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The passage from India

As you may know, I recently returned from an extremely productive trip to India. It was an incredibly inspiring, eye-opening, and at some points bewildering experience! Within hours of arrival I was being filmed for the DOOR Training and Consultancy conference, where I was to be a speaker. It was a surreal experience to be walking around the conference and see my smiling mug playing up on the walls! By the end of the trip I’d also been interviewed on the radio, which is definitely a new experience for me. I may have ‘Minor Indian celebrity’ added to my business card.

I also facilitated several Lumina Spark qualifications while I was there, and I think this was the most inspirational part of the trip. I was simply astounded by the desire to learn, shown both by the participants of the qualification and everyone I met at the conference. It was exciting and refreshing to be part of such a buoyant culture of corporate learning.
India is famed for its entrepreneurial spirit, and considering the rate its economy is expanding (even factoring in the global economic downturn), perhaps it’s not surprising that corporate professionals are interested in upskilling and business development. I was doing a little research online since my return and I read this article with interest:

http://sundayposts.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/corporate-training-in-india.html 

You’ll notice that the article is about three years old, and Mr Chaudhuri’s predictions tie in strongly with what I witnessed in India. At the time of writing he identifies a huge demand for upskilling in Indian business where demand far outstrips supply, and points out that – without some serious standard setting – people may end up with inferior content. He states that anyone – even someone with only a couple of years’ experience – can get into the training game, such is the need for swift organisational development.

He goes on to say that the recession might provide the necessary catalyst for development, and it appears he may have been correct. Obviously this was my first trip to India, but the fact I was there at all strikes me as indicative of a desire to uplift the standard of corporate learning in that country. Business conferences, trade associations, even the adoption of internationally recognised tools like Lumina Spark, all of these ensure that Indian professionals get the calibre of training they need and deserve.

But one thing Mr Chaudhuri doesn’t mention is what I saw during my time in India: the incredible desire and openness in regards to learning. In his article Mr Chaudhuri remarks that once someone has ‘learned’ something they are much less open to being taught. This can be challenging if what they learned was incorrect or sub-standard. As he so aptly puts it, “The problem is not with the person who does not know, it is indeed with the person who does not know he does not know.”

Normally I would totally agree with this! It’s certainly a challenge that Inspire come up against all the time in this country. But what was so refreshing about my trip to India was the absence of this attitude! People were so receptive, even business professionals who had had prior corporate training, or had used different organisational development tools.

Perhaps it’s the sense of runaway progress and expansion in Indian business that has people so open to learning. However, the Indian economy is beginning to slow, partly due to domestic factors (and also probably in the face of a renewed crisis elsewhere). So perhaps it’s a cultural attitude, although considering how magnificently diverse Indian culture is (the constitution recognises 21 “scheduled languages,” and India has the world’s largest Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Zoroastrian, and Bahá’í populations, and has the third-largest Muslim population), that’s quite a sweeping statement to make.

Whatever the reason, it really contributed to my enjoyment of the trip. I returned revitalised (actually, I returned exhausted. Once I’d had a chance to get over my jet-lag, THEN I was revitalised), and with a new big idea: how do we stimulate that desire for learning in professionals in this country?

- Steven

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A human being is only breath and shadow – Sophocles

‘The shadow’ is one of the key elements of Jungian psychoanalysis. It sounds a little creepy, but essentially it’s the part of our personality that we repress or ignore. The shadow has its roots in our unconscious, but it can find its way in to our everyday discourse. I heard someone paraphrase Jung very aptly at a recent business training event: If our personality and desires are the light that we turn towards, the shadow is what is cast behind us. This picture by Ron Pyatt sums it up rather neatly:

 


The shadow is a factor in projection: when a personal inferiority is turned into someone else’s deficiency, someone else’s problem. People that intensely irritate us – especially when we don’t know why – are probably mirroring an element of our shadow back to us. Here’s a quote directly from Jung:

“We still attribute to the other fellow all the evil and inferior qualities that we do not like to recognize in ourselves, and therefore have to criticize and attack him, when all that has happened is that an inferior “soul” has emigrated from one person to another. The world is still full of betes noires and scapegoats, just as it formerly teemed with witches and werewolves.”

Our shadow may contain elements of ourselves that we dislike or think we could do without, but it’s more useful to explore rather than ignore them. As well as being a driving force creatively, our shadow elements may not necessarily be ‘bad’ themselves. They may simply be things we personally don’t do or think don’t fit. Even if they’re elements that we dislike, that doesn’t mean they might not be valid in some contexts. For example, if you’re a real extravert and lose patience with introverted people, doesn’t mean more introverted communication methods aren’t often valid.

It’s difficult to find a diagram to adequately demonstrate this, as the concept is more intuitive than measurable. It’s also – in the original Jungian writings at least – based on some more fluid concepts like the anima/animus that we won’t delve into here (partly because they aren’t really relevant to Lumina Spark, but they are extremely interesting – if you haven’t read much Jung I’d suggest having a browse). I do have this rather handy image, taken from the Collected Works:

 

Although Jung uses the terms ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ I don’t think he’s making a value judgement. He’s using them in their original sense meaning simply ‘higher’ and ‘lower,’ so in this case thinking is simply the preferred (higher) function.

 

Jung suggested that, at a personal level, integration of the shadow (merger) was the only way to address it psychologically. Otherwise you run the risk of it controlling you whenever you are stressed or unhappy, when you take your eye off the ball, so to speak.

“A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps… living below his own level. In terms of the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, ‘it must be Jekyll, the conscious personality, who integrates the shadow … and not vice versa. Otherwise the conscious becomes the slave of the autonomous shadow.”

So being aware of the shadow is necessary if we want to avoid reacting to it in a purposelessly negative manner. The problem with the shadow is that it’s often unconscious. The following quote comes from Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, an absolutely seminal text for business trainers.

“Research has shown that in the first few milliseconds of our perceiving something we not only unconsciously comprehend what it is, but decide whether we like it or not; the ‘cognitive unconscious’ presents our awareness with not just the identity of what we see, but an opinion about it. Our emotions have a mind of their own, one which can hold views quite independently of our rational mind.”

So the difficulty is in identifying our shadow, if only so we know how to deal with it in a productive manner. And this stretches to interpersonal relationships: firstly, we want to avoid projecting on to other people, secondly, we want to be able to work well with people who demonstrate elements of our shadow.

The Lumina Spark psychometrics tool goes well beyond the Jungian method of personality profiling, mainly by dropping the binary structure of Jung’s model. People can be one thing as well as –rather than instead of – another. However, the shadow is one element of Jungian psychology that Lumina explores. Partly this is down to Lumina’s embracing of paradox: the more complete the portrait that you create, the more specific you can be in addressing weaknesses. Lumina also highlights methods and strategies for dealing with similar and dissimilar people. The ‘mirrored self’ – the personality portrait that is the exact opposite of yours – also contains elements of the shadow.

A lot of this is similar to what we discussed in a previous post relating to Ofman’s Core Qualities. There’s elements of Jung’s shadow in two – apparently contradictory – elements of that model: the traitor and the allergy. One contains overstretched parts of your personality, the bit you slip into when you’re stressed. The other contains the things that really irritate you in others, which according to Jung could be fuelled by your irrational feelings.

A conceptual awareness of the shadow can be useful, especially in personal and team development. What’s even more useful is a) a good understanding of your own personality, so you can draw some informed conclusions about your own shadow and b) an understanding of your personality under stress, so you can pick out the shadow elements of your overextended self. Lumina does a good job with both of these, and so I think the Jungian shadow is a relevant and ultimately useful ‘lens’ under which to examine the model.

Radio Blues

I came so close to buying a DAB radio. I went in to Halfords to buy a new aerial for the van, and I suddenly thought that while I was there it might finally be time to upgrade the stereo in the old thing.

I saw the DABs in the shop and immediately decided: that’s what I want. I think they’re a neat gadget, and I genuinely think that they’ll be getting more popular and widespread over the next few years. I don’t think it’ll be long before every new car has them fitted as standard.

I hadn’t planned to buy one before I went into Halfords, you understand. It was an absolute spur of the moment decision, the kind of gut-led choice that Malcolm Gladwell describes in the excellent Blink.

Much of Blink talks about why these quick-fire decisions can be good ones: basically our brains have evolved to make snap decisions, and we’re much better at it than you might imagine. In this case the choice was even easier because I wasn’t making a choice based on any information other than my own feelings: I just decided I wanted one, and that was it.

AND THEN I made the mistake of asking a member of staff. I’m a conscientious consumer, a new man! I’m not going to buy an expensive gadget without sourcing the opinion of an expert! I only knew I wanted a DAB radio, I didn’t know which one to pick.

So I jovially approached a member of staff – who, in retrospect, didn’t appear to be the sharpest knife in the drawer – and asked him which DAB radio he would recommend. “None,” came the reply.

Now what I should have done was asked for someone else, or just made my own decision on which one to buy. But I’m a polite guy, so I listened to what he had to say. The guy obviously didn’t like DAB radios. He pointed out that they don’t always get great signal (irrelevant since they have an FM backup, especially in London) and that I might need a new aerial for the van in order to pick up signal at all (don’t forget, a new aerial was the reason I went in to Halfords in the first place!).

He made quite a compelling argument, and in the end I followed his recommendation. I bought a new stereo with an iPod dock (which admittedly I’m pleased with). But then when I got back to the office I suddenly thought: this isn’t what I wanted! I want a digital radio!

Now, the guy at Halfords had no idea about my specific needs. I know he didn’t because he didn’t ask my anything about them. Fair enough, he had his own opinions, and fair enough, he works for Halfords, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he knows a bit about car stereos. But why should his opinions trump mine?

Really, he was operating under his own prejudices, and I suspect that those prejudices were based around his own experience. Maybe he’s had a bad DAB in the past. Maybe he’s experimented with a few and they didn’t meet his needs. Maybe (and I’m being cynical here) DABs are more difficult to install and he didn’t feel like the extra work. But here’s the thing: his needs aren’t my needs. I’m perfectly prepared to listen to his opinion, but only in regards to my own criteria. If he doesn’t bother to investigate my criteria then his opinion isn’t valid.

From a sales perspective, he might think he’s done all right. A customer came in and asked for something. He didn’t want to sell that thing, so he sold something else. I went along with what he suggested, so he’s made the sale, job done.

Except I don’t think I’ll be going back to Halfords any time soon. If he’d listened to what I wanted and why I wanted it, and then convinced me otherwise, I don’t think I’d mind so much. But I feel like I just got a bit overpowered. It wasn’t a hard sell, by any means, but it just wasn’t the sale I wanted.

Selling based on your own goals can be counter-productive. You might be able to convince a customer at the time, but as Malcolm Gladwell points out, the gut instinct is a strong and persistent force. Your client is likely to swing back to their own way of thinking at some point, and then you’ll be in trouble. Now they’ll feel lumbered with something that they never wanted to buy. They’re unlikely to come back to you if they think you’ve swayed them unfairly.

A much better way is to sound out what your client’s gut instinct is, and try to find out what brings it on. Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll be in a position of greater knowledge. And you know what? You might not be able to make a sale this time. Or you might not make the sale you want. You might even have to grit your teeth a little bit and let the customer lead the discussion. But the next time, that customer might remember you as the one who really listened, and be more likely to come back.

You might also find that perhaps your own prejudices aren’t as practical as you thought. I doubt I’d have brought that Halfords assistant around to DAB radios, but it’s always worthwhile to listen to other people and be open-minded. If you still don’t change your opinion, even after seriously considering things, then you can be more confident you were correct in the first place.

When a TRAIT becomes a TRAITOR

One of the things I really like about Lumina Spark is how practically applicable it is. I’m constantly finding examples of other models and training tools that sync up with the mandala in a useful and interesting way. At the last Lumina qualification I watched a fascinating presentation on Daniel Ofman’s Core Qualities model and how it can be usefully applied using Lumina concepts.

Ofman’s model looks like this:

It’s a nice and simple model (I think a cyclical design is always intuitive), but let’s run through it step by step before we start applying Lumina terminology.

The first bubble here is Core Quality. Ofman’s understanding of ‘quality’ is basically the same as ours: it’s a key character trait or tendency. Let’s leave the Spark qualities aside for a moment and use something more general. A good example – and one that’s often used to demonstrate how the circle works – is ‘drive‘. I have ‘drive’ if I have get-up-and-go, if I’m purposeful and have lots of energy and focus.

Drive is useful, but too much of it can be inappropriate. Too much of a quality in Ofman’s model leads to what he calls the Pitfall, where we overuse a quality. The pitfall in this model is similar to our over-extended persona as displayed by Lumina Spark. Too much drive could be an inability to switch off, a failure to be objective, or even a lack of tact or rudeness.

But if you find the inverse of too much drive, what Ofman calls the Positive Opposite, you get calmness, peace, self-control. This is definitely useful, and exactly what you want to balance out your drive. The Core Quality and what Ofman calls the Challenge are the perfect balance for your personality.

Over-extend the challenge and you again find trouble. Too much calmness or peace could result in inactivity, even laziness. Laziness is the antithesis of drive, and so it’s likely to be very irritating for someone who’s driven. Hence Ofman’s decision to label this bubble the Allergy.

The positive opposite of laziness? Drive. So the whole model is a neat circle.

Let’s go through it again from a Lumina Spark perspective. I’m going to re-label the concepts just for now, to better fit with the Lumina terminology. We’ll start with the core quality, which we’ll label for now as a Trait (since Lumina Spark is often described as being ‘trait, not type’).

I’ll use one of my key traits, which is in the green/yellow area of the mandala. Being FLEXIBLE is really useful for me. It lets me bring in new ideas from lots of different sources, lets me react to events as they happen, and lets me always keep an open mind to new opportunities and new ways of thinking.

 So here’s the first part of the model, and my trait is FLEXIBLE.

What happens when you have too much of a trait? You may find that quality can betray you, let you down when you need it, or not be appropriate for the situation you’re in. For the sake of neatness, let’s say it can become a Traitor.

If I exercise too much flexibility, and don’t ever try and tie myself down, I find my working life becoming CHAOTIC, which is the Lumina Spark over-extended version of flexible.

So my trait become a traitor, and my life gets CHAOTIC.

So I need something to get me out of this chaotic mood. I need a Challenger to my current way of thinking. What’s the opposite of chaotic? It’s definitely STRUCTURED, which, surprise surprise, is on the opposite side of the Lumina Mandala, and is a red/blue quality. 

The challenge to chaos is STRUCTURE.

But I don’t want too much structure. Too much structure makes me rigid, makes me PLANNING OBSESSED. I lose the best of my work style, I lose all the new ideas, the adaptability and flow. I also find people who are planning obsessed really, really irritating. I can’t stand it when people are get bogged down in the minutia and never just get started, cease the day and see what happens. They get right up my nose, so I think I’ll just stick with calling it an Allergy.

I’m allergic to people who are PLANNING OBSESSED.

The opposite of PLANNING OBSESSED? FLEXIBLE, and we’re back to my side of the mandala again. But I should remember that too much flexibility can actually handicap me, and that sometimes I need a little structure. I just need to make sure not to overcompensate.

Ofman’s model is useful because it can be applied to teams as well as individuals. The person that really irritates you on a team may be over-extending the quality that’s opposite to yours. At the same time, the person that really challenges you on a team might be exactly the person you need to balance out your personal strengths.

In other news, we’ve published a free booklet on psychometrics, and so far it’s been really well received. You can go here to download a free copy, or order a free copy in the post.

 

This post is not boring.

I don’t often get bored at work. This sounds like a bit of a humblebrag but it’s really just because I’m lucky in my job. I have lots of interesting stuff to do most days, and I meet lots of interesting people. I have a decent balance between in-office (making things and planning things) and out-office (gallivanting around talking to people). Variety is the spice of life, after all.

Lots of other people don’t have it so lucky. A recent survey has shown that one in four staff complain of “chronic boredom.” I had always assumed that being bored at work was easier than being overworked and stressed. If all you do is sit around on BBC Sport and drink coffee… well, it can’t be that bad, can it?

So I was interested to discover that being bored at work is actually just as bad for you as being constantly under pressure. In fact, it can even be worse for your health! Researchers from the University of Central Lancashire found that people who are consistently bored are more likely to resort to chocolate and coffee pick-me-ups to get them through the day. Not a massive surprise, but bored staff are also more likely to have an alcoholic drink at the end of the day, which I found interesting (especially as all I ever seem to hear in the pub is how hard people work).

Researchers from University College London followed more than 7,000 civil servants for more than 25 years and found that those who complained of chronic boredom were 2.5 times more likely to die before their time of heart attack or stroke. Possibly because they eat all that chocolate and drink all that coffee and booze, but the result is still an eye-opener.

I’m going to quote directly from the article I found on this:

“There is an opposite state to the widely known ‘burn-out’, and that’s ‘rust-out’ – where people are in un-stimulating and undemanding jobs and they get bored,” says corporate psychologist Ben Williams. “Ironically this has very similar effects on their health than if they were over-worked and highly stressed. Their health suffers and from a corporate point of view they ultimately become less productive.”

I suppose people don’t complain about being bored as much as being overworked because they don’t want to be mocked or looked down on. But it turns out that being overworked is actually a preferable state. According to this article from Psychology Today, a survey by Sirota Consulting LLC of more than 800,000 employees at 61 organizations worldwide found those with “too little work” gave an overall job satisfaction rating of 49 out of 100, while those with “too much work” had a rating of 57.

Jeffrey M. Saltzman, chief executive of Sirota, said “When you say you have too much work to do, other things are happening in your head: ‘I’m valued by the organization. They’re giving me responsibility.’ That’s better than being in the other place where you say I’m not of value in this place.”

So boredom stresses you out, and makes you less productive. I think that a lot of what we do at Inspire is simply combating boredom: we demonstrate better, quicker ways to do things that are more stimulating. The less time you have to devote to monotony the more creative and empowered you are in the rest of your work. It’s not just a matter of available time: being bored had a negative impact on your creativity all day!
The article I reference above suggests three reasons why you might be bored at work. They’re pretty comprehensive, but I think I can suggest simpler, more inclusive ones. The good news is that all three can be addressed.

1. You’re underworked. You literally don’t have enough to do in the day. You might have to stretch out the tasks you’re given to fill up time. You might have given up on asking your supervisor for more tasks, or you might spend most of your time waiting for other people to give you the go ahead/return their feedback so you can move on. This also counts if you feel your work isn’t important or noticed. You might spend all day slogging away, but if your work has no effect or impact… well, you might as well not be bothering.

Solution: there’s always more work to be done if you can find it. The first step is to talk to people: inform your colleagues and employer. Not in a bragging way (“This is too easy! Bring me a greater challenge!”), but in a manner that demonstrates that you’re being underutilised. Finally, discuss taking on jobs outside of your orbit. Just because a company doesn’t have a person doing a specific task, doesn’t mean that task doesn’t exist. There might be new things to do that are well out of your current jurisdiction that might benefit the company. You’ll appear enthusiastic, and have an opportunity to broaden your skillset and experience. Just don’t bite off more than you can chew!

2. You’re uninterested in what you do. There might be a disconnect between what you do and how you feel about it. Your job might be busy, challenging, even stressful, but if you don’t feel involved or enthusiastic about what you do then you can still feel bored. These feelings of antipathy can develop even if you once felt involved. You might feel constrained by processes beyond your control.

Solution: again, talk to people. Firstly, just to get a sense of why your job is necessary: who it affects, and what else they might need from you. Secondly, it’ll give you a sense of what you might prefer to do. If there’s really nothing within your current environment that you might find satisfying, you could consider looking elsewhere, but you’d be surprised how often a change is good enough. If you’re bored in a job that once enthused you, it may be that you’re stuck in your comfort zone, or that you feel constrained by rules that you no longer need to follow. This Guardian article points out that many jobs contain prescriptive guidelines: people assume that there’s only one way of doing things. But you may have more autonomy than you think. If you were presented with a specific way of doing things on day 1, and it’s now day 1000, think about whether those rules still apply to you. Ask your colleagues and employer if it might be appropriate for you to shake things up a bit. Bosses might be surprised to find that you aren’t being stretched, and if you can suggest work methods that are generally more productive or useful, they aren’t likely to mind you going off piste!

3. Your work simply isn’t challenging. You have stuff to do all day, but you find it easy, or dull. You rarely feel stretched.

Solution: it might be time to look elsewhere. This doesn’t necessarily mean quitting or anything so dramatic, but you may have to look outside your work environment. The first option is to begin learning something else, either through work or in your personal life. If your job isn’t challenging, find something that is. If you can up-skill then fantastic, but you’ll find that doing something diverting outside your job will have a positive impact inside. And in the end… well, perhaps you’ll have to find something else. People do outgrow their jobs.

Remember, if you’re bored, and you’re actually working hard, then you’re being underutilised. It’s not in anyone’s interests to get less out of you than you can give. I think in a lot of cases people don’t consider seeking extra activities: your job is your job and you don’t often look outside of it. Being bored can sap your energy, even the energy you need to look for something more interesting! The first step is to admit to yourself that you’re bored, and then decide to do something about it. Don’t be ashamed to say so. Being ashamed is boring.