Strategic thinking involves emotions

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Many of us think that strategy is a higher level activity than its actual execution.

Even business schools make a distinction between strategy and operations and managers are urged to become more strategic if they want to progress.

However both kinds of thinking draw on socio-emotional reasoning and more so for the more adept strategists. Researchers in the USA asked managers to react to fictional strategic and tactical management dilemmas whilst measuring their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The researchers were particularly interested in how different areas of the brain interacted. The pre-frontal cortex is the executive part of the brain and normally associated with strategic thinking ie pattern recognition, risk assessment, abstract thinking, and anticipation.

Whilst these abilities help managers solve problems the researchers found that in the best strategic thinkers there was less neural activity in that region and more in the areas of the brain associated with instinctive reactions, empathy and emotional intelligence viz the insula, anterior cingulate cortex and the superior temporal sulcus.

The conscious executive function was downplayed whilst the regions associated with unconscious emotion processing was operating more freely.

Furthermore the strongest performers’ tactical reasoning relied not only on the emotional processing part of the brain and that part used for making choices based on past decisions, but also the part of the brain used to anticipate other people’s thoughts and emotions.

So although IQ based reasoning is valuable in both strategic and tactical thinking high performers have the ability to take a more holistic approach by integrating their brain processes. Strategic thinkers may even repress rational thought to allow their emotional and intuitive processes freer reign.

Source: HBR September 2010


National Stress Awareness Day

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National Stress Awareness Day Today, November 3rd, is National Stress Awareness Day. Once again the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) is providing organisations with the free services of Stress Advisers to help staff cope better with stress, become more resilient, and have a better work-life balance. The slogan this year is: “Start Living – Stop Stressing” You can download a range of free resources from the ISMA web-site now. … Read More

via SGandA on Management & Leadership with permission

How do you know how intelligent you are?

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You might be surprised to learn that there is no agreed definition for intelligence. And there is no absolute measure as there is for your height and weight.

You may have completed a test, such as a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) which measures comprehension, vocabulary, arithmetic and comprehension, or a test of numerical, verbal, or critical reasoning ability when you applied for a job. Most of these tests are useful as they indicate how smart you are compared to other people and correlate with how well you do at school and in your job.

Now an article in New Scientist; “The 12 pillars of wisdom” explains how there are different views about whether or not there is a “generalised intelligence” – which is based on the fact that people who do well on one particular test tend to do well across the board – or whether intelligence is actually a combination of many different and independent cognitive abilities.

Howard Gardner, not mentioned in the article, proposed, almost 30 years ago, his multiple intelligence theory (MI Theory).

Although adopted by many educationalists and teachers, as it provides a broader framework than traditionally used in schools, it has been criticised as being more about ability than intelligence.

MI Theory includes: spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential.

There have been additions over time from the original 7 and some of these ie inter-  and intra-personal are also included in models of Emotional Intelligence (EI).

The authors, Adrian Owen and Roger Highfield, at the UK Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, describe how they are carrying out research to find the smallest number of tests to cover the broadest range of cognitive skills that they believe contribute to intelligence. They intend to couple this with exploration of the brain’s anatomy.

The twelve pillars they refer to in their “ultimate intelligence test” are:

  1. visuospatial working memory,
  2. spatial working memory,
  3. focused attention,
  4. mental rotation,
  5. visuospatial working memory and strategy,
  6. paired associate learning,
  7. deductive reasoning,
  8. visuospatial processing,
  9. visual attention,
  10. verbal reasoning,
  11. verbal working memory, and
  12. planning.

Updated 23 November 2010: Scientists have now identified over 200 genes potentially associated with academic performance in children. Those with the right combination do significantly better in numeracy, literacy, and science.

The study of 4,000 children attempted to find the genetic combination that influences reasoning skills and general intelligence. Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London believe their work will help predict academic potential based on a genetic test.

They believe intelligence is controlled by a network of thousands of genes rather than a few powerful ones. They checked the million or so more common ones and looked for variations which occurred most often in the children who tested with either a low or high level of achievement.

Although some aspects of human physiology such as hair or eye colour, multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, are controlled by only a few genes, more recent research suggests that for most aspects it is far more complex than that. Height for example is influenced by 300 genes but even that they only account for 15% of the variation in height.

Scientists attempts to develop profiling methods, so they can predict academic potential and devise methods of helping children who might otherwise be disadvantaged, is not as easy as originally thought despite massive computing power now being available to them for their analyses.

It is still difficult apparently to name even one gene that is clearly associated with normal intelligence in healthy adults although there are 300 known to be associated with mental retardation. So it seems that having your DNA profile available at birth is still not going to book you a place at Oxbridge just yet.

Updated 26 April 2011: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say that they have found that high IQ scores are a result of high intelligence plus motivation whereas low IQ scores could be because of the lack of either intelligence or motivation (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

They say that students offered incentives can improve their IQ scores and suggest that people with high IQs may be not only more intelligent but also more competitive.

IQ is often used as a predictor of success later in life but it may be that it is the competitive element that makes the difference rather than the actual level of intelligence.

The eyes have it

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Herman Melville famously said; “The eyes are the gateway to the soul”.

More importantly perhaps they are the key to establishing rapport (see “Leaders, NVC, and Charisma”) and also, along with voice pitch, for determining “turn-taking” in conversations.

On the latter point Margaret Thatcher once got into what looked like an argument with Robin Day as she appeared to constantly interrupt him.

On analysis what happened was that because Mrs Thatcher was constantly dropping her voice at the end of sentences (she had moved on from the shrill delivery she had when she was Secretary of State for Education & Science  and known as “milk snatcher Thatcher” and had been coached to cultivate a more “intensive care” voice), Day thought she had finished and moved in with another question before she had finished making her point.

Day obviously wasn’t watching her eyes just listening to her voice, and probably the producer’s voice in his ear-piece. So he probably had enough on his plate in terms of cognitive demand.

Breaking eye contact ie looking at the person, then looking away and then back again, signals that we now want to speak. If the other person is looking at you they will hopefully pick up on it and stop speaking to allow you to have your turn.

NB Avoiding eye contact can also mean people think you are shifty even though, in some cultures, it is not thought appropriate to look people in the eye.

The other benefit of breaking eye contact is to allow us to concentrate. I used to work for a boss who, whenever he asked me a question would then close his eyes and blink rapidly. It was most disconcerting at the time until I had another boss who, rather than read my reports (often quite long political policy documents), preferred me to read them out loud to him whilst he leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed. He said it helped him to concentrate.

Now, according to an article in the Observer magazine 24/10/10, researchers at the University of Stirling have found that 5-year olds doing mental arithmetic performed better when told not to look at the examiner but at the floor.

Children are drawn to faces; even babies prefer to look at a picture of an upright face rather than an inverted one. But focussing on faces takes brain power and can be distracting when carrying out other mental tasks – hence the need to break eye contact.

So when teachers said to you, as you looked to the heavens for inspiration; “the answers not up there”, how wrong could they be!

Moral judgements & decision-making under the influence

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You  might think your moral compass is pretty reliable – you know what is right and what is wrong and make decisions based on that and also judge other people accordingly.

So would you push someone under a train if it would save 5 other people? Probably not if you are on antidepressants according to research at Cambridge University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and reported in New Scientist recently; “Take antidepressants and you’ll be a soft touch”.

An antidepressant citalopram, which raises your serotonin levels (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI), was administered to 24 healthy volunteers who were then given this moral dilemma. Compared to other volunteers given a placebo they were 10% less likely to inflict harm on someone. In another experiment the drugged volunteers were more likely to accept unfair treatment than punish the other person’s greed.

The researchers pointed out that antidepressants are the most widely prescribed class of drugs (in the USA) so it’s important to investigate their effects on users’ social behaviour and moral judgement.

But what if instead you asked people to clean themselves or think clean thoughts?

Research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology shows that asking people to clean their hands with antiseptic wipes or priming them to feel clean by reading passages about how clean they felt had the same effect ie they made harsher moral judgements on a range of social issues including pornography and littering than those who were primed to feel dirty or who didn’t follow the cleaning procedure.

The researchers concluded that: “Acts of cleanliness not only have the potential to shift our moral pendulum to a more virtuous self, but also license harsher moral judgement of others“.

And if you are a woman and you think you are too trusting, a drop of testosterone could increase your guardedness. Researchers in the Netherlands and South Africa placed a  drop of testosterone on women’s tongues and asked them to judge the trustworthiness of a series of male faces.

They also asked other women to whom they gave a placebo, then repeated the experiment but swapped the treatment. Women who had just been given testosterone were less trustful of the men than those given the placebo. And the effect was more pronounced amongst women who were normally more trustful. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol 107 No 22)

Makes you wonder about juries or other situations where people judge others – not just so-called talent shows but more mundane things like selection panels or performance reviews.

Updated 6 January 2011: Having sweat samples hung under your nose in teabags sounds like something only a psychologist would devise. But it showed that when people are anxious they release a chemical signal that is detectable at an unconscious level by those nearby.

Participants were exposed to sweat from both anxious and non-anxious participants without knowing which was which. When exposed to anxious sweat they took longer but made riskier decisions.

Haegler ‘s research in Neuropsychologia showed that the participants rated both kinds of sweat equally unpleasant and couldn’t consciously tell the difference. Earlier research had shown that sweat collected from an anxious person triggered extra activity in emotion-related brain areas.

Haegler wondered if the perception of emotional chemical signals might alert individuals to danger but said that the results certainly suggested that; anxiety in humans can be communicated through chemical senses unconsciously”.


Empathy helped humanity rise to the top

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It may not be about selfish genes and economic man after all. According to primatology professor Frans de Waal, the success of Homo sapiens is due primarily to our capacity for empathy and our urge to understand and appreciate others.

Robin McKie interviewed him in The Observer about his book; “The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society“. De Waal says that, like most mammals but particularly primates, we possess an innate sensitivity to the emotional status of other members of our species. He believes that empathy developed with the evolution of the maternal instinct as mothers need to understand when their offspring are in danger.

That might also explain why women seem to be more empathetic than men and the hormone oxytocin, which increases bonding between people, may also be a key component. The ability to understand another’s emotions and share them – what he calls emotional contagion (and which may be due to possession of so-called mirror neurones) – is common in all higher mammals. (See “Emotional Intelligence and Empathy”).

He thinks this emotional perspective appears at the age of two and correlates to the development of self-awareness. The more self-aware the animal the more empathetic it appears to be.

And it is this ability to be empathetic that enables us to care for the sick and elderly and survive in overcrowded cities (compared for example to rats which in experiments on  overcrowding attacked each other).

Robin McKie interviewed him in The Observer about his book; “The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society“.

Ever wondered how much empathy you have? Psychological tests developed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, and their team at the University of Cambridge, England, can give you insight into the way your brain functions. Specifically, you can discover if you are more prone to empathize or systemize. Click empathy v systemising and instant feedback.

Men working themselves to death

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It’s not just women who are putting their health at risk (see “Stress can be a killer for women ..).

Unfit men who work long hours are doubling their risk of dying from heart disease. And it doesn’t matter whether or not the work is physically demanding. Work itself increases your heart rate and blood pressure.

According to Denmark’s National Research Centre for the Working Environment if you work longer than 45 hours and don’t take exercise you run twice the risk of dying than fit men who also work long hours but exercise.

Their study, published in the journal Heart, looked at 5,000 men aged 40 to 59 and tracked their working hours and fitness levels over 30 years. One in five of the men worked longer than 45 hours a week and if they were unfit these were the ones who  were at most risk. Even working between 40 and 45 hours increased the risk by almost 60% compared with men who worked less than 40 hours.

Physically fit men were least at risk no matter how many hours they worked – not just of dying from heart disease but from other causes as well. High levels of fitness counter the negative effects on the body and speed up recovery time allowing you to sleep better and leaving you less tired and irritable.

The Daily Mail reported that full-timer workers in the UK work 1.5 hours a week longer than the EU average of 39.9 hours. Of course our government opted out of the Working Time Directive despite earlier warnings of the ill effects of working over 50 hours (See “Taking work to extremes).

Apparently only workers in Romania and Bulgaria work longer hours and the UK has one of the highest heart attack rates in the world – someone having a heart attack every two minutes.

Finnish top of the world

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Finnish top of the world Economists and social policy experts have decided that Finland is the best country in the world.

Newsweek magazine asked the expert panel to decide based on education, health, quality of life, economic competitiveness, and political environment. Finland, the small country that gave you saunas and Nokia telephones, rally drivers and probably the last real blondes in the world, classy designs and IT expertise, full of forests and lakes, came top ah … Read More

via Mike the Psych’s Blog with permission

Danes are the most satisfied people – how about you?

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Danes are the most satisfied people – how about you? No sooner had Finland won 1st place in “best country in the world” category than their Nordic neighbours Denmark have to go and spoil the party by coming 1st in Wikipedia’s “satisfaction with life” index.

Finland ranked 6th, just ahead of Sweden, in this 2006 study which asked people directly how satisfied they were. Interestingly Switzerland came second in both surveys. The USA came 23rd and we came a measly 41st, behind Germany but ahead of Spa … Read More

via Mike the Psych’s Blog with permission

Taking work to extremes

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It’s the hours not the pay that separate men and women at work.

Despite the fuss about women only achieving parity with men in 50 years based on a survey from the Chartered Management Institute.

According to the survey women’s salaries increased by 2.8% last year compared to 2.3% for men. So it was claimed that if women’s pay continued to improve at that rate women would have parity with men by 2067 – almost 100 years after the Equal Pay Act.

The average salary for male managers was £41,337, about £10,000 more than women managers earned (but these surveys don’t seem to take into account the sectors where women work which may pay less than the sectors dominated by male managers).

This was also reflected at the bottom of the career hierarchy with junior male executives earning £22,253, just over £1,000 more than their female counterparts. There were bigger gaps in IT and pharmaceuticals at this level, over £3,500.

In the boardroom however it’s a different story. Female directors out-earn men with an average salary of £144,729 compared with £138, 765 for men.

Camilla Cavendish’s article in the Times (20 August 2010) is the most sensible I’ve read on this subject for ages. She rightly pointed out that women only earned less in broadly defined categories like “function head” and this could be because men are better qualified than women (as the female graduates have yet to work their way through the ranks) and more experienced (as experienced women have taken more time out).

But her main point is that it’s not about pay but about the hours.

She says women have made huge strides in terms of flexible working and work-life balance but aren’t necessarily prepared for “extreme working“. Extreme jobs are those where you are permanently plugged into your job; “10 hours a day at work, plus breakfast or dinners, plus being available to clients and bosses at weekends and holidays”. There is no switch off and these jobs are characterised by unpredictability.

Once confined to bankers, CEOs and politicians, these jobs are spreading across all sectors. She cites an American study from 2006 which found that 21% of high echelon workers had extreme jobs rising to 45% in multi-national companies. Half were clocking in over 70 hours a week, a quarter more than 80 hours, and 10% over 100 hours! And 4 out of 5 of these workers were men.

Working across time-zones means that there is always someone who needs you if you work in IT, HR, Law, or other advisory service. Having worked with virtual teams I know how disruptive video-conferencing across time zones can be to productive team working. And that’s before we mention smart phones and the internet.

Some people get a buzz from being “always on” and asking them to switch off their phones in meetings or seminars often produces a negative response. As we know from the recent BA dispute text messaging in the middle of negotiations is hardly showing respect to your colleagues across the table.

Cavendish also quotes a study from McKinsey from 1995 which demonstrated that once people worked over 65-70 hours a week there was a significant risk to health and marital status. Similarly research commissioned by the Department of Health showed that men working over 50 hours a week were at a greater risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

That report was buried by the then government as another department was fighting the EU about the Working Time Directive arguing that the opt-out should be extended. But none of this is new. Industrial psychologists studied workers in munitions factories in WWI and found that working long hours led to more accidents and (sometimes fatal) mistakes.

And last year a survey by the Hidden Brain Drain found that nearly half of all extreme workers were too knackered to even speak to their wives or partners in the evenings. I was once asked to coach a Big 5 partner who wanted a career change because his wife was threatening to divorce him. He asked me to meet him at the airport as he was about to fly off again to Singapore. And although it is typically men who are working extreme hours I have also met female lawyers who work long hours – even pulling “all-nighters” to demonstrate to senior partners how committed they are.

So whilst some women do the time they are also more conscious of the impact on their personal lives, or lack of, whereas men seem more reliant on their job status to feel valued. For the majority of us long hours and stress eventually leads to ill-health as I have posted about previously: stress affecting senior women.

The Four Agreements – shamanic emotional intelligence?

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Looking through my library of books on personal and organisational development I came across my copy of The 4 agreements: Practical guide to Personal Freedom (Toltec wisdom), and remembered when I first read it 10 years ago.

I had completed my NLP training and was interested in shamanic belief systems including Hawaiian Huna (now being used to assist soldiers with PTSD as part of a UK version of the wounded warrior programme).

Then I came across this book and I was so impressed with it I wrote my first review, and the first review for the book, on Amazon; ” … my initial reading confirmed that here was a powerful tool for anyone wanting a framework for personal change. Even before I’d finished reading it I used the four agreements as a model to contract with a group of new headteachers on a personal development workshop. The model was really well received and provided a robust underpinning for everything we did so successfully that weekend.” 50 other reviewers have since added to this with over 80% giving it a 5 star rating.

In The Four Agreements shamanic teacher and healer Don Michael Ruiz exposes self-limiting beliefs and presents a simple, yet effective code of personal conduct learned from his Toltec ancestors. The four agreements are these:

  1. Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid speaking against yourself or gossiping about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
  2. Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be a victim.
  3. Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  4. Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Although he is drawing on Toltec esoteric tradition his ideas are recognisable in modern therapy or coaching. He talks about domestication (=socialisation) and belief systems, about self-limiting beliefs and self-criticism (the inner judge), and about being a victim.

He likens the belief system, judge, and victim to having a parasite sucking away your energy. He also uses modern analogies. For example he likens gossip mongers to computer hackers who install a virus in your head which makes the gossip contagious.

And the role of the shamanic warrior – and this is true throughout the American continent from Canada to Argentina (and probably in parts of Asia too) – is to fight all this. The decision to adopt the 4 agreements is a declaration of war to regain your freedom from the parasite. To be free to be yourself and express yourself.

But breaking old agreements is like breaking from an addiction that we have been domesticated to accept, possibly since childhood, so it is hard work. You can start by first facing all your fears one by one. Secondly, by stopping feeding the parasite and fuelling the emotions that come from fear through gaining control of our emotions. (There is a story I remember about a native American shaman who was asked to help someone who said he had two dogs on his shoulders. One was telling him good things and the other one bad things. The shaman simply asked him which one he was feeding.)

To become a warrior you must have awareness and self-control: and you will recognise these skills as competencies in the emotional intelligence model. Yet the Toltecs pre-dated the Aztecs  and were around at the time of the Norman conquest here in Britain. And there are earlier ideas too. Lao Tzu, the chinese contemporary of Confucius and who wrote the Tao said:

  • Knowing others is intelligence
  • Knowing yourself is true wisdom
  • Mastering others is strength
  • Mastering yourself is true power

It seems there are some universal truths about how humans can learn to be the best they can be which have been around for a very long time..

Social skills important but not the whole story

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More (real) school friends = more earning power (maybe) Did you know that the more friends a child has at school, the more they will probably earn later in life? A study by Essex University published last year shows that for each extra friend a pupil had at school, their salary 35 years later was 2% higher. The research adds to growing evidence that social skills – and not simply how well you did at school or university – are vital to success later on in life. Professor Steve Pudney, of the Institute … Read More

via Mike the Psych’s Blog with permission