Sunday, 30 November 2008

Applying psychology - if not these aims, then what?

Why would anyone study psychology and become a psychologist? Is there a common thread, a core set of values which psychologists share? How does the role of dispassionate scientist sit with the subject matter of human behaviour and human relationships?

The main reason I included the whole of the article below was that Prof Mackay argues that all psychologists should sign up to a common set of values which he summarises as:

Do all the good you can
By all the means you can
In all the ways you can
In all the places you can
At all the times you can
To all the people you can
As long as ever you can

What better aspiration can there be for a psychologist? Like many of my fellow students at Goldsmiths I have questioned how psychology can be successfully applied, and the answer is often difficult, even unsatisfactory.

But that certainly doesn't mean that we do not have a responsibility to try. Prof Mackay reminds us that it is only great ambition that truly changes the world.

Can psychology change the world?

BY Professor Tommy Mackay, published in The Psychologist, November 2008

Psychology may not hold the ultimate answer to the human condition, but I firmly believe that it can change the world. I hope to convince you of this through an examination of three things: first, the centrality of psychology; second, the relationship of science and values; and third – as this article has its origins in a personal award – an illustration of changing the world drawn from my own work, the eradication of illiteracy in an entire council area.

The centrality of psychology
Where does psychology stand in relation to science in general, and to addressing the human welfare agenda in particular? Is it central or peripheral? First, in relation to science, it is often seen as being on the fringes – somewhere on the borderland of proper science, but never fully accepted as one of its central disciplines. However, a different picture emerges when these views themselves are subjected to scientific inquiry. In a paper entitled ‘Mapping the backbone of science’, Boyack et al. (2005) looked at citations in over a million journal articles published in 7321 journals. Their aim was to map the various scientific disciplines in terms of how central or peripheral they are, using cross-referencing to determine which disciplines have most influence on other areas of inquiry. Seven ‘hub’ sciences were identified: mathematics, physics, chemistry, earth sciences, medicine, psychology and social sciences. (Interestingly, those on the periphery included psychiatry, law, political science and economics.)

Second, in relation to human welfare it is relatively straightforward to demonstrate why psychology is central. The definition of psychology on the Society’s website is ‘the scientific [or we might equally say, the systematic] study of people, the mind and behaviour’. But the main problems facing the world today are caused by people, their thinking and their behaviour. Psychology is therefore the discipline that is clearly at the very heart of the human welfare agenda. It provides the scientific foundation for understanding people and the problems associated with them, and the mission of applied psychology is to address these issues, allowing human welfare to be promoted by interventions leading to changed thinking and new patterns of behaviour.

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to illustrate the centrality of psychology to human welfare is to consider the main items that feature in the daily news. On the day that I write this article five key themes dominate the newspapers: the environment, war, international disputes, crime and the rise in obesity in the UK population, especially among schoolchildren. All of the issues covered arose directly from how human beings think and act: pollution and waste, enmity and aggression, the breakdown of relationships and failed negotiations, antisocial behaviour and unhealthy living. Psychologists are already working in all of these areas, but does our influence match the centrality of our discipline?

Science and values
When we speak of the ‘mission’ of applied psychology in terms that are predicated on ameliorating human welfare, we make a number of assumptions. That is, we take for granted that there is a set of implicit values to which we all subscribe. These values reflect a positivist agenda at the core of the caring professions. It is a philosophy that human well-being, happiness and fulfilment are good and we have a duty to promote them; and that by corollary illness, sadness, distress and personal failure are bad and we have a duty to eradicate or at least diminish them. Psychology is a powerful force for changing thinking and behaviour whatever its nature and goals. However, as a discipline we would expect to oppose the use of psychology to promote, say, the ideals of Nazi Germany, but we would without hesitation endorse its application to national programmes to tackle depression or suicide, or to raise educational achievement. Somewhere in the middle we would argue vociferously over applications of psychology in supporting the military or in promoting various strategies of advertising and marketing.

All of this points to the assumption that we operate broadly within an agreed values framework, one based on notions of human welfare. This assumption is at the heart of our Code of Ethics and Conduct which opens with the words ‘Psychologists value the dignity and worth of all persons’. Our commitment to values is sometimes made explicit. Fox and Prilleltensky (1997), in their introduction to their classic text on critical psychology, state, ‘Psychology is not, and cannot be, a neutral endeavour’ (p.3). I have articulated the same view in my own critique of the critical psychology agenda: ‘In its pursuit of objectivity science is nevertheless value-laden’ (MacKay, 2000, p.3).

The borderland between endorsing the pursuit of human welfare and maintaining the detached purity of scientific inquiry is a difficult one and not without controversy. In a critique of some of my own work, Professor John Black, formerly of Portland – in an unusually scholarly debate for a local newspaper – stated, ‘Science is neutral. It has no agenda of social justice’ (Lennox Herald, 23 March 2007, p.5). I would argue emphatically in favour of both positions, since I believe that when we speak of values in science we must distinguish between things that differ. In terms of methodology, the place of science is to provide the analytical tools that describe, explain and predict. The role of the psychologist, as scientist, is not that of social reformer or political campaigner, but is one of carrying out these systematic and analytical functions in relation to human thought and behaviour.

However, there is a further question about what governs the subject areas in which we are carrying out our scientific inquiry. What are our aims and priorities in seeking public funding for our scientific interests? Surely the focus of our research and interventions is not detached from any ultimate concept of the public good? I do not wish to be misunderstood here, since I am totally committed to the pursuit of pure, academic psychology in its own right and for its own sake, and to the view that psychology should stand at no disadvantage in comparison with other scientific disciplines in its dispassionate pursuit of knowledge and understanding. And as to human well-being, we are not concerned only with meeting our basic needs but in the excitement associated with exploring things that satisfy our interests and curiosity. Nevertheless, in a world riven by endemic problems and tensions that psychology above all other disciplines can address, we must surely be concerned with a research agenda that has basic human welfare and social justice at its very heart.

Therefore, when we ask ‘Can psychology change the world?’, we might rephrase that question as ‘Can psychology make the world a better place?’, or ‘Can psychology make a significant impact on human welfare and quality of life?’. It is hard in my view to conceive of a more important question to be addressed by any scientific discipline, and if psychology can address this, then we must ask whether any other discipline could be of such central importance.

If the question then is about doing good and improving the lot of human beings, it is necessary to advance on the basis of a set of agreed values about what we seek to do. Yet psychologists occupy every part of the spectrum of political, religious and philosophical viewpoints, and this raises questions about the possibility of a common agenda for doing good. Nevertheless, I believe that such an agenda is possible. For a statement of core values to which I feel we would almost all subscribe we could propose the following: health, caring and compassion, self-determination and participation, human diversity and social justice (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 1997).

Personally, I have an even simpler values statement, and one that I believe carries fewer assumptions, so perhaps it could come near to being a basis of universal consensus in our discipline. In the words attributed to John Wesley, which I learnt at my mother’s knee and which were framed on my desk at work for many years:
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

Most of the good done by psychologists is unremarkable and unheralded. It consists of the small amounts of good that we all seek to do every day in our jobs, increasing well-being and removing human suffering at the level of the individual or family. This unheralded good is of inestimable value – it represents many thousands of psychologists constantly doing everything they can to help those with whom they work. However, if we are to answer the question ‘Can psychology change the world?’, we must go beyond the good we routinely do from day to day and grasp a bigger vision – a national vision, a world vision. If we aim to change the world we must ultimately do so at the highest level of its social, political and organisational structures.

If we are seeking to achieve visionary outcomes then there will be certain tests by which we can judge our efforts. For example, has it made a recognised impact at the highest political levels? Has it been celebrated by the media? Has it become known in our communities and not just in our academic and professional circles? Do we hear it spoken of as common parlance in our streets and supermarkets? These were some of the questions that preoccupied me 10 years ago when I sought to address an issue at the very heart of human well-being and quality of life in a modern society – the problem of illiteracy. In terms of these tests I have been fortunate in the outcomes of my vision for literacy. As to political profile, the Prime Minister described it as, ‘Something quite remarkable…able to revolutionise an education system to the benefit of thousands of people’ (Brown, 2007, p.222). As to media impact, it has been covered over 100 times in newspaper headlines and on radio and television. And I can ask most passers-by about it in the streets or stores of the communities where I work and expect an informed and enthusiastic response.

Changing the world – the example of illiteracy
Every year over 100,000 young people in the UK leave school functionally illiterate (Basic Skills Agency, 2001; Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2000). In today’s society illiteracy and human well-being do not go well together, and it is axiomatic to say that those who enter their adult life illiterate have poorer job prospects and restricted economic outcomes. If we are looking for a very straightforward social issue for applied psychologists to tackle at an ambitious and visionary level then we will find it in illiteracy.

It was this problem that led me in 1996 to send a proposal to the Director of Education in West Dunbartonshire in a paper entitled ‘Transforming the reading achievement of all children’. Looking back, the proposal was ambitious almost to the point of pomposity. Its stated purpose was to ‘achieve something that has never been done in the world before, but which I believe to be fully achievable’. The goal: not just for every single child to have higher reading levels, but the total eradication of illiteracy. It was not without risk: ‘Unless the council is willing to risk a commitment to achieving the impossible it is limited only to the ordinary and the possible.’

Thus the West Dunbartonshire Literacy Initiative was born, and just over a decade (and three tons of data) later we have completed what may be the largest, longest and most ambitious literacy project in the world. Our total research sample was 63,563 children and young people, over 33,000 of whom were assessed individually. The full research document is available in book form (MacKay, 2006), and an overview of the final results is published in Achieving the Vision (MacKay, 2007), an electronic copy of which is freely available (see references). We carried out five separate studies.

The main study
This was a cross-lagged cohort study over 10 years in all 35 primary schools and 23 nurseries. The aim was not only to raise the reading attainment of all children but to reduce the numbers who would experience reading failure through a multiple-strategy early intervention. Our programme was based on 10 ‘key strands’ (see box).

The changes in achievement levels were dramatic. From a welter of statistics perhaps the simplest way to present the results is to say that the children with ‘very low scores’ for word reading on our specially designed baseline test (MacKay, 1999a) fell from 11 per cent in 1997 to 0.5 per cent in 2007, while those with ‘very high scores’ rose from 5 per cent to almost 50 per cent. In short, the intervention totally transformed the landscape of reading attainment in the early years.

The synthetic phonics study
This was a quasi-experimental study in 18 primary schools. It compared the effectiveness of two methods of teaching the basic building blocks of literacy – traditional or ‘analytic’ phonics (the approach normally used in teaching reading, beginning at whole-word level and breaking words down into letter sounds) and ‘synthetic’ phonics (starting with letter sounds and learning how to combine these to make words). While good phonics teaching using any approach is fundamental to teaching basic literacy, the results in the nine primaries using the synthetic approach were not only significantly higher but had lasting impact at follow-up three years later. As a result, all of the schools in the authority gradually opted for the synthetic method.

The attitudes study
This was a long-term follow-up to a randomised controlled trial I carried out with children aged about nine years (MacKay, 1999b). They were all heading for illiteracy, with an average reading age under six years. The intervention had consisted of neither curricular change nor additional support, but only of changing attitudes towards the value of reading. At the time, the experimentals made significant reading gains. We traced all but two of these young people almost six years later in their various secondary schools and found that the experimentals, despite no further intervention following the first study, were still reading more than a year ahead of the controls. Another interesting factor emerged. The controls were clearly also reading at a higher level than expected. This fits with an observation made in the full report on the original RCT – ‘children became excited about print’ (MacKay, 1995, p.21). The project was infectious, so there were spin-off benefits for the controls too.

The declaration study
The experimental part of this study was carried out in East Renfrewshire. The sample was 565 children in eight primaries and four nurseries. I was asked to do a study on literacy and expectations, the only condition being that it must be completely new and quite different from what anyone had ever done before. I still remember the scepticism that greeted me from a large gathering of educational directorate, head teachers and class teachers when I told them: ‘We want to raise children’s reading levels by doing nothing different from what we are already doing – except getting them to declare that they will do it.’

The idea was simple to the point of naivety. All the children had to do every day was to make bold declarations about their future levels of reading achievement. It could be done individually or in groups or as whole-class chants. Listening to 60 children in nursery chanting joyfully their own declaration – ‘Reading is fun, reading is cool, we’ll all be great wee readers because we’re going to school!’ – can be a powerful experience. It was the results, however, that were impressive. After one term the experimentals showed not only gains in key early literacy skills, but also positive changes in their attitudes to reading and their own beliefs about whether they would become good readers.

The whole idea almost seems content-free. No teaching methods, no glossy materials, no sophisticated literacy programme. Yet it draws its entire rationale from the evidence base of multiple fields of mainstream psychology – attitudes, self-concept and self-esteem; expectations or ‘expectancy’; cognitive dissonance; social and interactive learning; motivation; attributions; goal setting, self-efficacy; visual imagery. Declaration led to behavioural change. As one bright four-year-old girl in nursery said, ‘Yes – I’m getting better. We’re doing more than we normally would.’

The individual support study
This was the final part in our armoury for wiping out illiteracy by school leaving age. Our programme was so successful in reducing the numbers failing that we could invest in intensive individual tuition for the small percentage who were still not fully literate. We selected the one remedial programme that not only met our research specification but was also economically feasible – Toe by Toe (Cowling & Cowling, 1993), a highly structured scheme for mastering all the basic skills of reading. A quasi-experimental study in one secondary school increased reading ages by an average of two years following a three-month intervention. A further gains score study of over 100 primary school children in 32 schools showed average gains of over one year in five months, using as tutors volunteers with a maximum of one day of training.

At the start of the project in 1997 over 21 per cent of our children left secondary school functionally illiterate. By June 2007 the total was three pupils. All of this has been made possible by applied psychology – using the evidence base of educational psychology and other applied fields. Crucial to the project was understanding the psychology of long-term organisational change, and how we sought throughout 10 years to maximise our five ‘context variables’ of vision, profile, ownership, commitment and declaration. When we seek to change the world we are ultimately changing the lives of individuals. As one secondary school pupil said in addressing one of our conferences, When all this started I couldn’t read. I was a failure. Now I have a cupboardful of books at home. Now I am a success.

A vision for psychology
Psychology is able to do very much more to change the world than eradicating illiteracy from our schools and communities. Yet ‘too often we settle for too little’ (Prilleltensky & Fox, 1997, p.4). What is our vision as psychologists both academic, in providing the scientific evidence base, and applied, in turning that evidence base into programmes to promote human welfare? I believe that psychology can play a central role in tackling the issue of crime in our cities, litter on our streets, pollution in our atmosphere, breakdown in our international relations, obesity in our children and perhaps ultimately, oppression and injustice in our world.

Ten key strands
The main study in the West Dunbartonshire Literacy Initiative was based on the following key strands:

I phonological awareness and the alphabet
I a strong and structured phonics emphasis
I extra classroom help in the early years
I raising teacher awareness through focused assessment
I increased time spent on key aspects of reading
I identification of and support for children who are failing
I home support for encouraging literacy
I fostering a ‘literacy environment’ in school and community
I lessons from research in interactive learning
I changing attitudes, values and expectations

- Professor Tommy MacKay is at Psychology Consultancy Services, Ardoch House, Cardross, Dumbartonshire G82 5EW

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The pursuit of happiness.

Taken from The School of Life...

" ‘Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so', concluded John Stuart Mill, the nineteenth century British philosopher. He realised that to pursue happiness directly is a mistake. Happiness is a by-product of life."

In response to Robs post on passion - it is absolutely right, and it is something which can be easily overlooked. The means to an end, rather than i suppose an experience to an end. These by-products of happiness, passion and meaning are things which Bloom are striving to help our clients with and to discover the confidence and personal strengths to find these.

I've just finished a book which attempted to describe how trends will change over the next 50 years, one of which being the workplace. It described that as the world markets become more and more globalized, the competition caused by increasing cheap labour and improved educational services around the world will lead to a more central focus on work. This will lead to longer working hours, more emphasis on the persona and strengths of the individual, and ultimately a higher desire to find meaning and happiness through work.


I would like to dedicate this my mate Rick's dad, and Peter Hair of the University of Surrey. Two men who were taken too early.


Saturday, 25 October 2008


What I particularly love here is his attempt to keep going after the first snap. I only wish that we'd seen more of the clip - did she even acknowledge it??

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Welcome Tom - by Rob

Tom, welcome and thanks for a great couple of posts.

I think I have one thing to say about your last post. Yes, degrees are increasingly common. Yes, everyone seems to be doing psychology. Yes, graduates are doing more and more to get ahead. Yes, times are hard.

But there is one commodity that you didn't mention and which most people forget all about.

It's passion.

I think if there is one thing which separates out those who have happy and successful careers from those who don't it's following a passion. And that can be done relatively easily, it's just that so few people tend to listen, or have the right answers posed to them.

Following your passion gives you energy when everyone else is shattered, it gives you persistence when all seems lost and it gives you inspiration when no solution seems possible. It might be tough at first, but if you're determined nothing will stop you.

Identifying and then following your passion is without doubt the single most important factor in any career decision....I only wish I'd done it sooner myself!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Where do Career Choices start? – By Tom.

I haven’t had any experience of changing careers, let alone having one! – but something which does interest and affect me is the choices and changes that young people and students like myself have when thinking about career choices. Perhaps this could have been influenced during my first ever Psychology lecture, by having it drilled into us that degrees (And psychology ones especially!) are becoming more and more common; and that we will all face an increasingly competitive market for jobs when we graduate. It’s very true – and I was surprised when I found out how many of my University and work friends were getting involved in part-time internships and other CV-boosting activities to help them cut through the competition, and also importantly to widen application choices in a varied and inter-mingled work-market. (Where a relatively non-vocational course like Psychology can be combined and applied in so many areas!)

Obviously such speculation from a small-group into undergraduates’ work experience is un-proportionate and can’t be applied to all students, especially in my case; as only a small proportion of Psychology students eventually become Chartered Psychologists. ( … (Or as one rather uninspiring Graduate guide recently put it … ‘probably end up in Tesco with the rest of the Psychology graduates!’).

However, it would be interesting to see how important newly-released graduates see work-experience to be and perhaps how this relates to securing a career quicker, and also how work-experience is viewed at other Universities. This year there has been a 10% nation-wide increase in University Undergraduates, especially in courses involving Business, which further fuels the already competitive job market (BBC, 2008). But interestingly, The University of Surrey which is one of several Universities in the country to offer almost all of their courses with Professional work placements had a 40% rise in applications last year (More than any other).

Therefore do more students want more degree for their buck at a time when the jobs markets are so competitive? (Or possibly just stay a student and keep those irresistible discounts [especially during the recession] for that bit longer!).

Thursday, 9 October 2008

From Tom Bloom.

Hi There! My name is Tom, and I’ve just started as an intern at Bloom Psychology. By background is as a Psychology Undergraduate at Surrey, and this whole experience is part of my professional placement year during my degree. There is a huge variety of work experience in Psychology, and I chose to follow the Occupational Psychology path; which I thought was a relatively narrow and hard-edged field until I found Bloom.

I think gaining experience should involve taking risks as well as following a path you feel you can follow, and working for 8 months at Bloom will be a risk as it is a new and flourishing company; and a lot of hard work will be needed. HOWEVER, after going through a lot of thinking and some job applications (Some of which had nothing to do with Occupational Psychology at all!) I came to the conclusion that these 8 months will be purely what its name suggests … I am here to experience and take from it whatever and as much as I can. This will be through reading and developing the company’s research and intervention base as well as promoting the ethos of the company through networking; and crucially meeting people and learning along the way!

The fact that I have to be an independent and pushing member of the company I think will really allow me to make and take as much experience as I can, especially along with the energy and experience of Blooms founders and directors, Amelia and Rob.

I'm really looking forward to getting started, and i'll try and keep this blog updated with things that interest me and reflect the work Bloom is working towards!

Speak again soon!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so"

I've been having a difficult time at work. Working with values in a cynical public sector organisation is tough. I know it's right, but fighting a one-man battle can be difficult.

How do you counter that? Well, this weekend I found inspiration from four sources. The first was the support of friends - who uniformly offered help and sympathy. Thanks everyone.

The second was an e-mail from my Mum. My Mum is religious, and is praying for me. She was thinking about what to pray for and concluded that the best thing is not to change the situation, the people or even me, but my reaction to the situation. She prayed that I could find armour so that it would affect me less. She sent me a picture of a fireman to illustrate her point.

Meanwhile, an article in the Guardian from the child psychologist Stephen Briers illustrated this point further. If you can equip your child with emotional intelligence they are better protected against the slings and arrows of modern life. "How you interpret a situation is going to determine how you feel about it and what you do about it," he explains. This link between thought, feelings and behaviour is surely under-acknowledged in today's workplace.

And finally, I was on a run listening to one of the greatest songs of modern times, Empty Cans, by the Streets. This is a magnificent song essentially about perspective. The background is that the singer thinks his friends have stolen some money from him which they vigorously deny. The song explores two reactions to their explanations. One where he rejects them and the other where he accepts them with caution. In the second, accepting, version not only does he renew his friendship but he finds the money that he originally thought his friends had stolen. But this version begins with a change in key (in fact, it starts with one single note) well before he makes the decision to forgive his friend. In other words, it is his response to the situation that dictates his reaction that dictates the outcome.

This is related to the concept that Bloom works with, psychological flexibility. But the bottom line is that if we can learn this sort of resilience, and act on facts and values rather than emotions, we'd be better off. And so this week, that's what I'll be trying to do.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Culture change

I had forgotten what working in an organisation was like, I think. Political. Bureaucratic. Sometimes dysfunctional.

It is curious. Seemingly bright and intelligent individuals come together to achieve less than the sum of their parts.

And there comes a time when you think, where can I do most good? At an individual or organisational level? Sure, successful organisational change can work, but are individual level interventions on average the way to create most good in the world?

If organisational change is to work two features seem to be important. Clarity of direction from the top and knowing how to win arguments below. I guess the former just takes time and patience, but without the latter, you are doomed.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Some thank yous

For my research into meaning at work:

The respondees
To the 511 people who completed the survey.

The researchers
Amy Wrzesniewski, Laura King, Carol Ryff, Mike Steger, Kendall Cotton Bronk, Seana Moran, Douglas May, Bob Emmons, Kara Arnold, Rachel Lewis, ALL of whom provided inspiration and encouragement by e-mail and through their research.

Frank Bond, whose theories surrounding psychological flexibility will form a good part of the next chapter of my life.

Relationship builders and supporters
Mariko O'Neill, my ex, Whytey my best mate, Julee de Jong, Steve and Hope Jackson, Tim Boughton and Dan Harrison, sort of.

To Reena Govindji at the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology - she appears in two lists.

Psychologists and friends Kirsty Buchanan, Amanda Hone, Satara Lester and Amelia Wise.

Bal Hegedus Pickvance and others at Serco.

Dedicated to:
Mike, Mum, Granny and Pa. My greatest supporters of all.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Be the change you want to see...

Seth talks about recruiting online for a paid internship.

As the owner of a small business, the first type of person we hire is someone who could pay for themselves, leave a profit for us, and then have capacity to grow from there. The second type of person would be someone who was already doing the work, demonstrating in what they do, that they can excel in the field. It's about being the change. It would be unlikely that we'd ever hire someone just on the basis of promise or enthusiasm alone. It's the action and knowledge that differentiates.

At PA Consulting, promotion criteria were laid out in some detail in complicated booklets, but it was actually clearer than that. If you watched someone at work you could generally guess what grade they were from their actions. If you were ever surprised by how junior they were, they were generally promoted within the year. The promotion (and hiring) critieria for any firm is simple: you have to be the person whose role you're after.

Working backwards from your dream role is the way to get it. What would you have to do in order to be the person who fulfils the job?

There is always a way.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

And further support from Seth...

There was a programme on a while ago called Seven up. It asked children aged 7 what they wanted to be. Some of them - the richer, more privileged ones - had it all mapped out. Eton, Oxford, called to the Bar aged 28. And then the programme followed them every 7 years. And guess what happened? That's exactly what they achieved, and that I suppose is great...but I could not help feeling sorry for them...

Meanwhile, further to my last post and as if by magic, Seth Godin writes further about choice of career direction.

It's so easy to be led into a direction, to 'fall into' a career and then make it work. That's a psychological fact by the way - we're brilliant at justifying our decisions to ourselves. Other people flit around, as Seth says. The paradox of choice anyone? But these paths are filled with compromise and your chances of success are limited, and happiness narrower still.

What we need to develop is a direction that's as right as it can be at that time and to follow it with all you've got. Decision making is not a science, which is why companies manage risk.

Taking all things into account, what's the type of work you'd enjoy most? What are the activities that appeal most? What areas in life are you drawn to? What type of people? What do you read? What does this mean for the type of organisation you're drawn to?

High quality decision-making is based on real understanding of who you are. Not easy. But if this can be achieved, then the short term decision becomes not one of expedience, but 'what can I do next that gets me to my vision?'

Self understanding de-risks the big decisions. In a complex world, that's about the best you can do. And anything more planned or perfect would be boring...

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Dream job or compromise?

It's easy to talk (as I often do) about the importance of understanding yourself, identifying your dream job, and pursuing that dream. But most of the people I meet who are in a predicament over career choice need a job and need a job now. How should they balance the pressing, material need for money with the fact that these sort of jobs often do not obviously lead to their dream?

It's difficult, and easy to sound impractical, even unrealistic. So I was encouraged to read te ever-practical and sensible Jeremy Bullmore's advice in Saturday's Guardian, to a reader who wants a creative job, but is being offered only a PA role.

Here it is in full:

I'm a woman in my mid-20s, and am already facing a bit of a career change, having realised that the subject I studied throughout uni, and have worked in for the past two years, is not for me after all. I wish to go into a related, but ultimately very different field, where I know I could really shine and make a lot of difference.

So among the usual networking, I have got back in contact with a recruitment agency that I temped with throughout uni, and who specialise in media, specifically the area I want to be in. However, the agency keeps telling me that I have to be "flexible", ie, I have to be prepared to accept a job that is not in the field I wish to go into. Moreover, rather than the creative-focused roles I wish to break into, they want to continue putting me up for PA roles, which I have gained a huge amount from and put a lot of effort into but have learned, frankly, that it is no career choice for me.

Am I right to hold out for a job I really want and make the agency work harder to make those opportunities for me? Or should I just settle for another PA job in another industry I don't want to be in? I am at a loss as to what to do; this is the only agency that has responded to me, and I do not wish to close off a valuable avenue by getting a reputation for being awkward about what jobs I will and won't consider.

I can't help feeling that the fact that you once temped for this agency is both good news and bad news. Good, because you know each other; and bad because they still remember you as a temp. That could be partially why they're putting you up for PA roles: they haven't been able to readjust to the fact that you're now a graduate with a couple of years' experience behind you.

Whatever their reasons, you simply mustn't take the easy way out. Resist the lure of "flexibility". Don't settle for anything. Your letter shows a splendid confidence and certainty. After a couple of years in the wrong field, you're now absolutely clear about where you want to go. Don't be persuaded to lose that determination.

I suspect you sense that this is a defining moment in your working life. If you don't get it right this time, there may not be another. So please don't worry about earning a reputation for being awkward. Determined people, driven by real conviction, often seem awkward. And it's not your job to make life easy for this recruitment agency.

If agencies aren't helpful, try the direct approach. Research the firms you most admire. Communicate your passion to them. Don't be afraid to follow up. You say the roles you're after are "creative-focused" - so show some creativity in the way you apply.

I realise that making a bit of a nuisance of yourself doesn't come easily to you; but at this crucial moment in your life you may need to adopt a slightly thicker skin. With any luck, it will only be temporary.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Humanising the organisation

I'm working with a UK based public sector organisation trying to identify and then embed some organisational values as part of 'the way they do things round here'.

It's interesting and challenging work. In terms of why it's important work, I think the post by Headshift goes much of the way to explaining. Values are part of humanising the organisation. They reach far beyond processes and procedures. They are uniquely human.

In particular, I like this paragraph:

'Doing an Enron' is much easier within a culture of secrecy and dishonesty, and much harder in a company where people are encouraged to think and act according to shared values rather than simply obeying orders.

Quite. That's where values sit. That's what they do. But they have to resonate with staff, they can't be imposed. do you create a values-based organisation?

Oh hang on, that's what they've asked!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Gedanken entstehen beim Gehen.

A German saying: thoughts arise from walking.

Certainly for me, that's always true.

Monday, 11 August 2008

What electrifies you?

Michael Moore wrote a fascinating article in yesterday's Observer about what Obama must do (or not do) to win the Presidency. He ridicules the notion that Obama should pick a joint runner who can appeal to Republican voters, particularly someone who will appeal to the floating voters in the key state of Ohio.

What's significant to me is the reasons Moore gives for not doing this: doing this, you will upset the base that not only must come out on election day, (but that) must also be active and work dozens of hours during the campaign. They have to personally bring 10 people each to the polls with them if we are to avoid the disasters of the past two elections. Many won't do this extra work if Obama picks the wrong Veep. It will suck the air out of the balloon in a big way.

The key point is not about Obama winning the election. The key point is about the energy that's released when we do what we love, and what we do best. When we think about career change, we often think radically, then scale back tactically because we're afraid of what the market will say. But what about the energy that we lose by compromising?

And what effect does this have on the people who do see the big vision? Who do get the idea? What does compromise do to them?

They'll just stop showing up at the campaign headquarters over on Maple Street. They'll say they're too busy to go on another three-hour door-to-door literature drop. They'll still take a list of a hundred voters home to call and read the index card over the phone about "why you should vote for Obama" - but there won't be much enthusiasm in their voice, and the voter on the other end of the line will hear that. After 15 or 20 calls, they'll give up - after all, there's dishes to do and a dog to walk. And on election day they'll go do their duty and vote, but they will not be up at 6am driving around the city picking up strangers who need a ride to the polls.

It's so hard to remember this when faced with a huge change. We at Bloom are faced with it too. But now's the time to be brave, and remember that the reason we changed was the big vision - not the compromised one.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Half a second

That's the combined amount of time that separated five British Gold medallists from second place in the last Olympics.

Half a second between 5! That's a lifetime of effort and 4 years of dreaming, boiled down to about a tenth of a second each.

How is it possible to cope with such pressure? The realisation that a tenth of a second separates you from fulfilling a dream and not.

In a fascinating programme last week Colin Jackson, the Olympic hurdler, talked about how he had failed in Barcelona (when favourite) but bounced back 4 years later to finally take gold.

In one experiment, he was shown harrowing images in an MRI scanner for two hours. Jackson's brain responses were telling. The parts of the brain that lit up were those assocuated not with pain, but pleasure. When asked why, Jackson had said that when he looked at the images he consciously thought how great his life was by comparison. He was able to see the positive in the negative.

People often talk about victory going to who wants it most. My bet is that when it comes to the pressure of a tenth of a second, glory goes to who is most able to cope. And those who cope are those who need to win least.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

A Bloom Brainstorm

On Monday we had a terrific day brainstorming ideas with some of the people who've worked for Bloom over the summer. To Kirsty, Rachel, Amanda (and Rupa, in absentia), thank you.

Some really terrific ideas came about, which I will share over the next few months. But what struck me is the type and quality of the people that we are now working with. It was so uplifting to share an attitude to work (and life), especially for me I think. 11 years in consulting left me consistently feeling like an outsider.

Now I get to work with people who 'get it' and it is so refreshing. There was one thought that struck me even more strongly than it has before:

Bloom's biggest strengths are not its people but the sum of the strengths of its people.

We are trying to get people to do what they do best:

Rachel is focusing on research, and is building a brilliant 'how to' guide on motivation using that research.
Kirsty is bringing together Bloom's approach to strengths. She is using all sorts of different sources and approaches to help us work out how strengths fit into Bloom's overall approach.
Amanda came along to challenge us, energise us and to get us to think far more creatively.
Rupa, who we missed greatly, is going to tell us how to connect with Generation Y.

From this, I realised that:

We need to build a network of people who fit into the Bloom way of working, and who support us.
I used to think networking was cringeworthy. Now I see it as essential. So wherever Kirsty, Amanda, Rachel and Rupa go on to work, we want them to support and help and promote Bloom. But we must do the same for them.

A corollary to this is...

We collaborate with our competitors
If we find an opportunity which we can't fulfil, we'll pass it on to someone who can. If we have an idea to improve a competitor, we'll pass it on. If someone screws us over, so be it. Most won't. And I think the benefits will far outweigh the negatives. Another extension is...

We give stuff away.
Whether it's time, ideas or expertise, we need to ensure that we're living authentically. So we'll be as generous as we can be, always.

Another extension is...

We thank people, publicly, and promote their achievements.
This is a very small start, but this blog will be thanking people publicly more often. Our website should also have space to do this.

The second big thing that struck me was that people do already regard Bloom as inspirational. So, the above is about starting to codify that.

To bring out the strengths of all those who work with, for or around Bloom and to build a network by supporting those who know us. Now that's inspirational.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Test Match Cricket and Character

Test Match cricket is the greatest of all sports because it is just that, a true test. It is a test in the classic meaning of a scientific test or experiment: is the effect of one side batting and the other side bowling the same when the roles are reversed? If it is, victory will generally go to one side, and if it is not a draw will be declared. The research hypothesis will be rejected.

But it is also a test of character. Never was this more amply demonstrated than today, when Paul Collingwood played perhaps the best innings I have seen whilst under personal pressure. It was almost common knowledge that such was his dearth of form and lack of runs that this would be his last test match inning if he failed. He was completely out of touch, and the South Africans reminded him of his inevitable fate constantly.

Yet what did he do? He got his head down, and battled. He resolved to try his best to do what he used to. To play each ball on its merits. To attack the bad ball. To stick to the shots he trusts. Playing each ball on its merits is hardest of all when you are out of touch. Every nerve in your body says 'attack this ball' to end the build up of pressure, and the ceaseless chatter from the oppoition. The quick release of tension is the epitome of temptation. But Collingwood did not yield. Instead he left the ball alone, and grafted. Through his own dogged determination he slowly turned the tide. Never reaching his best form, he reached a century before the day was done.

He hardly celebrated, for his team was not yet out of the mire. Truly though, this test of character had been passed, and Collingwood the man can be proud for eternity.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

The greatest blog post ever: What did you do?

Seth Godin write the most remarkable blog and today I re-read what I think is my favourite ever blog post.

Time to take action?
More than a year ago, I wrote this for Fast Company:

Here's a question that you should clip out and tape to your bathroom mirror. It might save you some angst 15 years from now. The question is, What did you do back when interest rates were at their lowest in 50 years, crime was close to zero, great employees were looking for good jobs, computers made product development and marketing easier than ever, and there was almost no competition for good news about great ideas?

Many people will have to answer that question by saying, "I spent my time waiting, whining, worrying, and wishing." Because that's what seems to be going around these days. Fortunately, though, not everyone will have to confess to having made such a bad choice.

While your company has been waiting for the economy to rebound, Reebok has launched Travel Trainers, a very cool-looking lightweight sneaker for travelers. They are selling out in Japan -- from vending machines in airports!

While Detroit's car companies have been whining about gas prices and bad publicity for SUVs (SUVs are among their most profitable products), Honda has been busy building cars that look like SUVs but get twice the gas mileage. The Honda Pilot was so popular, it had a waiting list.

While Africa's economic plight gets a fair amount of worry, a little startup called ApproTEC is actually doing something about it. The new income that its products generate accounts for 0.5% of the entire GDP of Kenya. How? It manufactures a $75 device that looks a lot like a StairMaster. But it's not for exercise. Instead, ApproTEC sells the machine to subsistence farmers, who use its stair-stepping feature to irrigate their land. People who buy it can move from subsistence farming to selling the additional produce that their land yields -- and triple their annual income in the first year of using the product.

While you've been wishing for the inspiration to start something great, thousands of entrepreneurs have used the prevailing sense of uncertainty to start truly remarkable companies. Lucrative Web businesses, successful tool catalogs, fast-growing PR firms -- all have started on a shoestring, and all have been profitable ahead of schedule. The Web is dead, right? Well, try telling that to, a new Web site that helps organize meetings anywhere and on any topic. It has 200,000 registered users -- and counting.

Maybe you already have a clipping on your mirror that asks you what you did during the 1990s. What's your biggest regret about that decade? Do you wish that you had started, joined, invested in, or built something? Are you left wishing that you'd at least had the courage to try? In hindsight, the 1990s were the good old days. Yet so many people missed out. Why? Because it's always possible to find a reason to stay put, to skip an opportunity, or to decline an offer. And yet, in retrospect, it's hard to remember why we said no and easy to wish that we had said yes.

The thing is, we still live in a world that's filled with opportunity. In fact, we have more than an opportunity -- we have an obligation. An obligation to spend our time doing great things. To find ideas that matter and to share them. To push ourselves and the people around us to demonstrate gratitude, insight, and inspiration. To take risks and to make the world better by being amazing.

Are these crazy times? You bet they are. But so were the days when we were doing duck-and-cover air-raid drills in school, or going through the scares of Three Mile Island and Love Canal. There will always be crazy times.

So stop thinking about how crazy the times are, and start thinking about what the crazy times demand. There has never been a worse time for business as usual. Business as usual is sure to fail, sure to disappoint, sure to numb our dreams. That's why there has never been a better time for the new. Your competitors are too afraid to spend money on new productivity tools. Your bankers have no idea where they can safely invest. Your potential employees are desperately looking for something exciting, something they feel passionate about, something they can genuinely engage in and engage with.

You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day, in fact. It's never too late to choose optimism, to choose action, to choose excellence. The best thing is that it only takes a moment -- just one second -- to decide.

Before you finish this paragraph, you have the power to change everything that's to come. And you can do that by asking yourself (and your colleagues) the one question that every organization and every individual needs to ask today: Why not be great?

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Time off

A friend called me up yesterday and asked me to play cricket. I haven't played for years but still love the game and, as I've barely had a day off this year I said yes.

Off I went and I had the most awful day. I sent a joke text message to someone I hardly know by mistake, got hit on the ear and my head's still ringing, and played atrociously.

Today I feel shattered and drained of energy - this isn't meant to happen after a break! To be honest, I've felt miserable and listless and uninspired and wretched all day. I slogged my way through some marketing documents, and sent e-mails and made lists. But nothing really worked.

I watched Location Location Location this evening and saw two Doctors buy this amazing dream home in Matlock. And, wallowing in self pity, I thought to myself, why couldn't I have just become a doctor? It would be so much easier. And I could buy a nice house in Matlock with a nice wife intead of sitting in my flat working on Bloom projects.

It's the sort of day that two years ago would have depressed me pretty badly.

But I have my vision now. I have found something which resembles my calling. And to an extent it's the vision that protects me. My calling, it turns out, doesn't involve being a doctor, but it may well involve helping as many people as I would have done with a stethoscope and prescription pad.

Bloom will be the best place you can go to change your life for the better. And when it is, after days like this, I know I will be able to look back and say: I deserve this.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Meaning in reading

A fascinating article in today's Times about a man who left a highly paid position at Microsoft after he went on holiday.

On the way he lost his girlfriend and all his savings...but found his meaning in life.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Meaning in friendship

I have a friend from school called Gareth Marlow. I always think I'm bright, but I'm aware of the existence of people who are way brighter than me, in another division altogether. Gareth Marlow is one of these. I went to school with Gareth Marlow and he could do everything - including play music just by hearing it. We both love The Beatles and he used to belt out Let it be whilst I shrieked along strumming a tennis racquet.

I didn't hear from Gareth Marlow for many years after school, but we made contact a while ago through Friends Reunited. We still don't speak often, but I was reminded about real friendship when a couple of days ago he sent me the link to the brilliant animation, below.

It combines my search for meaning at work with my love of Radiohead. This to me is so revealing about the nature of friendship. If you have really good friends, they unearth these sorts of things for you. They can literally help you construct your new life. And this doesn't seem to depend on time or reciprocity - they know so much about you that they make brilliant connections to you on your behalf without thinking what they will get out of it.

'Think you'll like this' is what his e-mail said. Always one for understatement was Gareth Marlow...

Meaning at work

I'm not the only one to feel like my work lacked meaning, of course.

And given that Radiohead played in my local park the past two nights, to roughly 40,000 people, I'm not the only one to love them either.

I remember I used to trudge to work in my first consulting assignment (for British American Tobacco in Woking) litening to No Surprises and it was about the only thing that kept me going. I can barely listen to that, even now.

Meet a symbiosis of these two groups here:

Friday, 13 June 2008

Career change

When you make a career change some days are easier than others. A lot of people doubt you and a lot of people just don't really care that much. That's not surprising - no one cares about you as much as you do.

So you need to keep your energy up, you need to surround yourself with people who understand and you need to read books that extend you knowledge in the direction you're going. You need to extend your meaning in life, and this is done by improving comprehension of your new life.

The best time is when you look back and think about your old life and realise you had no choice but to change. If you'd have stayed in the old job (or house, or relationship) you'd have lived without ever really living.

The greatest quote I've read on this subject was by the great psychologist Abraham Maslow. Note the use of the imperative:

"A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be."

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Studying infinity

I was shattered last night and watched The Apprentice (see below) and a programme about infinity, called Dangerous Knowledge. Fascinating it was too.

Apparently, infinity comes in different sizes. If you imagine a circle, it is possible to draw an infinite number of lines from the centre to its edge. However, if you then draw another, bigger circle round that circle and extend the lines then you will have gaps beteen the (extended) lines.

But more interesting was listening to how great minds like Cantor, Turing and Godel found that there are limits to maths and science. That the ultimate conclusion of logic, was illogical. Turing died trying to prove unprovability.

This surely cuts to the heart of many academic issues, not least the realisation that maths and science are both an art is surely one. But second, it shows how all the academic disciplines from philosophy to maths are grounded in humanity. They are all flawed, all illogical. And our attempt to understand the world and impose order on it is ultimately doomed.

This gave me hope for psychology, as by studying the human directly in 'real life' circumstances, one imposes order through science and yet acknowledges the limits of doing this. This is the scientist practitioner approach, which is at the heart of Bloom Psychology.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

The winner is...

So, 12 hugely entertaining if frustrating weeks (please, editors, we don't always need black and white) and we finally have a winner.

Some truly disgraceful antics (Jenny), backstabbing (Alex), outright lying (Michael and, er, pretty much everyone) and many hilarious moments and we learned who was to be Sirallan's apprentice.

4 made it to the final, then 2, and I feared the moment that Claire would be handed the role for her 'transformation'. But you'd need a very large transformation to come back from stabbing a good man in the back, as she did to the thoroughly decent Simon.

And after it all, when all the shenanigans are over...

the best human being won.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Why articulate your values?

All of our individual clients will work with values at some point or another. Why?

We believe that central to the human condition is the ability to decide what to do and how to do it. Indeed, it could be argued that our lives are defined by a series of decisions. So how do we make decisions?

It's easy to think short term. What will keep me safe? What has worked before? Often, we are influenced by our mind's first concern (safety) so we are highly influenced by what others or whatever pays the best.

These ways of making a decision are fine. Indeed, they have evolutionary approval. They kept your ancestors alive and well.

However, most people want more than to survive, they want meaning and fulfilment. Think of your most fulfilling times. Usually, it's a time when safety first did not rule and instead you tried something, committed to something and took a risk. Deep down, we instinctively know this but it's easy to forget.

If when making a decision all we do is listen to our minds' initial reaction then we risk, over time, falling short of what we could do if we live more consciously.

If we ask ourselves what's really important to us in life, we usually find values like courage, honesty, learning, making a difference, meaning, love and justice.

If we do not take conscious action to define what's important to us, we risk making a series of semi-conscious safety-first decisions that, when put together, result in a life only half lived.

What a cricket report tells us about the meaning of life

I love cricket, for cricket is a complex metaphor about life. I often read the cricket reports in the paper or online. A cricket report consists of two things. First is the scoreboard - the facts of who scored what. Second is the report, the narrative account of what happened.

Unfortunately, both paper and online versions of cricket reports now separate the scoreboard from the narrative report. This is a grave error, which tells us much about meaning. For meaning is fundamentally about comprehension.

A cricket scoreboard tells the story of the day in numbers. It gives us an understanding of what happened in terms of a context: it tells us which side batted first. Who got a century, who got a duck. It tells us which bowler bowled the most overs, and which got the most wickets. In other words, it frames the narrative for the reader. But it is only half the story.

The (written) narrative of the match tells a story. It tells you why the captain put the opposition into bat on winning the toss. It tells you that the reason bowler A only bowled 5 overs is because he limped off injured. It explains that although batsman A scored only 38, he laid the foundation for batsman D who punished a tired attack in the evening sssion when the conditions were easier to score an aggressive century. It might tell you the tale of a dropped catch early in the day, without which the story of the day may have been different. It might tell you about the look of shame on the face of the first slip when he made that error, or that one bowler refused to yield and bowled into the wind for 20 overs taking no wickets, but limiting the scoring to only 3 runs per over.

The scorecard sets the context, and the narrative provides the understanding and the story. Together, and only together, do they provide a meaningful report. To separate them, as both the Guardian and Times do, is to misunderstand cricket, and more gravely, to misunderstand how things are understood.

New Zealand 2nd Innings - All out
How c Cook b Sidebottom 19
Redmond c Ambrose b Broad 2
McCullum b Anderson 71
Taylor lbw b Broad 14
Flynn c Ambrose b Sidebottom 49
Hopkins c Ambrose b Sidebottom 12
Oram not out 50
Vettori c Psen b Sidebottom 1
Mills c Strauss b Sidebottom 2
O'Brien c Cwood b Sidebottom 4
Martin c Collingwood b Anderson 0
Extras 1w 3b 4lb 8
Total all out 232 (72.3 ovs)

Sidebottom 24.0 7 67 6
Anderson 14.3 3 55 2
Broad 21.0 4 77 2
Panesar 11.0 4 21 0
Collingwood 2.0 1 5 0

Monday, 2 June 2008

How much to leave your job?

In Saturday's Guardian there was a story which asked how much it would take you to leave your job.

Zappos, a shoe maker, offers its new employees $1,000 to leave the firm after completing their training.

This is to weed out the uncommitted or those unwilling to join their distinct culture and live the values. (Hate the phrase, agree with the sentiment).

The question is, what would it take for you to leave your job? Or how about not just your job, but your career? As the article points out, there's no right answer, but the amount you stipulate may be revealing.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Authentic thinking

Looking back on my old career, I was always preoccupied with how things seemed not how they were. I was thinking about getting through the next meeting without making a fool of myself. Of fitting into consulting. Of making the client like me. Of beating people to promotion.

I rarely, if ever thought about authentically improving. In a high pressured career I don't know if you really do. But I'm thinking it now. And, as Dan Pink points out below, I wish I had made fundamental, not incidental decisions.

I think the moment I knew I couldn't carry on consulting is when I realised that I could never live with myself if I didn't at least try and use my talents to do things I felt were worthwhile. That, no matter what the financial or status cost, I could never live with myself if I hadn't acted authentically.

Of course, it's hard when you're building a career to think in these terms. But it's harder if you leave it. The time to think authentically is now.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Career advice

This blog is somewhat derivative at the moment (!) but we are so busy here at Bloom it's not true. I read this on the Presentation Zen blog (again!) and it summarises pretty muchy everything I believe in in terms of careers. Mind you, none of the ideas are new, so all in all this is a derivative post about derivative (if very cool) information....

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Right brain left brain (2)

An amazing talk by Dr Jill Bolte Taylor sheds more light on the right brain / left brain distinction. The right hemisphere, the parallel processor, and the left, the serial processor, process information differently and even have different personalities.

Information streams in and shows what this present moments looks, feels and sounds like. I am an 'energy being' connected to everything else through my right hemishphere. Meanwhile, my left hemisphere is thinking linearly about the past and future. It picks out details, categorises them and projects into the future. It thinks in language and distinguishes 'me' from everything else.

It seems to me there is huge overlap here with Bloom's research into meaning. Meaning is about comprehension (how we understand ourselves and the world) and purpose (how we interact with the world). Could the experience of meaning literally be the connection of brain waves between the left hemisphere (comprehension) and the right hemisphere (purpose)?

Either way, this is an amazing presentation on any level for anyone interested in the brain (or indeed presentations).

Thursday, 17 April 2008


As usual Seth Godin makes a similar point, but much more powerfully than I managed to...enjoy.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

The Apprentice....and legacy

Watched The Apprentice tonight - utterly addictive as usual. This episode was remarkable for the fact that a truly impressive man got fired, Simon Smith. Yes, he was brash at the beginning and yes he lost control. But this was a man who can be proud of his legacy on the programme. Here was a man who knew his strengths and limitations and played to them. He was honest. He tried to win. And virtually no one else can say the same.

Seriously, don't people care about their own integrity?

Nearly everyone else who spoke on the show lied openly. Nearly everyone who spoke played politics and spent most of the time maneouvering for position in the hope that if their team lost, they could shift the blame.

Do people care only about winning at all costs?

Tom Peters talks about the idea of legacy. Not for a life, a career or even 15 minutes of fame on a reality TV show. He talks about the legacy of today.

So what will today's legacy be for you?

Sunday, 13 April 2008


Went to a wedding of a really great friend yesterday, who I first met when doing Faking It. My friend looked really beautiful, and it was noticeable how everyone responded to her. She is universally loved. I know the Groom less well, but he always seemed a really good guy too. It was a brilliant day, including a trip on a big red Routemaster, a moving ceremony and a brilliant speech by the Groom.

It reminded me why speeches and presentations are so important. He stood up and firstly thanked everyone for being there. Sincerely.

Then he thanked the people who had organised the day, the most important of whom was the Bride herself. It's strange how different 'thank you' sounds when it is so sincere.

Then he turned and spoke directly to his Mum, said how much he appreciated everything she had done for him, even though 'he must have been a nightmare' growing up. By now there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Finally, and without artifice, he thanked his best man and talked about how much he enjoyed their friendship and ended it all with a hug.

There is nothing I can type which will communicate why it was a great speech. But it was simple, and clearly from the heart. He remained in control of his emotions, though the audience pretty much dissolved.

None of it was too much, none of it was too little. It was a shaft of light which illuminated the person my friend was marrying. It allowed everyone present to feel included in the day by making private feelings public. That sense of inclusion is what the audience responded to so powerfully. Presentation, like meaning, is about connection, and that's what made the speech great.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

The effort of depends on purpose

The brilliant Oliver Burkeman points out the effort of willpower is one that faces us every day, across lots of different situations. Worryingly, it is a finite resource which we can waste on resisting a donut, whilst we fail to veto another slice of jam on toast.

He mentions Baumeister's experiments that showed that exerting self-control uses up real energy. So no wonder we break diets or need food to keep us at our desks.

For once, I think this tells only part of the story.

Willpower is finite depending on how you picture it. If resisting the donut is just one part of a larger, unifying purpose, my bet is that it is much easier to picture oneself also resisting the toast. And if your image includes a new, harder, sportier you, you'll probably then take yourself off for a run and make do with a banana. Purpose unifies goals, so that the drain on resources is lessened. If you can find ways of rewarding yourself in the meantime - this is still important - then your purpose will protect you from being drained.

I will be testing a very similar proposition in my upcoming dissertation which I think is very exciting. More on this later - I'm off for some jam on toast.

The language of...Microsoft?

For reasons I won't go into, I'm reviewing lots of presentations (in Powerpoint) at the moment. And I've had to create a few too.

What struck me is how easy it is to fall into the way of thinking that the templates encourage. In other words, title, big heading, the host of supporting bullets. Maybe some clip art. Even a photo if one is feeling really dangerous.

Foucault argued that language structures thought, and that therefore language structures and limits thinking.

Could the same be true of Powerpoint? Or is this just a cultural problem; a user error?

Phi - a number to remember for all your presentations

This number phi makes pi look like an unemployed layabout from Wrexham!

I read this here and it should interest all photographers, designers, mathematicians, and probably Dan:

Phi is the ratio underpinning a division that has become known by various names: golden rectangle, golden ratio and golden mean among them.

If line A is divided into two sections, one larger than the other (B and C), the golden ratio is achieved where A/B = B/C.

This ratio is 1.6180339887

The golden ratio features in nature and the dimensions of the human body, from DNA right up to the solar system and has been used by man throughout architecture, art and music. The Egyptians understood it when erecting the great Pyramids and the Ancient Greek buildings are full of these golden ratios.

Although this ratio has been rediscovered throughout time, one undisputed milestone in its history was the Fibonacci number series. In the 12th century Fibonacci produced a series of numbers by adding together pairs of numbers.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144,

(0+1=1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8É)

The ratio between each successive pair gets closer and closer to Phi as you progress through the series.

Once you start splitting a golden rectangle by the ratio, you can keep sub-splitting it down forever. The spiral this produces exactly matches the growth of the Nautilus shell in nature. Yes, it's all getting a little freaky now.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The curse of powerpoint

For years I've railed against Powerpoint - I was doing it when it wasn't even trendy, like it is now. But this slide pack on the brilliant Presentation Zen blog does the job so much better than me. Hilarious.

Now here's the real thing. Enjoy.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Happiness and meaning

When talking about happiness, psychologists distinguish between hedonic pleasure and eudaimonic pleasure. Hedonic pleasures might be what we understand by being 'happy' and eudaimonia might be what we understand by 'content' or 'satisfied'. One is charatcerised as pleasure (eating, sex, laughing) the other achievement (satisfaction of a job well done, overcoming difficulties to succeed, experiencing 'flow').

We often look down on hedonic pleasures, as though they are somehow less rarefied or worthy than eudaimonia. But psychologists have shown that the two are in fact interrelated. Eudaimonia is consistently accompanied by feelings of happiness. Enjoyment is routinely paired with eudaimonia. Indeed, 'flow' (the feeling of being completely absorbed in a task) is more likely to occur if one is in a happy mood. Happiness appears to heighten an individual’s capacity to discriminate between meaningful and meaningless experiences.

Why is this?

Nature rewards us for activities that are essential to survival. Those activities tend to be hedonic: eating, drinking, sex. Happiness in this form is often sneered at, perhaps because there are characterised as lower or vulgar pleasures.

But happiness is also linked to meaningful activities. Being absorbed in a task, trying, winning from a difficult situation, achieving something - these are all activities which have an evolutionary cost in terms of energy and time. Yet nature rewards us for doing them.

Happiness may play a role in enhancing the experience of meaning .... lending hedonic reinforcement to these eudaimonic endeavors
Professor Laura King, 2007.

In other words, nature rewards activities that it favours. By rewarding meaningful activities, it reinforces them. Truly, humans are unique in this respect. Nature rewards survival and procreation. But it also rewards effort and being exceptional.

To be truly human, we must strive to achieve.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The Psychology of Presentations

For years psychologists could not explain why some tasks proved more difficult in front of an audience and some proved easier.

Zajonc (1965) unified this apparent contradiciton by proposing that audiences produce arousal within those performing the tasks.

Quite simply, arousal makes easy tasks easier and hard tasks harder.

So preparation really is the key to successful presentations...

Thursday, 10 January 2008

100,000 hours...the psychology of time management

The last thing I expected to be blogging about was time management. But I think one of the logical extensions of positive psychology is effective time management. This is a new, but not original idea. Illona Bonniwell at UEL for one, writes and researches in this area.

I'll start this series of blogs with some statistics - about me!

I imagine, if I am really lucky I'll live for another 40 years or so. I might be lucky and it might be 50, but I might be unlucky and it's 20, so let's say 40.

That's 340,000 hours.

Of these, I'll be trying to sleep 8 hours a day. 278,000.

I'll also spend 10 years in retirement. And I'll be taking my weekends, thanks. That takes me down to 186,000 hours.

But I want to know about the hours I have autonomy over. Let's say I'll probably always have daily chores to do - 1 hour a day sounds fair - and I'll probably always have travel to do. Let's say 2 45 minute journeys per work day, on average.

I am now down to....guess what?

100,000 hours.

That's it. Then my life will be done. Oh, and during this time, I have to squeeze things in like 1) earning money, 2) having a family, 3) socialising and 4) hobbies.

Suddenly I don't seem to have very much time left at all.

So the logical question is, how should I be spending it?

Sunday, 6 January 2008


I went for a run today and it was deeply painful. it was how running used to be when I was 2 stones heavier. It took effort to get out of the door, I ached on the way round and I resented nearly every minute.

This was not because I haven't run for a while, but because I have put on weight (about half a stone) over Christmas.

It reminded me that Bloom's exercise programmes must deal with diet as a mediator of persistence, as much as what is happening in your mind. In other words, if you are eating better and are lighter, you are more likely to exercise. Mind you, once you exercise it is easier to eat better.

The only thing that works in my experience are diets that replace carbs with protein (think Atkins) and the GI diet. Of these, the GI diet is by far the best, in my opinion.

The run round the block has many things standing in its way; but diet is the biggest. The challenge is to start replacing high GI food with low GI food in your weekly shop. 5 items at a time, replace them all.

The art of list making

I don't like to get too zealous about anything, but I really think lists are the best way to get anything done, to bring happiness to your life, to ensure balance and achievement in one's life. For what goes down on your list represents how you will live your life*. But the art is all in the execution.

There are different types of list. A daily list is your basic unit of achievement. It is the worker bee, the engine of happiness, containing rough timings of when things get done and in what order. It allows your mind to relax a little. "Subconscious, you can relax for I have proof of my competence here! And no, I have not forgotten milk". In practice, my staple task-level list is at a thrice weekly level but a daily list is essential for busy periods.

A monthly list provides context and meaning to the annual list - so often mocked as new year resolutions. Annual lists contain your social, financial, developmental and aspirational plans for the year. They can seem intangible when not shackled to the discipline of the monthly list. When it has been disciplined, you must cling to it, for it will take you wherever you want to go, and this creates self-reinforcing feelings of self efficacy.

The monthly list is often the hardest to write, for it must knit the aspirational to the achievable. But it is also the most important, because it demonstrates that you are in charge of your life. Happiness is a choice.

Sitting joyously at the top of the pyramid can be your life list. I think these are fun, but optional. This is because life is partly about responding to opportunities. So by all means dream, but remain open to suggestion. Life lists are covered very well at sites like these - and I have one, but it is the annual list which drives action.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Some resolutions for Bloom....

The end of the year feels like such a good time to take stock of things. Caitlin Moran is predictably funny about how this can get out of hand:

if the custom of new year’s resolutions is to continue, we must address a few of their inbuilt and thunderous impracticalities. Many, of course, we already know: their timing, for instance, is inapt. Who can, in all seriousness, attempt to lose weight in January, when there is still more than a kilo of delicious M&S milk chocolate truffles sitting in the kitchen, next to the fruit bowl, looking like a major and respectable food group of their own? What are you supposed to do – throw them away? Ha-ha-ha. Yeah, right. What a surreal notion. One might as well paint a big melting clock.

Then there’s the fact that you’re supposed to start all these resolutions simultaneously, and run them concurrently – as if you’re having some manner of gigantic, effortful Life Transplant. Only it’s a Life Transplant without round-the-clock medical support, an insurance payout or morphine. Just willpower, and the endlessness of January, and the rain. Yeah, right.
Well this is all true, but it is the execution of new year's resolution that is wrong here. They should firstly be achievable and fit with your overall plans. They should also be SMART. And you should want to do them either because they will improve your life, or you really believe in them. In other words, they should be meaningful.

So my Bloom blog-relevant resolutions are:

1. Write 250 posts in the year and have 25 different commenters during this time.

2. Start offering new Bloom services for free (maybe to some readers?)

3. Finish the Bloom website

4. Use positive psychology theory to spend my time (I'll be blogging about this concept)

And my personal list for 2008 follows....