Can we be risk savvy and reference class forecast cost?

Another reflection of what it is to be Risk Savvy, in the context of RCF

This blog is a first look at the psychological aspects of Reference Class Forecasting and how this relates to Project Management. I link this blog to several papers and contemporary academic debates that sit central to the direction project management betterment is being directed toward. These initial source flags simply highlight the contemporary nature of current debate which in some quarters may be represented as definitive truth.

This is prompted by a line in Gerd Gigerenzer’s 2014 book Risk Savvy, and a passing comment I am yet to better source. This suggestion that his perspectives differ significantly from Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Given the central theme Kahneman and Tversky play in the papers introducing Reference Class Forecasting to Project Management, these two perspectives may guide my own research better in whether one perspective can inform or must necessarily dispute the other.

Project Management and reference class forecasting – RCF

Whilst explaining some rudimentary mistakes in representing risk, Gigerenzer states the following, “left on their own people intuitively fill in a reference class to make sense for them” (pp3).

From a Project Management perspective the contemporary discussion on cost estimating is often framed around the concept of “reference class forecasting”. The Infrastructure and Projects Association (IPA) advocate this approach {click here and refer to slide 28}. Oxford Said have supported RCF and developed it into a meaningful betterment of government estimates of project cost, examples here are projects in Scotland and Hong Kong. RCF also has 21st Century and mainstream backing in psychology.

However, government advise has not been ubiquitous in its support. Note the reference here to a paper presented to a House of Commons select committee enquiry in 2019, sourced from the open records of an equivalent representative body in Newfoundland, Canada during the recent Muskrat Falls enquiry.

I remain undecided either way. I have had the privelege of attending several lectures by the Oxford Said Business School. One specifically outlined how RCF is being applied. The Gigerenzer perspective, and the RCF counter-narratives flagged here, present reason to keep asking what it is that drives our decisions. Is RCF sufficiently robust to enable defensive decision-making to be countered? Or are these two accounts compatible? Particularly if this reflects separate sets of variables and influences beyond optimism bias.

In this regard I see Gigerenzer presenting different dynamics to those of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, and the entire set of risks I believe RCF are intended to address. Both may therefore be correct, but neither complete. I will perhaps understand this better once a more complete review of the literature is undertaken.

v | b | t

Per my last blog, it is the Gigerenzer case that seems more compatible with what I am leading with, as possible root-cause. I am of the view that many of our project failings are not directly resulting from the estimates of cost, but more the divided motivations of employer and contractor that thereafter emerge. The human behaviour element, being the unaccounted for reality of colloquial decision-making motivations. This is my reason to think the Gigerenzer view to be at least as valid as the estimating bias being countered by RCF.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Defensive decision-making

Risk Savvy : how to make good decisions

by Gerd Gigerenzer (2014)

This blog introduces defensive decision-making and takes a look at a book that should be on everyone’s reading list. It presents a critical examination of our shared self-serving habits in decision-making. Our shared propensity to do what comes naturally to us all – be selfish – and ultimately be the cause of wider problems in the name of a common good. The blog ends with a question of how deeply embedded this concept may dwell.

Regardless of whether project, risk, or people management sits within the remit of your roles in life, we are all making daily decisions. As agents of time-bound intended change I would argue our decisions are tightly connected within the bounds of projects, risk, and people. Projects | within projects.

Gerd Gigerenzer is a Professor of Psychology. Formerly at the University of Chicago; formerly Director (and now Emeritus Professor) of Max Planck Institute of Human Development; and founder of Simple Rational : Decision Institute, a name that corresponds to his 2015 book “Simply Rational – Decision-making in the real world”.

Gerd Gigerenzer, if Wikipedia were to be your guide, is labelled as a critical opponent of the Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky world of decision bias. To my mind that is a little too polarising. I have found plenty of room to apply the work of both. I am however also minded to make more of this comparison at a future moment of blogging research interest.

Several key concepts within Risk Savvy are introduced in this blog. I recommend this book for its psychological intrigue, just as enthusiastically as the Professor of Project Management who first recommended it to me. All page references hereunder are from Gigerenzer (2014).

What is it to be “risk savvy”

Gigerenzer presents the term “risk savvy” to mean our ability to actively apply risk literacy coupled with a wider skill to bridge the inevitable gap between knowledge and the unknown. An inevitable unknown, and therefore incalculable (pp3). He contends that as a society we lack this literacy, and use a flawed logic and language to erroneously overcome the unknown.

…as a percentage of what?

Gigerenzer tells us that when we are told there is a percentage chance of an event, we will each artificially add the subject matter to which this event is referring – when it is not explicitly offered. Gigerenzer offers a weather forecast example “tomorrow there is a 30% chance of rain”. He argues that to some this will mean 30% of the region in question will have rain. Some that 30% of the day will be rain effected. How we define what rain is, may vary. Others may consider this percentage a confidence level of the certainty that it will or will not rain e.g. three forecasters have said it will, seven forecasters have said it will not.

To counter the reference class error, he advocates always asking for a clarification of the reference class being framed i.e., “as a percentage of what?” (pp7). He distinguishes “absolute” from “relative” comparisons, in the context of change from one state to another. Healthcare being particularly guilty in this regard. By example the emotive response to being told a the chance of side effects in a new drug is 100% greater than before vs 1 in 10,000 is now 1 in 5,000 people are reported to have side effects.

A helpful rule, ask “as a percentage of what?”. Gigerenzer offers many pithy questions to pose throughout the book. These become tools in the decision-makers tool box of heuristics or the “adaptive toolbox” pp115-117

Adaptive tool box

A contemporary example from our Covid19 era

I offer another healthcare example (click here). In this example a risk of viral infection is presented a percentage but with not explanation as to reference class, “as a percentage of what?”. Our most contemporary science papers and government advice shown to be presenting percentage without clarity of to what these percentage refer.

The fallacy of the plan

Gigerenzer offers us a joke. On page 18, data driven certainty is presented as an illusion sold by readers of tarot cards disguised as algorithms. It is page 20 that he recites what he sources as an old Yiddish joke “do you know how to make God laugh, tell him your plans”. There are comparison I could make here to the difference between the High Reliability Organisation that is focused upon training and an informed, adaptive, and empowered work force, to the more typically hierarchical and business continuity planning approach to major event planning.

Instead, Gigerenzer spends thirty example rich pages presenting how decision-making by experienced people will out-perform decisions supported by the ill-defined parameters of detailed calculations. Rule of thumb intuitions (page 29) to which his adaptive tool box later becomes the store (page 115). The Turkey illusion of being more certain of safety the longer all is well (page 39) becomes the metaphorical explanation for why Value at Risk (VaR) becomes fallacious in the face of more significant events than the system within which it operates have defined.


Here are a selection of other helpful rules of thumb tools from pp116-121
  •  “hire well, let them do their job”
  • “decentralised operation and strategy”
  • “promote from within”
  • “Listen, then speak”
  • “nothing else matters without honesty and trustworthiness.”
  • “Encourage risks, empower decisions and ownership”
  • “Innovate to succeed”
  • “Judge the people not just the plan”
  • “mirror pecking orders to sell based on past sales”
  • “it’s never revenge”
  • “the more precise, the less transferable the rule”
  • “Less is more”

Luck and guess work

He brings our attention to Gestalt Psychology which continues to reformulate problems until the solution becomes more easily found. This proceeds to the necessary guess-work and illusory clarity we use from a young age to short-cut or simply make possible the learning of language. Not by word by word memory but by rules we learn via mistakes and slowly bettering our application in everyday use. He presents our innate ability to make guesses in other areas too. This section points out (page 49) that without error we have no learning. Furthermore without the possibility of risk bringing unexpected cross-overs there is no serendipitous discovery.

Defensive Decision Making

These examples are the early introductory remarks to introduce the concept of the defensive decision maker.

if its life or death make sure it includes your own

He presents the comparable cases of doctors and pilots and the interest in the safety checks, lessons learnt culture, and scrutiny towards change driven by cost in two similarly professional, skilled, and high pressure jobs. Various examples demonstrate the priority and insistence, and resistance to compromise, toward controls and procedures in the pre-action and post-action stages. His point being that regardless of what we may think it is to be professional, decisions become more personal and effort more willingly expended when it is your welfare at risk too.

On page 50 we are introduced to blame culture and the premise of no errors flagged, no learning or early correction possible. This exemplified as the typical pilots vs doctors enthusiasm or not for checklists. This becomes a question of motivation born out of self-interest. By page 55 this has been expanded into a wider set of defensive decision-making principles which I think we can all know as true from our own experiences and those we witness. The “we need more data”, or “don’t decide and so don’t get blamed”; or “recognition heuristics” for example choosing the bigger name is easier to defend even if it is the lesser choice. The point is all of these self-serving decisions become the means to evade accountability. In leadership I think this is everywhere, and in the context of blame, we are all at fault every time we ignore the challenges faced and just demand the head of whoever was last to duck.

I have much to introduce on this concept. In Gigerenzer, the psychological reflections upon how this is inherently wound into risk and the self-serving behaviour we all find ourselves guilty, seems to me a powerful reflection of every headline in the news. That includes the motivations for those headline chasing interests themselves, and every blame transferring opportunity we each read them in hope to find.

How deep, or how low, can we go?

My questions are many. But one I am pondering right now is can this be a little closer to a universally applicable source of our failings as whole societies. In the project language I am attempting to introduce, it reflects our interfaces, our lack of being mode, the distant we try to create between ourselves and necessary action, and the separated motivations we then each stand behind. Every time we let our singular interest in visibility | behaviour | trust defend our own needs at the expense of others, we create a project of self-interest, with its own reasons to justify a truth. This project of self-interest sitting primary and priority to others we may subscribe. The more projects | within projects we permit by the self-serving interests of our controls, the more defensive decision-making we can permit to stand.

visibility | behaviour | trust

To my way of thinking, this is precisely why we have no trust in each other. Why visibility becomes centred upon ourselves. It becomes our justification for behaving badly towards others. We divide ourselves, by the singular interests of our individual projects. We selfishly allow controls to exist that support the same. We elect leaders who advocate more of the same or we ignore them completely and just do as we please.

Perhaps the following contemporary examples can be related to this propensity to make defensively minded decisions, or blame those who do when we would do the same? The current queues for petrol; the positions we take on whether wealth or health should be Covid19s first response; the blame we put upon impotent government; the despair at a headline chasing press; the divides in our society and across borders; the self-serving politics and back-biting distractions, the executive bonus’ that go unchecked or the trade union disruptions on spurious grounds of safety; the constant erosions of interest in our schools, our hospitals, and our distant kin; the loss of interest by those who can afford it, and collective despair by those that cannot.

We are all defensive decision-making machines and we are all playing the zero sum game. As I return to university with psychology at my fingertips, I am wondering how deep this may go. Are we each even fooling ourselves, with defensive decision-making within that goes largely unseen.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Introductions have changed

Because university is about taking safe risks

This is the introductory video I have just posted within my distant learning shared space with fellow students. Lockdown, distant learning, time zones constraints, all reflecting 21st Century challenges and opportunity to experiment in relative safety. In about a minute we were each asked to introduce your why in psychology.

An introductory experiment

Can two messages be offered together, one per mode of communication?

I took a few risks here. One of early transparency in offering more information than people needed to know. But it seemed contextually relevant – this is a psychology course after all.

The next risk was sailing as close to the boundary of the brief as I dared. Video format was required – but I decided that didn’t mean I had to be in it, just the subject of interest.

The final risk was the experiment. A double up of the content in the time frame. Could I sneak two messages into one. From my first MSc, a module on Visualisation of data introduced us to the work Edward Tufte, one of the stalwarts and pioneers of the craft. My professor taught us to be bold and to present as much as can be understood in the space; Tufte taught me that using two modes for one data representation was a waste. Why therefore feel compelled to use visual and sound mediums to convey the same thing? The answer is of course that the density and comparison offered can become confused, and all can be lost. As this was a brief message, and as I suspect all can listen then watch, or watch and then listen, I could leave it to the user to decide if either or neither message could be followed via watching, or listen, and maybe both.

There are no marks awarded for this presentation. So my only real risk is one of reputation, or confusion, or both. All are retrievable, or perhaps rightly earned, so I dared to be different in a control environment in which I immediately feel safe (per the lessons from sociology via Tracy Brower, that I blogged at length about yesterday and the day before).

Subscribe here if you would like to be receive my daily blog updates as I straddle consulting, university, lockdown, and life.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Secrets at work (happiness)

Tracy Brower PhD – a blogger of note

In this note, I present a body of blog materials that I have enjoyed reading immensely. I have summarised many of the blogs, and used my categorisations of v | b | t to create a reference note I can revisit and reuse. This note is wholly adapted from this blog series. I would recommend everyone visit the complete series at some length and at leisure. Links to both original author and all articles are embedded herein.

Tracy Brower is a PhD sociologist writing regular blogs on workplace related issues, and the relationship between employer, employee, and the effectiveness and well-being of both. Happiness is never far from subject matter, and I have had a happy 48 hours reviewing these blogs. The back catalogue of blogs is a treasure trove of clear concepts and ideas | great sharing of research and contemporary theory around behavioural science | and backed by trusted sources of research and enquiry.

Tracy Brower‘s Forbes blog begins in December 2018. I wanted to capture as much insight as I could from these blogs, and my Sunday became Monday and was in danger of becoming Tuesday, as I reviewed each blog and realised how much could better inform my research. My summarising was best served in the WordPress templates, so this has evolved into this blog.

From a research perspective this note is an example of how I summarise the more influential articles, journals, or books I read. It is rare to find so much goodness in one place. I anticipate any future generalising and theming or subcategorising I do here – specific to v | b | t – or its eventual betterment – will include a revisiting of these notes. It will also prompt further reading of wider cross-references made.

Presented in reverse chronology. Each article is presented as following the same subcategorising:

{title, date, link}; {context}; Visibility as…- Behaviour as….- Trust as…

Knowledge Is Power, But Not In The Way You Think, Dec 2018.  Information Density as v | b | tVisibility as “radical transparency” as the number of people who can actively engage with information – Behaviour as the number of people in real time able to base decisions upon it – Trust as the openness of Leadership to share, in near real time, with attention to ease of understanding, acuity, engagement, and transient ease of flow.

Don’t be a hero: a new take on teamwork, January 2019. Teamwork not heroes as v | b | t Visibility of the whole endeavour by all involved and a shared success witnessed beyond the team – Behaviour as the means to ensure realised value and role importance to all – Trust in each other and of the team built upon prior achievements “even with team members who haven’t worked together before”.

Want More Innovative Solutions? Start With Empathy, January 2019. Creativity nurturing as v | b | t – Visibility of creativity in a way that results in innovations people will adopt – Behaviour reflecting upon the 2/3rds of people admitting to not living up to their creative potential; idea exchange being nurtured by frameworks and workspaces focused upon user experience and need – Trust as necessarily creating psychological safe space for community belonging, and thinking, to thrive.

Give To Get: Sensing, Tracking And Your Privacy, February 2019. Appropriate privacy as v | b | tVisibility as the greater acuity offered by tech vs the hidden aggregations and uses of data behind the tech – Behaviour as the give to get equation or having mode relationship between the user and their tech – Trust as the same give to get decision of having mode upside vs the potential for implied trust that may be abused

Attract And Retain Talent In One Of The Tightest-Ever Labor Markets: Here’s How March 2019. Moral rules split between v | b | tVisibility as witnessed fairness and equitable treatment of effort – Behaviour as creating the team environments, collaborations over corporate boundaries, enforcement of respectful cooperation, and an environment of mutual help – Trust as the strong relationships that then exist between parties, the safe space to take risks within capable range, the deference to experience not leadership when circumstance demands.

How Not To Get Stuck With All Your Team’s Work: When Less Is More, March 2019. Characteristics indicating a team is too big as v | b | t. Visibility as over-saturation, clarity of role and accountability, plus affirmed phenomena via overwhelmingly voluminous academic studies showing that innovation comes from smaller teams – Behaviour as too big a team enabling less ownership and presenting places to hide, remedied by less but more effective communication extended to outside the immediate team, skill adaptability to step in or diversify, enabling a team to evolve – Trust in each other as a shared and all inclusive evolving team ability, backed by training and wider support.

Four Ways Working With Others Can Help Bring Out Your Best, April 2019, Tapping into social instincts as v | b | t. Visibility as social facilitation as better performance from having to play to a crowd, and self-awareness by being witness to yourself – Behaviour as seeking to associate with colleagues who inspire you and get you to perform your best “go fast, go alone – go far, go together” – Trust as increased awareness of your reputation and acting toward accountability and contribution to the whole

Agile: Why Your Efforts Will Fail (And How To Make Them Succeed Instead), May 2019. Potential failing using Agile as v | b | t. Visibility as superficial understanding, and lack of attention to the collective effort required – Behaviour as failing to holistically apply Agile e.g., not committing to it fully; not orientated the whole organisation and internal parts to it; not training sufficiently to support the accountabilities involved – Trust as being misplaced if using Agile as a quick fix; expecting results too soon without supporting transitional need; thinking only in terms of sprints and not the marathon journey of change.

Why Your Intern Shouldn’t Make The Coffee: How To Create Meaningful Work, June 2019. Positive experiences with interns as v | b | t. Visibility as new perspective, contemporary knowledge, singular attention to a task; and offering a big picture view of the company they are interned to – Behaviour as being controlled via the boundaries set; empowered and task set that are able to be owned, shaped, influenced by them; challenging enough to be an accomplishment; necessarily relevant to require internal engagement with others – Trust as the clarity of the boundaries they are set, and the defined autonomy they therefore feel comfortable in.

New Requirements For Agile Leadership: How To Lead Differently For Agile Success, July 2019. Agile leadership as v | b | t. Visibility as valuing transparency of work, goals, and information; as measuring performance – Behaviour as being present but in a guidance not doing mode; retaining contact to clients; safely encourage risk taking; feedback, intervention, and celebration – Trust as an advocate for the team; ongoing interest in developing through increasing responsibility and accomplishment of each team member; and relevant challenge to the individuals whilst still accounting for the team.

Want Better Mental Health And Success At Work? Get A Goal, July 2019. Pursuing goals as v | b | t. Visibility as goal clarity via the focus on your why – Behaviour as incremental actions towards goals leading to increasing optimism – Trust as increased confidence that you are on the right path, and giving more grit and determination to maintain effort (even if progress is unexpectedly slow).

Want To Find Your Purpose At Work? Change Your Perceptions, August 2019. Changes to perception as v | b | t. Visibility as connecting to the bigger picture – Behaviour as reworking priorities and method of tasks; self-empowerment by being purposeful toward something bigger not simply having a role; finding the value and worth of the task, via its impact upon others; awareness of uniqueness you bring; being mindful of your value in all your capacities and contributions – Trust as a self respect and ownership of your dignity no matter the task at hand.

How To Thrive In A Job You Don’t Love: 7 Strategies, September 2019. Job satisfaction as v | b | t. Visibility as setting vision toward your next role – Behaviour as positive attitude and active patience; seek learning from adversity even if that is just a test of resolve; seek learning from the wider situation and setting of the company; channel extra energy toward a positive future goal – Trust as nurtured through support structures (i.e., friendships); as confidence in your ability to retain self-control.

Is Agile Really Worth It? Evidence Says Yes, If You Do These 4 Things. October 2019. Reasons for using Agile as v | b | t. Visibility as transparency of workload – Behaviour as people orientated; customer feedback driven; one sprint at a time, one project at a time; continuous learning – Trust as built within team continuity; familiarity of process by company-wide use.

How To Thrive At Work: 10 Strategies Based On Brain Science, November 2019. Brain science insights as v | b | t. Visibility as utilising natural light, to support melatonin suppressions post sleep – Behaviour as habits caused by screen time toward skimming or scanning text (because of internet usage) rewiring the brain (cf The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr); needing to actively seek distraction free places to relearn concentration and more considered empathy (cf Deep Work by Cal Newport); return to taking breaks, exercise and social interactions; find green spaces, light, ceiling height, views, and privacy – Trust as returning to more natural habits and less reliance upon artificial and technology solutions to problems technology creates.

Research Says People Can’t Change: How To Avoid Hiring Difficult People Through Successful Selection, November 2019. Recruitment efficacy as v | b | t. Visibility as a warning not to rely too heavily on our own perceptions; as a means to seek detailed responses, indicators, patterns, or demeanour; offering more information if settings can be varied to see socialised clues – Behaviour as habitually hard to change in some people; an inborn morally suspect pattern for some; – Trust as a lean towards the person, their enthusiasm, their future facing interest, and general fit toward a team; do not judge by qualifications.

Want To Be A Great Leader? How Cooperation, Sharing And Belonging Predict Success, November 2019. Cooperation in leadership as v | b | t. Visibility as being witnessed as a cooperative force; sharing information; sharing the authentic self; sharing the goal and long-term vision – Behaviour as cooperative default; sharing goals and spotlight; helping, belonging; – Trust as engendering a cooperative ethos with example being mimicked by the team; building understanding by being authentic

Getting What You Want At Work: 7 Strategies, December 2019. Ensuring personal needs are part of the plan as v | b | t. Visibility as clarity on what you want; clarity of priority of needs shared with the boss; awareness of alternative options – Behaviour as claiming back ownership for making your needs known; finding appropriate communication style; performing, seeking feedback and a mentor, patient but persistent – Trust as owned by you, demonstrated in your endeavours, and if necessary the resolve to exercise your own change.

Confidence Without Arrogance: Why You Should Stop Trying To Be The Smartest Person In The Room—6 Tips To Avoid The Arrogance Trap, January 2020. Confident not arrogant as v | b | t. Visibility as acuity toward signs of ill advised interference vs valued challenge – Behaviour as being not having; being present, receptive and actively seeking other ideas and understanding of other opinion and perspective; cooperative; challenging for sake of successful outcome not personal gratification; deference; respect; reciprocity; and equity – Trust as derived from ensuring psychological safety to be valued, respected and treated fairly.

Successful Change Management: 6 Surprising Reasons People Resist Change And How To Motivate Them To Embrace It Instead, February 2020. Managing Change as v | b | t. Visibility as clear future direction; clarity on impact to others; – Behaviour as addressing lost autonomy, saving face, security, competence and connections – Trust as understanding root-cause of resistance, openness to explain motivations; clarity of message and positive outcomes; enabling people to retain their dignity in the face of bad news.

When Fear Drives Us Apart: 6 Ways To Collaborate Rather Than Compete And Why It’s Important For Your Career, March 2020. Collaboration as v | b | t. Visibility as clear goals; feedback as a group not ranking against others; – Behaviour as actively avoiding making heroes; fostering team relationships; compete but beyond the team boundary; celebrate as a team; – Trust as building a collaboration (working together as a team), not just cooperative individuals (working with colleagues).

Communication Is More Important Now Than Ever Before: 9 Ways To Reassure And Re-Engage Your Team, March 2020. Leading in a crisis with reassuring communication as v | b | t. Visibility as clarity and factual focus; presenting the big picture – Behaviour as aiming to be relevant (succinct to the present need) and redundant (offering a message often enough to be certain it is understood); present means to be understanding, sensitive, and empathetic; pragmatic; seek to unify (always we) as a shared journey – Trust as the inspirational, engaged, and plan focused, voice of calm.

How To Thrive During The Pandemic: 10 Strategies For Resilience Based On Brain Science, April 2020. Resilience to adversity as v | b | t. Visibility as self-awareness to needs for connection, socialising, and perspectives that offer a positive long-term outcome – Behaviour as increased awareness and need for normalising habits (breaks, movement, natural light); acting with altruism and generosity for positive reactions in the brain – Trust as increased self-awareness and vigilance to your needs.

How To Sustain And Strengthen Company Culture Through The Coronavirus Pandemic, May 2020. Culture management as v | b | t. Visibility as leaders seen to be the single source of truth; articulating and validating culture; new challenges of managing behaviours at a distance you cannot see; visibly recognise actions of merit and hold accountable those that fail; open and transparent communication is culturally significant – Behaviour as defining culture; as managing behaviour shapes the culture, therefore values and norms come from reinforcing good, or tolerating bad; nurturing and investing in skills and training in ways that enable community, despite the distance; acknowledge natural leadership emerging and reinforce mentoring to foster new talents – Trust as the result of ensuring understanding by all, and minimising uncertainty or confusion; upholding values despite adversity.

HR’s Compelling New Role In Response To The Coronavirus, June 2020. Human Resources elevated role in times of adversity as v | b | t. Visibility as future of work vantage point and systemic viewpoint; source of people analytics, central repository of employee contracts and entitlements – Behaviour as impacting culture, guidance towards action decisions, and leadership support; talent strategy and implementations; engagement and inclusion; well-being assistance; governance and process support – Trust as supporting communication, policy development, empathy to needs and means to retain consistent responses to disciplinary process or intervention

Onboarding During The Pandemic: How To Give New Employees A Running Start, July 2020. Onboarding in a crisis as v | b | t. Visibility as access to people, information, tools and technology- Behaviour as enablers of social capital development and connectivity with colleagues, leaders, and mentors; be explicit with instructions and how critical controls apply, roles and responsibilities, swim lanes; ensure wider team awareness and need to include; training focus and regular enquiry; seeking new ways to ensure they can contribute; – Trust as presence, shared interest by wider team, explicit understandings, relationship building, and the immediate sense of team.

How To Manage The Work When You Can’t See People Working: 5 New Takes On Accountability, August 2020. Remote accountability as v | b | t. Visibility as recognition for reaching expectations or not; a means to reduce blind-spots via open sharing and wider impact awareness (cf. Johari Window) – Behaviour as a metric of feedback orientated towards success; – Trust as accountability serving fairness

When Bad News Is A Good Thing: 7 Reasons To Embrace Transparency, August 2020. Encourage Bad News as v | b | t. Visibility as demonstrating respect, and creating higher information density – Behaviour as empowering people to make informed choices or decisions; increasing productivity by reducing time needed to seek information or lose time or opportunity to act; greater adaptability and action orientated intervention- Trust as derived from enabling better understanding and psychological safety; enhanced commitment where both success and hard moments are shared.

How To Close The Distance On Remote Work: The Most Important Leadership Skill, August 2020. Being present at a distance as v | b | t. Visibility as a correlate to engagement with the team – Behaviour as responsiveness and accessibility in both mindset and means; acuity of capability and needs; finding means to engage with less set time via one-2-ones, calendar sharing, punctuality, set windows, immediate action focus, follow up emails to confirm – Trust as empowerment and increased responsibility within carefully set parameters and control

Everyday Kindness: How Small Acts Have Big Impact, September 2020. Kindness as v | b | t. Visibility as the witnessing of kindness being infectious; seeking perspectives of others; looking for and socialising examples of kindness – Behaviour as being present by tuning in and enabling spontaneity in gifting help; closing proximity by communicating and enquiring not just distantly observing and assuming; incremental steps of action, not significant steps as promises; be humble and vulnerable giving and accepting help without condition or expectation of return (cf. Rebecca Solnit “A paradise built in hell”); action orientated can mean not being afraid to lead or initiate action; build environments where the helpful is not just allowed by embraced – Trust as the collective sense of protection that results from a genuine shared concern for the collective wellbeing.

Working Remote: How To Build Trust From A Distance, September 2020. Modelling of the other from distance as v | b | t. Visibility as being open and transparent – Behaviour as means to build trust via open sharing, assume goodwill, remain present and available, be predictable and easy to read, be supportive, be selective, and hold people to account, acting with integrity – Trust as an instinctive tendency to believe, and a reciprocal tendency

Career Resilience: How Small Steps Can Lead To The Greatest Success, September 2020. Prospects management as v | b | t. Visibility as looking for ways to take initiative; be open and therefore visible in discipline to tasks; seek to grow network so this visibility is increased – Behaviour as being mode by focusing on current performance and avoiding too much time in owning past success; be present by aiming to be consistent, dependable, reliable; aiming for incremental betterment but emergent from, not instead of, current responsibilities; take initiative; manage your moments not other peoples expectations – Trust as the resultant authentic you, both the trust in yourself and the trust that others will come to portray in you.

Exhausted By Networking: 7 Ways To Keep Going In Your Job Search, September 2020. Consistent networking as v | b | t. Visibility as the reward to putting yourself out there; as the changing perspective it is affording you; and clarifying your aims and seeing clearer intent or goals – Behaviour as the changing mindset networking is instilling; adopting Robert Frost’s “the best way is always through” which is action orientated and therefore being mode; becoming not owning by being future focused not just having a past; learning new ways to be effective and achieving more impact by strategic engagement not just volume; self-management by time, planning, and giving account of realistic aims; owning your own psychological safety by the vigilance and relevance of meetings and avoiding too much acting or show; self-improvement by constantly reaching towards the edge of ability and the resulting incremental growth – Trust as the authenticity that comes from belonging and engaging in meaningful and wholesome ways

Study Shows People Prefer Robot Over Their Boss: 6 Ways To Be A Leader People Prefer, October 2020. Better leadership as v | b | t. Visibility as being seen as a supportive and unbiased lens; transparency in your own motives and wider overall goals; – Behaviour as being objective and less quick to pass judgment; efficient with follow-up action and prioritising, work-load management of self and others; actively identify, manage, and defend boundaries of work-life balance, people, process, roles, technology and systems; being the means to connect better solutions rather than trying to always be the problem solver – Trust as impartiality and bringing less personal bias and self-interest into discussion, behaviour, and thought

Bad Bosses: When Good Intentions Go Wrong And 5 Ways To Lead Well, October 2020. Better leadership as v | b | t. Visibility as observing the bad boss to better understand boundaries of good practices gone bad – Behaviour as selective and genuine encouragement; as giving controlled enthusiasm as consistently needed not as less unpredictably felt; gifting personal empowerments, flare and creativity, but with attention to boundaries and control; generous in other person, or team, recognitions – Trust as reflected in the present and accomplished leader, able to apply leadership learning, not simply demonstrate its good intent.

Virtual Communication: The One Thing You Can Do To Be More Effective, October 2020. Communicating at distance as v | b | t. Visibility as acknowledging less regular interactions means less visibility of what is really going on and therefore seeking out more information; – Behaviour as acknowledging new situations takes longer for everyone so create the time for communication; new needs more communication so encourage more of it and do more of it; curbing the attribution error of other owned blame, particularly the tendency to jump to conclusions when non-verbal clues are no longer available e.g., no camera may mean a rambunctious puppy in the background not a lazy start to their day; create environments fitting to the communications available e.g., more space complimented by set times for discussions that, in an office, would just happen naturally; be intentionally more empathetic to make up for the lesser time available to pick up on non-verbal clues; be more forgiving; find new ways to build relationships – Trust as a potentially stronger bond when forged in moments of shared hardship or endeavour.

How To Build Community And Why It Matters So Much, October 2020. Community building as v | b | t. Visibility as clarity and reminder of the shared purpose; the shared vision of the collaborative cathedral builders not the cooperating brick layers; shared business literacy and therefore broader context – Behaviour as playing to natural strengths and human social needs; encourage proactivity and impactful experience; actively maintaining a dialogue and contact, including regular one-2-ones, and seek dense interactions (cf. the economic journal); encourage others to build and bring their social capital with them; decision-making with empathy is best (cf. Journal of Neuroscience); seeking new learning and ability stretch both of yourself and encouraging others to do the same, if no-one is making mistakes then either a team is under-reaching or under-reporting; build the career space for others but also hold them accountable for their performance and how they contribute to that of others; – Trust as the shared purpose and contribution; kinship and psychological safety; and shared journey of evolution; not the personal gain towards revolution.

Is Your Workplace Toxic Or “Just” High Pressure? 10 Ways To Know, November 2020. Busy vs toxic as v | b | t. Visibility as clarity of a bigger picture and how you fit in or being in the dark on priorities or the bigger why; everyone can reveal their imperfections and ask for help vs everyone pretends to be perfect , hides deficiency, i.e., the fake it to make it is wall to wall – Behaviour as appreciative or forever demanding more; working in an arena of openness, sharing or secrecy, hidden agenda, and subterfuge; freedom to speak and be heard or required to silently comply; feedback is open and constructive or managed through back-channels or aimed at you and not with you at all; task delegations are on need and edges of capability, vs loaded to the willing with others allowed to do nothing at all; is there respectful humour or angst and tears in the air; is a heavy workload relieved with a break or it deemed to never end – Trust as fair and all together toward one goal or divisive, elitist, and hidden motive; is there enough balance and support to allow short periods of exhaustively busy or is it relentless and as if you’re on your own.

How To Focus On Your Work When There’s So Much Going On, November 2020. as v | b | t. Visibility as clarity of your own values, priorities, and roles; as seeking wider opinion – Behaviour as permission to start with you and acknowledging you must be operating effectively to be the positive influence others need; be mindful of your own contribution and its impact upon that of others; seek the learning experiences from adversity and use the openness in seeking wider points of view; be future focused and therefore contribution lead; apply these same empathies to colleagues and be present to the changing energies they may expend or consume – Trust as a confidence in the return to control, more certainty, and clarity, and the mutual strength of relationships new and old in these harder times.

How To Stay Connected When Everything Is Working Against You, November 2020. Connectivity through adversity as v | b | t. Visibility as identifying better with shared purpose – Behaviour as making decisions that equate to giving more (cf. Journal of Neuroscience) and greater generosity in general; sharing experience in groups; be a connector and creating groups to combine ideas; be tenacious and direct it towards retaining and growing your network; be connected to yourself using social activities to combine the two – Trust as a built community to which you contribute, foster, and belong.

How To Tell If The Company Culture Is Right For You, November 2020. Cultural fit as v | b | t. Visibility as awareness of the culture and your own needs; greater perspective by knowing the vision and direction of travel of both; clarity of success towards these goals is measured; gaining information of culture from those promoted in its image; seeking perspective by comparison to wider market and customer base – Behaviour as an indicator of culture: decision speed showing adaptability or lack of control; decision making empowered and overseen and near the action, or hierarchically made at distance; managing uncertainty with more enquiry or adaptive action; reliance upon policy and process in siloes or supported by process in the hands of capable and high performing teams; conflict management transparency and focus upon process, task, or issue vs supporting hidden agenda, positions, people, or traits; ideas generation origins are they everywhere or reliant upon the few; training and wider learning, is it structured, consistent, and relevant vs ad hoc, reactive, ticking a corporate box; learning, is it everywhere and by everyone vs private, secret, offline; network, is social capital acknowledged, nurtured, and encourage vs divisive and self-serving; diversity vs clones; fair delegations, accountabilities, flexibilities vs favouritism and an elite – Trust as the faith in the culture or the excuse

Want To Love Your Work? These Are The 6 Colleagues You Must Have In Your Network, December 2020. People to network with as v | b | t. Visibility as feedback as seen through the eyes of the critic; feedback and perspective from the lifer colleague who has seen all sides of you; perspective from the distant colleague who will have a less bias and a more objective point of view – Behaviour as encouraged by the cheerleader; betterment by learning from your opposite i.e., the behaviours of your foil; own your psychological safety by finding the safe-haven confidante; – Trust as the more rounded you emerging from this more diverse multi-points of view.

Leading Change: 10 Ways Great Leaders Make Change Happen, January 2021. Leading change as v | b | t. Visibility as presenting a compelling picture of what the future can be; as clarity of expectations; as being seen – Behaviour as authenticity; as a set of witnessed behaviours others can model themselves upon; as proactivity in support, personal investment in the success of the change, and being present to the evolving and future need; being an educator, mentor, and builder of environments to progress and share success; being accountable, measurable, predictable, and firm – Trust as built from inclusivity and personal empowerment

What People Want: What Leaders Get Wrong And How To Be More Right, January 2021. Leadership errors as v | b | t. Visibility as an awareness of the different motives of leaders and those they lead; being vigilant to surprises; posing more questions to inform decisions; different opinions; whilst keeping the big picture in the minds of all – Behaviour as a more other focused perspective of leaders – addressing cognitive bias – by prioritising the needs of those they depend; notably safe space to support collaborations and enable focus; being more prepared to enact change where employees needs are no longer addressed by the status quo – Trust as built through engagement, being given a voice and being heard.

Want To Grow Your Career? 6 Surprising Ways To Write Your Future, January 2021. Revisiting the handwritten word as v | b | t. Visibility as a more memorable experience for the reader; written thought requires more precision and therefore clarity; handwritten notes can also reflect deeper personality traits – Behaviour as a more active orientated learning and taking advantage of haptics (touch and motion perception) which increasing brain areas involved and therefore retention; regular writing improves the ability to communicate; – Trust as a personal clarity of analytical thought.

The Future Of Work Will Demand These 8 New Skills, February 2021. Future work needs as v | b | t. Visibility as increased range of information gather, keeping current, and making sense of it all – Behaviour as training the brain to be more comfortable with ambiguity; expanding range of interests and pattern recognition; increased empathy to support increased entrepreneurial need; resilience and means to reinvent based upon the increased visibility actively sought; greater creativity, optimism, and imagination, from the increased information and regularity of review; increasing relationship building and rapport from increased focus on social capital; action orientated, join in, participate, and get things done – Trust as derived from a constant preparation and readiness; the countermeasure to echo chamber information sources by engaging in discourse to learn better the validity of opinion opposing your own.

Leadership Mistakes Can Derail Innovation: Here’s How To Avoid Them, February 2021. Leadership for innovation as v | b | t. Visibility as being vigilant to the barriers and blockers in resource stretch and time constraint that stifle innovative process – Behaviour as rewarding the actions desired as reinforcing culture; being present to the needs of boundaries to inspire not the endless latitude to let people become lost; creating space that enables group effort but still ensuring plenty of room for personal incubations and nurturing of ideas; being empowering of everybody to be creative; enabling the time necessary to build the idea; permitting embryonic and incremental approaches to be aired; giving space to be heard, and finding the difficult balance of criticality and encouragement; acknowledge place matters and work space or home space need to be places people want to be – Trust as fostering positive team relationships, creative environments, controls and conditions that enable innovative processes to grow.

Why You Need Wisdom And How To Be (More) Wise—According To Science, March 2021. Seeking wisdom as v | b | t. Visibility as broad perspective; and as longer-term view – Behaviour as altruism and cooperative interests, particularly in decision-making; self-management and emotional stability e.g., the authentic and calm faces on social media; diversity of network and associated tolerance and interest in values, and learnings, different from your own; finding ways to embrace uncertainty – Trust as earned through the breadth of perspective across a whole community, akin to but not necessarily age related senior or elders in a group.

Hard Times Make For Stronger Bonds And Greater Happiness: Here’s Why That Matters, April 2021. Bonds in adversity as v | b | t. Visibility as first hand experience of seeing someone in a crisis situation and the motivations of action when it counts; memorable and more vivid in recall; – Behaviour as empathy and solidarity with a chemically – oxytocin – or brain altered group association response (cf. Norwegian University of Science and Technology); reciprocal openness and vulnerability; post-trauma shared growth, shared prioritising, shared adversity and realisation post survival – Trust as “affinity proof” from a shared experience and a shared pain or positive end, a physiological bond of “social glue” (cf. University of New South Wales)

How To Build Relationships And Enhance Happiness: 4 Insights From Neuroscience, April 2021. Relationship building as v | b | t. Visibility as the direct relationship between seeing less people and increases in mental health issues; depth of relationships is associated with the breadth of their life we engage with; brain size is shown to be smaller in those with less meaningful relationships and that our brain capacity has influence on our close connection maximum being around 150 – Behaviour as necessarily time consuming to establish connections c.60 hours of regular engagement to cement friendships; generally one friend at a time beyond group settings; relationships (the 150) require a level of intimacy, shared experience including doing no activity at all but in each others company; connection beyond the context of first acquaintance such as dinner, drinks, walking; quality engagement and questions of substance in context; availing yourself in tough moments or being vulnerable enough to be helped; gratitude; respect; right fit for right friendship roles – Trust as a built relationship over time and a mutual investment towards mutually benefits with mutually respected boundaries and roles.

Gratitude Is A Key To Happiness: 4 Reasons Why, April 2021. Factoring in gratitude as v | b | t. Visibility as greater understanding of the neurological preconditioning gratitude involves – Behaviour as the being mode of gratitude vs the having mode of pursuing more; experiences positively convert to happiness more than materialism – this is based on gratitude; better relationships involve mutual expressions of gratitude; voicing gratitude magnifies its impacts – Trust as the aggregation of cultivated gratitude, as the resultant altruistic intentions it inspires into a wider community.

The Happiness Paradox: 5 New Perspectives On How To Be Happy, May 2021. Not coveting happiness as v | b | t. Visibility as not seeing what you do not have but instead a better perspective on what is or could be – Behaviour as a less direct aim to achieve happiness or retain it or hoard and inflate it (cf. Journal of Experimental Psychology); taking lessons for the downtimes; accepting the varied states of being that can become possessive and have us gripped; aim for choices that improve yourself, not aim to correct others; happiness can be borne of overcoming hardship, but rarely sits for long with too little stress; breaking with community or going too far alone can become an increasingly unhappy time – Trust as the fostering of shared experience, not the singular pursuit of more.

Why Now Is The Time To Question Everything—And Refresh Your Career And Your Future, June 2021. Career planning as v | b | t. Visibility as greater clarity on what is important and the right priority as change; question orientated planning; belief challenging searches; source challenging analytics – Behaviour as the continual questioning of everything (cf. Euripides); knowing that you do not know; adopting a curiosity in diversity, empathy, epistemology; decisions based upon direction of change; relationships built around widening perspectives and deeper understandings; seeking to be in awe more; humility not arrogance – Trust as in the strength of the questioning not conviction of the answers.

Build Your Career: 5 Ways To Have More Joy In Your Job, July 2021. Job satisfaction as v | b | t. Visibility as seeking more perspectives in the role; more clarity on priority and need – Behaviour as the positive product of better perspective, more meaningful endeavour, more enquiring interest, and more empathy; more variety; more empowerment and control; “better physical health, perform better, make better decisions, set bigger goals, seek greater learning and pursue growth and development more enthusiastically. In addition, you tend to be more likeable”; – Trust as a pursuit of contribution and an expectation of fair reward

The Power Of Purpose And Why It Matters Now, August 2021. The need for Purpose as v | b | t. Visibility as greater clarity of purpose, vision, commitment and moral to more engagement and productivity (cf. University of Sussex); increased clarity so individual contribution desire aligns to companies with same vision or presents a vision people are inspired to be part of; clarity and articulation of purpose, informing choice, acuity of perspective to retain adaptability and pre-empting change – Behaviour as more directed endeavour leading to better growth (cf. Harvard Business Review); necessarily clearer purpose required to retain transient workforce; – Trust as increased alignment of people to a shared goal.

You Probably Need More Friends—Here’s How To Make Them, September 2021. Friendships as v | b | t. Visibility as some shared perspective be that proximity, life stage, transition – Behaviour as a continuity and long-term stability of relationships in wider change; communication efficiency through prior understanding of each other; information exchange efficiency where friendships sit across weaker bonds (cf. UCL); adaptable as friendship groups change with time (cf. Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) Trust as a reciprocal pre-requisite for lasting friendships, needing time.

Tracy Brower details can be found here.

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In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

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Em-pathetic leadership

Is empathy the first leadership quality to nurture in us all?

In this blog, I argue that both misery and empathy love company. But that does not mean the Company should blindly love more empathy, or assume misery is therein opposed.

This blog is inspired by a response I posted on LinkedIn this weekend. Aimed towards a fabulously thought provoking article advocating more empathy. The premise of which was the celebration of what empathy presents as the most important power tool of leadership.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on

Tracey Brower, writing for Forbes, is a Sociologist. She writes terrific pieces – this one included. Sociology is one of those many subject areas our future research in projects’ needs to look at more closely. Look no further than the first people to identify the impending global financial crisis for evidence of that. This article, “Empathy Is The Most Important Leadership Skill According To Research”, gives a series of accounts of what better empathy looks like. And what harm a lack of empathy fosters. It makes a compelling case, but does it apply equally to us all?

My worry is not to those who lack empathy. My worry is to those that rely on its niceties too much. Specifically the imbalance possible when leaning too far into – opposed to not far enough toward – an empathetic perspective.

A second worry occurs to me too. What of the accomplished empathiser with less interest in benevolent cause – what separates the motivator from the master manipulator when it is only empathy that we seek to call?

The King and Queen in us all

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on

This was another chance to explore a little of the King and/or Queen Archetype theorising of the Jungian psychoanalyst, Robert Moore. A little psychology to compliment the sociology – perhaps the two perspectives offer us a little more.

Our inner relationship and the outside world

My experience of management training, in the big corporates that have invested in my training over the years, is a focus on ensuring each of us was able to both understand our own traits better; and crucially, to then understand how different others under your charge may behave or think. Yet despite these sanguine lessons, our blind spots endure, as witnessed at every honest appraisal thereafter performed. We are all human after all.

Much more recently in my learning, this is where I have found the archetypal outlines of Jungian psychology helpful. I am far from convinced this mode of psychology is the pinnacle of this science in modern times. However, this is modelling that can still help explain our relationship to ourselves – the persona we present to the world, plus the active but hidden part we know, or the repressed part within that we may not be aware of at all. The Archetypal traits in their less welcome forms are outlined below as Tyrannical vs Weakling leaders, and used here as an oversimplified but recognisable range of relationship and traits we may knowingly or unwittingly take out into the world.

Self vs Other as a target of more love

There is upside potential to both self and other focus. I present below what good might come of each, and what Jungians would call the shadow archetype sitting at each pole. Applying to our relationship with ourselves, but perhaps also influencing how we engage with others.

Upside when in balance

Downside when imbalanced

Self focus

driven, confident, outcome orientated, present to priority and optimisation of tasks

Tyrant King or Queen

arrogant, self obsessed, divisive, elitist, entitled. Arenas of fear, stress, and oppression. Teams of the silent and compliant, offering only good news and hiding the rest.

Other focus

inclusive, people acuity, present to wider team impacts and playing to strengths

Weakling Prince(ss)

indecisive, reactive, naïve, no discipline or boundaries. Lack of vision or singular aim. Team inefficiency, apathy, tolerance of selfish others, and loss of team morale.

Empathy and misery both love a company

We all know what a tyrannical boss looks like. The self confident, self obsessed. me first, leader. Robert Moore presents this as the tyrant within. It need not be the person we typically see, this could be the momentary burst of rage to an otherwise docile soul. Or it maybe the accepted persona that then interacts this way in a leadership role.

Photo by Yan Krukov on

What I present above is that there is an upside to being self orientated. The driven, focused, outcome orientated, energy that gets us through. We may not like it, but we can look back at successful outcomes and at least see what it was intended for.

We all know what the weakling boss looks like. The other-first carer, who is attendee to everyone’s needs. A good friend, but as the bastion of your career, is that any better than the tyrannical boss?

Photo by Noelle Otto on

The committee decision maker, the indecisive ditherer. The more data please, consensus driven, enemy to none – enemy to none except the clarity of what is to be done.

Moore’s trick up his sleeve

An unsuspecting third may lurk here too. The master manipulator, turning empathy into self-serving need. Robert Moore would argue there are other energies in play here. Other inner archetypes taking a lead. Specifically he presents the learning and calculating part of us he calls the Magician.

Photo by cottonbro on

He puts this archetype as opposing the King or Queen. If we have failed to balance this archetype then we have an imbalance of a different type. The needs of this Archetype are less interested in the service of leadership. But learnt empathy offers a means to know how to get more of what it wants.

Regardless of how Jungian we are prepared to relate, my point here is that empathy has more than possible benevolent use. Perhaps we need to think to whom we gift it to. Or how we bring more of those naturally gifted with it, more effectively to the fore.

The uneasy balancing of the two

Accordingly whenever I see a celebration of empathy I am cautious in my cheer. Sure, let’s be better at our knowing how to apply empathy. Especially to those of us who find it necessarily hard. But if empathy comes naturally, do these people so easily get to lead? Do we unwittingly mingle tyrants with sociopaths? Do we encourage benevolent empaths to think more of themselves?

I think we need to give this more attention than simply celebrate a trait. More empathy in the boardroom? Yes please. But perhaps our leadership training needs to bring more empaths towards the self, and less sociopaths above us all. This does not come from just training existing leaders with a retrofitted trait. This comes from careful understanding of the deeper psychology in play. And ensuring our critical control environments can rein in whatever comes our way.

Can projects of mind inform projects of management?

This is another strand of enquiry I am taking back into project thinking. Can the projects of self-improvement and self-development, including our individual developments into leadership, be shown to contribute to the outcomes of the projects this leadership is intended to serve? The modelling of psychology, and neuroscience, and beyond these Jungian ideas that not all agree.

The many and varied focuses on communication and modelling; coordination and collaboration; processes intended to preserve or change; conflict, distract, or renew. How much of this reflects these same organisational and management needs in the bigger projects of cooperation in our everyday lives? How well can one inform the other? And inform the controls and tools to compliment both. Projects | within projects, that define and connect us all.

Subscribe here, if you want to read a little more of this every day. I am currently blogging daily. As I return to university once again, this is part of my attempt to apply learning. And share it as I go. Influence, and be influenced by you.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Updating your software

Do we get old, or just out of date? Failing to keep up with the pace of change.

This is a reflection upon a month of projects | within projects of my own. My preparations for more learning and sharing. Conclusions reaffirmed that the plan is how to adapt, not how to optimise my time. All such reflection leaving me to ponder what it is to be part of the intended change.

First day of work – this is how quickly I witnessed change

My first day of work – city work – was in 1995. I recall computers were an optional mystery box, monitors claiming the biggest corner of a desk. Snopake or Tippex sat in everyone’s top drawer – paint applied to handwritten mistakes. Fax machines had replaced the telex, but only just. Financial reports ran from special printers, via a C:Prompt instruction in WANG. Is it nearly home time? No need to stop reading these green coloured pages of chopped trees. 5pm was announced by the smell of freshly lit cigarettes at one desk in three.

I remember my early PFI deals even into 2002 being managed by the fax. An endless churn of drafts of contracts. Often just the pages with handwritten notes, comments, edits, or rejections from your counterpart. The next formal edition of the draft then couriered – contracts by the box load – fresh from the lawyer’s print room. Meetings could last for days. Bankers, government, investors interests or contractors, for each the strategic walk out was a thing. Eventually, when bluff was called, the piles of papers in a boardroom on the day of financial close was a sight to behold. Thousands of pages, hundreds of documents. Each one ticking a box, as a condition precedent to the loan.

Then the Nokia 3310 was everywhere. As a better ‘phone. But business cards still had landline numbers first. You rang them and expected someone to say hello. I was junior enough to then inherit my first blackberry from my boss. It was not assumed you had a mobile phone. If a financial close was late, it was a moral dilemma as to whether to wait at your desk, a single spotlight in the dark. Is it to be another round of faxes, or dare I hope everyone else was going home.

First day of school – this is how quickly I now witnessed change

All of these thoughts passed me by this afternoon. Contemplating how much has changed in the two years since registering for my last MSc. A process today more automated and remote. No queues. No presence needed. Not like two years before – which I suppose was the last registration year before Covid19. In just two years much more is now assumed in student understanding of interfaces between apps and servers – and access to inboxes – once passwords have been retrieved. I found myself comparing these to little rewards for reaching the next level, the next download, the next stage gate. Mario or Zelda would be proud. New access to new instructions on video. The next mission. To then upload a photo or fill a form. Submitted to then trigger another email in an inbox, both of which are new. To then finally be linked back to the same login screens as before. But now returned triumphant. Transformed by the new identification tag, new passwords, and onward to new screens.

I don’t think I have ever been so grateful to finally land in a virtual space. Close enough to my new department to find a folder marked “instructions for postgraduates”. And from there I was just three clicks from a 65 page PDF. “Welcome!”, it begins, “All you need is here”.

First day – since yesterday

Covid19 has moved us all on at a pace. I think perhaps the pace of change in the last two years reflects as much as my last twenty. At least when I consider change in what is now normal in conducting trade. If only because of the enforced acceptance by many who would otherwise resist. University, just like all institutions, have found new ways. Adversity breeds invention. History tells us a good war can advance what is already on its way. But this time perhaps the adversity and societal shifts came in a fragile peace. Or maybe a bio-war – a viral enemy. Are we all now opened up to more change to come? And the more we change the more we support the next. How primed must we all now be to the potential for more.

First day – this is how I see the game has changed

Here is the kicker. How quickly has more change now arrived? Carrying under its arm nothing but new risks we each now face. To become obsolete or be ready for the next. Press continue, and to level-up.

Is this what now happens if you ever want to stop playing? Five years ago I would have insisted that that is the point of the pension and the plan. But with so much change, I think the moment I stop renewing my software and keep current via each new patch, is the last day. The final day. The full stop. Is this why life seems to speed up with age? If change is indeed all we do. To have counted too many days resisting, and feel too tired to then catch up. Maybe that is what it is to be old. Ignoring the body-craft and the face lifts. Maybe this is what it is to be old in mind.

First day – every day

Each of us a personal project as “time-bound intended change”

Change. It does not stop. It is intended only by our human needs. Impacted by our actions, and the merit of our deeds. Each of us as a project. A time-bound intended change. All of us one project – aligned – or as many projects as we may choose to disagree.

Within each of us, the less we intend to change, the more bound we feel to time. External to all of us, the less we account for the impact of our intended change, the less time left we may be bound.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

The road ahead

Let’s hope for driverless cars, if these are our choices

A critique of Keir Starmer’s vision of where Labour is headed under his leadership.

I love a good essay. Once the most eloquent way to present an account. A reasoned version of a truth. Some of the most captivating narratives of the English speaking world took the form of the essay.

Today however, I am going to join the evening traffic report. Reflecting upon the road works and pot holed carriageways holding the narratives of the day. Boris Johnson offered us an essay of sorts a while back on his vision of Brexit. I was surprised and disappointed at its flippant account of what had been, and a flaccid and uncommitted account of what was hoped to come. For a man of words, with journalistic training, this was very much not worth the 18 month gestation it took him to write. I was therefore curious to see how Keir Starmer would fair, with his legal training, and similar time to prepare. His own essay offering, was this week made accessible ahead of conference season. I spent a few hours of Thursday evening in similar despair. It prompted a change of direction of my own, by way of this evening blog.

Congestion warning

I will confess to being somewhat torn between these two essays by two head boys. Star pupils that are Boris and Keir. Not by the politics, although neither camp convinces me enough. I am torn between the lasting impression I suspect I will now hold long of both political figureheads. Torn as to which one presented the least convincing case. The least accomplished representation of the essay form, each has claimed to write.

These were two opportunities to present a version of truth. A perspective of intended change. In my project language, each reflects a project of political means to direct us all with clarity of purpose and outcomes of intended change. As projects I will therefore attempt to use my metrics of visibility | behaviour | trust to consider the truth this latest outline of a project represents. This essay entitled “The Road Ahead”, by Keir Starmer MP. Originally accessed via BBC website.

Regardless of political leanings therefore, lets take a look at 11,500 words of missed chances to present a plan of time-bound intended change. Using v | b | t to guide another critique.

I conclude a draw. This offering to be on par, and to be as accomplished a vacuum packed political vernacular of fluff, as Boris could have ever have hoped to hide behind.

Visibility | b | t

This was an opportunity to present a vision of what could be. In the being mode of reflecting upon what is here now, and what is intended to be changed at project end. The being and the becoming. The clarity of how all project actors involved are to be accounted for, and the priorities of stakeholder interests, and metrics of success. A positive to start with therefore, it is quite clear which actors are most of interest. I am just not sure which families are to be categorised as not being the hard-working ones addressed here.

As a project, my question is what is intended by this proposed change?  If we press deeper into the questions of why. Beyond the first why of the politics, the second of why and where the balance of distribution of wealth for future engagement of the labour force should sit. Thereafter I struggled to find any answers of note. This essay offers no vision of what we can as a country become.  Our place and our role in the global village. It is an outline of the ambitions of process, of the priority of what we have (as potential, opportunity, and what is owned), and a vague inference of readdressing the owned by whom.

It is not until page 21 that the future focus is introduced. The Future.  The visibility of what we can become.  “A future in which we ensure everyone who wants to contribute can fulfil their potential” Starmer argues is only feasible if Labour have ownership of the reins.

A new deal for business and working people.  A government backing both business and the working conditions of all.  Long-term planning to the benefit of both (page 22), setting high standards and favouring British firms for contracts with public sector (page 23); increasing the minimum wage, sick pay, parental leave and flexible working and removing fire and rehire practices; replacing universal credit; making low paid better off with better work-life balance.  Investing heavily in green recovery, with more homegrown electric car production, wind turbine, clean steel for schools, hospitals, and railways (page 23 and 24).

It then outlines how more resource is to be moved towards physical and mental health (page 25); better starts to life for all with better access to modern schools, soft-skill development, and with it a greater sense of self-worth.  Safer streets with more Police and stricter laws against antisocial behaviour (page 28-29). All admirable sentiments, but toward what end? What national self-worth?

The road ahead from page 30, begins with Tory, Liberal Democrats and SNP failings of the past.  Starmer stands us at the cross-roads again, presenting the better path by further pointing to the vulnerability and failings of others who have sat in the driving seat.  The better path of government is outlined as a focus on security of, and opportunity for, the people.  A government able to face up to tough decisions, prioritising the hard-working family, we are told.  The final page then presents the ten principles of a contributing society, finally outlined as a coherent whole (page 31). My best attempt at a more pithy summary is this:-

  1. Hard working families first
  2. Fair reward for the fair minded
  3. Contribution based society
  4. Equal opportunity
  5. Community before individual
  6. Interventionist economics
  7. Partnering with private enterprise
  8. Responsible spending
  9. Return to honesty, decency, transparency
  10. Patriotism without nationalism

In terms of visibility therefore, I found nothing but disappointment at the sheer lack of detail. There are some significant socio-political concepts summarised here, but what does our country look like on this path?

I was left with a reasonable idea of what it would be like if Keir Starmer were our King-Pin. This is how I would rule you. This is how I would waft my wand. This is what power would be to me. But little real vision of what that would all be for. Accordingly, let me now consider what behaviour this leadership message reflects, at least to me.

v | behaviour | t

“People in this country are crying out for change” says Starmer in the front facing part of his Foreword.  This is an encouraging sentence given my project theory is suggesting that all we are is vehicles of intended change. But the paragraph then evades what destination is in mind.  Offering instead the change of principles and redistribution of power and decisions to localised autonomy and the labour force.  We are thereafter presented a detail of sorts to this vision, but framed as the how he would have power assigned. This is the behaviour of the having mode. How power would be held in leadership. Little to offer in terms of what this would all transform us into being. How we would be served.

The psychological tone of the whole essay is one of focus upon what is being owned. Mostly, it is allocation of blame. Pointing out others failings, as a reflection of their selfish overtones. I estimate this is 75% of the entire account. Imagine putting a tender together or applying for a job, and filling all the spaces availed to allow you to shine, and just presenting the case for how bad the other candidates may be. Who is not able to make these judgements themselves? I understand the sentiment but to me this takes up far too much of the word count, and denies the opportunity to show a better behaviour, one capable and willing to mend broken bridges with the electorate. A surprisingly shallow argument is presented as a result.

One example that stood out for me was after the most extended volley of assaults was concluded. Page 21, even having acknowledged past criticism for Labour spending too long looking in the rear view mirror, almost the next sentence is revisiting the inspirational days of 1945. Then countered by “but forward focused on new settlement between government, business, and working people” (page 21).  This then returns another attack on where we are, but little of what we change to, other than pithy sentiment of “a contribution society” (page 22).

Past reflections, starting at page 8, are unfettered in their focus on political team colours.  The good deeds of Labour, the self-serving nature of Conservatives.  Lessons held up as his team’s mistakes of old in being retrospectively focused, but still reflecting upon the good of these retrospective days.  Presenting the ideology of the right as having failed in recent past, and addressed in three periods as follows (all page 10). I outline these for selfish reasons. They happen to list as a v | b | t in their own categorisations:

  1. The era of the Global Financial Crisis, depicted as a period of poor visibility “a smokescreen for rolling back the state”;
  2. The era of patriotic nationalism, depicted as complacent behaviour “a lazy, complacent veer from patriotism to nationalism” which covered a period from Brexit to the current Afghanistan.
  3. A trend towards emboldening a division of interests.  This I read as intended divided trust, “import of American-style divisions on social, cultural, and sometimes national lines”

With no intended irony, Starmer then proceeds to present the divide across this same social landscape (pages10-13), citing David Cameron’s “We’re all in this together”, to then highlight subsequent regional disparity of wealth and health, age related stereotypes, and a country held back by a lack of ambition.  Nearly five pages of these sentiments that are taken deep into page 15.

As a considered position on behaviour therefore, this seemed unnecessarily focused on the other. Just as I despaired at Boris Johnson’s lack of clear ability to stand tall, stand accountable, and stand for us all. So I find this focus by Keir Starmer as reflecting a blame ready tool box of excuses in waiting, and a weakness to commit to anything at all. I was hoping for a little more spirited and applied daring-do. There seems little to choose between Boris Johnson’s demonstrating a lack of service, and Keir Starmer offering much of what is wrong but little of how to put it right.

What then, is this offering as a better form of trust?

v | b | trust

Starmer’s reflections are empathetic.  Perhaps intended to demonstrate being in touch with the reality of difficult times.  The working class divide, and the hardship and unfairness.  There is a reflection upon humble beginnings.  Prior experience of Public Service, Director of Public Prosecutions in 2008, represented as leadership acknowledged with knighthood in 2014 (page 7). From my earlier blogs on leadership, this equates to the titles held, and the medals won. Like any CV, this would read much better as a means to reflect upon how these experiences can deliver what is intended to be. How to serve us better.

What of trust in finding a way forward? It is not going to come from demonstrating who has caused what in the here and now. The significant detail of past discretions in this essay is not reflected in the same detail of what is to come. There is a lack of meaningful data in all future examples offered. Leadership is not about spreadsheets, but the quality of case study here seemed rather lacking in the authority of equivalent board level understanding. By example, page 16 offers a glimpse of private sector collaboration.  A single case study of a manufacturing opportunity for wind-turbines in Glasgow.  A case study that quickly becomes a swipe at the lack of strategic planning by the other side.   Page 17 “Fixing the fundamentals” presents insecurity and inequality central to a fix.  A hypothetical case-study of two students and the vastly different opportunities presented due to societal difference.  Security and lack of housing and employment opportunity reflected through page 18, introducing a link to liberal democracy, reintroduction of society over individualism, and landing back onto the safe labour platform of card-carrying membership before returning to what Conservatives have failed to do. This makes room for extending the criticisms towards the SNP under the shared Nationalistic intentions, albeit separate flags in mind (page 19-20). I struggle to find much encouragement or clarity towards a better way with the lack of depth here.

The detail of priorities is similarly vague. A new deal for business and working people.  A government backing both business and the working conditions of all.  Long term planning to the benefit of both (page 22), setting high standards and favouring British firms for contracts with public sector (page 23); increasing the minimum wage, sick pay, parental leave and flexible working and removing fire and rehire practices; replacing universal credit; making low paid better off with better work-life balance.  Investing heavily in green recovery, with more homegrown electric car production, wind turbine, clean steel for schools, hospitals, and railways (page 23 and 24).  The essay then moves back to pre-existing inequality and the need for more localised decision autonomy, and more transparency on freedom of government spending by department.  It then outlines how more resource is to be moved towards physical and mental health (page 25); better starts to life for all with better access to modern schools, soft-skill development, and with greater sense of self-worth.  Safer streets with more Police and stricter laws against antisocial behaviour (page 28-29). Notwithstanding the headline nature of each aim here, how can all these promises be priority number one? This comes back to my project analogy. What is to be prioritised, what is sacrificial, what is ambition number one? What is supporting the target of all these mandates? And why?

What truth do we learn, here?

It is perhaps self-evident that I struggled to contain my irritations here. The essay form I truly wish to become more adept at writing, is in my opinion not reflected here. In masterful hands it is a form of elegance and clarity, that can hold truth for all time. One that in days past, and I believe days to come, can and will hold timeless visions of a way to be. The great and the good of history can still be engaged by their past words. In contemporary context perhaps that is as much truth as we need. A vision, a set of behaviours, and reflection of what change could be, is almost never offered by those who wish to serve us all. What confidence, what trust, should we feel obliged to therefore afford?

I found the v | b | t and project language I am developing of some use in framing this critique. Even if it was simply to conclude that I find myself no closer to a holder of better truth.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Rolling with the waves

Working with the tide, not against it

Photo by Elina Sazonova on

Not every day has to be the same. Mindsets and moods are like tides of inspiration. Some days the ideas flood in.

Other days they lurk in what is left behind.

Yesterday was a good morning of open slot consulting time with a client. Individuals freely popping on-line for a chat, a coffee, a means to float ideas. A few hours around lunch for me – with the philosophy of Richard Rorty – contingency, irony, and solidarity – his arguments on truth seemingly undermining mine. Then an hour’s chatting to an old mate, before my battery went flat. As did my ‘phone. Then some essay writing for real, reworked, new text to find in some quiet time.

Photo by George Keating on

My honesty with me reveals so much more this way. No building pressures to feel compelled to fight against a tide. Able to predict and understand. Waiting, and choosing my wave.

v | b | t

Which all presents room for needs felt, even if not said. More visibility, making room for behaviours and needs. A trust built back by understanding and responding. Actively permitting and adapting.

Here now free to write uncompromising, unapologetic. Knowing what I feel. Another day with my truth.

Tomorrow is another day…another tide.

If truth be told…

A first-hand perspective of the truths we trade

This blog revisit an interview observation from an expert witness of delay disputes claims in construction


The quoted text below, is from one of many interview observation I could not squeeze into the 15,000 word limit of my 2020 MSc dissertation. I really wanted to find a way to present it somehow – this blog presents a way.

I interviewed fifty senior project experts during my 2020 MSc dissertation. These included representatives of government, contractors, investment and senior debt lending specialists. Legal, technical, and financial specialist. It also included a number of construction scheduling specialists, experts in their field at either setting up construction programmes, monitoring them, or evaluating them post a dispute situation.

In all examples of dispute resolution, either as contractual delay or associated with an insured event, one truth was consistent. There is no single truth – at least when it comes to agreeing project progress, or events impacting its alteration from a baseline path. My wider discussion in my consulting capacity concurs. Before any discussion on progress or change can be conducted, even where parties are still aligned, it is important to establish which baseline people have in mind. Away from the theory and the textbooks, there is never just the one…

The expert opinion

This particular account was a follow up discussion as I revisited the realities of construction disputes and delay settlements. To test an evolving hypothesis I asked a number of people whether there was even such a thing as a single project truth. I am grateful for the permission to present this first person account in this blog, duly anonymised as requested. I think we all know these observations to be true.

“In an adjudication situation, each side presented very different versions of timing of events, project status and critical path to project end.  The adjudicator in this instance reflected on the divergence of both accounts – which had little common ground on which to land.  Accordingly, a decision had to be made on which account gave the most compelling argument,  a more believable reflection of the true status.  My version was accepted on the grounds that the logic and build-up of schedule offered a more coherent truth.  The other account deemed to have reflected assumptions and positions that were flawed or nonsensical.  This was the starkest example I can recall of attempting to determine which is the right truth.  On other occasions adjudication has been settled as a compromise e.g. you have won this part of the argument but lost another part because…

As part of my training (in dispute resolution), a barrister advised that given the same facts it is only possible for two parties to convincingly present alternative truths by their focus upon different parts.  In a sense this is a reflection of finding common ground, the elements of dispute on which both parties can agree what the truth is…

Contracts can help or hinder.  We always had to add project control and reporting into JCT.  NEC embedded it, perhaps reflecting its project management influences.  But whilst it offers this structure, projects still end up in dispute.  The culture and ethos of the project parties remains a key factor too.  You can find examples of successful projects where people have found a way around poor contract drafting; and plenty of examples exist of the right contract, wrong team.  Leadership can also play a huge part in setting culture and behaviours, but also directly control whether/how information is filtered.  NEC does not prevent bad news being hidden.  That can be seen within a contractor dynamic where an open collegiate conversation to resolve a problem is being had with the supply chain but gets lost making its way up the reporting chain.”

Expert witness and construction scheduling specialist (anonymised)

My observations

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on

Weighing up the truths

These statements are completely in keeping with other comments offered through my enquiry. In all cases there is a horse-trade element to the dispute. Often it is the record keeping and logic of positions presented that become the key to weight of arguments by both sides.

Visibility | Behaviour | Trust

In construction it is the contract that governs critical control between commercial parties. The scheduling updates – the visibility – between one party and another tends to become part of the reporting across these contractual boundaries. The accompanying data, such as Primavera P6 XER files, built by one party, and reviewed in part by the other. We sit at distance and react to information presented – the behaviour. Often believing this data to have been subjected to party-specific influence in the exchange – i.e., the low levels of trust. It is time consuming and expensive to interrogate such files, and to have the necessary resource available to do so. Our behaviours are not to step closer to be ready for a less predictable result. Nor is it to spend more time improving visibility. Looking, or seeking another opinion, of the truth.

It is not until the low trust we suspect is beginning to be proven. Then resource is found. Once a dispute has forced us to retrospectively begin to take more interest, we increase visibility, seek expert assessment, prediction and modelling, of the counterparties motivations and behaviours.

This reflects our attitudes, in relationships and of ourselves

This low level v | b | t is two way. The supply chain reporting progress upwards. The employer making information available downwards. The filtering happens everywhere, as does the self-first behaviour. Relying on a truth you doubt, is to be complicit in the failure it becomes. Turning the blind eye and to then stand behind a shield of blame.

I have commercial projects in mind. But is it any different in contracts of employment, or engagement of siloed interest anywhere? Within any one organisation these perspectives are commonplace. Anyone involved in budget projections, localised debates over year-end bonus pots, performance indicators beyond revenue, appraisal processes, relationship management, as well as interdepartmental or regional discussions of ownership and responsibilities, will know this to be true. This is all a question of how we control information, manage expectations, or be a recipient interest in the primacy and integrity of the data involved.

This is the uncomfortable truth

We each spend our time asking for the truth we each need to tell. We are all managing our own project parameters and with it our reporting needs. Why? Because it is the safest thing to do. We have our behaviours defined in our contracts of trade, service, or employment. We lead and delegate based upon our objectives, and talk in the language of controls that best support these aims

Photo by Eren Li on

We happily accept answers we are given – visibly and in writing – and then take great care in those answers we ourselves present. We may be low on trust, but how much better is our behaviour in return? Who are we protecting first when seeking committed positions from another? What does it say of our projects when its collaborators are each motivated to enable a less personally committed position. Only in dispute to be asking what we did not previously want to know.

Contracts replace trust, or just contribute to its loss

This is what relying solely upon a contract for controls becomes. The bastion of the defensive decision-maker. The distant interest of the recipient of progress as reports.

shared v | b | t is shared truth

The alternative, or compliment, is to share a wider interest and input into control. One that both parties are feeding into. One that both are checking. Both are ensuring by effort and a shared care for accuracy to be true. That both are committed to put resource to the necessary upkeep, revisit, and critical review. This is what collaboration, and leadership in service of the other looks like. This is what it is to be a closely functioning team. Increased visibility, behaviours driven into the project not away from it, a realisation of the level of trust earned, trust dared, and what wider truth that represents.

projects | within projects

This is why I am building this case. Seeing the reality of what the unsupported contract makes us each become – when not supported by wider shared interest in controls. Empowering a challenge to self-serving behaviours of us all. Understanding the lack of trust – an understanding of how much we trust ourselves. Demanding accountability of leadership, to the service of us all. We all have a project in mind, but rarely the same one.

The fact that in all the questioning I have made. The interviews with people who see the results, experts who witness the behaviour, become entangled in the disputes that reinforce the distrust.

Every resultant dispute reflects a common truth. What is being disputed is the truth.

It is only the upfront interest to its oneness, the means to accept the cost and resource to align interests to its protection, and engendering the shared trust that can then emerge, that can make the dispute less likely. And if there is nothing left to dispute, then the project success is truly shared.

This is why I am turning to psychology for help

The human condition sits at the heart of all I observe here. It takes enlightened decisions. It necessitates clarity of expectations from visible accountable people. Reflecting appropriate leadership with primary interest in all actor safety, not simply the subsets to which they are a part. Leadership that is at the heart of the architecture of the critical controls needed. With this v | b | t accounted for, we can begin to unify the projects | within projects we are all a part. This is from where we build trust. From where each project actor’s v | b | t turns inward. Towards one project truth.

Come and visit me on my journey back to university. As I search for better answers

This blog space will be my place to introduce psychology to projects, risk, and people management. As I develop a better understanding of how these behaviours can be accounted for, visibility better understood and measured, and whether there are ways to revisit trust. Seeking better ways to frame a project need, and manage the frameworks of control and leadership their success relies.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Fresh faced for freshers’ week

1991 Freshers’ week vs 2021 Freshers’ week

30 years separating these two starts to university. 30 years, a city career, a temporary mortgage, a forever marriage, a pretty reasonable life. One I am rebooting now.


Living on the South Coast. Working my summers as a harbour tours commentator since age 16. A level results confirm the 20 points needed for my conditional offer at my preferred choice University, Cardiff. Maritime Studies, my preferred subject. A pause to the debate of whether my life was, like my father, destined to be at sea. Option B was Economics, Kingston Polytechnic.

Young Enterprise regional winner. A level economics, grade A. Better at business than biology – no change there

Then late September 1991. Freshers’ week. Still looking about 12 years old but evidently able to get served in a bar.

Seemingly more than one…

Days I look back on with some fondness. I found a freedom. I found the pub. Uni is where I met my wife – she must have been looking for a project then. I consult within, and research around, the risks impeding projects now.

Second year, 1992 me, still living as a young one indeed.

Eventually, I even found the lecture theatres and the library. Looking back my 2:2 was probably well deserved, but that was a sting I felt long and buried deep. A dissertation mistake that cost me dear. Living to the brief of my local government client, not the needs of the degree. I did so much wider learning here.


The 2021 me has returned to long hair. Less rebellion, and more compliance with lockdown need. I didn’t need to shave in 1991 – I just don’t bother now. I have grown into my Beardall name.

Never further from maritime influence than now. Never looking more like I have been at sea for 30 years…

No longer young but a modest enterprise still. My consulting work in construction pays the bills. My latter day interest in psychology intent on bringing a little biology back into the complex project space.

Today was a day of turning a house upside down, my parents doing the same to theirs, and a 32 year old document is duly found. And a few old photos.

Nottingham University having conditionally approved my MSc place in Psychology, but insisting I evidence a GCSE grade C in mathematics from 1989. My MSc distinction in Project Management, Finance, and Risk from 2020, a career in risk and insurance due diligence in project finance, none of that an acceptable work-around. Lock-down, remote working, no means to get out. Still no means to register until the GCSE cert is found. A compliance box frantically now ticked.

So how do these two Freshers’ weeks compare? I have no idea, I am not there. I await my instructions for registration. But I was never going near campus this time anyway. Just sat here, quietly getting on with work and research. Delighting in the memories found in some photos of 30 yesteryears.

I do know I availed the sting of my 2:2, with my 2020 MSc. The library I found has claimed me eventually. More so than the sea. Being young was fun. But my third university visit, this one prepares me for a PhD.

Join my journey back to university for a third time.

This blog space will be my place to introduce psychology to projects, risk, and people management. There is a clear research aim here, and this time it is my brief. But I am in no rush. I will be taking time to understand, time to share, time to reconsider much learned in yesteryear.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: