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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!

Can you control the odd billion changes that are occurring right now?

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

In just one minute, 243,000 photos will be uploaded to Facebook. One-hundred and forty four people will move to a new home. Approximately 136, 824, 00 pounds of carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere.

You are changing constantly and so is everything around you.

Larger organisations are essentially all about responding to and enacting changes on a massive scale. In the face of these dynamic environments, we set up support structures to ensure that change can occur as cleanly and efficiently as possible. Buildings go up. Bridges are built.

It’s essential that there are dedicated people to help remove all obstacles so that people can focus on the changes that count.

Think about the challenges of a Human Resource team. New people enter organisations every week. Employees leave.

Human Resources need to ensure this occurs as effectively as possible whilst trying to work out what type of person they want to enter and which ones they want to retain, train, and how to go about building all the qualities we want in people.

You may believe the best approach to bringing this stability and achieving long-term success is to control things centrally, like a mother ship or a queen bee. To ensure consistency and compliance, everything goes through a controlled decision-making group.

This approach may involve enforcing the policies and standards and having final say on all capability decisions. If you tend to believe that change needs to be controlled, then you may prefer this centralised approach.

Think about the trusty ol’ iPhone. What if Apple adopted a centralised approach managing their customers?

What if they found ways to penalise you if you didn’t use this phone? What if after purchasing the phone, they told you there was a series of mandatory training programs you will need to attend before you can switch it on?

This may seem odd, but it’s essentially what organisations do everyday when we occupy a more centralised approach to managing change.

In contrast, you may believe that change needs to be embraced and that you are better off letting people surf the waves rather than restricting them in the swimming pool. You may, instead, give people the swimming lessons and surf board, and allow them to tumble off the surfboard from time to time.

If you hold beliefs that people need freedom and autonomy, therefore, you may prefer a decentralised approach to providing support. That is, you are there to enable and influence rather than ensure compliance.

This approach more closely aligns with a ‘customer service’ approach to support where you are essentially there to help people.

Take a safety support function that desperately wants to lower injury rates. Their tendency may be to initiate more standards, procedures, rules, and audits. The importance of their goal, after all, is something we can’t deny.

What if, instead, they adopted a decentralised, customer-centric approach? They could, for example, build resilience and motivation, which could help maintain alertness and situation awareness. This approach also has the benefit of being more flexible to the inevitable changes that surround us.

The centralised approach is too easy. We mandate a new rule then shake our heads in disbelief when these important rules are ignored or bent.

Of course, simply responding mindlessly to customers can be risky. A doctor, for example, who simply orders an operation that a patient demands is not really looking after their customer.

For internal support services, responding quickly and efficiently to customers can also mean that lots of new changes occur that create confusion and may not align with the broader organisational goals.

Ultimately, it probably boils down to what a customer needs rather than what a customer wants.

And now we’ve reached the end of the blog, just reflect on how much has changed.

About 116 people just got married. 58 airplanes just took off. About seven billion human hearts beat 500,500,000,000 times.

Mother ship, this is Dr Duck. How are we going to control all of this?



Last month, my colleague, Maurice Cristiano, and myself, conducted some research to find out some best practice thinking in regards to internal support services. The above is a bit of a summary of the views and advice of some experts we spoke to with a bit of my own interpretation and opinion mixed in.

We’d like to thank the following people for their insights. Please note that this blog does not necessarily reflect their views or the views of my workplace.

Marvin Oka – Behavioural Modeller, Keynote Speaker, Corporate Consultant

Dr Simon Moss – Senior Lecturer at Charles Darwin University

Peter Howell – Group Manager HR Operations at John Holland

Michael Ingpen – Business Analyst

Saiful Nasir – Lead Consultant – Business Process Management

Craig Roberton – Principal Consultant at RXP Services Ltd

Craig Skipsey – Evangelist at

Robert De Wet – Semi retired construction innovation and bid coach

Dr Fiona Kenvyn – Human Factors consultant

Chris Burton – Asia Pacific Learning Development Manager at TMS

Sara Pazell – Occupational Advisor: Human Factors & Ergonomics/Human Performance Technologist

Marigo Raftopoulos – CEO Strategic Innovation Lab

Why do we punish people?

in Media Psychology by

During the lead up to the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran there was public outcry. In one camp we had the calls for mercy. The punishment did not fit the crime.In another camp was the harsh view that they should have simply known better. And, of course, there was a third camp, people who could see both sides.

Perhaps it’s too obvious but how often do we stop and wonder why we punish people?

The motivation to punish is well ingrained from a young age. Parents instinctively use two broad approaches to modify their child’s behaviour. They can reward them for good behaviour or punish them for bad.According to a long line of research, it is believed that children go on to develop stable mental guides from their parents which help them to navigate through life.

When individuals do the wrong thing they eventually learn to punish themselves through emotions such as guilt and anxiety.

When an individual succeeds, he or she learns to reward themself with feelings of happiness and satisfaction. The emotional reactions are like surrogate parental figures who are always with you.

We also learn to instinctively apply these surrogate figures to others.

In our relationships we learn to punish others who have wronged us. In workplaces we learn to develop strict protocols and disciplinary actions for underperforming employees. We reinforce the same strategies with our children.

We also punish entire civilisations. After all, what was the Berlin Wall for if not a massive slap from a parental figure?

Of course, we also learn to reward others too. We embrace people for being kind and supportive. We give employees bonuses for good performance and we also praise our children for good behaviour.

If it was that simple, however, all we would have to do is reinforce good behaviour and punish bad.

But as we all know from experience it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Rewarding children with incentives like money, for example, has been paradoxically shown to lower their motivation to continue doing the task, called the overjustification effect.

Bonuses for employees can lead to unethical behaviour to claim this desirable reward.

Even capital punishment has not put a stop to drug smuggling.

Although punishment will deter many individuals, research also shows that there’s more to it than just deterrence. We also do it because we value retribution even if there’s no actual effect on deterring future behaviour.

The problem with this simplistic ‘carrot and stick’ approach is that we often don’t have a real idea of what we are truly rewarding or deterring. We don’t always stop to understand what truly motivates people.

When we scold a child for poor behaviour, we might be reinforcing their need for attention. When employees are reprimanded for breaching rules to get the job done faster, we may unintentionally be punishing them for coming up with new ideas.

When money is provided for hard work, we may be reinforcing the idea that the almighty dollar is more important than the value of the work itself.

What will the punishment of Chan and Sukumaran provide? Will it deter future drug smuggling? Will it reinforce a society’s appetite for retribution?

Read this blog!

in Work Psychology by


Now that I have your attention, can I ask if you will read this blog today? Now, go and make a coffee and think about it. The blog will still be here when you get back.

Ok, you’re still reading? It worked then? That’s ok, I know you didn’t really make a
coffee. You’re more of a tea person, right?

These somewhat trivial instructions can influence whether someone will modify their behaviour. Take a Stop sign. It doesn’t ask you to ponder whether you would like to stop. It just directs you to do so. And most of the time people comply. This kind of message is what’s referred to as an ‘imperative’.

But think about the kind of message you get on the back of a cigarette packet. It usually highlights a horrible disease you might develop as a result of smoking, getting you to ponder and make a choice. That is, it doesn’t simply say, ‘Stop smoking now,’ recognising that some behaviour is modified over time and needs to be sustainable.

These messages are called ‘interrogative’ because they rely on you taking more time to process the information.

A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that people are more likely to follow the interrogative message when they have more time to think it through.

In one study they placed a sign next to a flight of stairs and set of escalators. Two
types of messages were posted. Pedestrians either saw the imperative message (‘Take the Stairs’) or interrogative message (‘Will you take the stairs?’).

At first it looked like the imperative message was more effective because more pedestrians took the stairs when they viewed this message. However, when the sign was placed further away from the escalator, to give more time for people to consider the message, they were more likely to use the stairs after reading the interrogative message.

The researchers suggest that when there is little time, direct messages are more
likely to be followed. However, when people have a bit more time to think, they
generally prefer instructions that invite autonomy and choice.

The point is that direct and blunt instructions may get people to act but they may be less inclined to follow these instructions when they have time to think it through. That is, people want some say in their destiny.

Stop reading now! If you want to…

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