Is there a limit to how many friends we can maintain?

Posted November 3rd, 2014 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Networking—both live and virtual—is the rage today. And our contacts, especially on social networks, are often referred to as “friends.” As networking events, meet-ups, and the business that promote them expand, people boast of how many of these “friends” they have in their real or online networks.

Is this all sound and fury signifying nothing, or real human connections that bring us real benefits? Does our ability to manage complex social connections—love lives, work colleagues, childhood friends, and acquaintances—explain why we have such large brains?

The answer, at least according to British anthropologist and evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar, is yes.

But there’s a catch.

Dunbar posits that there is a cognitive limit to the number of relations that any one primate can maintain. In his book, How Many Friends Does One Person Need, he argues that you can only keep friendships with about 150 people at any given time, because “this limit is a direct function of neocortex size, and … this in turn limits group size where stable interpersonal relationships can be maintained.” Dunbar says his number of 150 “refers to those people with whom you have a personalized relationship, one that is reciprocal and based around general obligations of trust and reciprocity.”

Dunbar argues that this number has not, in fact, changed much throughout history and that it applies to social media on the web just as it does in real life. If anything, his research is supported by outlets such as Facebook—according to that site’s official figures, its average user has about 130 “friends.”

Dunbar even goes as far as to say that anyone who claims to have more than 150 real friendships is “suspect,” as the quality of those relationships must deteriorate as the social group expands.

Our theoretical circle of 150 is not a homogenous social group, Dunbar explains, but rather consists of four layers, or “Circles of Acquaintanceship,” which scale relative to each other by a factor of 3—an inner core of 5 intimates, and then successive layers of 15, 50 and 150. With each successive circle, the number of people included increases but the emotional intimacy decreases.

The concept of usefulness can impact inclusions or exclusion in the group of 150. Psychologist Mark Vernon, author of The Philosophy of Friendship, argues that everyone likes to be useful to their friends, but feeling that a friend is using you is the first sign of a relationship’s decline.

People who claim to have a circle of hundreds of “friends,” either live or online, may be making a claim that flies in the face of research, or simply trying to inflate their sense of importance.

So, how many friends do you have?

What’s Behind Every Great Man or Woman?

Posted November 3rd, 2014 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Successful people are often thought of as being solely responsible for their success. Yet, when we study patterns of promotions, financial compensation, status and career success, it is their partners who may be exerting a bigger influence on their success.

This is the conclusion of new research by Joshua Jackson and Brittany Solomon of Washington University in St. Louis, which will be published in the journal Psychological Science. The researchers based their findings on a five-year study of almost 5,000 married people, aged 19-89. In 75 percent of the sample couples, both partners worked.

Jackson and Solomon analyzed data from study participants who took a series of psychological tests to assess their scores on five broad measures of personality—openness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness. They also tracked the on-the-job performance of working spouses using annual surveys measuring occupational success.

They found that workers who scored highest on measures of occupational success tended to have a spouse with a personality that scored high for conscientiousness—whether or not both spouses worked, and regardless of gender. “Our study shows that it is not only your own personality that influences the experiences that lead to greater occupational success, but that your spouse’s personality matters too,” Jackson contends.

While previous research has shown that people desire romantic partners high in agreeableness and low in neuroticism, Jackson argues, “Our findings suggest that people should also desire highly conscientious partners.”

Why is conscientiousness so beneficial?

Based on additional analyses, the researchers examined how conscientiousness related to outsourcing, emulation, and relationship satisfaction. Having a conscientious spouse allows for greater outsourcing, or having a partner take over some of life’s minutia, which is associated with earning more money, the researchers concluded.

This research is an interesting contrast to work done by Rutgers University sociology professor Deborah Carr, who concluded in her own study that, when it comes to a happy marriage, the more content the wife is with the long-term union, the happier the husband is with his life—no matter how he feels about their relationship. “I think it comes down to the fact that when a wife is satisfied with the marriage she tends to do a lot more for her husband, which has a positive effect on his life,” said Carr. “Men tend to be less vocal about their relationships, and their level of marital unhappiness might not be translated to their wives.”

Carr and Vicki Freedman, a research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, co-authored a separate study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family on marital quality and happiness among older adults. Both papers underscore the narrow focus of too many media profiles of highly successful people—particularly men—in which their success is often solely attributed to them, or to their personality or leadership traits. Our view needs to be much more inclusive—and contain less hero-worshipping.

Why goal setting can do more harm than good

Posted November 3rd, 2014 in Articles, Blogs by admin

We have all heard this advice: Set goals if you want to accomplish anything substantial. That advice comes from personal coaches, self-help gurus, management consultants, managers and executives and is deeply imbedded in leadership practices.

In organizations, “stretch goals,” or “hairy audacious goals,” as a management motivational and performance strategy, is widely practiced. Yet, there is evidence that goal setting may actually be counter productive if not a waste of time.

Our society, at both the individual level and in organizations, has an obsession with goal setting, particularly “stretch” goals or “audacious goals.” We tie goals to accomplishment. In our culture, an individual or organizations cannot be considered successful unless goals are achieved. And the usual motivation method used by leaders to achieve these goals is the continual focus on “improvement,” “bigger and better,” through harder and harder work, and increased productivity. And the way to measure that success is to measure goal attainment.

The following is a typical template for goal setting:

  • Write down the goals;
  • Make goals specific and clear;
  • Indicate how you’ll measure goal accomplishment;
  • Have goal timelines and deadlines;
  • State goals in terms of specific outcomes or results;
  • Attach rewards, incentives for attainment and punishment for failure.

The support for setting goals has reportedly come from both academic/research sources and popular self-help sources. With the respect to the first, researchers reportedly surveyed the graduating seniors from the class of 1953 at Yale University. They asked if the class members had written goals for their future. Three percent did. The rest did not. Twenty years later, researchers were said to have gone back to the surviving members of the class. They discovered that those with written life goals had accumulated more wealth than all their classmates put together.

The only problem with this powerful finding is that there was no such study. Researchers at Yale and members of the class of 1953 all swear they never conducted or participated in any such study.

The second source of support has come from such self-help sources as The Secret, which encourages people to set ambitious goals through a process of visualization. There is no study that I am aware of that demonstrates a causal link between visualizing goals and their attainment.

Despite the popularity of goal setting, there is compelling evidence that regardless of good intentions and effort, people and organizations consistently fall short of achieving their goals. More often than not, the fault is attributed to the goal setter. But the real problem may be in the efficacy of goal setting itself.

What’s Wrong With Setting Ambitious Goals?

Aubrey Daniels, in his book, Oops! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time And Money, argues that stretch goals are an ineffective management practice. Daniels cites a study that shows when individuals repeatedly fail to reach stretch goals, their performance declines. Another study showed 10% of employees actually achieved stretch goals. Daniels argues that goals are motivating people only when they have received positive rewards and feedback from reaching them in the past.

The Center For Disease Control estimates that 34% of Americans are overweight and a further 34% are obese, which means almost 70% of the population are dangerously unhealthy. That’s a curious result, despite the proliferation of weight loss programs that usually focus on weight-loss goals. The easy explanation would be to attribute fault to individual for lack of will or effort. But the problem may be inherent in the validity of goal setting.

Sim Sitkin a Duke University business school professor, completed a study of stretch goals, and found they were most likely to be pursued by desperate, embattled companies that would have difficulty adapting if the goals failed. He says: “We conclude that stretch goals are, paradoxically, most seductive for organizations that can least afford the risks associated with them.”

L.A. King and C.M. Burton in an article entitled, The Hazards of Goal Pursuit, for the American Psychological Association, argue that goals should be used only in the narrowest of circumstances: “The optimally striving individual ought to endeavor to achieve and approach goals that only slightly implicate the self; that are only moderately important, fairly easy, and moderately abstract; that do not conflict with each other, and that concern the accomplishment of something other than financial gain.”

Adam Galinsky, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and one of the authors of a Harvard Business School report called Goals Gone Wild,” argues that “goal setting has been treated like an over-the-counter medication when it should really be treated with more care, as a prescription-strength mediation.” He argues that goal setting can focus attention too much or on the wrong things and can lead people to participate in extreme behaviors to achieve the goals.

The authors of Goals Gone Wild, have identified several specific negative side effects associated with goal setting: “An overly narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas; a rise in unethical behavior; distorted risk preferences; corrosion of organizational culture; and reduced intrinsic motivation.”

Maurice Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania and Lisa Ordonez of the University of Arizona, co-authors of Goals Gone Wild, have studied the psychology of goal attainment, and in several experiments have shown that when people self-report their achievement of goals, if they are not entirely successful, a significant percentage of them lie to make up the difference.

One inherent problem with goal setting is related to how the brain works. Recent neuroscience research shows the brain works in a protective way, resistant to change. Therefore, any goals that require substantial behavioral change, or thinking-pattern change, will automatically be resisted. The brain is wired to seek rewards and avoid pain or discomfort, including fear. When fear of failure creeps into the mind of the goal setter, it becomes a “demotivator,” with a desire to return to known, comfortable behavior and thought patterns.

Examples of Goal Setting Gone Wrong

In the early 2000′s , General Motors had set a goal to capture 29% of the American auto market. It even produced corporate pins for people to wear with the number 29 on them. Needless to say they never achieved that goal, and without a government bailout, GM may not have even survived.

In the early 1990s, Sears gave a sales quota of $147 per hour to its auto repair staff. Faced with this target, the staff overcharged for work and performed unnecessary repairs. Sears’ Chairman at the time, Ed Brennan, acknowledged that the stretch goal gave employees a powerful incentive to deceive customers.

Or take the Ford Pinto. Presented with a goal to build a car “under 2,000 pounds and under $2,000 by 1970, employees overlooked safety testing and designed a car where the gas tank was vulnerable to explosion from rear-end collisions. Fifty-three people died as a result.

In the late 1990s, specific, challenging goals fueled energy-trading company Enron’s rapid financial success. Dan Ackman, writing in Forbes compares Enron’s incentive system to “paying a salesman a commission based on the volume of sales and letting him set the price of goods sold.” Even during Enron’s final days, Enron executives were rewarded with large bonuses for meeting specific revenue goals. In sum, “Enron executives were meeting their goals, but they were the wrong goals,” according to employee compensation expert Solange Charas. By focusing on revenue rather than profit, Enron executives drove the company into the ground.

Max Bazerman, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of Goals Gone Wild, argues the following in the study:

  • People can focus so much on reaching the stretch goal that they fail to realize how this has dumped other work on their co-workers.
  • With goals, people narrow their focus. This intense focus can blind people to important issues that appear unrelated to their goal;
  • A related problem occurs when employees pursue multiple goals at one time. Individuals with multiple goals are prone to concentrate on only one goal;
  • Overemphasis on short-term thinking. Goals that emphasize immediate performance (e.g., this quarter’s profits) prompt managers to engage in myopic, short-term behavior that harms the organization in the long run;
  • People motivated by specific, challenging goals adopt riskier strategies and choose riskier gambles than do those with less challenging or vague goals;
  • Goal setting can promote two different types of cheating behavior. First, when motivated by a goal, people may choose to use unethical methods to reach it; second, goal setting can motivate people to misrepresent their performance level—in other words, to report that they met a goal when in fact they fell short;
  • Goals create a culture of competition. Organizations that rely heavily on goal setting may erode the foundation of cooperation that holds groups together;
  • As goal setting increases extrinsic motivation, it can harm intrinsic motivation – engaging in a task for its own sake;

So What’s The Alternative?

In his classic article, “Small Wins,” psychologist Karl Weick argued that people often become overwhelmed and discouraged when faced with massive and complex problems. He advocated recasting larger problems into smaller, tractable challenges that produce visible results, and maintained that the strategy of “small wins” can often generate more action and more complete solutions to major problems because it enables people to make slow, steady progress.

In their recent book, The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer build on the same argument and clearly demonstrate how even the smallest, most mundane steps forward — for example, achieving clear consensus in a meeting — can motivate and inspire workers. Ever wonder why people will so often write down an item they’ve already completed on theirto-do-list? It’s so that they can have the satisfaction of immediately crossing it off and experiencing the sense of progress.

Focusing on small wins in combination with process improvement will driveyourorganizationforward without the negative consequences of stretch goals. However, this approach requires a willingness to abandon the “ready, fire, aim” approach to problem solving. The heavy lifting has to be done at the outset — a deep understanding of the current condition is a prerequisite for true improvement. This approach also requires a subtle — but critical — shift in focus from improving outcome metrics to improving the process by which those outcomes are achieved.

If You Must Set Goals

If you must set goals, consider these questions to guide you, suggested by Max Bazerman:

  • Are the goals too specific? Narrow goals can blind people to important aspects of a problem. Be sure that goals are comprehensive and include all of the critical components for firm success (e.g., quantity and quality);
  • Are the goals too challenging? What will happen if goals are not met? How will individual employees and outcomes be evaluated? Will failure harm motivation and self-efficacy? Provide skills and training to enable employees to reach goals. Avoid harsh punishment for failure to reach a goal;
  • Who sets the goals? People will become more committed to goals they help to set. At the same time, people may be tempted to set easy to reach goals;
  • Is the time horizon appropriate? Be sure that short-term efforts to reach a goal do not harm investment in long-term outcomes. For example, consider eliminating quarterly reports as Coca-Cola did;
  • Consider how might goals influence risk taking? Be sure to articulate acceptable levels of risk;
  • Consider how might goals motivate unethical behavior? Goals narrow focus, such that employees may be less likely to recognize ethical issues. Goals also induce employees to rationalize their unethical behavior and can corrupt organizational cultures. Multiple safeguards may be necessary to ensure ethical behavior while attaining goals (e.g., leaders as exemplars of ethical behavior, making the costs of cheating far greater than the benefit, strong oversight);
  • Can goals be idiosyncratically tailored for individual abilities and circumstances while preserving fairness? Strive to set goals that use common standards and account for individual variation;
  • How will goals influence organizational culture? If cooperation is essential, consider setting team-based rather than individual goals;
  • Are individuals intrinsically motivated? Assess intrinsic motivation and recognize that goals can curtail intrinsic motivation;
  • Consider the ultimate goals of the organization and what type of goal (performance or learning) is most appropriate? In complex, changing environments learning goals may be more effective.

The Psychological Manifestations

Finally, there are psychological manifestations of not achieving goals that may be more damaging that not having any goals at all. The process sets up desires that are removed from everyday reality. Whenever we desire things that we don’t have, we set our brain’s nervous system to produce negative emotions. Second, highly aspirational goals require us to develop new competencies, some of which may be beyond current capabilities. As we develop these competencies, we are likely to experience failures, which then become de-motivational. Thirdly, goal setting sets up an either-or polarity of success. The only true measure can either be 100% attainment or perfection, or 99% and less, which is failure. We can then excessively focus on the missing or incomplete part of our efforts, ignoring the successful parts. Fourthly, goal setting doesn’t take into account random forces of chance. You can’t control all the environmental variables to guarantee 100% success.

The other problem is that goals are often cast in the image of the ideal or perfection, which activates the self-judging thinking of “I should be this way.” This counteracts the positive need for self-acceptance.

And if the goal is not attained, we can often engage in thinking we are failures, not good enough, not smart enough, not beautiful enough, etc. So the non-attainment of goals can create emotions of unworthiness.

We must also make a distinction between our intentions vs. goals. An intention is a direction we want to pursue, preferably with passion. My experience is that people are often confused, and unclear about the intentions of how they want to live and achieve, and therefore a focus on goals doesn’t assist them with clarifying their intentions.

When I work with people as their coach and mentor, they often tell me they’ve set goals such as “I want to be wealthy,” or “I want to be more beautiful/popular,” “I want a better relationship/ideal partner.” They don’t realize they’ve just described the symptoms or outcomes of the problems in their life. The cause of the problem, which many resist facing, is themselves. They don’t realize that for a change to occur, if one is desirable, they must change themselves. Once they make the personal changes, everything around them can alter, which may make the goal irrelevant.

There’s an old saying: “you don’t get what you want in life, you get in life what you are.”

 

Anti-Intellectualism and the “Dumbing Down” of America

Posted November 3rd, 2014 in Articles, Blogs by admin

There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It’s the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility.

Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason, says in an article in the Washington Post, “Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture; a disjunction between Americans’ rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.”

There has been a long tradition of anti-intellectualism in America, unlike most other Western countries. Richard Hofstadter, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his book, Anti-Intellectualism In American Life, describes how the vast underlying foundations of anti-elite, anti-reason and anti-science has been infused into America’s political and social fabric. Famous science fiction writer Isaac Asimov made once said: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Mark Bauerlein, in his book, The Dumbest Generation, reveals how a whole generation of youth are being dumbed down by their aversion to reading anything of substance and their addiction to digital “crap” via social media.

Journalist Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America, adds another perspective: “The rise of idiot America today represents–for profit mainly, but also and more cynically, for political advantage in the pursuit of power–the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they are talking about. In the new media age, everybody is an expert.”

“There’s a pervasive suspicion of rights, privileges, knowledge and specialization,” says Catherine Liu, the author of American Idyll: Academic Antielitism as Cultural Critique and a film and media studies professor at University of California. The very mission of universities has changed, argues Liu. “We don’t educate people anymore. We train them to get jobs.”

Part of the reason for the rising anti-intellectualism can be found in the declining state of education in the U.S. compared to other advanced countries:

After leading the world for decades in 25-34 year olds with university degrees, the U.S. is now in 12th place. The World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. at 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction in 2010. Nearly 50% of all graduate students in the sciences in the U.S. are foreigners, most of whom will be returning to their home countries;
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs commissioned a civic education poll among public school students. A surprising 77% didn’t know that George Washington was the first President; couldn’t name Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence, and only 2.8% of the students actually passed the citizenship test. Along similar lines, the Goldwater Institute of Phoenix did the same survey and only 3.5% of students passed the civics test;
According to the National Research Council report, only 28% of high school science teachers consistently follow the National Research Council guidelines on teaching evolution, and 13% of those teachers explicitly advocate creationism or “intelligent design;”
18% of Americans still believe that the sun revolves around the earth, according to a Gallup poll;
The American Association of State Colleges and Universities report on education shows that the U.S. ranks second among all nations in the proportion of the population aged 35-64 with a college degree, but 19th in the percentage of those aged 25-34 with an associates or high school diploma, which means that for the first time, the educational attainment of young people will be lower than their parents;
74% of Republicans in the U.S. Senate and 53% in the House of Representatives deny the validity of climate changes since despite the findings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and every other significant scientific organization in the world;
According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 68% of public school children in the U.S. do not read proficiently by the time they finish third grade. And the U.S. News & World reported that barely 50% of students are ready for college level reading when they graduate;
According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic-Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made. More than a third consider it “not at all important” to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent consider it “very important;”
According to the National Endowment for the Arts report in 1982, 82% of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later only 67% did. And more than 40% of Americans under 44 did not read a single book–fiction or nonfiction–over the course of a year. The proportion of 17 year olds who read nothing (unless required by school ) has doubled between 1984-2004;
Gallup released a poll showing 42 percent of Americans still believe God created human beings in their present form less than 10,000 years ago;
A 2008 University of Texas study found that 25 percent of public school biology teachers believe that humans and dinosaurs inhabited the earth simultaneously.
In American schools, the culture exalts the athlete and good-looking cheerleader. Well-educated and intellectual students are commonly referred to in public schools and the media as “nerds,” “dweebs,” “dorks,” and “geeks,” and are relentlessly harassed and even assaulted by the more popular “jocks” for openly displaying any intellect. These anti-intellectual attitudes are not reflected in students in most European or Asian countries, whose educational levels have now equaled and and will surpass that of the U.S. And most TV shows or movies such as The Big Bang Theory depict intellectuals as being geeks if not effeminate.

John W. Traphagan ,Professor of Religious Studies, University of Texas argues the problem is that Asian countries have core cultural values that are more akin to a cult of intelligence and education than a cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. In Japan, for example, teachers are held in high esteem and normally viewed as among the most important members of a community. There is suspicion and even disdain for the work of teachers that occurs in the U.S. Teachers in Japan typically are paid significantly more than their peers in the U.S. The profession of teaching is one that is seen as being of central value in Japanese society and those who choose that profession are well compensated in terms of salary, pension, and respect for their knowledge and their efforts on behalf of children.

In addition, we do not see in Japan significant numbers of the types of religious schools that are designed to shield children from knowledge about basic tenets of science and accepted understandings of history–such as evolutionary theory or the religious views of the Founding Fathers, who were largely deists–which are essential to having a fundamental understanding of the world, Traphagan contends. The reason for this is because in general Japanese value education, value the work of intellectuals, and see a well-educated public with a basic common knowledge in areas of scientific fact, math, history, literature, etc. as being an essential foundation to a successful democracy.

We’re creating a world of dummies. Angry dummies who feel they have the right, the authority and the need not only to comment on everything, but to make sure their voice is heard above the rest, and to drag down any opposing views through personal attacks, loud repetition and confrontation.

Bill Keller, writing in the New York Times argues that the anti-intellectual elitism is not an elitism of wisdom, education, experience or knowledge. The new elite are the angry social media posters, those who can shout loudest and more often, a clique of bullies and malcontents baying together like dogs cornering a fox. Too often it’s a combined elite of the anti-intellectuals and the conspiracy followers – not those who can voice the most cogent, most coherent response. Together they ferment a rabid culture of anti-rationalism where every fact is suspect; every shadow holds a secret conspiracy. Rational thought is the enemy. Critical thinking is the devil’s tool.

Keller also notes that the herd mentality takes over online; the anti-intellectuals become the metaphorical equivalent of an angry lynch mob when anyone either challenges one of the mob beliefs or posts anything outside the mob’s self-limiting set of values.

Keller blames this in part to the online universe that “skews young, educated and attentive to fashions.” Fashion, entertainment, spectacle, voyeurism – we’re directed towards trivia, towards the inconsequential, towards unquestioning and blatant consumerism. This results in intellectual complacency. People accept without questioning, believe without weighing the choices, join the pack because in a culture where convenience rules, real individualism is too hard work. Thinking takes too much time: it gets in the way of the immediacy of the online experience.

Reality TV and pop culture presented in magazines and online sites claim to provide important information about the importance of The Housewives of [you name the city] that can somehow enrich our lives. After all, how else can one explain the insipid and pointless stories tout divorces, cheating and weight gain? How else can we explain how the Kardashians, or Paris Hilton are known for being famous for being famous without actually contributing anything worth discussion. The artificial events of their lives become the mainstay of populist media to distract people from the real issues and concerns facing us.

The current trend of increasing anti-intellectualism now establishing itself in politics and business leadership, and supported by a declining education system should be a cause for concern for leaders and the general population, one that needs to be addressed now.

Are we hardwired to be positive or negative?

Posted November 3rd, 2014 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Are we hardwired to be positive or negative, particularly during difficult times? That’s a question that has been asked by many researchers and it has an impact on our beliefs about motivation and behavior. Research findings on this issue have significant implications for leaders and workplace culture.

The capacity to emphasize the negative rather than the positive has probably been an evolutionary phenomenon. From our earliest beginnings, being aware of and avoiding danger has been a critical survival skill.

The concept of negativity bias is not new. Early research has led to theories such as The Prospect Theory, which evaluates the way people make choices when there is a known risk. So negativity bias and the Prospect Theory advances the idea that people are more likely to choose things based on their need to avoid negative experiences, rather than their desire to get positive experiences. This phenomena has been examined by researchers such as Roy F. Baumister, Ellen Tratslavsky, Kathleen Vohs, and Catrin Finkenauer. These psychologists concluded negative experiences or the fear of them has a greater impact on people than positive experiences.

Paul Rozin and Edward Royzman showed in their research that the negative perspective is more contagious than the positive perspective. A study by John Cacioppo and his colleagues showed that our attitudes are more heavily influenced by bad news than good news. Other researchers analyzed language to study negativity bias. For example, there are more negative emotional words (62 percent) than positive words (32 percent) in the English dictionary.

In our brains, there are two different systems for negative and positive stimuli. The amygdala uses approximately two thirds of its neurons to detect negative experiences, and once the brain starts looking for bad news, it is stored into long-term memory quickly. Positive experiences have to be held in our awareness for more than 12 seconds in order for the transfer from short-term to long-term memory. Rick Hanson describes it in this way: “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”

A recent study by Jason Moser and his colleagues at Michigan State University, and published in The Journal of Abnormal Psychology have found brain markers that distinguish negative thinkers from positive thinkers. Their research suggests that there are in fact positive and negative people in the world. In their experiments they found people who tend to worry showed a paradoxical backfiring effect in their brains when asked to decrease their negative emotions, which Moser said, “suggests they have a really hard time putting a positive spin on difficult situations and actually make their negative emotions worse even when they are asked to think positively.”

Christopher Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University and co-author of The Man Who Lied To His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships, argues that we tend to see people who say negative things as being smarter than those who are positive. Thus we are more likely to give greater weight to criticism than praise.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi contends that unless we are occupied with other thoughts, worrying is the brain’s default position. This is why, he says, “we must constantly strive to escape such ‘psychic entropy’ by learning to control our consciousness and direct our attention to activities which provide ‘flow’ activities which give positive feedback and strengthen our sense of purpose and achievement.” His views echoes those of Martin Seligman and Rick Hanson who both make the point that while negative emotion always has the ability to “trump” positive emotion, we have to learn how to keep negative emotion in check by amplifying positive emotions.

My particular interest in this research as an executive coach and leadership trainer is the application to leadership behaviors and workplace culture.

Here are some suggestions for what may make leadership strategies more effective in the workplace:

  • Don’t tell people who seem to be inclined to be negative to “think positively”, as that may actually make it worse for them; instead, the leader can ask them to think about the problem or issue in a different way using different strategies
  • Be conscious of the viral effect of negative people and how they can “infect” positive people, and take actions to minimize their effect
  • When positive events or interactions occur, the leader should demonstrate and encourage others to do so as well, savoring the positive experience for a longer period of time
  • As a leader, demonstrate and encourage others to be mindful of “triggers” that can stimulate negativity by reflecting on whether the negative situation has been exaggerated or blown out of proportion, and how it can be calmly managed
  • Avoiding over-analyzing or ruminating on past negative events; rather focus on what can be done in the present in a proactive manner

Leaders need to focus on the small wins and progress on a daily basis, and take time to celebrate those, rather than waiting for the end of a project or extended period of time before celebration; this also means providing regular and frequent positive reinforcement for successful work

If negative feedback or criticism is necessary, leaders should give it first, followed by positive comments or feedback, not the other way around as many leaders tend to do in organizations

Remember that it takes 5-10 positive events to counterbalance one negative event.

Slowing Down Can Increase Productivity and Happiness, Part 2

Posted November 3rd, 2014 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Part 1 of this article identified the related problems of busyness, workaholism, fast decision-making, multi-tasking and narrow perspectives on time. This article focuses on strategies for slowing down.

Reconceptualizing How We Structure Work

University of California, Davis professors Kimberly Elsbach and Andrew Hargadon have suggested that we find ways to balance our workday activities with a mix of “mindful” (cognitively demanding) and “mindless” (cognitively facile) activities. Giving the mind a rest from high-stakes responsibilities and strategically doing simple (but necessary) administrative or hands-on tasks give us freedom to take control of our schedules and maintain momentum with less cognitive strain.

More broadly, the philosophy of “slow work” challenges the unsustainable practice of doing everything as fast as possible and offers an alternative workplace framework for energizing people and helping people better align their personal and professional priorities. It urges us to punctuate our routines in ways that might initially appear to compromise productivity but actually enhance long-term creativity.

How Doing Nothing Can Actually Be Productive

A new study published in the March 2014 issue of the journal Psychological Sciencesuggests that simply having the choice to sit back and do nothing during your day-to-day grind actually increases your commitment to a certain goal, and may even boost your likeliness to achieve that goal.

“The funny/interesting thing is that most people think that making a ‘do nothing’ option salient at the time of choice will result in people being less persistent,” study co-author Dr. Jeffrey Parker, an assistant professor of marketing at Georgia State University. The study included three separate experiments in which more than 100 men and women were put into different groups to complete a series of online cognitive tasks. Some of these groups were given the choice to complete one of two tasks or “opt out” of participating. The other groups were not given a choice to “opt out.” All of the participants were offered a payment for doing the tasks, making the “opt out” choice unappealing. At the end of the tasks, the researchers found a major difference in the performance of people who had a choice to opt out, and those who didn’t.

In an article in the New York Times, management guru Tony Schwartz cites research that shows downtime, napping and sleep significantly contribute to performance enhancement.

Practical Slowing Down Strategies And Habits

Practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation research has been shown to not only be beneficial for stress reduction, but also help your brain develop a greater capacity for cognitive tasks, attention and focus. Many organizations are now incorporating meditation practices for employees into the workplace.

  • Live a mindful life. Beyond the formal practice of mindful meditation, engaging in mindful life practices such as focusing being in the present; withholding judgments; not having attachment to expectations; practicing gratitude and compassion; behaving in a non-reactive manner; developing open-heartedness; being curious with “beginner’s mind;” developing self-acceptance; and developing patience.
  • Protect your focus time. Block chunks of time on your work calendar for focusing on tasks that require intense concentration, and make it clear to others to not interrupt you. Doing so signals to others that you are serious about accomplishing specific goals and are therefore prioritizing the tasks needed to accomplish them.
  • Seriously reduce or eliminate multitasking from your work routine.As Part 1 of this article describes, multitasking seriously reduced productivity. This includes the discipline of not being “on” all the time by checking your email and social media platforms.
  • Vary the location of your work. Taking your work offsite to give yourself a radically different experience that could spark some inspiration. If you work in a large city, take advantage of the myriad of public spaces such as parks, coffee shops and plazas that are accommodating to workers with plentiful seating and free Wi-Fi. A public setting can positively change your perspective and help you put things in broader context.
  • Block in reflection time. Rather than the always focusing on the immediate tasks of doing what is required or expected, taking a regular block of time each day or once a week to reflect without actually doing anything, on your feelings, your long range goals or vision for the future, uses a different creative part of your brain that is beneficial for satisfaction and stability.
  • Co-work with others for a day. This involves connections between people looking for space in which to camp out for a day or two and organizations that have space to share. This model connects like-minded people looking for creative inspiration through a mix of different work experiences. Organizations are also finding that this model of welcoming outsiders into their communities brings fresh perspectives to their people.
  • Eat mindfully. Eating more mindfully can be a meditative practice. Chew every bite slowly, analyze tastes like you’re a foodie, and generally savor the experience. Don’t view eating as an interruption into your activity filled life and something you need to finish quickly so you can get on with more important things.
  • Do nothing when you wake up. Rather than immediately jumping out of bed to shower and rush to work, or hurriedly checking your messages on your computer or phone, taking 10 or 15 minutes to just lie there and notice your thoughts without engaging with them, helps you ease into the day with calm.
  • Stop overscheduling your family life. More activities in the absence of quality slow time do not make for a better life either for you or your family. Having unscheduled, spontaneous and unplanned time for yourself and your family is critical to work-life balance.
  • Learn how to say no. Saying yes can open you up to new possibilities challenges, but saying yes all the time makes you needy and can reinforce an external source for your self-esteem. Saying no can gives you a chance for me-time–an hour when you don’t have to keep any commitments or please anyone else, or a half-hour when you can just kick back and do absolutely nothing.
  • Walk more and drive less. Park the car and try walking to different places. Walking helps break the conditioning that wasting time was more critical than wasting focus. Deliberately taking walks may reduce your time, but it forces you to slow down your thinking so you can focus when you need to.
  • See time as a flexible flow from the past to the present to the future. This means seeing time as continuous and elastic rather than separated and broken into intervals. Learn how to set your internal time clock, which is inner directed, and separate from the external time clock. You have the capacity to slow down or speed up time when the context or situation demands it using only your mind. Understand that people and organizations have unique time rhythms. You can adapt to and influence that rhythm. This means learning how to recognize when the two are out of sync, and how to synchronize the two.

Slowing Down Can Increase Productivity and Happiness, Part 1

Posted July 7th, 2014 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Today’s hectic, fast paced and overstimulated world can create a work and lifestyle of hurriedness, busyness, multitasking and workaholism, all aimed at increasing productivity and life satisfaction. Yet, there’s compelling evidence that slowing down can actually improve productivity and increase happiness.

I’m sure many of you share my experience of going on vacation for relaxation. Our pace slows down, we usually feel more calm and relaxed, and we take a much needed respite from our fast pace of life and its responsibilities.Time slows down.Yet, when we return from work, that calm, slower pace disappears and we’re back on the hamster wheel.

Myths About “More And Faster”

While it is conventional wisdom in the workplace and management reinforces the “more is better” “and faster is better” approach to work, the assumptions are not supported by research. Let’s look at these myths:

Myth 1: More hours of work make you more productive.

We now equate busyness and overwork with productivity but the two are not the same. In the same way, we’ve equated “seat time” –that is time workers spend in their seats at their desks or in meetings–as equivalent to productive work. It may be the reverse. In a New York Times article, “Let’s Be Less Productive,” author Tim Jackson defines productivity as “the amount of output delivered per hour of work in the economy.” Jackson’s view underscores the perception that productivity in all its forms is measured in terms of money and time. Jackson goes on to say, “time is money…We’ve become conditioned by the language of efficiency.”

Sara Robinson, writing an insightful article in Salon magazine, on the issue of overwork, “Bring Back the 40-hour Work Week,” says “150 years of research proves that long hours at work will kill profits, productivity and employees.” Yet, for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was “stupid, wasteful, dangerous and expensive—and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management,” Robinson argues. Citing the work of Tom Walker of the Work Less Institute’s Prosperity Covenant, “That output does not rise or fall in direct proportion to the number of hours worked is a lesson that seemingly has to be learned each generation.”

A Business Roundtable study found that after just eight 60-hour weeks the fall-off in productivity is so marked that the average team would have actually gotten just as much done and been better off if they’d just stuck to a 40-hour week all along. And at 70-or 80- hour weeks, the fall-off happens ever faster; at 80 hours, the break-even point is reached in just three weeks.

Myth 2: Being Busy Improves Productivity And Happiness

“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing,” contends Tim Kreider in his article, “The Busy Trap,” in the New York Times. He says often this is said as a boast, “disguised as a complaint,” but often these same people complain about being dead tired and exhausted.

U.S.A. Today published a multi-year poll to determine how people perceived time and their own busyness. It found that in each consecutive year since 1987, people reported that they are busier than the year before, with 69 % responding that they were either “busy,” or “very busy,” with only 8 % responding that they were “not very busy.”

I work as an executive coach and advisor to many senior executives and professionals. Almost without exception they either complain or observe that they can “barely keep up,” or “have no time for vacations,” or to do things for fun, and that their families often suffer. The result is often that they are overstressed and overworked, but tell me there is no choice—the job requires it. Telling people you are really busy has become some kind of a badge of courage, and people who are not so busy are looked down upon.

Even children today are overscheduled. Today’s adolescents and teens are overtaxed and overburdened and stressed to a degree that was once seen only in child psychiatric patients, according to an analysis of research spanning five decades by Jean Twenge, PhD, a psychology professor at San Diego State University.

Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, “Overscheduling our children is not only a widespread phenomenon, it’s how we parent today,” he says. “Parents feel remiss that they’re not being good parents if their kids aren’t in all kinds of activities. Children are under pressure to achieve, to be competitive. I know sixth-graders who are already working on their resumes so they’ll have an edge when they apply for college.”

Tim Kreider argues that overly busy people are busy because “of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and read what they might have to face in its absence…They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.” He says that busyness serves as a kind of “existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness.” For busy people’s lives cannot possibly be “silly or trivial or meaningless” if they are completely booked with activities, and “in demand every hour of the day.” Krieder contends that our culture has assumed a value position that idleness or doing nothing is a bad thing. But “idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice,” he says, “it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”

Increasingly, management in organizations are concerned about productivity and regularly assess employee engagement levels. But the problem with this approach is that engagement is associated with “seat time.” A study by Julian Birkinshaw at the London Business School and author of Becoming A Better Boss shows in his research that many employees are engaged in tasks to keep busy rather than focusing on priority work, and managers measure busyness levels rather than results.

Myth 3: Multi-tasking increases productivity.

This is another workplace and lifestyle myth that is perpetuated despite evidence to the contrary. First, let’s start by defining what we mean when we use the term multitasking. It can mean performing two or more tasks simultaneously, or it can also involve switching back and forth from one thing to another. Multitasking can also involve performing a number of tasks in rapid succession.

In order to determine the impact of multitasking, psychologists asked study participants to switch tasks and then measured how much time was lost by switching. In one study conducted by Robert Rogers and Stephen Monsell, participants were slower when they had to switch tasks than when they repeated the same task. Another study conducted by Joshua Rubinstein, Jeffrey Evans and David Meyer found that participants lost significant amounts of time as they switched between multiple tasks and lost even more time as the tasks became increasingly complex.

In the brain, multitasking is managed by what are known as mental executive functions. These executive functions control and manage other cognitive processes and determine how, when and in what order certain tasks are performed. According to researchers Meyer, Evans and Rubinstein, there are two stages to the executive control process. The first stage is known as “goal shifting” (deciding to do one thing instead of another) and the second is known as “role activation” (changing from the rules for the previous task to rules for the new task). Switching between these may only add a time cost of just a few tenths of a second, but this can start to add up when people begin switching back and forth repeatedly. This might not be that big of a deal in some cases, such as when you are folding laundry and watching television at the same time. However, if you are in a situation where safety or productivity are important, such as when you are driving a car in heavy traffic, even small amounts of time can prove critical. Meyer suggests that productivity can be reduced by as much as 40 percent by the mental blocks created when people switch tasks.

Myth 4: Time is fixed and the same for everyone.

To be most effective, leaders must move beyond time management to time mastery. Time managers are reliant on clocks and calendars; time masters develop an intuitive sense of timing. Time managers see time as a fixed, rigid constant; time masters view it as relative and malleable. Time masters have what John Clemens and Scott Dalrymple, call the critical skill of “temporal intelligence.”

Based on more than four years of research, “Time Mastery” includes dozens of examples of leaders whose temporal intelligence has helped them achieve business breakthroughs at organizations such as GE, 3M, Staples, and Dell. Readers will learn to develop six time-mastery behaviors, including how to: treat time as a continuous “”flow”” of peak experience; set the rhythm of their organization; look beyond the moment and encourage long-term, strategic thinking; and use time as an energizing principle that drives improvement. With intriguing examples from sports, science, history, and the performing arts, as well as business, “Time Mastery” takes a fascinating, in-depth look at a surprising new leadership skill.

According to neuroscientific research highlighted by Inc. Magazine, how the brain perceives time passing determines whether our days feel luxuriously long, or short and harried — and it’s something that we have a certain level of control over. By paying attention and actively noticing new things, we can slow time down.

The 2011 New Yorker profile of David Eagleman, a neuroscientist who studies time perception and calls time a “rubbery thing” that changes based on mental engagement. The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,’”Eagleman said “why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”

British journalist Claudia Hammond echoed the idea that the amount of input our brain is receiving at any given moment can create a “time warp.” An Elle review of her new book, “Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception,” explained: “Humans seem to process the world in three-second increments (the duration of a handshake, the length of the annoying sound computers make when they start up, and the periodic rhythm of speech), and we develop a sense for how those increments sync with clock time. Time can warp when our brain receives much more or less input than usual in a three-second span. (For example, time slows down when you are about to crash your car, but you can easily lose a whole day watching things on YouTube.)”

One study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggests that the more attention we pay to an event, the longer the interval of time feels. Another study from the Journal of the Association for Psychological Science had similar findings.

Myth 5: Quick decisions are better than slow decisions.

How many leaders struggle with decision-making? They know it’s a key measure of their effectiveness — in fact, many of the leaders I work with say the best bosses they ever had were “decisive.”

What exactly do they mean? One dictionary says “decisive” people make decisions “quickly and effectively.” Another says “quickly and surely.” Still another says “quickly and confidently.” Notice what they have in common. Decisive people, the dictionaries say, make decisions quickly.

In their book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, brothers and academics Chip (of Stanford Graduate School of Business) and Dan Heath (of Duke) explore how to eliminate biases and improve the quality of our decisions. One of the biggest decision-making mistakes they tackle is our tendency not to waffle but to decide too quickly. Stanford’s Re:Think newsletter explains that the authors devote a considerable portion of the book to the idea of widening your options, advice that may seem at odds with the very definition of decision making.

If decision making is the process of zeroing in on the best choice, why would you widen your array of choices? The reason, [Chip] Heath explains, is our tendency to get quickly locked into one alternative. We ask ourselves, for example, whether we should fire an underperforming worker–as if to do or not to do is the only choice we have. But when you stop to think of other options–one of the authors’ many tips is to imagine that your current options are vanishing–you’ll often discover an answer that’s better than what you had been pondering. (Could you move your employee to a role he’s more suited for? Or give him a mentor to improve his performance?) Heath cites research showing that people who had considered even one additional alternative did six times better than those who had considered only a single option.

The goal, in other words, isn’t to go fast and eliminate options. It’s to slow down and add them. So how do you accomplish this? The key, the authors say, is taking the time to gather information and alternatives. Using devil’s advocates, asking people who have solved similar problems, gathering relevant statistics, and soliciting the advice of friends and family members can all help.

The Heath brothers aren’t the only people warning leaders not to be seduced by quick decision making, of course. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote a whole best-selling book on the limitations of quick thinking called, appropriately, Thinking, Fast and Slow. If you haven’t picked it up yet, it’s well worth a read in full and is packed with examples of how our knee-jerk decision-making machinery can lead us astray, as well as techniques to short-circuit bias. But for the quick-and-dirty summary, look to Harvard Business Review, which offers this article on one technique, the premortem, and another article by Kahneman himself outlining the basics of why quick decision making is often bad decision making.

Summary:

So, if there is considerable evidence to show that our assumptions about “more and faster is better” may be more myth than reality in terms of being more productive and happier, what are the strategies for slowing down.

Part 2 of this article forthcoming will address that question.

The Male Identity Crisis And The Decline of Fatherhood

Posted July 7th, 2014 in Articles, Blogs by admin

America is rapidly becoming a fatherless society, or perhaps more accurately, an absentee father society. The importance and influence of fathers in families has been in significant decline since the Industrial Revolution and is now reaching critical proportions.

As Alexander Mitscherlich argues in Society Without A Father, there has been a “progressive loss of the father’s authority and diminution of his power in the family and over the family.”

“If present trends continue, writes David Popenoe, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, “the percentage of American children living apart from their biological fathers will reach 50% by the next century.” He argues “this massive erosion of fatherhood contributes mightily to many of the major social problems of our time…Fatherless children have a risk factor of two to three times that of fathered children for a wide range of negative outcomes, including dropping out of high school, giving birth as a teenager and becoming a juvenile delinquent.”

According to David Blankenhorn, author of Fatherless America, chair of the National Fatherhood Initiative and founder/president of the Institute for American Values, organization, and research conducted by Popenoe and scores of other researchers:

  • Approximately 30% of all American children are born into single-parent homes, and for the black community, that figure is 68%;
  • Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics.
  • Over half of all children living with a single mother are living in poverty, a rate 5 to 6 times that of kids living with both parents;
  • Child abuse is significantly more likely to occur in single parent homes than in intact families;
  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census;
  • 72% of adolescent murderers grew up without fathers. 60% of America’s rapists grew up the same way according to a study by D. Cornell (et al.), in Behavioral Sciences and the Law;
  • 63% of 1500 CEOs and human resource directors said it was not reasonable for a father to take a leave after the birth of a child;
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes according to the National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools;
  • 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes according to a report in Criminal Justice & Behavior;
  • In single-mother families in the U.S. about 66% of young children live in poverty;
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes;
  • Children from low-income, two-parent families outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes. Almost twice as many high achievers come from two-parent homes as one-parent homes according to a study by the Charles F. Kettering Foundation.
  • 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes according to a study by the Center for Disease Control;
  • Of all violent crimes against women committed by intimates about 65% were committed by either boy-friends or ex-husbands, compared with 9 % by husbands;
  • Girls living with non-natal fathers (boyfriends and stepfathers) are at higher risk for sexual abuse than girls living with natal fathers;
  • Daughters of single mothers are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 111% more likely to have children as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a premarital birth and 92% more likely to dissolve their own marriages.
  • A large survey conducted in the late 1980s found that about 20% of divorced fathers had not seen his children in the past year, and that fewer than 50% saw their children more than a few times a year.
  • Juvenile crime, the majority of which is committed by males, has increased six-fold since 1992;
  • In a longitudinal study of 1,197 fourth-grade students, researchers observed “greater levels of aggression in boys from mother-only households than from boys in mother-father households,” according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
  • The Scholastic Aptitude Test scores have declined more than 70 points in the past two decades; children in single-parent families tend to score lower on standardized tests and to receive lower grades in school according to a Congressional Research Service Report.

Blankenhorn argues that America is facing not just the loss of fathers, but also the erosion of the ideal of fatherhood. Few people doubt the fundamental importance of mothers, Popenoe comments, but increasingly the question of whether fathers are really necessary is being raised and said by many to be a merely a social role that others-mothers, partners, stepfathers, uncles and aunts, and grandparents -can play.

“The scale of marital breakdowns in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent that I know of,” says Lawrence Tone, a noted Princeton University family historian, “There has been nothing like it for the last 2,000 years, and probably longer.” Consider what has happened to children. Most estimates are that only about 50% of the children born during the 1970-84 “baby bust” period will still live with their natural parents by age 17-a staggering drop from nearly 80%.

Despite current interest in father involvement in families, an extremely large proportion of family research focuses on mothers and children. Health care agencies and other organizations exclude fathers, often unwittingly. Starting with pregnancy and labor and delivery most appointments are set up for mothers and held at times when fathers work. The same is true for most pediatric visits. School records and files in family service organizations often have the child’s and mother’s name on the label, and not the father’s. In most family agency buildings, the walls are typically pastel colors, the pictures on the wall are of mothers, flowers and babies, the magazines in the waiting room are for women and the staff is predominantly female. In most welfare offices, fathers are not invited to case planning meetings, and when a home visitor is greeted at the door by a man, she often asks to speak with the mother. Given these scenarios, fathers are likely to get the message that they are invisible or irrelevant to their children’s welfare, unless it involves financial support.

Popenoe and others have examined the role of fathers in raising children and found there are significant differences than that for mothers. For example, an often-overlooked dimension of fathering is play. From their children’s birth through adolescence, fathers tend to emphasize play more than caretaking. The play is both physically stimulating and exciting. It frequently resembles an apprenticeship or teaching relationships, and emphasizes often teamwork and competitive testing of abilities. The way fathers play affects everything from the management of emotions to intelligence and academic achievement. It is particularly important in promoting the essential virtue of self-control.

A committee assembled by the Board of Children and Families of the National Research Council, concluded “children learn critical lessons about how to recognize and deal with highly charged emotions in the content of playing with their fathers. Fathers, in effect, give children practice in regulating their own emotions and recognizing others’ emotional clues.”

At play and in other realms, fathers tend to stress competition, challenge, initiative, risk taking and independence. Mothers, as caretakers, stress emotional security and personal safety. Father’s involvement seems to be linked to improved quantitative and verbal skills, improved problem-solving ability and higher academic achievement for children. Men also have a vital role to play in promoting cooperation and other “soft” virtues. Involved fathers, it turns out according to one 26 year longitudinal research study may be of special importance for the development of empathy in children.

Family life-marriage and child rearing-is a civilizing force for men. It encourages them to develop prudence, cooperativeness, honesty, trust, self-sacrifice and other habits that can lead to success as an economic provider by setting a good example.

Mark Finn and Karen Henwood, writing about the issue of masculinity and fatherhood, in the British Journal of Social Psychology, argue that the traditional view of masculinity, with its focus on power, aggression, economic security, and “maleness”, and the emerging new view of fatherhood, which incorporates many aspects of motherhood is a source of struggle for many men who become fathers.

In a study of fatherhood in popular TV sitcoms, Timothy Allen Pehlke and his colleagues concluded that fathers are generally shown to be relatively immature, unhelpful and incapable of taking care of themselves in comparison with other family members. In addition, the researchers found that fathers often served as the butt of family members’ jokes. All of these characterizations, while the intention may be humor, depicted fathers as being socially incompetent and objects of derision.

In a study of depictions of fathers in the best selling children’s picture books, researcher Suzanne M. Flannery Quinn concluded that of the 200 books analyzed, there were only 24 books where the father appears alone, and only 35 books where mother and father appear together. The author concludes, “because fathers are not present or prominent in a large number of these books, readers are given only a narrow set of images and ideas from which they can construct an understanding of the cultural expectations of fatherhood and what I means to be a father.”

It seems to me that the issue of the decline of fatherhood and the problem of the male identity crisis are inextricably intertwined.

In my Psychology Today article, Our male identity crisis: What will happen to men?, I said, “In a post-modern world lacking clear-cut borders and distinctions, it has been difficult to know what it means to be a man and even harder to feel good about being one. The many boundaries of a gendered world built around the opposition of work and family-production versus reproduction, competition versus cooperation, hard vs. soft-have been blurred, and men are groping in the dark for their identity.”

Overwhelmingly, the portrayal of men and the male identity in contemporary western societies is mostly negative. Men today are extensively demonized, marginalized and objectified, in a way reminiscent of what happened to women. The issue of the male identity is of crucial importance because males are falling behind in school, committing more suicides and crimes, dying younger and being treated for conditions such as ADHD more than females. There has also been a loss of fatherhood in society as artificial insemination by anonymous donors is on the rise. Further, medical experiments have shown that male sperm can now be grown artificially in a laboratory. There has been a rise in divorce rates where in most cases, child custody is granted to mothers. Continuous negative portrayal of men in the media, along with the feminization of men and loss of fatherhood in society, has caused confusion and frustration in younger generation males, as they do not have a specific role model and are less able to define their role in society.

From once being seen as successful breadwinners, heads of families and being respected leaders, men today are the butt of jokes in the popular media. A Canadian research group, Nathanson and Young, conducted research on the changing role of men and media and concluded that widely popular TV programs such as The Simpsons present the father character, Homer, as lazy, chauvinistic, irresponsible, and stupid and his son, Bart, as mischievous, rude and cruel to his sister. By comparison, the mother and daughter are presented as thoughtful, considerate and mild-natured. The majority of TV shows and advertisements present men as stupid buffoons, or aggressive evil tyrants or insensitive and shallow “studs” for women’s pleasure.

According to J.R. Macnamara, in the book, Media and the Male Identity: The Making and Remaking of Men, less than 20% of media profiles reflected positive themes for men. Violent crimes, including murder, assault, and armed robberies accounted for over 55% of all media reporting of male activities. Macnamara says that over 30% of all discussion in the media of male sexuality was in relation to pedophilia, and males’ heterosexuality associated with masculinity is seen as violent, aggressive and dominating. Men are frequently shown in TV shows and movies as lacking in commitment in relationships and are shown as frequently cheating on women. And with increasing frequency, women are shown on TV shows and movies as being independent single mothers, not needing a man.

Guy Garcia, author of The Decline of Men: How The American Male is Tuning Out, Giving Up and Flipping Off His Future, argues that many men bemoan a “fragmentation of male identity,” in which husbands are asked to take on unaccustomed familial roles such as child care and housework, while wives bring in the bigger paychecks. “Women really have become the dominant gender,” says Garcia, “what concerns me is that guys are rapidly falling behind. Women are becoming better educated than men, earning more than men, and, generally speaking, not needing men at all. Meanwhile, as a group, men are losing their way.”

“The crisis of fatherhood, then is ultimately a cultural crisis, a sharp decline in the traditional sense of communal responsibly, ” contends Popenoe; “It therefore follows that to rescue the rescue the endangered institution of fatherhood, we must regain our sense of community.”

So as we annually celebrate Father’s Day, and reflect on it’s importance to social stability, more men in our culture need to find their male identity and commit to the central importance of fatherhood.

Why We Need A Revolution In How We Do Business And Work

Posted July 7th, 2014 in Articles, Blogs by admin

From multiple perspectives, traditional business models and management practices are in deep trouble, and it has nothing to do with the recent economic downturn. There are three reasons why this is true.

Reason 1: Rising Income Inequality.

The Pew Foundation study, reported in theNew York Times, concluded, “The chance that children of the poor or middle class will climb up the income ladder, has not changed significantly over the last three decades.” The Economist’ special report, Inequality in America, concluded, “The fruits of productivity gains have been skewed towards the highest earners and towards companies whose profits have reached record levels as a share of GDP.” I addressed the issue of income inequality in two previous articles in Psychology Today, “How Income Inequality is Damaging Our Social Structure,” and “Will Income Inequality Cause Class Warfare?”

Kentaro Toyama, writing in The Atlantic, argues, is “inequality grows naturally from unfettered capitalism…If free market capitalism works so well for every income level, why have so many people seen income pass them by with capitalism working more efficiently than ever before?”

One possible reason is a moral foundation of capitalism—meritocracy. The term meritocracy is defined as a society that rewards those who show talent and competence as demonstrated by past actions or competitive performance. This concept is often interwoven with the widely accepted belief in the “self-made man” or “rags to riches” story. An OECD report concludes the only way to achieve fairness in a meritocracy is to provide more equal opportunities for everyone, not just the wealthy or privileged.

There is a clear connection between the alarming increase in income inequality and the prevailing paradigm of free market capitalism.

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s book, The Price Of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future, provides an insightful analysis of the problem of income inequality. Stiglitz argues free market capitalism isn’t working the way it was supposed to, for it is neither efficient nor stable. He also says that political systems are unfair, which compounds the problem. Stiglitz contends “We are no longer country of opportunity and that even our long-vaunted rule of law and system of justice have been compromised.”

Stiglitz echoes Toyama’s perspective: “America has always thought of itself as a land of equal opportunity…[it is] now a myth reinforced by anecdotes and stories, but not supported by the data. The chances of an American citizen making his way from the bottom to the top are less than those of citizens in other industrialized countries.” Stiglitz says there is a corresponding myth—rags to riches in three generations—that once a person reaches the top they have to continue to work hard to stay there or their descendants will move down. The reality is that children of wealthy people usually remain at the top.

Who is to blame? Stiglitz casts a wide net but zeroes in on Wall Street. He says “Capitalism seems to have changed the people who were ensnared by it.” Much of what has happened can only be described by the words “moral deprivation.” What’s the solution? Stiglitiz, like many other expert observers, advocates policies that move toward a redistribution of wealth, not as an ideological solution, but as a practical one that will serve all in society and strengthen the economy.

The best selling book in the world currently is French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital In The 21st Century, which is a deep and thorough examination of economic inequality. Piketty outlines at great length the growth of capital (ie., wealth) and its concentration in the hands of the 1% and how increasingly wealth is inherited, not created or distributed anew. The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties. His proposal to solve the income inequality issue is a progressive global wealth tax.

Robert Reich, an economist and former White House advisor, argues “if prosperity were more widely shared, we’d have faster growth. The rules are now designed to entrench and enhance the wealth of a few at the top and keep almost everyone else comparatively poor and economically insecure.” Reich argues that if we want to reduce the savage inequalities and insecurities that are now undermining our economy and democracy, we shouldn’t be deterred by the myth of the “free market.”

Reason 2: Obsolete Business Models.

Some people argue then, that today’s business organizations are oligarchies, created and strengthened by an unrestrained free market system. The Western world has adopted the concept and set of principles that govern them should be democratic which includes the consent of the governed. But since the rise of Western capitalism businesses operated on primarily a non-democratic basis. While businesses are owned by shareholders or owners, they are subject only to the laws of the jurisdiction in which they operate, but are not subject to the will of employees or their customers. In this way, it can be argued that most business organizations are like oligarchies.

Like our faith in a clearly broken system of free market capitalism, our theories and practices of management no longer work in today’s world. The problem is that, currently capital is downed in a speculative game. Most business organizations are geared toward wealth creation for financial markets not the improvement of life on this planet.

At the macro level, the “real economy” –that of the global exchange of products and services—has become poor man’s economy, representing less than 3% of the total amount of foreign exchange transactions

The endless emphasis on employee engagement is the narrow focus of efforts at organizational transformation. But for what purpose? What outcome? To be more productive? By producing more material things? At what social and environmental cost?

Roger Martin Dean of the Rotman School of Management argues in his book, Fixing The Game: “We must shift the focus of companies back to the customer away from shareholder value. The shift necessitates a fundamental change in our prevailing theory…that the singular goal of the corporation should be shareholder value maximization. Instead, companies should place the customers at the center of the firm.”

The corporate world needs to be redesigned to make it much more networked, interconnected, open, egalitarian, non-hierarchical, agile, transparent and empowering. Luis Suerez argues “The future of work is to freelance within organizations—choose your task, assemble to work, and then dissolve.” Many discussions about the future of work revolve around the need for more fluidity and freedom in the way work is done. But why do we continue to consider work as a separate entity from life? Isn’t each worker also a customer and a networked individual in a hyper-connected world.? And if we stop seeing work as separate from life, then we must see the notion of “worker” as also not being separate from management.

Business is now becoming a social enterprise. The Altimeter Group states, “Organizations moving into the “Business as Social” phase are driven by a vision that articulates how social media and digital overall improves customer and employee relationships and experiences.” Ann Marie McEwan, writing in her book, Smart Working-Crating the Next Wave, argues “Connected companies are not hierarchies, fractured into unthinking, functional parts, but holarchies : complex systems in which each part is also a fully-functional whole in its own right. A holarchy is a different kind of template than the modern, multidivisional organization.”

David Gray, in his book, The Connected Company says to be able to adapt both to customers’ changing needs and to competitive pressure, organizations should adopt a decentralized cooperative model and build strategic ad hoc “alliances.” This model is very similar to the Italian industry, which is dominated by small (less than 100 employees), family owned businesses that cluster for opportunities.

To understand customers fully, companies need to integrate them into their processes, make them integral part of the business ecosystem, and make them the part of the stakeholder system. Organizations in the new economy will not only have to be agile, tied to customers’ needs, but have to deal with dissolving boundaries, orchestrate resources they won’t own anymore through influence rather than control, according to Ranjay Gulati and David Kletter, authors of Shrinking Core: Expanding Periphery: The Relational Architecture of High Performing Organizations.

Michael Brenner, writing in Forbes, regarding the future of business identified 99 startling trends some of which are:

  • More than 40% of the companies at the top of the Fortune 500 in the year 2000 were no longer there in 2010.
  • There are now more mobile-connected devices on earth than there are people.
  • 73% of people could not care if most name brands disappeared from their lives.
  • More than 70% of the customers surveyed believe small businesses are more concerned about their needs than large companies.
  • Only 7% of Gen Y employees work for a Fortune 500 company
  • 90% of all internet traffic in 2017 will be video
  • Hot new marketable skills for the future are jobs such as specialists in making transitions in life and work; experts in creating chaos in organizations for change; ethicists and philosophers to replace the HR function.

Nilofer Merchant, writing in the Harvard Business Review Blog, argues that the current and developing Social Era is the new context in which traditional strategy is dead. In the industrial era, organizations become more powerful by being bigger; in the Social Era, companies can also be powerful by working with others. Merchant says “While the industrial era was about making a lot of stuff and convincing enough buyers to consume it, the Social Era is about the power of communities, of collaboration and co-creation.

In the industrial era, power was from holding what we valued closed and separate; in the Social Era, there is another framework for how ee engage one another—an open one.” Companies cannot survive let alone prosper without recognizing that Social as a phenomenon can allow us to redefine our organizations to be inherently more fast, fluid and flexible by its very design, contends Merchant. Not by doing a little more, or sliming down a little, or by doing a few things a bit faster. Not by tweaking their way into the future.

Reason 3: Dysfunctional Management Practices.

While the old free market capitalism business model focused are shareholder value is becoming dysfunctional, so too are the management practices imbedded in this paradigm.

Gary Hamel, writing for the Harvard Business Review, calls for a new era of management thinking: “Equipping organizations to tackle the future would require a management revolution no less momentous than the one that spawned modern industry…executives and experts must admit that they’ve reached the Limits of Management 1.0—the industrial age paradigm built atop the principles of standardization, specialization, hierarchy, control and primacy of shareholder interests…they must cultivate, rather than repress, their dissatisfaction with the status quo…Why should so many people work in uninspiring companies? Why should the first impulse of mangers be to avoid the responsibilities of citizenship rather than to embrace them?”

Geoffrey James writing in the Business Insider, identified 7 terrible management fads that just won’t die, illustrative of the current broken model of business and management. These practices are:

  • The idea of “best practices.” It’s a false assumption that what worked well for one company is transferrable to another. Also best practice awards are like the Academy Awards—recognition for past performance.
  • Six Sigma. The practice of awarding people with different colored “belts” based on their expertise in Six Sigma methodology. The result is a hierarch of “belted” experts who go around advising people how to do their work, with little documented actual improvement in performance.
  • Business Process Engineering. James says this is another euphemism for downsizing and layoffs.
  • Matrix management. This means organizations group people with similar skills together for project assignments. The result is often endless turf wars and conflicts with multiple layers of management.
  • Management by consensus. In theory this means important decisions are made with the agreement of everyone in the group. Since everyone has a say in the decisions, anyone can veto any decision. As a result, usually only innocuous decisions which support the status wquo are made. The difficult decisions are avoided.
  • Core competence. In theory this means focusing on one thing the company does well. The reality is that most people in the organization are not self-aware enough to know what they are really good at. And the company rests on its laurels from the past, and stops innovating.
  • Management by objectives. Simply described it means you define expectations or goals so management and employees agree and compare an employee’s performance with the goal/objective. However, in reality this turns into a paper work nightmare. The process of planning and evaluation takes more effort than the work itself. And the process doesn’t allow for sudden unexpected events or developments.

Steve Denning contends what we know about management is wrong. He says “We are in fact at the beginning of set of gigantic changes in society, in which everything we do is being re-invented-how we live, how we work, how we play, how we communicate, even how we think and how we feel. At the heart of these changes is of course the Internet and its related technologies.” Much of what we thought or knew about the economy doesn’t make sense anymore, despite the nightly news reviews fo the ups and downs of economic life, complete with statistics,, says Denning. There is no such thing as “the economy” anymore.

There are two economies going at “different speeds and on different trajectories. One economy is what Denning calls the Traditional Economy inherited from the 20th century—a world of factories, command-and-control, huge hierarchies churning out masses of products and services through a maze of delivery systems and huge capital investments in getting consumers to buy through sales campaigns and advertising. Although this economy is huge, it is declining, Denning contends. It doesn’t create new jobs, it is not agile and it is becoming increasingly inefficient and lacks innovation. And this economy is finding it increasingly more difficult to make profits. Denning concludes this economy has no future.

The other economy Denning descries is the Creative Economy—one of continuous innovation and transformation. This is an economy of entrepreneurs whose focus is delivery to customers things and services “better, faster, cheaper, smaller, more convenient and more personalized.” It is an economy focused on value and flexibility. It requires an empathetic connection to customers. In this economy the focus is shifted from the seller to the buyer. While this economy is smaller, says Denning; it is highly profitable and it is the economy of the future.

The kind of management required for the second economy is very different than the first economy. For one thing management cares about the environment and cares for people, Denning contends.

Management practices for the second economy will shift the goals of the organization, the structure of work, values and how people communicate. Denning summarizes these practices as:

  • A shift from an inward-looking goal of making money and maximizing shareholder value to an outward-looking goal of profitably delighting customers.
  • A shift from managers controlling individuals to a world where the manger’s role is enabling collaboration among self-organizing teams and networks.
  • A shift from coordinating work by a bureaucracy to a world where work is coordinated with customers, networks and ecosystems.
  • A shift from a single-minded preoccupation with efficiency and predictability to an embrace of values of transparency and sustainability.
  • A shift from top-down directives to multi-directional connections.

Clearly the current free market business model is no longer serving society well, and income inequality will retard not advance economic prosperity. Tied to that reality is recognition that traditional management practices no longer work. The world has changed and the social nature of our world will require substantial changes to create a new economy.

 

Generation C And The Future Of Work

Posted June 13th, 2014 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Generation C is redefining the nature of traditional marketing and customer service while coincidentally, technological innovations are redefining careers and the workplace.

Generation C can be described as the current 18 to 34 year olds. The “C” stands for connected. They rule social media, online video, smart phones, tablets and TV viewership. They have a passion for engagement, creativity, connection, contribution and self-directed consumption. And they measure the importance of their personal and work worlds by experiences that answer the question “how will this feel?”

Brian Solis, the author of The End of Business As Usual: Rewire the Way Your Work To Succeed in the Consumer Revolution and What’s The Future of Business? Changing The Way Businesses Create Experiences, says this about Generation C: “Their brains are wired differently…we complain about privacy in social networks. They’ve mastered it. We don’t get why people share as much online. They’ve created incredible filters to sort through the noise. We use Google to find information but they go to trusted networks and YouTube videos to make decisions. We watch TV on televisions. They watch TV on tablets and smartphones.”

How will this impact business? Solis cites a report by Google Insights shows today’s shoppers now rely on over 10 sources when making purchase decisions. This is twice as many as the previous year. Solis contends that all industries are moving toward a place where people rely on the Internet to get information, and create a new epicenter of influence which will claim every moment of truth, rich with shared experiences that populate YouTube, blogs, review sites, communities and apps.” Shareable experiences will be the core of consumer transactions.

Dana Rousmaniere, who The Wall Street Journal calls “one of the leading media-futurists in the world,” argues in the Harvard Business Review Blog, that by 2020 marketing will be “personalized, customized and adapted to what I have expressed as my wishes or opt-ins—which essentially means advertising becomes content…we’ll be paying with our data—bartering a bit of our personal information in return to the use of platforms and services.” Customers will be forming relationships with brands based on trust, and if a company breaks that trust, it will be very quickly viral and very quickly over, he says.

Rousmaniere goes on to argue that the reason to buy will be socially motivated, and businesses will be focused on predicting how to adjust their products and services based on an emotional interaction with customers in real time.

How will these business developments interact with technological innovation, which in turn will affect jobs in the future? New technology will eradicate some jobs, change others and create new categories of employment according to Ben Shiller writing in Fast CompanyHe outlines examples of jobs in the near future: digital death manager, un-schooling counselor, 3-D printing handyman, digital detox specialist, microbial balancer and urban shepherd.

These predictions are echoed in The Future Work Skills 2020 report by the Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute which predicts how smart machines and new media will reshape how we think about work and the skills needed for it. The report observes that because the number of people in North America over the age of 60 will increase by 70%; a major shift in the workplace will be a rearrangement of our approach to careers ,family life and educationAging individuals will increase opportunities, products and redirect services to accommodate healthy and active senior years. New smart machines will enter offices, factories and homes in numbers never seen before.

But most of the jobs related to those machines will be automated and carried out by robots, not people. Recently speaking at  Washington D.C. think tank, The American Enterprise Institute, Bill Gates said that within 20 years many jobs (including some in current professions as such as accounting and nursing) will be replaced by software automation (“bots,” in tech slang) and that most businesses and governments are not prepared for the subsequent impact. His remarks reflect  similar prediction by The Economist.

The consultancy firm, Booz&Company published a report which examined the rise of Generation C and the Workworld of 2020. Among the report’s conclusions were the following:

  • In the face of declining revenues from traditional sources, the challenge for communication and technology industries will be to abandon successful but outdated business models and refocus on what it takes to survive in a Generation C environment;
  • Business and personal activities will mingle seamlessness;
  • Social collaboration networks will proliferate and expand, impacting both business and personal lives;
  • The Era of the SmartCloud will be succeeded by the Era of the Sensor Economy and the Era of the Internet of Things, all fueled by new technologies which are customer-centric.

These business and technology developments will clearly reshape the kinds of jobs in demand which will significantly impact the younger generations. The Future of Workskills report argues that in the next decade, individuals will need to demonstrate adaptability and flexibility to rapidly changing work environments and become lifelong learners.

We’ll also see a focus on critical thinking skills, and a emphasis on soft skills such as interpersonal skills and collaboration which will be valued more than pure technical skills. A revised and redefined role for Human Resources in organizations will be critical, by developing a mindset to hire people for positions that do not even exist today; and helping us navigate a collaborative economy.