This week our Happiness At Work theme considers some of the growing knowledge we are getting about the effects that work-related stress is causing us in our always-on-and-available 21st century lives. And we give particular focus to ideas that can help us to learn better ways to think about and respond to pressure without harming, but rather increasing our productivity. And our happiness too.
And, on the day the world remembers and mourns the death of an extraordinary human being, you will also find a photo tribute to Nelson Mandela, from The New Yorker, and an article from Fast Company highlighting
+ When you have a just cause, go global…
+ Be open and forgiving, trust the truth to bring progress…
+ To maintain the health of what you’ve built, know when to step aside…
+ It’s never too late to make up for mistakes…
+ You can embody courage while still feeling fear…
“…so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him…
We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again, so it falls to us, as best we can, to follow the example that he set. to make decisions guided not by hate but by love, to never discount the difference that one person can make, to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice..”
Laura Shin writes…
Few deadlines are quite like the end of the year… It’s the perfect storm for stress.
But stress isn’t the dreaded beast we all make it out to be.
In a study conducted with two Yale researchers, Shawn Achor, positive psychology researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness, found, “if we could get someone to change their mindset around stress to see it as a challenge instead of as a threat, they had 23% fewer stress-related symptoms like headaches, backaches and fatigue. The stress was still there but the effect upon the body was completely changed. So stress is inevitable but its effects on us are not. The question is how can we take things like holiday stresses and see them as enhancing instead of as a threat or something that takes us away our energy.”
Here’s how to make it through this stressful time happier, more productive and better prepared to take on the new year.
1. Use the “add vantage” technique.
If you’re facing what seems like a mountain of tasks, try to think of as many descriptors as you can for each activity. Take, for example, washing dishes. You might start with “bore” or “soul-draining,” but as you go on, you might also remember it’s a chance to feel productive, that you enjoy the feel of warm water, or that it’s nice to engage in a mindless activity for a while.
“The more you do this, the more you realize that there’s not just one reality but multiple realities at any point, so the key is to pick the most adaptive reality,” says Achor. “You could view your work as hectic — and that’s true, it is hectic, but you could also view it as a source of opportunity, and that’s also true. The way we describe that event to our own self and to other people changes the way we think about it. If you are about to have a holiday meal and listing off all the stresses and all the negative parts of that holiday, your family will remember it as a stressful, panicked, unhappy time. But if you focus on meaning, connection, how beautiful things look, then you have a different brain and social script for that event.”
Two activities that help you add vantage points are to cross-train your brain by visiting art museums (seriously — 20-some medical schools require their students to take an art class because a study found it increased students’ ability to detect important medical details by 10%), and changing your patterns so you drive a different way to work, talk to a person you wouldn’t normally talk to, etc.
Achor writes in Before Happiness, “Research shows that by simply changing your perspective in the workplace you can achieve greater long-term growth, 37 percent higher sales, and 31 percent more productivity, and perhaps even increase your likelihood of living to age ninety-four by up to 40 percent. “
2. Think about the meaning behind the stress you are experiencing.
If you only think about the stress of an activity, and not its larger purpose, you’ll reap only its negative effects, says Achor. “So if you are stressed about a job interview, refocus on the chances to advance your career, and if you are stressed about a presentation you have to give to an organization, think about how your involvement with that group is making a difference,” he writes.
Similarly, social connection has been proven to help us overcome stress and fend off depression in a variety of settings ranging from work settings to addiction programs, says Achor. He recommends that, when considering your holiday tasks, focus on how they will deepen your relationships instead of viewing them merely as items to be checked off.
If certain triggers distract you from the meaning behind your work and take you down a counterproductive mental path of destruction — for instance, Achor found negative reviews of his books killed his productivity — banish these mental hijackers. For Achor, he kept good reviews of his book at hand and would read some each morning to remind himself of the meaning in his work and jumpstart his productivity.
3. Decrease noise.
Two researchers from the University of San Diego found that the amount of information consumed per capita by Americans has increased 60% from 1980 to 2008 — from 7.4 hours a day to 11.8. Shockingly, these figures exclude working hours.
Achor says that studies show that when your brain is overwhelmed with information, it’s harder for your brain to see positives. What he suggests: “Decrease the noise a little bit — for the first five minutes you get into the car, turn off the radio, or mute the commercials during the football game. Or, have two to three hours a week that you reserve as no cell phone and computer time — turn your brain into basically like noise-canceling headphones, so you can quiet some of that noise and allow your brain to work better at meaning in your life so you can find the positives to move forward in your life.”
4. Set yourself up for success.
See that drawing? The two circles in the center are actually the same size. But the one on the right looks bigger simply because it’s surrounded by smaller circles. People putting golf balls into the center holes were more likely to score with the hole on the right than the one on the left, because they perceived their likelihood of making the putt as higher.
How do you re-create this effect at work? When you face a difficult task, remind yourself of times when you’ve succeeded in similar situations. When you think of your competitors, think of as few as possible. (A study found the greatest predictor of performance on an academic test is the number of other test takers in the room, with students competing against fewer students doing better.)
Likewise, when many leaders come up with contingency plans in case of problems, they’re setting themselves up for failure. Instead, think of all the ways you can succeed at your challenge first. “Because what you map first is more likely to become the reality, you should spend your brain’s valuable resources looking for an escape route only once you have mapped multiple paths to success,” he writes.
5. Get a full night’s sleep, and don’t go hungry.
“If you memorize sets of positive, neutral and negative words and then sleep for seven to eight hours, you’ll remember about 80% of all the words a day later,” writes Achor. But if you miss a night of sleep? You’ll still remember a majority of the negative and neutral words but will remember almost 60% fewer positive words. Your brain perceives your lack of sleep as a threat and starts scanning the world for more threats.
On a similar note, a study found that judges have been found to grant many more paroles after lunch than before. “As sugar levels were dropping, their willingness to see the positive and that change is possible dropped, and as soon as they ate again, they could start to see what was possible,” says Achor.
He says there are four barriers to creating a positive reality, which he’s nicknamed HALT — being hungry, angry, lonely or tired — so if you feel any of those things, you need to eat, calm down, talk to someone you love or sleep.
6. Give yourself a head start.
If a store gives someone a buy-ten-get-one-free coffee card, it speeds up that person’s purchasing of coffee, says Achor. But if a store requires 12 coffees to get the free one but gives you the first two stamps for free, you’ll actually buy coffees even faster. Why? Even though you still have to buy 10 coffees, you perceive that you’re already 1/6 of the way toward your goal.
“So as as you make to-do lists for the holidays or resolutions,” says Achor, “the biggest mistake we make is we start at 0%, and we don’t show our brain any of the progress we made. So now when I write down checklists, I write down what I’ve already done this day — I already had breakfast, had a couple phone calls. By perceiving that progress you’ve already made, it speeds your brain to achieving the rest of the goals.”
Ditto with New Year or resolutions. When you write yours, note down the accomplishments you’ve already achieved this past year so it’s not a list of things you haven’t done yet.
7. Train your brain to be more positive.
Achor details five steps to happiness and more productivity in his TED Talk,The Happy Secret to Better Work. Every day during the holiday season, write a gratitude list of — you guessed it — things for which you are grateful. Spend a few minutes every day journaling about a positive experience in the last 24 hours. Exercise. Meditate. And finally, send an email expressing your appreciation to someone you love, or perform other acts of kindness.
By doing these things, “your brain’s optimism will stay high for the next six months,” says Achor. That not only sounds like a great way to spend the holidays, but also a great way to start the new year.
Alexander Kjerulf and Jan Kristensen debate the issues
Would you agree with the statement: ‘Happy people are more productive?’
Chief Happiness Officer at Woohoo inc., Alexander Kjerulf presents the evidence that convinces him why this is true, taken from his perspective reviewing and writing about the research on this subject, and Jan Kristensen, Director of Lean Leadership at Novo Nordisk, presents his refute from his critique of and perspective as an occupational psychologist, before they both going on to debate these issues in discussion…
Here is a summary of the evidence that Alexander Kjerulf presents for the affirmative:
‘”In the workplace we know that happiness causes more productive and creative workers…” – Ed Deiner, ‘the grandfather of happiness research
“There is a significant amount of research that organisations with high personal wellbeing will get better results…an increase of 1 point on the Personal WellBeing (PWB) scale is associated with an increase in productivity of 8.8% – a significant amount.” – Cary Cooper, Manchester University and author of ‘Wellbeing, Productivity and Happiness At Work’
Happy people of more and better work: Daniel Sproy, University of Warwick found people who watched a short comedy clip before doing maths equations worked harder at it and performed 10% better than their neutral peers.
Happy people are more creative: Teresa Amabile, Harvard University, found people who were in a good mood on Monday had more ideas on Monday and on Tuesday, even if they were in a bad mood on Tuesday.
Happy people are more productive, braver, more resilient, sell more, give better customer service, are more open and empathetic, and more generous… On all of these areas happy people outperform their less happy peers.
A huge Gallup study involving 8,000 people found that happiness at work leads to lower absenteeism, lower employee turnover, higher productivity, higher customer satisfaction, higher sales and higher profits. (‘Well-Being In The Workplace and Its Relationship To Business Outcomes – a review of the Gallup Studies‘, James K. Harter, Frank L. Schmidt and Corey L. M. Keys)
Causation: Alexander Kjerulf says it looks at though it goes both ways but effects caused by happiness at work is stronger than the other way around.
Stock Price: companies who measure as the Best Places To Work also show the highest share prices and the causation here has been well established.
Jan Kristensen’s presentation firstly winds its way through a personal history from wanting to live up to his grandfather’s achievements, to his work in management development. He presents some of the same research as Alexander but interprets its findings differently.
His first objection is the problem of correlation which. he says. ignores the higher degree of variation and his second objection seems to be that many of the studies have actually led to false conclusions and brought about the conditions of self-fulfilling prophesy.
“if we continue to fake a correlation between happiness and productivity, eventually there will be no HR, there will be no organisations. The only real alternative is to figure out different ways of thinking about management and then helping leaders to move into that…”
Here is what fell out from the discussion for me…
Kristensen: Our conclusion about the link between happiness and productivity is based on inaccurate reporting of 14 original studies that actually proved the opposite…
Kjerulf: Later studies (e.g. Diener & Seligman) have shown that these original studies were wrong and have found much higher correlations. And a seemingly small percentage increase can actually lead to a very large actual benefit in terms of real productivity measures.
Kristensen: LEAN was invented in the 1950s and concentrates on work processes rather than people to increase productivity, and “the funny thing about that is the only way you can make that improvement is by making people unsatisfied about their work … because the only way you can get people involved in saying ‘how can we do this better?’ is if they believe that the way that they are working is not good enough…”
No no no no no no no no
Kjerulf: “I would argue that a large part of happiness is involving people in meaningful work and give them a chance to say ‘how can we do this better?’ And i would argue that one way to be ridiculously happy at work would be to get someone to create an 800% improvement on something… And the whole ‘you gotta be unhappy to improve’ – you can be unsatisfied and improve but as we see from teresa Amabile’s studies, if you need people to be creative, we are more creative when we are happy, when we are experiencing positive emotions. So saying the unhappiness drives company innovation is actually wrong…”
“There is a fundamental flaw in your argument and that is happiness has been used before to trick people and therefore happiness is bad, but this not logically follow…”
And here is Alexander Kjerulf’s self-addmitted biased summary of the case for the negative…
…after having read Jan’s phd thesis and done the debate, it’s clear that there is ample evidence that happiness makes us more productive in the workplace and very little evidence against this.
As best I can tell, Jan offered 3 specific arguments for his assertion that happy workers are no more productive than unhappy ones.
1: 14 original studies
Jan claims there are 14 original studies, which everyone in this field cites as proof that happy workers are more productive but that those 14 studies in fact show the exact opposite.
He only mentions one of those 14 studies (hawthorne) so it’s hard to evaluate his claim. But let’s say we grant him this. It still doesn’t support his position. Even if every single one of those 14 studies could be invalidated, it would not serve at all to disprove all the studies that have come since them. I quote several of those studies in my presentation.
2: Low correlation
Jan states that the best correlation found in meta-studies shows a correlation between happiness and productivity of 0.25, which is too low for his liking.
But a low correlation is still a correlation, so at the very least we can say that happiness and productivity are connected. And as I showed in my presentation, there are also studies showing causation, i.e. showing that happiness causes productivity.
3: Difficult to implement
Jan’s final argument is that he and his HR colleagues have tried to implement happiness in Novo and that it has failed every time.
The logical flaw in this argument is clear: People’s ability or inability to implement it has no bearing on whether or not the theory is true.
As best I can tell, Jan offers no further arguments in support of his position.
What’s your take on this – are happy people more productive? Are happy workplaces more profitable? What evidence have you seen that supports your position?…
Press Release: Understanding employee views is key to addressing issue
Stress is the number one workforce risk issue, ranking above physical inactivity and obesity, according to the 2013/2014 Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey, conducted by global professional services company Towers Watson, and the National Business Group on Health. However, only 15% of employers identify improving the emotional/mental health (i.e., lessening the stress and anxiety) of employees as a top priority of their health and productivity programs.
While stress can energize workers to meet challenging goals, it can also overwhelm them and interrupt business performance. Despite the negative consequences, many employers do not fully understand employee views of its causes.
“Employees seem to be saying, ‘support me, pay me, and direct me,’ but employers are focused on other stress factors,” said Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Towers Watson. “Stress has a strong link to physical health, emotional health, personal purpose and community — all contributing factors to workplace performance. Employers that fail to understand employees’ views on stress risk diverting time and resources to fixing the wrong problems and, at the same time, alienating employees.”
Causes of Stress: Employer and Employee Disconnect
Employers rank the top three causes of workplace stress as lack of work/life balance (86%), inadequate staffing (70%) and technologies that expand employee availability during nonworking hours (63%). Employees rank inadequate staffing as the number one source of stress, followed by low pay or low pay increases, and unclear or conflicting job expectations... Inadequate staffing includes lack of support or uneven workloads and performance in groups.
This is where the disconnect starts to take shape. Only inadequate staffing is ranked in the top three causes of stress from both employer and employee points of view. Based on 10 drivers of workforce stress, employees ranked lack of work/life balance fifth, while employers ranked it first. Furthermore, employees ranked low pay or low pay increases as their second-biggest source of stress, while employers ranked it ninth.
Solutions: Establishing a Workplace Culture That Proactively Manages Stress
While employers feel that the employee assistance program EAP is a primary way to address stress issues, only 5% of employees say they use this resource. Also, only about four in 10 employers (39%) offer overt stress management interventions to employees (e.g., stress management workshops, yoga or tai chi). Employees turn to leisure/entertainment activities (47%), social support (42%) and physical activities (39%) to help them cope.
There is a strong recognition that the workplace experience can both contribute to and reduce employee stress. By pursuing a holistic approach that covers both health and well-being programs and the employee value proposition (EVP), organizations can foster a healthy and productive work environment.
“Employers need to understand their employees’ stress drivers, assess their health and productivity programs in light of the findings and leverage what employees are already doing to cope with stress,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health.
In addition, organizations need to take a closer look at their EVP, including employee compensation, lack of adequate staffing levels, unclear or conflicting job expectations, and organizational culture. Improved manager training, clear direction on the job and a review of compensation practices could help alleviate the stressors.
Paula Davis-Laack follows up this story with some practical solutions we can all look at to better navigate and balance our stress levels with our needs and ambitions to produce and perform to our best…
…A Catalyst work report shows that most employees feel stress in four main areas: workload levels, interpersonal issues, job security, and juggling work and personal life. Does this sound familiar? If so, it’s time to examine what you might be tolerating in your life; those things that may be driving some of your unhappiness and lack of productivity.
Here are the top ten:
Being Burned Out.
Burnout is the chronic state of being out of sync with one or more aspects of your life, and the result is a loss of energy, enthusiasm, and confidence. If the causes of your burnout are not immediately addressed, your physical health and mental well-being will likely deteriorate.
People often get stuck because of fear, guilt, or simply not knowing which way to go next. In order to achieve bigger goals, take smaller steps. If you are staring down a goal that seems overwhelming, keep breaking down the goal until you can say with confidence, “Of course, that’s so easy I can get that done!”
Given how hard the professional world is today and how often you are barraged with negative information, it’s easy to be tuned into pessimism and negativity. Fight back with humor. Early studies of humor and health showed that humor strengthened the immune system, reduced pain, and reduced stress levels. Since humor builds positive emotion, it can also help reduce feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety (McGhee, 2010). Additional research in this area shows that positive emotions predicted increases in both resilience and life satisfaction (Cohn et. al., 2009).
Disorganization is a barrier to productivity. If you continually say, “I don’t have time to do x,” you can get more organized by creating schedules and systems that become habitual. The business book E-Myth, by Michael Gerber, does a wonderful job of describing the importance of systems in the business world, and the idea is transferable to non-work situations as well. Good systems are fluid, measurable, and can and should be changed as better methods are established or as missing pieces are learned.
Stacey Burling, reports…
Forget right-brain or left-brain thinking (or even up and down thinking)
What may be more important from a gender standpoint is back-to-front or side-to-side thinking.
A new study from the University of Pennsylvania used diffusion tensor imaging, a type of brain imaging that shows how brain cells are connected, to study young men and women. The team’s maps of major information highways were noticeably different for the two genders.
Men had more pathways that ran the length of each hemisphere, to parts within a hemisphere and across the cerebellum, which coordinates movement. Women had many more powerful communication links between the two hemispheres.
What this means is that, at any given moment, a woman is likely to be using her whole brain while a man is using half of his, said Ruben Gur, a neuropsychologist who was one of the study authors. He struggled when asked if this structure makes men superior at anything.
In fairness, he said, “each hemisphere is really a complete human being,” so it’s possible to function at a high level while using one hemisphere. It does mean, though, that men really are more likely to be right-brained (more intuitive) or left-brained (more logical) than women.
The strong link with the cerebellum might make men more action oriented, better at tasks that require quick response time or an “I-see-and-then-I-do” attitude.
The side-to-side thinking likely boosts women’s memory and social skills and seems designed, the authors said, to combine analytical and intuitive thinking. Communication within the hemisphere facilitates connection between perception and coordinated action…
The connections between right and left let women’s brains “more easily integrate the rational, logical, verbal mode of thinking and the more intuitive, spatial, holistic mode of thinking,” Gur said.
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be in one mode or the other. Gur said scientists don’t know why men are more likely to use a particular side or even how to test whether you’re a right-brained or left-brained guy.
He said women’s thinking is likely to be more contextual. “Their brains are better connected between their decisions and their memories,” he said. “For men, memories are memories. Decisions are decisions.”
Wait But Why‘s very funny and wise words and cartoons that get to the root of procrastination and what we might to do to overcome it…
Who would have thought that after decades of struggle with procrastination, the dictionary, of all places, would hold the solution.
Avoid procrastination. So elegant in its simplicity.
While we’re here, let’s make sure obese people avoid overeating, depressed people avoid apathy, and someone please tell beached whales that they should avoid being out of the ocean.
No, “avoid procrastination” is only good advice for fake procrastinators — those people that are like, “I totally go on Facebook a few times every day at work — I’m such a procrastinator!” The same people that will say to a real procrastinator something like, “Just don’t procrastinate and you’ll be fine.”
The thing that neither the dictionary nor fake procrastinators understand is that for a real procrastinator, procrastination isn’t optional — it’s something they don’t know how to not do…
…The fact is, the Instant Gratification Monkey is the last creature who should be in charge of decisions — he thinks only about the present, ignoring lessons from the past and disregarding the future altogether, and he concerns himself entirely with maximizing the ease and pleasure of the current moment. He doesn’t understand the Rational Decision-Maker any better than the Rational Decision-Maker understands him — why would we continue doing this jog, he thinks, when we could stop, which would feel better. Why would we practice that instrument when it’s not fun? Why would we ever use a computer for work when the internet is sitting right there waiting to be played with? He thinks humans are insane.
In the monkey world, he’s got it all figured out — if you eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and don’t do anything difficult, you’re a pretty successful monkey. The problem for the procrastinator is that he happens to live in the human world, making the Instant Gratification Monkey a highly unqualified navigator. Meanwhile, the Rational Decision-Maker, who was trained to make rational decisions, not to deal with competition over the controls, doesn’t know how to put up an effective fight — he just feels worse and worse about himself the more he fails and the more the suffering procrastinator whose head he’s in berates him.
It’s a mess. And with the monkey in charge, the procrastinator finds himself spending a lot of time in a place called the Dark Playground.*
The Dark Playground is a place every procrastinator knows well. It’s a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun because it’s completely unearned and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread. Sometimes the Rational Decision-Maker puts his foot down and refuses to let you waste time doing normal leisure things, and since the Instant Gratification Monkey sure as hell isn’t gonna let you work, you find yourself in a bizarre purgatory of weird activities where everyone loses.**
And here is the link to Part 2 with practical ideas and more great drawings to help you break free and through procrastination… HINT: It’s all about Planning, Doing and the all-important – increasing Self-Mastery…
Curtis Ogden writes…
…My thinking and reading often takes me back to the work of Barbara Fredrickson, the emotions scientist based at the University of North Carolina, as well as to a host of others in the fields of positive and social psychology. Having revisited some of these writings over the break, here are 10 recommended practices for personal and social resilience and development:
- Ritualize gratitude: Fredrickson defines gratitude as noticing the gifts and blessings in our lives. One way to notice is to keep a gratitude journal. The suggestion is to, at the start or end of each day, write at least one thing for which we are grateful. Studies show that this helps to develop our ability to handle adversity and grow possibility.
- Write for 15 minutes a day, especially after or during a difficult or challenging situation: Research has shown this can help with meaning making and resilience.
- Practice 3-5 acts of kindness every day: A practice that I like to invite groups to engage in is to note what assets we have that we can pass on to those in our networks. As the world’s wisdom traditions have long known, this has tremendous personal and social benefit.
- Get the body moving: Go for a 20-30 minute walk. Do yoga. Maira Kalman among others has demonstrated the power of movement as a generative force of intellect, awareness, and creativity.
- Laugh: Drs. Steven J. Wolin and Sybil Wolin have noted the connection between creativity and humor in people who are resilient. Check out some of these laughter exercises.
- Visualize success: In appropriate doses, optimism has been shownto broaden our view on life and possibility. Consider doing the best possible future self exercise.
- Get into nature: Research shows that getting out into nature promotes positive emotions and that viewing and walking in nature have been associated with heightened physical and mental energy.
- Use the mantra, “Be open”: Fredrickson’s research in particular suggests that if we try to force ourselves to be positive or happy, this can backfire. Much better to try to keep an open mind.
- Reach out and connect to others who feed us: We are social beings, and who we associate with has implications for our outlook on life.
- Meditate: Increasingly we hear about the health and outlook benefits of mindfulness practice, including loving kindness meditation. Fredrickson’s web page has links to several different guided meditations.
In the privacy of our minds, we all talk to ourselves—an inner monologue that might seem rather pointless. As one scientific paper on self-talk asks: “What can we tell ourselves that we don’t already know?” But as that study and others go on to show, the act of giving ourselves mental messages can help us learn and perform at our best. Researchers have identified the most effective forms of self-talk, collected here—so that the next time you talk to yourself, you know exactly what you should say.
Self-talk isn’t just motivational messages like “You can do it!” or “Almost there,” although this internal cheering section can give us confidence. A review of more than two dozen studies, published in 2011 in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, found that there’s another kind of mental message that is even more useful, called “instructional self-talk.” This is the kind of running commentary we engage in when we’re carrying out a difficult task, especially one that’s unfamiliar to us. Think about when you were first learning to drive. Your self-talk might have gone something like this: “Foot on the gas pedal, hands on the wheel, slow down for the curve here, now put your blinker on…”
Over time, of course, giving yourself instructions becomes unnecessary—but while you’re learning, it does three important things. First, it enhances our attention, focusing us on the important elements of the task and screening out distractions. Second, it helps us regulate our effort and make decisions about what to do, how to do it, and when. And third, self-talk allows us to control our cognitive and emotional reactions, steadying us so we stay on task.
BELLE BETH COOPER writes…
The production of ideas is just as definite a process as the production of Fords; —James Webb Young
In his book, A Technique for Producing Ideas, James Webb Young explains that whilethe process for producing new ideas is simple enough to explain, “it actually requires the hardest kind of intellectual work to follow, so that not all who accept it use it.”
He also explains that working out where to find ideas is not the solution to finding more of them, but rather we need to train our minds in the process of producing new ideas naturally.
The two general principles of ideas
James describes two principles of the production of ideas, which I really like:
- An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements.
- The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.
This second one is really important in producing new ideas, but it’s something our minds need to be trained in:
Set aside time
John Cleese says your thoughts need time to settle down before your creativity will feel safe enough to emerge and get to work. Setting aside time to think regularly can be a good way to train your mind to relax, eventually making this set time a safe haven for your tortoise mind to start putting together connections that could turn into ideas.
Find a creative space
Setting aside time regularly sends a signal to your brain that it’s safe to work on creative ideas. Finding a particular space to be creative in can help, too.
This is similar to the research on how the temperature and noise around us affects our creativity.
This may be one of the hardest, yet most important parts of the process of producing ideas. I think James Webb Young says it best:
Drop the whole subject and put it out of your mind and let your subconscious do its thing.
Something else John Cleese talks about is how beneficial it can be to “sleep on a problem.” He recalls observing a dramatic change in his approach to a creative problem after having left it alone. He not only awoke with a perfectly clear idea on how to continue his work, but the problem itself was no longer apparent.
The trick here is to trust enough to let go.
As we engage our conscious minds in other tasks, like sleeping or taking a shower, our subconscious can go to work on finding relationships in all the data we’ve collected so far.
The Aha moment
James Webb Young explains the process of producing ideas in stages. Once we’ve completed the first three, which include gathering material and letting our subconscious process the data and find connections, he says we’ll come to an “Aha!” moment, when a great idea hits us:
It will come to you when you are least expecting it–while shaving, or bathing, or most often when you are half awake in the morning. It may waken you in the middle of the night.
How To Have More Great Ideas
Understanding the process our brains go through to produce ideas can help us to replicate this, but there are a few things we can do to nudge ourselves towards having better ideas, too.
Criticise your ideas–don’t accept them immediately
The final stage of James’s explanation of idea production is to criticize your ideas:
Do not make the mistake of holding your idea close to your chest at this stage. Submit it to the criticism of the judicious.
James says this will help you to expand on the idea and uncover possibilities you might have otherwise overlooked.
Here it’s especially important to know whether you’re introverted or extroverted to criticize your ideas from the right perspective.
Overwhelm your brain–it can handle it
Surprisingly, you can actually hit your brain with more than it can handle and it will step up to the task.
Robert Epstein explained in a Psychology Today article how challenging situations can bring out our creativity. Even if you don’t succeed at whatever you’re doing, you’ll wake up the creative areas of your brain and they’ll perform better after the failed task, to compensate.
Have more bad ideas to have more good ones
It turns out that having a lot of bad ideas also means you’ll have a lot of good ideas. Studies have proved this at both MIT and the University of California Davis.
The sheer volume of ideas produced by some people means that they can’t help having lots of bad ones, but they’re likely to have more good ones, as well…
Marcus Buckingham writes
In previous posts I praised Microsoft’s rejection of individual performance ratings as the building block for an effective performance management system, and described why rating people on a list of competencies is a flawed method for improving their performance.
Obviously we need a new system. And what can we say about the new system that would serve us better? Well, the specifics of the system will depend on the company, but we do know that it must have the following six characteristics, each of which follows logically from the one preceding.
First, it must be a real-time system that helps managers give “in the moment” coaching and course-correcting. The world we live in is unnervingly dynamic, where we are on one team one week and another the next, where goals that were fresh and exciting at the beginning of Q1 are irrelevant by the third week of Q1, and where the necessary skills, relationships, and even strategies have to be constantly recalibrated. In this real-time world, batched performance reviews delivered once or twice a year are obsolete before we’ve even sat down to write them.
We need much more frequent check-ins—weekly or, at most, monthly. Luckily, we now live in a world where most of us are armed with a device that knows exactly who we are, and into which we can record pretty much anything we want. This device—your mobile phone—will enable you, the employee, to input what you are doing this week and what help you need; and, because it knows you, it will be able to serve up to your manager coaching tips, insights, and prompts customized to your particular set of strengths and skills.
Second, it must be a system with a super light touch. If we expect our employees to share their weekly or monthly focus, and if we expect our managers to react to and adjust this focus as needed, then there can be no complicated forms to complete, no narrative sections requiring writing wizards to supply the right words, no conversation guides, no input required from a requisite number of peers. None of that. For this performance system to be as agile as it needs to be, it must be wonderfully simple. Just two questions answered by the employee—”What are you going to get done this week? And what help do you need from me?”—and a chance for the manager to speak into these answers. Counter-intuitively, the simpler the form, the richer the coaching.
Third, it must feel to the individual employee that it is a system “about me, designed for me.” Even if it is light-touch, managers will reject any real-time system that they have to initiate. Instead, the employee has to be the one to drive it. And the only way to achieve this is to make its starting point and ongoing focus: me, my strengths, where I am at my best, and how I can get better. At present, we don’t do this very well at all. For example, most companies’ employee profile pages are clearly a company tool and not a “me” tool, and as such are updated infrequently and inauthentically, and wind up reading like a computer-generated resume.
With a little creativity, there is every reason to believe that we can design for each employee a place to positively present her strengths, her skills, her accomplishments and her aspirations. Although current “profiles” are clinical, superficial, and out of date, it is entirely in the company’s interest that they not stay this way.
And besides, given that we live in a world where we expect all content, from our news, to our entertainment, to our healthcare, to be aware of our individual needs and desires, this “start with me” positioning is the least we will expect.
Fourth, and crucially, it must be a strengths-based system. Current systems are explicitly remedial, built on the belief that to help people get better you must measure them against a series of competency bars, point out where they fall short, and then challenge them to jump higher. While this feels practical, and rigorous – even “tough” – it is also depressingly inefficient. Although we label weaknesses “areas of opportunity,” brain science reveals that we do not learn and grow the most in our areas of weakness. In fact the opposite is true: we grow the most new synapses in those areas of our brain where we have the most pre-existing synapses. Our strengths, therefore, are our true areas of opportunity for growth.
More to the point, if we want employees to take responsibility for their own performance and development, what better place to start than with their particular strengths? The new performance system must find myriad ways to challenge employees to contribute their strengths more intelligently over time. (To be clear, this does not mean ignoring my weaknesses. It simply means acknowledging that my weaknesses are actually my “areas of least opportunity for growth.”)
Fifth, it must be a system focused on the future. Our current systems are fixated on feedback about the past. You are asked to write a review on yourself, then your manager writes his review. Often he will be required to sit with his peers to calibrate your review with others at your level; sometimes even your peers will be called upon to share their insights about your personality and performance. Your manager will be trained on how to deliver this feedback to you so that you will see it as “developmental” rather than overly “critical.”
The new performance system will dispense with all of this – on one level, simply because these feedback systems are plagued by a terrible signal-to-noise ratio. Managers are, and will always be, highly subjective providers of feedback; peer feedback when anonymous is just gossip, and when public is sugarcoated; your own self-ratings are more than likely generously distorted; and calibration sessions merely turn up the volume on the noise.
On another level, though, better performance management dispenses with all this because future-focused coaching is demonstrably a better use of time than past-focused feedback. To accelerate my performance tomorrow, don’t try to grade my personality with feedback from all sides—it will always be hard to give, hard to receive, and net a disproportionately small performance return. Instead, coach me on the few specific work-related activities that I could usefully add to my strengths repertoire tomorrow. Or tell me what skills I should go acquire next week. Or advise me which specific contacts I should seek out next month. None of these will necessarily be easy for me to do, but at least they will be something that I can do. They are in the future. In the new performance system, this is where most of our time and creativity will be focused.
Finally, it must be a local system. Current performance management systems are centralized. Their express purpose is to cascade the defined company strategies and values down through all levels. First, this flies in the face of the previous characteristics. Worse: a fixed, cascaded strategy prevents the company from being agile (even if, ironically, one of the company values is “agility”); I care a great deal more about my own success and strengths than I do about “alignment”; and allocating each of my goals to one of the company’s values or strategies is inevitably both heavy-handed and retroactive. Any company with the courage to mine its HCM data will discover that many of us end up shoehorning our goals into one of the company’s categories only after the goals have been completed.
But more significantly, most of the company’s best intelligence about the future of its products, people, and customers can be found in each local team. So in place of cascading down, the new performance system must be designed to capture this local intelligence, and then aggregate it up. Goals should be set at the team level and aggregated up; compensation should be allocated by local leaders and then aggregated up; employee opinion surveys should be triggered by the local team leader and aggregated up. Only then will the company be agile enough to stay relevant.
So, that’s a blueprint for a better system. Lighter, more creative, more flexible, strengths-based, and ultimately more human – with current technologies available to you so you can start designing your version of this within your company.
And, frankly, you can do this even before your HR department has retired your existing human capital management system. Current systems are thankfully so infrequent, and a strengths-based system so light-touch, that the two can coexist for a while before the two start to get in each other’s way. With luck, by that time, HR will have taken a hard look at the performance of the old HCM system, and it will be on its way out.
The first 16 minutes of this broadcast involves a discussion of what makes a happy city including Charles Montgomery, author of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, who we featured a story on in a previous post…
Rana Mitter looks forward to an Age of the Happy City with innovative urban scholar, Richard Burdett, and journalist and urban experimentalist, Charles Montgomery. What can Rio de Janeiro teach Mumbai or Copenhagen teach Vancouver or Bogota have to say to Shanghai? Why should density replace sprawl? Can planning bridge the gap between efficiency and sociability? The world is witnessing unprecedented urban growth; fifty three per cent of us live in cities today – heading towards seventy per cent by the middle of the century. The form these new and growing cities take will have a huge effect on global resources and the living conditions of billions of people.
Kevin Roberts writes…
…People think that as we achieve our hopes and dreams, somehow our daily problems, annoyances, disappointments, and anxieties will magically disappear. Unfortunately the truth is not so utopian. Negative emotions and experiences can affect our daily lives, and despite having it all, even the “stars” among us are subject to depression and disappointment at times.
In his new book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence, neuropsychologist at Berkeley University, Dr. Rick Hanson, contends that this phenomenon can be explained.
Hanson’s evidence is drawn from the biology of human survival. He describes how our neural pathways are constructed to activate on negative emotions with greater intensity than positive ones. In other words, evolution has driven us to respond more strongly to predators and environmental threats than when we experience something pleasant. With this understanding, it makes it more difficult to create permanent neural pathways for our positive experiences, thus this dilemma with achieving lifelong happiness.
So how can we navigate life without melancholia, considering our own minds afflict the pursuit of happiness?
The answer is not simply positive thinking, but rather the pervasive adoption of radical optimism. I have used the phrase “radical optimism” for years, meaning we must go beyond simply a positive disposition and commit to a program of action and activities that continuously put oneself into a good space, and avoiding negative ones. The truth is that it is possible to harness our biology, since the desire for long term happiness is also part of who we are.
Simply stating that you are an optimistic person does not induce true psychological and physiological change. One must internalize that sense of self that meets our three core needs “safety, satisfaction, and connection”. True change takes persistent radicalism and constant optimism. It takes the will to lift your head up, look around and realize that happiness and success are ALWAYS within your control.
Although the molecular make-up of the brain and the chemical reactions that determine neural pathways are complicated, sometimes something as simple as a fast walk around the block will do you wonders!
by Michael Hyatt
…I love the topic of productivity. I collect productivity hacks like some people collect stamps. I am always looking for the edge that will make me more efficient and, even more importantly, more effective.
Based on my recent 2013 Reader Survey, 75 percent of my readers want more productivity content. So here are my top ten favorite productivity hacks of all time, in no particular order:
- Eliminate online distractions.
- Schedule time alone.
- Batch similar tasks together.
- Identify your must-dos.
- Eliminate, automate, delegate.
- Hire virtual assistants.
- Invest in coaching.
- Acquire better tools.
- Get better at saying “no.”
- Use templates for everything.
Judy Martin writes…
The festivities have begun, but the merrier trimmings won’t likely override the underlying state of the workforce. A Gallup poll this year found that 70% of the workforce was either disengaged or miserable. An uncertain labor market, work overload, and nudging thoughts about career advancement are enough to have you thinking about jumping on the next sleigh away from the office.
Generally, we all get a bit sensitive with more work-life conflict during the holidays. But workplace stressors like year-end deadlines, office politics, and expectations from the corner office can burn you out and make your eggnog go sour.
While taking it in stride, here are six tools to bring you comfort and joy this time of year, making your workplace holiday experience a little more manageable.
1. Don’t Take Anything Personally
For many people, the holidays can be tough. Old memories or wounds tend to surface, some miss loved ones, and December acts as a reminder of yet another year gone by. Unless you’re a mind reader, you won’t know what’s going on with your colleagues in any given moment, and it’s unrealistic to try to figure it out. Instead, it’s extra important to give people the benefit of the doubt this time of year—accepting that they may be more stressed or pained than usual, and trying your best not to jump into defensive mode if someone lashes out at you.
That’s not to say you should be a doormat. But consider the source before taking things to heart.
2. Determine What Can Wait
With year-end reviews and deadlines on the horizon, we often spend the end of the year stressing over finishing last-minute reports, wrapping up back-burner projects, and squeezing in just one more meeting before the holidays—knowing full well in the back of our minds that it’s not all going to get done.
This year, try this: With any item on your to-do list, ask yourself, “Is it a high-level priority that will impact my good standing at work—or can it wait?” For those second-tier projects, approach your manager with a few solutions, as well as more reasonable timelines in which you can get them done.
3. Practice a Growth Mindset
Whether you’re dealing with a difficult colleague or wondering how to approach a problem at work, positive psychology research smiles upon working through the lens of a “growth mindset,” which opens your mind toward reframing thoughts that make you feel stuck. For example, think of a colleague you’ve perceived as indifferent, difficult, or just set in his ways. Rather than concentrating on his faults or judging him, try focusing more on learning new ways to work with him.
By using a more curious approach, you’ll persist in the face of setbacks, learn from feedback, embrace challenges, and realize your effort can help you achieve more successful results—all of which creates positive emotions that can help reduce your year-end stress.
4. Use Breath as a Daily Stress-Busting Ritual
Incorporating regular deep breathing into your daily routine is the cheapest, easiest way possible to foster a sense of calm throughout your workday. Try setting your phone alarm twice a day for a breathing break (preferably, late morning and late afternoon). Take three deep breaths into the pit of your belly, evenly inhaling to a count of three, holding for a moment, and exhaling to a count of three. Do two rounds of that. Then on a third round, double the length of your exhalation, which triggers a physical relaxation response. Try it—and see how much better you feel about the task at hand afterward.
5. Find Moments of Solitude
It’s almost counterintuitive to imagine that the office can be a respite from the holiday bustle, but finding small ways to take a break throughout the day can really help your sanity this time of year. Take a walk, listen to some music for a few minutes—or if you can—just close your door for some quiet time. You could even try working in a conference room or telecommuting for a day or two.
If it’s hard to take a break throughout the day, place a small trinket on your desk that reminds you to shift your mind to a calmer place, or display a family picture on your desk to help you remember the good people around you.
6. Savor Positive Experiences at Work
The end of the year is always a good time to reflect, so take time to look back on the better moments from the last year at work. Were there projects that you influenced in a profitable or creative way? Were there relationships that enhanced your working experience?
Even if you don’t particularly like your job, writing a list of the good points associated with your position can enhance your skills of gratitude and positive thinking. In fact, research shows such behavior helps to activate the feel-good neurotransmitters of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine in your brain. This then triggers your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to reduce stress.
Don’t let troubles at the office get in the way of enjoying the holiday season. By proactively managing your work stress, you’ll finish the year—and start the new one—in an all-around happier place…
Professor Adam Grant talks about a revolutionary new approach to success in business and in life at an Action for Happiness event in London on 19 May 2013.
Here’s a lovely way to approach Christmas, each day helping to make your world a happier place – and yourself happier and probably more productive along the way too…
All of these stories and many more are in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection , out from Friday morning (GMT)
I hope you find much to here to enjoy…