PhD and me

Learning by doing

I had to give this one a try. It came to my attention too late but I tried anyway. My first PhD proposal has now been submitted. Let the learning begin.

Written in three days is not the ideal preparation. But as a forced period of solid focus and serious questioning of what I’m trying to contribute as research and how it fits to wider academic research overall, was useful reminders of what it’s all for. My passion lives here. I just hope that shines through.

18 pages of my heart and soul. A baseline reset that serves as a useful confirmation that my research, my study, my consulting, and my life choices, all still sit well upon long-term goals.

That’s a good weekend, come what may. Learnt much by learning how much more I have yet to do.

Uncertain relations

My visibility | behaviour | trust in you

My thanks to Chris Bragg for a line of questioning that prompting these prose; Jason Hier for promoting the dialogue from which I repeat my part in here; and Dinah Turner who generated the original visual prompt. All of which started {here}, a discussion on LinkedIn. My thanks also to Bill Sherman. Another LinkedIn thread {here}, one with a challenge I accepted yesterday, and answer at the end of this blog.

Visibility of what? v | b | t in context

Visibility for my project purposes i.e., Visibility | b | t , is addressing transparency between parties. Directed towards what is known and what remains uncertain. In our projects, how much visibility are we sharing one party (project actor) to the next?

This is how visibility relates behaviour i.e., v | behaviour | t , as transparency by one party to the next. This transparency reveals or hides certain behaviour. That could be our intentions, motivations, or actions. Derived perhaps from something as simple as our hubris or belief that we are surely right. Or something more self-interested or malevolent. From these two variables we can ask if we are affording the right level of trust i.e., v | b | trust , to the exchange. Assessing all three presents an indication of collaborative nature, as it relates to all parties supporting the intended change, as project truth.

How are we safeguarding a project from what we do not know?

This sketch, from Dinah Turner, prompted the wider discussion I refer to above. If the dot was the minimal amount of necessary information, Jason Hier teased us with asking what if it was as little as 1%, then let’s respond with the question as a percentage of what? We need to have more awareness to the reality that somethings are not knowable – but that our processes need to have the adaptability to manage these later realisations.

Image used with permission from Dinah Turner

As a graphic to reflect our limited availability of information, what was prompted here was a discussion around making best use of the little information we have. From my perspective (as related to project knowledge), the diagram also presented a third area of interest. (1) the spot of what is known; (2) the assumed everything there is; (3) a challenge to the assumption we can ever bound everything there is to know – beyond the circle. This is what Gigerenzer (2014) would reflect upon when comparing risk vs. uncertainty. It is the difference between working within a closed system vs one that interrelates to more. Or Engwall‘s “no project is an island” from which we can remove ourselves from closed system thinking in any project situation. Combining these two principles, we always have some uncertainty. I suggest the circle in the above graphic houses “the question we asked”. But outside the circle is “the question we wish we knew to pose”. From here we can hope to critically appraise the manner of any decisions being made, for what purpose, and from an information perspective we can ask “based upon what?“.

Being able to seek clarity on what the 1% represents enables better questions. Anyone who knows me, will know that my most likely answer to a question, is another question. This is because a question directs our attention to a set of assumptions and constraints. Are these parameters intended to facilitate an open dialogue, or are they intended to funnel and dissuade a wider perspective? Is this reflecting behaviour of the person posing the question, that we trust to have this right?

It is at these earliest of moments – in defining both problem and constraints – that we can begin to become unstuck. And why we should all therefore be first challenging the question, to see what visibility, behaviour, and trust, is represented. See other blogs on these areas individually, including for example sensemaking and wider problem solving perspectives.

Projects as time bound intended change

This is a dynamic position, and therefore change. In the modelling idea I have in mind, this is where my attempt to define everything by a project definition comes into play: as time bound intended change. And that any change, even one of enquiry, can be captured by this project definition.

Projects within projects

This also challenges us to consider if our collaborative practices are ever actually aimed at the same project. Or are two project actors working on their own projects and attempting to direct outcomes to their own intended outcome – even if that is at the expense of the other. I have in mind here game theory models that represent zero sum outcomes (winner:loser); or those where lesser outcomes emerge because of failures to cooperate (see prisoner’s dilemma, or tragedy of the commons, as examples).

Other factors are then able to be introduced:

  • direction of influence. Interests directed into the one project, or away from the project and directed instead toward the party with most momentary influence.
  • manner of project control to support the retained inward influence of both the one project aim and protection of all project actors.

These are factors that relate to potential outcomes. The one shared outcome, if we are claiming to be in the one same project. Each factor (visibility, behaviour, trust, influence, and control) the aggregation of contributing factors. So, if a question is asked with a hidden or misguided agenda in mind, the project of enquiry is immediately more likely to fail. Failure because it fails at least one participant, and probably the project overall. Or if the intent was misdirection, there was never a single project with the two parties in mind.

At bigger scale, this is why the inevitable uncertainty that exists is eroding this collaborative endeavour if it is simply defined and offloaded in contract. This is not the same as project outcome control. It is more simply a financial risk transfer with increased likelihood of dispute. Arguably a later revelation that project truth never existed. Only the roughly aligned interests of the two separate projects and outcomes each party was interested in, influencing, and operating with suboptimal visibility, behaviour, and trust.

I would argue this is the default position in construction. As one example where hidden agenda is almost always assumed, even if not shown. Low visibility as data is filtered between commercial boundaries. Malevolent behaviours. No trust. Contracts attempting to replace trust, but therein failing to regain control.

If this observation is accepted, then it offers an rough guide to likelihood of project success. If we see a project with inadequate control of its truth (the totality of visibility, behaviour, and trust) it is a riskier project than it needs to be. It is representing a project at risk of unseen influences, permitting malevolent interests, and abuses of empowerment bestowed. Therein is the prospect of increased potential for dispute, plus missed opportunity to intervene.

Are we one project? My ongoing hypothetical

I am yet to be convinced we can ever truly be one project. It is why this entire blogsite is called Projects | Within Projects. But I do think we can seek to ensure our own projects are more closely aligned. As well as all the other project assessments we undertake, I am suggesting this v | b | t assessment of the many influences, directed at the appropriateness of controls containing them, can be one of those higher level quick indications of the human made threats to success.

This affords a simple question, “why say yes to this project?“. Why as a potential project actor agree to enter this enterprise if the divergent interests are not a central focus of control? Why insure it? Why invest in it? Why be party to it? Why approve it? If one can heuristically identify this increased chance of failure, the questions you ask can all be directed this way.

This is visibility | behaviour | trust as a rule of thumb. A heuristic tool, directed at the overall collaborative interest at a project’s core. A work in progress. One that keeps me returning to first principles, new discourse, and regular revisits to this hypothesis as I go.

Agreed or not agreed – is that my question?

And finally…to the challenge I am responding to.

Can you distil your best ideas down into a simple question?

asks Bill Sherman via LinkedIn

Bill Sherman – a writer of thought leadership, and taking ideas to scale. His post yesterday was quite different. He compared NASA mission statements to those we each set ourselves. He offered contemporary examples of the questions NASA set to define their missions. Each a single question – pithy and capturing the imagination of any five year old or older still living with a sense of wonder. His challenge, which I agreed, is to set my idea into a single question. What is the essence of what this big idea is trying to do?

Bills advises us to be guided by the following:-

What’s your big idea that you’re pursuing?

How are you staying connected to your sense of wonder?

Are you able to explain that wonder to others?

Here’s a quick way to check:

1. Write your big idea in one sentence that evokes joy/wonder.
2. Then, test it out. Ask people what they think.
3. Keep going until people say “wow.”

I will confess to writing this entire blog with this question in mind. So here goes, attempt number one.

Can our modelling of projects be linked, to better guide all scales of intended change?

Version one

Can success or failure be gauged by a simple assessment of external influences and resulting appropriateness of project controls?

Version two

Projects are jeopardised if rogue influence gains control: can we avoid the invitations to fail?

Version three

100 posts

Time, cost, or quality

Existence before essence. With over one hundred blogs offered I’m revisiting some basic principles of priority. The natural emergence of my blog topics seems to be me a key part of my process. I still have much to say. Much to read. Much to do. My research will carry me through.

But my personal intention to blog daily is now reaching its natural point of peak. I wish to retain the flow. But I also journal. I work. I research. I prepare for MSc exams.

From here-on-in it is daily blogging, perhaps. More correctly, it is affording as much time and as appropriate an amount of opportunity cost directed towards the deliberate attention to maintain quality of output. Quality, time and cost. Those seem to me the correct iron-law inspired priorities to guide my hand.

That’s my project musing for this evening. I return now to an existential crisis. A crisis of perspective for which Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Satre maintain. There’s a project angle here I am yet to land within this very different philosophical discourse. All the time I need – the luxury that projects are universally denied – now my ally and with it more possibility to understand.


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:

Take a pill and chill


Is this the end, for SARS-CoV-2?

If this pill is as effective as widely claimed, the potential for Covid19 to be confined to the history books may be close at hand. The speed of advancement of the medical science behind this progress is a marvel to behold. Even compared to vaccination this new weapon being dispatched to the front line is game changing. It destroys the virus from within its host. Destroyed to the core of it’s replicating genes.

A moment of hope that we can soon turn all attention back to the bigger challenges in hand. The next test more fundamental. But if this first is overcome, we must be living with hope of future breakthroughs more profound than even micro-biology at its best…

…we have advanced our understanding of both the behaviour and the control of viral threats. Next is reappraising the behaviours of us all, and what we need to turn new attentions toward. Next is regards our collective selves, the system of systems upon which we live, and the frameworks of our own forward-focused control.

  • BBC article here (reporter Jim Reed)
  • Dr. John Campbell here

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:

Bad attitude

In this blog I briefly introduce subject matter concerning behaviour. A summary of lecture notes, wider reading, and dialogue from my MSc Psychology studies last week. All anticipated to be revisited as research methodologies addressing v | b | t .

v | behaviour (attitude, belief, intent) | t

A tentative conclusion, from my readings at this point, is seeing Behaviour (as action) as the output with attitude a variable, alongside beliefs, and intention.  Per Manstead (2000), the relative weighting a person places on each of these three will determine the final act (i.e., behaviour).

Social Psychology

These first notes come from the discipline of Social Psychology. They connect attitude to behaviour. There are many other perspectives, constraints, models, and methods to consider. Biological, cognitive, developmental, individual difference, all presenting psychological context. Wider disciplines of sociology, anthropology, socio-economics, to add too.

This blog therefore one of many I anticipate writing in support of future research intent. The remainder of this blog is a brief examination of some of the key models and complexification of what attitude and corresponding factors offer in consideration of behaviour.


Attitude as a determining factor of behaviour

Gordon Allport writing in 1935 is where many texts begin. Who considered attitude and its study to being a place that cultural, social, and individual concerns meet (Gross 2015). From my lecture notes:

Attitudes are a mental and neural state of readiness, organised through experience, exerting a directive or dynamic influence upon the individual’s response to all objects and situations with which it is related

Gordon Allport 1935 pp810

Lectures last week presented three periods of increasing complexity of the study of attitude. This early period of the 1930s – dealing with a single component – affect (Thurstone 1931), and a second component of action (Allport 1935) [i.e., behaviour]. A period in the 1950s and 1960s concerned with dynamic change. A third component as belief further complexifying modelling from 1970s. Attitude as a factor of systems interactions with cognitive and social structure from 1980s and 1990s.

Example methodologies intended to explain this relationship:-

The expectancy value technique –  Belief strength measured probabilistically 0-1.  High regard to truth and strong belief in something such as reliability of one option over another.  Evaluation scaled over a five-point scale ranging from -2 to +2.  Combining this strong belief with evaluation capability presenting a high or low likelihood or behaving in a certain way.  Fishbein later expanded this theory with Icek Ajzen (cf Ajzen & Fishbein 2008; Ajzen & Fishbein 1980; Fishbein and Ajzen 1974; )  “most popular model of this type in social psychology is the expectancy–value (EV) model of attitude formation (see Dabholkar, 1999; Feather, 1959, 1982)” Ajzen & Fishbein 2008 pp2223).  Multiplication method argued by them in 2008 (pp2231).  Also note their rejoinder to Ogden 2003 dated 2004.  Specific attitude more relevant than general (Hogg et al 2018 pp163) e.g. attitude towards an exam not attitude towards a subject more broadly.  (cf.  Kraus 1995 meta-analysis)).  Ajzen & Fishbein 1975 do however suggest general attitudes can be of some value as multiple-act criterion – i.e., in predicting multiple behaviours not just one action.

Reasoned Action; Planned action; and motivations to change – Three processes of belief, intention, and action, and include the following components [adapted from Hogg et 2018 pp163]:

Conviction of belief – reasoned action theory –a product of the person’s beliefs about the target behaviour and how these beliefs are evaluated (refer to the cognitive algebra in Table 5.1).  Note that this is an attitude towards behaviour (such as taking a birth control pill in Davidson and Jacard’s study), not towards the object (such as the pill itself).  Here distinction is made between Behavioural intention – an internal declaration to act; and Behaviour – the action performed.  (Hogg et al 2017 pp163-164).  This result expressed in terms of a correlation between expected result and actual pp164

Intentions – Planned Action theory– This introduces the notion of behaviour being under the person’s conscious control.  (cf Ajzen 1989, Ajzen & Madden, 1986).  The perceived behavioural control added to early theory to allow for 20 percent of prospective actual behaviour being attributable to this additional variable of behavioural control (Tony Manstead and Dianne Parker (1995)).  Ajzen arguing that perceived behavioural control can relate to either the behavioural intention or the behaviour itself “the theory of planned behaviour”.  Per Hogg et al 2018, Richard Cooke and Pascal Sheeran (2004) “probably the dominant account of the relationship between cognitions and behaviour in social psychology” (ibid pp159) also citing Ajzen and Fishbein 2005).  See Fig 5.3 pp165 of Hogg et al 2018 for how both theories can be applied together.

Motivationprotective motivation theory– (cf Floyd, Prentice-Dunn, Rogers).  Cognition balancing between perceived threat of illness and one’s capacity to cope with the health regiment.  Two responses are possible.

The maladaptive response is a threat appraisal – which is to take the intrinsic and extrinsic reward, less the severity and deemed vulnerability to the threat.  In other words change is only made if the implications of the change are deemed manageable vs the relative appraisal of threat.

The adaptive response more mature as outcome orientated.  This is of itself an attitudinal determinant, but in my opinion not necessarily at the level of engagement with the object action itself.

All three theories share a view that “motivations towards protection results from a perceived threat and the desire to avoid potential negative outcomes (Floyd, Prentice-Dunn, Rogers 2000)” pp167

By the above examination there is no single factor that can be applied consistently to change behaviour.  This is a contextual examination.  Accordingly, it is perhaps the context itself which is the factor of greater importance.  Context enables the intervention to be applied to the better variable for the situation, and thereby the appropriateness of the control.  By example:

Moral values – past behaviours to indicate future ones based upon someone’s conviction and values (Gorsuch and Ortberg 1983; Manstead, 2000; Pagel and Davidson, 1984; Schwartz 1977)

Normative action– (cf. Norman and Conner 2006)  Habit as a predictor of future behaviour.  Becoming normative.  Safe sex can be normal without consideration or reasoned decision-making (Trafimow 2000), but so too can binge-drinking become normalised and therefore less in mind to be controlled (Norman and Conner, 2006).


Further reading:

Gross, R. “Psychology : The science of mind and behaviour” 7th Edition, Hodder Education, 2015

Hogg, M., & Vaughan, G. “Social Psychology”, Pearson Education, Limited, 2018


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:

v | b | t in research projects

How was the first week back in big school?

This MSc is going to be a little different. Here’s a few early observations about being back at university again.

42 students together in spirit. Globally spread. No lecture theatres. No face to face time at all. This is designed to be a remote access, part-time, anytime course. It seems to be a great way to learn.

My first week in psychology, and immediately being pulled away from my understanding of psychology so far. I was all about Jung vs Freud, trait theories, psyche and Self. Early modules are promising Cognitive Psychology, Social Psychology, and a double helping of research method and advanced stats. This is going to be different.

I have a personal tutor. My third visit to university, but my first tutor that is formally assigned to me. Normal practice at Nottingham. Certainly not seen before by me. This is going to be different.

The introductions to each subject have dived straight into the discourse. The contemporary debates. The touch points with other disciplines. The cut and the thrust. Sociology sits here, psychology sits there. Or do they? What an insightful way to start. This is going to be different.

All in all I am pretty happy with what I’ve seen. There is energy. There is freshness. Contemporary papers immediately in hand. Experiment and free discussion, psychological safety to throw around ideas. The standards are high. The discourse necessarily hard. This is going to be different.

v | b | t

Visibility seems high. Behaviours expectant, challenging – but with controls intentionally set to safe-mode. No doubting the trust. The selection process was thorough, and we now seem in the best of capable hands.

Against such scrutiny, access to learning, and contemporary challenge and research now at my door, the biggest threat to v | b | t right now is probably the concept and all its hidden flaws…

This is going to be different.

Already I think, so am I.

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: