Thursday, December 11, 2014

Arguing with Success!

When we evaluate others' decisions and performance we tend to focus on results. A manager whose project has a good outcome is applauded, while a manager whose project fails might get fired. You can't argue with success!

Or can you? When things go well we tend to put it down to skill, and when things go badly we put it down to bad luck. Taking success as a direct indicator of the value of an action is unwise. Why?

Every human performance is a combination of skill, and that of outside forces – unpredictable events, uncontrollable conditions, random noise – in short, luck. And luck plays a role, sometimes more sometimes less, in every human endeavour. 

We don't naturally consider the contribution of luck when evaluating performance. We have a strong bias to explain behaviour in terms of actions, such as skill. It takes a lot of effort to consider the contribution of external forces such as luck. That means that in many cases we tend to reward people for successful outcomes partly because they were lucky.

The clearest example of this comes from a high-stakes area that rewards success in billions of dollars - investing in equities. Mutual funds comprising thousands of stocks are managed by very smart and savvy individuals who use a variety of methods to buy and sell. Real success is not just measured by how the fund increased in value, but in beating the market - doing better than the overall market did. Funds that outperform the market get rewarded. Investors gravitate towards them because they see success as a reflection of great knowledge and skill, and successful fund managers are equally rewarded by their investment firms with extravagant bonuses.

The problem is, even such performance shows no skill at all. It only provides the illusion of wise actions. University of Chicago economist Eugene Fama demonstrated decades ago that it is impossible to beat the market. The unpredictability of individual stocks is inevitable and therefore trying to pick individual stocks is futile.

Though Fama was awarded the Nobel prize for his discoveries on the nature of the stock market, this has not prevented a huge investment industry from claiming credit when luck strikes and from taking rewards as if the performance genuinely reflects deep wisdom.

Mistaking luck for skill when investing in stocks is an extreme case because no skill could be involved. It shows that when we know the outcome, it is very difficult for us to not infer skill as the root cause. Given that for most other things, performance is actually a mixture of luck and skill, what Jonathan Baron and John Hershey call “outcome bias” is very common.

Baron and Hershey asked people to evaluate decisions after they learned their outcome. A surgeon decides to operate using a risky procedure. Is that a wise decision? The answer should not depend on whether or not the operation succeeded, but it very much does. People evaluated the quality of the surgeon’s decision more negatively if they later learned that the patient died than if he lived. Francesca Gino, Dan Moore and Max Bazerman show that the same is true for ethics. People are just as outcome biased when they evaluate how ethical an action is.

The good news is that we constantly learn from our experiences. Making many decisions every day gives us a large data set to build on over the years. The bad news is that because of the outcome bias we often learn the wrong things. You might follow the advice of a friend to invest in a very risky business, get lucky and make a windfall. This happy outcome would blind you to the folly of risking too much and you might be more willing to listen to that friend in the future. 

It is even worse when a good decision has a bad outcome. Rebecca Ratner and Kenneth Herbst show that such unlucky events cause people to make worse decisions in the future.

So, when evaluating performance (of any sort), don’t argue with success. Just ignore it, and evaluate the wisdom of the decisions that preceded it. The only way to truly evaluate the wisdom of actions is therefore with the benefit of true ignorance!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How to Make a Wise Decision!

Not all decisions are wise. Deciding on that dividend re-investment offer just before the global financial crisis. Setting up a business partnership expecting the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. Believing lycra is slimming.

We think we make wise decisions. But that's because we're good at post-facto rationalisation. The truth is we make far more foolish decisions than wise ones, we just don't see it at the time. So, how can you improve your odds of making the "right" decision next time?


For the past 4 years my business colleague, Dr Barry Partridge and I have been researching that question. We received funding from the NSW Department of Innovation and Technology in conjunction with the University of Wollongong. And now we think we have an answer. 

It turns out that each of us has a preferred style of processing the available information prior to making a decision. This reflects our unconscious bias, and explains why we all believe we're good decision makers when we're not.

Well that's not quite true. Decision making is incredibly idiosyncratic. We become good at making decisions at work as a result of training and experience. In fact, mastery in any occupation is characterised by the ability to make generally good decisions intuitively and quickly. 

Experience may be necessary but it's not a sufficient condition for making good decisions, certainly not wise decisions. Research at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin has demonstrated that wisdom-related performance is higher in a cohort of 60 year-olds than in 20-somethings. But the frequency of wisdom-related performance tends to plateau in our 30s and continue right through the lifespan. We get older, but not necessarily wiser.

The research on decision making over the past few decades has been see-sawing backwards and forwards between the benefits of rationality and the new evidence about intuition. Some see this as a distinction between "thinking fast and thinking slow". But something is missing in this dualistic model. Where is the ethical and moral dimension?

Our business schools claim eminence in the training of rational thinking. And yet the progeny of this training oversaw a financial collapse that eclipsed the Great Depression. On the other hand, experience (intuition) doesn't seem to help in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous). How should we prepare ourselves to make the wise decisions required to sustain our fragile existence in the face of runaway population growth and climate change?

The outcome of our research over the past 4 years has yielded a model of mental flexibility and a self-test of information processing styles called the DPS (Decision Processing Survey)®

The psychometric properties of the DPS are robust and allow us to make predictions about unconscious bias in decision making, particularly when the stakes are high. We have discovered that the very best decision makers are likely to have strengths across three modes of information processing:
  • Intuitive: experiential, sensed, felt, immediate, pattern-recognition.
  • Deliberative: logical, analytical, calculated, derived from first principles.
  • Considerative: discerned, balanced, consequential, values-driven, seeking the common good.
Strengths in these three styles are necessary, and sufficient, for making wise decisions. 

Further, our strengths-based training in mental flexibility can enhance all three styles to maximise the probability that you will make wiser decisions when the context demands it.

Whatever decision making crossroad you are facing at the moment, fist ask yourself these questions:
  1. What feels right (or wrong) about this?
  2. How can I best weigh up (calculate) my options?
  3. What is the wisest thing to do?
Now, more than ever, we are called to make wise decisions. At any age, and in any occupation. Will your next decision be wise? And the one after that? And the one after that?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Time for Wisdom!

Can we all just become a little bit wiser? From the outside many of the world's current conflicts seem nonsensical. Even as our planet slides towards irreversible climate change there are groups of us engaged in mutually assured destruction. And all our confected fear and intolerance simply perpetuates the great historical march of folly.

Can wisdom be learned without waiting until we are old and sage-like? Can we teach wisdom to our children? Can we train our political, business, and community leaders in the meaning and practice of wisdom and wise decision-making?

The scientific study of wisdom is still a very young field, but the mechanisms underlying wise thought and decision making are emerging through the research methods of psychology, economics, and neuroscience.

What psychological and social factors contribute to the development of wisdom?

Intelligence

Wisdom is often confused with intelligence. Of course, many smart decisions are neither wise nor unwise. Intelligence contributes to decisions that are well informed  and made with thoughtful consideration, yet intelligence is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for wisdom. For a decision to be wise and not just smart it must lead in some way to human flourishing and to the enhancement of our common good.

Age

The aged sage seems to be almost universal across cultures. To be thought wise, one needs to reach a certain advanced age. And not surprisingly, we seem to have few celebrated examples of younger people displaying wisdom. But not everyone who is older is wiser so perhaps it's not biological age that causes wisdom. Some research findings suggest that wisdom performance is most likely to be found in older age groups but the "getting of wisdom" plateaus in our 30's.

Experience

Do certain experiences in life lead to wisdom? If wisdom is a consequence of experience, some older people should be wiser because older people have more experience than younger people. But this also suggests that young people who have similar experiences might also become wise without waiting for the passage of time. What kinds of experiences contribute to wisdom? And can we be "inoculated" with certain experiences that help to move us along the path to wisdom?

Self Regulation

Does increasing experience in meditation lead to increased wisdom? Some studies suggest that meditation is related to increased cognitive, affective, and reflective wisdom. However, it appears that increased ballet experience is also related to cognitive, affective, and reflective wisdom. What does ballet have to do with wisdom? One conclusion is that self regulation and self control, which are important in maintaining such practices over long periods of time may be important for the development of wisdom.

Rational Decision Making

Behavioural economics research has demonstrated that there are a number of decision biases that distort rational economic decision making. For example, the endowment effect predicts that simply owning an object raises its subjective value beyond the object's worth in the marketplace. Studies have shown that experience in trading reduces this kind of bias through a lowering of neural activity in the part of the brain associated with loss aversion. This implies that more experience in market transactions increases the ability to make more rational decisions resulting in fairer, more reasonable transactions.

Language

Some studies have shown that thinking in a second language reduces economic biases in decision making, and it also appears to increase creativity and insight in problem solving. Thinking in a foreign language may provide some emotional distance from a situation and could make self regulation easier leading to more rational decisions, and more divergent and creative thinking.

Virtue Motivation

Wisdom seems to depend in part on understanding that the values and perspectives of other people are important in solving human problems. Wisdom also seems to be grounded in a kind of virtue motivation, such that other virtues may be harnessed in the use and development of wisdom.

Reflection

Wisdom also appears to depend on a willingness to engage in intellectual struggle and a capability not to be deterred from working on tough problems that may require reflection, and even self reflection.

Divergent Thinking

Wisdom may also depend on a propensity to engage in divergent thinking, creativity, and the insight that comes form a diversity of experiences, and from forming new concepts and associations among concepts.

The goal of research into wisdom is to elucidate the way in which wisdom can increase with experiences and to understand the kinds of experiences that can lead to wisdom. In this way it may be possible to become a little wiser without waiting to become older.

  • Is wisdom something that anyone can acquire?
  • Does making wiser decisions in one area (such as financial decisions) imply wisdom in other areas (such as human relationships)?
  • Is it necessary to have survived a tragedy or terrible experience to become wiser?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Is All Leadership Mindful Leadership?

I attended the inaugural 2-day Mindful Leadership Global Forum in Sydney last week with 400 participants from business and government agency management roles. Mindfulness is in the news as a revolution in leadership. Companies that embrace mindfulness such as Google and Facebook claim reductions in absenteeism, enhanced productivity, and improved business results.

Mindfulness is the practice of focused attention, certainly a useful skill for any leader. But there are 5 other practices considered to be equally essential to good leadership - what are they?

It seems to me that mindful leadership is becoming a catch-all for practices ranging from decision-making to body awareness. The essence of the transformative leader is embodied in 6 practices, sometimes referred to as "the six perfections". They are - in order:

1. Generosity
The act of giving means giving the best of what you have, graciously and unstintingly, without reservations, hesitation, or regret. Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression. The leader who practices generosity experiences joy in forming the intention to be generous, and joy in the act of giving.

2. Ethics
Moral ethics is widely considered to be the basis of all excellent qualities. Though rare today, the virtuous leader is the very heart of every society. Such a leader considers whether his or her daily words, deeds, intentions, thoughts and feelings are helpful or harmful, skilful or unskillful, virtuous or not.

3. Patience
Self-regulation is a prerequisite for any leader. Anger is the antithesis of self-regulation. And good leaders have learned how to manage their frustration and anger through the practice of patience, which is the ability to face discomfort with courage.

4. Effort
Leaders need to take action, heroic action. A good leader needs to know where he or she wants to go and how to get there, and then never, never, never give up. Heroic effort depends on and generates a true enthusiasm for life.

5. Mindfulness
Mindfulness means the intentional use of attention as applied to this very moment: whatever is arising in the body-mind field of consciousness. Leaders need a highly focused and alert presence of mind free from judgment, evaluation, and reactivity. Mindfulness training is - or should be - an essential skill for the transformative leader.

6. Wisdom
Now more than ever, we need wise leaders. Wisdom implies deep understanding about patterns and relationships, causes and origins, as well as insight into the future implications of all our thoughts, words, and deeds. The wise leader is able to grasp the truth at the heart of any situation.

I believe mindful leadership is essential to good leadership and important in the training of leaders, but it is a component of the six practices outlined above, which constitutes the transformative nature of wise leadership.

Wisdom may be summed up as: "to know, to will, to love, and to do what is good, true, beautiful and just".

Monday, August 18, 2014

What's the matter with Leadership?

In spite of the dedication to developing good leaders, bad leadership continues like a plague. Not necessarily corrupt or evil leadership, but the ubiquitous types of bad leadership such as incompetent, rigid, intemperate, and callous leadership.

Worse, we seem to be suffering from a crisis of confidence in our political, government, enterprise, and community leaders who are charged with leading wisely and well. 

Barbara Kellerman is the James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. In her book, "The End of Leadership" she writes, "the leadership industry is self-satisfied, self-perpetuating, and poorly policed... by and large these are trying times, in which the leadership class has not exactly distinguished itself".

Kellerman points out that there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between our idea of the leader as a central figure in our collective consciousness and the growing evidence that in the present networked, interdependent, transnational world leaders matter less now, not more.

So, what's the answer?

We need to think of leadership as a far more collaborative act between leaders, followers, and their social environment. Here are three useful frameworks:

The New Psychology of Leadership

Alex Haslam is Professor of Psychology and ARC Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland. In his book, "The New Psychology of Leadership" co-authored with Stephen Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology and former Head of the School of Psychology at the University of St Andrews, and Michael Platow, Professor, Research School of Psychology, ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, he writes: "Effective leadership... has little to do with the individuality of the leader and everything to do with whether they are seen as part of the team, as a team player, as able and willing to advance team goals. Leadership, in short, is very much a we thing."

Haslam and colleagues make the case for four key principles of effective leadership:

  • Leaders must be seen as "one of us".
  • Leaders must be seen to "do it for us".
  • Leaders must "craft a sense of us".
  • Leaders must "make us matter".

The Extraordinary Leader

Joe Folkman is a U.S. Industrial and Organizational Psychologist. Together with his colleague, Jack Zenger, a bestselling author with over five decades of experience in leadership development, they conducted research on what followers said about their leaders for their book, "The Extraordinary Leader" .


They administered 360-degree assessments to almost 49,000 employees from a range of different organisations. What they found was that 26% of the variance in employee commitment could be explained by the perceptions of managerial effectiveness alone. Further, they discovered that poor leaders lost money for their organisations, good leaders made a reasonable profit, but the extraordinary leaders nearly doubled the profit generated for the organisation by the good leaders.


Their model of leadership has five interrelated elements:

  • Character - which is also linked to Interpersonal Skills.
  • Character also affects Focus on Results.
  • Personal Capability - which links to Interpersonal Skills.
  • Personal Capability also links to Focus on Results.
  • Focus on Results is linked to Interpersonal Skills.
  • Character also links to Leading Organisational Change.
  • Focus on Results affects Leading Organisational Change, and
  • Interpersonal Skills links to Leading Organisational Change.

Positive Leadership

Kim Cameron is the William Russell Kelly Professor of Management and Organizations at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. In his book, "Positive Leadership" he outlines four strategies for effective leadership based on empirical evidence from positive psychology and positive organisation scholarship. Positive leaders, he says, enable extraordinary performance by engendering that which is elevating and virtuous in organisations through:

  • Fostering a positive work climate.
  • Fostering positive relationships among team members.
  • Fostering positive communication.
  • Associating the work being done with positive meaning.
These three books present evidence-based frameworks for how best to lead groups, teams, and organisations in in the second decade of the twenty-first century and beyond. In particular, according to Kellerman, "we need to think of leadership as a collaborative act - for which leaders and followers both are educated, for which leaders and followers both are prepared over a lifetime of learning".

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Smart is not the same as Wise!

In October 2008, the world entered into a recession unequaled since the Great Depression of 1929. Many people, including economists, thought that such a recession was no longer even possible. What made the recession particularly odd is that it came after, not before, investment banking started attracting the best and the brightest among the graduates of the top universities in the world.


How could such smart people have created so much misery for so many people?
 
Even more curiously, how could these smart people have then tried to profit from the misery they created, so ignorant of its repercussions that the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, referred to the company as doing "God's work?" This was the same company that later was revealed to be betting its own funds against the funds of clients who paid Goldman Sachs for financial advice.


Smart people can be so stupid, or to be exact, foolish, because they are unwise. Having intelligence is not the same as being wise. People in particular and the world in general will experience greater happiness when our schools - particularly our business schools - place more emphasis on the acquisition of wisdom, and not just on the accumulation of knowledge.


Much of what we understand about wisdom has to do with discernment and judgement - the evident capacity to think well about a problem or a dilemma and arrive at a considered decision that seeks to achieve the best outcome for all concerned - ultimately, the common good.

 
Researchers in the psychology of wisdom have suggested that being wise is: 

  • Balancing different kinds of thinking - objective and logical processes, and subjective and organismic processes. Logos and Mythos.
  • Balancing between various self-systems such as the cognitive, conative, and affective, resulting in a well-balanced personality, where the conscious and unconscious interact in harmony.
  • Balancing between different points of view, or on "a balance between the opposing valences of intense emotion and detachment, action and inaction, knowledge and doubts".
How do people acquire wisdom, and more importantly how do we teach wisdom?

Perhaps the most comprehensive definition of wisdom comes from Robert Sternberg, Professor of Human Development at Cornell University. "Wisdom", he says "is not just about maximizing one’s own or someone else’s self-interest, but also about balancing various self-interests (interpersonal) with the interests of others (interpersonal) and about other aspects of the context in which one lives (extrapersonal), such as one’s city or country or the world. The common good needs also to take into account distributive justice: the rights of individuals and subgroups within any collectivity, and what is as nearly fair as possible to all."

Being smart is certainly a necessary but not a sufficient condition for being wise.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Developing Mindful Leadership

Organisations like Google, Sony, Goldman Sachs, Aetna, Volkswagen Audi, IF Insurance, and AXA Asia are using mindfulness training for workplace attentional skills and authentic leadership development.

It's not about employee stress management or health and fitness. Mindfulness training is proving to be an essential way to improve productivity, creativity and innovation in the workplace.

Research into the effects of mindfulness at work shows that the drivers of real productivity go beyond faster task performance and better information technology. It’s about having a calmer, more open and undistracted mind, greater self-awareness, and an enhanced capacity for self-transformation.

Focus, clarity, creativity, compassion, and courage are also the qualities that give leaders the resilience to cope with the many challenges they face and the resolve to sustain long-term success. The real point of leverage is the ability to think clearly and focus on the most important opportunities.

In his new book Focus, Daniel Goleman supports the importance of mindfulness in focusing the mind’s cognitive abilities, linking them to qualities of the heart like compassion and courage. Cultivating this type of focus requires establishing regular practices that allow your mind to relax and be fully present in the "here and now", moment-to-moment awareness. The opposite is mindlessness, which can be defined as neither paying attention to, nor having awareness of, the activities you are engaged in, or of the internal states and processes (e.g., emotions) you are experiencing.

The global consumer goods giant, Carlsberg and the largest Scandinavian insurance company, If Insurance - have collaborated with Professor Jochen Reb from Cambridge University Business School to cast light on the impact of a program called Corporate Based Mindfulness Training. The program has been developed over the last 6 years by the international training organisation The Potential Project.

The vision of The Potential Project is to facilitate the development of a new way of working, one in which individuals and organisations develop high performance cultures by harnessing the potential of the human mind. Download the report here.

Last year I conducted the first Australian CBMT (Corporate Based Mindfulness Training) for 45 Mental Healthcare managers at SESLHD (South East Sydney Local Health District). They completed a 4-month program of 11 one-hour modules and daily in-house training of 10 minutes a day. The results showed statistically significant improvements in focus, awareness, and work-life balance. Download the report here.

And this year I'm delivering CBMT programs for Landor Associates, an Asia Pacific brand marketing firm, and The NSW Health Education and Training Institute. Which all goes to show that mindfulness is increasingly being valued as an important workplace skill and not just a means of reducing stress.

In these times of shifting market platforms, political whim, and budgetary restrictions leading change in organisations demands much more than strategy and direction. It demands mindful leaders who know how to foster generosity, ethical discipline, patience, effort, and mindful focus in themselves and those they lead. Mckinsey & Co had it right in a recent article when they said "change leader, change thyself".

Are you a mindful leader?




Monday, May 12, 2014

Wisdom in Health Care

Could there a better place for wisdom to take hold than in health care? What profession is more in need of making wise choices than one trusted with people's lives? What organisations are more in need of wisdom than those charged with caring for the sick and promoting well-being?

We are ready for wisdom in health care. Specifically, we are ready for wisdom leadership. What does that mean? We are ready for leadership that fosters the capacities for wisdom in our healthcare organisations, 
capacities described in Monika Ardelt's three-dimensional framework for wisdom:


The cognitive dimension includes the capacity to see the deeper meaning of things, to understand complexity and tolerate ambiguity, to avoid over simplification of complex situations. It also includes awareness of the limitations of our knowledge, and avoidance of hubris.

The reflective dimension includes the capacity to see things from many perspectives, requiring self-examination, self-awareness and self-insight.


Finally, the affective dimension is compassion, and requires transcendence of self-centeredness. Fostering these capacities can be thought of as the wise leader's virtuous cycle.


Imagine healthcare organisations that intentionally foster wisdom development: compassion, self-reflection, embracing and wrestling with the true complex nature of the work, striving to make practically wise choices with patients!

There are signs of this beginning to happen. For example, in the US the American Board of Internal Medicine have titled their most recent campaign for educating physicians and patients in high value care, "Choosing Wisely".

At the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, compassion, gratitude and other positive emotions are intentionally being fostered through the Center for Appreciative Practice (CAP) and the Compassionate Care Initiative. The CAP teaches health care leaders how to use appreciative inquiry to foster positive change, teaches residents about the use of story to build relationships with their patients as persons, and helps to foster positive emotion through simple techniques like appreciative gossip, gratitude journals, appreciative check-in and the use of story.

To foster self-reflection, a number of teaching hospitals in the US are training medical and nursing students and faculty in mindfulness, helping them reflect on their clinical interactions and clinical decision-making in a moment-to-moment way, and helping them focus their attention in critical situations. For example, the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry developed a series of programs in Mindful Practice including seminars, workshops, and interactive presentations that aim to cultivate the practice of mindfulness and self-awareness in healthcare professionals and trainees.

Some healthcare organisations are beginning to teach complexity science to improve patient safety, and to create a culture where mistakes or poor outcomes are not only openly acknowledged, but also studied in order to discover how to improve, and how to avoid similar mistakes in the future. As a profession, medicine is taking on the task of delineating wise choices and actions (out of the myriad of options) based on evidence and an intimate knowledge of the patient.

These are only a few examples. Wisdom leadership involves the intentional focus on developing these capacities within healthcare organisations, and within ourselves as leaders.

Most leadership training approaches leadership as an "outside in" process: learn a theory, adopt it and you're good to go. I believe the capacities for wise leadership must be nurtured from the inside out, in a community committed to the development of these wisdom capacities. It is time to change our approach to leadership in healthcare and to claim a leadership approach that is more in keeping with the core meaning of healing and the alleviation of suffering. Wisdom, representing the highest of human striving, is perhaps the only framework big enough to represent the seriousness and the responsibility of this task.

What do you think? Are wise leaders a result of an "inside out" or an "outside in" phenomenon, or both? Are we ready for wisdom in health care? Can health care take the lead in developing wisdom in our communities?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mindful Leadership

The way we're working isn't working. Leaders are  facing competing demands, budget and resource restrictions, administrative load, changes in strategy and policy direction, and difficulty maintaining day-to-day focus on priorities. The best description of this state is a condition called ADT (Attention Deficit Trait) caused by brain overload. ADT is now epidemic in organisations. The core symptoms are distractibility, inner frenzy, and impatience. Leaders with ADT have difficulty staying organized, setting priorities, and managing time. These symptoms can undermine the productivity of even the most dedicated leader.

Something's got to change. It's not just about faster task performance and better information technology. Research into the effects of mindfulness at work show the benefits of having a calmer, more open and undistracted mind, greater self-awareness, and an enhanced capacity for self-transformation. So how do you become a mindful leader?

Ask for a copy of the report on the first Australian CBMT (Corporate Based Mindfulness Training) Program here.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

When Does the Sports Metaphor Fail in Business?

“We have to get this project across the line before the final whistle blows or we’ll have to take a punt.  It’s important to punch through as the goal posts keep moving.”

This is the kind of language common to leaders in almost every Western-based workplace. But the manager who believes that using sports metaphors is universally motivating demonstrates lack of insight into cultural sensitivities.

Surely sport as a common denominator and a way of bonding in business has gone the way of the 1950’s typing pool. The modern work place eschews stereotyping and with that the assumption that all races, genders and cultures relate equally to football,  cricket or boxing metaphors.  Covert or unconscious stereotyping creates or reinforces a hierarchy of difference and is at the root of adverse treatment of oppressed groups.


Performance psychology is well known and used in sports and in business.  But the sports arena has no relation to the marketplace.  In the broadest terms, successful leaders of any discipline from arts to education have similar attributes such as perseverance and courage. What are some other metaphors for business performance that might be more universally encouraging?



Thursday, March 27, 2014

Older and Wiser

Do we get wiser as we get older?

A recent study found that older people have much more information in their brains than younger people, and the quality of the information in the older brain is more nuanced. While younger people were faster in tests of cognitive performance, older people showed "greater sensitivity to fine-grained differences".

Read about the study here.

It seems the more information we have in our brains the more we can detect familiar patterns. Cognitive templates develop in the older brain based on pattern recognition, and these form the basis for wise behaviour and wise decisions.

It takes time to gain insights and perspectives from our own cognitive knowledge to be wise. Although time doesn't necessarily lead to wisdom!



Friday, March 7, 2014

Connecting the Whole

Looking out from Vulture's Peak near the ancient city of Rajgira, Bihar, India, 21st February 2012. This is the place where The Buddha gave his most significant discourses more than 2,500 years ago.

Astonishingly, what he taught has much in common with our modern sciences of quantum physics, cosmology and psychology, particularly on the nature of the interconnectedness of all phenomenon.

For example, The Buddha claimed the idea of a fixed self is an illusion. And modern brain and behavioural scientists would agree with him about there being no evidence of an essential core, indivisible identity. We only exist - conventionally speaking - through the stories we tell about ourselves.

Just like modern biologists, The Buddha held that all things are in a state of flux: life is growth and decay, all phenomena arise and dissipate, everything is impermanent, and nothing can be truly relied on in and of itself.

And finally, The Buddha's idea that nothing exists as an independent entity but rather arises through multiple causes and conditions is a fundamental tenet of ecology.

What does this have to do with wise leadership? Well, if interconnectedness is written into the creed of both Buddhism and the biological sciences, it might prove valuable to see what else The Buddha said about the nature of mind, ethics, compassion and wisdom!



Sunday, March 2, 2014

Why Multitasking Doesn't Work

Are you a good multi-tasker? Although it may feel as if you're ticking things off the list, recent studies say multitasking makes you less productive and more stressed.

Stanford University researchers found that it led to more mistakes and longer time needed to perform tasks.

An American psychiatrist, Dr Edward Hallowell, who studied multitasking over two decades declared modern workers to be chronic sufferers of "Attention Deficit Trait", having lost the ability to focus, and had become "frenzied underachievers".

The brain's reaction to multiple tasks at the same time is to try to solve them all at once. There is inbuilt inefficiency in this. If you're writing an email and answering the phone, it takes a few minutes to properly switch tasks. There is much time lost in transitions.


Research shows the human mind wanders in 47 per cent of our waking hours. But training in the ancient practice of mindfulness can make for better workers.

It's basically about learning how to manage your attention. The mind is like a muscle; it can be strengthened and toned to make you more present. And it can be trained to more effectively engage in everyday work activities to be more productive, efficient, collaborative and creative.


Ask for a copy of the report on the first Australian CBMT (Corporate Based Mindfulness Training) Program here