Happiness At Work #59 ~ highlights in this collection

photo credit: art crimes via photopin cc

photo credit: art crimes via photopin cc

This week’s new collection Happiness At Work Edition #59 features a number of stories about the unhappiness and imbalance of our 21st century working lives, with research findings, forecasts and best practice recommendations for how we can remedy this and build a more flourishing life around our work.

Solutions range from making time for more conversation, to being more generous, to harnessing the insights from a new range of apps designed to measure our different ways of feeling at work, to getting outdoors, to practising mindfulness to playing to our preferred ways of working, especially if we are an introvert.

And, too, as this first story and a couple of our later articles suggest, we need to redesign our outdated 20th century ways of working – where we do it, how we do, when we do and who we do it with – if we really want to build a more resilient, sustainable, workable and successful future…

CIPD warns business – use top female talent or lose it

As the green shoots of economic recovery emerge, new CIPD research shows how urgent action needs to be taken by the corporate world to stem the leaking talent pipeline that could hinder the progress of growth.

Building on the messages in a report from the Women’s Business Council published in June, it is clear that if business does not adopt flexible or innovative working practices, it will continue to lose impressive women who decide to set up their own businesses to achieve a better work-life balance.

‘Inspiring Female Entrepreneurs,’ the second report in a three part series by the CIPD on entrepreneurial practices, highlights that there are more than 2.4 million unemployed women who want to work and that if there were as many female entrepreneurs as there are male entrepreneurs, GDP could be boosted by 10% by 2030.

To gain insight into what motivates female entrepreneurs and makes them successful, the CIPD interviewed a number of women to find out what made them go solo, what has made them thrive and what they think would encourage more to set up on their own. What became clear is that employers could have much to gain by creating the conditions in which these talented and committed women could thrive in the corporate world…

Link to read this article

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photo credit: ttnk via photopin cc

Why You Should Care About Having Friends At Work

By 

Chatting over lunch and joking with coworkers may not seem like more than pleasant distractions at the office, but they could have an enormous impact on your work life. With employee engagement declining and more than eight in 10 American workersexperiencing job-related stress — female employees being even more more vulnerableto workplace tension than men — friendship could make the difference between happiness at work and burnout. Research has found that strong social connections at the office can boost productivity, and could make employees more passionate about their work and less likely to quit their jobs.

According to Christine M. Riordan, provost and professor of management at the University of Kentucky, camaraderie is a key ingredient to happiness at work for male and female employees. A study led by Riordan, published in the Journal of Business Psychology in the ’90s, found that the mere opportunity for friendship increases employee job satisfaction and organizational effectiveness…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

The Surefire Way To Be Happier At Work: Chat With Your Coworkers

A NEW STUDY FINDS THAT PEOPLE REALLY ARE PRETTY MISERABLE AT WORK, AND NOT MUCH YOU CAN DO WILL HELP. BUT THERE IS ONE PRETTY EASY FIX: YOUR COWORKERS.

…According to a new study (PDF) by Alex Bryson and George MacKerron, published through the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science, of all the things we choose to do at work (other than work!), it’s casually interacting with our colleagues that makes us happiest. From the article:

The largest positive net effect of combining work and another activity on happiness relates to ‘Talking, chatting, socialising’. . . .There are clearly positive psychological benefits of being able to socialise whilst working. It is the only activity that, in combination with working, results in happiness levels that are similar to those experienced when not working…

photo credit: marinakvillatoro via photopin cc

photo credit: marinakvillatoro via photopin cc

‘Talking at mealtimes boosts children’s confidence’

By Judith Burns

Mealtime chatter helps boost children’s communication skills, suggests a study by the National Literacy Trust.

Children whose families sit and talk during meals are more confident, the poll of 35,000 UK children indicates.

But more than one in every four misses out on daily mealtime chats with their families, suggests the poll.

Former EastEnders actress, mother and literacy campaigner Natalie Cassidy said: “Food is fuel for our bodies.  So is conversation for our brains.”

Ms Cassidy urged parents: “Even if you’re strapped for time, make 10-15 minutes to all sit down together.”…

The data suggests that sitting in silence at mealtimes is worse for children’s confidence than not sitting down for family meals at all.

The results suggest that some two-thirds (62%) of those who talk daily with their families at mealtimes feel confident to speak in front of a group, compared with less than half (47%) of those who eat in silence and just over half (52%) of children who don’t sit down for meals…

The trust’s director Jonathan Douglas said: “Our research shows just how vital conversation at home is to the future success of our children and young people.

“Talking and communicating at home, for example at mealtimes, will help children gain the skills they need for a successful and happy life.”

Link to read this article

An Introvert’s Guide To Happiness

By Beth Gilbert

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Introverts — people with quieter and more reflective personalities — typically thrive within the inner workings of their own minds. Extroverts, however, are more outgoing and tend to feel comfortable surrounded by people.

But social savvy isn’t the only difference between the two personality types: Research shows that the factors that contribute to an extrovert’s happiness and those that add to an introvert’s happiness don’t always mesh.

“An introvert’s rocket fuel is an extrovert’s Kryptonite and vice versa,” says Nancy Ancowitz, business communication coach and author of Self-Promotion for Introverts. “Long stretches of quiet activities like reading, writing, and researching may energize an introvert, but can serve as solitary confinement for an extrovert. Frequent social interactions and multitasking can energize an extrovert and really zap an introvert.”

Story continues as a slideshow

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photo credit: marfis75 via photopin cc

Research Finds Happiness Is Found Outdoors

by 

The David Suzuki Foundation has discovered happiness. A report from the foundation has confirmed that a daily dose of nature boosts happiness and wellbeing…

The foundation asked more than 10,000 Canadians and 250 workplaces to participate in what it called the 30×30 Nature Challenge. Those participating were challenged to get outside for half an hour a day for 30 consecutive days.

Trent University Researcher Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet conducted the research initiative.

“We found that participation in the 30×30 Nature Challenge almost doubled their time spent outside during the month and reduced their screen time by about 4.5 hours per week,” said Nisbet of the spring report. “They reported significant increases in their sense of well-being, feeling more vitality and energy, while feelings of stress, negativity and sleep disturbances were all reduced.”

Nisbet reported the research indicated workplace participants said they felt more productive on the job. She reported participants indicated a slightly stronger sense of identification with the natural world and a desire to spend more time outdoors. Many of the people who took part in the challenge said they felt happier by eating lunch outside or walking through a park.

According to the foundation, the results of the challenge are consistent with growing evidence that even brief nature contact enhances positive mood and reduces stress…

Link to read the rest of this article

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photo credit: fiddle oak via photopin cc

Pay It Forward: Why Generosity Is The Key To Success

by Sean Blanda

When it comes to when and how we help others, most of us fit into one of three categories:

  • Givers, who help others unconditionally, demanding nothing in return.
  • Matchers, who usually only help those who have helped them.
  • Takers, those who demand help but never offer.

Penn professor Adam Grant is a Giver. He’s also the youngest tenured professor at Wharton and is the author of the best-selling Give and Take. Grant believes that the success of our careers is due to our generosity with our time and knowledge. Givers, he says, are usually either at the top or bottom of their field, with Matchers and Takers sprinkled in between.

After publicly proclaiming to the world that he answers any and all favor requestsin the New York Times, Grant is the best test case for his own theory. However, Grant manages it all well thanks to being ruthless with his time. I asked him how he handles the deluge and if he has any advice for those of us who feel too squeezed to be good “Givers.” …

Here is the link to read this interview with Adam Grant

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photo credit: jspad via photopin cc

3 Insights from the Frontiers of Positive Psychology

By Elise Proulx

…“The science of positive psychology has now achieved a point where it is comparable to the other sub-disciplines of psychology,” wrote IPPA president Robert Vallerand in the Congress’ welcome message. “And the scientifically informed applications of positive psychology are more popular and diversified than ever.”

As Vallerand suggests, the leaders of positive psychology have always prided themselves on delivering scientific findings with clear practical applications. Here are three of the most striking and practical insights I took away from the Congress.

1. Look to the future for a meaningful life.

Now-familiar research shows that we are happiest when we live in the present and that practicing mindfulness — which involves tuning in to our thoughts, emotions and sensations in the present moment — is good for our bodiesbrains and relationships.

But in their IPPA keynote, Martin Seligman and Roy Baumeister, both giants in the field of positive psychology, argued for the importance of focusing on the future. Looking ahead, they believe, can bring meaning to our lives — a school of thought they call “prospective psychology.”

The core of this concept is that it becomes a lot easier to understand some of the complexities of the human mind once you consider that we evolved to predict the future — and that doing this well is key to survival.  “So intelligence isn’t about what you know,” said Seligman, “but about how well you can predict an act in the future.”…

So while happiness may be all about the present, meaningfulness may be found in the future. Only by connecting the two can one find the greatest meaning, purpose and happiness in life.

2. Detaching from work is a good thing … for most of us.

…Sonnentag defines detachment as a sense of “being away from work.”  While this feeling has different sources for different people, it could include staying off work email and not thinking about work in the evenings and on days off.

Detaching from work allows individuals to feel recovered and refreshed, Sonnentag said, which then allows them to have more energy and be more efficient in their work lives.

Sonnentag says detachment from work seems especially important — not surprisingly — when job stressors are high. Indeed, the more time pressure employees feel, the less able they are to detach, which leads to a negative spiral of stress and rumination.

Supervisors should take note: Being realistic about deadlines may make for a more efficient operation.

But not everyone feels the benefits from detachment: Employees who have strong positive emotions toward work — such as firefighters who feel their jobs provide a positive social impact — may benefit more from not detaching.  For this group, the positive feelings they have during the day spill over into evening rest time, and detaching can actually negate those positive feelings.

That said, while each individual needs to assess his or her own need for detachment, for most of us, periodically disconnecting from the stress of work and the burdens of technology — for example, by taking a Friday night family break from all electronics – is probably an important way to guard against burnout — and make us better workers.

3. “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.”

These words from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill infused psychologist Marino Bonaiuto’s talk on environmental psychology.

Bonaiuto, of the University of Rome, studies how the physical components of our environment are linked to and affect our mental states and social interactions.  When an individual’s biological or psychological needs are met by the resources available in the environment — green spaces, physical layout of infrastructure, well-tended buildings — there is good “person-environment fit” that leads to greater well-being…

In this way, Bonaiuto was affirming a theme I heard often at the Congress: the power we have to shape our happiness and the happiness of those around us.  Whether as individuals or working together as groups, the presenters emphasized, we can affect our external environment and internal landscapes for the better…

Here is the link to this article in full

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photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Mindfulness can improve leadership in times of instability

by Cheryl Rezek

A mindful leader can respond to change with focus and clarity, and avoid repeating the same mistakes

What does the ancient eastern practice of mindfulness, often associated with orange-clothed chanting monks, have to do with the fast-paced, performance-driven style of western leadership? In tough times, it could act as an influential asset in the public service’s fight for survival.

Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, a moment in time. It is about focusing attention on the present in a way that allows that moment to be experienced and observed closely. It involves developing the skills to allow yourself to engage actively with whatever is happening at the time, as well as concurrently viewing that moment from a more strategic standpoint.

…When there is less clutter and fewer distractions within one’s own head it is easier to gain clarity and perspective; mindfulness allows one to both notice more detail and see the bigger picture.

A mindful leader can reduce disorder by bringing focus and intent to the situation. By acknowledging and accepting change, the leader can step back, observe and respond with composure and purpose.

Dealing with change

If leaders realise that change is inevitable, they can encourage sufficient resilience in individuals, teams and organisations.  …This helps to safeguard an organisation from disillusionment and destruction by enforcing outdated rules and processes.

Research on mindfulness suggests that it can also help to:

•  reduce the cost of staff absenteeism caused by illness, injury and stress

•  improve cognitive functioning, memory, learning ability and creativity

•  improve productivity and improve overall staff and business wellbeing

•  reduce staff turnover and associated costs.

Mindful leadership is not a patronising fad implying that, if we are calm, everything will be fine.  The reality of our working world is that all may not be fine.  What mindfulness can do is develop a thinking, emotional and instinctual mind so that the leader can do the best for self, team and organisation.

This is the link to this original Guardian article, which includes a link to the full version of Cheryl Rezek’s article 

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photo credit: miriam.v via photopin cc

9 Leadership Essentials To Cause Meaningful Work

by 

Meaningful work stirs up internal satisfaction through doing the work and releasing it for others to benefit and experience.

While meaningful work is experienced at an individual level, its power is fully unleashed when it’s a characteristic of workplace or team culture.

So, then, what do leaders need to do to cause meaningful work?  Here are nine essentials.

Clarity in Your Values

Know what you stand for to anchor your leadership…

Culture of Optimism

The work environment needs to lead employees to believe that great results are possible through their contributions – individually and collectively. Additionally, employees are inspired by the good works of others and by their own output.

Concentration on People

A leader must believe that employees are the cornerstone to a business’s success.  Leadership actions and decisions essential for meaning are made from this central belief.

Connection Among Employees

Meaning expands when people have a sense of belonging.  Brené Brownadvocates that people need to believe they can be themselves and not worry about fitting in.  When connections exist among employees, belonging can emerge.

Constancy in Purpose

Leadership 101 always asks us to paint a picture of where we need to take the team.  Purpose helps paint such a picture.

Creative Conflict

Deeper meaning emerges when there is conflict between what we believe and do, and with different beliefs and approaches presented by others.

Charisma for Learning

Meaning thrives on insight and awareness.  These two criteria are only possible when we stay in a continuous learning loop…

Courage to Care

Address half-ass work and missed deadlines.  Celebrate milestones.  Give just-because recognition.  Have the courage to show you care about people and quality results – consistently.

Continuous Progress

Work that results in little or no progress frustrates, infuriates, alienates, and decimates meaning and hope.  People must see progress and alignment with the purpose you communicate.  Without progress, meaning wanes.

This list presents a major leadership challenge.  The weak leader will choose to procrastinate in creating a culture where meaningful work abounds. However, given the abysmal state of the workplace, it’s a choice that cannot be overlooked if a thriving culture is important to producing results and keeping talented people from leaving your team.

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: chlip via photopin cc

Why HR should tip its hat to the measuremement of wellbeing

by Andy Philpott

…there is much more to it than the headlines which revel in us being happier than the French or proclaim that marriage makes you happier than co-habitation.

The research also provides useful insight for anyone whose job it is to ensure their organisation can attract and retain the right employees.

For instance, the findings that those who work flexibly or study part-time have the greatest sense of wellbeing should spur any organisations to think about how training, education and a creative approach to working hours can be used as employee benefits.

The negative impact that illness and disability has on wellbeing is a call to action for all employers to take these issues seriously in the support they offer their employees.  Not just through reactive measures like employee helplines and health insurance but by proactive wellbeing programmes – whether these relate to financial or physical wellbeing.

More broadly, the focus on wellbeing is a reminder that happiness makes a great difference to the way people approach their lives. This applies to the workplace as much as anywhere else…

Here is the link to the rest of this article

From heart rates to surveys: How to keep workers happy

By Nastaran Tavakoli-Far

Unhappy workers leave.  

Recent studies show that up to 70% of workers in the US are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work.

Happy workers tend to be more productive – which makes it sensible to focus on making sure your staff are content…

Tiny Pulse is an app which sends out short weekly surveys to workers to see how happy they are, and makes graphs of the results so bosses can see how workers feel each week.  Employers can tailor the surveys, and can also give positive feedback straight to workers.

The app also allows employees to communicate with their bosses – anonymously.

Better tech at home

Microsoft chief envisioning officer and author Dave Coplin believes workers often have better technology at home than in the workplace; it used to be the other way around.  As a result he thinks people are often frustrated at work.

“Today people feel trapped by technology,” he says, explaining many workplaces have limited its use.

Work.com’s Nick Stein agrees.  Work.com is a platform that aims to increase performance, by focusing on aligning goals between employer and employee, providing feedback, and mutual motivation.  On Work.com employees have profiles which display their expertise and goals, and employers and employees can praise each other on performance day to day, rather than in one end-of-year review.

Mr Stein says the internet has given people more voice than ever before, but work environments have not kept up – it can still be hard to speak up.

Workers may feel they need to be at a certain level before they can express their views…

Healthy brain, healthy work

Companies don’t have to use bespoke tools to create happier workers.  Devices used to measure various health indicators can also gauge worker happiness.

Neuroscientist Rob Goldberg believes that pushing people is simply bad for the brain.  The result is that they don’t do their best work.

“We really need to push the perspective that brain health and performance are one and the same thing,” he says.

Mr Goldberg is part of Neumitra, a start-up out of MIT.  Their app Bandu measures stress levels via a special wrist watch.

Feeling stressed is a survival mechanism – however it stops the brain focusing and functioning effectively, according to Mr Goldberg.  He says employers should monitor workers’ stress levels and adjust accordingly.

There may even be the need for fundamental changes.  Mr Goldberg points to the high stress levels caused by getting into the office at rush hour.

Apps like Cardiio, which measures heart rate, can be used to check employee health.

Yet working 9-5 is a historical throwback to the manufacturing production line, and is no longer relevant for many companies, he says.  So one easy way to reduce stress might be to change working hours to reduce the amount staff have to travel at peak times…

Journalist and founder of the non-profit The H(app)athon Project John Havens believes that other health related apps and tools can and should be used by workplaces.

He points to apps like Cardiio, which measures heart rate using an iPhone’s camera, and Affectiva, created so that advertising agencies can read people’s emotions through their facial expressions.  These tools may not have been designed with offices in mind, but he says they can be used by bosses to see how well, and in turn how happy, their workers are.

However, he believes there are other factors at work.

“Most of it boils down to having a sense of purpose and meaning,” he says about workplace happiness.  “These should be more of a focus.”

Basic questions, not tools

Consultancy Delivering Happiness believes in the importance of deriving meaning from work.  It began as a book by Zappos chief executive Tony Hsieh, looking at how companies could make workers happy while also pursuing profits.

Now they consult, helping businesses focus equally on worker happiness and profits.

Chief executive Jenn Lim says happy workers require a company that knows what its values are, and that this is more important than tools and technologies.

“[Not asking these questions] is the answer to why we as a society can’t sustain our happiness,” she says.  “It all comes back to very basic things. If we don’t have the values in place all the rest could be a lost cause.”

Link to this article  about these 21st century ways of achieving greater happiness at work

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Britain’s working culture ‘damaging family life’

A new study has highlighted the impact that Britain’s ‘all work and no play’ culture could be having on employees’ personal lives.

Health cash plan provider Medicash conducted a survey of more than 1,000 working parents and found that more than four out of five (83 per cent) felt guilty about the amount of time they dedicated to their jobs.

Half (50 per cent) of respondents said their work commitments had limited the amount of time they could spend with their children and 46 per cent had experienced problems in their relationship with their partner.

A quarter (25 per cent) of workers have neglected friends because of their career responsibilities, according to the research.

Focusing on how demanding jobs can impact family life, the study found that 50 per cent of working mums and dads had missed a child’s sports day, school play or parents’ evening and 43 per cent had worked through holidays.

The majority (59 per cent) of people polled admitted that their children had complained about the amount of time they devoted to work.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University and director of employee wellbeing firm Robertson Cooper, said: “The fact that many people feel guilty about how they spend their time is hugely significant – it shows how important it is to maintain work-life balance.

“The evidence shows that flexible working delivers to the business’ bottom line, with employees feeling less guilty about how they spend their time and achieving a better balance between work and home commitments.”

photo credit: americanartmuseum via photopin cc

photo credit: americanartmuseum via photopin cc

The Five Beats of Successful Storytelling & How They Can Help You Land Your Next Job

by Jenn Godbout

Author Philip Pullman wrote, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”  Whether we’re talking about life, business, or art, storytelling is an essential skill. Maybe even THE most essential skill.  But that doesn’t mean it comes naturally.

Whether it’s your own personal bio, a summary for your company’s “about” page, or a pitch to a major client, fitting everything important into a concise yet engaging narrative is a challenging task.  So we turned to performer, comedian, and storytelling guru David Crabb to share his storytelling framework.  It’s called the Five Beats of Storytelling, and you can use it to make any story more interesting, engaging, and memorable.

For example, let’s say you’re a business major-turned-illustrator who’s jumped from finance to freelance and is now seeking an in-house position. When the interviewer asks about your work history, you’ll want to convey how your background is relevant, your excellent work ethic, and your passion for the position.  The five beats can help you hit your mark AND keep your audience engaged. Here’s how it breaks down:

Beat 1: The introduction

Where you set the scene and tell your readers everything they need to know to understand why what you’re about to say is important…

Beat 2: The inciting incident

The question that your story is asking OR when the protagonist (you or your company) is faced with a challenge.  This is a great place to show vulnerability…

Beat 3: Raising the stakes

A series of moments that give weight and context to the inciting incident.  This is a great place to get specific and provide details that will make your story more memorable…

Beat 4: The main event

This is where we see the inciting incident come to a head (aka the climax).  This is either the answer to the question we asked in the second beat or where the protagonist solves his or her dilemma — a pivot or a change (even if it’s just a shift in attitude) should occur…

Beat 5: The resolution

In the fifth beat, you have an opportunity to highlight what makes the story unique.  If you’ve just described a failure or challenge, this would be the time to reflect on what you learned…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: mharrsch via photopin cc

photo credit: mharrsch via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #59

For all of these stories and more see our Happiness At Work collection…

Enjoy.

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Thinking about Thinking . . .

photo credit: jinterwas via photopin cc

photo credit: jinterwas via photopin cc

On 25th-27th October, with Maria Ana Neves we will be a part of a team of co-creators who help to make and open The Thinking Hotel in a beautiful gallery space in Stoke Newington, and this has stimulated me to think about the nature and breadth and range of what thinking is, could be, should try to be…

I will publish details and how to make a reservation at The Thinking Hotel once we know them.

For now, I hope these articles provide some nourishment to your own thinking this week…

Here’s How Maria Popova of Brain Pickings Writes

by

You may know that we often include articles from Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, and so we were very happy to find this recent interview with this “reader who writes”…

If you aren’t familiar with the writing of Maria Popova, prolific author of the “discovery engine for interestingness” known as Brain Pickings, you’ve been missing out on some of the most fascinating and heady publishing on the web.

Here are some of the things she said about thinking, learning and creativity in this interview:

I’m not an expert and I aspire never to be one. As Frank Lloyd Wright rightly put it, “An expert is a man who has stopped thinking because ‘he knows.’” Brain Pickings began as my record of what I was learning, and it remains a record of what I continue to learn – the writing is just the vehicle for recording, for making sense.

That said, one thing I’ve honed over the years – in part by countless hours of reading and in part because I suspect it’s how my brain is wired – is drawing connections between things, often things not immediately or obviously related, spanning different disciplines and time periods. I wouldn’t call that “expertise” so much as obsession – it’s something that gives me enormous joy and stimulation, so I do it a great deal, but I don’t know if that constitutes expertise.

…Because Brain Pickings is simply a record of my own curiosity, of my personal journey into what matters in the world and why, it’s hard to quantify how much of my life is “research” – in fact, I feel like all of it is.

…we tend to conflate “research” with search, which is always driven by looking for something you already know you’re interested in; but I think the richest “research” is driven by discovery, that intersection of curiosity and serendipity that lets you expand your intellectual and creative comfort zone beyond what you already knew you were looking for.

…It’s hard to retreat into a quiet corner of your own mind when you feel demanded of. So I tend to write later in the day now, often well into the night, when email is quiet. The dark, too, is somehow grounding – I’ve always found lucubrating strangely meditative, like a bubble of light that envelops you and silences the rest of the world.

[Creativity is] the ability to connect the seemingly unconnected and meld existing knowledge into new insight about some element of how the world works. That’s practical creativity. Then there’s moral creativity: To apply that skill towards some kind of wisdom on how the world ought to work.

What makes a writer great?

The same thing that makes a human great: Curiosity without ego, and generosity of spirit. No amount of talent is worth anything without kindness.

…There’s nothing like being tossed into necessity to help you figure out who you are and what matters most in life – necessity may be the mother of invention, but it’s even more so the fairy godmother of self-invention.

What do you see as your greatest success in life?

Not having relinquished the hope that happiness is possible. Waking up excited to do what I do. Going to bed satisfied with what I have done.

What’s your biggest aggravation at the moment…?

We’ve created a culture that fetishises the new(s), and we forget the wealth of human knowledge, wisdom, and transcendence that lives in the annals of what we call “history” – art, literature, philosophy, and so many things that are both timeless and incredibly timely.

Our presentism bias – anchored in the belief that if it isn’t at the top of Google, it doesn’t matter, and if it isn’t Googleable at all, it doesn’t exist – perpetuates our arrogance that no one has ever grappled with the issues we’re grappling with. Which of course is tragically untrue.

photo credit: Johan Rd via photopin cc

photo credit: Johan Rd via photopin cc

Robert Kegan: The Further Reaches of Adult Development: Thoughts on the ‘Self-Transforming Mind

old lady young optical illusion

Can you see both the older woman looking down and the younger woman looking to left in this picture?

Robert Kegan’s theory of adult meaning-making has influenced theory and practice internationally across multiple disciplines. In a special RSA event, he considers: is it really possible to grow beyond the psychological independence of the “self-authoring mind,” so often seen as the zenith of adult development?

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Intelligence, Beyond Raw Brainpower

by Annie Murphy Paul

What does it take to think and act in an intelligent way?  Many of us would say it’s simply a matter of raw brainpower…

But there’s much more to the story.  Other factors—like motivation, effective learning and problem-solving strategies, and a well-designed physical and psychological environment in which to do our thinking—also matter, a lot.   As does interpersonal awareness and sensitivity…

Situational factors exert their influence in so many ways, but today, inspired by a recent research finding, I want to focus on one in particular: how a mastery of situation can actually make us smarter as we get older.  In the current issue of the journal Psychological Science, researchers report that older people (over 65) showed less variability in their cognitive performance across 100 days of testing than did younger people aged 20 to 31.

Why?  The older adults’ greater consistency “is due to learned strategies to solve the task, a constantly high motivation level, as well as a balanced daily routine and stable mood,” notes one of the scientists, Florian Schmiedek of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany.  A colleague of Schmiedek’s, Axel Börsch-Supan, adds that his research shows that older workers are more productive and reliable, and less likely to make serious errors, than are their younger colleagues.

photo credit: Monster. via photopin cc

photo credit: Monster. via photopin cc

There are other ways that our mental powers grow as we get older.  It’s true that as we age, the brain’s processing speed begins to slow, and memory may sometimes slip, says Margaret Gatz, PhD, professor of psychology, gerontology, and preventive medicine at the University of Southern California.  But researchers have recently made some surprising discoveries about what’s really happening in our heads as we age:  “We are identifying ways in which older minds hold their own against younger ones and even surpass them,” Gatz says. Here, ten such ways:

1. Your hemispheres sync up.

…Brain scans show that while young people often use only one side for a specific task, middle-aged and older adults are more likely to activate both hemispheres at once—a pattern known as bilateralization.  By involving both sides, older people bring the full spectrum of the brain’s power to bear, allowing them to make more fruitful connections among the disparate parts of a problem or situation.

2. Your brain never stops growing.

…it’s now clear that we not only hang on to our neurons—we grow new ones, too. Throughout a person’s lifetime, the brain is continually reshaping itself in response to what it learns. Even something as silly as a clown trick, like learning to juggle, or learning to play a musical instrument can alter its structure…

3. Your reasoning and problem-solving skills get sharper.

This is evident not only in laboratory studies but also in examinations of choices made in real life. For example, according to a study, …the middle-aged make smarter money decisions than their younger counterparts…

4. You can focus on the upside.

Our outlook grows rosier as we get older, as demonstrated by a study published last year in the journal Psychology and Aging. …With the passage of time, the study subjects reported more positive well-being and greater emotional stability…

5. Your people skills are constantly improving.

Mature adults understand themselves well—and they also understand other people, research shows. In a study published in the Journal of Gerontology in 2007, older and younger adults were presented with a series of hypothetical everyday problems …The older adults were especially good at solving such interpersonal dilemmas—often by choosing a path that skirted direct conflict. “As we get older, our social intelligence keeps expanding,” explains Gatz. “We get better at sizing up people, at understanding how relationships work—and at not getting into an argument unless we mean to.”

6. Your priorities become clearer.

“Studies of the way adults perceive time suggest that we become increasingly aware that our years on this Earth are limited,” notes Michael Marsiske, PhD, …an expert on aging.  “This awareness helps explain the choices that older adults tend to make: to spend time with a smaller, tighter circle of friends and family, to pay more attention to good news than to bad news, and to seek out positive encounters and avoid negative ones.”

 7. You’re always adding to your knowledge and abilities.

There are some kinds of information we learn and never forget.  Take vocabulary:  Studies show that we keep adding new words to our repertoire as we age, giving us ever richer and more subtle ways to express ourselves.  Job-related knowledge also continues to accumulate, meaning we keep getting better and better at what we do.

8. You can see the big picture.

As we age, we’re better able to take the measure of a situation.  An experiment published in the journal Neuron in 2005 provided a very literal demonstration of this ability: Psychologist Allison Sekuler, …found that young brains seem to be better at focusing on details to the exclusion of their surroundings, and more mature brains are able to take in the whole scene.

 9. You gain control of your emotions.

While young people ride a roller coaster of happiness and sadness, excitement and disappointment, older adults are able to maintain a more even keel.  In a study published in 2009, psychologist Vasiliki Orgeta …concluded that older adults (between ages 61 and 81) had more clarity about their feelings, made better use of strategies to regulate their emotions, and had a higher degree of control over their emotional impulses.

 10. You become an instant expert, even in new situations.

As the brain encounters new experiences, it develops schemas—mental frameworks that allow us to recognize and respond to similar circumstances when we come upon them again.  By midlife we’ve accumulated a stockpile of schemas that help give us our bearings even in novel situations.  We just know what to do—and this sense of effortless mastery flows from the reservoir of experience we’ve built up over time.  In fact, we have a name for this ability to draw on deep knowledge of the past while accommodating what comes up in the present: It’s called wisdom.

Link to read the article in full

Daniel Kahneman on Thinking Fast vs. Thinking Slow

Here is the link to watch a set of video interviews with Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman on Making Smarter Decisions in this Inc. posting:

The bestselling author of Thinking, Fast and Slow talks about overcoming the cognitive biases and errors that can affect decision-making…

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photo credit: khalid almasoud via photopin cc

Seven Steps to Being Zen at Work

VICTORIA CRAW BUSINESS EDITOR

SLOW down. Do less. You’ll actually be more productive.

That’s the advice of cognitive psychologist Dr Stephen McKenzie, who said the way most of us spend our workdays amid a barrage of emails, tweets and meetings, while wolfing down lunch in front of a screen is leading to an “epidemic of mindlessness” that is ruining our ability to think.

“We rush around often from one mistake to another. Mindfulness is about connecting with one thing at a time, rather than doing six things at once,” he said.

Dr Mckenzie advocates being mindful at work – a concept that involves giving your full attention to the task at hand before moving on to the next thing.

“It’s very simple. It’s being able to give our full attention to what we want to give it to rather than being distracted by our thoughts …. It’s being connected with reality,” he said.

Below are Dr McKenzie’s seven tips (the optimum number for your brain to remember) which if practised daily, should have you shredding that to-do list in no time.

1. Know your limits

One of the main reasons people can get stressed at work is trying to be all things to all people…

2. Treat each day as new

Dr McKenzie said the first few seconds after you wake up each morning, before you smash your alarm clock and bury your head under the pillow, is the optimum state you should try and hold on to throughout the day.

A good tip is to try and treat colleagues as if you’re meeting them for the first time – without any preconceived ideas about who is difficult to work with or what might cause a problem…

3. Think about what you’re doing

…”We mistake busyness for productivity,” Dr McKenzie said. “We think if we have all these things happening we’ll be more productive but we’re actually doing less. The multi-tasking that’s become fashionable is about doing lots of things badly rather than one thing well.”

He said it’s crucial to focus on the task in front of you, whether it’s eating your breakfast or typing an email…

4. Take your time

Although it might seem like you’re working slower, taking your time to pause between activities is the perfect chance to mentally switch gears and make things more productive in the long run.

Dr McKenzie said when people are stressed they tend to have “a shallow way of perceiving things”, which doesn’t help when it comes to tasks that require creative thinking or deep thought.

He said the best thing to do is break between jobs, whether it’s to get a drink, take a walk or a few deep breaths to shake out the cobwebs…

5. Do something for someone else

“Service is almost as unfashionable these days as lard, but if we do things for others it means that we’re expanding our personal lives,” Dr McKenzie said. Listening to other people’s ideas, rather than telling them what they want to hear can also be a great way to build better relationships with colleagues…

6. Question your reasons for doing things

…it’s a good idea every now and then to challenge your own beliefs in order to understand other perspectives.

“Try starting the day practising being reasonable rather than reactive, and a great way to start this is by really tuning into the people or whomever who we start the day with – this will help us realise that life is more reasonable when we’re mindful enough to realise that people have reasons for what they do.”

7. Have a sense of wonder

While years working in a corporate environment is enough to kill the sense of childlike wonder in most workers, Dr McKenzie said remembering to smell the roses will help improve productivity.

…Three-year-olds are naturally mindful because they aren’t jaded by life, and we can all remember and therefore return to this state of full aliveness, simply by fully connecting with what is,” he said.

Here is the link to read this article in full

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photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

In Their Words: Michael Corballis & Mind Wandering

By 

…The hippocampus is also a cognitive map, coding one’s location in space. Spatial mapping is especially critical to London taxi drivers, who must decide the quickest route to a passenger’s destination immediately, without looking at a map, consulting a GPS system, or asking a controller by radio or cellphone. Brain imaging shows their hippocampi to be enlarged relative to those of London bus drivers, who follow fixed routes.

Even rats pass the great hippopotamus test. Recordings from so-called place cells in their hippocampi code where the rat is located in an environment such as a maze. But even when the rat is out of the maze, and either asleep or otherwise motionless, place cells are often active in fast “ripples,” sweeping out trajectories in the maze. These trajectories need not correspond to trajectories the animal actually took while it was in the maze. Sometimes they are the reverse of an actual trajectory, and sometimes they correspond to trajectories the rat never actually took. The rat, it seems, is mind wandering.

Mind wandering in humans, though, no doubt includes elements other than places. We construct episodes that include things, actions, emotions, people—even Jeanie with the light brown hair. We even wander into the minds of others. Mind wandering is the source of stories, imaginary tales of heroism, love, and death. Language itself may have evolved precisely so we could share the wandering of our minds.

This is an extract from the talk, Mind Wandering Corballis gave at Brain Day 2013.

photo credit: Tom Rydquist via photopin cc

photo credit: Tom Rydquist via photopin cc

It’s Not About “Productivity.” It’s About Living Purposefully.

by Sam Spurlin

In the time you’ve read this sentence, your brain has processed about 200 “bits” of information.  Your brain can handle roughly 100 bits of information per second which then become part of your awareness.  Following a conversation between two people takes about that much bandwidth (have you ever noticed how hard it is to follow three or more people talking at the same time?)…

That sounds like a huge number, right? However, we’re talking about the entirety of your experiences as a human being being encapsulated in one simple number. Every emotion, thought, sensation, and conversation you’ll ever have is included in that number and the way you’ve allocated those 150 billion bits of attention over the course of your life will make up the entirety of who you were and what you accomplished.

Suddenly, 150 billion doesn’t seem so big…

For some, productivity is about fiddling with new tools or shaving seconds off an ultimately meaningless task. It can be fun to read about others’ productivity hacks and try them in our own workflows. But really, thinking about productivity means coming back to those 150 billion bits that make up who you are and who you will be.

It becomes less about tips and tricks and more about making sure you’re allocating the most scarce resource in the universe, your attention, in ways that most closely align with who you are and what impact you want to have on the world. It’s about eliminating the unnecessary tasks and demands that are eating away at your 150 billion bits so you can focus on something that helps another person or creates a little more beauty in the world or solves an important problem or makes you feel like you’re on this planet to do something worthwhile.

“Being productive” isn’t about getting more work done. It’s about making sure those 150 billion bits are spent as wisely as possible…

photo credit: Aurimas Adomavicius via photopin cc

photo credit: Aurimas Adomavicius via photopin cc

How Parallel Thinking Helps To Improve Creativity

Deborah Watson-Novacek

When you are asked to present your best thinking hat, do you proceed to inquire: “Which one”?

Then you are by no means an absolute stranger to what is commonly known as the Six Thinking Hats.

This unique technique, popularly used as parallel thinking to improve creativity, was first introduced by Edward de Bono, for initiating and sustaining creative thinking both in individuals as well as groups meetings.

So, are you interested in figuring out how this fancy named Six Thinking Hats technique can be implemented at work? …

When a participant puts on a specific colored hat, they start thinking in a manner that reflects the color represented by that specific hat and acts accordingly.  So, what is it that each one of these colored hats stands for?

White Hat:  This hat stands for information.  It implies that when a participant wears this hat, they start thinking in facts and data terms, which also implies stops thinking at all.  They ‘reflect’ on information only.

Red Hat:  This hat stands for feelings and intuition.  Participants who adorn this hat have to simply keep their mind open and let their feelings freely flow. ..

Black Hat:  This hat stands for caution.  Participants who adorn this hat have to look underneath everything that is discussed.

Yellow Hat:  This hat stands for positivism.  Participants who adorn this hat have to look at the positive side of everything discussed.

Green Hat:  This hat stands for creativity.  Participants who adorn this hat must think creatively as well as innovatively. They have to produce never-before kind of ideas about everything discussed.

Blue Hat:  This hat is used by the facilitator or moderator.  Participants who adorn this hat have to look at the picture as a whole.

Hence, you select the hats which are required for a particular part of your thinking process…

Link to this article in full

photo credit: Paul Mayne via photopin cc

photo credit: Paul Mayne via photopin cc

The Perfect Workspace (According to Science)

by Christian Jarrett

The spaces we occupy shape who we are and how we behave.  This has serious consequences for our psychological well-being and creative performance.  Given that many of us spend years working in the same room, or even at the same desk, it makes sense to organize and optimize that space in the most beneficial ways possible.

…Based on recent psychology and neuroscience findings, here are some simple and effective steps you can take once to improve your productivity for years:

Take ownership of your workspace 

The simple act of making your own decisions about how to organize your workspace has an empowering effect and has been linked with improved productivity.

Craig Knight, Director of the Identity Realization workplace consultancy, showed this in a 2010 study with Alex Haslam involving 47 office workers in London. Those workers given the opportunity to arrange a small office with as many or few plants and pictures as they wanted were up to 32 percent more productive than others not given this control. They also identified more with their employer, a sign of increased commitment to the team effort and increased efficiency…

Choose rounded furniture and arrange it wisely

If you have the luxury of designing your own workspace, consider choosing a layout and furniture that is curved and rounded rather than sharp and straight-edged. Creating this environment has been linked with positive emotions, which is known to be beneficial for creativity and productivity…

This contrast between straight edges and curves also extends to the way we arrange our furniture. Apparently, King Arthur was on to something: sitting in circles provokes a collective mindset, whereas sitting in straight lines triggers feelings of individuality – something worth thinking about at your next meeting if you want to encourage team cohesion…

Take advantage of colour, light and space

…For instance, exposure to both blue and green has been shown to enhance performance on tasks that require generating new ideas. However, the colour red has been linked with superior performance on tasks involving attention to detail. Another study out this year showed that a dimmer environment fostered superior creativity in terms of idea generation, probably because it encourages a feeling of freedom. On the other hand, brighter light levels were more conducive to analytical and evaluative thinking…

Make use of plants and windows

If you only do one thing to optimize your workspace, invest in a green plant or two.  Research has repeatedly shown that the presence of office plants has a range of benefits including helping workers recover from demanding activities and lowering stress levels.  As a bonus, there’s also evidence that plants can reduce office pollution levels.

Another feature of an optimized office is a window with a view, preferably of a natural landscape.  This is because a glance at the hills or a lake recharges your mind.  Obviously a view of nature isn’t possible for many people who work in cities, but even in an urban situation, a view of trees or intricate architecture have both been linked with restorative benefits.  If you can’t negotiate a desk with a view, [a visit to a park] will revitalise your mind and compensate for your lack of a view.

The benefits of a messy desk

There’s a lot of pressure these days to be organized. How are you supposed to get your work done if you can’t even find a clear space on your desk to roll a mouse or place a plant? But new research suggests Einstein may have been onto something when he opined: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Here’s the link to this article in full

photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc

photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc

Dave Coplin: Re-imagining Work: Shifts in the Digital Revolution

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft, imagines what might be possible if organisations really began to think differently about the power of technological and social change to transform the way we do business.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

Here is an extract from what Coplin says in this talk with the things I would especially highlight:

A study released last year in the U.S. said 71% people are not happy in their work … and technology is a large part of the problem…

The first proposition is that the world around us has completely changed BUT … we’ve reached this place the plateau of mediocrity … You still use a keyboard, you still use a mouse The way you use these devices has not changed in fifty years. You’re still doing email, you still writing work process documents, you’re doing spreadsheets presentations…

If we cannot evolve, if we change the way we think about the jobs we are doing, the tasks that we have, we’re always going to be constrained…

My proposition about consumerisation is that we’re about to enter a second generation that’s not about devices anymore, but about services … this is about changing business processes. We’re already seeing examples … What’s underneath all of this is a genuinely new process of collaboration … When you are using something like Facebook or Twitter you are using a fundamentally different culture of collaboration. You are saying, pretty much everything I do by default is open except for the bits I choose to keep private. Contrast that to the standard of culture inside most organisations. It’s completely inverted: everything I do is closed unless I specifically say I’m going to share this. The change in that is absolutely profound…

We’re in a world where productivity, that thing that we’ve been chasing for hundreds of years, is fast becoming the problem … We spend our days answering email … batting things back and forward. We’ve forgotten that that’s not everything about work … When was the time you actually stopped and to think creatively: ‘how could we do things differently?’ We don’t do that because we’re too busy being busy…

But it doesn’t stop there. In fact really the biggest challenge that we face is more about our office space than it is about the tools that we use within them.. For the average knowledge worker you don’t have to be in a specific place at a specific time… There’a different way where you think of work as an activity rather than a destination… choosing the location of where you want to be. It’s also about you taking control of how you work and how you use the tools that are in front of you… Where we used to talk about the work-life balance and we used to think really binary – I’m at work; I am at home – the reality of today’s society, the reality of what technology affords you the choice of is that you can feather those things. And it’s really up to us as a culture, as a society, to see if we’re up to making that choice… And so based on the tasks I have to do today, where is the best place for me to work…?

And trust is crucial. Trust works on many levels. We found that … the biggest issue of people working outside the office is not between the employer and the employee, it amongst the employees themselves: “I can’t see Dave. I wonder if he’s really working? I wonder how his patio’s coming on.” But we also showed that people who weren’t working in the office, they carried around this sense of guilt: “I’m not in the office. They’re going to be thinking I’m working on my patio.” So they end up over-compensating. They end up sending more emails, making more phone calls in an attempt to be more visible, destroying the advantages of working away from the office. So for most organisations it about this really hard thing. It’s about having the confidence to let go. It’s about empowering the people that you work with the confidence to choose the best place to work, the best tools to use… That’s a really scary place for most organisations to be…

Some ideas to give you some ways to change your thinking about what you do inside your organisation…

I challenge you, like the DVLA. to think what you’ve got in your organisations that you don’t need to do any more…?

The other part of this is trying to get yourself to think really differently about potential outcomes. We’re constrained by our past experience. Everything that happens to us colours what we think about the future, how we think the future’s going to play out. But kids think differently… don’t just get constrained by your past experiences, think about a different world…

Envisioning is crucial because it’s about that human focus, it’s about “there’s a different way that we could do this.” And if you think about that different way, then the technology will follow that goal, rather than it being just this iterative thing of we do the same thing but just slightly better…

The other thing is the arrogance of the present… “why would I ever need more bandwidth than I have now!” … And if you can’t envision any other future world, then you can’t measure the value of any future innovation… You can’t avoid the arrogance of the present, but you can recognise that it will come up and try and think differently about what might happen… We need to think how can we use our technology to get us further…

If we’re going to do this we’ve got to educate people to really think differently about technology, and not just kids, everybody. We need to live in a world that thinks about skills not tools… What we should be doing is teaching people how to communicate properly, and critical thinking…

And we have to remember that the organisation’s role in this…is seeing the big picture… The focus becomes on process itself, we’ve lost touch with the outcomes of the organisation. We forget to take stock, to take a step back and think about what is it that we’re actually trying to do here?…

And that’s the final key…it’s all about us. It’s all about people, it’s about the individual, it’s about being empowered…to think about what is it that I could contribute to my organisation to help them achieve that outcome…

If you do those things then I think you’re in a great place to re-imagine the way your organisation works…

Don’t Do It! App Aims to Help You Make Better Decisions

Even the best leaders make mistakes. Now, there’s a way to prevent bad decisions from happening — via mobile app.

The Management Thinking Mistakes app wants to help decision makers avoid making mistakes in thinking by providing a misconception-debunking tool that can guide them in the right direction.

To help users steer clear of thinking traps, the Management Thinking Mistakes app aims to prevent mistakes before they occur. Using a crowdsourced collection of the most common thinking mistakes, users can learn to recognize common fallacies, biases and effects that can result in poor decision-making. By providing context-specific thinking mistakes, uses are able to find relevant information to help them properly evaluate situations.

“Thinking mistakes are defects in our thinking process that weaken our aim to find the best solutions,” said developers WiB Solutions in a press release. “By learning to recognize common fallacies, biases and effects, we can avoid these mistakes in the context of meetings or decision making. At the same time, we can also learn to recognize the thinking mistakes when used by others.”

The Management Thinking Mistakes app is available to download for free at the Apple App Store. The app will also be used at Harvard University in the fall semester…

The Beauty And Calm Of ‘Thinking In Numbers’

There are numbers all around us. They are in every word we speak or write, and in the passage of time. Everything in our world has a numeric foundation, but most of us don’t see those numbers. It’s different for Daniel Tammet. He’s a savant with synesthesia, a condition that allows him to see beyond simple numerals — he experiences them.

“Every number has its own colour so the number 1 is like a shining light from a lantern. The number two is more like a flowing, darker purple, violet color. Three is green, and after 10 what happens is I see the colours but the individual digits contribute their own colors, so I am seeing a blend of those primary colors. And when I recited the number pi, I would see the colors as a landscape, full of textures and emotions, and it would blend together like a kind of story, or poem, that I could recite to those who were listening to me.”

5,040 “is a highly divisible number. You can take any number of the first digits 2, and 3 and 4 … and so on and 5,040 divides evenly into them. It also divides into 12, and so in Plato’s imagination, the perfect society would divide into 12 … According to this figure, everything would be divided evenly. There would be no war, there would be no discord, and of course this idea is extremely attractively to our ears today. Ears that hear too often news of wars and famine and misery. And, at the same time, I think we’re, all of us, wise enough to realise Plato was perhaps a little bit naive as well … There are things that we cannot calculate … There is always an element of humanity that escapes mathematics, that escapes numbers as well.”

Here is the link to read more of this story and hear the interview with Daniel Tammet talking about how he thinks

Dr Iain McGilchrist on ‘The Divided Brain

Q&A with Iain McGilchrist
by Margaret Emory

How many times have you been told, “Oh you’re such a left-brain person,” meaning you think logically, are good with numbers, very analytical and so on? And upon hearing that summation, you long for the right brain’s creative, intuitive, artistic complements. Why can’t they be part of the equation, you wonder.

We used to believe the two parts of the brain work in harmony, but according to London psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, there’s a definite shift in our modern culture which favors left-brain dominance—and it’s something we ought to watch out for and correct. In The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale University Press, 2009), McGilchrist discusses the hemispheres and their different “personalities,” and then shows a sweeping dissertation on the history of Western civilization as seen from the context of the divided brain…

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

I think an aspect of being a conscious being is that you are aware that you can become powerful by manipulation.  Other creatures, of course, are competing and manipulating, but they’re probably not aware of the fact that this is a way of becoming powerful—that it seems to work well for a lot of the things that one does as one grows a civilisation  …One creates these things that seem to make life simpler, easier and better and make you more powerful.  It’s enticing, and you can soon begin to think that everything works like this.  Everything in your world seems to break down into a lot of machines that we’ve created.  

While this is a very interesting way of looking at things, it’s basically a practical tool for getting ahead. It’s not really a very good instrument for … finding out actually what the world is and how we know about it.  It can lead us to narrow down the way we think about things to a merely rationalistic set of propositions, a series of algorithms…

One of the interesting elements that comes out in research into the “personalities” or the “takes” of the two hemispheres is that the left hemisphere thinks it knows it all, and as a result is extremely optimistic.  It overvalues its own ability.  It takes us away from the presence of things in all their rich complexity to a useful representation—that representation is always much simpler.  And an awful lot is lost in it.  

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you need to simplify.  For example, if you’re designing a building or if you’re fighting a campaign, you need a map, a scheme.  You don’t really need all the richness of what would be there in the real world.  But I’m afraid that that representation moves into a world where we have the ability constantly to interact with the world only as a representation, over a screen.  Even Facebook and social networking may look like you have suddenly have loads of friends, but what it may actually do is take you away from your real-life friends so that your life is more crowded and there’s less time, actually, to be aware peacefully of the world around you and to interact socially—a word that used to mean “with your fellow creatures.” …

People often ask me, “what can we do about this?”  I think they’re rather hoping I’ll give them a list of bullet points—“The 12 Things You Need”—like a best-selling paperback.  That is really a perfect example of the left hemisphere.  “Okay.  Fix it by having a little plan.  We do this, we do that, and bingo!”  

But in fact, what I have tried to convey throughout the entire book is that the world, as it is, has its own shape, value, meaning and so on, and that we crowd it out with our own plans, thoughts and beliefs, which are going to be narrow.  A wise thing to do would be not to do certain things.  Another theme of my book is that negation is creative.  That by having less of something, more comes into being.  So actually what we need to do is not create a world.  We need to stop doing lots of things and allow the wonderful thing that is already there to evolve, to give it room to grow.  That’s also true of a single human mind…

We are now understanding the benefits of mindfulness, which is officially recommended by the British body NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence).  

The essence of mindfulness is clearing your mind of all the stuff that’s going on in there and stopping you from experiencing life.  You’re so busy feeling bad about the past you can’t change and chasing after a future you can’t predict, instead of actually being alive in the moment.  That is really the essence of mindfulness.  Recent research shows that mindfulness engages wide networks in the right hemisphere, and the EEG studies show that there is a more balancing of the two hemispheres in those who are meditating.  

So I think meditation and not doing things, making space in your life and switching off your machines, being present in the moment and practicing mindfulness would be a way to start…

The cognitive processing model is mechanistic and sees us like a complicated heating system with valves and pumps and thermostats that switch things on and off.  But one of the interesting things about the hemispheres is that the right hemisphere seems to be better able to take into its vision the information that is coming to it from what was always called the lower parts of the brain, the more ancient parts of the brain, and indeed, from the body.

The difficulty with the cognitive model is that we think of the brain as a computer, and we think of memory as something like a data bank.  Memory, of course, is not at all like that.  It’s part of the human’s whole world and is distributed in the body.  In a way, you can say that the very muscles have memory. Memory is not something that is unchanging. It is contextual—and that’s a weakness of it in some ways, but it’s also very much the strength of it.

We now know that even something like the heart actually communicates with the brain and gives as much information back to the brain—in fact, possibly more—than the brain gives to the heart. Anyone who suffers from depression will know that you have this terribly heavy oppressive feeling in the center of your chest.  The things that you feel in your body are of course experienced through the brain, but they then are seen and experienced phenomenologically in the body.  Our bodies and our brains can’t be separated in that way.

So although cognitive science is a very useful thing, I think it ought to learn less from the Cartesian tradition of philosophy and more from the phenomenological tradition of philosophy, particularly from the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, who is probably the single most important philosopher of the last century for those who are interested in the relationship between mind and the body…

Link to read full article

Happiness At Work Edition #59

For all of these stories and more see our Happiness At Work collection…

Enjoy.

Happiness At Work #50 ~ the future is now

Andrew McAfee: What Will Future Jobs Look Like (TEDTalk)

It’s tough to make predictions – especially about the future… Yogi Berra

Growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when computers first began to be used in businesses, I can remember being told that the biggest challenge our generation would face would be what to do with all of our leisure time.  Because automation was going to free from us from so many things, we would have a ridiculous surfeit of our own time to do whatever we liked with.  Well, until now, I and the millions of others  who have been unsuccessfully trying to chase down an ever-increasing To Do List and get back any pretence of being even slightly in control as much as I have thought “well ha bloody ha!”

But could it be this prophecy at last be within reach of becoming true?

This is exactly what economist Andrew McAfee is claiming that this TEDTalk.

In the world that we are creating very quickly, we are going to see more and more things that look like science fiction and fewer and fewer things that look like jobs.

He admits that people have been wrongly warning of technology-induced unemployment since the Luddites smasked the looms 200 years ago, but says that what is different about now is that our machines have just started doing things they have never ever done before:

…understanding, speaking, hearing, seeing, answering, writing.  And they are still acquiring new skills…and the day is not too far off when we are going to have androids doing a lot of the jobs that we are doing now.

The world that we’re creating is going to involve more and more technology and less and less jobs, but this is great news he tells us.

…the best economic news that we have these days is that the New Machine Age will free us from drudgery and toil…

Just what we were told 35 years ago.  But maybe, just maybe the future is actually here this time…

This is a time of great flourishing for inventors, innovators and artists who are able to do things with less constraints than ever before…  we are in an astonishing time…

McFee is not concerned about dystopian fears that our machines will rise up to overwhelm and enslave us.  Or, at least, not ‘until my computer becomes aware of my printer…’

The societal challenge he thinks we do need to be thinking about is that, since the computerisation began in our work in the 1960’s, the gap has steadily widened between what work provides for people with college education, so-called white collar workers, and the life that non-college educated so-called blue-collar or low skill workers can make.  And these trends are now becoming so severe that they show signs of overwhelming any of last century’s civil rights achievements:

We have to do better than this.

We see some green shoots that things are getting better.  We see technology deeply impacting education and engaging people from our youngest learners up to our oldest ones.  We see business leaders telling us we need to rethink some of things that we have been holding dear for a while.  And we see very serious and data-driven efforts to understand how to intervene in some of the most troubled communities that we have…  But I don’t want to pretend for a moment that what we have will be enough…

My biggest anxiety is that we are going to have brilliant technologies embedded in a kind of shabby society and supported by an economy that supports inequalities instead of opportunity…

But I don’t believe for a second that we have forgotten how to solve tough challenges or become too hard-headed or apathetic to even try…

If we are going to bring the broad masses of the people in every land to the table of abundance it can only be by the tireless improvement of all or our means of technical production.

Winston Churchill

Systems that Perceive, Think, and Act

Technological advances are allowing scientists to begin building a cognitive computer that functions like a brain.

Since computers were invented, they’ve been called “brains.”

Yet, the fundamental tasks at which computers and human brains excel, the vastly different design underlying each, and the brain’s remarkable ability to learn and adapt has always set them poles apart — until now.

By bringing together the recent advances in neurosciencesupercomputing, and nanotechnology, we’re at the beginning stages of creating cognitive machines: inspired by the function, low power, and compact volume of the organic brain.

Ancient Greece people together and female column

This week I  have been questioning how much these days, if in fact at all, we are mindful to try and learn from the past.

I recognise the superabundance of history that we get – our television has perhaps never been so rich with re-creations, re-imaginations, re-enactments, re-stagings and other styles of historical re-tellings.  But I have been wondering how much this exists as a kind of wonderful-story product, something to know and enjoy as a distant and effectively fictionalised aspect of ourselves with little relevance or practical application to our fabulously enlightened and self-actualised lives today.

The childhood, adolescence and early adulthood I remember growing up was laden with ominous lessons from recent and more distant history.  We were taught to be vigilant against the horrors and oppressions of war and tyranny and to distrust any form didacticism, whether political or religious.  And we grew up in a tense spreadeagled balance between our fear of nuclear catastrophe along one dimension, and in the other, fiercely determined in the headstrong battles we fought to force out a kinder more equal world: feminism, black and ethnic minority rights and gay, lesbian and transgender activism.

And in a great many of these ambitions we have been successful and the world we wanted is the world we now have.

So what can history teach us now?  Do we believe that we have now transcended anything that we could ever need or expect to learn from our past.  Are we so arrogant to think that our world and lives now are so far removed and evolved from any of our previous iterations, that from here on in we are walking blind and will just have to make it up as we go along?  If so, why then do we seem to be doggedly and dogmatically banging down our old solutions that seem to me to have been conceived and designed for a previous time for a now outmoded set of circumstances?

George Papandreou: Imagine A European Democracy Without Borders (TEDTalk)

I am not the only one with an interest in looking back as a way of looking optimistically forward.  In this TEDTalk George Papandreou, the former Greek Prime Minister, invites us to remember the conditions and aspirations of the original democracy of Ancient Greece…

He talks about how mastery over our own fates was a discovery, a revelation to the Ancient Greeks and how this liberated us from the fear of being always subject to the whims of the gods or despots.  This was also the time that many of our modern ideas about happiness were invented, where we chose to see happiness as eudaimonia, wellbeing, more about the rewards of living a good life, living well and less down to happenstance, luck, whatever the gods chucked at us.

Bringing some of the insights that he has found though his reflections since leaving office, his story of what has happened in recent years, not just in Greece but across the whole of Europe and even across the globe, points up some of the deeper problems and complexities that we are all facing but not yet approaching with 21st century intelligence, collaboration and creativity.  Our problems, he tells us, are not so much of economics as they are of democracy itself.  We are, he suggests, responding with too much of a knee-jerk reactionary panic to an overbearing sense of subserviance to the market’s power and, as a consequence, destroying people’s belief and trust in democracy, just as happened centuries ago in Ancient Greece:

Democracies are once again facing a moment of truth…

Greece is only a symptom in the wider vulnerabilities of the system, vulnerabilities of our democracies.

Our democracies are trapped by systems to big to fail.  Or, more accurately, too big to control.

Our democracies are weakened in the global economy with players that can evade laws, that evade taxes, evade environmental or labour standards.

Our democracies are undermined and constrained by the growing inequality and the growing concentration of power and wealth, lobbies, corruption, the speed of the markets, or simply the fear of  an impending disaster.  And this has constrained the capacity to imagine and use the potential of  the collective for finding solution.

Greece was only a preview of what is in store…

He talks about how the group of leaders who met to solve the crisis in Greece shared a common ignorance of never having had to deal with these circumstances before, but that this ignorance led to fear and panic-led decisions and actions rather than anything like the creativity and innovation that can be born when the people around the table acknowledge their not-knowing and use this energy and honesty to forge brand new ideas and possibilities for action.

They used dogma and determinism when they would have been better to orient themselves with the sense and capabilities of creativity and learning and dialogue –  to look for and find meaning through conversation rather than defend an existing position, what Papandreous calls

…the blind faith in the orthodoxy of austerity.  Instead of reaching out to the collective wisdom in our societies, investing in it to find more creative solutions, we reverted to political posturing.

And then we were surprised when every ad hoc new measure didn’t bring an end to the crisis…

But this could be the pattern that leaders follow again and again when we deal with these complex cross-border problems, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s migration, whether it’s the financial system.  This is abandoning our collective power to imagine, falling victim to our fears, our stereotypes, our dogmas.  Taking our citizens out of the process rather than building the process around our citizens…

It’s no wonder that our political leaders, and I don’t excuse myself, have lost the trust of our people…

He says the reason he called for a referendum was because, before trust and confidence in the markets could be restored, it was necessary to restore trust and confidence in our people:

If politics is the power to re-imagine our problems, then 60% youth unemployment in Greece, and across other countries in Europe, is certainly a lack of imagination, as well as compassion.

His call-to-action is to:

…see how we can throw democracy at the problem.  The Ancient Greeks, with all their shortcomings, believed in the wisdom of the crowd.  ‘In people we trust.’  Democracy could not work without the citizens deliberating and debating, taking on public responsibilities for public affairs.

Average citizens were often chosen for citizen juries who decide on critical matters of the day.

Science, theatre, research, philosophy, games of the mind and the body – these were a daily exercise.  Actually they were an education for participation, for growing the potential of our citizens…

The term ‘idiot‘ originated in Ancient Greece, coming from the term ‘idio‘ meaning self, a person excluded, self-centred, someone who doesn’t participate or even examine public affairs…

Today we have globalised our markets but we have not globalised our democratic institutions…

How do we secure the demos, the space, the platform of values so that we can tap into all of your potential?

Citing Europe as already the most successful peace experiment ever achieved, he then makes the challenge that Europe might also be an equally successful new pan-nation experiment of global democracy, offering and even greater citizenship across its regions where they can come up with creative solutions, where our common identity is democracy and our common value is participation.

Today I will talk to you about the failure of leadership in our western democracies.  And I will not provide any feel-good ready-made solutions.  But I will in the end urge you to re-think, take risks and get involved in what I see as a global evolution of democracy.  Because I believe the failure of democracy is that we have taken you out of the process…

At the end of this talk he tells us:

I have been, and am, part of Europe’s political system.  And believe me, I know: things must change.

We must revive politics as the power to re-imagine and re-design for a better world.

But I also know that this disruptive change won’t be driven by the politics of today.  The revival of democratic politics will come from you.  And I mean all of you. Everyone who stands up…

See also these articles about the links between resilience and the collective…

Governments shirk their responsibilities in the name of ‘resilience’

Those with power and resources may be able to engage with and influence resilience agendas. Vulnerable people and communities may find themselves significantly affected by the retreat of the state and the steady erosion of the services they once provided.

In an age of uncertainty where the complexity and global reach of our social, economic and environmental systems can deliver what are claimed to be unavoidable shocks, the idea of self-made resilience has found a welcoming political home.  The impact of this widespread acceptance needs to be very carefully considered however.  Bouncing back or adapting is not better than avoiding risk in the first place.

Prevention is better than cure.

Resilience in trying times — a result of positive actions

Communities that stick together and do good for others cope better with crises and are happier for it, according to a new study by John Helliwell, from the University of British Columbia in Canada, and colleagues. Their work suggests that part of the reason for this greater resilience is the fact that humans are more than simply social beings, they are so-called ‘pro-social’ beings. In other words, they get happiness not just from doing things with others, but from doing things both with and for others…

Artistry: 

U3: The 7th Triennial of Contemporary Art in Slovenia. Resilience

20 June–29 September 2013

In recent years the concept of resilience has grown out of the global trend of developing sustainability in the societies of the global North.

In natural sciences or physics, a resilient body is described as flexible, durable, and capable of springing back to its original form and transforming the energy received into its own reconstruction (a good example of this is the sponge).

In psychology, resilience refers to the subject’s ability to recover their original state relatively quickly after some significant stress or shock and continuing with the processes of self-realization without a major setback.

Resilience is more than just the ability to adapt, promoted by the concept of the flexible subject over the past two decades, which was adopted by corporate capitalism and triggered the precarious mass movement of labourers.

Resilience encompasses exploring reciprocal codependence and finding one’s political and socio-ecological place in a world that is out of balance and creates increasingly disadvantageous living conditions. Rather than trying to find global solutions for some indefinite future or projecting a possible perfect balance, resilient thinking focuses on the diversity of practical solutions for the here and now, and on the cooperation and creativity of everyone involved in a community or society.

The 7th Triennial of Contemporary Art in Slovenia gives prominence to practices that can be seen as analogous to the concept of resilience, i.e. community-oriented, site-specific, participatory, performative, architectural, social, civic and other discursive practices exploring new (or revived) community principles, such as the “do-it-together,” urban gardening, and co-working, as well as the fundamental social question of how we coexist. Blending work and everyday life forms the basis of new economic, ethical, and production principles that the younger generation of artists uses to transform the role of the creative subject in contemporary Slovenian society…

This week we have also discovered the artist: Suli Breaks.  Highly recommended:  We think his spoken word videos are truly exceptional and really reward tuning into…

I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate||Spoken Word

Hear his articulate urgent voice about the world we have made and its consequences.  This is the video that is getting a lot of online attention.

The American’T Dream (The Purse Suit Of Happyness)||Spoken Word

For a more gentle and perhaps more optimistic here is his potent relevant vital Spoken Word video about living the life you care about.

Engaging Kids Today

Dan Haesler, a teacher, writer, speaker and consultant who’s worked with governments on education initiatives, says that teachers and parents need to be clear about what they mean by the term ‘engagement’.

According to Haesler, too many adults understand ‘engaged’ to mean occupying “the attention or efforts of a person”. This may be correct but it’s far too limiting. Yes, kids today are definitely occupied. There’s even the phenomenon now of the ‘hurried child’ whose calendar is filled with back-to-back commitments. Haesler wonders though if this is the best we can do. His much-preferred definition of ‘engaged’ is to “genuinely attract and hold the attention of our kids”.

This is the definition he wants us all to consider, “the sense of living a life high in interest, curiosity, and absorption. Engaged individuals pursue goals with determination and vitality,” he says…

Daniel Suarez: The Kill Decision Shouldn’t Belong To A Robot (TEDTalk)

‘No Robot should be allowed expectations of privacy in a public space…’

Science-fiction writer, Daniel Suarez – insisting that he is not talking fiction but facts here – says that we already have fully autonomous combat drones that can make lethal decisions about humans ‘all on their own‘ – having a human being in the loop is a choice not a requirement.  How might this change our social landscape he asks, and provides a brief tour of war history from the knights in armour through to the canon and on to the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that we have been living with for more than a century now.  70 nations are now preparing their autonomous combat robots, and he argues we must develop global agreements that build our immunity to these machines rather escalate conflicts before it is too late and we are already in the maze…

gun closeup

From fitness to wellness: OMsignal’s smart shirts measure your motion … and emotion

A host of fitness tracking tech is currently on the market allowing users to measure and monitor their daily activities, heart rate, exercise intensity and even how much they sweat.

 But what about your emotional state? Montreal-based smart apparel company OMsignal has developed a T-shirt and a bra that not only tracks your daily steps, calorie burn and heart rate, but it also measures your breathing and emotional well-being using your heart rate variability, or HRV.

OMsignal started to work on a wellness wearable in 2011 after the team members initially designed a fitness bracelet in 2008. The goal was to access a greater body footprint — to get deeper data — and then to extract more meaningful signals and generate more meaningful insights.

Those insights have a lot to do with stress. CEO Marceau — who’s a high-energy, passionate, excitable person — has been practicing mindful breathing for a long time. With an active, busy lifestyle plus the stresses of a startup, he needs the chill factor, and needs the health benefits.

Especially the benefits of mindful breathing — even when you’re not exercising.

“With breathing, you control your stress,” says OMsignal’s chief medical officer, Stéphane Borreman — who is not only an emergency room physician but also a mechanical engineer. “Good breathing can make overall better balance in terms of the nervous system.”

All of which means that OMsignal’s apparel doesn’t just count your calories or tally up your steps for the day. It helps you understand how you are feeling, and why … it measures your emotional state.

Happiness At Work #50 – this week’s new collection

See this week’s full collection for these and many more stories, not just under this Future Is Now heading, but also across our usual spread of stories about happiness & personal flourishing, resilience & wellbeing, creativity & artistry, learning & leadership…

Happiness At Work #49 ~ listening, giving, empathy and quietness

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This week’s Happiness At Work collection #49 highlights stories about the power and effectiveness of what many would call the especially softest of the soft skills: listening, giving, empathy and quietness.

We’ve always been unhappy about the term ‘soft skills.’  Used as a catch-all for the skills that privilege human interaction over the more so-called ‘hard skills’ that are concentrated on results, efficiency, facts and figures, tasks and outcomes that, we argue, are a doddle compared to the much much ‘harder’ expertise needed to enact the highly complex demands of making high quality relationships, communications, feelings and experiences.

So here is a special selection of ideas, provocations, invitations and practical techniques for honing our soft skills into the strength, suppleness and resilience that our 21st century professional lives so deeply demand from us.  There are some really potent ideas here that challenge our default assumptions about what constitues ‘good’ and ‘bad’ leadership and question just how valuable and necessary being the archetypal inspirational leader really is for getting high quality outcomes in a complex fast-changing and unpredictable environment…

Spider's Web

Julian Treasure: 5 Ways To Listen Better (TEDTalk)

We are losing our listening…

This is how Julian Treasure begins his deeply-felt talk, which includes, as his title promises, five practical techniques for practising better listening skills.  These are some of the ideas taken from this talk that ring out especially for us:

Listening means making meaning from sound.

We listen through a funnel of unconscious filters that all go towards creating the reality and meanings we form:

Culture

Language

Values

Beliefs

Attitudes

Expectations

Intentions

The premium of good listening is disappearing partly because of our recording capabilities, which makes the need for good listening seem less needed and so less looked after than ever.  In our headphone bubbles, we are living in a noisier, more impatient and desensitised world where it is becoming harder for us to pay attention to the quiet, the subtle, the understated…

We need to learn to listen as if for the very first time.  Here are five tools for improving our ability to do this:

  1. Silence.  Just make 5 minutes a day of consciously observed silence – or as near to it as you can make.
  2. The Mixer.  Listen to how many individual channels of sound you can hear and tune into in the air around you.
  3. Savouring.  Enjoy mundane everyday sounds.  Discover how interesting and layered and dynamic and different sounds actually are.
  4. Listening Positions.  Most important this one.  Shift and play with different positions to get conscious about different ways of listening.  These are some, but there are many more:

active ~ passive

reductive ~ expansive

critical ~ empathetic

  1. RASA.  Sanskrit word meaning ‘juice’ and the acronym for Receive Appreciate Summarise (“So…) Ask questions.

I live to ask questions.  But I believe every human being needs to listen consciously in order to live fully connecting to the physical world around you and top each other.  In terms of spiritually connecting, every ritual path has listening at its heart.

We need to teach listening in our schools.

(And – we add emphatically – to our professionals and leaders across every different sector, organisation and enterprise.)

A world where we are not listening to each other is a very scary dangerous place.

Listening can help make connection, understanding, peace…

soothing ripples

Below the Noise: Listening as a Lifeline: Virginia Prescott at TEDxPiscataquaRiver

In this talk broadcaster and sound artist Virginia Prescott invites us to think about how we can learn to appreciate and enjoy listening more as we go forward in an environment of social media and increasingly individualised technologies…

Broadcasting means to throw out seeds.  And we don’t always know where these seeds will land or what will grow from them…

A Story Sung: Why Fiction Writers Should Read Poetry

In this article the ideas that Lucas Hunt writes for writers has so much resonance that I have substituted a more universal pronoun to amplify his wisdom for us all…

Any [one] who desires to get at the truth of human experience should read poetry, because it contains a multitude of possibility. Poetry is the mud that grows the seed that becomes the forest. It is the clay that makes the brick that forms the building. It is the blood that moves the body that holds the spirit. Poetry has the essence of life in it.

Poets voice that which has no voice in this world. They speak in tongues, and hope their words reach the ears and touch the hearts of those who know what it means to live. Much like fiction writers, poets struggle to remember how to make sense of existence. They share a passion for language, and a common, driving need: to imagine the world not just as it is, but how it ought to be.

Poetry tends toward silence…  Poetry aspires to be a song, more than a story, to be lyrically rich. It is also full of primal messages that, somehow, can express the inexpressible. There is more than meets the eye…

And if you enjoy this piece, you might also like to check out:

How To Enjoy Poetry by Maria Popova

“True poetic practice implies a mind so miraculously attuned and illuminated that it can form words, by a chain of more-than coincidences, into a living entity,” Edward Hirsch advised in his directive on how to read a poem.

But how, exactly, does one cultivate such “true poetic practice”?…

The poet and novelist James Dickey, winner of the National Book Award for his poetry collection Buckdancer’s Choice, offers some timeless and breathtakingly articulated advice…Ultimately, James Dickey champions the enlivening potency of the learn-by-doing approach:

The more your encounter with poetry deepens, the more your experience of your own life will deepen, and you will begin to see things by means of words, and words by means of things.

You will come to understand the world as it interacts with words, as it can be re-created by words, by rhythms and by images.

You’ll understand that this condition is one charged with vital possibilities. You will pick up meaning more quickly — and you will create meaning, too, for yourself and others.

Connections between things will exist for you in ways that they never did before. They will shine with unexpectedness, wide-openness, and you will go toward them, on your own path. ‘Then,’ as Dante says, ‘will your feet be filled with good desire.’ You will know this is happening the first time you say, of something you never would have noticed before, ‘Well, would you look at that! Who’d ‘a thunk it?’ (Pause, full of new light.)

‘I thunk it!’

quiet - soft focus purple floral print

Not Any Old Pencil

Brazil born, US based artist Dalton Ghetti carves minute masterpieces on the tips of pencils.

Here is some wisdom we can all learn from him by attending to the five things a pencil should never forget:

1) Everything you do will always leave a mark.
2) You can always correct the mistakes you make.
3) What is important is what’s inside you.
4) In life, you will undergo painful sharpenings which will only make you better.
5) To be the best pencil, you must allow yourself to be held and guided by the hand that holds you.

Leading Quietly by Adam Grant

In this talk at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, occupational psychologist Adam Grant begins with a story of his experience building motivation in a call centre.  To improve things, he brings in two very different students who had benefited from the scholarships that these people were trying to raise money for to talk about how their bursary had changed their lives.  The first, Will, a student who was achieving meteoric success, came in and gave a dynamic high-imact presentation.  The average caller who heard Will increased the revenue they raised by 170%.  The second student, Emily, was painfully shy, and could barely get through her words.  But Emily’s effect was 2.5 times stronger than Will’s – leading to a 400% increase in revenue by the people who heard her.  Partly this is because of empathy, her audience really felt for her, but even more it was because of Emily’s authenticity:  her listeners knew she was telling the truth about how important her bursary was because it was clear that she was not speaking to them for any pleasure.

What stood out for me was they never once had to hear from a leader.  And this led me to thinking why do leaders think they have to be the ones who deliver the inspiring messages?  Why is this common sense but not common practice?

He then provides a quick self-assessment for Introversion and Extraversion which is not visible in this video, but most of us will already be familiar with our preferences across this scale.

This site  – Myers Briggs Test – is a helpful place to start to explore your  own preferences if you don’t know whether you are more of an Extravert, Introvert or Ambivert (half-and-half)

Grant tells us that Extraversion is how your neocortex processes stimulation, and helps govern willpower and self control.  Optimal arousal is that point when we are fully engaged, ‘in the zone,’ neither overloaded with too much stuff coming at us, but not getting so little stimulation that we are bored.  This is also the place where we are likely to be happy and flourishing.  A high Extravert preference wants lots of social interaction because that’s what brings stimulation for the neocortex, whereas people will an Introvert preference will be trying to get time to themselves in order to get their version of this same high level of optimal stimulation.

Even though Extraversion-Introversion preferences are cut right in the middle for the whole population, meaning that there are just as many Introverts as Extraverts, a piece of  research in 2009 found that 96% of American leaders score on the attention seeking Extravert side of this continuum, and only 4% below the mid point, and there is no reason to think that results in the UK would be significantly different.

If most leaders are the Extraverts, they feel they need to be the ones in the centre of attention…to be the ones who are delivering the inspiring messages…

When these figures are broken down further they reveal that 50% of supervisors are actually in the top 25% of high Extraversion scores, so are very extraverted, and  this has increased to 80% of top level executives who score at the high end of Extraversion.  For Adam Grant this leads to the question: ‘What are the consequences of this?  Is it good to be an extraverted leader?’

Extraverts, Grant suggests, are great for people who like to have a strong steer, but not at all for more proactive people who have a high degree of initiative and self-sufficiency.  These are the very people that we need most when the environment is turbulent and uncertain.  We know that it is impossible for leaders to recognise all of the problems that might be going on in these conditions.  And these people need Introverts to lead them, but in a more proactive and dynamic way than we might think.  This is not to say that all Introverts lead proactive self-starting people well, but, if they do, they get much better results.

And the evidence suggests that most Extraverts will be leading these people ineffectively.  Extraverted leaders tend to feel threatened by suggestions coming from below, and tend to ignore or reject what their people bring.  This in turn discourages these people and decreases the likelihood of them bringing more suggestions.  Grant’s research found a 28% lower output when people brought their suggestions to an Extravert rather than an Introverted leader.

So maybe there are some benefits to leading in a more Introverted and quiet way…

Grant owns up to being an Introvert.  He was once told that he was so nervous when he spoke that he caused his students to shake in their seats.  As a manager he felt he had to be constantly engaging and became completely exhausted. Introverts that operate at high rates of engagement all the time are at high risk of burnout and ill health.  But he goes on to wonder if ‘sometimes we get trapped into roles more than we meed to…’  Rather than quitting another job he was failing in, Grant did the job of his people were doing and became a salesman for a week, and, even though he was pretty rubbish at it and began by doing very badly, he ended up achieving a reasonable amount of revenue by going out to find new people that were not currently aware of their product.  This stimulated his thinking about whether he needed to be very extraverted in order to be an effective leader.

We can all act outside of our preferred style so long as we get a restorative retreat, a chance to return to the way of being that re-energises and refocuses us – quiet reflection for Introverts, social interaction for Extraverts.

Leading by doing, behavioural integrity, is one way of leading quietly.  When Grant spent time doing the job of the people he managed, he found his words took on far more meaning for people.

Our ‘first nature’ or signature strengths are those ways of being that just feel right, easy, natural for us.  But all of us develop a second nature, an out-of-character role, which we master because it helps us achieve something that we care about.  For Introverts, this is public speaking.  For Extraverts, it might be to do more stepping back, shutting up and listening and accepting others’ ideas and suggestions.

Grant gives us three practical ways forward in his call-to-action for leading more quietly:

  1. Spend time actually doing the work of the people you lead.  One expert recommends 10% of your time actually doing the work your employees do.
  2. Outsource inspiration.  Just as with the call centre, maybe the ideas about what is really valuable, and thus the inspiration and big ways of motivating people, are better brought by beneficiaries, clients, patients, customers, stakeholders, partners rather than you as the leader.  For example: Facebook engineers regularly get to hear invited users to talk about the actual differences that Facebook has made to their lives.
  3. Think about the other 80:20 rule.  Do not talk more than 20% of the time and spend at least 80% of your time really listening to the people around you.  Grant says to remember that ‘do not learn anything when I am talking’…

As an Extravert, myself, I have to say that this is only partially true, because, as an Extravert, talking and thinking are synonymous and I often literally do not know know what I think until I hear myself saying it.  I have great respect for the Introvert’s mystical ability to make fully formed fully considered conclusions without saying anything to anyone, but this is not easily in my gift, but rather something that I have had to develop as a consciously applied ‘second nature’ skill.  But back to Grant:

I’m not going to say that all Extraverts are narcissists but the correlation is positive…

So just as I’ve made myself feel better about my over-talkative style Grant points up the joy of talking for Extraverts, who tend to find listening to themselves talking exactly the happy learning experience I was just defending.  And research has found that the more Extraverts talk, the more they like the group they are with, even saying that the more they talk the more they learn about the other people in the group.  Ouch.

I do recognise wholeheartedly and without any reservation that I do not hear anything when I am talking and this matters.  And I would add to this that we cannot do exceptionally well more than one thing at a time, even if we are woman, so that if I am mostly concentrated on listening, this will be what gets my fullest energy and attention, whereas if I am thinking about what I want to say, it will not, and I will miss important and potentially vital things.

One more idea at the end of this talk caught my interest:  apparently Extraverts are more likely to be optimists and Introverts more pessimist.  But – crucially since realistic optimism is such a critical element of resilience – both optimism and pessimism are largely learned orientations, as we know from, for example, the exercise of spending 21 days writing down what you most appreciate that day which literally rewires the automatic circuitry in our brain and leads to long-lasting levels of increased optimism and positivity.

silhoutte of two business people talking

Susan Cain: Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (The RSA)

Susan Cain is one of the people Adam Grant references in his talk about Leading Quietly.  In this talk Cain speaks passionately about the problems that come from the world that we have made that biases the preferences and needs of Extraverts over what Introverts need to be able to flourish:

We set up our workplaces and schools for maximum group interaction and we’re losing sight of the importance of solitude for creativity…  There is no correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas…

We are living in a world that has become so  overly extraverted, so lopsided in that direction, that even extraverts don’t feel they have permission to tap into that side o themselves.

In companies, it has been found that the most effective teams are those that combine Extraverts and Introverts.  The two types are really drawn to each other and need each other.

Quiet - Susan Cain

Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts (TEDTalks)

In her TEDTalk Cain outlines her thesis in more detail and here are some of the things she tells us:

The key to maximising our talents is to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.  And when it comes to creativity we need Introverts doing what they do best.

Introversion is not about being shy, which is fear of social judgement.  Introverts feel most alive and most switched on and most creative when they are in quieter environments.  Not all of the time.  None of these things are absolutes.  There is no such thing as pure Extravert or Introvert, and some of us, now called Ambiverts, actually fall right in the middle.

But now here’s where the bias comes in.  Our world’s most important places, our schools and our workplaces, are designed for extraverts, for stimulation.

And we’re told that creativity comes from an oddly gregarious place.  In schools students sit in pods, face-to-face, are encouraged to work in groups, and the ideal student is said to be outgoing, assertive, extravert, even though, according to research, Introverts get better grades and are more knowledgeable.  At work we are arranged in open plan offices, where we are subject to the constant gaze and noise of our co-workers.  And when it comes to leadership, Introverts are more likely to be passed over when it comes to promotion, even though Introverts are likely to be much more careful, much less likely to take outsized risks, and, as Adam Grant’s research has shown, much more likely to let proactive employees run with their ideas, whereas Extravert leaders are likely to get so excited about things that they end up always putting their own stamp on everything and other people’s ideas have less chance of being able to bubble up to the surface.

Culturally we need a much better yin and yang between these two types, especially when it comes to creativity ad productivity.  When psychologists look at the most creative people they find that these people are very good at exchanging ideas and working with others, but they also have serious strands of introversion in them.  And this is because solitude is a crucial ingredient to creativity.  Darwin took long walks in the wood and turned down dinner party invitations.  Steve Wozniak invented the first Apple computer sitting alone, and he said that he never would have had he not been too introverted to leave the house when he was growing up.  And he needed Steve Jobs to get it out into the world.

For centuries we have known about the transcendent powers of solitude.  Only recently have we forgotten it.  Profound epiphanies tend to happen in solitude in the wilderness.

Groups famously follow the best talkers or most charismatic personalities in the room.  They may not have the best ideas.  None of this is to say that we don’t need social skills and teamwork.  In fact the problems we face in the world today are going to need armies of people to come together to solve.  But the more freedom we give Introverts to be themselves the more likely they are to come up with unique solutions to bring to some of these problems.

And here are Susan Cain’s three calls to action:

  1. Stop the madness for constant calls to constant group work.  I deeply believe our offices should be encouraging chatty cafe-style spaces for the conversational interactions where people can come together and serendipitously get exchange of ideas that is great for Introverts and Extraverts.  But we need much more time for freedom, autonomy, solitude.
  2. Go the wilderness.  Be like Buddha.  Have your own revelations.  Unplug and get inside our own heads more often.
  3. Look at what is in your suitcase:  Extraverts – grace us with your joy; Introverts – guard what you have but know that the world needs what you carry with you and have the courage to speak softly.

beach sea sky painting

Altruism & Happiness

Here are some ideas about the value and importance of giving taken from The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubormirsky

Acts of kindness

Altruism—including kindness, generosity, and compassion—are keys to the social connections that are so important to our happiness. Research finds that acts of kindness—especially spontaneous, out-of-the ordinary ones—can boost happiness in the person doing the good deed.

Reasons why acts of kindness make people happier:

  • Being generous leads us to perceive others more compassionately; we typically find good qualities in people to whom we are kind
  • Being kind promotes a sense of connection and community with others, which is one of the strongest factors in increasing happiness
  • Being generous helps us appreciate and feel grateful for our own good fortune
  • Being generous boosts our self-image; it helps us feel useful and gives us a way to use our strengths and talents in a meaningful way
  • Being kind can start a chain reaction of positivity; being kind to others may lead them to be grateful and generous to others, who in turn are grateful and kind to others

Compassion fosters happiness, but being sacrificial reduces well-being

Being kind and compassionate is linked to greater happiness, greater levels of physical activity well into old age, and longevity. One important caveat: if people get overextended and overwhelmed by helping tasks, as can happen with people who are caregivers to family members, their health and quality of life can rapidly decline. It seems being generous from an abundance of time, money, and energy can promote well-being; but being sacrificial quickly lowers well-being. This seems to be a good argument for communities sharing the burden for everyone’s benefit.

Angela Maiers: People Know They Matter When…

Choose2Matter is a global movement that challenges people to solve problems that break their hearts.

In her article Angela Maiers lists the essential attributes that cause people to know that they matter, and they are all about being quiet, listening and empathetic.  She writes, people know they matter when:

You see them…

You listen earnestly…

You ask meaningful questions…

You believe they can…

You dwell in possibility…

You celebrate them…

You do small things with great love…

You show up…

quiet - cream satin

What a Leader Needs Now: 7 ‘Feminine’ Qualities by Leah Buchanan

These traits, typically associated with women, make for great leaders – whether women or men, writes Leah Buchanan.  How close are these to the capabilities you are trying to develop and master, or, perhaps, to those you are trying to nurture in others?

Empathy: Being sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.

Vulnerability: Owning up to one’s limitations and asking for help.

Humility: Seeking to serve others and to share credit.

Inclusiveness: Soliciting and listening to many voices.

Generosity: Being liberal with time, contacts, advice, and support.

Balance: Giving life, as well as work, its due.

Patience: Taking a long-term view.

candle

Roman Krznaric – The Six Habits of Highly Empathic People (The RSA)

This theme is explored and continued in this talk about the new importance of nurturing excellence in empathy and how we might start to do this…

The 20th century was the age of introspection.  That was the age in which therapy and self-help told us that the best way to discover who we are and what we are was to look inside ourselves.  And combined with capitalist individualism, that pointed us towards pursuing the good life through self interest and luxury lifestyle.  And what we’ve discovered is that has not delivered the good life for most of us.

So the 21st century needs to be different.  Instead of the Age of  Introspection, we need to shift to the Age of  ‘Outraspection’ – discovering who you are and what you are here for by stepping outside yourself, discovering the lives of other people, other civilisations.  And the ultimate artform for the Age of Outraspection is empathy…

In this talk, cultural historian Roman Krznaric sets out his ideas about how the art of empathy can not only enrich our own lives, but also bring about social change, in six habits to try and master:

Habit 1:  Nurture curiosity about strangers.  For example, George Orwell used to dress and live as a homeless person in order to discover and learn.  We have assumptions about people, especially those who seem least like us.  Finding out about what they care about increases not only our compassion, but also our capacity for empathy.

This reminds of Louise Bougeoise’s Instruction: Smile At A Stranger which you can see in Maria Popova’s summary of  Do It: The Coppenedium  by Hans Ulrich Obrist in her

Do It: 20 Years of Famous Artists’ Irreverent Instructions for Art Anyone Can Make

Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities.  Look for what you share rather than what divides us.  For example, white extremist C.P.Ellis co-chaired a group looking at racial problems in schools and discovered a shared sense of oppression from poverty in common with his co-chair, a black civil rights activist.  This resulted in him tearing up his Klu Klux Klan membership card and the two becoming friends for life.

Habit 3: Extreme sport of experiential empathy.  For example, US industrial designer Patricia Moore decided to dress up as an 80 tear old and visited 100 cities to come up with inventions for new products based on her experience.

Habit 4: Practice the art of conversation.  Listening to and sharing ourselves and emotions.  For example, the brass roots peace organisation, Parents Circle which brings together Palestinian and Israeli parents who have lost a child for conversation, picnics, sharing stories.  Includes the “Hello Peace” freephone telephone line to be able to speak to someone from the opposite community.

Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change.For example, the anti-slave movement was built on empathy with exhibitions, writing and presentations about what it was like to be a slave by formeslaves.

Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination.  Be more adventurous in who you think about and how.  For example, ‘those greedy bankers’ – think about their lives, values and have conversations that help to bridge divides.

Only through high levels of empathy can we start to create social change across time as well as space.  Failing to empathise through time with future generations will be extremely hazardous to all of our futures.

Socrates wrote: Know thyself.  This can also be achieved by stepping outside ourselves and discovering people least like us.

Homeless Young Boy Holding a Sign

Simon Baron Cohen: Zero Degrees of Empathy (The RSA)

In this talk, psychiatry professor Simon Baron Cohen presents a new way of understanding what it is that leads individuals down negative paths, and challenges all of us to consider replacing the idea of evil with the idea of empathy-erosion. 

He provides a two-dimensional definition for empathy that combines:

Cognitive component – the drive to identify another person’s thoughts and feelings, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes; and

Affective component – the drive to respond with the appropriate emotion to another’s thoughts and feelings, the emotional reaction we bring.

Most of us are in the middle of the normal bell-curve distribution for empathy.  Females score slightly but statistically significantly higher in empathy than males.

Philosopher Martin Buber identified the point you start treating a person as an object is when you switch off empathy:  the “I”  ~  “You” relationship is switched to “I” – “It.”

This is worth thinking about in our relationships – to what extent do we talk about you and what you feel, think want, need and to what extent do we only talk about the task, what needs to be achieved, the problem, the thing that needs doing…?

John Bowlby argued that early experience makes a major difference, and insecure attachment as child can lead to delinquency, because attachment is key to the formation of empathy.

Baron Cohen’s research is finding that the more testosterone in the womb the more different the empathy reading in the later 8 year old.  This links somewhat with the lower readings of empathy in males.

We know that there is not one part of the brain responsible for empathy, but rather Baron Cohen counts at least ten highly connected parts of the brain that are activated in a highly connected ’empathy circuit’ when we are being empathetic.

If psychopaths are one example of having no empathy, he asks whether zero degrees of empathy is always bad, and answers “No.”  The condition of Autism tends to cause people who have it to be extremely moral rather than cruel, making them likely to avoid or withdraw from social situations rather than want to harm.  Zero positive means their unusual attention to detail often leads to giftedness.

Evolution suggests that empathy has been positively selected.  In the 1960s Masserman trained rhesus monkeys to learn that when they pulled a chain they would get food.  He then changed this so that, as well as getting food, they also saw another monkey getting an electric shock, and found that they soon stopped pulling the chain that gave them food but hurt another monkey.

Like language and memory, empathy is likely to be influenced by many different components including our culture and our society.

Empathy is the most valuable human resource because it has the power to resolve conflict, either between two individuals – or extended to two nations – empathy allows us to understand the other’s point of view.  Empathy is cheaper and more successful than either military or legal solutions.

Young Couple Talking in Cafe

Disruptive Happiness: Mario Chamorro at TEDxWilliamsburg

For a wonderful creative illustration of these ideas in action see Mario talking about his enterprise, The Happy Post Project, an initiative that in less than 2 years has reached millions of people in over 30 countries, and today continues to spread happiness all over the world.

Most recently, Mario founded Make it Happy, an organisation devoted to the generation and support of positive social change, by creating projects that spread and inspire happiness, while cultivating a grassroots network of social innovators.

Sunnie Toelle: The Happiness Tipping Point

In this article Toelle looks back over the rapid recent advances in the various disciplines that put happiness at their centre and wonders…

Some fascinating and potentially powerful happiness-related frameworks and initiatives exist on multiple levels and across geographic regions. Happiness matters for many reasons, but most of all, because business as usual is leading to a staggering increase in mental disorders, mental health costs and a massive loss of human potential. Arguably, it should therefore become a key agenda item in boardroom meetings and at policy roundtables. Yet, it remains to be seen who and what will hit off the tipping point.

And for some advice about creativity, making art and living the life you want, see these ideas in

Austin Kleon on 10 Things Every Creator Should Remember But We Often Forget by Maria Popova

Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use — do the work you want to see done.

 

Here is a link to this week’s entire Happiness At Work which includes more ideas linked to these themes in my reflections about what made the Beyond Glorious Symposium so exceptional in my piece:

Beyond Glorious – what made this symposium so very special and extraordinary

Enjoy your week – especially its softer moments that we really hope you will be able to hold gently open…

concept

Being Home & Not Being Home ~ a reflection on the sounds and silences of living in London

by Mark Trezona

(This was a guest post originally written for Shaking Out ~ the Shaky Isles Theatre Company Blog. which publishes a new piece by a guest every artist every Tuesday)

Colin McCahon's 'This Is The Promised Land' + South London

Colin McCahon’s ‘This Is The Promised Land’ + South London

Have you ever done that thing in London where you go outside – especially in the smallest hours of the morning – and just listen in to as many sounds of the city as you can hear?

‘…that indefinable boom of distant but ever-present sound which tells that London is up and doing, and which will swell into a deafening roar as the day grows older [and] now rises faintly but continuously upon the ear’.  (Charles Manby Smith, 1857) 

The ‘roar’ here suggests the presence of some great beast, but more significant is this sense of continuous, distant sound as if it were a form of meditation or self-communing…

London has always been characterised by the noise that is an aspect of its noisomeness.  It is part of its unnaturalness, too, like the roaring of some monstrous creature.  But it is also a token of its energy and power.  

Its noise is ancient but always renewed,  a perpetual sound that’s variously compared to Niagara, in its persistence and remorselessness, and to the beating of a human heart.  It is intimate and yet impersonal, like the noise of life itself…

A celebrated American of the nineteenth century, James Russell Lowell,  has written: ‘One other thing about London impresses me beyond any other sound I have ever heard and that is the low, unceasing roar one hears always in the air; it is not a mere accident, like a tempest or cataract, but it is impressive, because it always indicates human will, and impulse, and conscious movement; and I confess that when I hear it I almost feel as if I were listening to the roaring loom of time.’  (Peter Ackroyd, London The Biography, pp.71, 75, 76)

Tuning in acutely to these sounds and feeling a connection to this vibrating chorus of so many different lives and possibilities and relationships and stories happening –  and heading towards happening – gives me a rush so strong that I always want to hug myself and shout out how fucking lucky I feel to be living here and calling this great over-sized mess of a city my home.

This same rush of euphoria pulses through every cell of me if I stop myself walking midway across any of London’s bridges and take time to stand and stare‘. In these moments the sights of the city overwhelm its sounds, and I hear, instead, myself, sounding out again: This is my city.  This is where I live.  This is my home.  This is the feeling that I felt the first day I arrived here and I feel it still just as strongly 27 years later.

And, even if it’s the middle of the day and London is glistening and prickling in its busyness, the feeling I get is of a moment locked into its own steel blue circular intensity that unstoppably re-conjures whatever echoes I can remember that moment from William Wordsworth’s enduring poem:

Upon Westminster Bridge

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

All this powerful presence.

All this history and all this yet to be.

All this that I live in and amongst and call my own.

This is London, my home.

Yeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!

It is the feeling I recognised instantly when I read  the start of Katherine Mansfield’s 1918 short story, Bliss:

Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at – nothing – at nothing, simply…

What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss – absolute bliss! – as though you’d suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe?

Oh is there no way you can express it without being “drunk and disorderly”?  How idiotic civilisation is!  Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?

These lines are used by Matthieu Ricard to start the first chapter of his book, The Art of Happiness: A Guide to Nurturing Life’s Most Important Skill.  I am reading Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk, photographer and author, and a man whose happiness has been widely studied and is considered to be the happiest man on the planet as part of my ongoing exploration through the subject of happiness and human flourishing.  (Check out Happiness Is A Skill, and his TEDTalk The Habits of Happiness for an introduction to his gentle wisdom.)

It pleases me very much to find the words of one of our New Zealand writers helping to elucidate wisdom from the happiest man in the known universe.  Just as it pleased me to discover that Katherine Mansfield is the only writer Virginia Woolf ever felt jealous of.  It makes me feel plumped up about being a New Zealander.

But back to the blissed out Bertha Young, home now in her London house of 100 years ago:

…in her bosom there was still that bright glowing place – that shower of little sparks coming from it. It was almost unbearable.  She hardly dared to breathe for fear of fanning it higher, and yet she breathed deeply, deeply.  She hardly dared look into the cold mirror – but she did look, and it gave her back a woman, radiant, with smiling, trembling lips, with big dark eyes and an air of listening, waiting for something…divine to happen…that she knew must happen…infallibly.

And here is the second dimension of what living in London feels like to me – that sense of possibility, that at any moment at any time in any part of the city you could meet someone extraordinary and make a connection and something intense and special could happen, maybe just for the shortest moment, maybe for much longer, maybe even for the rest of your life.  And that, if it didn’t happen today, this week, it will happen, and happen again many times more.  This city is too rich and magnificent and full of people with all of their experiences and expectations and dreams and demands and eccentricities and impossible certainties and jangling anxieties for you not to bang into someone, something, that feels… what?  meant?  important?  uniquely personal?  only possible here?

It happens for Bertha with a woman she has newly met and invited to a dinner party in her London home:

…the two women stood side by side looking at the slender, flowering pear tree.  Although it was so still it seemed, like the flame of a candle, to stretch up, to a point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed – almost to touch the rim of the round silver moon.

How long did they stand there?  Both, as it were, caught in the circle of unearthly light, understanding each other perfectly, creatures of another world, and wondering what they were to do in this one with all this blissful treasure that burned in their bosoms and dropped, in silver flowers, from their hair and hands?

For ever – for a moment?  And did Miss Fulton murmur: “Yes. Just that.”  Or did Bertha dream it?

This is what living in London is for me.  An ever-present effervescence of possibility, where any time could bring surprise and discovery, where there is still more potential and life to be uncovered than any living yet done could use up.  And where you can be whoever you decide to be today – so far as you yourself will allow – and walk out into the city and the city will absorb and make a perfect fit of the you you’ve made – or are imagining – yourself to be.

You can be.

Just that.

All that.

And yet, and yet…

Alongside the heady hearty noisy rush of my claim to this city, there is always a parallel track of feelings of alienation, foreignness, displacement, nostalgia and longing for people, places, smells, tastes and sounds from another country.

I am not from here, of here.  I am like the other 3 million of London’s 8.5 million residents, the 37% of Londoners who were not born in the UK, and, for as long as I live here I will always be living ‘away from home’.  For us, as much as this place is about the thrill and possibility of its noise, the full quality of our presence here is as ambiguous and hard to discern as London’s silence, sensed only sometimes and partially as

…an absence of being…a negative force…

There is almost a theatrical aspect to this silence, as if it had been tainted by the artificiality of London.  It is not a natural silence but a ‘play’, one of a series of violent contrasts which the inhabitants of London must endure.  It is in that sense wholly ambiguous; it may provoke peaceful contemplation, or it may arouse anxiety. (London, p.81, 82)

No New Zealand Londoner I know makes their home here for a quiet life.  That is what New Zealand is for, what pulls many New Zealanders back, and what those of us who stay here never quite stop romanticising up and longing after: that little piece of our own wide and spacious  utterly natural and wildly beautiful New Zealand serenity.  The Sounds.  The Huka Falls.  A Northland Beach.  South Island’s West Coast. An art deco boutique hotel in Napier.  Walking any one of our National Parks.  The Coromandel.  Substitute your own place of choice: even if you’re not a New Zealander, if you’ve been to New Zealand, you’ll have one.

We New Zealanders know why those of you who go there tell us it is such a special place.  When we are ‘back home’ we expat New Zealanders are always re-amazed at the number and brightness of stars in our southern sky.  We hold our homeland dear and remain constant and true to its natural wonderfulness, something we never expect London to begin to compete with.  This is the universal call of our homeland: its promise of perfect uncontaminated astoundingly beautiful wide open silence.

(In fact, when I was last in Auckland I was shocked at how shouty and loud and noisy our city dwelling native birds are – until I got to Sydney, where the birds are even louder still.)

But in London the birds sing all night.  London is never silent.  London’s silence has to be heard and felt in the contrasting relative quiet of our bedrooms (we hope), and in the moments when we are stopped in our lives just long enough to feel its echo, and in the delay we still hear across our telephone and skype calls to friends and family ‘back home,’ and in the felt absence of a newsy email update sometimes, (or, much more likely in my case, in the guilt of still not yet having written one), and in the marking of big moments happening across the world in another time zone without us being able to be there, in ‘being there in spirit’, in missing the lives we are forced to live apart from.

This longing back to New Zealand is part of being a New Zealander.  Katherine Mansfield very deliberately chose to live most of her life in Europe, but in March 1922, ill with the TB that she would die from less than a year later, she wrote ‘home’ to her father:

“ …the longer I live, the more I return to New Zealand.  A young country is a real heritage, though it takes one time to remember it.  But New Zealand is in my very bones.”

Our silence is felt in a kind of constant sense of loss, that, like the bereaved’s grief, after a certain period of time, becomes too shameful, illegitimate, not really allowable to be voiced in public or even to ourselves, because, of course we know this, there are noisier more important life-must-go-on and we-really-do-feel-lucky-for-what-we-have moments of living to be had and cheered and enjoyed and – well lived.

 The noise of living will always drown out the sounds of silence.

The silence of the living-away-from-home blissfully-at-home-here-in-London is mostly just that: silent.

And silence, just as is the case with listening, is mostly unappreciated, a passive not real thing, an un-action, a not-happening, an absence of dynamic, merely a pause in things before play is resumed.

Silence is the sound of not working, not making money. 

This is not the silence of the countryside, where repose seems natural and unforced.  The silence of London is an active element; it is filled with an obvious absence (of people, of business) and is therefore filled with presence.  It is a teeming silence.  (London, p.83)

For us Shaky Isles folk the noisy silence we hear lying in the depths of this city, never quiet if mostly out of sight, is the creature we call our Taniwha:

It is the pull of this dirty and excessive city when you yearn for another home.  It is that feeling … of knowing that someone – something – is just … over … there.   (Taniwha Thames)

I have grown to love this unquiet silence just as fervently as I love the noises of this city.  I know I will always have New Zealand, my motherland, in my veins and I love the pride this difference gives me as truly as I love the special pride I have for the courage and risk and expectation my nineteenth century ancestors must have had when they left England on their long uncertain voyage to make a better life for themselves and their families in New Zealand.

Being not from here, in fact, helps me to feel more of a true Londoner, for London is, and always has been, a city of outsiders.  London is one of those cities where you can wear your outsideness loud and proud as a badge of authenticity.  And this perhaps is the other dimension of what I love so much about London: its theatricality.

For Londoners, whether by birth or adoption, the theatricality of London is its single most important characteristic.  (London, p.152)

London does not offer uncontested peace and tranquility, because its silences are as full of ambiguous nuanced potent possibility as are its noises.  Strain your ears in to listen and hear the overrunning of its stories.  London is a permanently live performance.  London is a place and space of constantly amplified profound ambivalence, not just for its immigrants but for all of its inhabitants.

Ambivalence is, of course, the sense of having at least two – usually contrasting – feelings about the same thing… Being a theatre or performance audience or maker … can be an affirmative act of conversation and cosmopolitanism, an opportunity ambivalently to respect our differences and recognise what we share, to recognise the challenges we live with in our cities and to take up our cities’ opportunities.  (Jen Harvie, Theatre & the City, 2009 p.77)

The theatre we are engaged in making in Shaky Isles, and the ways in which are making it, are in many ways a microcosm of the complex messy fluctuations of noise and silence in which London works itself out as a city.

There are rules, but these will be broken when they do not fit the purpose of our lives.

There is intention and desired outcomes, but these are deliberately kept absorbent, porous, malleable, a living system of multiple intentions and  desires constantly infecting and being affected by each other as they rub into and through themselves.

There is apparent chaos, but it is really the forward fluidity of the flock that prevents stasis and keeps enough flow to be always in progressive movement, re-circling, re-firing, re-living, each iteration a bit different and a bit better than before.

These are the energies and rhythms we are learning to ride in Shaky Isles.  We are interested in what unfolds from bringing different voices together to tell a stories that are simultaneously intimate, personal and particular and, at the same time, recognisable, eternal and universal.  We use Open Space and Action Learning to uncover and discover our work together through and from and in our not-knowing.  We are practicing and slowly mastering the skills and qualities of trusting and sharing and questioning and experimenting and listening and saying and reworking and refining.  We are trying to get better at getting more of us in the room more often to do more of the work together.

And we know that the only way to make all of this work is to make it work together, as we go, as messy and as noisy and as ambivalent as this needs to be.

 

…the city is a model of dynamic relativism, a space where everything means more than one thing – a nondescript doorway, invisible for some, is for others the gateway to a magical garden… 

Because the tensions they have out there, the secrets they have out there, the journeys they go on, things they wish for or fear out there are the things you might well seek to amplify, uncover or remix on the stage.  Because what we might call the temporary community of the auditorium (negotiated each night, triangulated off the stage) reflects and refracts the temporary communities outside.

Because the city is a nexus of motorways, TV signals, Internets, dreams, global currents and trickle-downs, a place where our desires wash up, are fed, disrupted, chained, dodged or neutered by what people call late capitalism.

Because the city contains small beauties, zones of possibility…

Because it reflects the life you must reflect and must reflect on and the life already reflected in you.

Because the city can trap you, nurture you, teach you, unravel you, unspeak you.  Because you are just one among many here, and the dynamic of one in relation to many (conversation, dialogue, difference, the negotiation of public space) is what theatre emerges from and thrives on, what art must address and what cities must somehow contend with if they are to survive. (Tim Etchells, Foreword to Theatre & the City, p.xii, xiii-ix)

Katherine Mansfield did not survive her illness and died away from home aged 34.  The epitaph on her grave is one of her favourite quotations from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I which she had chosen for the title page of  Bliss and Other Stories:

“…but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle danger, we pluck the flower, safety”

In her short story , Bliss, despite the intense emotional re-firing her heroine experiences, Bertha’s night does not end happily.  And yet…

…the pear tree was as lovely as ever and as full of flowers and as still.

Living in London is built on the most fragile of frameworks:  and being at home / not being home / making a home / missing home in London is perhaps the umbilical chord that holds many of us in together.  And helps to make us work.  Just as these same strands entwine to make London work around us.

Just Listen…

 

Mark Trezona has a passion for sound and listening and, with his partner Martyn Duffy, makes sound with and for Shaky Isles shows.  Through their company BridgeBuilders STG they make bespoke learning programmes in happiness at work, creativity, leadership, learning, team working & communications.  He has his own blog, performance~marks, dedicated to an exploration of happiness, creativity & resilience and what makes great audience experience.

 

The next Shaky Isles  Shake It Up evening is a theatre scratch night

7.30pm Wednesday 5th June, 2013