PhD and me – looking to be

How to look, is not first

A blog that offers a glimpse of change – as I ponder my planning for my first formal report – and a re-ordering of my priorities (again)

Priority change #1. Quality not speed.

“Why are you here, Warren?”, was the earliest question of my supervisors.

Publication: that is my goal. And a PhD by publication requires three publications. That is three research papers, that are each to be formed, submitted, and approved by a publication process that is peer reviewed at leisure. Is speed, and volume of output, really my goal?

Not so much, I now realise. The metric of citation and regularity of publication is what all young career dependent academic hopefuls must endure. Thankfully, I do not. Instead, for me, buried deep within my existence is something academic trying to get out. Not as a career and a role, but as process and a quality of output that results. Whatever the something is that I am to produce, it is still to fully reveal itself to me. And publication, whilst important, is not the priority I hold most dear. The quality, not the speed or the volume, is what interests me the most.

The importance of that distinction is paramount in these early stages of my PhD. It now sets the tone and the focus of all that follows. It informs change number 2, most profoundly of all. Before explaining that, however, an example can be offered. If I am asked to systematically search the literature – perhaps as my first of three research questions to facilitate publication – by what measure are my search criteria going to be known? I am still not sure what I am to ask such databases, if those answers are to best serve the question I am yet to know.

This question is what became of supervisory discussion in December. I have been researching much, and writing plenty. I have offered many half-baked parts of what is to come. And I have presented significant inroads into literature reviews that are ongoing, and everchanging in direction, focus, and interest. If I remove the time dependency of that first publication, the whole agenda of my supervision meetings changes too. And it has. For this lack of clarity is not a bad thing – quite the opposite in fact – but it does change everything. It changes what I mean by meaning. It changes what can be known by the meaning I am seeking. And determines the direction of questioning that may result. Mostly however, it changes how quickly I can be certain of what I am asking, and the quality of the question I ask. That is not to say early publication is a bad thing, but it is to accept early publication becomes a priority in of itself.

In scientific enquiry, the clear research question is paramount. It is the enabling constraint. Indeed, the clear research question is paramount to all research. It protects the researcher from the questions that do not fit that brief. It informs the direction; it presents logic and structure; and it presents a pathway towards methodology and reasoning of that choice. But if asking the research question is first, it also requires one to know quite clearly what one is looking for. This is the framing that perhaps sits neatly in the scientific method, or what Saunders (2007) calls the “research onion” of clarity in research more broadly i.e., starting outside and working your way in. Philosophical positioning and there inwards to the pin-point of confirmation sought. This clarity supports early publication. This early committed structure enables a clarity of a plan. But it is not so happily supporting my exploration i.e., that puts a goal around the clarity of what is asked best, and not asked first but asked often and perhaps asked last. I am not rushing to that question. Nor am I rushing to commit to those enabling constraints. For they may constrain what I am trying to enable.

Priority change #2. Monograph not publication.

If one must choose how to learn by these priorities, then clearly it is not publication but by monograph that my emergent perspective will be best served.

In lay-person terms, that simply means I am now committing to write a single thesis and have a tougher verbal examination at the end. Rather than have three tough debates with peers during publication of three papers, and a more civil discussion to conclude. Publication can wait. I am committed to the strongest finish, not the surest start. And that is not to stop my earlier publication of a part, or conference-worthy presentable element I deem more naturally concluded, as I go. In summary conclusion now, the false priority of my whole PhD experience, was not my finest start.

Priority change #3. What, why, and an ongoing how.

My questions in the first months of this PhD are summarised less about how to look, and more about what I am looking for and why.

This is not a change, but perhaps a better perspective on what the first few months of a PhD are. It is the norm to be scrambling for your questions, and the justifications of problems that may or may not be known. Unless your PhD scope has been written for you (i.e., as part of some wider research programme that your PhD is to become part of) the start of the PhD is a fog to adjust into. I feel sure I cannot be alone in the constant frustration that my forever questioning seems to need me to feel. And whilst training helps with the how to look, and how to convey what is found, the what and the why can only come from the repeated reading.

Repeated reading. A phrase that is worth repeating. Because that is the life of the PhD wannabe. Reading that is repeated and renewed, revisited, revised and retold. Get yourself a comfy chair, a decent desktop software overlay like Mendeley, and start identifying the many conversations going on in journal form. This for me is about following trails of wisdom, having new ideas revealed to me, and old ones connecting in new ways. Out of which, whatever knowledge I am constructing anew (or whatever is waiting there to be found), that path begins to emerge. How to search, and how to convey, is all well and good; but necessity teaches me those skills, and the university has all possible manner and teaching how online, but much harder is clarity on what I search for and why.

Priority change #4. Live with dissonance

Dissonance is that feeling of angst one feels within, when two truths are held but both cannot be. (cf. Leon Festinger 1947, Cognitive Dissonance).

Dissonance is a term I use often. Out of context, and much too much. But that is because it is about the best insight I have found. It conveys a meaning as to what conflict is about. Since my lowest day, it is perhaps dissonance that I have learned to live with most of all. That is, for me at least, what these early steps in my PhD have been all the more enjoyable for. They bring my dissonance to the fore, because there are many truths that cannot all be, and until that is understood better, those are matters I must endure. I continue to learn by reading and connecting. This is the grounding of knowing what is known, and beginning to form opinion upon what is not yet understood by all. As conversations in academic context, the privilege is to be able to draw opinion on both my dissonance, and the dissonance that surrounds. In other words, challenging what I know; knowing I am yet to know but knowing much that leads to the next; whilst also pointing to what is not yet known at all. If you are thinking of a PhD, be at peace with cognitive dissonance, and much more dissonance besides.

What then, am I to reveal in my first formal report?

I now understand how to navigate the literature well enough to read it, if not claim so clear an insight as to systematically review it. What conversations, and why I think I am of value to them, is a work in progress. But my research questions are now very close. And my ability to convey them now accepted as at least improved. The 62,745 words I have written, and I can call my own, all merely convey those insights and theorising of others. That count in of itself proof that I am still too verbose. My first report (a mere reflection of progress) is due the last day of this month.

…to be continued

Is “Quiet Quitting” really a thing?

‘Quiet Quitting’ is not laying flat enough for me

27th August 2022

Tang Ping : is to lay flat.  A controversial phrase popularised by its supposedly being banned in State control of social media in China.  Supposedly.  It is associated with possibility of social rebellion of industrial scale apathy.  To lay flat at work, is to be present but unproductive and unseen.  Quiet Quitting has therein become the August phrase of choice to collectively approximate disengagement of a workforce, especially of the young.

Quiet quitting. I am immediately on edge by this trending phrase.  Simply because it seems to have captured the imagination of folk-psychology and has happily landed into immediate everyday language as something to be diagnosed and cured.

I found myself saying the following on a LinkedIn post today:

“Quiet quitting” will be the next great harm. Not as a thing, but as a grouping of issues that become hidden by this term. Just as “wokeism” becomes a convenience of debate.  We get to the heart of a problem by pulling it apart. Not bundling constraints up into a pithy phrase. Mental health starts with the dissonance being exposed, not upheld. Quiet quitting is not a phenomenon to manage, it is a false-step of pseudo-diagnosis being shared in the dark.”

LinkedIn chat

Unsupported in academic writing. A few hours of searching through my university library is a cursory look. I have not researched this thoroughly.  But I have found no academically obvious links to bring “quiet quitting” into my corner of science i.e., psychology.  Psychology Today have found means to comment using the term in blogspace, but this quickly moved into surer footing.  As to peer reviewed papers, I have had to turn to a management journal piece from 2018 that offers pre-quitting behaviour as a connection of sorts.  However, the more socially constructed truism or appropriation seems the less rigorous source of a term I suspect is already here to stay.  Please let me know if a more thorough check of academic literature offers more support than my brief examination uncovered.

Let us find ways to engage. This is not to discredit the notion of what quiet quitting is suggesting overall.  We must certainly have the discussion about engagement.  Let us widen this out to the full teleological discussion of life, or the subsets of priorities, meaning, and how to better share goals.  Let us perhaps further widen this challenge towards long-term objectives; innate motivations; autonomy of action; all of which I believe brings sustainability discussion to the fore.  But let us proceed with more rigour and less reaction to trend.

PhD and me. I will have such teleological challenge close to hand in my PhD research into project threat.  I begin that in earnest in a month from now.  And if personal observation from consulting and discourse is indicative, “engagement” is an emergent discussion – one I am now having regularly.

Fashions are not facts. But please, please, let us not fall into the easiest of all traps – and ironically be directed in our efforts based upon nothing more than the hearsay of popular everyday truisms.  Truisms that are founded on nothing other than the media circus that now distracts us from longer-term purpose in the today.

Instigating behavioural change

Do we start with behaviour or mind?

My thanks to my friends at Praxis for prompting this blog. I pondered upon this yesterday only because of a Praxis Framework post via LinkedIn yesterday (thanks Adrian). With some ironic confirmation of one argument or the other (you are invited to ponder upon which) I did not even think to blog this answer – I just responded via LinkedIn. It can be inferred that I have fallen out of the habit of daily blogging, so I have been prompted (via intrinsic motivation or external impetus) to respond more fully here.

What was offered is a position outlined by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith:

Start with changing behaviours, not mindsets. It is much easier to ‘act your way into new thinking’ than to ‘think your way into new actions’

Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith (1993) via Praxis website

Followed by an invitation for response by anyone who disagreed. I am not committing to disagreeing, but I did have an alternative acadamic perspecive I wanted to share.

This behaviour not mindset approach is in line with behaviourists sentiment. But it would be quite wrong of me to suggest this 1993 book, or even this quote, are behaviourist inspired. As explained in the Praxis summary this quote is advocating a specific “beginning with behaviour” approach to an underperforming or “pseudo” team. Per this same Praxis post this is also referencing Katzenbach et al and their Team Performance Curve. Accordingly, that is not to say Katzenbach et al are advocating behaviour first for already effective or high performing teams. My argument is that this is with good reason.

Social Psychology considerations

This is a prompt to wider psychological consideration of what, in team context, is influencing behaviour, or indeed what behaviour is influencing toward mindset. I (re)introduce below several theories from social psychology, countering particularly considerations of reward and punishment as go-to behavioural controls (cf. BF Skinner’s operant conditioning e.g., here).

I am going to group a number of principles of cognition together into the term mindset. Some latitude is asked therefore as I introduce various abstract notions of cognition. Concepts such as attitude, motivation, intent, or belief. Precisely the abstract and subjective concepts that behaviourists would argue is the reason cognitive psychology is flawed. But also precisely what is, to developmental psychologists, what children from as young as eighteen months are becoming subjectively aware of when they distinguish their perspective from that of another (cf. Theory of Mind e.g., here).

These comments are an expansion of my response on LinkedIn. I have also crossed referenced a number of blogs I have previously offered in this regard.

Behaviourists beware

Intrinsic Motivation (IM) is easily replaced by external incentive – mindset orientation changing behaviour. [This is in reference to Self Determination Theory – see my blog Motivation vs Coercion]. We want to encourage personal ownership and motivation. Throwing cash at a problem, or forcing compliance, can backfire if well functioning teams are suddenly just driven to a big pay-out (how many times do we have to see that…).

Predicting behaviour may necessarily require consideration of attitude. And attitude may be best established against specifics rather than general conditions. Icek Ajzen and Martin Fishbein considering belief, intentions, and actions and in later work surmising that individual sense of control plays a part (cf. Reasoned Action – see my blog).

Context is key. No single factor is going to change behaviour – and beliefs, intentions, or past events have a place within mindset

The Elaboration Likelihood Model would suggest it is only in situations of peripheral attention that low cognitive engagement thresholds will be applied (e.g., fearful or trusting) – an alternative is heuristics. That being the case it is only in conditions of low cognitive engagement that a team is going to accept behavioural change first – accordingly, unless fear is a 21st century tool of choice you can justify, or as leaders you are offering a high level of trust to an underperforming team, simply attempting behavioural correction is not going to bring the central (and cognitive) attention required.

As to persuasion, one may also need to consider who is saying what to whom before accounting for change in mindset or behaviour. [This is in reference to the work of Carl Hovland and Yale in the 1950s which explained propaganda variables and influenced the advertising tactics we still all buy into today]. Persuasion needs a receptive audience, a convincing message, and the right seller to convey what is being sold.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory (Leon Festinger 1947) would suggest changing attitude, cognitive reappraisal, or changing behaviour can each apply to resolving two conflicting perspectives (assuming one has a choice). Which of these is changed may be specific to any of the factors described above. [This sits within a wider notion of the Three Motives Ontology – see my blog Motivated Behaviours. Cognitive Dissonance Theory also sits within the paradigm of attitude, persuasion and change].

In summary

It is important to attend to behaviours. It is critical as a leadership role. But have in mind the many moving parts beyond behaviour itself. Being SMART with you team and instilling an intrinsically motivated team ethos requires the winning of both hearts and minds.

Finally, if you have made it this far – that’s motivated behaviour I cannot help but applaud. Thank you. But if you made it here without checking out Praxis, you really should. Here, let me save you some time.

It’s all just one big analogy

Can analogy help describe a project?

Responding to the question of how analogies can help explain projects. A delightful question posed tonight, on Opiner. (A brilliant app idea).

I wrote these notes in preparation for my 3 minute cameo.

The Greek word analogy means ‘proportion’, e.g., 2 is to 4 as 4 is to 8. Electrons and nucleus of an atom are related much as the planets are related to the sun. The analogy of analogy I offered is that it is like a zip-file of code passing from one closed system of consciousness to the next.

That is what we humans do. We symbolise and abstractly recreate what our senses have offered. We perceive.  We reformulate. We connect these abstractions. Approximate reality. This is how we think. How we communicate. And by both, we can collectively intend change.

Analogies do not help us explain projects. The notion of a project is an analogy. Analogous to the very fabric of what our projects are. Intended change. We approximate the complexity of nature, in attempt to understand change. We want to understand change because we can then influence it. We intend change, and by our shared approximations of reality attempt to control the change as we intend it.

This presents limitations. We cannot hope to receive and comprehend all by this summary. And we can only hope to summarise what we comprehend. Erroneous misunderstanding sits at every level of such conversion.

Analogy, metaphor, model, and theory each work well in describing intended change. Each is proportionally relative, limited by the range of our senses, perspectival and therefore compromised by the context of those observing it.

The notion of organisations being served by projects is also I think the wrong way around. Organisations are convenient and efficient means of putting ordered resource to work on bigger change. We can define smaller projects to reorganise that temporary organisational structure. Organisations are objectively bound. A legal convenience. They enable external processes, itself a transition state or change. Much as we can become the agent to change, biologically bound, and singularly legally culpable. Organisations are therefore the servant, not the masters of change.

I propose we change the narrative accordingly. The stories we tell enable us to be. They best approximate the processes of change we intend. Which is to the core of what it is to become the ever better contributor to the human project.

Tomorrow morning I attend a podcast with Project Chatter to discuss philosophy and if/how it applies to projects. This warms me up nicely for the dialogue to come. (Paul Goodge and Dale Fung).

Greek ‘proportion’2 is to 4 as 4 is to 8.electrons nucleus atom as planets are to the sun.
perceive symbolise reformulate connect extract vs abstractions abstractly recreateCommunication is abstract
EncodingModelling creating schemaAnalogy as zip-file of code
IN: We only receive and comprehend a summary of reality
OUT: We can only hope to summarise what we comprehend
a project analogy Intended changeAnalogy Metaphor Model theoryproportionally relative sensorially bound perspectival
the organisation an analogy legal convenienceordered resource process facilitatorsProcess Analogy of steps or change
Organisations are therefore the servant not the masters of change
change the narrative intended change at all scales core of what we are
Presentation crib notes

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:

Read what I say

Cognitive Psychology – language forum week 2

Is written word and what is heard cognitively comparable in any way? This is a question I’m offering to my forum to unpack this week.

Generating spoken word

This week our cognitive psychology is exploring word production in verbal exchange. We are marvelling at the speed of the spoken word and the processing complexity and power required to support such a phenomena. And it is a marvel to consider how close to immediate our sentences are formed.

Processing written word

Last week, we were looking at how quickly we digest the written word. We explored several hypothetical models pondering how our brain may be extracting the essence of such written word.

Bridging the gap

Between the two I see a gap. And to connect the two requires the spoken word to be turned into written word. We only bridged that gap 5,000 years ago. Yet in our lectures we are moving seamlessly from one to the next.

We have moved from reading to speaking. A visual receipt. A verbal transmission. Writing and listening sit opposed to each. How interchangeable can they be? Verbal dialogue is constantly evolving in near real time. Written exchange can be one way, perhaps indefinitely. At the very least, audio transmission is required to be captured in the visual coding we chose. Or written word to be read aloud and converted from visual to audio wavelength somehow.

Preparing to speak or write

What do we consider distinguishes our wider preparations when engaging in dialogue vs conversing in written form? The first is a marvel of speed of thought. The second a longer more singular task. Is the second more careful and considered perhaps? Certainly, more time to revisit each phrase and tone, should one wish to hold more in reserve.

I suspect next week’s lectures will be attempting to make this connection. In the interim, we have been asked to introduce our own discussion piece into the weekly forum. So, connecting these two weeks, this has me thinking of how differently I engage with people over zoom meetings (or face to face once upon a time) compared to how I engage with people by email, or social media, or in written reports. Or indeed written form via this forum or my daily blog – to which this note serves both.

This is what I do

I love unpicking a problem or moving discussion somewhere new. I enjoy writing. I enjoy listening. I enjoy talking too. Reading I do plenty of, but it is my least preferred way to download another point of view. In my opinion this reflects more than cognitive preference. Reading is impersonal to the author. I have less perspective on motives and feelings connected to the words. I am seeking more information from an exchange of perspectives than these formal cues.

This seems an important expansion to make to cognitive function. Language choices are more than just packets of code moving from one automaton to the next. I am therefore struggling to connect to the models we are being presented as working theories. To me, they are constrained unnaturally against this wider process. I therefore find myself instinctively rejecting these models at source.

Let me expand on both verbal and written words – the way I think I prepare for both.

Preparing to speak

If in a meeting, and if the format allows, I like to be the strong finisher rather than the strong starter when in spoken form. I like to gauge a room. I take the tone, the hierarchy, the touch points, and make best guesses as to positions people are taking and perhaps why. If there is need for preparation, it is as likely to be this anticipation of people and likely positions taken that I prepare towards – because I turn up to meetings as a shared process – I watch as others make their mark. Within a meeting, I have in mind all that has been said and seek to find the common themes. If there is clear conflict or obvious positions widening, I seek to find the higher level battle that must be had – but more likely seek out the better way – and ensure all have had their say. In my own way I am seeking time but with the room in mind.

Writing (and rewriting)

This time I also seek in written form. I may write something early, but it may not go very far. If something is complex, I may not write anything at all. I am minded to seek more perspectives if there is unknowns, or allow myself more time to let more scenarios and angles to make themselves known. This takes an inner confidence that I have something building. I am thinking fast and slow. I am resisting the temptation just to do. In my lowest moments, this can simply be an escape. Thankfully, I now have plenty of ways to maintain a confidence and counter such nagging doubt.

Language belongs outside

So how does all that relate to these two sets of lectures? What does that say of the planning of writing vs the spontaneity of conversation? What does it say of the process of communication at all? How completely can we hope to map out the cognitive elements of language, without bringing such wider factors into play? How homogeneous can we hope to be able to make our theories, or present the neurological mapping to call them more? How will this be part of the wider shared experience in verbal or written form? What is cognitive psychology to language, if not accounting for what it is for?

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:

Mind your language (part 3)

Part 3, wider observations

Children learn to understand speech and engage in speech themselves very easily (in most instances) simply through mere exposure. However, visual word recognition is something that begins with the child being explicitly taught the symbols (e.g., letters…and eventually words) that will later be recognized. Given that these statements are true, what implications might this have for children with vastly different parental, educational, and social backgrounds?

UoN MSc Psychology forum discussion November 2021

This weeks’ cognitive psychology forum discussion (above) is concluded. My own responses, blogged earlier this week, were perhaps too broadly philosophical, but others in the group found much more directly relevant references to share. I summarise the most pertinent below, to which I claim no credit, other than to have been an appreciative recipient.


Early exposures make a big difference. A number of sources were cited in the discussion, including the following.

the frequency of reading to children at a young age has a direct causal effect on their schooling outcomes regardless of their family background and home environment.

G. Kalband and J.C. van Ours 2012 (reporting to Department for Early Childhood Education in Victoria, Australia)

Parents and the home environment are essential to the early teaching of reading and fostering a love of reading; children are more likely to continue to be readers in homes where books and reading are valued

Clark and Rumbold, 2006

Dr. Parry discusses how abuse repeatedly activates our stress response neural system, which has vast knock-on effects within early years brain development including associated speech and language delays. So, even when a child is normally exposed to language at home, trauma or abuse appears to entirely disrupt the required cognitive tools on a neurobiological level


“mere exposure” only gets you so far and then it’s down to the individual child and how motivated they are.

By the time children enter the school system, there are already a considerable amount of individual differences in knowledge, motivation, and in having the tools to advance at the same rate as other children.

It is the children with an environment that is interactive, varied and stimulating, and responsive to their needs who do better academically, emotionally, financially, in their relationships, and in long-term health prospects.

One student contributed some recent specific and alarming findings of Professor Keith Topping, who led the 2017 What Kids Are Reading Report. This found that primary age children are more likely than secondary age children to push themselves to read challenging texts and that reading age is reported to fall against the “reading age” to several years below this metric and by the end of secondary school, reading age was typically at least three years below chronological age.

The class is also fortunate to have a number of mature students who are themselves teaching staff, and therefore able to offer personal observations. One such teacher outlined the realities of challenge where infant school children converse in English as an additional language. Accordingly, this often requires foundational expressive, pragmatic, and receptive language skills, but meaning any wider learning challenges that may exist are difficult to separately identify as early as would otherwise be hoped.

Another teacher further highlighting the reality of challenge in working within a system that perhaps assumes a greater access to technology than communities that are social-economic challenged can hope to reflect. During the difficulties through Covid-19, this was reflected in the demands of government that all lessons be recorded – to allow student flexibility and access to learning – but giving no account for whole classes representative of students without access to a home computer.

Social background

As one student puts it, to bring about a positive outcome we must first attend to the factors contributing to that outcome. Another cites the DfE published 2012 research into the importance of reading for pleasure, noting its references to OECD (2002) findings that reading enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status. As Dr. van Heuven notes about visual word recognition; it is affected by word frequency, age of acquisition and word length. All of these factors are affected by the environment of upbringing

Social Psychology is offered by another. Deci and Ryan (1985) suggests that our environment can impact our intrinsic motivation for a subject by granting autonomy and competency and therefore supporting Cognitive Evaluation Theory becoming weighted towards early privilege. Another highlights that this is a form of cultural capital – more readily available to children from higher class backgrounds.

Early Endowment Foundation

EEF and Public Health England: Early Language Development: Needs, provision, and intervention for preschool children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds

This report, for the Education Endowment Foundation October 2017, was also highlighted.  The report makes three key recommendations:

  1. Providing evidence-based training and interventions that promote language-boosting environments in early years settings and between child and carer.
  2. Effective monitoring of children’s progress, in order to identify those falling behind.
  3. Maintaining a close link with the theoretical framework underpinning current research, to ensure that interventions are relevant.


Anecdotal evidence was offered to suggest girls being more receptive to reading as youngsters than boys. Another therein offering research pointing to the dangers of gender generalisations that psychology has been historically tended toward as such binaries and the problematic impact which overall has caused more particular harm than it has offered helpful generalisation.


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:

Comms check

How are you being?

A quick anecdotal connection from my first discussion of the day. Why it is so important to take time to revisit, to reconnect, and be clear on how and why.

Are you doing the right things to become a serendipitist? i.e., “one who finds valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” I think this is connected to being present, but also a fluidity in perspective. Having the presence of mind to enable flow, but having the mental dexterity to operate and perceive at multiple levels of interest beyond that one flow task. To do that, you first need to check you are connecting and communicating with openness of mind and agenda. You also need to be aware of to whom you are communicating, how, and why.

That starts with yourself. This morning’s meditation was my prajna day. I alternate my daily practice between looking inwards (meditation or vipassana) and looking outward (contemplation or metta). Prajna is to do both – in parallel if you are really expert – but for the relative novice this is attempted with inbreath to outbreath. Looking inward, and then immediately outward. Vipassana and metta each advance towards the furthest limits – one infinitely inward and the other infinitely outer. Prajna then challenging the means to move with increasing ease across the entire spectrum of all that is between. This is intended to seek new insight, by being open to the perspectival change. This is of immediate benefit to bring yourself back to the present. It is surprising to realise just how quickly the brain is taken in by distraction. How hard it is to keep remembering this is a practice not a meandering daydream. To stay present. That goes for all three practices. Prajna is as much an exercise in mental agility as it is a peace of mind. Indeed the mindfulness revolution is heavily criticised for suggesting any such practice is about finding an escape towards a calm. It is not an escape of any kind. It is finding a better way to be, and a better directed attention towards what to become.

My serendipitous moment came as I concluded my prajna. I was working to a timeline. My first call at 0830. So after my work upon myself, I was quickly contemplating my work with a new client. A process of discovery of a different kind about to unfold anew. However, this discovery is not mine. I may facilitate or guide some of that process. But the process itself is one that only the patient can do. Starting with the manner of looking within. The vipassana. How well is the communication and inner transparency working? How honest is the relationship with the self? Is there awareness of the inner tensions, the conflicting motivations, the over bearing demands or the parts allowed to do their own thing away from conscious view. How are the inner layers responding, cooperating, collaborating, and containing the processes each and all are intended to do? But then to the metta. How well is this engagement with the outer world. How connected are the receptors of information – the eyes and ears, touch, smell and taste – the perceptions towards these masses of data being retrieved from the outside world, how is all this being managed and processed and made available to decision-making need? How are such decisions being handed back towards these moving parts? How adaptive and effective are these processes as a fit to these interfaces, but also the furthest reaches of this outside world? And therein to the prajna. How connected and effective is the communication at all of these levels of perspective. Therein, how dynamic and able is this one entity of many internal parts able to adapt to the chaotic wider world, and find means to belong, to survive, and enable both to thrive?

This is the projects | within projects idea. That the psychology of self-understanding and self-management relates to more than just self. That social psychology links to sociology and to anthropology. But that all of this, when drawn back to basic principles, is what any organisation of any system is required to do. As a nation, as a people, or as a network or a firm. That any project is just a function of intended change. This perspectival agility then sits at micro and macro scale, a spatial and temporal part of many parts.

Whilst none of the above language is likely to be the taxonomy I use – at its core this is what I do. With this first preparation, this first enquiry, towards a discussion with a C-Suite board of a major organisation of many parts, this is precisely the basis of enquiry that is about to unfold.

Psychology in management; projects in mind. The effectiveness of communication, is what connects it all.

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:

Mind your language (part 2)

Here’s my cognitive science forum discussion piece this week, round two.

A great response offered had me thinking anew. Is the written word our primary concern? The discussion forum in my MSc has me wondering if this is still so.


You have my mind racing here. I have not thought quite in these terms before, but I am now – in my minds-eye or inner narrative – I am now seeing interfaces with technology as moments of great transformation in society. Having our children readied for the next becomes integral from the last. Writing was the Axial Ages catalyst of change. But, perhaps we have had others since. I think this becomes a question of time and space.

Observe these moments of change:

– pre-history is characterised by the initial cave people discovering voice to exchange information beyond signalling. This is the symbolism and abstract start of information exchange that needed the symbolism that Noam Chomski references. It may also give us links to Jungian collective subconscious. See also Vervaeke et al talking about The Meaning Crisis and the early role of Shaman to expand ideas.

– language became the means to pass more than just organisational ideas through time. One generation now able to retain the word of the last generation. Past learning becoming planned to be available to the yet born. What Hindu traditions show us, and Australian aboriginal and Polynesian tribal traditions, is that verbal history can transcend time. However, what it also does is bind people spatially together. It keeps them near. It is through repetition and shared ownership that such history retains its awareness from past generation to current. Language becomes a vessel for history and therefore a reason to think forward too. It also perhaps rewarded those best able to remember and replay events with insights when times were hardest, and give resolve in moments tribal groups were most likely to fail. The necessary communal bond meaning shared solution and safety in those numbers. I have Harari’s “Sapiens” or Jared Diamonds “Guns, Germs, and Steel” in mind and the idea of food banks where one Woolly Mammoth becomes a shared feed, and a metaphorical shared pantry with bigger communities sharing in good fortune and good technique in the hunt. Bound by language and history, benefiting from the communal group.

– the written word is the Axial Revolution point I reference here. This affords more freedom from these close communities. Communities becoming more transient and individual freedoms able to spread both word and trade to connect wider community. This also coincides with agricultural development. It enabled these communities to be bigger. To reach further in trading and sharing ideas, to begin collectively owning these beliefs. Hammurabi’s Code of Law etc. It also enables shared friendships to build and foes to be opposed. Alphabet the one example of phonetic effectiveness. The legend of the Tower of Babel perhaps a reflection of this written word becoming transient but the spoken word becoming nuanced and idea isolations being united again – written word also soon connects number and ideas and advancements begin to build in complexity and permanently transforming beyond civilisation wide threats (cf 1177 BCE)

– This has taken several millennia to unfold. It is the speed of language, in the form of written word and number, that has enabled the spatial distances to be expanded in proliferations from both war and trade. But also the spatial density. The few scribes and those they represent having much power. And such power is held most tightly bound to law and ideology. It is no coincidence that church and power are historic kin. It is the Spanish defenders of Catholic faith that attempt to proliferate much of European population with the power of the written word. In this blog about the Gunpowder Plot I wrote of this proliferation, although not having in mind its impact as outlined here. Both in terms of the Society of Jesus in the Catholic Church – but this is just a relevant in Protestant equivalent a new impact by language is about to unfold.

– This is all around 1520. In terms of the written word one more crucial ingredient connects the written word to the power of information. This is the time of the printing press. In this moment it is more than just those with one Church obedience who can read. It is what motivated the Spanish Catholics to push education into wider Europe but the power of reading was on the rise. This is how the spatial density becomes backfilled at speed. This is no longer just a Sunday service and the teachings from one mouth. This is now a freedom to read, to converse, to influence the mass of population beyond the mass of congregation. It is also the moment Latin begins to lose its dominance as the language of diplomacy, and of thought.

– Language is now more closely tied to written word. Education is tied to written word too. That and mathematics. Greek and Roman languages are still both defaults to know. Euclid’s teachings were known to all who declared themselves educated. But translations and reworked literature is soon to become commonplace. The written word, and number literacy bringing new perspectives to more.

But is this it? Is this how language is to be held in highest influence – as the written word? I think for the longest time of modern era this is true. Modern in philosophical terms, meaning from Descartes (1596 – 1650) onwards. Written word becomes ever more powerful both in the spatial distance that an idea can travel. And the speed with which it can move. The proliferation of ideas expanding as it goes. Whole populations or classes of people now advancing in dialogue. Ideas becoming connected in new ways. But also the proliferation of the story. The metaphor. The abstract connections anew. But this is where I depart from the primacy of the written words. I think there are two moments that demonstrate the power of the word has been usurped.

– Audio language. Once the radio was invented the manner of communication could change again. However, it needed to become ubiquitous to be effective. The radio may have been 1895 in invention but it was the 1920s onwards that enabled it to be available to every European ear. This became a means to close the spatial and temporal space of ideas even further. Almost immediate. The power of the masses may have been quick across Europe in the revolutionary spring of 1848, but the ability to maintain communication over the airwaves is what proliferated information so quickly from Munich and elsewhere from the embers of WW1. This was the start of the age of propaganda. That needed the speed of language in verbal phrasing not just the written word.

– Then we have the power of audio-visual. Look no further than the Kennedy vs Nixon debates to show the power of the combined mediums of language and showmanship

Is the written word therefore important? Yes, it is vital. But is it first among the forms of language we need to understand? I would say absolutely not. And in the near future I question whether it will have primacy at all.
Think on these realities of early 21st Century life:
– most learning is now accompanied by YouTube
– most communication is done by social media. And social media is becoming less interested in the written word.
– most mis-information is proliferated from a few sources and much of it is quickly becoming automated beyond human control.

My view is therefore that if we are focused upon the written word, we are too late in what we hope to teach. It is important. But let us not forget what it is not. It is not language. It is a symbolic convenience that has served us well. It has connected the whole planet. And connects us still. But we are folly to think it is a pinnacle of communication. It is already being usurped.

It is for this reason I am surprised we are being taught theories of written word. We seem to me at the cusp of information exchange in many other forms.


I am not sure I represent the generations to come. Perhaps the technology they will communicate via is close by but yet to arrive. By example, how many people can I expect to have read all the way to this final remark…? But by what other means can something be so quickly skimmed, surmised, and dismissed, yet still have been considered end to end?

…to be continued.

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Mind your language

Here’s my cognitive science forum discussion piece this week

Children learn to understand speech and engage in speech themselves very easily (in most instances) simply through mere exposure.  However, visual word recognition is something that begins with the child being explicitly taught the symbols (e.g., letters…and eventually words) that will later be recognized.  Given that these statements are true, what implications might this have for children with vastly different parental, educational, and social backgrounds?

UoN MSc Psychology forum discussion November 2021

I have spent the evening with our lectures for this week on language. Principally, focused on the theories of how we bring the written word into our mind. Before answering the above, I was minded to revisit a few old sources again. I was in an audio visual frame of mind so reminded myself of the content of a classic piece by Steven Pinker. My opening discussion has therefore cited this at length. I conclude my initial observations with a detailed summary of his Big Think piece, but I recommend watching the whole thing.


Children from the axial revolution

Forgive the word play on a T-Rex song but it serves a point of sorts.  It is the first of three shameless retrievals of information from other sources.  This first recalled from song.

My second is from the written word.  In the excellent book “The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah” by Karen Armstrong 2006, the connectivity of the world is reflected upon around 500 BCE.  Her underlying point being that many of the world’s belief systems became more interchangeable at this time.  The reasons include transit freedoms as new metals were forged and animals tamed.  But also the transitory nature of information.  The mobility of the word and the interactions of ideas.  Language had stored story long before written down. Indeed the 10,000 year history of Hindu teachings attest to the longevity of word across time.  It is however time consuming to remember verbatim from one generation to the next.  Less accurate?  Perhaps not if tradition and word are both retaining context of both.

My third source is audio visual.  I quote at length Steven Pinker in what follows.  Please note the key point of the form of information exchange here. He did not use written language to convey this complexed message – only as a presentation aid.  Instead, he used a video camera and a production team, via YouTube. Much as children do not learn language from a book, nor do we as adults have to read to learn.  But good luck getting acquainted with technology without the written word.  My point (well that of Pinker et al) is, written language is a construct and a subset of a wider phenomenon.  We are less without it.  But it is language, not writing, that sets us apart as a species. Our society needs us to read and write.  At least until something better comes along.

My final point is this – all the rest is Steven Pinker – you may choose to watch the 50 mins of footage here or read the five minutes of written summary below. Such is the efficiency of written language – enabling you to pick and choose in temporal freedoms beyond the spoken word. We have choice. Much more in 2021 when it comes to choosing the format of information download. With choice comes compromise. Longevity, accessibility, interest, and influence, are all tied up within. Need and options are evolving through technological means, and these are 21st Century challenges that are already beginning to change us all.

Steven Pinker: Linguistics as a Window to Understanding the Brain | Big Think 6th October 2012

Pinker tells us that language is distinctive, essential, mysterious, practical, and central to human life.  It is also the means by which we exert a power to exchange knowledge and intentions that no other species on earth has ever achieved.  And not by any one off fluke of one culture.  Every culture has been shown to have developed a language, and today 6,000 languages are still spoken on Earth.  He quotes Charles Darwin “man has an instinctive tendency to speak as we see in the babble of our young children while no child has an instinctive tendency to … write”

The complexity of grammar, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics are collectively the science of language.  The processes, acquisition, and computation all forming subsets therein.  Pinker’s key point in the context of our forum discussion is his distinction between language and a number of items which he argues are not language study per se – including written language.  He advises that writing has only been invented a small number of times (from around 5,000 years ago).  Crucially, he argues that an alphabetic language has only been invented once in the history of language – by the Canaanites – about 3,700 years ago.  He further argues that proper grammar (i.e., prescriptive) is also not language – distinctive grammar is a study of language – prescriptive grammar is a study of rules (and rules we generally make-up and break at will).  Further arguing that dialects can provide explanations beyond the standard form e.g., “he be working” denotes employment not just graft.  Pinker also argues that our thoughts are not in themselves language –  because there is plenty of cognitive ability in visual imagery that never approaches language – and that memory is more gist than detailed sentence structure.  Our meaning is derived from more abstract ability to interpret and contextualise intent of the transmitter.  Language effects thoughts, but is not itself thought (cf. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). Words, rules (syntax, morphology, phonology) and interfaces; these are the three elements of language, according to Steven Pinker.

Still quoting Pinker, 60,000 words is the average individuals vocabulary.  If this were learnt as meaning of word by word, that would require a new word learnt every two hours from the age of one.  Each word phrase is somewhat arbitrary, and per Noam Chomsky is almost unique in its combination of gramma rules – which gives insight into psychology.  Sentences are placed in hierarchical structure, and not associated word by word, but anticipated against these rules.  Rules will be different from one language to the next. This presents the open-ended creativity of language; it enables expressions of unfamiliar meanings and new combinations of the nuanced; thereby creating an infinite possible structure of sentence form.

As to learning, Pinker brings this argument to us as follows.  Children are showing this in experimentation of learning as soon as two words are able to be combined – from around 18 months old.  They are demonstrating combinatory experimentation as soon as they begin speaking.  Evidenced by the experimenting and making error in expanding irregular verbs using regular verb past tense rules.  This is all audio-verbal but can also be symbolic in other ways.  Chomsky argues this point via his “poverty of input” argument, which states a non-linear restructuring occurs even before any such rule dependency can be learnt.  Chomsky argues we are pre-programmed to structure language universally. Not that his argument is without critics – particularly the lack of evidence or nuanced demonstration that only language has this pre-built disposition – other critical perspective emerging from modern neural network concepts where language could be part of this same complex learning.

Phonology.  Formation rules offer indications that a language allows a word or not.  These can also be represented in the nuances of a language (e.g., the sounds of “ed” in walked, jogged, or patted) as is sometimes betrayed by accent or as taken by an author’s advantage in comedic word play.

Language interfaces as the process of hearing and replying.  Production from the vocal tract, via the larynx across two cartilage flaps in the voice box. These produce a vibration with harmonics.  From here it passes through the chambers of the throat, above the tongue, the cavity formed via the lips, or by blocking off the airflow and into the cavity through the nasal passage.  Each cavity shaped to enable amplification or suppression of particular harmonics. All vowels are produced with the back and forth or up and down motions of the tongue.  The temporary stopping or restricting the air flow is more typically that of a consonant.   Our brain is perceiving a qualitative difference in each of these sounds.  In receiving these sounds it is then our brain that artificially punctuates the words to break them up into understandable forms – best heard when listening to foreign language where no such breaks will be heard.

Pragmatics is the context adding.  The cooperative principle is what is used to reference the assumed two-way working relationship being attempted by both parties to a dialogue.  It requires innate understanding beyond the information being presented.

Written language does however offer more than this.  Computers are programmed.  When learning the nuances of language the written form gives clarity.  It enables understanding and record of law, politics, or literary precision.  My counter-question to frame the forum discussion, “is written word essential to learning at all?”  I would say not.  However, a second question emerges therein. In modern society, is written word essential to advancing? Unless or until we find more advanced forms of record and retrieval of information, I would say so. Any denial of this learning is therefore a denial of some basic gifts of truth.

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More in than out

I’m not discriminatory, but…

Is it even possible to be truly egalitarian and harbour no prejudice at all? This is my initial reaction having spent this evening with my MSc lecture series on prejudice and discrimination theories. This is another blog from the world of social psychology.

Take this example of stereotype content. Which Dr. Susan Fiske put forward in 2002.

Bias assessment

  • High income
  • Homeless
  • Professional athlete
  • Physically impaired
  • Science Graduate
  • Arts Graduate
  • Religious
  • Atheist
Fiske 2002 Stereotype Content Model

I have presented alternative categories to those offered by the studies in question, but ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and belief all feature in the original lists. The overriding point being that across these two metrics of warmth and competence, there are underlying generalisations that seem to recur.

Asch 1946 had theorised that categorising all traits, could be grouped into broader sets. Referenced as central or peripheral traits. This is not without critics but it offers some support to the attempted categorisations by Fiske.

Asch 1946

Central vs peripheral traits

Terms such as warm deemed to influence other trait opinions too (Asch, 1946; Kelley, 1950). Certain information key in forming an impression (cf. Asch’s (1946) “configural model”)

Fiske 2002 is therefore using relative warmth towards others, and task competence, to show how stereotypes exist to favour “in-group” assessments vs other (“out-group”) comparison. Our behaviours influenced by this subjective schema placement that we have made.

Implications on behaviour

What Fiske further demonstrated was that our in-group response tends toward itself or those it pities. Whereas a competitor group is a cold but competent other, perhaps a convenient supporter of the same system we benefit from but from whom scarce resource should be taken from. A passive indifference exists towards those of neither trait strength.

A common theme however was “in-group” only were both warm and competent and thereby encouraged.

Fiske 2002 Stereotype Content Model

Bias as automated activation

Category activation is not necessarily an applied bias. Fiske, argues however, that additional information – perhaps with application of inconsistency resolution and other person individuation being factored in – are possible to be allocated according to the perceivers motivations and capacity (ibid pp124). Fiske indicates that some bias does appear to be easily stimulated in some settings, and can be worrisome, “…automated reaction to out-group members matters in everyday behaviour” (pp124). Fiske concludes that there is perhaps more automation of bias than most people generally think, but less than psychologists traditionally thought.

The possibility of control – if so motivated

That is not to say however that we are without means to manage or change – if we are so inclined.

Whether bias is conditionally or unconditionally automatic, less prejudiced perceivers still can compensate for their automatic associations with subsequent conscious effort. If category activation is conditionally automatic, then people may be able to inhibit it in the first place. In either case, motivation matters

Susan Fiske, Princeton University, New Jersey – American Psychology Association 2002 pp124

Amongst such moderate attitude, inhibiting bias can rebound (pp124). Repressing specific bias less effective than attending to active focus upon individual appraisal of all. Not that this is easy, or perhaps even possible. Moderate bias can take the form of withholding of liking or respect, and an indirect bias can be upheld if it represents the norms of appropriate response (pp125).

Project Implicit suggests an implicit bias in many people who were tested. It was not without its detractors as a study but offered a large sample set of data and outcomes which are still hotly debated today. As quoted on the website “The mission of Project Implicit is to educate the public about bias and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the internet. Project Implicit scientists produce high-impact research that forms the basis of our scientific knowledge about bias and disparities.” It is worth a visit.

As an area of scientific research the subject of prejudice (thought) and discrimination (acted upon) is still being contested, particularly when at a personal level. In our lecture series today we have been directed toward work concerning culture vs personal attitude (Uhlmann, Poehlman and Nosek, 2012); Deliberate or automatic (Devine, 1989); Category activation as avoidable (Bargh, 1999); Mere exposure effect – Zajonc (1968); Social Learning (Bandura 1977, 1997); Frustration aggression hypothesis (Dollard et al., 1939) and the counter-positions (Miller, 1948; Berkowitz, 1962); Personality: Dogmatism and closed-mindedness (Rokeach, 1948); Personality: Social dominance theory (Sidanius and Pratto, 1999; Sidanius et al., 2001); Belief congruence theory (Rokeach 1960).

v | behaviour | t

It was estimated by Fiske that around 10% of a population of tolerant society would present openly intolerant views (pp123). The reflection upon this subgroup indicates a tendency towards vocations intent on maintaining a status quo (police not social work; business not education) and holding core values against out-group deviation with aggression. It is also observed that such extreme positions tend to bias within packs and are typically held against more than a single target out-group.

Whilst the extreme is important my own interest is amidst the more ambiguous, ambivalent or moderate bias which Fiske addresses throughout pp124-126. Here the “them and us” is addressed in increasing visibility, with behaviours from simply inhibited intervention, through to passive allowance and favouritisms (pp125 citing Brewer & Brown 1998) and the norms that allow this to occur; to exaggerations of difference and homogenous reaffirming negative perspectives. As ambivalence nears moderate bias so dislike of some groups becomes justification of social exclusion (pp125) whilst tolerating those equally competent but deemed cold, as parties also intent on maintenance of the system integrity to the benefit of both. Exclusion and avoidance, outward disregard, and increasing expectation of resource allocations directed with bias toward the in-group in mind, are presented as increasingly a shift toward the more extreme.

These are complex issues. I barely grasp the magnitude of this locally, let alone the globally real. However, what is clear to me is this behavioural element is visible and therefore actionable. It also seems clear from this reading that normalising behaviours are tolerated or encouraged behaviours. In that regard it seems necessary to have that in mind of ones self but not just for ones self, before then considering what that means for everyone else. Respect, seems a good place to start. And that really does start with the self as if it were other.

To be continued…



Fiske, ST. “What we know now about bias and intergroup conflict, the problem of the century” American Psychological Society, 2:4 Aug 2002.

Further reading references and wider notes credited to University of Nottingham lectures, Psychology MSc, 2021.

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: