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Scientific Method

Scientific Method

Scientific MethodThere is no bigger idea than science. So, in this UN International Year of the Periodic Table, I want to celebrate what makes science so powerful: the almost equally big idea of the Scientific Method.

For managers, I’d sum up its utility with a quote from an old friend, Tony Quigley:

The alternative to evidence-based policy-making is policy-based evidence-making’

If you want your organisational decisions to carry heft and deliver results, you can do no better than to apply the scientific method to your management practices.
Continue reading Scientific Method

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Half way between New Year and Valentine’s day

Last week, I was counting basic plots and getting nowhere with the numbers game – I think if you follow all of the references in the article, you get to 18 or 54 or something in between.  I didn’t try to put a number on it.

But have you noticed how many of us like to enumerate and collect?  Mostly it’s men, I hear some of you say, but I am not so sure.  Anyway, Howard Gardner noticed this, belatedly, when he added to his original seven Multiple Intelligences an eighth: Naturalist.

Seven …
there’s another magic number to add to last week’s three:

  1. Seven samurai
  2. Seven pillars of wisdom
  3. Seven deadly sins
  4. Seven wonders of the world
  5. Seven against Thebes
  6. Seven dwarves
  7. Seven habits of highly effective people

One characteristic of the naturalist intelligence is the desire and facility to characterise, categorise and count (ooops three again!).

Let’s get Emotional

This time, I have been wondering how many emotions there are.  Two things may come to your mind: the pragmatists will say ‘but what has this to do with management?’ while the theorists will challenge ‘can you really count emotions?’

Let’s start with the theorists: counting emotions

No.  I don’t think that you can create a full count of the infinite varieties of human emotion, but I did think it may be interesting to try to list the main ones, and see where it takes me.

I started with a throwaway comment I remembered from a training course that there is a ‘big five’ set of emotions.  I can find no reference to these (unlike the ‘big five personality factors’ in any psychology books).  But I did find a Reiki Healing site, and as my NLP teachers were also reiki practitioners, I’m going to make a guess…

Anyway, this led me to:

  1. Joy
  2. Sadness
  3. Anger
  4. Fear
  5. Grief

… which are big and there are five.  But there are other big ones too.  Next stop: Claudia Hammond’s excellent ‘Emotional Rollercoaster: A Journey Through the Science of Feelings’.  Dr Hammond lists

  1. Joy
  2. Sadness
  3. Disgust
  4. Anger
  5. Fear
  6. Jealousy
  7. Love
  8. Guilt
  9. Hope

She doesn’t set out to be comprehensive, just to present fascinating research results.  The web will offer you uncountable numbers of lists, but in my £2.99 copy of the textbook ‘Psychology’ (I love charity shops), I found Plutchik’s Multi-dimensional Model of Emotions.  Oh how I love the idea of a multidimensional model!

Plutchik’s Multi-dimensional Model of Emotions, reproduced as Fig 12.1 in Psychology (Bernstein, Roy, Srull, Wickens)As you can see, Plutchik’s model has eight primary emotions which are shown next to the ones they are most like and opposite the ones that are like polar opposites.  Each has a spectrum of intensity, giving a third dimension, with the peak intensity emotions at the top.  By combining adjacent pairs, you get more complex emotions.

To see this more clearly, we need to open out the solid, and this is done in many places on the web.  Here is my favourite representation (a public domain image from Wikipedia).


You’ll notice that the two versions don’t quite match up (-  as my editor did!*).  The opened out “net” seems the more current and common articulation, with the levels on the “solid” diagram either poorly represented or from earlier thinking.

Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

What has this to do with management?

Well, firstly, if you think that emotions and management have nothing to do with one another, you’re crazy.  But my serious point is that a greater understanding of emotions seems to me to be a major gap in much management training and education.  This is even true in many workshops and courses about ‘Emotional Intelligence’.

Yet Emotional Intelligence is one of the most powerful management models of the last twenty years.  I think we can now tentatively apply the label ‘enduring’.  So we’ll be taking a deeper look over the next two weeks.


* In trying to answer my editor’s comment, I found two absolutely  fascinating articles on the web (30 minutes of displacement activity – thank you Ros) that you might like.  Plutchik’s original 1960 article is not available on the web (unless you have £23 to spare).  Anyway, check out:

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Predicting Behaviour

Kurt LewinKurt Lewin is a favourite thinker of Pocketblog’s.  He was an audacious theoretician and a pioneering social psychologist.

He generated many original  and important ideas, but none was as ambitious as what has come to be known as Lewin’s Equation.

Lewin’s equation describes behaviour and was seen, when it was published in 1936, as highly controversial.


Lewin’s Equation

It is well-known that whenever a writer includes an equation in her or his text, readers melt away, but HOLD ON: this one is easy!

Here it is:

B = f(P,E)

Now, I know that this looks scary to anyone who hated maths at GCSE, CSE or O level.  So let me explain.  In words, what it says is that behaviour is a function of a person and of the environment in which they find themselves.

Of course, the devil in the detail.  Even if the equation is correct, it does not tell us what measure of the person to take, what aspects of the environment are salient, nor how they combine to affect behaviour.

It doesn’t sound that contentious, but what Lewin was saying was revolutionary in its time.  It is why, in 1936, this was not a trite statement of the obvious.  What Lewin said that was new, is that we behave differently according to the environment we find ourselves in.

Before Lewin

Before this, ideas of behaviour assumed that who we are and our formative experiences would inevitably condition our behaviour.  If this were true, then if I can know enough about you – perhaps having seen how you behaved in the past – then I can predict your behaviour.

Now, Lewin has told us that this is, in principle, not possible.  Because every situation is different and the new environment that you find yourself in will change your behaviour.

People are not predictable

Not only that, but the big shift in social science and in economic theory in the last couple of decades has been a steady recognition that neither is our behaviour rational.

Much economic modelling assumes markets are operated by rational agents.  But our behaviour is anything but rational – making our responses to market forces not only unpredictable, but crazy.  Couple that with the speed at which transactions happen, and we have the conditions for rapid and enormous swings in markets.

Environment is everything

Increasingly, the factor that we have greatest control over is not the people, but the environment.  If you want to influence behaviour, rather than try and influence people, change the environment.

It is time for greater emphasis on environmental factors in human performance.  Advertisers, marketers and store designers have known this for years.  They have studied the science of light, colour, smell and sound in a quest to influence our buying behaviours.

Yet the success of a business is linked not just to customers’ behaviours, but to those of staff.

So here is the deal

How much are you doing to influence the behaviour of your team members, by optimising their environment?  I am going to risk compounding my equation  error, by loading one more equation into the Pocketblog environment:

E = g(N,F,A)

In words, the environment is a function of Neutral background factors, plus Frustrating factors that constrain performance, plus Advancing factors that promote performance.  Who knows what the function is, or how much each term contributes to it.  But you can always play around with your environment to find how to adjust the balance of factors.  It’s time to try.

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Bankers’ Bonuses and Brain Biology

Back in September 2010, we did a post about John Stacy Adams and Equity Theory.  Here are some edited highlights, as a primer:

Equity Theory in a Nutshell

Adams considered the comparisons we make between the outcomes we get (through reward such as pay) and the work we contribute:  the ratio O/W.

You unconsciously compare your own ratio (O/W) with my ratio, as you perceive it (O’/W’).  If you find that they are equal, you will be content.  If, however, my ratio is bigger than your ratio, you will be unhappy –you will perceive an ‘inequity’.

It is also the case that if you think you are over-rewarded, then you will probably feel a sense of guilt.  Our innate need for fairness is what drives Adams’ ‘Equity Theory’.  He argued that where we feel a sense of inequity, we respond in a way that will, in our minds, remove the inequities.

Why so Fair?

Is our sense of fairness a result of social or cultural pressures, or is it the way we are wired?  Four researchers at Caltech and Trinity College Dublin became the first to glean definitive evidence into this particular nature versus nurture debate.

What they found is that our brain’s reward centres respond more strongly when a poor person gets a financial reward than when a rich person receives the same reward.  What surprised them was that this is true for the brain of the rich person as well as for that of the poor person.

Image Credit: Elizabeth Tricomi/Rutgers University
Dr Tricomi was the principal author of the research paper

‘People who started out poor had a stronger brain reaction to things that gave them money, and essentially no reaction to money going to another person,’ Professor Colin Camerer says. ‘By itself, that wasn’t too surprising.’

What did surprise the team was that people who started out rich had a stronger reaction to other people getting money than to themselves getting money. ‘In other words’ said Camerer, ‘their brains liked it when others got money more than they liked it when they themselves got money.’

So what happened to good old self interest?

Clearly the results appear fly in the face of self interest, so how does the team explain them.  They think that it is about reducing discomfort – seeing a poor person getting a reward goes some way to allaying a little of our own guilt.

So will bankers give away their bonuses?

Maybe some will, but perhaps the guilt of discomfort has a value.  That’s something the experimenters did not measure, and until they do, we will never know what it takes to make a more equal society.

Which brings us back in a roundabout way to the vexed question of nature versus nurture.  We now know that something of our sense of equity is wired into the way our brains work.  What we don’t know is whether that wiring took place because of our genetics or our experiences.  So let’s speculate, based on two observations:

  1. There would seem to be real evolutionary advantage for a social creature living in small groups to develop a sense of fairness that guides its decisions
  2. There are plenty of opportunities in our present society for a sense of equity to be over-written by self-interest in our formative years, yet it seems to persist.

I say: chalk this one up to nature!

Learn More

You can read a far fuller summary of the research at the Caltech website, or, if you have a mind to, you can read the full paper that was published in the journal Nature (25 Feb 2010).

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Motivation Pocketbook

The Reward Pocketbook

The Management Models Pocketbook

The Thinker’s Pocketbook

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Happiness – as simple as ABC?

AbnormalityA couple of years ago, I spotted something a bit special in an Oxfam bookshop; it was a kind of archaeological relic of a by-gone age.  The book was a basic psychology text called ‘Abnormality’.  Because I have no more than a passing interest in the subject and ever-diminishing shelf space, I elected to leave it behind.

However, this book marks the end of an era.


A New Field in Psychology

Abnormality was published in 1997.  The following year, its principal author, Martin Seligman, was President of the American Psychological Association.  In 1998, Seligman officially launched Positive Psychology as a distinct branch of psychology, and lifted it from the level of pop psychology to a topic of serious scientific research.

Abnormality marked Seligman’s last book on the ‘old’ psychology of the damage we accumulate or do to one-another.  All his subsequent books have been about aspects of optimal human functioning.

Why this timing?  Was it just because Seligman had the opportunity that year?  I don’t think so.  In his 2003 book, Authentic Happiness, he says:

‘it took Barbara Frederickson … to convince my head that positive emotion has a profound purpose far beyond the delightful way it makes us feel.’

In 1998, Barbara Frederickson published a ground-breaking paper: ‘What good are Positive Emotions?’  In it, she suggests that positive emotions broaden and build our personal resources and help us to cope with the trials of life.  She won psychology’s most lucrative award, The Templeton Prize, in its first year, 2000.

But what if I’m stuck with negative emotions?

Martin SeligmanSeligman himself is a leading thinker in Positive Psychology; most closely associated with two aspects: strengths, and ‘Learned Optimism’.

His 1990 book (now in its third edition); ‘Learned Optimism’ pre-dates Positive Psychology as a field of study with a name, but it is an essential read for anyone interested in the field.

It shows how we can move from helplessness to optimism by changing the way we think, and it presents a very powerful model, developed by Albert Ellis.

Albert Ellis and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Albert Ellis founded Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) – yes British readers: I have used the US spelling.  This is a fore-runner of the better known CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and Ellis is known as the Grandfather of CBT.  He died in 2007.

In Learned Optimism, Seligman uses his ABCDE model as a tool for changing the way we think about adversity and and challenge.  You will also find this model in The Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (CBC) Pocketbook.


A: Activating event
… or Adversity, as Seligman describes it, is the objective event that causes us concern

B: Beliefs
The beliefs we have (rational or not) about the event that trigger our attitudes, fears and subsequent behaviours

C: Consequences
Ultimately, what consequences do those beliefs have for us in terms of what we do and how that changes our options and opportunities.

D: Dispute
Change comes when we confront our beliefs with real-world evidence and start to dispute our interpretation and beliefs.

E: Energization
This is the word Seligman uses, which seems more powerful than ‘Exchange’ used in the CBC Pocketbook. Here the new evidence and understanding we have exchanged for the old energises us to make changes, think differently, do things differently, and change our world.

Our Cognitive Behavioural Coaching Pocketbook has a whole chapter on the ABCDE model and how to use it.

Is Happiness as Simple as ABC?

Of course not, but what Seligman shows us is how a simple process can radically change our perspective from pessimism to optimism.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Cognitive Behavioural Coaching Pocketbook

The Energy and Well-being Pocketbook

The Positive Mental Attitude Pocketbook

The Stress Pocketbook

The Emotional Intelligence Pocketbook

The Empowerment Pocketbook

You might also like our earlier blog: Socrates’ Questions, Pavlov’s Dogs and Skinner’s Box.

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