Decision-Making: Deliberation Without Attention

doors-1767562_960_720 decisions

“Every thought on the wire leads to a fall.” – Philippe Petit, High Wire Aerialist

People feel much more responsible for their actions than their inactions. Joseph Hallinan says in his book ‘Errornomics – Why We Make Mistakes’ that at the moment you think you’re making a decision, it only seems so. It’s really long after the real decision was actually made.

This is an extract from my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’.

Most days are made up of a series of decisions. Some are like which of three cereals should you have for breakfast or which task to start next. Some decisions might be about buying a house or signing a contract to undergo elective surgery. Maybe you agonise over every decision or just the big ones or none at all? The rest you just go with your gut feeling. Sometimes you’ll regret the decisions you make, or choose not to make, and sometimes you won’t. What’s the smartest way to make decisions or help others make them? It depends on the complexity of the decision.

Ap Dijksterhuis out of the University of Amsterdam conducted several studies on just this subject. However, like many of the researchers I’ve read for this book, they used sentences like, “Because of the low processing capacity of consciousness, conscious thought was hypothesized to be maladaptive when making complex decisions.” And they’re right but wordy. In my words, it’s hard to think about a bunch of complicated things at once.

You might like to imagine you’re a rational, logical person who’ll weigh up the pro’s and cons of each decision you make, especially the big ones, and make the best decision you can with the information you have. But what Dijksterhuis proved was quite different. He studied consumers and shoppers in lab conditions and in actual sales situations – during and after. The ‘after’ is especially important, as that is when the true quality and impact of a decision hit home.

All participants were facing a purchase decision of varying sizes. Half were interrupted and distracted during their decision-making process. All were subsequently followed up on how they felt about their decision post-purchase. The thinking was that the distraction allowed the unconscious mind, which can handle lots of complexity at once, to process the decision. It hooks into the brains emotional centres. This is where ‘gut feelings’ may come from. Plus emotional responses to the decision choices are pre-rehearsed and emotional responses to each assessed by your brain with you not consciously aware of them.

His findings were that “simple choices (such as between different towels or different sets of oven mitts) indeed produce better results after conscious thought, but that choices in complex matters (such as between different houses or different cars) should be left to unconscious thought. Named the ‘deliberation-without-attention’ hypothesis, it was confirmed in four studies.”

Conscious thought focuses attention on whatever factors manage to squeeze themselves into our limited conscious mind at the time. That distorts perception and can over-inflate the relative importance of certain factors.

Researcher Loren Nordgren joked about Rene Descartes’ famous quote, “I think therefore I am.” That was all well and good but was he always happy with the shoes he chose to buy? Over-thinking doesn’t make for good decisions when it’s not a simple decision.

I’m not suggesting that lack of attention is a good thing. Otherwise we may as well put teenagers in charge of all the important decisions. Most can usually (always) be relied upon to provide the ‘without attention’ component! No, it has to be a bit more structured than that.

Both studies look at what might be called intentional self distraction. They contrasted three approaches to decision-making: make an instant choice, long list of pro’s and cons, briefly distracting the conscious mind. The latter was the most effective and, down the road a bit, evoked the least regret.

If you just skim read Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’, you might assume that instant decisions are often best. But on closer examination, I reckon Gladwell agrees with Dijksterhuis. Both reject the supposedly time-tested tradition of logically weighing up over a period of intense concentration a list of pro’s and cons. It takes ages and delivers a poorer result.

My shorthand version of a useful process is:

1. Introduce the problem and range of solution options

2. Carry out a pre-set 3 minute distraction activity.

3. Return to the problem and / or the options. Make your choice.

4. Live with it.

So, what?

I had it drummed into me and I subsequently preached to those I trained about the commonsense of structured event interviewing as a tool for recruiting. I was schooled on the value of decision matrix spreadsheets when evaluating complex contract tender responses. Does this research mean those formal processes have no value? No. Recruiting and big contracts are expensive and the consequences of mistakes are significant. At the very least, you may need to retrospectively justify your decision. (ie Cover your butt.) I think the lesson of deliberation-without-attention is that it pays to try both approaches. If they don’t match, you might need to do some more research and ask some more questions.


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Give Work The Finger?


One of my earlier books ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears’ was about adding ten years to your productive life. Expanding lifespans in developed countries are tarnished by the physical diseases and decay of affluence. Retirement for many is becoming a shifting goalpost, a political football or an unwelcome concept from last century. Now seems a great time to write about the topic of stretching out the good and productive years. We’re living longer so we may as well live better and make a few more bucks along the way. Or not – on the bucks front anyways. I’m already reading much about how money, above a certain level, doesn’t make that much difference in terms of quality of life. Though below that level, it will diminish the quantity of life you end up with.

A consistent theme throughout the book is overlapping and inter-connectedness – a systems approach. Certainly, when you get to the sections on our bodies and how our physical systems work (or don’t), this becomes incredibly evident.

This next bit might be more of a laugh than anything factually helpful but it is a conversation starter. I use it when MCing conferences to get a buzz going and the noise and enthusiasm levels up amongst the audience.

John Manning studied the relationship between our finger lengths and certain health outcomes. Look at the photo below of my hand and how I’ve marked the difference in length between my ring finger (4D) and my index finger (2D.) Check out your own 4D:2D ratio. They’ve been the same your whole life and they’re not going to change. It’s supposed that their relative lengths are a consequence of exposure to differing levels of testosterone in the womb as a foetus.

So what? Manning’s study of Liverpool heart attach victims’ fingers found a high ratio (like mine) has a correlation with lower heart attack risk. It’s good for sport. It’s bad for depression. It’s terrible for autism. Manning himself describes his findings as, “Persuasive but not yet definitive.” Why am I even bothering to finish this paragraph? You’re too busy trying to stretch your fingers or finding a friend to check out their fingers before you tell them why…

The point is that, even if this is true, there is nothing you can do about it. These are cards that have been dealt. But, on average, our genetics are only a third of our future. Two thirds are our choices, and we can al do something about that.


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Two Leadership Guru-Speak Terms That I’m OK With


I talk / preach about ‘behaviour-based core values’. I’m not generally a fan of leadership guru-speak but two terms I think that deserve keeping are that and ’employer brand’. I once got headhunted for a job and subsequently discovered the organisation would never use their name, logo or any identifiers in their job ads as “it would put people off”.

That’s probably a sign of a problematic employer brand and disconnection from desirable core values. So, yeah, I think they’re valid and timeless concepts. Even if an employer doesn’t know the meaning of the terms and has never done anything about them, they’ve got them…

I got booked to present to a conference of hirers. Blue collar, grass roots business people. I gave the booker three options for topics. He ran the options past a selection of his people and the chosen topic was unanimous – building a positive and productive team culture. It seems they had a shared problem and that problem was people. Except, of course, the problem wasn’t people. It was their lack of a plan. And THAT was my key message to them.

Part of what attracts and retains talent is behaviour-based core values and employer branding. Both are components of the team culture whether it’s positive and productive or not. With a plan, you have a chance of getting to where you want or at least moving in the right direction. I do not particularly care if they remember or use the terms behaviour-based core values and employer branding, as long as they draft a plan to deliberately develop their behaviour-based core values and employer branding.

You can keep your leveraging, go-forward and so forth, but I’m sticking with the these two concepts. They’re magnetic and like magnets, they can both attract and repel.


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If In Doubt, Leave It Out

if in doubt leave it out

One of the workshops I run is business writing for professionals. It’s hard to avoid getting a bit English-101 so we do dabble in some common errors of grammar, syntax & misused or confused words. (Are you disinterested in this topic? I suspect you mean uninterested but hopefully not that either).

I raise a few ‘rules’ of English & the inevitable myriad of exceptions. It’s not for academics or novelists. It’s for practical business communicators concerned with impact, risk & reputation – all of which can be effected (I think you mean affected) by our writing. So, I get the groups to generate their own rules / guidelines / principles for the real world. I’ve done this dozens of times & the results are always similar.

Reading efficiency, consistency, the writer should do the heavy-lifting for the reader, reader centricity, ambiguity is the enemy (97% fat-free & gluten free, anyone?) & my favourite: if in doubt, leave it out. Whom would have a problem with that?

How does your writing measure up?


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Who Puts The ‘FIT’ In BeneFITs?


I picked a survey online at random that supposes to know what the employee benefits are that are most appreciated by, you know, employees. According to that survey, the top five were health care, paid time off, performance bonuses, paid sick days, and retirement savings contributions. If that’s accurate, that’s good to know, but of course being a survey, it’s aggregated and averaged and, at best, indicative. We talk a lot about ‘employee fit’ these days in building teams and driving employee engagement. Fit applies in a lot of situations and benefit offerings should be one of those. Just because you think something is an incentive for you doesn’t mean everyone, or possibly anyone, else does.

I, for example, would include in my top five, support for and contributions to, my personal and professional development. That might include directly paying for or subsidising training, as well as time off or time flexibility to attend lectures. That has always been and will always be major for me. If that previous survey is to be believed, I’m in the minority. I was coaching a senior manager recently. Afterwards, they negotiated a benefit with their employer that effectively set them on a low-risk path to being able to work on their own quite separate business whilst remaining employed – win:win. That is not a common benefit yet made a major positive difference for both parties.

I subscribe to Daniel Pink’s mailing list. He has a micro-podcast called ‘The PinkCast’. (At some point, I am going to work out how my boring name can be twisted into some kind of pun-based witty publication name. How about ‘Conspiracy Terry’? Yeah nah). In a recent episode of ‘The PinkCast’, Dan tackled one of the critical issues of the day – how best to choose what gift to give to people for Christmas. It seems most people imagine the best gift to give would be a uniquely tailored surprise that captures the essence of the person to whom you are giving it. It showed that most people thought that asking people what they wanted or, horror of horrors, giving them cash or vouchers would be perceived as lazy, insensitive and insulting. Perhaps surprisingly, when questioned further about the reality of having received novel, high-effort gifts, very few ever hit the mark. And, shock of shocks, in retrospect, most people most of the time would’ve preferred to have been given the gift of choice and flexibility via being asked what they wanted or the cash or vouchers.

Personally, I like to hedge my bets and try to use both techniques. The big swing for the ‘wow’ gift doesn’t pay off often but when it does, it knocks it out of the park. After watching the video, I reflected on my own gift receiving experiences. I could recall three over my moderately lengthy life that even the memory of still chokes me up a bit.

Let’s slide this gifting thinking back to our topic of employee benefits. They’re not gifts. They’re not entitlements. They’re part of a remuneration package with some elements possibly at risk. Not everyone is so high up the food chain, nor confident enough or special enough to negotiate an array of shiny benefits into their contract at the point of employment. Let’s go back to first principles – what is the point? What are we trying to achieve or support via the mechanism of whatever form of employee benefit? It’s that whole attraction, retention, engagement, loyalty, morale thing, right?

That top five from that original were health care, paid time off, performance bonuses, paid sick days, and retirement savings contributions. On average, you’ll hit most people’s hot buttons most of the time with those. But how can we fashion into our processes some means of capturing outlying benefit possibilities? How might my own desire for personal development support as an employee benefit for me have been captured? As a young person starting out, even if a genuinely altruistic employer had asked me, I might not even have known myself at that stage.

How about a menu like at a restaurant? (And, by ‘restaurant’, I mean one with a drive-through). A simple-to-read-at-a-glance listing of the employee benefit options that most people choose in descending order of popularity. You could choose to combo some perhaps. You might cash in others. There might still be the option to make them your way off-menu.

Employees don’t know what they don’t know and neither do employers, so diminishing those blind spots around what particular individual employees value in a benefit would be valuable. Asking people is fine but not exhaustive. Asking individuals is better but not exhaustive. Having some flexibility at various points to review and introduce new offerings seems smart.

If you hire someone and tell them their pay is $20 an hour but in three months it’ll be $22.50, when you ask them when they want to start, don’t be surprised when they reply, “In three months”.


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Time Is The New Currency


I have a friend who is a professional comedian. Being an HR soul through and through, I asked him what the remuneration and benefits were like. He said he did it for the love. He then added that once a client actually offered to pay him with love. They finally agreed on a dollar figure and a couple of free beers.

It is all too easy to assume people are little economic robots making purely rational decisions like we were all encouraged to believe at school. There’s the old adage about the shipwreck where an engineer, a physicist and an economist were marooned on a desert island with only a crate of tinned food to sustain them. The engineer said, “I’ll build a raft.” The physicist said, “I’ll construct a fire.” The economist said, “Assume a can opener…”

It might make theoretical understanding of economic concepts easier if we limit things to two variables, assume people are rational and spout, “Ceteris Paribus”[1] but we all know people aren’t always rational. This is even true of their choices and reactions to remuneration and benefits. Sepia-toned men with clipboards and stopwatches in lab coats in the 1950s no doubt made many graphs showing some kind of cause and effect between money paid and productivity. Perhaps that was true (or at least truer) back in the day?

Further back in a more distant pre-industrial day, issues of remuneration and benefits were more clear-cut. A subsistence existence will do that for you. You produced or you perished. You ate, wore or lived in what you yourself produced and the benefits you received were ‘not dying.’ Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it and with the economy the way it is, you may be trying it sooner than you think! Relax – I’m talking about growing your own vegetables not anarchic tribal feudalism, although that would probably make a great reality TV show. Our nomadic and early farming societies made or traded for what they needed. As productivity expanded they could elevate themselves to what they wanted as well, not just what they needed. Those economists again would refer to ‘Need Hierarchies.’ Traditionally this would have the basics at the bottom of a visual pyramid like food and shelter. Nowadays, I suppose that includes ultra-fast broadband and high-def TV?

I suppose the point I’m making is that once to encourage productivity in another you could offer an extra couple of chickens. We got to a point where that offer could be made in a medium of exchange we call money. I am proposing that the new (well, new to most of us) economic recessionary climate calls for a mixed approach. What is the new money? What can be dangled in front of those of us left with jobs to encourage and inspire us to bust our humps to be more productive? Not that we’re not already busting our humps but it’s generally true that we keep a little spare hump-busting capacity just in case. It’s only human.

I’m a firm believer in time as a new currency. It has value and limited supply. The Government can’t print any more time like they can money. The average life span of a kiwi woman is 81 and a kiwi man is 78. We can argue about why that is later but whatever your number, that’s all there is. If you knew what that number was for you, how differently would you live your life?

Reward talent with time. Maybe they ‘spend’ that time with their kids and society benefits? Maybe they ‘invest’ that time in a moonlighting sideline making macramé sandals that turns into an export boom that revitalises the economy but in an environmentally friendly way? What other innovative remuneration avenues can we develop?

The iconic New Zealand game show was ‘It’s In the Bag.’ If you’re over 30, you must remember that show. (If you’re under 30, this is what a recession feels like. How’s that carefree Gen Y attitude of yours now punk?) In the ultimate round of the show, the host would entice the ‘winner’ to choose between a known amount of prize money and a bag in which resided a mystery prize. There were a number of bags. Some contained a voucher for an awesome appliance of much greater value than the money. Some contained booby prizes. The host would cajole the ‘winner’ with small incremental increases in the offer whilst shouting to the audience, “What should they do New Zealand – the money or the bag?” How cool would this be come remuneration review time at your organisation? Sure some people lose but if Barry gets that state-of-the-art barbeque then everyone wins. And if you get the booby prize of a packet of vegetable seeds, then you’re all set for the post-apocalyptic anarchic tribal feudalism the media is hyping up.

[1] All other things remaining equal

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Age Diversity Will Be A Massive Source Of Strength


Last weekend, I was skimming through some old papers I’d received at a Human Resources conference some years ago. I was supposed to be cleaning out the shelves in the basement. My possessions undergo a rigorous protocol to determine whether or not they remain in my possession. Items in constant use stay where they are constantly used, like on the bench. Items occasionally used get slotted into a cupboard, although a nearby cupboard. Items rarely used get posted to a distant cupboard up the back in the dark that you can only reach with a stepstool, a torch whilst dislocating vertebrae in the process. There follows a descending evolution of merit to the pile out the back of the shed in the garden which is a prerequisite to the local Council’s inorganic collection. (Oddly enough, many organisations have a similar descending proximity approach to their people, particularly the bit about the distance, the dark and the garden. Hence the term, “gardening leave.”)

So, I’m looking at the conference papers for the first time since the conference, not so much out of interest but out of a desire to avoid doing the actual cleaning. There was a list of the tools employers can use to assess the suitability of candidates for employment. Each tool was ranked in order of its proven effectiveness in determining the eventual success of candidates in the workplace. The number one tool had an effectiveness of 0.52 which places it fractionally above tossing a coin or picking red or black on a casino’s roulette wheel. Fortunately it suggested that combining a number of tools was the best way to increase the odds of selecting suitable candidates. Good advice – more people should read advice like that more often. But that wasn’t what caught my eye as I read the paper amidst the dust, spiders and unknown sticky floor stains covered in sawdust of my basement detritus. The lowest scoring determinant was age.

A recent Department of Labour report showed New Zealand is leading the way in employing more older people in the workforce. (Older? Older than what? Age is such a relative concept. Comedian Mitch Hedberg has a joke about someone giving him a photograph of themselves then said, “This is a photograph of me when I was younger.” Surely, every photograph of you is a photo of you when you were younger? Anything else is way too Dorian Gray for my liking.)

It is said that ‘older’ workers (55-59) are less likely to want to climb the corporate ladder, more likely to want to add value in a job they enjoy and are more loyal. It didn’t say if they were more prone to writing impromptu letters to the editor, criticising the haircuts of their younger colleagues or making constant glowing references to some unspecified semi-fictional period known as the “good old days” when it only rained at night, the All Blacks always won and everyone had two well paying jobs yet still had sufficient spare time to coach their local primary school’s rugby team that went on to produce several All Blacks who always won on gloriously sunny Saturdays.

Older workers do stand out though for other reasons. They have names like Stanley, Harold, Gladys and Edith. I have not once ever met a sixty-year-old named Kylie or Madison. Mind you, I’ve never met a five-year-old Gladys either. Perhaps I should search Perhaps not.

Many employers would struggle today to survive without workers who immigrated here. From high tech companies to the local supermarket’s checkout, we are greeted by people with different cultures, languages and skin tone. Hopefully we generally try to accept those people and ease their transition to their new environment. If we do that for folks from another country, why wouldn’t we do that for folks from another time? (Which is effectively what older workers are.) They have a different culture, a different language and a different skin tone, no matter how much moisturiser they’ve plastered on themselves over the decades. Time travel is possible; it just happens to be one-way and a very slow process.

Older workers sticking it out have adapted to a changing work environment and so should employers. I was in Burger King recently and couldn’t help overhearing the mobile phone conversation of a lady at the table next to me – probably sixty (the lady not the table.) She was engaged in a blackmarket online exchange of knitting patterns, using a similar business model to the music file-sharing concepts of Napster. Wow, that is a successful collision of cultures. I almost regret turning her in.

People are not like household possessions. Employers should not shunt them down some informal ladder as they age until they lay unwanted on a pile behind the garden shed awaiting the employment equivalent of the inorganic collection to come and take them away. (Although if it’s the Council doing the taking, maybe they put them to work and that’s why my #$%@ resource consent is taking so long!)


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Your Brain Is Awesome But Inherently Untrustworthy

grey blocks

Anchoring & Adjustment


This article is an extract from my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’

Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman have done several studies on this heuristic where people overly and disproportionately rely on one piece of information (or ‘anchor’) when making a decision or engaging in a behaviour. Once the anchor is set, there is a bias toward adjusting or interpreting other information to reflect the anchored information. Through this cognitive bias, the first information learned about a subject can affect future decision-making. (Warning to those averse to the touchy feelies – many anchors originate in your childhood. Thanks Mum.)

Kahneman writes of a study done at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Visitors were surveyed about their guesses of the height of the world’s tallest redwood tree. They were each asked two questions. The second question was always, “What’s your best guess of the height of the world’s tallest redwood tree?” but the first question varied. It was either, “Is the height of the world’s tallest redwood tree more or less than 1200 feet?” or “Is the height of the world’s tallest redwood tree more or less than 180 feet?”


Anchor In Their 1st Question Average Guess In Feet
1200 844
180 282


Clearly there is anchoring and adjustment going on but how great is the effect? The difference between the two average guesses was 844-282=562. The difference between the two anchors was 1200-180=1020. 562 divided by 1020 is 55%. That’s the significant anchoring effect in this instance.

Another study looked at whether the original listing price for houses in the real estate market affected expert’s assessment of the houses’ actual market values. Because researchers like a laugh as much as the next person, they studied a group of real estate agents versus a control group of random students with zero housing experience. The anchoring effect for the students was 48%. The anchoring effect for the realtors was 41%. The delightful conclusion wasn’t just in those numbers. When told of their results and then having the anchoring effect explained to them, the students accepted it. The realtors vehemently denied it. That kind of close-mindedness does not lend itself to personal or professional development and long-term success. You might want to bear that in mind yourself.

Feedback is important here. Realtors don’t get much and it’s a long time coming. ‘Calibration’ is the balance between your real and perceived abilities. Young male drivers, on average, have very poor calibration between their real and perceived driving abilities. According to Joseph Hallinan, weather forecasters have excellent ‘calibration.’ The reason for this is the quantity and quality of feedback they get. Everyone is willing and able to let weather forecasters know when they’re wrong. Young male drivers are long gone from much of the mayhem they cause thus avoiding feedback until they’re not and then it’s too late.


This article is an extract from my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’

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Work – What Is It Good For?

“Work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.” – Voltaire (Real name: François-Marie Arouet. He changed it to a one-word non de plume, like Prince or Madonna. If he’d lived today, I think he would’ve tweeted a lot.)

This article is an extract from my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears


A very common piece of advice from centenarians is to spend less than you earn. A bank advert in New Zealand boldly claimed that money is neither good nor bad, it depends what you do with it. That may be true but it seems, from a health perspective, that debt sucks. I’m on the fence with this one because to get a freehold house, you need a mortgage. To build a business that outlasts you, initially you probably need a loan.

Happy Money, a book by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton outlines numerous studies into how best we can use and trade-off our money to improve our lives. Doubling your income will at best only ever increase your happiness by nine percent. And above an annual income of $US75,000, additional income doesn’t influence our daily happiness levels at all. They identify five core principles to guide us in our money-using decisions if happiness is what we’re after:

1.   Buy experiences not things,

2.   Make treats a treat,

3.   Buy time,

4.   Pay now & Consume later (Anticipation se rejouir),

5.   Invest in others.

We’re bad at saving for the future because we have a hard time imagining ourselves there. Hal Ersner-Hershfield from Northwestern University conducted a study with Stanford in 2010 on ‘High Future Self Continuity’. They developed a mirror that gave subjects an avatar reflection of themselves as they would look when they were seventy years old. Compared to a control group, those having a conversation with their seventy year old selves set aside twice as much for retirement savings. The sooner they develop a smartphone app for that, the better.

Envision a future and design it. Diversify and invest, not just financially but in all aspects of your life. Nourish your social relationships. Work longer and save more. Anchor your development around lifelong learning.

Some say that the future of crap jobs belongs to robots but that potentially has its own pitfalls. A union boss was taking a tour of a Ford car factory with a senior manager in the 1950s. The factory was experimenting with robots performing manufacturing tasks.

Manager:      “How are you going to get the robots to pay union dues?”

Union Boss: “How are you going to get the robots to buy cars?”

So, how are we affected when our work is impacted by robots or mismanagement or bad luck? In 2008, the Economic Journal published a study by Clark, Diener, Georgellis and Lucas. They followed 130,000 people over decades looking at lags and leads in the impact of life events. They asked, “Do individuals tend to return to some baseline level of well-being after life and labour market events?” They found, “Although the strongest life satisfaction effect is often at the time of the event, we find significant lag and lead effects. We cannot reject the hypothesis of complete adaptation to marriage, divorce, widowhood, birth of child and layoff. However, there is little evidence of adaptation to unemployment for men. Men are somewhat more affected by labour market events (unemployment and layoffs) than are women but in general the patterns of anticipation and adaptation are remarkably similar by sex.”

They looked at major life events and how we bounced back from the knocks of the negative ones. The death of a spouse is a tough one but the longest negative impact on wellbeing, perhaps permanent, comes from long-term unemployment.

They don’t just lose income with the poor health effects of that but they lose self worth and identity. People, especially men, who are carefree, undependable and unambitious in childhood, and have unsuccessful careers, have terrible mortality rates.

John Holland’s Theory of Career Choice (RIASEC) maintains that in choosing a career, people prefer jobs where they can be around others who are like them. They search for environments that will let them use their skills and abilities, and express their attitudes and values, while taking on enjoyable problems and roles. Behaviour is determined by an interaction between personality and environment. He identified six types:

Mismatches in personality and career path does heighten risk of poor health and mortality but that risk is significantly lowered by a productive perseverance, a sense of mastery and accomplishment. These happen to be fundamental drivers of employee engagement. My last book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ is a resource for employers trying to create a work environment that would allow their workers to be engaged. Engagement is the application of discretionary effort – people doing more than they have to because they choose to. There is ample evidence that engaged workplaces have higher productivity, revenue and profitability. That’s great for the boss but what about non bosses? Why should they want to be engaged? Well, how about living a longer and more meaningful life?

Having a long commute sucks but did you realise how unhappy it could make you? Many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long-term because we acclimate to them. People never get used to their daily grind driving to work because sometimes the traffic is terrible and sometimes it isn’t. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert says, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.” We rationalise this to ourselves and the family we don’t see as often as we’d like by looking at our bigger house or higher salary. These rationalisations don’t work. Swiss economists researched the effect of commuting on happiness and observed that such factors could not make up for the despair caused by a long commute.

The 10,000 hours thing has been done to death and back. The original piece of research by K. Anders Ericsson discovered much more than expertise requires an average of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. In looking at the highest performers across many and varied fields, yes, a focused type of practice over time was critical but two other factors do not get enough attention. The highest performers get enough sleep and they do their ‘work’ in short productive bursts. Typically, these would be no more than ninety minutes. Not many jobs lend themselves to that but if we’re genuinely interested in results rather than just cranking out hours at a desk, it’s a provocative idea.

Remember back to this book’s section on ‘Moving.’ Having a desk job can double your chances of contracting cardiovascular disease. Sitting is a big factor behind that problem. Here are just some of the downsides of prolonged periods of being motionless:

·              Shuts off electrical activity in your large leg muscles,

·              Calorie burning in your body drops to one per minute,

·              Production of your fat-breaking enzymes drops by 90%,

·              Two hours of sitting drops your good cholesterol levels by 20%.

Maybe you should be reading this standing up?

One technique I’m a fan of these days is the ‘Walking Meeting.’ I’ve read of various companies that have meetings in rooms with no chairs. Their motivation, or more accurately – their boss’s motivation, was to have more efficient meetings. The unintended upside is health! The Walking Meeting is self explanatory. I used to work for a City Council and I can imagine how much more efficient and pleasant experiences Council meetings would have been if we’d been strolling around Lake Pupuke. Quite aside from the health benefits and efficiencies, it might’ve reduced the length of some of the monologues.

Joking aside, the best conversations that took place in my experience as a Manager for that Council were the ones that took place in the field. Politicians, officers and residents would show up at the site of the building / pothole / proposed bus stop or wherever. Standing, walking, pointing, arguing etc was made all the more purposeful and productive not just because of the location in the real world but because of the movement. It literally ups everyone’s energy levels which positively impacts creative thinking, attitudes and productivity. Things get done and you feel like things are getting done. You do not feel like that in a meeting room on your butt and that feeling drives negative physiological consequences.

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it by not dying.” – Woody Allen


This article is an extract from my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears

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