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Monday, 18 May 2015

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings talks about her motivations and working methods

Thoughtful piece from OnBeing with Maria Popova on seeing through the flim flam of the digital age.



Check out Maria's brilliant website over at Brain Pickings

The Joseph Goldberger story - logic is the beginning of wisdom not the end

Note to self - a cautionary tale for all of those involved in organisational life, evidence based HR and HR analytics....

Joseph Goldberger (1874 - 1929) was an American physician and epidemiologist and an advocate of the 
scientific and social recognition of the link between poverty and disease.  



In the early half of the twentieth century a mysterious disease, “the sharecropper’s plague” or pellagra , reached epidemic proportions in the south of the USA.  The total number of new annual cases was estimated at about 75,000 in 1915 and about 100,000 throughout the 1920s. The disease had a 40% mortality rate, and many survivors who were left with dementia were confined to mental institutions.

Whilst Goldberger is well known in some medical circles (he was nominated several times for a Nobel Prize) he is not generally known in the public conciousness.  This is at first a little odd as he conducted some first class science that eventually led to the elimination of a horrible disease.   Unfortunately, however facts don't change people and politics and prejudice seem to be largely responsible for Goldberger’s obscurity.

Politics had great influence on public policy towards pellagra and, despite Goldberger demonstrating an association between the disease, poverty and diet, rather than setting in motion means to improve peoples diet the Southern politicians took it upon themselves to be offended.  How could there be poverty in the South they asked?  When Goldberger, a northern immigrant and a Jew continued to point to social and economic factors as being responsible for pellagra, Southern sensitivities were further riled by the "nerve of this man".  Newspaper articles and speeches by congressmen condemned such "insulting inferences" concerning the "contentment of the people of the South".

Rather than considering Goldberger's findings many looked to immigrant Italians as being responsible for the disease.  Their logic was thus - since pellagra was common in Italy, Italian immigrants must be responsible for the outbreak of the disease.  No one seemed to notice that the Italians living in the South did not have pellagra, since they did not favour the meat, meal and molasses, popular in the local diet, that Goldberger demonstrated led to the disease.

Goldberger died of cancer 1929 having not, despite his valiant and persistent efforts, convinced public officials of a dietary cause of pellagra.  It is pretty clear that he should be remembered not only for his superb investigations but for formulating a hypothesis, testing it and not surrendering to personal insults.

In some aspects Goldberger’s story resonates with modern day politics where politicians continue to manipulate or deny scientific discovery (climate change, HIV, homoeopathy, vaccination and even astrology) to further their own political careers.  His story is also a cautionary tale for all of us working in science, business and, topically, "HR analytics".  The numbers may tell a story but, as Star Trek's Spock said "Logic is the beginning of all wisdom, not the end.".



Main Source:

http://www.swjpcc.com/general-medicine/2012/6/8/profiles-in-medical-courage-joseph-goldberger-the-sharecropp.html


Friday, 15 May 2015

Welcome them and "go all the way"

Over the past few days I have been asked by a number of people about public speaking and what it takes to get up in front of an audience and talk.  It's always tempting at this point to go into trainer mode and give a list of 7 steps, 5 stages or whatever....but as it's Friday and because I get a bit bored with such things sometimes, I thought I'd come at it from another angle - inspiration.

As I've mentioned previously (OK I've mentioned it a lot - it was cool though!), I recently spoke at the outstanding TEDx Warwick and shared the stage with 17 brilliant and inspiring speakers who were taken from a wide range of disciplines. (TEDx Warwich 2015 talks can be found here).

We were all terrified before talking, despite many of us being experienced speakers and performers.  Pete Trainor, an experienced and excellent speaker turned to me just before the start and said (I've edited the language slightly), "....bloody hell this is enormous; why didn't we do one of the smaller London events?" and Liz Franklin Kitchen one of the best sopranos in the business, who has sang in front of audiences all over the world, was palpably worried that she wouldn't be able to sing.  Others clutched cue cards in sweaty hands and I personally felt sick and had a strong urge to run!  Regardless we all did it!  How come?

Well I think the first thing we all did was realise that we were all in it together.  I've thought about this a lot since the event and think it emphasises the importance of shared objectives, personal passion and acceptance.

Perhaps the most noticeable thing though was that there was not a sniff of an ego in the place.  Some of the speakers had previously shaken the world and made huge cultural impressions.  Would you have known that?  Not a bit of it - the place was ego free and, in a living expression of one of the messages within Rumi's brilliant 13th century poem "The guest house", every speaker welcomed feedback from one another and from the army of teenage students that was there to help us do our best on the day - regardless of track record.


One wonders how often this approach is the case in corporate environment?  I have certainly experienced CEOs "too important" to allow the lowly events coach or MC to give them advice on their messaging, presentation content or level of personal impact.  Was it any wonder that they bored their audience to tears when they took to the stage?

Finally, I'd like to restate the key message I referred to last week from Ray Bradbury in his exceptional advice to writers Doing is Being.  This time the sage advice comes in the form of another poem, by the brilliant, often outrageous and gloriously rude poet Charles Bukowski;

Roll the Dice (Charles Bukowski)

If you’re going to try, go all the way. 
Otherwise, don’t even start. 
If you’re going to try, go all the way. 
This could mean losing girlfriends,wives, relatives, jobs and maybe your mind.

Go all the way. 
It could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days. 
It could mean freezing on a park bench. 
It could mean jail, it could mean derision, mockery, isolation. 
Isolation is the gift, all the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. 
And you’ll do it despite rejection and the worst odds and it will be better than anything else you can imagine.

If you’re going to try, go all the way. there is no other feeling like that. 
You will be alone with the gods and the nights will flame with fire. 

Do it, do it, do it. do it.

All the way, all the way.

You will ride life straight to perfect laughter, it’s the only good fight there is.

There is a brilliant recording of Charles Bukowski reading this poem available here.....


....it's so good I often have it on a loop in my car!

More Bukowski here in the 1980's film Barfly.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Why Facts Don't Change People - TEDx Warwick

Delighted (and a wee bit nervous) to report that my TEDx Warwick talk has been published today.  It contains a mix of science, HR, consulting, personal stories, myth challenging and some advice on how to improve people’s understanding of the world in which we live.


Experiencing the whole event was brilliant and ended up being some of the most challenging and exciting few days of my life.  The other talks were tremendous and I recommend that you pop over and watch them all when you have a moment. Each one is less than 18 minutes long. Here is the link to the talks.

Thanks to the organisers for putting on such a great event, my friends and family who came along to offer me their support, and to my other half, Samantha Barklam, for her feedback, constant challenge and unbelievable support!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Doing is Being


There are a lot of people doing a lot of talking right now.  Whether it's politics (in the UK), Human Resources (another conference another fad), or me (I will finish this damn book!) people are talking a good game more than ever.

My preferred method of procrastination (another excuse for not doing what I am supposed to be doing) is reading and because I am writing a book, I've read as many good books about writing as I can get my hands (or ears) on.  There is a lot of sage advice out there, ranging from Dani Shapiro's delightful Still Writing  to Mark Tredinnick's instructive Writing Well.

For me, two pieces have trumped the lot.

Firstly the clear and concise instruction from Ernest Hemingway's editor Max Perkins:

"Don't get it right, get it down"

This advice came to my attention when it was extolled by Neil Peart (drummer with the sublime Canadian prog rock trio RUSH) in his excellent travel autobiography Travelling Music: The Soundtrack to My Life and Times

Perkin's advice is echoed by Julia Cameron who talks of her "morning papers" in the excellent The Artist's Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.  By writing your "morning papers" the writer is encouraged to write, just write anything that comes to mind without waiting for that special moment of inspiration.  By doing so, Cameron suggests, the artistic juices will flow.

Secondly, and coming as a bit of a surprise was the advice from one of my science writer heroes, Ray Bradbury.

Tucked away towards the end of his book of essays on writing and creativity, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity, comes this little gem, "Doing is being"...


Doing is being.
To have done’s not enough.
To stuff yourself with doing — that’s the game.
To name yourself each hour by what’s done,
To tabulate your time at sunset’s gun
And find yourself in acts
You could not know before the facts
You wooed from secret self, which much needs wooing,
So doing brings it out,
Kills doubt by simply jumping, rushing, running
Forth to be
The new-discovered me.
To not do is to die,
Or lie about and lie about the things
You just might do some day.
Away with that!
Tomorrow empty stays
If no man plays it into being
With his motioned way of seeing.
Let your body lead your mind –
Blood the guide dog to the blind;
So then practice and rehearse
To find heart-soul’s universe,
Knowing that by moving/seeing
Proves for all time: Doing’s being!

I found this quite beautiful and inspiring and I am surprised that this piece is not more famous.

Hopefully the few moments I have spent "doing" this post will attract more people, from across the disciplines, to this brilliant piece of expressive writing and advice.

Let's stop all the talking and get doing!



Sculpture Consulting was founded by Scott McArthur and his partner Samantha Barklam 4 years ago. Sculpture's aim is to inspire people to think differently about themselves and change. To meet the team and experience their methods please come along to Sculptures's first public event, The ZONE - the work you were born to do, which will be held on the 12th September 2015 in Stratford Upon Avon.


Friday, 24 April 2015

From Human Remains to Human Resources to....Human Resonance

I was chatting on-line to a friend of mine a few days ago about a keynote I was to give on "why facts don't change people".  He picked up on a particular biographical part of my talk in which I summarised my career as having moved from "human remains to human resources" i.e. how I progressed from a career in science to one in business consulting.  He suggested that I should add "...to human resonance" to this statement.




The friend in question was Miha Pogacnik, concert violinist, Slovenian Cultural Ambassador and adjunct professor of Art and Leadership at the Bled School of Management.  Miha is one of those people who often presents an idea to you that seems to take time to make sense; in other words I wasn't really sure what point he was trying to make about my work!  I was aware of his resonance platform idea (which is fascinating) but wasn't sure what it meant for me and my work.

Since then I have worked out what he meant (I hope - @Miha?)  - I spend much of my time helping people to discover their optimal experience or what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced "cheek sent me high" I think?) refers to as flow. 


Flow is:
the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Flow is a compelling notion which has been at the forefront of my thinking more and more of late.  This is particularly true in the context of one of flows apparent key outcomes, well-being

Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi helpfully suggest six factors as encompassing an experience of flow.

  1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. Merging of action and awareness
  3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered
  6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as an autotelic experience.
      
http://www.sketchnotesbook.com/
These aspects can appear independently of each other, but, the authors claim, only in combination do they constitute a so-called flow experience.

It appears to me that several of these factors sit well with our improving understanding of mindfulness meditation and its impact on many aspects of life also including well-being.  

As I have said before with regards to how we consider notions on the human condition (i.e. the hard stuff) on topics such as flow, happiness, engagement, motivation etc., it is likely to be a little bit more complicated than simply applying 6 factors to make things happen. Therefore I will look forward to watching the evidence build on flow (or not as the case may be) and I'm comfortable with adding human resonance to my biography, at least for now!

Finally, as suggested by Sam Harris (author, philosopher and neuroscientist) there are some truths (in the scientific not literal sense) out there and all of us in business have much to gain from seeking them out and applying a critical mind towards understanding them:

Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors - ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world.

Other reading:

Flow: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Sami Abuhamdeh, Jeanne Nakamura (2014) in Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology 2014, pp 227-238
Finding Flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1997)
FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990)
http://www.samharris.org/the-moral-landscape


Sculpture Consulting was founded by Scott McArthur and his partner Samantha Barklam 4 years ago. Sculpture's aim is to inspire people to think differently about themselves and change. To meet the team and experience their methods please come along to Sculptures's first public event, The ZONE - the work you were born to do, which will be held on the 12th September 2015 in Stratford Upon Avon.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Character Assassination Won't Get You To Your Destination


In the past few days I've heard people criticising all 7 of the UK leaders that appeared on a televised political debate on ITV last week. This morning 3 other political figures in the UK, Gordon Brown, Thatcher and Alex Salmon were similarly attacked in the various newspapers and on social media. 

Such attacks on an opponents character or personal foibles in an attempt to undermine a particular argument is something we pretty much all do (known as a particular type of logical fallacy an "ad hominem" attack). Doing so, however, without engaging with the argument is surely no way to behave in a debate/argument in most circumstances? 

Thinking beyond an individuals character and considering the reality and evidence for what people are saying/claiming really helps you to make better informed judgements (and avoid being over influenced by the clap trap that is all over the media). These days I get annoyed with myself when I commit ad hominem and I'm really trying to get better at not doing it.

Other material:

The Ad Hominem Fallacy | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios

Your Logical Fallacy Is

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Something Wicked This Way Comes - The Bias Dilemma

Minority Report is a 2002 American neo-noir science fiction mystery-thriller directed by Steven Spielberg, loosely based on the short story by Philip K. Dick. In the film version of the story a specialized police department, "PreCrime", apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge of their criminal acts provided by three psychics called "precogs". What a lovely piece of science fiction. 
Today I'm going to do something that "" warned against; I'm going to act like a precog and make a prediction. (given the patchy evidence for who first said what follows you can fill in whomever you think; I will go with Bohr as I've always found him interesting).


"Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future"

If you don't live in the UK you may not know that we are having a general election on 7th May 2015. Oh what fun we will have to be sure! Tonight on ITV (independent television network) we are having a debate with the main parties involved in the election and apparently the party leaders are preparing for a head-to-head debate showdown.

We have done this before in the UK, last time the leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg put on a great performance and according to Paddy Ashdown (former Liberal Democrat leader) this
"changed election dynamic". Given that I'm not sure what dynamic means in this context I can't really argue whether or not this prediction was correct. Ultimately however, Clegg's performance had no real impact on the election result with his party, in fact, loosing ground on the big 2 (Labour and the Conservatives).

What has all this got to do with business? I'd like to suggest that it's all about how we make good decisions.


The title of this article comes a fantasy novel
"Something Wicked This Way Comes" by Ray Bradbury who in turn lifted the idea from a quote in Shakespeare's Macbeth.  Bradbury's story concerns two 13-year-old friends and their nightmarish experience with a travelling circus when it comes to their town. The circus' leader, the mysterious "Mr. Dark", seemingly wields the power to grant people's secret desires. In reality, Dark is a malevolent being who lures these individuals into binding themselves in servitude to him. The novel combines elements of fantasy and horror; whilst analysing the conflicting natures of good and evil which exist within all individuals. This is where we get to my prediction for this evening's "debate" (and more general concern with anyone looking to make good decisions).

Very few people will change their minds as a result of the debate, in fact, within minutes of the debate finishing there will be claims of victory from supporters of all the parties involved.


This will happen as Bradbury suggested thanks to the conflicting natures of good and evil which exist within all individuals or as the psychologists call it, "Confirmation Bias".

Wikipedia provides an excellent definition:


"Confirmation bias is....the tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position."

Tonight we will hear all of the leaders using "confirmation hooks" such as; food-banks, bankers, socialists, posh, elite, immigration, the NHS, independence, fairness etc. Most of these hooks, I will also predict, will be set within the context of anecdotal evidence such as "...on the streets people are telling me..." "...I visited a school this morning and they left me with one message..." etc.

The content of the debate will not matter a jot to most people. Supporters and detractors of a particular party will cherry pick from the debate what they want to hear. 


Unfortunately some of the cherry pickers (also known as internet trolls) will be posting on the internet about those nasty people doing nasty things, all but for the one they support of course; they will have won the debate hands down. This is a growing trend and the recent trolling experienced by the BBC's
Nick Robinson provides a horrid example of confirmation bias at its evil worst.

The consequences of confirmation bias have the potential to become very serious. It is increasingly unlikely that you will hear a political (or a business executive) stand back and say, "you know what, the chap from the other side (function etc.) has presented a good case, I'm going to change my mind"; something else I predict will not happen tonight (although it's pretty lame to predict something wont happen. I also predict Cameron wont say "Vote Labour I'm a just clueless posh boy"). 


This situation has been made worse in the political sphere by the apparent reduction in cross party working in the House of Commons (and in the US state department) where once our politicians met in "smoked filled rooms" and argued the toss they are now increasingly paranoid about being seen with the "enemy" never mind engaging in debate with them.


So what is the undecided voter or the intelligent supporter to do to mitigate the impact of confirmation bias? Well firstly I'd take advice from what Walt Whitman wrote in his "Camden Conversations":



“I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess.”

Secondly, seek out non-biased reporting, think tanks and writers. Also it is important to remember that it is much easier for most people to believe someone's story/experience/anecdote as opposed to understanding the complexity of an issue. Carefully studied (often scientific) measures are always more accurate than personal perceptions, we also tend to prefer to believe that which is tangible to us and/or the opinion of someone we trust over a more abstract statistical or complex reality.

I guess what I am suggesting is that we need more "evidence based politics" with individual biases kept to a minimum. Likewise, I'd suggest that evidenced based decision making should be a strategic objective/methodology in all of our organisations.


So armed with this understanding perhaps we can all be "precogs" (which is tough enough - see movie) at home and at work.  Enjoy the debate.


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Power of Words - Kristin Rivas story

Following yesterday's post about the power of words I was contacted by a friend who suggested that I watch a TEDx by Kristin Rivas.  I sat in the wee small hours this morning watching her story and was left feeling pretty humbled and emotional.
  
Kristin, who is now a practising hypnotherapist, recounts her journey from crippling mental illness following the death of her sister to healing and liberation, all through the life-changing power of words.   The advice she is given by her teacher (Dr Connolly) on the reality of the past and Kristen's visceral response are both admirable.



This reminded me of something written by John Green, in one of my daughters favourite books, "The Fault in Our Stars"

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.

I think the same goes for this talk, everyone needs to watch it and think.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Using Words and Ideas to Support Business & HR Transformation

As I have mentioned previously there is a lot of talk about transformation in the business and human resources (HR) press these days.  Most of which suggest that technology is the answer to all your transformation dreams.  My recent post “Does HR Transformation Really Need to Be Linked To Technology?” was well received and a number of responders, some of whom, I’m delighted to report, came from the “evil empire” i.e. the vendor community, quite rightly suggested that IT should only ever be a transformation lever and that people should be the primary focus in any  transformation programme.

Bravo, we are getting somewhere; however where to start?

Whilst I am a bit of a science geek most of the time with both feet in reality and healthy scepticism I’m also a bit of a Sci-Fi fan.  The thing that gets me about the genre is it’s full of ideas.  Many of these ideas are extrapolated from current scientific knowledge and in many cases these ideas have proven to be visionary.

Christopher Nolan is a  UK film director, screenwriter, and producer. He has created several of the most critically and commercially successful films of the early 21st century most of which where in the domain of sci-fi and all of them excellent (apart from “Man of Steel” – what was he thinking?).   In an early scene from Nolan’s brilliant “Inception”, Dom Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) asks;

What is the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?

The Answer:

An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood. That sticks, right in there somewhere.

Yes an idea is what we need to get us going, something that will challenge the status quo and get things moving (without the need to burst your budget).  Take for example the domain of the HR professional , this is a complex place and leadership and organisational design are never far from the agenda.  What could we do to transform things in this space, what could we change that would be generative (i.e. create more ideas and start the process of transformation.).  A good starting point could be our descriptive language.  However, for an idea to flourish it will have to be a good one, one that goes beyond the common and  comedic job title bingo; Global Executive Senior Vice President (really?).

I thought about this for a while as well as many of the common trends in the industry and eventually my mind focused on employee engagement.  Whilst there is  much faddism around what EE is for and what problem it actually fixes one of the critical elements of it is likely  to be to improve levels of psychological safety in the workplace (see Kahn‘s work).  So what could we change, what common process or meme (more on this topic in a future post) could we look at an start to make things better just by changing our language.?  Then is came to me ; what about “reporting structures”?  These are important parts of the organisation and can impact upon careers, motivation, budget levels, power etc.   So how could we change this terminology to reflect modernity and generate new ways of thinking about our organisations.

We could remove the notion but I wasn’t sure about this as you need some level of structure even in the flattest of organisations.  Another idea would be to invert it; yes that was an interesting thought as it would help  organisations  focus on value rather than power – others are working in this space and making progress.

To focus our thinking on just the one element, that of safety, we need a simple change and I would like to suggest we change reporting lines to “supporting lines”.


Imagine the change in the board room, what would the CEO think this meant?

What would the employees and customers think.?

What would HR be able to do to build these new “supporting lines”?

Visionary?  Well no but at least it's a start and don't forget the advice on this topic from Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

“Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Why I Read So Much...

I was asked this question last week as if all the reading I do was a negative thing....I was almost speechless (yes, and before you say it, I know that's rare) although I managed to squeeze out this quick response. 



Friday, 27 March 2015

"Miracle" - Derren Brown's Brand of Edutainment - Helping People Think

Derren Brown is a British illusionist, mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, writer, and sceptic known for his appearances in television specials, stage productions, and British television series such as Trick of the Mind and Trick or Treat. He has also toured a number of stage shows across the UK including "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "Enigma". His latest production is "Miracle" a 2 hour show focused primarily on scepticism and faith. As he always does Derren asked attendees not to divulge the content of the show so as not to spoil others enjoyment, so I promise that there will be no spoilers here.


What I especially enjoy about Derren's work is his non threatening scepticism of all things paranormal and supernatural. His explanation of psychological phenomena such as the "ideomotor effect" (a possible explanation for the Ouija board) have always impressed as has his willingness to engage with the agents of the paranormal and their followers and to talk about how he does many of his illusions (I'm reading his book "Pure Effect: Direct Mindreading and Magical Artistry" at the moment which is full of provocative essays on performance and presentation). "Miracles" is no different and he entertains and educates in equal measure using everything from distraction, right out of the Tommy Cooper book of mistakes, to incredible light and image projection; the later being some of the best I have ever seen at a stage production. For me Derren eclipses even the likes of David Copperfield, the most commercially successful magician in history (Forbes, 2006).

So yes I recommend that you should go see "Miracles". However, you might ask what has this got to do with business and HR? I touched on this previously, what Derren does very well indeed is to provide a mix of education and entertainment, or edutainment.

Whilst the word "edutainment" is a bit odd the principle of educating people in an enjoyable way certainly is not. Indeed some of the topics covered by Derren and even some of the stories and methods he uses in his shows are right out of the learning and development presenters kit bag (see the show and you will know exactly what I mean). Despite being a stage performer (and highly skilled one at that) I also think that Derren rarely crosses the line to simply entertain (like some of the self-help "gurus"); he is always educating.

Entertaining audiences in business is never a bad thing but I firmly believe that content is critical otherwise you are providing nothing more that "homoeopathic motivation". Such an approach might work at the conference/event but it is likely to have very little impact when the audience returns to business as usual. At my TEDx I talked about why "facts don't change people" - in "Miracles" Derren demonstrates that edutainment certainly can.


Other Reading:  Peter Brook "The Empty Space", Simon Callow "My Life in Pieces"

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Quest For Academic Recognition & Impact On Business Practice

I've had a problem for a while. It's a big one and one that causes me to suffer from cognitive dissonance on an almost daily basis. It's a bit embarrassing and has had some serous implications. It has impacted large parts of my CV, alienated me from friends, colleagues and parts of my profession (Human Resources - HR) not to mention causing serious credibility problems for that profession which have lead to me ranting on about it for a number of years (sorry).

What is going on between the business schools and the business community; there is a link right?

As Professor Richard Thorpe (Pro-Dean for Research, Leeds University Business School) put it when discussing this topic there would be:

So, you would naturally imagine, droves of academics working hard at helping the busy business executive and HR professional to become more effective by supporting the development, motivation and outputs of the day-to-day activities of employees.
Likewise, it must be the case that the business world is funding our business schools to help them to get out there and design some nifty appropriately controlled experiments intended to and solve today's thorny workplace issues.
Oh no they are not (well, they are not as well linked as you would think)
Whilst progress has been made over the past decade or so (see Wilson, 2012) there remains a vacuum between academic rigour and business practice. A topic recently brought to the fore for HR & change practitioners concerning performance management and motivation by Dan Pink in his excellent book Drive amongst others.
I have spoken to a number of very senior UK academics on this matter over the course of the past few months and also touched on it at my recent TEDx talk in Warwick (academic journal pay-walls - booo).
There is a feeling that the academic community is actively discouraged (directly and indirectly) from carrying out work that will actually help the business practitioner. This happens, at least at a certain level, thanks to the ranking system that is used to rate academic journals. This is heavily skewed towards the academic subject itself and future citation recognition for the academics and their parent organisations rather than on the potential implications/impact on professional practice. We all know how important it is to work, research, and send our children to a good University and this little process forms a key part of the ranking criteria.
From the business perspective there equally seems to be limited interest from organisations in academic institutions that stretches beyond them providing well educated graduates.
I'm really concerned that, despite the current interest in this area from government and various task forces and proclamations, not to mention simple common sense about this, we have a very serious problem. The real problem is, thanks to this situation, there has been a vacuum created between the research and practice which has been filled by other, less rigorous, practices. Every day I read articles on LinkedIn or in practitioner journals about new techniques that will motivate your workforce, improve creativity, assist collaboration, change your culture or even measure the amount of magic sauce in the brains of your people (OK not the last one but a few people have come very close). In almost every case there is a lack of valid evidence that these techniques actually work. How can this be acceptable?
The story does not end there. Practitioners then go out and buy/use these products/methods and implement them. Then when they don't work they wonder why. Then, when they are told that there is not evidence for the efficacy of what they have spent thousands of pounds on working, they get even more entrenched in their belief that the should work and.......I'm ranting again, best I come back to this topic another time. Sorry.
It's time for a change don't you think?

On-line references (no pay-walls):

Thursday, 19 March 2015

For Goodness Sake Be Yourself

I was sitting in my local coffee shop yesterday enjoying my long black and croissant when my ears picked up on a conversation at the table across from me.  A girl of about 18 was sitting next to a chap wearing a tie and a clipboard.  This is how the conversation began by the man asking:

"So why are you interested in this apprenticeship at ?" 

"Well I feel that I have the necessary skills" replied the girl

"Oh good, what might they be?"

"I'm punctual, smart and really like to do my best in everything I do"

"Great" said the man ticking boxes on the form on his clipboard. "..this role pays £4 per hour, more than the minimum wage you know, and offers a great opportunity to work in a retail environment, I think you would really enjoy it at ".

"That sounds great, when can I start?" smiled the girl.

"Next Monday if that's ok? Oh and what are your interests?"

"Fine.  I really want to be a scientist....."

Arghhh. Take about going through the motions.  So much about this exchange bugs me.  Why on earth didn't he ask her about her interests at the beginning?  However, what really got my goat, in addition to the fact that she shouldn't have been there in the first place given her wish to be a scientist, was her stock answer, "I'm punctual, smart and really like to do my best in everything I do".  I wonder how many times that is rolled out at such interviews for roles as slaves for ?  

You can see the careers counsellor in the school office saying, "...now Kylie you must make sure you tell the interviewer that you are punctual, smart and really like to do your best in everything you do.  That's what every employer wants to hear".


NO IT'S NOT!!

Employers want to know about you, what your interests are, your attitudes, your experience and most of all your passions.  Next time, Kylie, be honest especially with yourself and don't follow the script given to you by some, going through the motions, "advisor".

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Does HR Transformation Really Need to Be Linked To Technology?

I have been a LinkedIn member for many years now and, for most of that time, I have fond it to be a useful way to have an up-to-date CV readily available as well as a nice way to keep in touch with former colleagues and clients.  However, of late I have noticed more and more updates and articles suggesting that this company or that business have all the answers to your HR transformation needs.  Almost every one of these is linked to technology either directly or indirectly (you just have a look at who the person offering sage advice works for i.e. it is usually a technology company offering professional services).

Now this is fine and HR systems can cut costs, streamline processes and (occasionally) improve the service that HR provides to its customers.  However, are we not guilty of using a hammer to crack a nut here?  These HR systems cost a lot of money, indeed it is not unusual for them to cost as much as a couple of good Barcelona football players!  It has often struck me as odd that organisations seem to be happy to spend millions of pounds on HR systems claiming that they are "transforming" their HR services rather than spending a fraction of the money on their people (training, personal development, reward strategies etc)?  I would be willing to bet that the later would produce a better and more effective type of transformation.


Underneath all of this are some hugely challenging issues.  The commercial focus of the vendors often means that they cannot afford to advise organisations transparently.  Many of us, when working as business consultants, have fallen foul of the managing partner and his push for "...the link to technology - we have a sales target to meet...".  Indeed I have, on a number of occasions, been told to drop relationships with clients because they would never produce the £x million pipeline we needed from them.  Indeed, on one occasion, I was explicitly told not to talk to the client about alternatives to technology, alternatives which were much cheaper and more likely to help with the desired transformation.  At the end of the day I maintained (and maintain) my relationships with the client and not the vendor and the client didn't buy the expensive technology.

Lessons?  Technology is a useful and sometimes powerful enabler of HR transformation but beware of vendors selling solutions to problems you didn't realise you had.  Get to know your technology and professional services partners and really understand their commercial models and motivations and then begin the conversation about transformation.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Brain Soup - Cooking Up a Magic Number


I'm on a bit of a mission right now where I am trying to seek out and find evidence for many of the ideas and "facts" (especially numbers) used in the leadership and personal development community.  One of my favourite questions is:"how many neurons are there in the human brain?".  The answers given to this vary wildly but the favourite seems to be 100 billion.  In this TED talk neuroscientist Suzana Herculando-Houzel investigates this question and comes up with a tasty solution and a new magic number.


Friday, 25 July 2014

The Indiana Jones Approach to Your Career Development (and avoiding teenage angst)

I remember being 16 and sitting in a windowless room at my school in Carluke (Lanarkshire, Scotland) with the school career advisor.  She was a middle age lady with messy hair who clearly wasn't much interested in me or my future career. As if reading from a script she said "...I think you should get an apprenticeship at Ravenscraig as a turner or draughtsman...".   Now the "Craig", as we all knew it, was a great place  (long gone and much missed steel works); my Grandfather worked there and a couple of my friends were keen to do apprenticeships. However, this suggested career direction didn't make any sense to me.  I was studying the 3 sciences, was hopeless at mathematics (I got a C "twice" in my exams) and metal work and technical drawing were terrible distant memories - of confusion, nasty teachers and failure.  Why on earth would I want to be an engineer?

Despite my reservations, I felt I had no options and was on the verge of filling in the application forms.  Fortunately my Grandfather was on hand to steer me clear of this nonsense and I went on to study for a science degree.  I was reflecting on this recently and wondered what would have happened if I had gone to the Craig?  There would be a good chance that I'd still be an engineer (a bad one) and an even better chance that I would be miserable.

This made me think - I wonder how many of us are locked into careers thanks to decisions taken by our teenage selves?  Would you take a 16 year old's advice on what to do for the rest of your life?  I certainly wouldn't have taken my advice!

This sort of thinking has had an impact on me and the advice I have given to clients for many years now. Finding your passion is often difficult and certainly wasn't easy nor clear for me.  I hated psychology at College and it was only when I met yet another mentor, Professor D.L. Gardner of the Pathology Department at Edinburgh University, that I realised I had a lot to learn about myself and, most importantly of all, about learning.
The good news is, it's never too late to find your passion and if you look hard enough you will find it. I frequently challenge people to think about the question:

"for whom do you work?"

How people answer this question and how well they understand the consequences of their answer, the more exciting the outcomes can be.   Often this acts as a catalyst for a period of serious reflection (involving a lot of personal-life archaeology - hence the article title), soul searching and in some cases it has even lead to resignations!

The good news is that many of my clients (and myself) have managed to find their passion and my friends, who as teenagers actually had an aptitude and passion for engineering are still engineers and happy to be so.  Other friends, family and clients haven't been so lucky and are stuck in jobs they feel they have to stay in given the life investment (sunk costs) they have made in their careers - "...at least I get a good pension eh?"!!

The lessons? - beware making teenage mistakes for the rest of your life, it's never too late to change and make sure you get help from a mentor(s) when faced with life changing decisions.

Sculpture Consulting 
was founded by Scott McArthur and his partner Samantha Barklam 4 years ago. Sculpture's aim is to inspire people to think differently about themselves and change. To meet the team and experience their methods please come along to Sculptures's first public event, The ZONE - the work you were born to do, which will be held on the 12th September 2015 in Stratford Upon Avon.

Dogs, Bears and Magic Numbers (INCOSE Keynote 2014)

Here is my recent keynote  for INCOSE (in a couple of formats) which took place in Vegas in July:


Full presentation can be viewed here:

To those of you who were attendance - thanks very much for all the great feedback, glad you got so much from the session - it was a privilege to work with you.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Find Your Purpose @ "The Zone"

I'm delighted to confirm that we will be running "The Zone" in the Rosebird Centre in Stratford Upon Avon on the 11th & 25th of September and on the 9th of October.

Join us for some insight into the fascinating world of behavioural economics, career development and organisational magic.

This trilogy of events is designed to help you find your personal "Zone" and so help you love your work and blur the lines between work and play.

 £40 for 3 sessions or £15 for single sessions (students, the unemployed and pensioners, donation only). Limited to 30 places.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Disastrous Consequences of Focus - A Case for Non-Peer Review?


I was given the opportunity to provide a keynote speech at this years INCOSE (The International Council on Systems Engineering) International Symposium in Las Vegas.  The focus of my talk was on the challenges that systems engineers face in successfully implementing large scale change programmes.  Although focused, during the keynote, on systems engineering the challenges are without question universal.

One of the key messages we discussed was based on the work of Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons and their classic piece of psychological research on selective attention and framing described in The Invisible Gorilla which suggests that:

"...our minds don't work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we're actually missing a whole lot"

Selective attention is demonstrated brilliantly in this video experiment:


To emphasise just how important it is to bear this aspect of human behaviour in mind I told the fateful story of flight 401 in which an Eastern Air Lines flight crashes due to the human consequence of a $12 light bulb failure.

Whilst approaching JFK airport the pilots notice that an undercarriage dashboard indicator light fails to come on when they lower the aircraft undercarriage.  Having consulted air traffic control the pilot decides to switch to autopilot and to circle the airport and then, with his co-pilot's help, to fix the offending bulb.  They focus on the problem, so much so that they fail to notice that the pilot has accidentally knocked off the autopilot with his elbow. So focused are that they miss a land proximity alarm (which can be clearly heard on the black box recording of the incident).  Too late the pilots notice the plane's altitude and they crash with the loss of 200 lives.


When applied to the work environment (and to life generally) this story provides a very serious lesson for those looking for opportunity and innovation.  Simply put, what you are looking for may be right in front of you but you are so distracted by your sales targets, bosses behaviour, personal issues, bonus scheme etc. that you fail to see the real opportunity.


I will return to this theme and discuss what strategies you can adopt to help you spot your own gorillas.  However, what it immediately made me wonder was, is there a case here for the introduction of non-peer review?  The point being - if we seek feedback on our ideas, business plans, research etc. only from like minded colleagues and professional peers are we in danger of missing opportunities?

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

You Think HR Is "Soft" Stuff - Imagine If Numbers Could Think

I'm often asked what it's like working in the "soft" side of business.  If you have ever asked me this you know how robust my response can be....this prezi screenshot from one of my keynotes is a good starter for 10 if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Problems at Work? You Have An Ostrich Problem

In the past year a significant proportion of the things I have been asked to help with have been to resolve issues between parties where their relationships are in trouble. In the majority of cases, after some investigation and thought, most of these issues were found to be down to what I call "little niggles" which have resulted from a "moment". That "moment" could have been a conversations that didn't go well, a misunderstanding of the contractual relationship and in some cases, hearsay. The resulting relationship niggles are at best annoying but at their worst they can be very expensive, putting multi-million pound contracts at risk. 

Bill Kahn, organizational psychologist at Boston University's School of Management suggests that there is a sequence of events that leads up to these "niggles" which he calls the Ostrich Effect.


The basic sequence he proposes is this:

1. People have difficult moments with one another
2. Something about those moments makes them anxious
3. People avert their gazes from the source of their discomfort
4. They fasten instead upon compelling distractions that allow them to express emotions triggered by the difficult moments—but not have to deal with those emotions or moments
5. This sets in motion waves of counterfeit problems among people whose sources and solutions remain unknown
6. People then work on the wrong problems, which escalate and spread to involve others.

The sequence, claims Kahn, transforms ordinary problems into unsolvable ones.

I think this is a really interesting insight and in particular the "compelling distractions" idea. I'm testing this by using this structure to get the route causes of some of my client's issues.  Thus far it has proven useful and we have made some progress.  The next stage is to work out what to do about it?

Monday, 2 December 2013

What can HR learn from Sales and Marketing ?

In this 15 minute interview Neil Rackham (of SPIN selling fame) discusses the changing landscape for those of us involved in selling.  It struck me as I was watching this that those of us involved in HR could learn a lot from his straightforward approach to selling products and services.


 

The video encouraged me to think through some steps for an HRD to ponder before their next meeting with the CEO:

1. Write down at least three potential problems which your business may have and which HR might solve.
2. Write down some actual Problem Questions that you could ask to uncover each of the potential problems you’ve identified.
3. Ask yourself what difficulties might arise for each problem. Write down some actual Implication Questions that might get the prospect to see the problem as large and urgent to solve.
4. Write down three Need Questions for each implication.

If you want to know more detail about SPIN have a look here

Friday, 18 January 2013

Gamification - that's the name of the game HR

I have to be honest and say that I am seriously excited about the potential for the use of games in the HR field. Gamification is the use of game-thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts in order to engage users and solve problems. There seems to be the beginning of movement developing lead by the likes of Professor Byron Reeves and supported with some excitement by Gartner, Deloitte, NixonMcInnes etc. etc. Here is a short video by Professor Reeves:




Virtually all areas of business could benefit from gamification as it can help to achieve three broad business objectives 1) to change behaviour; 2) to develop skills; or 3) to enable innovation.

Changing Behaviours
- The most common use of gamification is to engage a specific audience and encourage them to change a target set of behaviours. By turning the desired behaviour change into a game, people become engaged and encouraged to adopt new habits. For example:

• Brands can leverage gamification to engage consumers to better understand their products, and become advocates for the brand to provide product endorsements, and drive customer loyalty.
• Companies can use gamification to improve employee performance and to motivate adoption of new business processes.

Developing Skills - Gamification is increasingly being used in both formal education and in corporate training programs to engage students in a more immersive learning experience. While many approaches are being used, they can generally be divided into two categories:

• Building a game layer (more on what this means coming soon) on top of the lesson material, where competition and/or collaboration between students is encouraged with game mechanics such as points for actions, badges for rewards and leader boards for competition.

• Turning the lesson into a game, where in addition to the game layer of points and badges, simulation and animation is used to immerse the students in the environment and allow them to practice new skills in a safe, virtual environment that provides immediate feedback.

Enabling Innovation - Innovation games are typically structured quite differently than games designed to change behaviour or develop skills. Innovation games use emergent game structures that provide the goals, rules, tools and play space for the players to explore, experiment, collaborate and solve problems. Innovation games generally use game mechanics to create a more engaging experience, but the key is to engage lots of players, solving problems through crowdsourcing.

 As I said earlier, I'm really excited about this new field and about its potential for HR professionals. However, a word of warning; Gamification is not easy. According to Gartner 80% of current applications will fail to meet business objectives largely due to poor design. In the past 12 months I have spent time developing a relationship with games organisation Quota in the delivery of Sales Force Development solutions. The potential results for HR professionals and their organisations are immense but - I promise - so is the learning curve!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Importance of Seeing Things As Others See Them

This presentation focuses on what I call the "Golden Rule of Communication". It's a much talked about theme, but one which many many companies and leaders seem to forget when they are communicating to their people.


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Good Day at Work Annual Conference 2012

I am going to be chairing a session at this tremendous conference on the 1st of November.

If you are interested in well-being at work please come along and hear from the likes of Will Hutton, Cary Cooper and John Timpson.
 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Twitter In Real Life

I use Twitter and, of late, I get something out of it....but when you think about it sometimes it's just daft


I'm on Twitter as @Scott_McArthur follow me if you dare.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Now Is Bright

I love this little story about what makes now such a good time to be alive.