PhD and me – plasticity

Change: how much do you control?

Month 5 of 42 – My First Formal Progress Report (FFPR) is now complete. All is fine. I am the student who can, “accept the supervisors feedback and builds upon it”. Those are prized words in the appraisal of my progress. Three other comments were most welcomed too. [1] regarding my bi-weekly written submissions, “the quality of the submitted deliverables has improved”; [2] regarding my research problem and reasoning, “…this is a very much improved paper and I actually don’t have too many comments”; [3] regarding my means to prepare an academic idea, “improved substantially from the initial proposal”. My most cherished feedback however is of being credited with an attitude of adaptability – i.e., the accepting of feedback and building upon it – because that is to the heart of what my research is turning to.

🧠 Brain plasticity

In regard to my own control, I have in mind here plasticity. Human brain plasticity is a lifelong property that happens within a more rigid frame. Adapting and morphing within a range but changing at molecular, chemical, and physiological scale. The main impetus of which is external environmental change, but in humans that is also an intended change to our environment. We are both the intentional actor, whilst also being acted upon.

💭 Behavioural plasticity

Therefore a PhD candidate aged 50 (i.e., someone like me), has a brain capable of adapting much as someone aged 25. However, some of these adaptations are beginning from a longer lived history, longer period of morphology, and – most critically – from different socially adapted norms over that much longer timeframe. My brain plasticity remains, but do I intend behavioural plasticity too? Social psychology describes this as both changing behaviours to change attitude; and attitude changes that can alter how we behave. That same intentional actor, whilst also being acted upon.

☔️ Environmental stability

Social psychology also confirms that attitude is a most subtle changer of behaviour. Weak when compared to the more impactful wider social norms and inner desires. Attitude is the least effective means to change behaviour. Yet it is also the factor we can most obviously act upon. The wider world – social norms, values, conventions; as well as individual perspectives and desires – play equally fundamental but more powerful roles than attitude. A prolonged period of significant personal change therefore requires a predictable environment. Attitude can be overridden by stronger social or personal need. Few people I know aged 50 have that economic freedom, or such limited social responsibility. I am claiming 42 months of selfish stability, and of all that enables that possibility, least of all is the ongoing plasticity of the brain. These are the limits of the intentional actor, and the more powerful impacts of being acted upon.

The conclusion offered for now is simply that a PhD is a process not an outcome (as is all of life). It is a time of great change, but it is change within a wider stability. I am therefore grateful that I have all externals under some semblance of control. And grateful too, to those outside parties that help make that so. These are not just my efforts or my attitude. There is a great deal of economic and social factoring here, too. An attitude open to change but within a stability that enables a greater sense of autonomy and self-control. It is that collective that means I can “accept feedback, and build upon it”. An actor, free to choose to be acted upon.

…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.

Coaching more…

“…are your people empowered to spot quality issues, and the conditions that breed them, and speak up…?”

Dave Stitt (2022) “Coach for results”

A blog to briefly congratulate Dave Stitt on a book worth a place on the desk of any construction manager (and people managers everywhere).

Coach for Results : Empower your people to achieve the extraordinary. Dave Stitt (2022)

Dave and I connected instantly when we first spoke last year, completely unrelated to this or any other book. Our discussions have been varied since, always with shared enthusiasm, and unabashed confidence of where we have been, or going. His energy is infectious, his perspectives easy to align to, with pithy anecdote never far behind.

It was therefore no surprise at all to read his 2022 book in similarly attuned frame of mind. His passion comes through on every page; and the anecdotes help keep a steady pace, fixing each new point firmly into the construction paradigm.

Coaching Leadership

Here is Dave explaining what is different in engaging with your people in a coaching style

“…you stop seeing them as a problem to be fixed and you start seeing them as a treasure to be discovered…you say, ‘what do you think?’, and then you listen…you the coach and them the thinker…”

Stitt (2022) Coach for Results pp9-10

and Dave of the wider cultural transition possible

“…courtesy, respect, and esteem are universal…it is the antidote to exclusionary micro-cultures…”

Stitt (2022) Coach for Results pp25

The premise of the book is not new. The coaching leadership style is well documented and has probably not passed by any MBA or well-read manager or consultant. But Dave’s writing is to the point, backed up with pertinent example, and just enough academic reference to be assured the bridge between the two is secure. Crucially, everything is directed back to what counts most: the day to day of management and leadership, as it connects to the construction project world; and the care and growth of those coming through that are its future, and it’s today. Chapter 4 of this second edition offers confirmation of this appreciation, from at least a dozen cohorts from his accompanying training course.

Self-Determination Theory

As part of my psychology MSc this year, one module focused upon classical and contemporary social psychology. I have concluded that much of the management jargon I have been fed over the years, at least the decent concepts, have been influenced from here. Dave has a chapter outlining one of the most significant revelations (in my opinion). He does not name the series of connected theories per se, but he cites Dan Pink who is well respected in this psychological field, and Dave describes this and related theories perfectly.

It is called Self-Determination Theory, one I have written about before {here}. It helps explain why our obsession with motivation by cash incentive, as employer of internal teams or of external contracts and work packages, ultimately causes organisational or project harm. As Dave states “…external enticements…extrinsic motivations…are not very effective…” pp11, to which he then makes the comparison to command-and-control style management which is very much the abrasive construction norm most can relate (be that employee or supply chain relationship carrot and stick, comply or die culture we all know).

In Dave’s words:

“…command and control…sucks initiative, confidence and accountability out of a team…”

Stitt (2022) pp26

“…risky when…commercial agendas are indifferent to the success of the project as a whole…. Are your people empowered to spot quality issues, and the conditions that breed them, and speak up…?”

Stitt (2022) pp27

Understanding these implications of externalising motivations are lessons we should all have close to hand.

Managing the coaching conversation

Thereafter Dave offers some excellent practical advice in managing the coaching conversations. As an empathetic manager myself, with training from several multinational organisations seeking to enable this style of communication and learning leadership, these chapters resonate. Learning the right way to prepare and start such discussions, how to direct them, and how to conclude them in empowering rather than directing ways. These are important things to give your people their means to find their why. I am reminded of my own why in reading his words here, but also improved by these practical chapters and how they can be applied.

How far can coaching go?

I do disagree with Dave on one thing. His pragmatic stance is one in which the fundamentals of construction are considered beyond absolute change – it is just how it has evolved to be. My opinion, is that this confrontational industry norm is a reflection of how we set projects up. And if this more engaging coaching style of leadership were present in senior political spaces – where expectation was on leaders to bring teams with them, not just drive them hard to the next staging post – the projects serving these masters would be less caustic from the start. A world better informed and more real in its possibility in consideration of this project management style. But that is my research challenge – and therein my bias.

There is more I could offer in review. Dave has given plenty more insight and well reasoned connection to contemporary thought, similarly linking other behavioural thinking to construction project application. But I will let you read the rest for yourself. At 126 pages this is an afternoon’s single sitting read. But one to keep close by as that next chance to try “…a tool for challenging and supporting your people…”, pp14, to which both you and all your leaders-in-waiting should be demanding and apply.

Stitt, D (2022) “Coach for Results : empower your people to achieve the extraordinary” 21CPL Productions

Death and rebirth : know thyself

Remembering this guy and reflecting upon what we each rebuild

A family guy

I never grow tired of bringing one of these old photos out.

Peter Griffin doppelgänger

2010. All bought and paid for. Even the suit.

At 100kg, clients could be assured the full weight of the London market was in their corner

Good Friday

Acknowledging the significance of the day, I make serious commentary within the light-hearted tone offered here. Without the Christian faith I once had, this day of reflection upon sacrifice sits no less heavily for me.

This blog presents a brief revisit of where my journey was ten years ago, and upon the folly of some ideas I was generating back then. I hope these messages resonate with a few.

As I approach 50 years of age, my reflective mood is starting to take account of past milestones again. Much has changed since I was taking stock in the build up to my 40th birthday. That man, now ten years my junior, was undergoing redress of a different kind. One much more directed toward an imagined future, but steeped in fear of regret. This time around, reflecting again as 50 years approach, I feel reconnected to that last cycle of resetting a baseline, and also toward those resets yet to come. I am perhaps more psychologically informed this time around.

By the April of 2012 I had made decent progress toward a new goal. A snoring husband was a selfish husband. Whilst my wife was still teaching, her medical condition was our growing focus. Sleep for her was an increasingly premium commodity for health. My snoring therefore had to be stopped. I had been losing weight at a rate of about 1 kilogram per week since the turn of the year. By April 2012 that was really starting to show. New clothes to account for a waist that had diminished from 44 inches to 36. An interim wardrobe replaced the fat-boy clothes. They too were later replaced as more stored energy was being burnt away. By the end of May 2012, I had lost 25 kilograms ~ 4 stone ~ 55lb. Motivation is a curious thing.

That weight fell off via a daily routine of diet and an obsessional interest in rowing. Dropping to 75kg enabled me to classify into the lightweight category of a newly discovered indoor rowing scene. I had found a new talent. My old one was being able to drink more, sleep less, and still get more done than most. My new one was not so much a talent for competitive rowing, I am too short to really excel at that, but I could lose weight as easily as I could pile it on. Rowing also encouraged me to return to lifting reasonably heavy weights. I wanted to see how far I could go. Another boundary edge to find, another type of learning to occupy my mind. A new era had arrived for me – Warren: home of the gym bunny.

Middle Aged Men in Lycra (MAMILs)

Losing weight vs finding self : confessions of a (c)aged MAMIL

Soon I was convincingly wearing rugby shirts again – much as I had in my twenties – and with much the same old belonging to a sport I never really played. My father’s sportier resolve secretly lives within me. A few genes that surface for a while but never for long. This time however, they sat central for much of the decade. I was soon aiming at goal after goal in ever more outlandish charitable endurance challenge. Outlandish because I think I needed to keep doing things others thought unpleasant or out of reach. For example, a marathon on a concept2-ergo is 42,195 meters, and my 3 hours 30 minute time was about average for my age. But how many would ever want to know if they could be that average? I rewarded my lightweight self with a mountain bike (MTB), a sport I did once know a thing or two about.

I was delighted to discover you can cycle from London to Brighton, “off-road”, over 75 glorious miles of riverside trails, forestry tracks, lung-busting South Downs hill climbs; and concluding with a suspension justifying long and dusty descent to sea level and the Brighton sea shore.

London to Eastbourne is more a cyclocross route than MTB, but I was pleased with finishing 3rd🥉 – a satisfying last minute decision to enter an event starting near to where I live.

I also jokingly claim to hold the record for the fastest Prudential London 100 on a “single gear and single pedal” bike. My one and only experience of this event was undertaken on the single speed commuter bike I bought and rode 40 miles daily, the year Southern Rail seemed permanently to be on strike.

One pedal one gear keep moving

The one gear was my choice, the single pedal however, was not my decision. It sheered off 20 miles into the Pru100 ride. The pedal cage was gracious enough to leave behind the spindle though. And I had remembered to pack my raw bloody-mindedness, so British Lung Foundation got to keep a few grand in generous sponsorship raised.

6 km for this photo plus the 100 km we were promised

As endurance events go however, the most brutal award goes to walking London to Brighton (60 miles or 100 km) – which took four cheery friends 27 blister-filled hours.

That was a blistering pace

MAMIL – Middle-aged man in limbo

Plenty of fond memories there. And plenty of achievement. There is much to be said for the self-confidence to do more and be more. The 100kg me needed to be tamed, and I do wonder what health issues I dodged thanks to my wife’s need of me to be healthier, plus the hubris I found new ways to feed. But, as I now know – there is no health, without mental health.

Hiding in plain sight

That story I do not need to revisit – you can find it here. But there is a bigger point I wish to make. Being in physical shape certainly offered me a new sense of Self, at least for a while. However, Carl Jung would perhaps agree that this is appeasement to persona, not Self. Given my mental health decline through this decade – despite this rebirth of a more physical, less hedonistic, but no less erudite interest – I look back on those many events as delusional, or at best a misplaced escape.

That is probably too harsh, and my pride is none diminished at what I achieved in this domain. There are no doubt many a MAMIL who will present compelling case of the boost to health that exercise offers us all. But my challenge back to you is to consider the manner of the escape. And what it is one is escaping from.

I have no doubt I will sit in a saddle again too. But for me these last ten years represent a gruelling part of a different type of endurance journey, one that more than physical belligerence alone could have ultimately pulled me through. The lesson learnt here is give time to all manner of health, not just that part to which you are seen to be well.

Truth and sacrifice

I recall an insightful discussion late into 2019. Maybe it was November, but even that late it was still before the Sars-Covid19 era was a thing. I was sharing weight loss tales with a dear acquaintance of old. He too had lost weight as his thirties became his forties. He too had still lost heart in what it was he was supposed to do. We both concluded the same thing – no one else really gives a damn how you look – not from the vantage point of being in a stable marriage, and living through middle age. Any interest in look or physical health is really just comparison, favourable or not.

As we both reflected upon his ultimate need to change his life by moving to the country; plus my candid and openly discussed latter-day attempts to not have to face life at all; we concluded that weight loss was worthwhile for personal health, persona or ego, but less relevant than finding your soul. We both smiled knowingly as our discussion landed upon that truth. Two atheists reflecting upon what is still core.

I smile again now recalling that discussion. A tiny bit wiser towards my truth. A little closer to my whole. A little more connected to my sense of purpose. Acknowledging ongoing need to strip away habits, beliefs, wants, and needs. Each of which no doubt served a purpose, but one by one they each just become the obstacle, or the location of the next hole.

Needing less, but being more. That’s the owned meaning of sacrifice. At least to me.

Be nice – be happy

International day of Happiness

Be nice – put the ‘phone away

I started today with an apology. Having spent much of Saturday afternoon in moderately civil debate on twitter, I went to bed sad and irritated. I woke up in much the same mood, but forced myself to examine why that was. I found a path to a little happiness as a result.

I am currently writing an essay that has me facing some self-doubt. It is all the harder for having to be just 500 words and aimed at a general-public audience. I am neither succinct, nor easily able to perceive that dividing line. So I hatched an ill-thought out, ethically suspect, and hubris-laden plan. Why don’t I engage with an audience on twitter and see if I can stand? Not my finest moment. I did actually learn a few things, but I made no friends. Indeed I rather arrogantly walked a mile or two with idle curiosity at what others fight hard to make their way through. The apology this morning was heart-felt but probably too late.

So I do feel a little happier, having acknowledged blame. More settled and socially normal again. I seek out social cohesion, so caustic debate is draining – and it rarely ends well. The apology was an important step for me. Strangers bickering in blindness would perhaps be easier to just walk away from. But that would linger still. For them and for me.

Genuine apology. An attempt to put right a wrong. The tiniest of kindness to bridge a divide. A gap where respect should have been. I am reminded that kindness is psychologically the better way. And that this is almost always true. Professor Abigail Marsh shows altruism is beneficial to mood, in all but a tiny psychopathic minority. Psychologist Jo Cutler suggests we are quite calculating with kindness, but argues it still has positive results. To which Evolutionary Behaviourist, Nichola Raihani adds that this “social instinct” is a fundamental to the human condition. Check out this BBC podcast for a summary of those truths.

So how will I be happy today? Maybe a little kindness to myself too. A good start point will be to stay away from my ‘phone and social media today. Allowing hubris to melt; and for respect to return. Respect for other opinions that may have less textbook clarity but more life-living experience attached. Respect for the dialogue. And respect for myself.

There. I am feeling a tiny bit happier already…


Further reading –

This is great website to visit on International day of happiness.

What follows are notes I will return to, with some quick find observations to help me return here soon.

In regards to social media this paper, Chapter 4 of the 2022 Happiness Report, caught my eye as I prepared to write this blog. The paper confirms that studies seeking out emotional trends in a population could be conducted via social media analytics. The correlation of social media and survey emotions used as a comparisons, shown to most closely aligned in negative emotions of sadness and anxiety – see page 80 figure 4.2 for a more limited correlation for happy emotions. Even when reporting we are happy on social media, we may not be.

The paper also outlined a relationship between social media and survey emotion measures becoming most visible in times of large variations of emotions, such as during the COVID-19 outbreak (pp81). Key limitations noted as representative nature of samples so best limited to within-sample comparison as opposed to representing a wider population (pp96). Reporting bias is also inevitable given the lack of anonymity inherent in social media posting (pp97).

I also noted that the adjustments for gender were made as absolutes with no account for differences that may arise within samples due to heightened interest or topic. The 60% male gender bias not considered against more nuanced variations over time. I also consider the particular interest in gender difference but no other categorisation to be as much a reflection of bias in assuming emotional variance is most acute across gender difference. Something psychologists such as Gina Rippon are fighting hard to call out and change. Also, the subject of my current essay which I am finding so hard to land.

men are more visible on Twitter (pp81 citing Nilizadeh 2016)

tweets posted by male users account for ore than 60% of tweets with gender detected in our sample (pp81)

Happiness Report subsection regarding social media measures. My question: is gender actually the key category of interest here?

This particular paper was ultimately more interesting to me as an exploration of the validity (and limitations) of social media as a passive measuring tool for emotional trends. Passive because it was based solely on language and tone of all posts, not seeking direct questions as the survey comparisons had done. It concluded there was validity, most strongly in detection of negative moods. Although, that is no surprise given the tendency toward negativity expected during the Covid19 ordeal.

Let the seller beware

caveat venditor – let the seller beware

There have been some notable u-turns this week and last. U-Turns by institutions normally too big to be easily persuaded to redirect based upon public opinion. We have Mars joining Coco-Cola and McDonalds in creating distance from Russia. We had an apology from Shell for buying cheap Russian oil. We had FIFA and the Olympic committee bending to challenge to their neutrality. At Westminster we have a government in constant repositioning as lack-lustre responses expose inability to sense the mood or recover lost faith.

There is new uncertainty causing false moves and ill-judged decisions by boards, executive function and high political office. In the next few months I think we are going to see many more.

The real power of the consumer is at work here. Namely the ability to make a choice. It is a cause of fear and indecision as old power priorities become incompatible with precious corporate reputation that is hard won and easily lost. When reputation is at risk, this threat brings new priorities to decision-making. Old priorities relegated and recategorised as acceptable collateral damage. Particularly when precious share value (or electoral support) is rushing to the door.

I predict more pressure on institutions is on the way. Based upon the change of attitudes of us, the general public, in face of increased uncertainty. We are becoming more attentive and suspicious of motives. This is infectious. Institutions should expect the seeds of doubt to grow.

v | b | t explaining this increased variance to change

Here are some brief reflections of what I think is going on.

v | b | trust

Reputation is the preservation of trust we the consumer/user have in the seller/provider. Do we trust their values and ethics to align with our own? As individuals we are able to revisit our values and expectations quickly. We are fickle. We are sometimes irrational. Unlike the institution however, we as individuals are each capable of reframing. We may change group affiliations, or sit in more than one camp. Each one of us resetting towards higher norms of human decency when distracted from our more selfish localised cause. This fragile belief or perception (i.e., that others share these higher values) can be quickly eroded. This reassessment can be applied equally to a single entity within an industry, an entire industry, a group, a government, a nation, a whole corner of the globe.

visibility | b | t

In moments of increased uncertainty, it is natural to seek more information. The more profoundly different the circumstances, the more motivated we are to take more time to look. We may have seen leaders turning a blind-eye. Secretly we may have turned a blind-eye to that too. But when those justifications for our disinterest are inconsistent with new threat, we are blind no more.

v | behaviour | t

This is a change to our behaviour. Redirecting peripheral interests towards central attention. Assessing others behaviour with more critical interest. Seeking to know better the attributes and bias of another. This is an increased openness to revisit and change our modelled understanding of how we relate to the other entity. This is reappraisal of action as indications of, or arising from, factors such as attitudes, motivations, beliefs. Ultimately this is the prompt to readjust and make choices anew.

v | b | t – Boristas beware

Dare I dream that in these moments of heightened uncertainty we may all begin asking more probing questions? Trusting less and demanding more?

This is what I see with Shell’s nervous apology this week. We are watching their purchase decisions of cheap Russian oil, and the excuses on Friday did not hold. It would normally not have caught our attention. This is McDonalds and Coca-Cola taking positions on Russia that a week ago would simply not have been entertained. Again, we are now watching and potentially making significant life choices, if another’s actions reflect values we do not hold.

This is also the spin of politics at Westminster. Wavering and spluttering as more pertinent questions are posed. In my house this is now a standing joke of the self-serving. The Boristas in high-office serving us Johnsonian truths daily, now finding life increasingly hard. Their servings shown to be insipid and cold.

Form follows function

Dare I dream this increased uncertainty of what is otherwise taken for granted is going to provoke necessary change in response. The critical controls of decision-efficacy challenged anew, structures of wider governance required to change too. If we all ask more searching questions, we eventually look at the forms serving the functions we expect, and ask if maybe they have to change too.

The bigger question now approaching is what new primary function is now emerging? The functional forms to better reflect these changing wants and needs of the global village. And what forms can retain their use as this unfolds?

The 2020s have not finished with us yet…


Too much, too Jung

I had a therapy session today. First for a while. A tough week prompted a revisit with someone who knows my psychology well. All is fine, just a mental MOT.

Plenty in the news to take in. All testing my resolve as I approach two years in full lockdown. My psychology MSc also made for some interesting things to discuss. Exams passed – a few challenges to the academic process – all ending in smiles.

Principally, the therapy discussion enabled a comparison of teaching vs practice. The psychology I am studying almost completely ignores psycho-analytics, and the works of the likes of Jung and Freud. They will feature at some point, but they have historical interest rather than contemporary lessons to teach. Yet as soon as I need to reset and relate, these are the taught lessons and schema that help me the most. I see commonality between some of the analysis and explanations, for example Jungian archetypes have some level of connection to the typology of brain types currently being argued by the likes of Simon Baron-Cohen. Not that he will thank me for connecting the two.

I am delighted I get to think in such diverse terms. And that my reading invites wider perspective beyond. It is my moments of greatest inner dissonance that I find myself thinking with the most lateral connection. Offering my greatest challenge to whatever system of cognitive schema I am temporarily most reliant upon. It is also when my reading becomes most diverse. All aligning to a questioning of everything. Thankfully, that is no longer a source of self-doubt.

My learning advises me that people who regularly manage depression are amongst those most able to rebuild mental schema. With the most desire to challenge what may otherwise be accepted as true. This is primarily because a depressed state requires heightened awareness of what may not quite be so. Whether that is true or not, I find myself grateful of these moments. It means I get to regularly revisit, reform, and refine.

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.

The role of persuasion

11 slides to change a mind

Fascinating insight tonight about the process of persuasion upon one man. A man of whom I am less and less persuaded by, but who is necessarily persuasive in ways few can claim to be. But this story is how Boris was turned around to the reality of climate-change.

This is not my story to tell. Here’s the full background in Judge for yourself how compelling a case was made in just 11 slides.

When it comes to being persuaded, the most important factor for those most intellectually astute is to offer them the most robust argument from both perspectives, to enable them to independently evaluate if a different conclusion is to be drawn. Moderate fear may work, but no more. When it comes to influence both propaganda and advertising demonstrate the factors of “who says what to whom, and with what effect” – in essence the key factors in play. At least according to Hovland-Yale’s model (1953).

That assumes external factors have been the most persuasive. Innate motivation is alternatively considered in a number of theories. Elaboration Likelihood Model suggests an individual may either take in the detailed assessment centrally, or peripherally in less detail and more focus on the credibility of those conveying the message. Balance Theory would attribute attitude change to association – sources, trustworthiness, expertise. Social Judgement Theory examines the psychology distance of one attitude to another. Cognitive Dissonance theory could explain both increasing resistance or relief at hearing a better perspective – dependent upon wider beliefs or concerns – and only if a choice was to be freely made rather than compelled.

All potentially valid factors and explanations we can perhaps have in mind in experiencing the powers of influence we each witness, make, or receive, each and every day.

11 slides must be particularly compelling if they alone have turned a mind so far from one perspective to another, on such an emotive issue, and in such a short time.

I’m going to be the optimist and conclude the case is indeed that powerfully made. Others may conclude a more cynical factor was in play.

Tools of the trade

Form follows function

“Form follows function” is a term I hear said with some regularity. What piqued my interest tonight was hearing it said in two very different settings. The first said in the context of construction (my day job); the second said in an introductory lecture as I begin studying neuroscience (my psychology MSc).

I will not dwell on this in detail other than to share a slide from those lectures. It introduces the main tools of trade in contemporary neuroscience. It offers a simple evaluation of relative merits of tools based on their temporal and spatial range. The underlying lesson being the importance of knowing what is being compromised and what is being complimented by methodology and tool choice.

Precisely what we all face in every project situation. And precisely what fails us when we consider the form in the absents of process we are intending to change.

Right tool, right question (source: UoN)

A literal reflection upon the cross-over of interests in projects of mind and management, but one we all struggle to contend with. Particularly when there is lacking clarity of what that intended process outcome truly is.