How Good is Your Intuition?

AK27Imagine that you are given a set of cards that each have a letter on one side a number on the other. You are told that a rule applies to this set of cards that ‘if there is an A on one side then there is a 2 on the other side.’

You are then given the task of turning over the cards required in order to test whether the rule is true or false. Which cards would you choose?

Most people fail the task because they are influenced by a confirmation bias. In this instance the confirmation bias means that we are likely to look for ways of confirming the rule rather than disconfirming it.

But the confirmation bias is also responsible for us seeking out information that supports a belief that we already have and disregarding information that challenges it. And it’s just one of many biases we are subject to that results in our intuition being faulty.

Now, most of us would like to think that we have sound judgement. In fact another bias, the optimism bias, is responsible for the fact that a large majority of us would consider ourselves to have better than average judgement, which of course is not possible, just as we can’t all be better than average drivers.

Once we’ve decided that we are able to trust our intuition, then we’ll look for times when a decision that we’ve made, based on a ‘gut feeling’, has gone well and we’ll delete from our memory times when our intuition choices have resulted in a less than favourable outcome.

The reality is that sound judgement tends to come from applying robust problem solving tools and intuition comes with experience of similar situations to the one that we might be facing. Beyond that our ‘gut feelings’ are just luck; sometimes we’ll win and sometimes we’ll lose.

Just saying!

You Have Been Loved

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There has been much to be sorrowful about in 2016.

We have seen the passing of many beloved figures that seem to have been part of the fabric of our existence for so long. From David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Terry Wogan at the start of the year; Ronnie Corbett, Prince, Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Muhammad Ali and Leonard Cohen as the year was unfurled, and in the last few days Rick Parfitt and George Michael. So much talent that has left us.

And yet none of them have really gone. They are all still around for us to see and hear. In revisiting their work we are able to conjure up memories of times when all of them have touched our lives. And we are all the better for that.

Just listening to George Michael this morning brought back such great memories that he provided the soundtrack for. Watching Victoria Wood on the BBC last week had the same effect of stirring up time that I would probably never recall otherwise.

The people that have left us this year are connections to our past and are interwoven in to events that contribute to our own identities. I feel fortunate that their lives and their work have formed part of my life in very positive ways, without me ever having met any of them.

On a day of deep sadness at George’s passing at such a young age, I also also extremely thankful that his talent and his spirit will not pass with him. His music and his life will give cause for celebration long in to the future.

My thoughts are with his family and his friends.

Madonna on Resilience

madonnaMadonna made an emotional speech at the Billboard music awards last week; a speech in which she spoke of her resilience in a way that she hasn’t for a while. Madonna was attending the awards to receive the Billboard Woman of the Year award. Madonna is the personification of reinvention and has had so many reincarnations in her career that it’s hard to keep track of them. That in itself suggests a great deal of resilience, in terms of the way that she has constantly been adapting to her changing surroundings. Not so much “Who moved my cheese”, but “Who moved my pop music”.

But this speech was more personal, more focused on the adversity she has faced because of other people, rather than chaining trends. She spoke of her early days as a teenager in New York; of being mugged at gunpoint; raped at knife-point and burgled so many times that she stopped locking her door. She also talked of losing many of her friends to AIDS and drug abuse and also of the misogyny that she faced in an industry where, as a women, you are routinely objectified but castigated if you own your sexuality. And her detractors were not just the men. Feminist Camille Puglia suggested that Madonna set women back by objectifying herself sexually.

Madonna suggested that all of her trials have been gifts that have taught her lessons and made her stronger. She went on to say that those trials have been the events that have shaped her and allowed her to become the ‘daring woman’ that she is, and also made her realise that she is vulnerable and that there is no real safety other than your own self-belief.

Madonna spoke of how she took comfort and also found inspiration in the poetry of Maya Angelou; the writings of James Baldwin and the music of Nina Simone. She is known for being controversial but she believes that the most controversial thing that she has done is to stick around.

Madonna thanked those who have loved and supported her along the way, but also emotionally thanked those who had doubted her and told her that she could not, would not and must not do what she was doing. She suggested that their resistance made her push harder and achieve all that she has.

There is no doubting that Madonna has demonstrated her resilience throughout her career, through her innovation and her artistry and also through her defiance in the face of the critics.

Long may she continue to do so.

Drawing Resilience

kirk-dignity

I was facilitating a workshop at a conference on coaching psychology organised by the British Psychological Society yesterday. As you might expect, I was exploring with the delegates my learning from over a year of being immersed in my resilience project.

I had the opportunity to ask the delegates to draw resilience for me. My son had warned me that the exercise was going to end up in the same way as it did for Kirk on the Simpsons, when drawing ‘dignity’. I showed them the video clip before the exercise just in case they had similar ideas.

Someone drew a tree bending in the wind but not breaking; someone else drew an oak tree standing strong. Another delegate drew a mountain, immovable and another drew a triangle within a circle to show strength but ever changing and adapting. There were many other ideas and I captured a number of them on a flip-chart

What the exercise illustrated was that we all have our own individual understanding of resilience, what it means for us and and how we feel that we might need to be in order to demonstrate resilience. It also supported the findings of the research that I carried out earlier in the year.

The same was true when I asked delegates to tell me what the key factors were that supported their resilience. The answers ranged from self-belief, self care and social support to exercise, nutrition and learning from adversity. There were many other additional suggestions and we only went once round the room, and they echoed those within my research project, where I had such a plethora of different answers it took me days to ensure that I was pulling the right themes from the data.

The reality is that resilience is complicated and specific to any given individual. This means that for those of us engaged in helping those in struggle, it’s essential to take the time to understand what is really going on for our clients and to explore fully what might work in supporting their resilience before we even begin to think about suggesting mindfulness, or whatever else initially springs to mind asa possible remedy. Only with this greater understanding can we then start to think about what interventions might be helpful.

And for anyone reading this who feels that they are struggling, I have some words of advice. Take some time out to consider what is important for you. And if what’s important is not your own well-being ask yourself why that might be. Even if your focus is on someone else who needs your support you need to be well-resourced yourself in order to provide that support. You only pass this way once and waiting for the right time to take care of yourself will either mean it will be too late or that you’ll have to work much harder to repair the damage at some point in the future.

It’s the difference between putting a fence around the cliff or an ambulance down in the valley. We all know what makes sense, but committing to actually doing what we know makes sense is a different matter and takes some self-awareness and some self-discipline.

5 Principles to Working 5 Hours Per Day

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Two articles caught my eye this week about working hours; one in the Guardian about how workers need to take back control of their working lives; the other in the Huffington Post by the chief executive of Tower Paddle Boards, Stephan Aarstol, who decided to instigate a five hour working day within his business. Admittedly the Guardian article had the word fetishisation in the headline so it’s not hard to see why that might have caught my attention.

In the Guardian article Anna Coote was bemoaning the fact that she only vaguely remembers ‘lunchtime’, a time when she would escape from the office for an hour and lunch at a local café. Now has lunch from a tupperware pot while continuing to work at her desk due to the pressures of the job. She also suggests that whilst stress and anxiety are on the rise, there is an ever increasing demand on workers to show willing and stay at their place of work for longer and longer hours.

Whilst I would agree that for many people, not leaving the office at lunchtime has become an issue, some of this is self-inflicted. We live so much of our lives online these days that spending our lunch hours at our desks often means that we’re devouring the internet over lunch, along with whatever’s in our tupperware pot, rather than working through it.

This in itself is a potential health hazard, as sitting for prolonged periods has been shown to be particularly unhelpful from a health perspective, even if you’re popping along to the gym after work. Leaving the office and having a change of scenery is known to have major benefits from both a lifestyle and a productivity perspective. It’s why lunch hours exist and are supported by employment laws.

Anna’s article moved on to the idea that everyone working a thirty hour week would produce a utopia of full employment and happy, engaged employees. Which tied in nicely to Stephan Aarstol’s article about how he reshaped his company and went a little stage further than Anna’s theory, reducing the working week for his employees to twenty-five hours between the hours of 8:00 and 13:00, leaving them free to enjoy the rest of the day.

Stephan’s initiative resulted in a 40% increase in revenue in 2015 and its success is based on five important principles.

Applying the 80-20 rule that 80% of production comes from 20% of effort.
Shifting to measuring productivity rather than hours worked.
Not being ‘always available’.
Using technology to be more efficient
Allow for a longer working week if it’s appropriate; the exception rather than the rule.
Apparently life at Tower Paddle Boards still involves most people walking out of the door at 13:00, guilt free

I have some doubts as to whether Anna’s or Stephan’s ideas will become widespread reality, although I see the merits of working a shorter day. More time for personal development; more time for fitness; more time for the people that matter in your life; more time for what you enjoy.

Some business owners would almost certainly use the idea as a cynical way of reducing costs by reducing staff hours, or even the number of staff, once the efficiencies had been established. But there is something special about what Stephan has achieved, which has required a remarkable degree of trust on both sides. Establishing that level of trust with your team and then continuing to honour that trust is key to making such an idea works and Stephan’s innovation. bravery and integrity are to be applauded

For employers who encourage, or even expect their teams to be working long past their contracted hours on a regular basis, perhaps there is opportunity to reflect on their current practices and the impact that it has on both their team members’ productivity and their well-being.

For those working for organisations where they feel obliged to regularly burn the midnight oil, for whatever reasons they hold dear, well they might also wish to question the ‘Why’ of their current practices and may choose to adjust the balance.

For those of us who love what we do for a living, it sometimes feels like we’re not working at all. And that way of being comes with it’s own dangers.

Recruitment Resilience

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The exploration of resilience that I’ve been involved in for over a year has thrown up some interesting questions from different quarters. One question that I’m often asked by those with more than a passing interest in recruiting people is whether you can recruit for resilience.

The answer is complicated because people are complicated. Psychological and emotional well-being are impacted by so many different factors that it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s certainly not possible to pinpoint at the recruitment stage what might lead an individual to feel less resilient at some future date in some unforeseen circumstance.

One of the best approaches that an organisation can take at recruitment stage is to try to ensure that any recruit, as well as having the ability to carry out the functions of the role, is also actually interested in doing the main tasks involved in the job and feels like they might have some fun in doing so. A good fit is going to have a major impact on that person’s well-being over time and should provide an important pillar to support resilience when other factors are having a negative effect.

Different personalities suit different roles and you probably wouldn’t employ someone who has an introversion preference and a laid back attitude in a dynamic, pro-active sales role. If you did then you would need to prepare yourself for a lack of resilience on their part when it comes to doing what you expect them to do.

When it comes to general well-being, to a certain extent the question of recruiting for resilience misses the point. There is a good chance that we will all have times when our resilience is challenged and at those times an important factor in whether we adapt well and maintain a sense of balance will be the support that we receive, both at work and at home.

Fortunately more and more firms are engaging with the idea of supporting well-being in the work place and implementing strategies that are likely to keep their staff both motivated and feeling buoyant, even during difficult times. As well as focusing on improving the working conditions for employees many firms also pro-actively engage in implementing well-being programmes.

Such programmes hopefully provide employees with a variety of tools and techniques to enable them to work to enhance their own resilience. My recent research project has suggested that there is no particular cure-all for a lack of resilience and finding the right approach is a very personal journey; not one that can be imposed by somebody else.

There is no point, for example, in just providing mindfulness classes, which whilst useful to many, aren’t going to be for everyone. In fact author Tony Robbins makes the point that for him it’s a waste of time thinking of nothing. Instead he practices a priming ritual, which is a ten to thirty minute morning practice that puts him in a prime state for the day. Tony doesn’t meditate but instead focuses. He focuses on experiencing gratitude, and “three to thrive,” which are three things he wants to make happen in his life. Tony’s technique is not for everyone but it works for him, and that’s the point. Mindfulness is one option among many that might prove to be useful approaches for someone trying to enhance their well-being.

What employers might choose to do is to provide training for their employees that explores different ways of handling stress. Within this training there should be some tools that those participating in the programme can immediately implement and practice, along with some signposting to other approaches that might require some external support, such as counselling.

In conclusion, recruiting for resilience is not really possible, but the right job fit is going to help. And I would suggest that employers who continue to care about the well-being of their staff, whatever stage they’re at in their career will, in turn, be rewarded by a more engaged, motivated and resilient team.

If you really want to start to understand your own resilience or the resilience of your team talk to me about resilience coaching. Just email me at tomdillon@silverlobster.co.uk or send me a message. 

I’ll be running a ‘Surviving Stress in the Workplace’ workshop at The HR Department in Kenilworth, Warwickshire on 9th November for those who would like to develop their own resilience. For further information call Molly on 01926 353 131 or email molly.alcock@hrdept.co.uk

In What Ways is Your Team Dysfunctional?

img_4177Deep down, in places you don’t talk about at networking events, you know that your team is dysfunctional. You know that there are conversations that you should be having and issues you should be addressing with your team but you don’t do either because it means you all having to face the truth. And you can’t handle the truth.

But things are not as they should be.

According to Patrick Lencioni there are five common dysfunctions of teams:

  1. An absence of trust
  2. A fear of conflict
  3. A lack of commitment
  4. An avoidance of accountability
  5. An inattention to results

So which dysfunctions are you observing in your team?

Three of Lencioni’s five dysfunctions are based on a neurological threat response and two have a disconnection with our neurological reward system. These two systems are deeply embedded in almost everything we do. It’s probably worth pausing to reflect on that statement and to consider for a moment what your team does on a day to day basis and how each activity that you identify is connected to either the reward system or the threat system.

Go on then, reflect for a moment!

Understanding the relationship of the threat and the reward responses is important for any leader of people and working to ensure that the relevant threats are minimised and the appropriate rewards are maximised is an essential part of the role.

Leading people is psychology in action and if, as a leader, you can begin to understand just a little of the psychological theory behind reward and threat responses it makes leadership a little less demanding.

So, how to you go about resolving the dysfunction that exists within you team? Well, Lencioni obviously has a few suggestions for how to bring about change and move your team forward and they all come down to psychology.

If you really want to start to understand your own team, talk to me about leadership coaching or team coaching. Just email me at tomdillon@silverlobster.co.uk and let’s start a conversation.

I’ll be running a ‘Leading your Team’ programme at The HR Department in Kenilworth, Warwickshire in November for leaders who would like to bring about positive change within their teams. For further information call Molly on 01926 353 131 or email molly.alcock@hrdept.co.uk

How are you choosing to view that difficult situation at work?

empty-chairI often have conversations with those that I coach about ways to handle difficult relationships in the workplace. Whether the problem is with someone they manage, someone they work alongside or someone that manages them, relationship issues are frequently a cause of frustration, anger and distress for people at work.

Establishing the truth of the situation is never easy for a coach as you’re only ever hearing one person’s story as seen through their eyes. Besides when it comes to relationships there is no such thing as objective truth. Relationships are always subjective and those on each side of a problem will see things differently and be telling themselves their own story.

But if the person that I’m coaching is open-minded and willing to explore the scenario, it’s often possible for them to gain a more rounded view of what they are facing. One important element of this exploration is being able to identify what lenses the situation is being viewed through. As humans we are meaning making machines and in order to find meaning in a situation we’ll make assumptions based on the cognitive filters that are readily available to us. These filters include our past experiences, our beliefs, our values and our biases. Mix all those together and some pretty wild assumptions are easily formed.

I was once coaching a manager (we’ll call him Dave), who didn’t have any respect for his boss (we’ll call him Justin), and they didn’t really get on. Justin was relatively new to the business and Dave felt that Justin didn’t have his level of experience or his knowledge and so tended to bypass him and talk to Justin’s boss. Dave was choosing to see Justin through a certain set of filters that he felt were justified.

Dave started to talk about a conversation that Dave had had recently with Justin and I invited Dave to indulge me and act out both parts of the dialogue in an exercise called ‘The Empty Chair’. As part of this role play I asked Dave to imagine looking in on the conversation as if from an observer’s chair and to describe what he noticed, which he duly did. After the exercise had finished and Dave returned to his coaching chair, his first words to me were “It’s me isn’t it?”

What Dave recognised was the part that he had to play within his relationship with Justin. We were then able to talk about what behaviours Dave might choose to change in order to improve the situation. Sometimes it just takes a shift in our own perception of events to allow us to make choices about our own behaviour.

Often that can be the difference that makes the difference in improving a relationship.

For details of individual coaching and group training on how to resolve difficult situations in the workplace email me at tomdillon@silverlobster.co.uk.

I’ll be running a half day workshop at The HR Department in Kenilworth in Warwickshire on 22nd November for anyone who struggles to have difficult conversations at work. For further information call Molly on 01926 353 131 or email molly.alcock@hrdept.co.uk

Letting Things Come

winnie-the-pooh-and-rabbitI spent some time letting thoughts come to me yesterday.

I’d been working on the design for a couple of different workshops for several hours and needed a break from generating ideas. I’d been chasing them all morning, but they weren’t for being caught, so I took a walk in the sunshine on my own and without my iPhone. That’s rewarding in and of itself. Connecting with the countryside, feasting on blackberries from the hedgerow as I went and allowing thoughts to find me made it made it all the more worthwhile. It’s perhaps the reverse of Pokemon Go.

The experience put me in mind of a conversation between Winnie the Pooh and Rabbit in ‘The House at Pooh Corner’. The exchange comes on the back of Rabbit overhearing Pooh humming a little hum.

“Did you make that song up?” asked Rabbit.
“Well, I sort of made it up,” said Pooh. “It isn’t brain,” he went on humbly, “…but it comes to me sometimes.”
“Ah!” said Rabbit, who never let things come to him, but always went and fetched them.”

Our unconscious has a way of allowing things to surface when we’re not really trying and it’s a curse of our constantly connected lives that we often don’t allow ourselves time to let ideas come. Even when we’re in need of creative inspiration we, much like Rabbit, go looking for it when, at times, we need it to find us.

The American poet Ruth Stone used to talk of poems finding her out in a wheat field and of her running home to try to capture them. And songwriter Tom Waits cursed songs that turned up when he was speeding along a freeway and couldn’t capture the words or melody, knowing that they may never return.

Fortunately, the ideas that sought me out on my walk have now made it in to my workshops and saved me a whole load more chasing.

Returning to Resilience

cath-bishopAugust has come and gone and another summer has slipped by. This year I have managed to make the most of the marvel that is England when the sun is shining. Day trips have been many and varied. I must be getting old for I have joined the National Trust and also bought an annual pass to Warwick Castle.

August also meant taking a break from writing and that felt rather indulgent after a year of commitment to composing daily blogs. I had experienced the occasional urge to tap at my keyboard to express my thoughts on various subjects, but resisted the temptation and feel rather pleased with myself for sticking to the plan.

And the result of taking a break in August is that I’m replenished, refreshed and ready to attack September’s projects with a new verve. I feel as though I have done well in managing my well-being and feel a sense of resilience that will sustain me as I immerse myself back in the world of coaching.

I’m also ready to recommence my blogging, although without the pressure of writing every day. I now intend to be more considered in my writing and allow my thoughts to percolate a little before committing them to the world of social media.

September got off to a great start in terms of projecting me back in to the world of coaching. On the first of the month I was listening to the thoughts of various speakers about being part of a system, or systems, and what that might mean for us. Cath Bishop, an Olympic rowing silver medalist and one of two keynote speakers at the Association for Coaching’s annual conference talked to her audience about her commitment to her rowing career before she joined the diplomatic service.

Two years ago, at another conference, I heard the rowing recollections of Cath’s partner in crime, Katherine Grainger, with whom she won her silver medal in 2004. And just last year I was in the audience at a talk given by a rowing gold medalist, Ben Hunt-Davis, who regaled the audience with tales of Sidney 2000. The conference world seems to be full of rower’s who, apart from being very driven, are all really, really tall.

Cath Bishop’s talk was a reminder of the Rio olympics, which provided a number of highlights during a great summer of sport and I found myself glued to various events that I wouldn’t normally have any interest in watching. The wonderful theatre of medals being won or lost in a moment was hypnotic and, having focussed my attention for twelve months on resilience, it was fascinating to watch so many dramas unfold amongst a plethora of resilient athletes. The GB women’s hockey team winning gold was a particularly unexpected delight.

It was interesting during the games to reflect on the difference between success and failure and what might create the difference. There was much talk of the resilience of the winners from various commentators. When the difference between a gold and silver medal is the fraction of a second, is it possible to say that one athlete is more resilient than another?

Fortunately for us all there was much pleasure to be had in the performances of the Team GB athletes. In fact there were so many British gold medalists that the silver medalists must have wondered what they had been messing about at.

Us mere mortals, are left to take inspiration where we can from any or all of the Rio competitors, although to be honest I can probably live without another inspirational rowing story for a while.

Having said that, the mantra of Ben Hunt-Davis and the members of his gold medal rowing team, ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’, has become an integral part of the way I approach business projects these days so maybe I’ve learned something from these giants of the sporting world.