Qualification vs Experience PART 1

To own or apply knowledge

This is a LinkedIn favourite. Click-bait, guaranteed to provoke reaction. It is an ever-valid discussion to return to. In my consulting discussions the debate of demonstrating qualified staff or experience in role is equally divisive. But I have no doubt, experience counts.

PART 2 of this blog will perhaps revisit some past threads of discussion. For now however, I simply want to demonstrate what I think is really being asked. For me this is simply the difference between having and being.

I have blogged about having vs being before. Links will appear at the bottom of this post. Nothing here is new. Dave Snowden regularly speaks of people relying on form when it is process that counts. John Vervaeke runs regular YouTube dialogue presenting these differences as contributors to the meaning crisis.

From a knowledge perspective we can consider this as the difference between acquired and applied learning. In those terms it perhaps becomes self-evident what the difference between qualification and experience reflects. But I will elaborate for clarity.

This can be explained across the categories of visibility | behaviour | trust (v|b|t).

Qualifications v | b | t

visibility | b | t

High visibility. But only visibility of potential. Measurable as standardised evidence to demonstrate that a core knowledge has been achieved. Employers can advertise expectations in standardised language for all potential candidates to self-select against. It also presents benchmarks to aim toward. At the heart of the visibility is the question “is this particular example of human form able to contribute to our process?” In this regard the qualification presents an attribute – a speculative possibility.

v | behaviour | t

Them and us behaviour. This is having mode. Ownership. To have a degree certificate is to own a qualification. To be Associate or Fellow qualified in a professional capacity is to have achieved a demonstration of learning in your craft. This is to have. This is form. It is a material representation of attaining a learning from an institution. It is something that has been acquired. By the application of personal resources of time and money towards gaining something others have offered you as an exchange. The conclusion of which is a necessary demonstration that this acquisition has been successful. A confirmation is awarded based on a manner of pre-determined examination of your account or recall.

v | b | trust

Them and us, as credibility. Trust is inherently placed in the hands of a third-party. These are institutions of learning, academically or otherwise accredited. It thereby increases distance between candidate and employer; prospective service provider and customer. At scale this is organisational accreditation or licence to operate. But such certifications are also an enabler of the defensive decision-maker. Lowering the necessary skill-base of the assessor; reducing decision parameters; optimising short-lists. This trust is assumed. It is therefore fragile, rigid to the framework it reflects, standardised, and potentially subject to abuse.

Experience v | b | t

visibility | b | t

High visibility. Measurable in years, or reputation, or demonstrable by tangible success. Success measurable by metrics of application not acquisition.

v | behaviour | t

Applied know-how is able to be demonstrated. Learning whilst doing and understanding of contextual application in action and deeds. Contextually relevant is therefore more detailed in explanation and demonstration. It can command more respect simply because it is the being part of the process, not simply representing the potential to be.

v | b | trust

A closer approximation of fit to role is possible. It requires a greater ability to share a trust. A trust can be built based upon shared understanding of process. Abstraction by both parties (e.g. employer and employee) who can better empathise with the other, having better modelling in mind of what the process they share as intentions, requires of the other.

A practical example of having or owning knowledge vs applying it

I conclude with a further example of the limited visibility that owned knowledge represents. This is day 643 of lockdown in Casa Beardall. Undoubtedly now my most intense era of knowledge acquisition. One MSc completed, and another underway. Owned knowledge by qualification. But my owned knowledge is accumulating by another metric – by the volume of literature I have acquired. This last 12 months, the calendar year of 2021, I have spent over £1,000 on books. I have accounted for them all. They are listed in the table below. I can claim to have read them all. I do claim to have read most. But all you can seek as validation is visibility e.g., evidence that I physically own them.

Some of these books have been heavy reading. Some almost impenetrable (Kant or more recently Heidegger). Some of the books are just a guide to others. The point is who is to know if I have read them, let alone understood them. But even if I sit an exam to demonstrate an understanding of them, it has no reflection on whether I can apply them to anything meaningful to you or anything worldly at all.

A book seems to me the perfect metaphor as a simplification of this debate. Anyone can own a book. Have this knowledge to hand. It is a literal form of knowledge. But to apply knowledge is to not have it to hand. It is to have it abstractly available in mind. And thereby find means to apply it to something new.

In the zoom age these displays are everywhere. Bookshelves strategically located behind camera shots. Mine included. The academic class more guilty than most. Other than perhaps politicians.

We can display all, but in the end it is application that counts. And experience is the easiest representation of that.

I will conclude the crassness with the following table. Hubris on show.

Having or Being | Form or Process | Acquired or Applied?

A list of books purchased in 2021. A gratuitous display. That demonstrates more of my commitment to charities vs publishers, than it does to how the content may be applied.

£803.70Subtotal from Oxfam 
£36.84The goalamazon
£29.99Historical Sociology and World Historyo51****
£27.07What is ancient philosophy?amazon
£24.99Language and Social Relationso50****
£21.95Fool’s Goldamazon
£21.38Becoming humanamazon
£20.00Jungian psychoanalysis: Working in the Spirit of Carl Jungo38****
£20.00Conjectures and Refutations by Karl Poppero51****
£20.00William James and the transatlantic conversationo44****
£19.99Social Psychology — 8th Editiono65****
£19.99Psychology and Alchemyo38****
£19.99History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russello51****
£19.99what causes human behaviour – stars, selves or contingencies?o61****
£19.33Essays of Francis Baconamazon
£16.48Karl Jaspers : The origin and goal of historyamazon
£15.99Kants Critique of Practical Reasono46****
£15.00Representing and Interveningo51****
£15.00Short History Of The Communist Party Of The Soviet Uniono44****
£15.00ETHIC of Benedict de Spinoza: Demonstrated in Geometrical Ordero44****
£14.99Principles of Brain Dynamics Global State Interactionso38****
£14.99Summa Theologica – Volume 17: Psychology of Human Actso33****
£14.99Existentialism and Humanismo33****
£14.99Leibniz: Nature and Freedomo51****
£14.99The Psychology of Politicso61****
£14.99The human use of human beingso61****
£14.99The Philosophy of David Humeo45****
£14.99The Freud Jung Letterso50****
£14.99Kant’s Critique of pure reason; translated by Norman Kemp Smitho45****
£14.99Will Hutton – Them and Us – Signed First Editiono44****
£14.99Newman on the Psychology of Faith in the Individual [1928]o44****
£14.99An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Second Editiono44****
£14.99Joseph Campell’s selected letters 1927-1987amazon
£14.50Josepeh Campbell’s hero with a thousand facesamazon
£14.02Joseph Campbell’s pathways to blissamazon
£13.99Being and timeo44****
£13.66Your Leadership Legacy : becoming the leader you were meant to beamazon
£13.62Tales from two sides of the brainamazon
£12.99Megaprojects and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambitiono46****
£12.991177 BCE : the year civisation collapsedamazon
£12.95Explaining the Braino44****
£12.15Bandit Capitalism : Carillionamazon
£12.00Complex/Archetype/Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jungo33****
£11.99Imitatio Christio46****
£11.98The goal of philosophyamazon
£11.63The conciousness instinctamazon
£10.99Freedom and beliefo38****
£10.99The Essential James Hillman: A blue fireo44****
£10.00The Problems of Philosophyo33****
£10.00The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionismo51****
£10.00Statistics for psychologyo44****
£10.00Vygotsky’s Psychologyo44****
£9.99Analyzing Social Science Datao65****
£9.99Ego & Archetypeo38****
£9.99Coleridge’s Works – Aids to Reflection – published in 1890o51****
£8.99Buddhismwithout belief : a contemporary guide to awakeningamazon
£8.96Applying AI to Project Managementamazon
£8.75How the Project Management Office can use AI to imporve the bottom lineamazon
£8.44Gods in Everyman : a new psychology of man’s lives and lovesamazon
£8.15Risk Savvyamazon
£8.00The structure of scientific revolutionso46****
£8.00Routledge philosophy guidebook to Kant and the Critique of pure reasono44****
£7.99The Story of Civilization. Rousseau and Revolution 10. The Protestant Northo46****
£7.99Chomsky’s Reflection on Languageo46****
£7.99The Conscious Mind In Search of a Fundamental Theoryo38****
£7.99The Poetical Works of Shelleyo45****
£7.99The desert fathers :sayings of the early christian monksamazon
£7.78Who’s in Charge?amazon
£7.50Mind and cosmoso51****
£7.49The Vision of Judgment and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Cantos III & IVo51****
£7.49Existential Analysis 11.2,12.1 & 13.1o50****
£7.19The Human Side of Managing Technological Innovationo46****
£7.00Time – Rhythm and Reposeo38****
£7.00The House at Pooh Cornero33****
£7.00Radical prioritieso44****
£7.00Mapping The Mindo44****
£6.99Foundations of Euclidean and Non-Euclidean Geometryo46****
£6.99The Neurotic Personality of Our Timeo46****
£6.99An Essay concerning Human Understandingo45****
£6.99Early Christian writing : the apostellic fathersamazon
£6.71Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophyamazon
£5.99The Shakespeare Classics: The Taming Of A Shrewo33****
£5.99Critique of the Power of Judgment (2008)o51****
£5.97Critical chainamazon
£5.00Mapping the Mindo51****
£4.99Social Psychology: A Study of Human Interaction (1965)o65****
£4.99Two treatises of governmento46****
£4.99Rousseau’s Political Writingso45****
£4.99An enquiry concerning human understandingo45****
£4.99Freedom Evolves, Daniel C. Dennett, Penguin Paperbacko44****
£4.99Workplace counsellingo44****
£4.84Plato : The Republicamazon
£3.99Understanding the Self-Ego Relationship in Clinical Practiceo51****
£3.99Mind Watching: Why We Behave the Way We Doo61****
£3.99The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and the Mindo45****
£3.99The village effecto44****
£3.00Oscar Wildeo45****
£2.99Real Confidenceo44****
£2.99The emerald tablet of Hermesamazon
£2.49The Science of Passionate Interests: … Tarde’s Economic Anthropologyo51****
£2.49The measure of all thingso51****

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:

Show and tell

A trickster mask unpacked

This is how I created the Trickster image that ends each of my blog entries. I also share some other work to emerge from the same learning journey this represents.

I do more than just work and research from my desk…

There is a dabble of psychology here. A reflection upon flow. Mostly however, this is just a tentative peak into my creative process. Amidst those tougher moments I am sure we all have to make our way through from time to time. In any collaborative process, communication is key. Sometimes that communication and understanding is necessary from within…

Free hand shapes can be drawn in VisioPro. This mask and cave-drawing were adapted from numerous stock images, mouse controlled freehand. Thereafter repurposed, fragmented, shaded. All within VisioPro.

Jack-a-lope (unpacked) – completed 7th February 2021

Visio (Microsoft Visio Professional 2016) is a tool I use for preparing workshop materials in my consulting role. I find using such software as artistic mediums both a means of creative release and reason to be learning new skills I can bring back to the workplace.

A YouTube video inspired logo

I discovered easier ways to fragment images using Visio – YouTube full of tutorials on how to create logos in using this tool. It takes a little practice but basic shapes such as this are surprisingly straight-forward. If considered in the context of flow, these skill improvements are incremental, but each leads to the next, empowering an inner confidence to try more difficult things.

Jaq O’byte (see below) was produced using similar start points of imagery, and built up over several days. I was having a tough time in my head in these few days. Visio becoming a creative outlet. With some increasing ambition as new tricks, tips, and visual effects were learned, discovered, applied and adapted. Even on the tough days flow becomes easier to find when basics are built upon over time.

Jaq O’byte (completed 13th March 2021)

These characters are more than random images. They each became intermingled with narratives, short-stories, and psychological examinations with my therapist. Typically these moments of high creative activity become directed toward wider thought, but inner struggle directed me inwards. The art-work sometimes cause and sometimes effect of the ebb and flow. Much of this is symbolic and with personal meaning. Maybe I will elaborate on this at some point. But not today.

This logo began life as an ambitious attempt at explain how critical controls between parties need a connecting piece to be shared – projects | within projects was in mind as this emerged on a page.

A project of integration to connect two projects of control (completed 16th March 2021)

Thanks for reading to the end. Not directly research or work related, but hopefully a little more visibility upon a process. A little understanding of how behaviours turned toward inner need can become productive. A little trust derived from better understanding of such demands and needs.

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:


What is flow? Can we find it in our projects?

This blog summarises several accounts from academics in psychology and neuroscience on the subject of flow. To which I then add some context as I believe it can apply to projects and outlined using v | b | t.

the positive aspects of human experience – joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life I call flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

This blog is prompted by an observation and a question asked of a correspondent friend on LinkedIn. Who posted a ponderance as to whether the feelings of flow has a place in more group activity. It is a question I have been pondering for a while. Others have been writing of it for decades.

First, I need to introduce the two scholars of note by summaries of their work I hereafter refer:

  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyl
  • John Vervaeke

I begin with a summary of key matters on the phenomena of flow


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Flow: the psychology of optimal experience.” (1990)

The book is written in ten chapters, of which I will offer some detail from chapter 4, “Conditions of flow”. For context the ten chapters read as follows:

  1. Happiness revisited
  2. The anatomy of consciousness
  3. Enjoyment and quality of life
  4. Conditions of flow
  5. The body in flow
  6. The flow of thought
  7. Work as flow
  8. Enjoying solitude and other people
  9. Cheating chaos
  10. The making of meaning

Chapter 4 – conditions of flow

Individual conditions to enable flow

pp71, Chapter 4, the Conditions of flow. The conditions within us to achieve flow are briefly summarised. The opening paragraph presents heightened concentration; lost self-consciousness; a sense that skill set is adequate in ability, relevant to task, and under control. Control in this context presented as a rule-bound action system with clear clues as to the quality of performance of task (ibid pp71). In flow, the activity becoming one performed for its own sake, in of itself the reason.

The autotelic personality

These personal traits or characteristics are what become referred to as the autotelic personality. Pp83 makes contrast to the autotelic personality, i.e., opposite traits are presented. These are traits of those of us unlikely or just incapable of flow. Reasoned by their inability to deny distractions from task focus. By one extreme, the schizophrenic’s curse of being compelled to take note of all feeling and need, without choice. By the other extreme, the excessively self-conscious person so concerned for their imagined appearance to others that the task itself cannot be central in attendance (ibid pp84). Both the inner compulsion or the outer more concern present a lacking of the “attentional fluidity needed to relate to activities for their own sake” (ibid pp85).

attentional fluidity needed to relate to activities for their own sake

What it is to be autotelic (Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 1990 pp85)

Flow channel – between boredom and anxiety

In all cases of flow there is an expanded complexity to our conscious experience, not so much as to cause anxiety, but enough to overstep thresholds of predictability and boredom (ibid pp74). To which Csikszentmihalyi offers an idea of a flow channel where the levels of skill required are such as to keep us beyond boredom. These skills applied to challenge that is manageably difficult. i.e., presenting enough difficulty to be keep our interest but below a point that anxiety of the scale of challenge consumes our calm. By this 2D measure, an increasing challenge is needing of more skill, and vice-versa (pp74).

Situational conditions to enable flow

Next, the conditions of the activity are examined. pp72 flow activities are described as paramount reality being felt toward optimal experiences in everyday life. Therein pp72, citing Roger Caillois’ four categories of game play to outline a range of activity that can enable a state of flow:

  • Agon (competitive games);
  • Alea (games of chance);
  • ilinx (vertigo – situations that challenge balance or altered body need)
  • Mimicry (as anything altering the reality or context such as the arts)

Csikszentmihalyi is presenting each category as requiring us to expand the edges or boundary condition of one form of our ordinary perception. From the four categories stated these expansions are outlined as: elevating skills to meet those encountered of an opponent; elevating our sense of future focus; the shuffling of different sense perceptions or the altered focus of consciousness we perceive; or temporary transformation into something other than ourselves (ibid pp73).

Scaled up to societal levels

For Csikszentmihalyi, this is also more than a singular experience, reflecting upon flow at much greater scale. Outlined in terms of culture, nation, and therefore whole populations being more at one with a great task. These can be moments of great focus or adversity. Wars, building of great wonder, eras of great advancement, discovery, and change. The common theme being that the individual or the group is brought back to the moment. Less distracted by what else may otherwise demand our attention or want more of our time.

Contextual denying conditions (Anomie or alienation)

Structural impediments are also outlined. At sociological levels these are referenced as anomie (lack of rules) and alienation.

Anomie could arise from great upheaval where societal norms are lost or collective circumstance changes without clarity of what that now means. Periods of sudden mass wealth, mass poverty, or displacement, or falsification of truths, all equally able to remove any clarity on what is permitted and what is not.

Alienation being the opposite, as an overly constrained set of rules oppressively forced upon a people in ways that contravene their beliefs and goals (pp86).

These are sociological and therefore situational or contextual conditions for flow but structural conditions can also be considered as blocks to flow within each of us.

Personal denying conditions

Neuroscience and psychology are then revisited from pp86. Some people shown to have attentions towards concentration more than others. Cortical activations and “evoked potentials” from senses other than those being used in a task being more active and therefore more able to distract in some people, than others. Compared to the more able to concentrate more singularly on the task at hand.

Crucially, this was not deemed to be genetic or predisposed, but potentially a learned skill in of itself (pp88). By way of further examination Csikszentmihalyi then proceeds to consider the role family and early years learning can have on this learned phenomena in later life. Not however to deny us the potential for flow, but simply to have not presented environments where it is naturally able to be encouraged.

People of flow

The chapter concludes with a brief examination of examples of people who have achieved noteworthy outcomes attributable to flow.

Those people who faced up to moments or lives subjected to great ordeal but who not only survived but thrived by their experience. Richard Logan cited as finding a connection between such accounts as those who “found ways to turn bleak objective conditions into subjectively controllable experience.

Blueprint of flow activities

Here Csikszentmihalyi presents a common theme that connects them all.

“blueprint of flow activities.

[1] First, they paid close attention to the most minute details of their environment, discovering in it hidden opportunities for action that matched what little they were capable of doing, given the circumstances.

[2] Then they set goals appropriate to their precious situation, and closely monitored progress through the feedback they received.

[3] Whenever they reached their goal, they upped the ante, setting increasingly complex challenges for themselves.”

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 1990, pp90

To which he concludes with a uniting observation that the many examples of those incarcerated who find flow “even though the person is objectively a slave, subjectively [they] are free” (ibid pp92).

In wider survival stories where the adversity is the threat of the environment itself, this was similarly deemed most survivable by those applying themselves in manner akin to flow.

“intrinsically motivated by their actions, they are not easily disturbed by the external threat. With enough psychic energy free to observe and analyse their surroundings objectively, they have a better chance of discovering in them new opportunities for action. If we were to consider one trait a key element of autotelic personality, this might be it.

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) pp92

Chapter 4 concludes with a pithy reflection upon some being more naturally, or more fortunate in early learning, to be adept at managing themselves in this way. But also reflects upon how everyone can build their skills towards the goal of more flow, in body, in mind, in group or isolation, in work and in play. Ultimately, in life.

This is the natural segway to introduce some contemporary work by another psychologist of note. John Vervaeke, and some of his recent attempts to present these ideas to a mass audience. And who’s polymath interests and subject cross-pollinations have certainly influenced me.


John Vervaeke

John Vervaeke PhD is described on his YouTube channel as an award-winning lecturer at the University of Toronto in the departments of psychology, cognitive science and Buddhist psychology. Amongst his contemporary series of work three presents detailed psychologically relevant material that make reference to flow:

The elusive I further introduces concepts such as recursive resonance realisation which I will revisit in later blogs.

Flow in meditative practice

During the early days of the Covid Crisis, Vervaeke launched a meditative series that combined his cognitive science teachings and practices of meditation and contemplation. The third lesson (dharma day) addresses flow, as part of the initial setting up of any meditative practice. The whole practice being taught (lessons one through to ten) ultimately become a basic series of meditative practice intended to slowly train the mind to become more agile between externally focused contemplative focus, and inner meditative practice. This practice intentionally becoming gradually and increasingly a skilled discipline of increasing challenge that requires modal agility between extremes of inner and external address. In lesson six he advises cognitive science is indicating it is this observational modality that offers the benefits with mindfulness, a very effective way of gaining new insight.

Awaking from the meaning crisis – series

This is an epic series of lectures. Ideas of flow but a small part of much wider reaching ideas. Flow features in the following episodes.

Meaning Crisis Part 1. Meaning is a key to life.

What wisdom connects life meaning and self-transcendence? Building on the ideas of shifting the mind early roles of Shaman, flow state, mystical experience and subset as awakening experiences this episode reflects upon sources of meaning and insight which can be compared to the Csikszentmihalyi referenced stretching of boundary conditions of our ordinary perception.

Meaning Crisis part 2 Flow as a metaphor

Being in the zone. Demanding tasks that go just beyond the skill state. Skill improvements and increasing challenge are presented as being the basic engagement qualities that keep us focused on virtual realities – flow state being central to the video game. This is presented as a deeply positive experience. Which Vervaeke argues this to be a directly connected experience akin to what is sought in finding meaning in life.

Vervaeke’s suggestion (00:27:15) is the three means of gaining the better insight are the same three factors that enable flow state: clear feedback; tight coupling with environment; and error matters. He argues that implicit learning and flow sit in the same conditions of cognitive effectiveness. And these become self reinforcing. Because these insights are intuitive the sense of loss of self can be disconcerting or in the Shaman context “otherly”. In cognitive science this is parts of the brain talking that otherwise do not. The metaphor “to bridge”, reflected upon language as a means share meaningful experience. Better language becomes intertwined with metaphor – which is revisited in Part 3 as language complexifies to enhance trust in the message and how in touch this is with reality. All aiding to the possibility of the flow state.

Part 9 – Insight

Mindfulness introduced as the means to use attentional scaling between inner detail and external reality and back. Optimising between the two enables prajna or non-duality to bring an enhanced realness and meaning. Higher states of flow. [The more expanded exploration of these concepts referenced in the meditative series highlighted above.]

Part 10 – Consciousness

Salience landscape cf.  Wallace L Matson “sentience”.  The salience of information is what Matson calls ‘sizing up’.  This is a ‘featurisation’ and ‘foregrounding’ in a recurring process that configures i.e., figurisation, all recurring until the problem is suitably framed.  This dynamical system has three or four levels of recurrence becoming a highly textured and flowing landscape of problem framing.


How can we move our teams into flow state?

Returning now to the question which prompted this outline of flow. There are key characteristics described which can be reset against our engagements as teams, and in broader context, how we perform collectively or opposed in project environments.

Csikszentmihalyi present two key factors which can be considered in any project setting, of which I split the needed control as a third:

First, nurturing autotelic traits

First the traits of the autotelic personality. Heightened concentration; lost self-consciousness; a sense that skill set is adequate in ability, relevant to task, and under control (Csikszentmihalyi pp71).

Second, providing situational arenas of flow

Second is the situational conditions that encourage flow states. Which Csikszentmihalyi describes by way of the boundary condition of one form of our ordinary perception being challenged. Such as the competition between players, the means of contemplating future outcome; acuity toward the specific information of relevance without distraction; or the means to temporarily live as another to expand perspective.

Third, create flow channels via the right kinds of control

Thirdly, is the manner of keeping the balance of skills demands and challenge to keep teams in the flow channel. Given the key needs of focus, freedom to be, and the sense of psychological safety to be at the edge of skills to challenge, this increases the need to have clarity on appropriate control. Control in this context presented as by Csikszentmihalyi as rule-bound action system with clear clues as to the quality of performance of task. To which Vervaeke might argue is necessarily focused upon clear feedback; tight coupling with environment; and a retained sense of error rates matter.

The conditions for flow restated as v | b | t

Visibility | b | t

autotelic need for clarity of goal; observe and analyse their surroundings objectively, they have a better chance of discovering in them new opportunities for action; situational need for a real time acuity and wider context; closeness of leadership to action to retain the visibility to offer the necessary feedback and checking for error and regular feedback.

v | behaviour | t

autotelic heightened concentration; situational sense that skill set is adequate in ability; enabling adaptability for retained tight coupling with environment; shared vigilance and retained sense of error rates matter; necessarily presenting means for self-management, developing skills over time, and means to not interrupt project momentum when in the right flow channel. This would also mean the checking and feedback was also adaptable, and task challenge and skill orientated to enable project learning, team development, and means to measure, maintain, and improve.

v | b | trust

the autotelic traits all demand a heightened sense of trust. A trust in each other. A trust that focus on the task is not at the expense of missed danger from outside. A trust that mistakes are to be called out early, dealt with and corrected, against clear metrics, and fair feedback and recognised betterment in time. Trust that allows lost self-consciousness is to have psychological safety, trust in the shared respect of peers, and trust in the transparency of leadership upholding the standards to which all are equally judged. A team in flow, in the flow channel, is high energy, but necessarily making and correcting mistakes. Trust must also be shared and enable anxiety at challenge to quickly be reassured by the action orientated correction. This is therefore tied into the clarity of rules, training, and governance, that enables the sense that skill set is adequate in ability, current and therefore relevant to task, and under corrective control.

Concluding remarks

How many of us in construction, or wider project management per se, can read these descriptions of a state of flow and see our project environments and controls encouraging these traits? Who reads the Construction Playbook and see this environment being developed at our next generation of projects are born? Who amongst us sees the command and control manner of management as harnessing these flow channels to match challenge to skills?

These concepts are not new. But the questions are asked regularly and anew. Phrases I have in mind are notions of being like “a military operation” or “like a machine” or “acting as one”. There is more to say here, more to compare. Notably the striking similarity some of these traits reflect when describing the traits of the HRO (High Reliability Organisation).

HROs and Flow is a write for another day. For now, perhaps I need some feedback of my own. And a moment to regain my flow…

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 enquiring mind

Yesterday, I reflected upon a leader, Lieutenant Colonel Oakland McCulloch (US Army, retired). A man who applies much to what it means to be. How to actively apply one’s learning, and be dutiful to the shared influence and better outcomes that result. It required me to rethink a post from the day before. In the end I saw both perspectives, and found them each to be reflecting upon the same needs in delivering change.

To adequately address my own narrowed perspective I used a practice from another mode of my learning to help me reconcile and reframe my understanding. I found a middle way.

Consider these five factors, as attitudes or modes of any enquiry.

1. Vigilance – awareness, exploration, new insight. Not better understanding of what you know, but new understanding of what you do not. Changed perspective, wider perspectives, and in their differences comes understanding that is new.

2. Sensitivity – to what is being witnessed a dynamic perspective of actions or changing state, not a static unmoving object to covet or reject.

3. Acuity – meaning to separate, differentiate, and observe the moving parts, the layers, the processes of change they represent.

4. Noticing – your own physical reaction, emotion, desire or need. Perhaps also that of the other(s) you are modelling in your mind.

5. Reminding – staying present to the enquiry, remaining vigilant. With a humility that expects to find new meaning from what may otherwise be thought of as known. Acknowledging but not becoming engaged with the distractions – re minding back to the present enquiry.

This is the best way to outline the phenomena of the active engagement of an open mind,. Not that I am finished looking. These are learnings from contemplation, when looking outward. These are learnings from meditation when looking inward. They are skills to learn and to develop. They need not be linked to religious belief from East or West, but they have long traditions in both and can be embraced within whatever suits best.

I now do this everyday. From an increasingly diverse range of accounts of how to apply this meditative practice. And like everything I learn I attempt to apply it. In my daily life, my research, and my work. I am enquiring as to its merit at scale. It is why I have presented it as a means to make enquiry here. I think it becomes a tonic to modal confusion. A means to tease out deeper rooted problems. By applying vigilance to what is assumed to be known, to prospect and see anew.

Cognitive science and psychology both sit happily here. Scientists like John Vervaeke produce contemporary, helpful insights that connect mindfulness to the study of the mind. The above perspective was first glimpsed from one of his Dharma days. Where he was introducing Metta, or the outward looking contemplative practice – but as had already been informing the Vipassana, or inward looking meditative focus, it sits alongside. There is so much of his material and influence to share, but I’m reading his many references to wider work before I do. Importantly, he says, is to understand what this mindfulness is not. It is not a practice of finding contentment. This is not escape. This is embracing change. Cognitive Science is indicating it is this observational modality that offers the benefits with mindfulness.

This is being mode. This is addressing modal confusion. This is the interconnectivity of layers of time bound intended change. Projects | within projects. From mind to management. Starting with yourself.

Leading is control

Being a leader, not having the badge

Who else needs to know?

Leadership is made, not purchased, not born.  Yesterday I posted a challenge as to why we only look at the leader and not the controls.  Today, I wear the other shoe, and seek to show them as a pair.  I happened upon a book someone else was reading last weekend.  I made a comment on LinkedIn, and I was soon in discussion directly with its author.  Surprised as I was with the one to one access, it is completely in keeping with the man.  Communication is all, he says.  Oak McCulloch, a military leader, living up to both title and first name.

His book “Your Leadership Legacy : becoming the leader you were meant to be”, was, courtesy of very polite prompt, ordered on the Tuesday – Oak’s influence and follow up both said and seen here too.  The book arrived on the Thursday afternoon.  It was read in a few hours there and then.  Another brief discussion accommodated as I concluded this learning project.  His words and influence are now sitting between my last blog and this.

Understanding the concepts of what it takes to be a leader is not that difficult. Actually doing the things required of leaders, day in and day out, is another story. Thus, the dichotomy … It’s Not About You; It’s All About You

Oakland McCulloch, in summarising the key sentiment of his book

Leadership or controls?

His view is that leadership is all.  I have just blogged that we need to take a closer look at the controls, and not just the leadership.  Yet, I think we both agree.

Outcomes are steered home or put to the rocks by the clarity of vision, purpose, and execution.  The first thing this leader did in each assignment he was set, was check what this vision was intending to be.  Next was to check that the control framework was fit for the changes required.  The control framework that enables the visibility, the behaviours, and the trust to be aligned.  All this within the wider framework of the wider control environment within which he served.

Without a leadership interest in the controls, I conclude we are being presented with neither.

Objectives and Guideposts – building trust

There is reference to Oak’s constant journaling of what leadership is.  Journaling that he began from his first cadet days.  I really like that.  It immediately adds an authenticity to the read.  There are quotes from other leaders throughout this book, as a positive reinforcement.  They fit perfectly to the first-hand experience and anecdotes.  Each seems to have been a message lived by, not retrospectively sought.  The book therefore reads as by someone who has lived a life in leadership, reflecting upon its duty, but also diligently seeking more knowledge from others.  The mentors.  The experiences.  The sage words written and passed on.  But also recording the pithy sentiments, learned meaning that transformed something more within. Kept accessible to reflect upon and re-apply.  That is the dedication to becoming the bastion of the role, not just the title it bestows.

This is the essence of the being mode.  Aiming to be more, and not just owning knowledge but seeking it out to apply it.  The being leader, leading by example.

v | b | t

He further enshrines the necessity of teaching and being taught.  The terms used here I equate to the visibility | behaviour | trust categories I am advocating elsewhere. To delegate by increments of trust, that are backed up by the clarity of what is expected and enabling the recipient to feel empowered to do so with their own flare.  Compare that to how we in construction delegate in contract.  Low trust, defensive scopes of service intended to have ambiguity to wiggle around our own lack of clarity of prioritised goal, and a tendency to over burden method and dictate behaviours via reporting but ignore the necessary checking and presence to help or intervene. What lessons does each attitude reflect and teach here?

The relevance to projects, and of psychology

I am reminded of the work of Jungian psychologists like Robert Moore or Jean Bolen, in explaining the necessary maturity required to be the balanced leader.  Frameworks of personal development can be built from these theories.  In Jungian Archetype language leadership is the King or Queen archetype.  Moore argues this inner part is in everyone, but that it is the last to develop fully, and only if other key parts have matured first.  Only then can the tyrannical petulance and demands of the spoilt child be avoided, or the weakling child be countered along with its passive aggressive apathy.

Moore suggests many never advance beyond this stage because to advance means to find balance to many conflicting but necessary needs.  Our instincts and need to train, the warrior preparedness for fight or flight.  Our caring and nurturing side, as reflecting our ability to love.  Our need to develop ideas and tools to explain and do more, and be less beholden to chance, as our means to teach, mentor, study, discover, and learn anew.

It is this hard-won inner balance within each of these archetypes; the balance between each of their competing desires; that we then take all our delicately balanced parts into the outer world.  It is here we attempt to keep our own balance, and account for the imbalance of others toward shared objectives, shared obstacles, as intended changes to what is otherwise just chance.  These are all projects | within projects.  But they all start with you.

Father figures

I will admit a bias in my enjoyment of this book. One known to any who know me at all.  My father was a military leader.  The Royal Navy has a history of its own heroes to boast, as do I.  He had to learn all these lessons of leadership from a standing start.  Both through experience and later found academics. From his first CSEs at 30 years old, to an MA in Military Strategy in his mid-forties.  Working his way up from the most junior rating at 16, to then retire a Commander.  A rare story indeed.

There is much in this book I no doubt reflect upon as strengths acknowledged in my own first leader.  A tall shadow from which to emerge without some reflective doubt. It is only later in life that I was able to acknowledge my unfinished business with developing my inner King.

From mind to management

With that in mind I will conclude with a final psychological observation.  It is with an open mind we should look to understand what leadership is intending each of us to be.  Personality and trait theory would argue there is no single flavour of a better way to be.  It is therefore our first duty to know ourselves.  Our weakness’, our strengths, and our blind spots to both.  As with all learning it is then the application that counts. Reading of how others did something well is not a text book to learn by heart.  It is a glimpse at what it meant to them, to be.  Blindly following another’s formulae is, by its very nature, not to understand what it is to lead.  To be, is to apply ourselves to better ends.

Be your own mind

I recommend this read.  It is a perspective worth seeing.  Reflecting upon behaviours worth applying.  Presented from an authority and institution of some trust.  It has the clarity of word Oak tells us Napoleon always sought.  At around 50,000 words it is a decent single sitting meal.  One of those I think Francis Bacon would have offered to be slowly chewed and digested.

Your Leadership Legacy : becoming the leader you were meant to be” by Oakland McCulloch.

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:

Reshuffling our thinking

Ignore the cards, let’s revisit the games we play

Reshuffling the deck

How influential should a leader wish to be?  And how influential should we want them to be?  In positions of administration and mandated service, how much latitude should they even expect to have?

For those of us reliant upon the BBC for our daily news feed, we are being treated to a moment to consider this again.  Boris Johnson moving a few chairs around at the top table of government.  The media offering us plenty of opinion on character, and on motivations.  A little less light on intended change to direction of travel, and how this impacts the affairs of state.

Link here to the BBC report I read as I write this.  Opening line reads

“this is a mad way to run the country”

quotes Laura Kuenssberg of an unnamed member of government.

I am unclear whether this is directed at this reshuffle, this government, or our political system per se.  Hats to fit all heads, I think.

We all deal these cards

Not that these hats are worn any differently beyond our political leaders.  This reflects the reality of daily life for us all.  There is truth revealed here as to each of us in our basic having mode of possession, not the being mode of active participation.  Being present in authority would be to have only the service of those you lead in mind – rather than to covet the trappings of power as to reflect a more personal criteria of having gained a symbol of success. 

No one suit makes a deck

My despair at the political class has no ideology attached.  I’ll happily call foul on either side when the rhetoric is louder than the dialogue. I have been unconvinced of the absolute truth of the individual vs the collective, or the size and role of state, or if meritocracy, utilitarianism, capitalism, or socialism divides our ownerships best.  All reflect boundaries, winners and losers, belief not fact, incomplete judgement, false promises, and a necessary subterfuge of one flavour of human project of ownership against another.  I turned to philosophy only to find it presenting bigger words for the same opinions.   My despair is at the predictability of it all.  The lessons we simply have no way to learn.  That the politics of nation simply reflect the culture of the people, or that the people have simply become immune to the politics that have long since forgotten who they are meant to serve.

But we should be slower to tut and roll our eyes.  Or nail our colours to a mast.  I see nothing here beyond what we each do; in every decision we make.  This is self-interest doing what it does best, taking care of the first conscious being that counts.

We are all Jokers and Knaves

Laura Kuennssberg may delight in that opening quote from the nameless source.  Personally, I think it could be reframed to any company, any family, any industry, political movement, sports team, charity, or international agency you would wish to frame.  We serve ourselves.  Then we see what we can do for the rest.  It is no way to run anything, but it is a way to personally survive.

Aces high and low

Here is the project connection.  We make much of the necessary leadership to ensure a project is organised into the right framework of delivery.  Why is it only ever the leadership that is our focus, and not the infrastructure of the project as a whole?  What is it about our projects that demands so much of the leader and so little of ourselves?  Or more correctly, why is it that I hear so often of the disconnect between the two?  Secretly, we all know why.  But no one dares say it out loud.  We all know how low we can go. That we are fallible. That we are capable of great harm in our selfish moments of greatest charm.  Being seen to do the right thing.  Being focused upon the very exacting standards of behaviour society demands, or our authority have sought fit to define.  We all tick that box when it’s a question of blame.

Avoiding the 52 card pick-up

Let me cut to the solution, rather than add to the rolled eyes. The solution begins at home. Each of us can revert to this notion of being mode, not simply having. We can then look around and ask if others are doing the same. From daily life, this becomes more informed. It provides a little more influence. Generates societal reframing and better questions to ask. It also directs those who ask questions on our behalf. The likes of Laura Kuenssberg to ask the questions of others that she is asking of herself, that we are all asking of ourselves. The better questions become more enlightening because we are more enlightened to our own fallibility. It prompts more fundamental questions. What is motivating this change? Is this action enabling a bigger change to become real or is it enacting something we simply wish to have, or that we wish to keep.

This becomes a way to ask these more fundamental questions at all scales. It is addressing different levels of decision-making against the same basic metrics of motivation. It includes the leaders we have chosen to be our servants. Or selecting from those volunteering themselves to take up such an unenviable role. We get to see if they are simply seeking to have. Or is this selfless service of us all, and the shared intended change toward what we all wish to become. This is a line of questioning that can be put to any scale of authority. But it is necessarily uncomfortable. Which is why it is the line of questioning that must start with your authority over yourself. Are you becoming more, and adding value? Or just seeking to have more, own more, and add value only to yourself?

Cards on the table

I am not offering opinion on the politics. But I will present an observation of the motivations I see. This reshuffle seems clearly motivated by a desire to have something self-serving. A more amenable cabinet. A distraction of attention towards less difficult media questions. But deeper than that is an equally cynical having mode to flag. That could be said of any reshuffle. What is it about any reshuffle that leaves each head on a block so “nauseous and clammy” as the BBC report here? Why was each and every position under threat, each so unclear of their own safety, to be denied opportunity to be more tomorrow than they were yesterday? Why is this discomfort even news?

The nausea begins with a lack of transparency by the decision-making.  The clammy hands coming from the lack of clear method of selection criteria and impetus for each change.  The hand holding the axe could have been asked directly, what is intended by the change?  What is this intended to facilitate, to become?  Asking that why more than once cuts a little closer to deeper truth.

Of those with the clammy hands, looking up fearfully upon the axe, the same can then be asked of them. What intended change did you have in mind that is now denied? What does your fear reveal of underlying having or being modes?

Watch the dealer, be aware the potential slight of hand, based upon the trust

In both cases, is this just raw and naked ambition to progress?  Not because of desire or interest in a specific area of government, or leading a cabinet of the best able to perform the roles – but just having a senior role at all or having a cabinet that is less of a threat to the power that is had.  Or, in my v | b | t language.  Little is visible, behaviour is necessarily self-serving, and trust is a flavouring to be applied sparingly by all.

Anyone know a project like that…? We all do it, or at least see it and do nothing to intervene.

Control the game, not the cards

Accordingly, the critical control framework is where I look to first.  To support such a precarious environment, we need a robustness.  A 21st Century robustness that befits the holding of such precious a cargo as the affairs of state should demand.  Who in government ever knows how central government or local government frameworks of control work before their appointed role?  How long does that take to learn each time we have a major change?  How overwhelmed must each willing volunteer be when that first red box is opened upon a new desk?  How isolated from the daily lives of all those public servants they oversee must that necessarily reflect?

But why is it always such a surprise?  Why is this infrastructure of administration not known by people before they know they need to know?  Or have any clarity on the control framework that is also suppose to support them to do a most difficult task. What support do they have that offers them a means to make the right decisions, not just the safe ones. As they begin their temporary time at the wheel, how do they know when to stick or twist? 

Learning the game, before playing the game

How much has any of this really changed in the modern era of government?  Beyond the axes of austerity aimed at Excel spreadsheets in secret darkened rooms.  Where is the control framework that these leaders become accountable for whilst in position, but also dependent upon and able to be assessed against as the process of intended changes they and their government are overseeing. The framework to hold the processes, that become action towards the promises made.  Their five years of intended change.

Playing the cards you are dealt

There is much to be critical of here.  But if we are to move past defensive decision-making behaviours by those at the top, we need to afford them the same protections to do their job, as the protection we demand they give to us.  It is not charisma and charm but ability in clearly defined parameters of administration we should want to see.  My view therefore is let’s not just replace one career politician with another and hope for a different result.  Let’s revisit the framework of the departments each leader temporarily sits and determine if they are protecting the processes they are designed to house.  Present a clarity of assurance of decision-making that this framework then supports.  Consider the capability of the people against the same framework of control, with a clarity of role and responsibility.  Claim back the clarity of accountability of these leadership roles.  Hold them responsible to this performance and give them the power to make necessary changes to the frameworks that better make this so.  And let’s require all politicians to have demonstrable knowledge of how these processes apply.  So that we can be the first to vote in those already trained in the most rudimentary tasks that are the being mode of the titles they all covet and wish to have.

Card games to play at home

These are no different a set of parameters I am presenting in projects of any scale.  Understanding the intended change.  Operating this change by the best framework it requires.  Assessed across visibility | behaviour | trust.  Starting with the projects of mind.  Equally applicable to projects of state.

I therefore repeat the first challenge.  This is firstly to be aimed at ourselves.  Psychological safety cuts both ways.  As does the assessment of visibility | behaviour | trust we demand.  Start with these questions of ourselves, and those we and our press then choose to ask.

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:

We cannot talk about that!

Something from the weekend, Sir?

This is from my weekend LinkedIn observations. The Danish Government showing themselves able to be authoritative and present, by increasing their visibility, behaving in an accountable way, acknowledging low levels of trust and extending the trust they assume.

Full article from Bloomberg {here}. “Doctor Who Espoused Sex Helped Denmark Weather Covid Storm”. My LinkedIn post {here} and comments from some Danish friends confirming the positive impact of the honesty underlying the actions of Soren Brostrom.

In my opinion this is one more example of a project | within a project, this time at National scale. I also observe this as an attempt to create a singular truth of this project despite the information gaps in place. The metrics of visibility | behaviour | trust positing a useful backdrop to frame my rant.

Danish example

How to behave as a decision-maker in highly uncertain situations. Acknowledge the uncertainty, make brave decisions that are transparent in their reasoning, and actively manage the low trust otherwise present. All motivated by a higher underlying trust in the electorate.

Result: a greater confidence that the project is one that is shared

British example

Continued behaviours reflecting power aimed at deflecting blame. Defensive decision-making. Hidden reasoning intent on managing the science not being open to its wider opinions. All based on the same low level of trust by the electorate, but reciprocated as something to be managed not improved.

Result: reinforced distrust, split agendas.

What I am presenting here is the range of intended change these comparisons are offering. This is an ongoing enquiry and test of this idea.

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:

Crazy horse or smart ass?

there are workhorses, and there are show ponies. Which one are you?”

Source: unknown

I love this question. It catches everyone somewhat off guard. I still ask it of myself quite regularly. I hope you are pondering it of yourself right now.

Why this horse-play?

This article continues my exploration into the difference between having and being. From a commercial projects perspective I think we can all imagine people, departments, companies, or even corners of whole industries that we would happily place into one category or the other. My point in raising this analogy, as a link to the having and being modality, is simply to highlight something we are all prone to do. Liberally generalise and categories the other, but fail to reflect upon when we are pursuing needs best suited only to ourselves.

The cart before the horse

Let me foreshadow where this article is going. In projects of all type, we all share the guilt of passive generalisations of others, whilst falsely perceiving ourselves to be representing a more adaptable mode. We are self-declaring our being mode, and accusing the other of seeking simply to have needs and act upon them in categorically assignable ways. We fool ourselves into thinking we are the ones in the moment and taking positions that protect intended future outcomes.

This is where I think we all become the enemy of our projects. Our projects are intended change. They necessarily require us to be minded in a transformative mode. Our categorisations of others make their needs seem distinct from our own. It can be the justification for much, including slight-of-hand. We deem ourselves to be more representing the true nature of our project, or at least the spirit of our relationships. That the other is the one in the wrong.

Horses for courses

I observe some interesting reactions when the question of being a workhorse or show-pony is posed.

  • There is the immediate and confident response…closely followed by the doubt as to what has just been admitted;
  • or the confident response that is then immediately justified as “that’s just the way I am”.
  • There is the hesitant response, where the answer is being mulled over inwardly, before committing to a tactical representation.
  • Or there is no answer at all – as the mulling over becomes revealing of the trap that has been set.

Psychology may help me understand the immediate reactions I observe. It may also offer a perspective toward the more considered response. Maybe it will explain my own mischief in asking the question at all.

To commit to being a workhorse sounds the more noble sentiment perhaps. It reflects a diligence to your craft, and studiousness, and a serious regard to your endeavour. But if you jumped to this answer, it dawns on you that maybe you are someone else’s stooge, the effort behind someone else’s success, someone more showy than you.

So perhaps the better answer is to be the show-horse. The gallant and confident, the leader with courage and valour, the annoying so and so that seems to get it all right, so often, and so easily. The silky-smooth unflappable fop. But then that is to admit to being carefree, perhaps a little lazy and laissez-faire, or the mouthpiece that just takes all the glory. The one attracting the attention of the cynic. For all your medals you are just the metaphorical OBE (other b*****’s efforts).

Horses for courses

The point is of course that there is no correct response. We are all too self assured to be labelled one way of the other. However, I find myself now seeing into this a little more. Both answers are to reflect something we hold in low regard. Behind the veneer of what seems a good place to be.

do we really have to choose between one and the other?”

Source: Nancy Ancowitz, author and career coach at New York University

Psychology agrees. The answer is to be both, and the trick is knowing how to assess the ground conditions and therefore what tack to wear. As was stated in Psychology Today.

It is therefore helpful to have awareness and skill sets of both. Having your own work to show, and knowing how to show your work.

Look to the mirror, not the gift-horse

My observation is more connected with how we see others. We can assess people quickly, and put them in one camp or the other. Whilst we can assess ourselves more generously and with more permission to ebb and flow between the two. No one wants to admit to just being the one doing the work blindly, or the one only interested in presenting it. At least no one you would hold in high regard for long, or feel assured that you could depend.

Making quick judgements is a useful short-cut. We are pre-programmed to do just that. But the more rounded the person, the harder it may be to tell. You may be judging quickly, but reflecting upon the duality and choice you wish you could be. Judging them for acting according to the categorisation you’ve outlined. Not realising it is what you would do if you were them, that you actually see.

By example, introversion and extroversion can be confused by this analogy. My learning of this Jungian derived difference is that the concept is misappropriated and culturally confused. It is not the shy or outgoing metric many think it to be. In Myers-Briggs modelling it is explained as the place where you feel most at ease. Replenishing mental energy rather than expending it. It has little to do with social confidence which is situational and steeped in much wider interacting factors. It is quite possible to be extroverted but feel out of place. It is equally possible to be introverted but able to put on a show.

Being vs having

Which gives my own interpretation of what this means to be either self-identifying yourself as the workhorse or the show-pony. It is a place to start assessing how to be a better you. Rather than feeling you have a preferred role to play. Or projecting hidden doubts upon others who are doing that which you feel least at ease.

We know if we are more comfortable quietly turning a wheel or taking part in the harrass and sharing the strain in a team. Or if the odd gallop, the show, and the parade in the paddock puts the spring in your step. It is easy to allow such comfortable placement to begin to define which role we think ourselves best.

Allowing these two extremes to define us invites distance and separation. Perhaps show ponies have a better empathy with their audience. Perhaps the workhorse a better understanding of the effort needed to honour glib promises a show-pony has made. Being one or other is inviting a greater distance between these extremes. It is to invite alienation from the whole. At a project level this is to invite inner divides, and my argument is that this invites projects | within projects to detach from wider goals. We adopt transitional states but to counter the outcome that our other project actors are anticipated to seize.

At each unique personal level, this is also problematic for us too. The workhorse may consider themselves more diligent and to have more industry; be more straight-forward in saying what is what. But that is also the excuse to hang-back and check everything again, tentatively seek more opinion, deny creativity and new ideas (by thinking others simply do not poses the understanding of what is involved). Perhaps our show-pony see this as intransigent. The stubborn mule.

Then what is seen from the other paddock? The showy confidence can lead to arrogance, and if it breeds easy success can be the road to short-cuts, a focus only on what is easier to win applause. The empathy and creativity of sales turned to spin and gamesmanship. Perhaps our workhorse sees this as the behaviour of the work-shy. The flighty horse, there for trumpets, but caring little for what goes on after the Lord Mayor’s show.

These are extremes and wild generalisation. I hope the point is made well enough. Whichever attitude you see, and which ever you may want to be, the trick is to know when to be which. Be capable of both. Be both, but have the singular attitude of neither. Be able to transform.

This is then to be adaptable. It is also to take the lead. It is a way to support others in their bid to do the same. To adopt the attitude necessary to do the graft. To adopt the attitude necessary to show their craft. Building trust in yourself. And respect for the other. Psychological safety and permitted vulnerability by both. All focused upon the wider transformation the whole project is trying to be.


Of course, these are generalisations. They assume our relationships are with well rounded counter-parts and colleagues. Judgements can be proved right. There are plenty of foals around masquerading as mature thoroughbreds. Just know better if it is you being the ass.

Am I a workhorse or show-pony?

I am trying hard to be both, and accepting some of the foibles that are saddled to each. I am the last horse to bolt – maybe still asleep on the hay. Happy to show-pony in short bursts if it is safe; but most comfortable watching before doing, working my craft, head in my nosebag. I like to dream of greener pastures, being the steed that never refuses the higher fences, but that’s easy whilst asleep on the hay. I do not have enough industry to be forever ploughing old ground. I have no wish to stay still and become the nag. So reign me in if I am being stubborn as a mule, or showing myself to be the jackass.

Workhorse or show-pony?

Yes to both. It takes hard work to put on a show.

be the workhorse; be the show-pony; and know when to be which. No one likes a smart ass. Or to be the butt of the joke”

adapted from blog.inkhouse.com here
Courtesy of the artist, tigatalu

Being more

Applying knowledge not owning it

The lockdown library

I spend most of every day in my lockdown library. A store of owned knowledge.  Growing, courtesy of Oxfam’s fabulous array of second-hand books.  It is where I write, research, and ponder.  It is where I work, and (because of lockdown necessity) where I live.

However, I am trying to be a better representation of my craft.  Being an active participant in the development of knowledge, not simply having ownership in this room.

Last week was a moment of intentional change to my being. I launched “projects | within projects” as a repository of my structured thought.  A place people can visit, read summaries of what I am learning, and how I am trying to apply it to projects.  It connects you to my ongoing enquiry, and to my life.

I am being more visible.

I had 147 visitors to my website in this first week, and 230 views.  The dialogue it generated via LinkedIn is very encouraging. I am very grateful. I am already rewarded for attempting a more active mode.

This was a big step for me.  Stepping out of my comfortable surroundings, albeit digitally.  This becomes my more action orientated learning.  Applied learning.  My attempt at being a contributor to learning, not just a passive recipient.

My blog yesterday was about this difference.  Being not having.  To be present and active in a process. Introducing you to Erich Fromm. There is more to say on this in the coming days and weeks.

Thank you for the support in my first week as a blogger.