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It’s always nice to get positive feedback.  A bottle of champagne is terrific…perhaps a card or two? But what about when a student tells you that you have successfully dismantled his entire understanding of people management in a two hour class on Managing Change  Well that’s delicious feedback.  Why? Because the class in question was about resistance and the role resistance plays in managing change (or, not managing change as the case may be).  My position on resistance has always been that resistant people aren’t always ‘problematic’ or ‘blocks’ to improvement/progress.  Very often they are protecting something very important.  The example I used in this class was this:


What happens if your company is downsizing and you have been told that your job is safe but, you have to relocate to a different office.  This means an additional 100 mile round trip every day.  Should you feel grateful? relieved? what if you don’t? what if you feel resistant to this change in your working conditions?  Very often the response of (some) students is critical.  Many suggest that the worker should be grateful that there is a job at all….but what if the gratitude is lost somewhere in the middle of this worker’s realisation that an additional 100 mile round trip means s/he can’t put their child to bed any more….and won’t be there to see their child in the morning.  Is that worth defending? Invariably the answer is ‘yes’….so in thinking about resistance we also need to think about what the ‘resistant’ person is trying to protect.  If we can think about that then we have some common ground on which to build a different kind of understanding.


So, when a student tells me that I’ve switched a lightbulb on….that makes me very, very happy!

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Tweet your thesis

Could you distill your research into 140 characters?

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work/life balance vs work/life integration

This  New York Times article from 2012 highlights the way work/life balance has been organised and, how that dividing line is shifting.  It used to be ‘work/life balance’ and now, it’s ‘work/life integration’.  More and more companies it seems are offering perks to help workers manage home life from the perspective that a happier home and personal life makes for a happier and productive work environment.

‘They’re trying to get at people’s larger lives and sanity,” Mr. Lewin said. “You might call it the bang for the nonbuck.”

So I guess it begs the question - if you could choose anything at all that your employer would pay for (on the basis that it would improve your ‘balance’) what would that be….answers on a postcard please.

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What’s wrong with the political interview (and how to fix it)

Newsnight editor Ian Katz outlines what he believes is wrong about the TV political interview in this Financial Times article.  In summary what’s wrong is that the interview has become a dance between defensive politicians and aggressive interviewers – each frustrated by the others’ attempts to prevent a discussion about what is really going on.  But Katz outlines a new manifesto for how this relationship could move forward and his four points could be easily transported into any environment in which change and difference play a part.  He says we need a new contract in which:


  1. Both broadcasters and politicians need to acknowledge that the interview is a transaction that must yield something useful for both sides – and especially the audience.
  2. We need to make a genuine attempt to explore and illuminate the dilemmas politicians face, to recognise that government is not a choice between good and bad policies but most often a search for the least worst option.
  3. We need to try harder to understand what makes politicians tick
  4. We broadcasters need to give interviews – at least some of them – the time to breathe, even if that means putting up with more boring, snoring bits.

We need more of this kind of thinking in order to get beyond simplistic dualities.

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Crafting questions that matter

Financial Times journalist Jo Ellison in an article entitled Fear and Clothing reviews two books which argue the case for why clothes and fashion matter.  Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton began with a survey of over 600 people about their relationship with clothes.  Worn Stories by Emily Spivack describes the emotional connections we have with various pieces of clothing (such as Marina Abramovic’s relationship with the boots she wore to walk the Great Wall of China).  What struck me about the review, and the descriptions of the books was the care that went into crafting the questions asked of respondents.  

Yeti, Julavits and Shapton asked the following types of questions

Do you think you have taste or style?

Do you notice women on the street?

Do you have a dress code?

When do you feel your most attractive? [Can you] tell us about something in your closet that you keep but never wear?

Are there any dressing rules you’d convey to other women?

What’s your process of getting dressed every morning?

What are you trying to achieve when you dress?

What’s the situation with your hair?


Spivack asked these questions:

Tell me a story, connected to a piece of clothing that you still have in your possession in which something monumental, spectacular, odd or even just unusual happened while you were wearing it.

Why is it special?

Why does it have meaning?

And why are you holding on to it?


These are fantastic questions – they invite a reflective response from respondents.  They ask for stories but don’t constrain answers. In all cases you get the sense that there is genuine interest and curiosity at play.  It strikes me that with a few minor tweaks these questions could be applied to organisational contexts where people might be invited to tell their stories of working life; relationships with what they do and why they do it; narratives of choice, curation and consideration.



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The Internet is what you make of it, obviously. And there are aspiring writers who use digital technology to read and research and seek the counsel of their peers. But the Internet has also been a great aggregator of anxiety and an enabler of our worst tendencies. It has allowed us to trumpet our own opinions, to win attention by broadcasting our laziest and cruelest judgments, to grind axes in public. It has made us feel, in some perverse sense, that we are entitled to do so.

Steve Almond’s post on the culture of entitlement is really worth considering.  Almond relates the culture of entitlement to the rise of consumer culture – the ‘customer is always right’ frame of mind.  the impact of this, he suggests, is that we’re too ready to dismiss creative endeavour without giving it the consideration it requires.  How many times have you (or I) visited a theatre, cinema, read a book or viewed an art exhibition and come away full of entitled dismissal? Almond is even more concerned about those who dismiss without even viewing/engaging with the work.  I think there’s a lesson here for all of us.  Even if we don’t ‘like’ what someone creates we probably need to spend more time appreciating the effort that went in to it…that means taking some time for refection and drawing on empathy….organisations might be even more interesting to work in if those metrics were applied more regularly?

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The secret (emotional) language of food

This article from Dan Jurafsky (based on his book The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu) is fascinating.  He researched restaurant reviews…that’s right…over 900,000 of them relating to 6.500 individual restaurants; he also reviewed the language on the back of food packets plus restaurant menus, and the results were fascinating. 

But food writing, to a linguist like me, isn’t just about food. The words you use when you write a restaurant review say as much about your own psychology as they do about which dish to order.

His findings include:

We found that when people write a “1-star” review, they use the language of trauma…

Reviewers of expensive restaurants relied on multisyllabic words such as “commensurate”, “unobtrusively”, “sumptuous” and “vestibule”, and wrote long-winded reviews to depict themselves as well educated or sophisticated.

…positive reviews of cheap restaurants and foods instead employed metaphors of drugs or addiction…

High-status restaurants want their customers to presuppose that food will be fresh, crisp and delicious. The surfeit of adjectives on middle-priced menus is thus a kind of overcompensation, a sign of status anxiety, and only the cheapest restaurants, in which the tastiness of the food might be in question, must overly protest the toothsomeness of their treats.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to order from a menu or read a restaurant review with quite the same detachment in the future.




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The value of conflict in organisations

I’ve been re-watching Margaret Heffernan’s TED talk on the value of conflict in organisations.  I particularly like this quote

So how do organizations think? Well, for the most part, they don’t. And that isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s really because they can’t. And they can’t because the people inside of them are too afraid of conflict.

The organisation as rational, cognitive, thinking model is really debunked by Heffernan in an eloquent and convincing argument.  How many organisations do you know (or work in or with) that strive to avoid conflict because they are scared it will ruin the idealised positivity?

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Silicon Valley’s culture of failure

Most startups fail. However many entrepreneurs still overestimate the chances of success – and the cost of failure.

This interesting piece front the Guardian focusses on the current reification of ‘failure’ (as it relates to start-ups).  The myth of ‘failure’ remains alluring in certain circles, as though you have earned the right to succeed only if you’ve amounted a number of failed enterprises in your past.  The problem with the ‘failure’ myth is that it doesn’t account for the emotional fall out of plugging away.

People will do a lot of irrational things to avoid losing even if it’s to their detriment. You push and push and exhaust yourself.

If we’re going to pay serious attention to failure as an important learning experience then we also have to pay attention to how expectations are set up in the first place….and, perhaps more importantly, the emotional cost of desire, satisfaction, disappointment and failure.  Not all failures lead to success.  Not all success is built on the back of failure.  Perhaps its time to adopt the reality principle and address not only the fear of failure but the stress of pretending that everything is going well when it’s not.

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US student is rescued from giant vagina sculpture in Germany

From the Guardian: I can see this being used as a teaching tool on psychoanalytic training courses for years and years!



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