift but, after all, the last thing you want to do is make a bad impression.

Great leaders feel guilty

in Work Psychology by

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Ok, so now you’re reading a blog when you really should be doing some real work. Aren’t people waiting for you? Don’t you have some deliverables to finalise? Deadlines?Go on, off you go.Still here? Maybe you aren’t much of a leader. According to research, leaders are especially prone to feelings of guilt.

In an interesting study, participants engaged in a group activity where they were asked to pretend they had crash-landed on a desert island. Together they had to develop a strategy to escape and prioritise the key items from the plane for survival.Of course the exercise was just a cover for the real study. Participants also rated how guilty they normally feel—their proneness to guilt—and rated the leadership qualities of other members of the group during the activity.Before I continue, I really must reinforce my initial message. Don’t you feel guilty that you are wasting time reading about hypothetical desert islands? Starting to feel guilty? Maybe there’s leadership potential in you after all…

Where was I? Participants who were more prone to feeling guilty were also rated by their peers as better leaders!

It is argued that guilt makes leaders feel more responsible for others and more dedicated to their commitments.

What commitments have you put off to read this? Feeling guilty?

 

Don’€™t worry about swimming with the sharks. Worry about those jellyfish

in Work Psychology by

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The enemy approached. Facing insurmountable numbers, the Japanese deployed the razor net and sliced through them like paper. But the enemy’s numbers merely increased exponentially.

No, this isn’t some strange tale from World War 2. This recent event occurred when a small army of Japanese fishing boats tried desperately to plough through the ever increasing number of jellyfish decimating entire ecosystems of sea life.

What the Japanese didn’t anticipate was that attacking jellyfish only triggers an evolutionary mechanism which causes them to breed even more rapidly.

Each day, we make decisions that are no different from the frustrated Japanese fisherman. We confront our problems head on with force, deploying countermeasures and controls to prevent them recurring. Yet, the same problems seem to persevere and sometimes they generate other issues as well.

What we are often doing is targeting the symptoms not the cause.

Take the jellyfish conundrum. Pollution and overdevelopment along coastlines provide a rich and fertile environment for these great survivors to breed. We then overfish most of their natural predators and wipe out the rest with further pollution.

The jellyfish are now in a position to devour whole ecosystems.

In our workplaces the ecosystem is becoming more complex with people complaining about endless red tape and new roles being created to manage the chaos. A common way to address this perceived lack of order is to increase focus on compliance. You know the drill. Increase accountability, oversight, performance monitoring, procedures etc.

Unfortunately, like jellyfish, employees are resistant and adaptive. Their non-compliance triggers greater scrutiny and monitoring. And when you’re looking for problems, you tend to find them. The deviations from rules, therefore, appear to escalate even more. More controls are put in place which need monitoring and attention.

Meanwhile, because management are paying such close attention to every nuance of operations, the employees lose ownership of their tasks and activities. They become disengaged because they can’t genuinely get behind all these management obligations.

Managers introduce programs to improve employee engagement and reduce turnover, fuelling more complexity, roles, and approaches to measure and monitor employee performance. We’ve created a thriving ecosystem of complexity.

At the heart of fixing these issues is an approach called ‘systems thinking’. This approach allows us to map the real issues of the organisation and treat it like the ecosystem it is.

Lack of uniformity and inconsistent operations, for example, may not be really the problem. The systems map may reveal that the leaders haven’t set a clear and inspiring vision. Maybe they’ve been spending too much time deploying the razor net?

It’s not easy being lean

in Work Psychology by

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Every day, we’re bombarded with lean celebrities and weight loss programs. Now even the new buzzword in organisations is ‘lean’. It’s all about an obsessive focus on delivering the product or service to customers with minimal waste and resources.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? In less prosperous times organisations often pursue efforts to improve efficiency and reduce waste.

So, if you don’t want to read through this wasteful and bloated blog, I’ve also prepared a ‘lean’ summary here.

Still here? Ok, let me take you back in time, a long time ago in 2014. I attended a lean leadership training program where the ‘lean’ expert (he actually was quite trim) led us through a lean 100+ page training book over a lean two days.

He even provided the odd YouTube video showing random slapstick antics, which I’m sure was some clever method to help maintain acute focus on the objectives of the training program. Right?

But excuse my sarcasm, which doesn’t belong in this new lean world…

Research recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology has challenged the notion that we need to rid our offices of waste and ‘distractions’.

Across three studies, the researchers examined the performance of employees in a lean workplace environment versus a ‘green’ one. The lean environment maintained the standard office set-up. The green environment was surrounded by ‘wasteful’ plant life.

Employees who worked in the green environment reported increased job satisfaction and perceived the air to be cleaner. More importantly, their productivity improved. That is, they were more efficient in the green environment.

It isn’t quite understood why plant life seems to boost performance. For example, one idea is that the plants reduce carbon dioxide, thus improving air quality and concentration. The other idea is leaner. Employees simply feel more motivated to know that their managers care about their work environment.

Regardless of the reason, perhaps the message from this research is that people aren’t simply more efficient if they work in efficiently designed environments. They may even prefer to digress from time to time. After all, if you’re reading this, you chose not to jump to the lean summary, right?

Does your job give you goosebumps?

in Work Psychology by

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Can you think of the last time you had goosebumps? Was it the experience of walking down a dark and spooky street or the time you listened to a moving piece of music? 

When was the last time it happened at work?

Research from the journal Motivation and Emotion suggests that goosebumps generally occur when we experience the emotion awe. Does that give you goosebumps, eh? No?

Perhaps I should tell you a bit more about awe. Awe is a positive emotion that makes us feel connected to something bigger than ourselves. It promotes a sense of connection with other people, makes us more open to learning and changing our minds, and makes us better decision-makers. Any goosebumps yet?

According to research, awe makes us feel that our existing views of the world are inadequate. The emotion inspires us to adapt and grow.

The research implies that leaders who inspire awe, by highlighting the vastness, complexity and ambition of a goal, might also be promoting cooperation, open thinking and learning.

For example, people who work in project environments, where they are working on something highly complex and ambitious, often appear to experience this emotion. Perhaps this explains the lure for some individuals of working on large scale projects.

So if you are in a position to lead a group toward a goal you might be better off inspiring your people rather than reinforcing actions, compliance, and deadlines. You might just give them goosebumps.

One thing to motivate employees…

in Work Psychology by

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My old man told me his boss reckoned he needed only one thing to motivate employees: a four by two (a timber club). Fortunately, an intriguing theory suggests that we can achieve this without the four by two.

According to this theory, developed by Dr Simon Moss, all you have to do is give people a sense of purpose and meaning.

Called the Model of Sustained Strivings (MOSS – get it), this theory explains that all the positive changes we want to see in employees–such as increased motivation, open and creative thinking, improved decision-making, self-awareness and resilience–occur naturally when our jobs and lives are meaningful.

But how do you actually give someone meaning?

It’s more like four things you need to do…

Dr Moss suggests it might not actually be as simple as doing one thing. Instead, it is as simple as doing four things.

First, you need to create a stable and predictable workplace, providing a sense of control. Humans are instinctively cautious, closed-off, and unimaginative when their immediate environment is unpredictable. Think of how creative you would get if you were wondering around the jungle with a tiger lurking in the undergrowth!

In the workplace, creating clear, unambiguous expectations goes a long way to creating a stable workplace, for example when we clarify policies, procedures and rules.

The second determinant of meaning is working in a supportive and cooperative environment. Think about the last time you worked with people who didn’t really help you or possibly even undermined your efforts. When you are not supported, you tend to work just to survive not to improve.

We are also in this mindset when our workplace keeps changing and the future is uncertain. The third determinant of meaning implies that we want to have some continuity and consistency to know that what we are working on today will be valued in the future, otherwise it feels like a meaningless exercise.

Lastly, being allowed to be different and unique is essential to demonstrate our capability. This determinant of meaning boosts our self-esteem and motivates us to keep trying to improve.

Ok, so now you have the four things required to motivate and improve? Presumably, all you have to do is implement programs to address these four areas?

Unfortunately, according to Dr Moss, the research shows us that each determinant can directly contradict the other. So, capability impedes cooperation. Cooperation impedes consistency, and so on.

For example, while you are promoting ‘one culture’ and a unified team, you may also be undermining a person’s need to stand out and be different. Similarly, you tend to learn more and develop your unique capabilities in different, therefore uncertain, workplaces but these workplaces also make us feel insecure and undermine meaning.

Ok, maybe six things you need to do…

Fortunately, you can resolve these issues. All you have to do is six things (are you seeing a pattern here?).

How might you might reconcile the need for certainty and need to develop in novel and uncertain environments? Dr Moss suggests that when people feel stressed learning in novel environments, they could learn to associate these feelings with excitement in recognition of the opportunity to develop. By doing so, you can boost your capability and perceive the change as a challenge rather than something to fear.

To resolve the contradiction between feeling unique and unifying your teams, you could rotate the responsibilities of leaders. That is, you promote leadership on some tasks, allowing people to learn and develop but ensure they are subordinates on other tasks, to help encourage trust and cooperation.

But, to get all these things to work, you need to just do these 28 things…

Just kidding.

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