Author Archives: Terry Williams - The Brain-Based Boss
The Japanese word ‘Tsundoku’ means to acquire reading material but to let it pile up in our house without reading it. I think we can all relate to that. Well, those of us who read. Um, and those of us with houses. OK, so probably a sadly decreasing number of people can relate to Tsundoku but we can probably at least grasp the concept. You’re reading this article so at least there’s hope.
The Japanese word ‘Karoshi’ loosely translates as working yourself to death. Maybe we in this country cannot relate directly to that, nor the cultural and institutional forces that drive or influence people to over-commit to their job to such an extreme extent. That said, there are plenty of technical specialists, professionals and self-employed folk who don’t see their job as a job. Perhaps if they see it as a calling or a craft or a ticket out, they might put in the level of energy, time and sacrifice that edges them eerily closer to a Kiwi Karoshi. (Kiwishi?) Maybe we don’t work ourselves to death because social constraints dictate that we can’t leave the office until the sun is down and the boss goes first. Maybe we skip breaks, forget to blink for hours on end and drive home into a tree, or self-medicate with the drink or drug de jour then drive into a tree. I think we have more trees than Japan.
I can’t fault firms with enough resources to hire in masseuses for their staff. Employers know they’re supposed to be ruthlessly stringent on health and safety risks, not just the physical ones. They know about bullying, and #metoo, and psychologically safe workplace environments. I’ve even been given a tour of workplaces where staff are given barista training to run the space-age coffee machines at their disposal, and other workplaces where they have a multi-storey playground slide at the centre of their building. I am knocking none of these things. Smarter people than me have made informed choices in conjunction with other smart people.
I have yet to run into a standard workplace where napping is cool though. Yes, fire stations and other first responder locations can have living quarters with beds. Yes, young doctors in public hospitals working seventy-two hour days grab twenty winks in a cot in the supply cupboard. (I’ve not seen ‘Shortland Street’ for ages, have never watched ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, and I gave up before ‘E.R.’ came to its presumably heart-wrenching conclusion but I’m pretty sure they were not just snoozing in those supply cupboards, right? If I was the hospital administrator in charge of those supply cupboards, the first thing I’d be supplying would have been locks for the supply cupboards). I’m not talking about those jobs and those sleeps. I’m talking about bakers, panelbeaters, lawyers and advertising copywriters.
I have seen significant companies that are profit-focused provide a meditation suite for their people. I’m not saying meditation and napping are the same thing but to the untrained observer, it’s semantics. You need a quite space, perhaps with dimmable lighting to be undisturbed for twenty or so minutes. I’ve never seen anyone in real life recreate George from Seinfeld’s sleeping space beneath his desk at the offices of the New York Yankees but I have seen people asleep under a conference room table – a conference room that the system said was booked out but I figured was in error as I could clearly see it was unoccupied. And, if you know me, you know that I’m a real kick-both-legs out-strongly-when-sitting-at-a-table kind of guy. I have also seen bakery assistants asleep on piles of flour sacks. They are super comfortable, and that sugary baking smell is amaaazingly relaxing.
So rather than fight nature, let’s work with it. Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. We have two peaks and two troughs of alertness per day. One trough is mid-afternoon. Some cultures literally have siesta, then work into the cooler evening. An acceptable solution to a problem but not in anglo-colonial-protestant-work-ethic cultures (from the people that brought you the game of cricket.)
I’m not suggesting we compel people to nap. Places of work are not childcare facilities, unless you work in a childcare facility. We can choose to judge people on their skills, collaboration and results, not on how many hours they work nor where and when they work them. Getting back to Japan, they have Kapusero Hoteru (Capsule Hotels) that have rooms only the size of a bed known as pods. An American company has developed a $13000 chair that induces and allows napping with an effective duration of thirteen to twenty minutes. It has an orb that I choose to call the cone of silence. Smarter people than me are once again on the job… when they’re awake.
By all means, let a motivational speaker convince you to follow your dreams. Quit that day job! Climb that mountain! That gold medal winning, mountain-climbing, obstacle-overcoming speaker followed their dreams and they’re here today to tell you, nay – SHOW you, that they are the embodiment of all the evidence you need that following your dreams will lead you down the path to the success you desire. Indeed, it is the only path.
This article is about a particular kind of bias but, first, I need to declare another bias of my own. I do sometimes tag myself as a #motivationalspeaker. Part of what I do in helping people change and develop themselves requires me to speak, and that speaking business existed way before I did. That business and its buyers have some labels that I need to adhere to in order to get found. I would prefer not to use ‘motivational speaker’ to describe myself. I do think I help others choose to change for the better. Two of my five books are heavily centered around leaders motivating others. But, I’m as prone to ‘imposter syndrome’ as anyone else. When I think of motivational speakers, I think of the big names with massive crowds. I’d name names but who knows in the near future how many famous names end up being people you don’t want to cite in an article or be photographed next to? It’s a new form of Russian Roulette. #NeverMetTheGuy
My point is that being motivational is like being tall: If someone has to tell you they’re tall, they’re not.
So, that’s my bias. The main bias I’m addressing in this article though is ‘Survivor Bias’.
If you want to find out how successful businesses became succesful, you’d think it sensible to talk with and study businesses that are already successful. Do what they do and you’ll get what they get, right? This is literally what many business speakers say. Many others imply it. There’s bias in there that will stunt your findings and inject randomness into the results of your efforts following their advice. As usual, a big part of the answer is asking yourself and others more and better questions earlier. What about those same successful business people who left and did the same things yet failed? What about those same successful business people who did the same things previously yet failed? What about failed business people who were doing the same things at the same time? By all means, take some learning from the winners at winning time but factor in luck and hubris. Those learnings become optional tools in your potential success toolkit not a recipe for success.
There’s a great study looking at real life expert investment advisors compared to monkeys throwing darts at a list of investment options (ie random luck). Over time, who wins? Hey hey, it’s the monkeys. Focusing solely on winners at the point they’re winning leaves out a whole bunch of vital info you need to know if you still want to follow your dreams.
I first encountered the concept of survivor bias in a museum tour. We got to a preserved log cabin they’d transported from its original wild location. The guide initially praised it and said how it had survived 400+ years and how the ‘technology’ of its construction could be used today etc. Then, she pointed out how many people had died in exactly the same types of cabins. They had the only cabin that survived 400 years. 99 point whatever percent did not. Yet we’d be quite happy to base our opinions of log cabins on the one successful one we encountered.
It’s your life. Follow your dreams if you choose to. You’ll definitely regret it if you don’t try. Listen to that Oscar winner’s speech about leaving their small town and trudging to so many auditions, then getting a break and making it big. But maybe take a vacation to Hollywood first and talk to some waiting staff to balance out your info on the experience and your actual odds. Dreams are not real and making them real requires, beyond luck for a minority, being realistic. Get info. Make plan. Take action.
Those great actors did leave their towns. Those mountain climbers did risk their lives. The great inventors did whatever they did. And, society as a whole, moves forwards thanks to their followed, and luckily fulfilled, dreams. You are not society. You are one person. Roll your dice and take your chances but please do so knowingly, not with your eyes closed. By definition, you have to close your eyes to dream but to achieve those dreams, you need to open your eyes.
I’m not a Grinch (most days). I have dreams and I’m following, and have followed, some but not all of them. Got some but not all of them. Following your dreams is not the path to success. It is the second step on any one of a number of paths to success. The first step is having a bunch of dreams from which to choose, investigate and trial. Any speaker, motivational or otherwise, advising you to follow your dreams can do so with my blessing (not that they or you require it). But, they had better have a bunch of practical action steps after that or they are not just useless but dangerous.
Good luck and please feel under no obligation to thank me in your Oscar or Nobel speech. Or both.
If you constantly find yourself to be the smartest person in every room you’re in, then you need to get you into some different rooms. And that’s the theme of this book: developing yourself or your people by getting out of the ‘room’ you’re in, getting out of your comfort zone, getting better at getting better, working out your change muscles and building up your reservoir of resilience so you’ve got them before you need them.
- Why you should be proactive about change and risk,
- Why most people aren’t, and
- How you can – how you can make a start, build momentum, muscle through when it gets tough and bring others along for the ride.
There is a real concern amongst leaders that their people are unfit for change. Being unfit for change leads to disengaged and burnt-out people who won’t develop themselves nor meet their goals. The lack of development and unmet goals further reinforces negativity and contributes to a downward spiral called ‘Change Extinction’. The more positive alternative choice (and it is a choice) is a pathway called ‘Change Evolution’.
You can start on your ‘Change Evolution’ path by reading this book, doing your own dangerous things, adapting your ‘Danger DNA’, and becoming ‘Change Fit’.
My podcast on structured behavioural event interviewing is my most popular. It’s not ‘soundtrack to a star is born’ popular but helping 11 people a day is a big deal for me (for now). It outlines some fundamental discipline to select people who fit with the potential to succeed. (You can hear it by clicking here).
Here are 9 solid questions that cover a lot of bases:
1. Tell me about the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the past six months.
2. Tell me about a major mistake you made, and what you did to correct it.
3. Tell me about the last time a customer or co-worker got upset with you.
4. Tell me about a time you knew you were right, but still had to follow directions or guidelines.
5. Tell me about the last time your workday ended before you were able to get everything done.
6. Tell me about a time you needed to motivate a co-worker.
7. Tell me about a time you had to raise an uncomfortable issue with your boss.
8. Tell me about a goal you achieved.
9. Tell me about a goal you failed to achieve.
Here’s the cheatsheet text downloadable from the podcast:
The Brain-Based Boss PodCast Episode 32:
Structured Behavioural Event Interviewing (SBEI)
- Develop clear, consistent selection criteria based on people who have been successful and happy in the role. Then, weight those criteria out of 10. Prep a decision matrix with those weighted criteria in anticipation of populating it with data out of your interview notes later.
- Based on those criteria, prepare some effective questions, each following a consistent structured pattern, designed to illicit examples of past behaviour of each of the selection criteria. Take ‘problem-solving’ as an example. “Tell me about a time when you’ve solved a problem”. What was it? What did you do? How did it turn out”? The best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour. Validating the answers to a sample of these questions can be part of any subsequent telephone reference checking.
- Conduct each interview, starting each with some purposeful ice-breaking questions before the prepped structured competency-based questions. This is to get them at ease and less-stressed so you get a more accurate view of them. Look to create connections between their passions and values, and those of the job. If it’s an architecture job, who is their favourite architect? Which building? Why? Me too – sort of thing. Then briefly outline how you’ll be using structured questions and why. Then proceed through your list of questions. Be prepared to be flexible if something astray crops up of interest but mainly stick to the prepared path, and ensure they do too.
- Debrief with any interview panel partners. Upload your notes and populate the decision matrix.
- SBEI should be part of an array of recruiting tools. A job interview by itself is at risk of being unrepresentative.
- Unless job interviewing for an imagination-based job, why rely on imagination-based questions? “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Pfft.
AND, in case you’re an interviewee rather than an interviewer, here’s a structure for you. It helps you handle things with more confidence when you need it, plus makes you seem very organised.
You can use the STAR interview method to prepare for behavioural interviews — a technique that helps you structure your response to behavioural interview questions. Using this method, you create a deliberate story arc that your interviewer can easily follow. Here’s how it works:
- Situation: What is the context of your story? In setting the situation, you are telling your listener when or where this event took place. For example, “We were working on a six-month contract for a high-value client, when our agency merged with another, larger firm…”
- Task: What was your role in this situation? For example, “It was my role to lead the transition for my group while also communicating with our client to keep the project on track.”
- Action: What did you do? For example, “I set up weekly check-ins with the client to update them on the progress of the merger. This cemented an important level of trust between us. I also had regular one-on-ones with each person on the team, both to assess how they were handling the change and to make sure we would meet our deadlines.”
- Result: What did your actions lead to? For example, “We ended up completing the project on time, meeting all of their specifications. It was incredibly rewarding to navigate a lot of change and succeed under pressure.”
With the upcoming release of my new book, I’m updating and relaunching my earlier books. The first is ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears’.
The book is available now on Amazon, down to $1 for a limited time at http://bit.ly/LiveWorkLove .
Our longevity, health and quality of life are due 30% to genetic luck and 70% to our choices and behaviours. We’re dealt some cards and this book is about how to play the best hand, given those cards we’ve been dealt. No one wants to live forever but most of us would like to get the most out of whatever we’ve got coming. The vast majority of us would like to keep on going until we don’t, not taper off to a long unhealthy tail-end of life. Regardless of how long we have, how do we stay healthier longer, optimise our happiness and make it all worthwhile?
Reviewing and summarising much of the recent research on life expectancy, quality of life and personal productivity, this book then focuses on adding ten productive years to your work life. (Work in the broadest sense of the word.)
Currently, there is a lot of concern and uncertainty about living longer with less money, poorer health and disconnected people. The baby boomers are the most significant moneyed demographic and they’re greying at a pace. Now is a time of unparalleled affluence and longevity, yet we are faced with low quality-of-life issues driven by stress, obesity and unwise lifestyle choices. Forget waiting for that illusive magic blue pill or silver bullet when we can do a few little things every day that add up to a massive high-quality chunk of extra life that funds itself.
The book provides 12 controls for people to nudge their lives towards a better direction by influencing our physical, mental and social lives.
The book is available now on Amazon, down to $1 for a limited time at http://bit.ly/LiveWorkLove .
For about a decade, I’ve been describing the colour of my hair as ‘salt and pepper’. It’s probably time I accepted that it’s now about ninety eight percent salt. (That might explain my blood pressure). Recently, I was in a conversation with a twenty-something who colloquially referred to Wednesday as ‘Weddy’ because apparently now days of the week require cool nicknames. (That might further explain my blood pressure). At my age, days of the week barely even require names at all. To me, there’s ‘today’, ‘tomorrow’ and ‘maybe if I’m lucky’. Just jokes folks. I’m not really a grumpy curmudgeon, as much as I’d like to be. Intergenerational communication would be so much simpler and easier if it was acceptable for me to shout, “Get off my lawn” at people in meetings in character as the last twelve movie roles played by Clint Eastwood.
I’ve never liked the term ‘workforce’. It implies either a militarily structured group with the archaic command-and-control model, or that people need to be forced to work. Entry to the workforce has traditionally come via afterschool part-time jobs like delivering newspapers. It won’t be long until actual paper newspapers are a thing of the past like VCRs, perms and the correct use of apostrophes. It’s not quite the same zooming along on your bike hurling iPads at lawns and mailboxes, especially if that iPad hits windows. (I was going to attempt some humour around iPads and Windows software, but it got all too confusing and hard work – a bit like Windows).
Leaving aside actual specific and technical work skills, these little pre-entry-level jobs introduced young people to concepts and attitudes that school may have struggled to do. (Like what prepositions not to end a sentence with). Comedian Mitch Hedberg commented that, as a child, his job required him to have the discipline and work ethic to deliver newspapers to three hundred homes or one dumpster. Among these concepts would be self-discipline, punctuality, perseverance, goal-setting and getting along with people.
Calling paper-delivery a job is perhaps a convenient and romantic rose-coloured recollection. It might be more accurate and helpful to frame such roles as the shallow end of the self-employed sub-contractor pool. Given that such ‘jobs’ were often volume-based and geographically defined, they might be considered precursors to franchises. Maybe apart from income and job skills, they stimulated and reinforced behaviours that might benefit a future entrepreneur or self-employed contractor in a future virtual team? Are young people really garnering the same from becoming an instagram influencer?
Being on-call and part of a casual pool was not what was envisioned when the powers-that-were set things up around the time of the industrial revolution. Back then, workers were mere cogs in the machine. Sometimes that was metaphorical with human labour being routinised and commoditised. Sometimes, with the deplorable lack of care afforded to human health and safety, people may have literally ended up with cogs in machines. With urbanisation and industrialisation, business lobbyists and Governments composed another production line – that of children in schools being processed into workers to join factories. The schools were, in effect, education factories and the students were the products. They’d get just enough education to enable them to be able to be productive but not so much that they’d get revolutionary. There were no stages between student and worker, and there were minimal options other than working or not working. The paperboy and matchsticks girl were legit options back then right up until they became caricatures in Dickensian musicals as foils to someone usually named ‘guvnor’.
A recent Government-funded report found an ‘attitude gap’ between employers and young potential employees. They noted the gap is self- perpetuating. Bad experiences equal more disengagement for both employers and young people. The ‘gap’ is more than just attitude, but a complex clash of norms and expectations, as well as ethnic and generational differences that occur throughout the employment journey. I want to focus in on one key insight from the report and link it back to my lament of the loss of paper delivery job types. Employment expectations and ambitions of young people are built through the experiences they have early on, so having positive connections with employers is important for building ambition and networks for young people. (It’s not what you know, it’s who you know).
As with most of these attitude gaps in society, be they employer vs employee, young vs old, your culture vs that other culture, a pretty effective means of addressing it is exposure. What can be done to get employers and potential employers in front of the youth who want a job and don’t want to be stranded as part of the gig economy delivering newspapers, selling matchsticks or instagramming harmful diet products? There’s work to be done and questions to be asked. Why, for example, when I’m writing about the challenges of the old accepting the new does spellcheck refuse to accept the word ‘instagramming’? It turns out, spellcheck will accept it but only with a capital I. No! Get off my lawn Instagram!!
More at www.2dangerousthingsayear.com
Social media platforms are rightly being criticised in the wake of the Christchurch tragedy. The good elements of social media are great. The bad are horrific. Being social is an essential part of being human. Collective social effort is what kept us alive when we emerged from caves. Together we protected ourselves from predators and together we hunted and fed more effectively. Soulless corporations are not humans, even if they try to individualise themselves to a Jack or a Zuck or a Tom. (Whatever happened to Tom?)
The social connectivity mega social tech companies enable has industrialised and created a scale that humans are not used to or meant for. Some thinkers reckon we are best in a group of about one hundred. Some more dangerous thinkers would prefer that the hundred would be people we pick and choose or people we are like. I reckon homogeneity is a risk and diversity is a strength. Diverse perspectives and skills strengthen the group, even if it needs a bit more effort to manage. This is true of workteams as it was of our cave groups millennia ago. It’s true of of our social groups now. How are yours?
Please don’t stop critiquing the effort, motivations and performance of Jack and Zuck. It’s woefully inadequate and clearly tremendously damaging, despite the best efforts of their PR damage-control crews. But we are not blameless. Our eyes, clicks, shares and purchases drive their behaviour. When a beloved celebrity is killed in a car crash being chased by paparazzi, the driver and the photographers are very much to blame. But so too is anyone who ever bought a magazine or clicked a link with one of those photos. We may only be individuals but we contribute. Our contribution may be small but collectively and socially they add up. And they have consequences.
Our shares are probably well-intentioned. The photo at the top of this post is a widely shared leadership meme. The basic oft-repeated refrain is that wolfpacks are led by the weakest wolves because they look after them and great teams care about everyone etc. Insert your own glib cliche. It sounds great. Who wouldn’t want that to be true? Who wouldn’t instantly and unthinkingly just click ‘like’ or ‘share’ or ‘retweet’? Who would waste 90 seconds checking it first? It isn’t true. Wolves are wild animals and they are not tree-hugging hippies. It’s made up but it is so on-shared that many people just accept it. Even when confronted with the evidence, the response is often defensive, justifying it on the basis that it’s just a metaphor. The same goes for uncited motivational quotations. Or your friends who constantly fall for those chain posts about FaceBook privacy etc.
I’m guilty of this. I’m trying to be less so. We could all at least try. Then we can focus our criticism on Jack and Zuck with a clearer conscience, and sort out their taxes too.
It’s a small step from inaccurate motivational wolf memes that aren’t true to ‘fake news’ stories and gossip. We shared these in our tribes of 100 and when they turned out to be fake, only a small number of people had their feelings hurt a little bit. Now when we do it by the millions, the consequences can be devastating and severe.
I’m not saying don’t ‘like’ and ‘share’. I am suggesting we all pause and ask a few quick and simple questions. Stop. Think. Act.
Thank you for your time. Please share this post.
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What is a ‘BackBrief’? I first encountered the concept running a delegation workshop for a prestigious lawfirm.
The point of delegation is to drive optimal productivity, right. The lowest cost resource that can do the work should be assigned to do that work. The high-cost resources such as the partners, specialists and so forth should be doing high value work. Those in supervisory roles need to be delegating effectively, using systems to ensure work is done to standard, to time, and on budget.
There’s a lot that I could write about delegation and perhaps will in future but, for now, I want to focus in on one person. That person is a senior solicitor in that firm. He knew at a logical level that he should be delegating but his personality was such that he struggled. “No one can do this as well as me”. “Even if someone could do this as well as me, it won’t be the way that I would do it”. “Look, it’s just quicker and easier if I do it myself”.
Obviously those are just excuses and you can probably counter those excuses yourself. It’s short-term thinking, ultimately unsustainable, and certainly not optimal productivity. He was however able to cite several instances where he’d assigned work that ended up being poorly done, or not done at all, due to a lack of understanding on the part of the people being assigned the work. You could argue that adult professionals should not go around nodding that they can do a task when they aren’t sure. You could assign blame to the delegator who is ultimately still accountable for the work and its quality and timeliness. Better is to implement a simple system that invests a small amount of time upfront that ensures there is accurate understanding or there isn’t. Another lawyer in the room was ex-military and she introduced us all to the concept of the ‘BackBrief’.
A ‘BackBrief‘ is exactly what it sounds like. The person or people receiving the instructions give a synopsis of the instructions they just received. The person originally giving the instructions can then determine whether the message was received properly. If it’s a small task, then the ‘BackBrief’ might be a swift verbal remark. If it’s a task of substance, then it might warrant some time and a small presentation.
It’s a great idea I’ve been introducing in my workshops that a lot of professional non-military workplaces are picking up on.
At the end of last year and into this fresh new year, I’ve been running some workshops with a big corporate on critical thinking. The emphasis is not so much about the mechanical elements like models, tools and processes, although they do prove popular. The intent is much more about creating, maintaining and supporting a culture that is friendly to critical thinking and thinkers. They’d like a ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ kind of vibe.
Like any organisation attempting to bolster its stock of skills, there are a few ways of going about it. Training is an obvious one and, as a trainer by trade, I am not going to talk you out of that. Depending on the money you’ve got to throw around as an incentive and what time pressures you’re under, another option is to recruit or outsource that skill. What if we’re not talking about the skill of critical thinking though; what if we’re talking about the critical thinking attitude? Do we recruit that? Could we outsource it? Is it even possible to train it?
Before we tackle these questions, let me start by saying the moment you reveal to any trainees a bunch of critical thinking tools, they may well have the intention of applying these on serious strategic and operational work issues and projects but that’s not the first thing they think might benefit from the tools. People default to their personal lives and decision matrices, forcefield analyses and cause-effect diagrams get applied to wedding plans, house purchases and to relationships (both forwards and retrospectively). I swear there is a fortune to be made for critical thinking trainers in relationship decision-making, although that is a workshop I definitely do not want to run!
All jokes and broken marriages aside, providing tools that normal people can see as relevant and applicable to their personal and work lives is one element of nurturing a culture. Get enough people engaged like that and you generate noise and interest. Soon there is a critical mass and a tipping point. It’s less some weird new thing that we learned on a course that we use on special occasions; it’s become more of ‘the way things are done around here’.
Yes, you can train it. Yes, you could accelerate the process by recruiting it. As long as you are adding competencies like teamwork, customer service, and problem solving to your list when recruiting, would one more hurt? The trick in the tale though is if you recruit critical thinkers or people inclined to do so, but then once they arrive it becomes clear quickly that critical thinking is not the ways things are done around here. Training is not going to solve anything other than a skill issue. What would be helpful is some role modelling and structural elements that make critical thinking part of business as usual. When newbies witness someone sticking their head above the parapet to critique something in a healthy way, what happens next is a powerful and essential indicator of the extent to which they’ll ever stick their own head up. As part of any onboarding / induction process, it would be helpful to create or immerse new arrivals into situations or simulations where people do apply critical thinking and their input gets acknowledged, addressed and perhaps even rewarded.
When you google the term ‘critical thinking’, the top three results are: what are the five critical thinking skills; what are the six critical thinking skills; what are the seven critical thinking skills. Are critical thinking skills like razors? They just keep adding another blade as some never-ending marketing game of chicken? I think the ‘five people’ should talk to the ‘seven’ people. I think a critical component of critical thinking isn’t the comprehensiveness of the toolkit nor the 5-7 skills required. I think it’s the ability to better understand the way we think and the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of getting to our conclusions. That requires a self-awareness or a desire for a self-awareness that should be aimed for in recruiting, supported during onboarding and boosted via subsequent training and practical application and reinforcement.
It’s fantastic that for years we’ve been able to walk into parent-teacher meetings in many New Zealand primary schools and see DeBono’s six thinking hats posters on the wall. (Look it up). A classic critical thinking tool being used by educators across a society to enable kids to think critically and examine ideas from differing perspectives if they choose to do so. (That’s the trick, especially during election time). Kids, the employees of tomorrow with ever changing and expanding content need to know how to think not just what to think today. I’m not sure how many boardrooms or planning spaces have those posters. The google debate rages over whether there are five or six or seven critical thinking skills but there are always only ever six thinking hats.
Find out more about getting ‘Change Fit’ and advancing your own ‘Change Evolution’ at www.2dangerousthingsayear.com
Here is an excerpt from my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears’. Available on Amazon.
“Relationships come and go but friends are for life.” – Somebody that I used to know
The British Medical Journal in August 1999 published a study of 3000 people aged over 65 that they followed for 13 years. The study tracked their participation in activities such as swimming, walking, shopping, volunteer work, social group activities and so forth. It transpires that social engagement is the best medicine.
Thomas Glass at Harvard’s School of Public Health studied 2761 people over 13 years and their socialising, concluding that it could increase longevity by 20%. As the Harvard Gazette put it, “Scientists are always coming up with ways for older people to live healthier and longer lives, such as doing exercises they can’t or don’t want to do. Now, researchers have found an easier way: people 65 years and older can extend their lives by doing things that are easy and enjoyable, like going to church or movies, shopping, gardening, and even playing bingo.”
“Such activities should not replace exercise,” Glass cautions, “but exclusive emphasis on exercise may be overly narrow. It is clear from our study that social engagement can have as much effect on prolonging life as fitness activities.” The smart move at whatever age is to double up and participate in exercise-based social activities. Notice now the massive increase in the popularity of group sessions at gyms and with personal trainers. It’s not just another way for gyms to charge multiple people at once instead of a single-customer personal training session. The evidence suggests you might get as much benefit from the interaction as from the exertion. The exercises might change by the time you’re 70 but the social benefits remain the same.
The Harvard Gazette went on to report that Glass admits he doesn’t know precisely why. However, he believes that keeping social and busy “evokes changes in the brain that protect against cognitive decline. This, in turn, influences physical processes regulated by the brain such as cellular immunity or mobilizing the body’s defences against disease.”
In other research, Glass and two colleagues tracked the effect of social disengagement on 2,812 people 65 years and older for 12 years. They found the odds of experiencing cognitive decline were approximately twice as great in those reporting no social ties than in those who had frequent contact with relatives and friends, attended religious services, or participated in regular social activities.
Another study revealed that rats who sustain brain injury and who socialize and have fun during recovery do much better than those who are socially isolated, even when both groups receive optimum physical care. This is why I’m not a scientist – I don’t know what rats do for fun.
We get influenced by the habits of our friends. We get a sense of belonging, purpose and self worth. It also works the other way though. For example, 56% of people trying to eat healthily will eat crap to avoid insulting a host, boss, client or family member. 51% will eat crap to fit in with the group. So, it pays to choose our friends wisely and ‘audit’ your ongoing value to each other.
If you have a best friend at work, you are seven times more likely to feel engaged in your job.
Friends have a powerful social influence. For one obvious example, be observant the next time you’re out for dinner with a group of friends and you get to that point of the evening when the waiter or waitress shows up and asks, “Would anyone like to see the dessert menu?” I’d gotten into the habit of saying something witty about just having a look, or at least something as witty as I was capable of after however much wine had entered my system before dessert. (ie most of it.) Now, I shut up and watch. You should too. The most common group dynamic when that question is asked is a fleeting flurry of eye contact amongst all members of the table. Each member of the group is determining their response to the question based on their perception of the likely reaction of everyone else. Again, the first person to react over-influences the subsequent responses of everyone else.
The restaurants know this. It is in their interest to sell more desserts and to keep you drinking the higher profit margin drinks, and if you stay for dessert, you’ll be there longer and you’ll get more drinks. Again, observe the waiter or waitress. They do not just ask the general group of people at the table a question. The question is directed at the person they think is most likely to answer, “Yes.” Just like lions hunting gazelles, the restaurants prey on the weakest member of the herd. And, in your group of friends, you all know who that is. If you don’t, it’s you.
Psychological priming is where a behaviour can be steered by exposure to a previous stimulus. Give two groups of research participants free cookies while filling in a fake quiz but expose one group to the smell of cleaning products and you’ll find the clean smell-primed group tidies up their crumbs and plates twice as often. The social influence of friends and menu choices is a form of priming. But priming doesn’t work if you know it is happening. So, armed with this knowledge, take a bit more control over what you consume and spend. Tell your friends. That’s what friends are for.
In a very recent piece of research, ‘Bad Boys: The Effect of Criminal Identity on Dishonesty,’ Alain Cohn, Michel Andre Marechal, and Thomas Noll reveal a potential negative application of priming effects that you and I might be able to flip and use with our friends to more positive ends. In a maximum security prison they had prisoners privately toss coins and then say how many times the coin landed heads. The more heads turned up, the more money the prisoners got paid. The researchers couldn’t tell if any single prisoner was honest or dishonest but they did know that on average heads comes up half the time, so they can assess in aggregate how much lying there is. Before the study, they had half the prisoners answer the question “What were you convicted for?” and the other half “How many hours per week do you watch television on average?” The result: 66% heads in the treatment where they ask about convictions and “only” 60% heads in the TV treatment. Being reminded or primed about their dishonesty drove greater dishonesty in their behaviour.
How dishonest are prisoners versus everyday people? When they play the same game with regular citizens, the coin supposedly comes up heads 56% of the time. Most people are also dishonest but less so than primed or unprimed prisoners.
Flipping this notion of priming, we need to find ways of subtly ‘reminding’ ourselves or our loved ones that we are the sort of person who behaves in ways that support us in boosting our healthy and productive lifestyles. This would vary from person to person and over time. One suggestion might be agreeing to exchange a daily text at an agreed time with a buddy. Nothing arduous, mentally taxing, syrupy or faux motivational – just some words about whatever it is you’re trying to support each other on. Remind them that they are whatever they need to be. Routinise it and prioritise it.
A University of Virginia study looked at participants sent out to estimate the steepness of a hill before setting out to climb it with a weighted backpack. Half the participants had a friend with them and half did not. Those with friends guessed lower steepness levels and the longer the friendships with their climbing companions, the greater the underestimation of steepness. Having a friend with you not only lowers your stress levels as we’ve identified earlier, it makes the task ahead seem less foreboding. And we know how our perceptions and preconceptions can affect us physically.
Even if your buddy and you end up in a debate over things, that’s not inherently bad. In fact, it is really only your good friends with whom you can genuinely argue and care about the meaning of the result. Arguments with friends stimulate the plasticity of the brain. Surround yourself with people with helpful values, not necessarily the same as yours. Identify your ‘inner circle.’ Be likeable. Create time and opportunities to be together.
If you want to broaden or replace your social circuit, here are some tips:
- Walk your dog (or child.) At least, they’ll be good conversation starters,
- Work out,
- Do lunch,
- Accept the next 3 invitations you get regardless,
- Attend community events,
- Take classes,
- Fake a faith. (Faith is like sincerity, in that if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.)
Social isolation is a major risk factor. Having no friends or low-interaction friends is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, as dangerous as being an alcoholic and twice as harmful as obesity. In a six-year study of 736 middle-age Swedish men, attachment to a single person didn’t appear to affect the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease, but having friendships did. Only smoking was as important a risk factor as lack of social support.
The New York Times reported on some sub-research by a pair of social scientists named Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler using the information collected over the years by the Framingham Heart Study. Founded in 1948 by the National Heart Institute, the study follows more than 15,000 Framingham residents and their descendants, bringing them in to a doctor’s office every four years, on average, for a comprehensive physical. By analysing the Framingham data, Christakis and Fowler say, they have for the first time found some solid basis for a potentially powerful theory in epidemiology: that good behaviours, like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy, pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses. The Framingham participants, the data suggested, influence each another’s health just by socializing. And the same was true of bad behaviours — clusters of friends appeared to “infect” each other with obesity, unhappiness and smoking. Staying healthy isn’t just a matter of your genes and your diet, it seems. Good health is also a product, in part, of your sheer proximity to other healthy people.
You don’t need a lot of friends but you do need the right ones.
So next time you suggest to someone that you become ‘friends with benefits’, be sure to stress that you mean health benefits…
“Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.” – Oscar Wilde
That was an excerpt from my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears’. Available on Amazon.