Tuesday, 23 June 2009


Seth Godin talks about the desirability of being 'remarkable'. That is, remarkable in its most literal sense.

Bloom's objective is to be remarkable, which itself feels a remarkable thing to say. But what will make us remarkable is:

1. An ability to understand the evidence - using psychology as a tool and an approach not just a prop

2. An ability to make the evidence engaging, using psychology evidence

Now, number 1 without number 2 we'd be doing pretty well. This is the baseline standard for professional occupational psychologists, and this ties them to a series of interventions which have evidence behind them. Good, but not remarkable.

Number 2 without number 1 is very good. After all, not everyone can engage. To engage you need charisma, you need connection and you need to understand people. With number 2 you'll take people with you, but the destination is less certain.

But number 2 with number 1 - that is remarkable.

And that's what we must aim to be.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Was it worth it?

I was reading the paper today and there was a short column on Yasmina Siadatan, this years Apprentice winner.

I remember watching her ‘six-figure job’ being revealed on the 'Your hired' program which followed the final on Sunday night. Sir Alan unveiling to the audience and public that Yasmina would be selling screens to NHS doctors surgeries, which was followed by a deadly silence in the audience and the same old expressionless face from Yasmina. 

As much as I loved the Apprentice, this seemed to worry me a bit. I understand that a majority of the shows candidates are fueled my money and status, but going through 12 weeks of Hell, giving up working for your own start-up, and then being told what job your going to do for a year seems like a worse alternative to getting the Sir Alan finger. More importantly, this goes against pretty much everything that the Bloom Career change process stands for in that there was very little scope for fitting Yasmina to the right job.

Not is all lost though. If you know me, then you'll know that I wanted Kate to win and I honestly think that she has come out of this better. (Apart perhaps from having pants-man on her arm). 

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Lessons from my Grandfather

In my career sessions with clients we often explore the nature of someone’s values. Values can often be revealed by who we admire. And one of the people I admire most is my Grandfather.

I remember he was very stern and strict when I was young. Always made me eat my bloody sprouts. I once even asked my Granny why she continued to stay with him, but he still stuck around, providing me with a rock when I needed one most. So whilst I didn’t always like him, I always loved him.

When I got older I came to admire him too. I came to learn how he fought and was injured in the war. How he raised a great family and wrote funny letters. How he never boasted. How he'd laugh until his teeth fell out at Christmas, and sang made-up songs in the kitchen when he was doing the washing up.

But the kitchen is silent now. Instead, his mind is filled with anxious, confused thoughts. He’s convinced there is a conspiracy against him and he won’t let Granny have a moment’s peace in his paranoia. He is sad, and lost.

This is the moment I’ve long dreaded, for it's hard to lose a hero.

But in his place he has left me many things, and the most precious of these is freedom. Pa fought for my freedom - and everyone in this country - to live as they please. He fought for a set of values that he must have thought have been shamefully abused since. But also his discipline gave me the ballast to make my own way in life. As Barry Schwartz argues, parameters create freedom. And finally, his sense of humour gave me freedom by reminding me not to take myself so damn seriously.

Pa doesn’t really hear me when I speak any more. But if there is one thing that I could say to him, it is thank you for my freedom. It is the value I cherish most.

I hope I always use it in a way that will make you proud, Pa.

Friday, 5 June 2009


I was in London a few weeks ago for an exhibition in Euston called 'Modernity and Madness'.

The exhibition was split into several sections, ranging from an eery video tour of the 'Tower of Fools' in Vienna; a roundhouse like psychiatric institution, to artwork inspired and produced by psychiatric patients. The highlight for me however was a range of objects imported from Psychiatric asylums, and one which was particularly startling was an 'Electrotherapeutic cage'; an octagonal bird-box like cage, which would upon becoming electrically charged, 'treat' its incapsulated patients for hysteria.

Incredible to think of the power of psychiatrists and psychologists in those days, especially thinking of their then perspective of what constituted 'mad' and 'sane' before or after treatment. Without the 'talking cures' and psychotherapeutic treatment suggested by Freud, we may have perhaps never been able to challenge the brutal psychiatric approaches mentioned above.

Interestingly, research has found that perspective can influence your interpretation of events. Gilovich (2007) found that observing yourself as a third person -- looking at yourself from an outside observer's perspective -- helps clarify the changes you need to make far made more than using a first-person perspective. This shows the difficulty of making objective decisions; without a clear understanding of our values, we're prone to following the crowd, doing what looks best to others, or even just doing what you've always done. And that is a recipe to repeat the mistakes of the past which as this exhibition shows, can be catastrophic and absurd in hindsight.

'Madness and Modernity' is at the Wellcome Collection until the 28th June.


A visit to the Freud Museum

I went to visit the Freud Museum in Hampstead last week. I thought it was something that had to be done before I leave London in just over a week, and leave this fantastic city and year of experiences behind.

I was the first visitor of the day to the museum which for some reason made my visit seem all the more eery.

Wandering around Freud's house in silence made Freud's life come alive to me like never before. All his possessions and artefacts were still there in place, much as they were when he practised. I could have been a visiting patient and the visit fuelled my desire to learn more about his life and work.

As a psychology student, I feel its important to know something about the history of a subject I'm passionate about and to know something of the thinking and what now seems bizarre experiments of psychology's founders. I think this is a crucial part of developing my own identity as a psychologist. By understanding the past, we can build on it. Isaac Newton called this 'standing on the shoulders of giants' and that morning it felt like I truly was.


Risk (2)

Last Sunday I attended my third 'secular sermon' at the School of Life, in which the Sunday morning Mass slot is replaced with a 'preacher' of popular culture, and some surprise challenges to keep everyone awake at the back.

This week’s theme was 'risk', and the preacher was self proclaimed maverick and entrepreneur Luke Johnson. Johnson knows all about risks, having run everything from dental surgeries to Pizza Express, and now indeed Channel 4.

There was a slightly satanic feel to the process, mainly because there of the seven foot lycra-clad devil in the corner, or maybe it was the sight of a group of 200 Londoners singing the opening hymn, 'Ace of spades' by Motorhead.

Johnson urged us all to take risks whenever we had the opportunity. Unsurprisingly, we were then offered an early chance to apply this during the interval, where there was a 'surprise risk challenge'.

This turned out to be the ‘Communion’ of the sermon, where we were presented with a tray of ominous clear liquids which we were told were either brine or vodka. Being a little hungover (and after all, still a student), I thought some hair of the dog would be an excellent idea. I suspect I was in the minority who thought this way, but anyway I decided to go for it and take three shots of the stuff. For the record I was lucky enough to get two vodkas and only one of brine, and the rest of the morning passed by very happily.

It was fascinating to hear about the power of risk taking and its importance to human fulfilment. This is a message that can easily be forgotten in such a time of economic insecurity.

Johnson concluded by saying that we regret the things we don’t do rather than those we do, and psychology research tells us that in fact that is absolutely true.

The next School of Life sermon will be on the 28th June, with guest speaker Alice Rawsthorn on the importance and power of good design.


My Story (part 2)

Today - 6 years on after making my career change - I felt the following things: anxiety (that I'm wasting time), guilt (that I'm not working hard enough), tension (from stress), worry (about where to focus, whether I'm doing the right thing etc etc) and frustration at my perceived slow progress.

And this is the life that I have chosen to live! Oh, the humanity.

After being stuck for so long, I decided to go back to university to study psychology. I did all types of courses - distance learning, part time, full time.

It was very strange. Grotty buildings after years of corporate pleasantness, strangely bearded tutors, dog eared textbooks, classmates (now 10 years younger than me). But it also felt liberating to do something simply because I liked it (i.e. for fundamental reasons), as opposed to where it would take me (instrumental reasons).

After a few years of studying statistics in labs, I set up Bloom Psychology. And yes, life is better, but I have sacrificed much happiness to be happier, if that makes sense. (See above).

In other words, on a day to day level life has not got any easier simply because I now do what I love. If anything, by moving towards something I really value, life has got much more difficult.

Why? I want a refund.

When you run away from something you fear (guilty, your Honour), you can rely on a lot of things to help you: alcohol, distraction, proacrastination, denial, anything to avoid thinking about difficult stuff.

For many of us in soul crushing jobs, this becomes known as 'real life'.

But if you are moving towards something you truly value, these options are far less available.

Every time I procrastinate now, get drunk, get distracted, I betray something important. And by committing myself to what I really value, I open myself up to what I really fear, because if I didn't value it I wouldn't care.

A lot of career coaches would never say this. Find your purpose, use your strengths, and you too (like them) can find happiness!

The truth is that happiness is out of your control, but that you still have a choice.

You can live a life in which you avoid difficult emotions like fear, as I did as a consultant. Or, you can choose to move towards something that you truly value.

Both routes are painful, but only one dignifies that pain with a sense of meaning.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Risk (1)

Many Bloom Career clients are paralysed by the thought of taking a risk with their career. I recognise this only too well, and still have to fight a natural tendency to avoid risk even when managing a business.

So I was reminded this morning about a poem my Mum sent me by a man called Simon Reynolds, who lived, worked and died (aged 21) in the townships of South Africa.

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out for another is to risk involvement.
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas, your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To hope is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken,
because the greatest danger in life
is to risk nothing.

Those who risk nothing, do nothing,
achieve nothing, become nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
Chained by their certitude they are a slave,
they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks all that he cannot keep,
to have whatever he cannot lose, is truly free.