Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I've been posting here regularly for a few years. Having recently reviewed my internet strategy generally, I've decided to migrate my blogging and my corporate sites to one place. From now on (JULY 2010) my blogs will appear there. This has immediately given me more time to blog so the volume has increased. I hope that you'll join me there....

Thanks for your support so far, and I look forward to hearing from you there.

Best wishes

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

How projection undermines even polished performers

Gordon - how projection undermines even polished performers

The following abstract illustrates typical situations that arise in the course of my work with leaders - it should go without saying that permission to quote has been given, names have been changed, and a few details tweaked to preserve confidentiality.

A few of my clients are referred by their HR Director. There are all kinds of reasons why this happens, but one of them is that an individual is seen as critical to the success of the organisation and yet there are aspects of their behaviour that make it unlikely that they will be promoted. If they use position as a way of monitoring their own self-worth, then the lack of promotion can become a serious undermining factor in their relationship with, and commitment to, their employer. It's my job to help them understand what is going on and give them the resources to make choices for themselves.

Gordon was a good example. As MD of one of the main Divisions in his firm, his financial results were excellent and contributed about 65% of the company profits. His peers were way behind on this scale, but their input to the business strategy and perceived worth to the organisation was often higher than Gordon's. He couldn't understand this and often became sarcastic in executive team meetings and could be scathing in his comments about their individual businesses.

Within his own business stream though, he was very highly respected. His staff would, and often did, give 120% - working exceptionally hard, under tough conditions. Gordon would visit them personally at work, and even quite junior staff could expect a visit. He NEVER criticised anyone in these situations - if they were good, he would make them feel a mile tall, if they weren't he'd quietly have a word with their line managers.

In the industry, his name was well known and highly regarded - indeed he was seen as the natural successor to the CEO. Of course, anyone on the executive team knew that this would never happen - given his way of treating them.

Of course, I had to create an impression with Gordon. He would not suffer a fool gladly. I needed to get him alongside in our first session. We spent it looking at his ambitions and over an hour or so reached a common agreement that something wasn't right - that he should be promoted, wasn't being, and so something was wrong. He had his views on this, but we agreed to let the basic conclusion rest before exploring the 'why'.

In the subsequent session, we reviewed his peers individually and then explored the dynamics of the executive team as a whole and between individuals. Gordon was a little surprised by his own lack of recall of actual dialogue between his peers compared with the extensive recall of exchanges between him and them. We agreed that at the next executive meeting he would do his best to keep his own input to a minimum and instead he would try to make notes of other people's conversation.

To cut a long story short, we used this material to examine two things - firstly to understand the dynamics of the whole team far better - who was allying with whom, what patterns there were in the exchanges, and so on. We also began to see how much of Gordon's dialogue was based on interpretation of others rather than the words they actually used, and hence got to realise how much he depended on a classic defence mechanism - projection - albeit used in a rather complicated fashion.

Gordon typically, took his own feelings (about people especially), and instead of acknowledging them in himself, he would project them onto others. So, for example, he found Derek an intellectual lightweight and Derek's comments often childish in their simplicity. He would witness Shane responding to Derek and interpret Shane's response as being critical of Derek, even though there was no evidence to support this.

Gordon would then take up Derek's defence (to an attack that only Gordon perceived was being made) by attacking Shane. Immediately everyone was confused, felt attacked or in imminent danger of attack, and would spring to their own or each others' defence. It was a bizarre situation and one that frequently repeated itself in different guises.

An approach I sometime use in situations like this, involves us role playing a scenario typical of something that has recently happened in my client's work. When I sense that the time is right, I will stop and ask the client to talk about the language that they are using. In particular, there will usually be a handful of phrases that they bring into the conversation more often that I would expect. I will replay them back and ask them where they learnt them.

In Gordon's case the language he used in peer-to-peer exchanges, was polarised around quite dramatic (usually negative) value judgments of other people. However, if he considered that someone (such as Derek) was subordinate/inferior to him he would be highly protective of them. The voice he 'heard' when he was speaking these words in the role plays was always either that of his father or his mother. It transpired that when he was between 9 and 12 yrs old, his parents' relationship was progressively in decline and they were increasingly, and quite violently, critical of one another. Gordon took on the role of protector to his younger brother and would sit for hours in bed comforting him. Eventually the marriage broke up, and Gordon and his brother were sent to boarding school - an experience he described as 'going from one hell to another'.

With a little insight into what was happening, Gordon's behaviour in executive meetings changed quite dramatically. He enlisted the support of his peers in reinforcing his new style and was, I believe, quite genuinely remoseful for his antagonism in previous years. While there were still many reservations about his promotion potential, he was given a new chance - and took up the post of VP North America for the parent company.

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Psychodynamic confidant, working behind the scenes, helping those of power see organisations, situations, themselves, and other people differently - - - -

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reaching inside an executive's hard shell

The company that Fiona works for has a high performance management course onto which aspiring MDs are 'invited'. They progress through a series of workshops that focus on the softer skills of leadership, typically lasting ten months, before being offered a role in a different part of the business as a deputy MD. It's a well established programme and most of the current generation of MDs and above have 'graduated' through it. At key stages throughout, including on their assignment as a Deputy MD, the individuals have a coach working alongside them.

Fiona found the programme particularly challenging. The feedback that she received suggested that it was her own lack of empathy that was holding her back. She was angry at this, as she felt that people used her far too often as a sounding board for their emotional stuff, bringing issues to work that weren't appropriate, expecting her to listen and solve their problems when it wasn't part of her job to do that, and yet she always gave them time, tried to help, and allowed them a lot of 'slack' in which to sort themselves out.

Walking around the grounds of a hotel in Windsor that early summer afternoon, we discussed her anger and tried to identify other situations where 'meta' emotions might affect her. [Meta-emotions are essentially where we feel an emotional response to other people's emotional state - so, for instance, you feeling fearful might make me feel sad.] In the course of the afternoon, we identified several instances where other people's emotional states left Fiona with a sense of anger. It was, as if, her only response was anger. Even when her sister had announced that she was pregnant after many months of agonizing, Fiona felt anger.

We didn't try to unravel the 'why' she felt this way. Instead, we agreed that she would keep a simple notebook in her briefcase, and when she felt angry at anything, she would make a note of the date and circumstances. I rather laboured the point because I was concerned that her enthusiasm to address this would wane after a few days. When we met for our first conversation after the workshop, Fiona pulled out her notebook almost with relish. It was full of incidents. We took a few of these and talked through them, in each case looking at how other people might have responded differently. Nothing complex; using the simple mnemonic - SID's GAF (Sad, Interested, Disgusted, Glad, Angry, and Fearful). We wrote the mnemonic on the inside front cover of the note book and introduced the idea that Fiona would carry on exactly as before, but also ask herself the question each time... "On average, which emotion do I think other people might have in this situation?"

Pressure of work meant that we didn't meet again for six weeks. When we did, Fiona dug into her bag and pulled out an email from the Group HR Director. I must admit I took it with a little trepidation. The message was pretty clear... "Since the MD programme workshop, six weeks ago, I (and Martyn [the CEO]) have witnessed a transformation in your relationships with staff and peers. We are absolutely delighted. I do not know when the next appropriate opportunity for a transfer to a Deputy MD role will happen, but I wanted you to know that it will do so very soon."

Having finished reading, I looked up at her and saw that she was crying. After a couple of minutes, she calmed herself and explained that she couldn't remember the last time she had cried. They were tears of sadness - brought on by the warmth she felt at being 'seen through' for the first time in a very long time - that someone, some people, really saw her, appreciated her, and wanted her to succeed.

A lot of people, especially in the world of work, feel that they have to build a hard protective shell around themselves, but for a few this is a form of protection that is far more deeply ingrained. Life is complex and we need a wider repertoire of responses and we need to be flexible in the ones that we use, but we don't get that from a mnemonic, or a textbook, or even a training course, we get it by being interested in ourselves and our own emotions. What Fiona had done was to begin to develop a curiosity in her own emotions that allowed her to be curious about other people's and it was this that had opened her up to a whole new way of relating.

She spent 12 months in her new role, leading a business expansion into SE Asia, before returning to the UK as VP Operations.

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Psychodynamic confidant, working behind the scenes, helping those of power see organisations, situations, themselves, and other people differently - - - -

Friday, June 18, 2010

Teams, groups, executives, and the psychodynamics of unconscious urges

Anyone who works with people in groups needs to understand the ways in which the individuals in that group will be handling the emotional dynamics of it. Emotions always enter into groups, no matter what the subject matter is. And, as human beings, we have a lot of ways of handling them. Not all emotions are particularly problematic, of course - provided we are aware of them and engage with them. The trouble is where we are unaware of them, where they are in the unconscious, yet they (or our way of dealing with them) impact on the group and on our individual or collective decision making.

It is so uncommon to be in a group where the emotions are all positive that I shalln't even try to go there. Even when it looks as though this is the case, almost always someone (and, more likely, several members) is experiencing the group in a negative way. Even the most innocuous of settings where there is absolutely nothing to be gained by it, can be a place where some people will allow the worst of their passions to find expression. Most of these negative experiences of groups then, revolve around a sense of being 'threatened'. The group leader who tries to set an environment that is 'supportive', 'open', 'nurturing' and so on, will by this very means alone, threaten some people. So understanding how people deal with the feeling of being threatened is crucial to working with groups.

Practitioners of psychodynamics talk about a set of tools which the mind uses to allow it to cope when it is threatened. These threats fall into three types - REAL WORLD ones, situations where we INSTINCTIVELY feel anxious (said to relate to the "Id"), and where we are anxious because of our CONSCIENCE (related to the "Super-ego").

These tools were originally known as "defence mechanisms", though today they are often refered to as "coping strategies". This is an important difference and understanding why can help us understand an important aspect of psychodynamics generally.

According to Freud, the defences were necessary because they allowed the Ego to 'survive' against the three threats I've mentioned above. 'Survival' is an unfortunate choice of word, because most people associate it with death and the 'death' of the ego isn't death in the physical sense. As I mentioned in my earlier blog (A very quick introduction to Psychodynamics), the Ego is the part of our mind responsible for common sense and rational thought. If it is 'overwhelmed', which is the term I personally prefer, then we begin to develop 'neuroses' or, at least, to display 'neurotic symptoms'.

The popular interpretation of 'neurotic symptoms' is a kind of nervy, anxious, highly strung, or tense behaviour. This isn't a million miles from the psychoanalytic definition, which is a bit broader: behaviour that isn't normal, that isn't caused by some physical problem, isn't psychotic (a mental health illness where someone is potentially rendered incapable of rational thought and action - non compos mentis) and can be explained in psychological terms. (In other words, it's a bit of a 'collect all' term for problems that leave someone sane but suffering!)

So, the 'defence mechanisms' are the tools used by the mind to protect our ability to think rationally, to apply common sense. To spot their occasional failure, we look for neurotic symptoms. It was Freud's daughter, Anna, who published one of the earliest and most comprehensive lists of the 'defences' in 1937. There are twelve of them and I'm going to list them, and give a quick definition, because I think they are really useful behaviours to watch out for. The problem with this list is that, while the mechanisms are good at allowing us to cope with an overwhelming of our common sense, a few of them actually make the neurotic symptoms worse, making us appear less 'normal' rather than more so. That is why people like myself, who work largely with 'normal' people, prefer the term 'coping strategy' to 'defence mechanism'.

I shall, almost certainly, write separately about some of these 'coping strategies', but here's a quick round up of them...

Regression: reverting to earlier (usually infantile) ways of behaving. A classic example in a business context would be the regression of intellectual curiosity to greed.

Repression: where an unacceptable idea is only accessed in the unconscious. For example, someone feeling 'attacked' at work might dream (in quite extreme ways) about revenge.

Reaction-formation: where the opposite to an unacceptable impulse is exaggerated. People who appear to be excessively 'nice', 'polite', and 'interested in others', for example, might actually be harbouring beneath the surface aggressive, critical and self-obsessed desires. To have such wishes is perfectly normal, so their absence is disturbing.

Isolation: where the individual who has experienced an 'attack' goes quiet, doesn't interact, shuts down their emotional responses, before starting again as if nothing had happened. Importantly, they don't deny what happened, but they have isolated it so it has limited effect. I've come across managers who use this frequently, shutting themselves into their office for a few minutes after an emotional encounter, and then emerge 'as if nothing had happened', while everyone else is feeling the tension.

Undoing: happens when someone tries to reverse the threat they felt - almost 'washing it away' or even 'flushing' it away. Often, 'undoing' is associated with a ritual behaviour - a particularly systematic way of repeatedly doing things. A situation that I sometimes (tentatively) interpret as 'undoing' because of its 'ritual' nature is where a management team are going through a significant emotion-laden process and yet insist on dealing with all the steps in their normal meeting agenda, before reaching the last item in 'any other business' to which the real issue has been relegated. It is as if they hope that by putting it off, putting it in its place, it will go away or cease to be an issue by the time they get there.

Projection: is where our own (usually unacceptable) wishes for someone else are transferred onto a third party, or (in reverse projection) onto them. Teenage girls can often be heard saying; "I don't fancy him, but YYY does!" when, of course, they they are experiencing an intensity of passion that they have never experienced before and feels so threatening that they couldn't possibly acknowledge it. Thus, at work, accusing someone else of being angry is usually a mask for our own anger, especially if the cues that made us think this way were limited or subjective. It can be made even more powerful if we are perceived by others as normally having a persona of being 'all caring' (see 'reaction-formation', above).

Introjection: is a normal aspect of development, where aspects of someone (or something) else are taken inside ourselves, to be used as if they were a part of us. In normal development, this will be aspects of the behaviour of our parents. Problems arise with this coping mechanism when the introject (such as our father's way of responding to situations) is inappropriate to the circumstances. I remember being asked to observe a Board meeting at an insurance company in the City. The new Chairman was struggling to work effectively with the management team. What I saw was a man in his late 40s, unconsciously adopting behaviours that he had seen his father demonstrate when he was a child, and which were similar to those of the previous incumbent - a man closer to his father's generation than to his own. The difference in circumstances wasn't merely one of age or generation - the whole nature of the industry had changed along with radical shifts in the dynamics of Boards.

Turning against the self: Described by some as a kind of 'moral masochism', where we take pleasure in punishing ourselves for our unconscious wicked thoughts. A little too easily confused with depression, or with passivity generally, the difference is that the individual using this experiences pain. Because eroticism doesn't often emerge openly in work environments this isn't always the easiest to detect. One situation that I've come across a few times that might reflect this kind of defence, is where someone puts themself into a position where there is a strong chance that they will be punished by others for something that they have done. When we look at what they did, it seems either pointless or irrational given their circumstances. Thus we might interpret the behaviour of the chief executive, who is under threat for the limited performance of their organisation, and who then embarks on a series of sexual indiscretions or harassments that were bound to be challenged publicly.

Reversal: is the more general phenomenon of which reaction-formation is a specific example. It happens where the unconscious thoughts can be reversed, so what we see exhibited is the opposite of the thought. The 'nurturing' boss, for example, who is actually keeping potential competitors for their position at bay. The 'facilitator' who is unconsciously seeking to control might be another.

Sublimation: occurs where the individual channels energy into a socially acceptable activity when their unconscious desires are for less acceptable things to happen (more 'base' and usually related to sexual or aggressive urges). The drive behind some corporate social responsibility agendas might be interpreted this way, but it is usually witnessed at the individual level. The ambitious young executive who devotes themself to working out every night at the gym might be a good example. Paintballing as an executive release is a little worrying on this score! Excessive working hours among middle aged men, for whom the frequency and quality of their sex lives has diminished, could well be related. I sometimes wonder whether the historical tolerance of bullying behaviour in some organisations, whereby aggressive behaviour was not seen as so socially unacceptable as it should have been, was related to the sublimation defence?

Splitting: Both projection and denial depend on splitting as a mechanism overall, but one aspect of this way of coping that frightens me when I encounter it is where the individual appears to have two different personalities - one for the public space of work, and the other for the private space of home. Of course, they don't. In practice, they are experiencing (albeit unconsciously) the same desires all the time. The Canadian government recognised this and used it in a series of powerful TV advertisements...

Denial: on the face of it, is the least robust of all ways of coping. Personally, I think that it is dealing with threats that are almost, or will soon be, conscious. The person who tries to keep doing things the way they always have, when they know that they are not effective, is said to be in denial. It is a significant step in the overall grieving process associated with organisational change. The important aspect is not denial of behaviour but of feelings. I remember a situation a few years ago where a female director was often highly confrontational with the Chief Executive. Her behaviour was quite aggressive and, as HR director I was asked to intervene. Even though I could describe the situations fully, with the words she used and other people's reactions, she flatly denied that she had any kind of aggressive tendency towards the CEO. In practice, her unconscious 'desires' emerged 6 months later, when she became pregnant by him.

So that's a quick whizz through a few of the things that are almost certainly going on under the surface of most of the minds around the table at your next team meeting!

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Psychodynamic confidant, working behind the scenes, helping those of power see organisations, situations, themselves, and other people differently - - - -

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What will YOUR wake up call be?

The following abstract illustrates typical situations that arise in the course of my work with leaders - it should go without saying that permission to quote has been given, names have been changed, and a few details tweaked to preserve confidentiality.

Wake up calls can happen at all kinds of times of our lives. Evan's came one summer Sunday. He'd driven back from holiday that morning, and the kids and his wife were unpacking the car. He'd sat on the patio recovering with a beer after the long drive from the ferry from France. It had been a great holiday. But as he sat there, he felt a dread rising in him. Instead of looking forward to going in to work the next day, he was thinking of all the problems he just knew he was going to encounter. Over the last fortnight, there'd been a few messages on his Blackberry, but they weren't too problematic, but now he was beginning to worry that his team had been shielding him from the bad stuff until he got back. He knew this wasn't right, but he simply didn't know how to shift it.

Evan's PA is a star. She really does manage his world for him. He'd been a bit reluctant to take her on initially. Whereas most of the people put forward by the recruiters were young, vibrant, and positive, Ellie was far older, had been working for a senior civil servant beforehand, was more serious, but projected the personality of someone who was completely unflappable. When he'd gone off two weeks before, protocol meant he had to leave the 'reins' to the FD but, actually, he'd got far more confidence in Ellie.

It really felt as though he had to drag himself into work on the Monday. By mid-morning he was seething. The FD had managed to avoid dealing with some extraordinary shenanigans between two of the divisional MDs and as a consequence one major customer was seriously angry, two significant bids had folded, and one of the Deputy MDs had left a sealed envelope for him tendering her resignation. Ellie went into his office and shut the door. "Look, I know this probably seems the wrong time, but I really think this would be a good one to think about yourself and what's right for you before you get involved and try to sort everything single-handed. You're having lunch with someone, he's been recommended by my old boss. He's not exactly a coach; he's not a consultant; he's not a shrink; he's sort of bits of each of those." It was an interesting introduction!

That lunchtime, Evan discovered a different side to himself. That afternoon his two MDs discovered a different side too. Strangely, to some, they have found a new appetite for the business. The new Deputy FD has transformed the focus of the Finance Department and she is clearly on a fast path to becoming a great all-round Chief Executive. Evan has elevated his own playing field. He's now got the time he needed to engage with his industry on a wider platform, and has already led one successful take-over of a niche competitor.

Wake up calls happen to us all from time-to-time. Too often we try to battle on. Sometimes, a friend, member of staff, or one of our family, spot the issue before we do. The need though is to act on them when they do happen, to really understand what they are telling us, and to find ways of acting appropriately.

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Psychodynamic confidant, working behind the scenes, helping those of power see organisations, situations, themselves, and other people differently - - - -

Monday, June 07, 2010

A very quick introduction to Psychodynamics

I thought it might be helpful to produce a few short notes that describe the background to the work I do. Whereas there are many 'coaches' who work in the field of personal development, there are only a handful of people working as confidants to people of power and who deal primarily with the psychodynamics of organisations. To begin with, I wanted to describe the basics of psychodynamics.

Psychodynamics is the study of the flow of energy created by, and largely contained within, the unconscious* mind but which substantially affects all that we do and feel. It was originally postulated, in the last half of the 1800s, by Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke, a Professor of Physiology in Berlin, who happened to be one of Sigmund Freud's lecturers as an undergraduate, and it was Freud who developed the ideas into the form that is largely still applied today. Subsequent workers have generally added to our understanding of the detail and yet, remarkably perhaps, the theories themselves have largely stood the test of a century of further work.

Psychodynamics assumes that in the unconscious there are ongoing conflicts between different parts of our 'psyche', and our behaviour in given circumstances depends on the state of these conflicts. Part of us wants to do one thing, and another part wants us to do another. The stronger one wins out and that determines how we will behave.

Freud put forward a theory, still in use today, that there were four forces involved, three being parts of the mind, and one being the outside world. Most immediately affected by external events is the EGO. The ego is the part of our psyche that represents common sense and rational argument. For it to be effective at influencing our behaviour it needs to be quite well organized - tidy. The contrast is the part of our psyche known as the ID. This is the nasty, dark part of our personality. It is primitive and disorganized. It seeks only its own gratification or, more accurately, it is always trying to avoid pain of any kind. The third area of the psyche, is actually a part of the EGO and is known as the SUPER-EGO. It is where we stored the lessons our parents taught us when we were young children to observe, reflect, and critique our own behaviour.

For a senior manager in an organisation to work effectively, they usually need to be making things happen. If it's a commercial environment this means they need to be making more money than they spend. In a government setting, perhaps the emphasis is on having one ideology, or one set of initiatives, adopted above another. In the academic sphere, it is key to have one's own ideas accepted. The ID is at play all the time trying to make sure that these things happen. Of course, sometimes deals go wrong, initiatives fail or ideas don't work. It is at this time, that the EGO tries to make sense of what has happened and change the situation or improve the idea etc so that a positive outcome is achieved. But, if this isn't possible, then the SUPEREGO kicks in (and may have been playing all along) and 'tells' the senior manager how to cope emotionally. Many people have wholly negative scripts playing "You stupid boy!", "You'll never be any good", "You're so naive" and so on. If they don't have robust ways of coping with this unconscious self-criticism, then they are likely to be depressed and unlikely to have reached the position they have. So, our senior manager may well have these scripts playing, but they've developed complicated ways of making themselves feel justified, right all along, or to compensate.

I'll discuss some of these ways of coping in another blog, but let's take one as an example. A very common mechanism, in my experience, used by senior managers to 'cope' with threats to their EGO from the SUPEREGO is known as denial. This doesn't mean denying that the 'failure' happened, but denying that one is upset by it. "Oh, you win some; you lose some!" is fine WHEN the person also says, from time-to-time, that they are upset, angry, sad, or whatever, but when it becomes their mantra - "Always look on the bright side!", "Never take these things personally!", "I am proud to be a positive person!", "Things are no different now to when we started - we just need to win one good contract" and so on, then there's a danger that unconscious denial of their emotional conflict is at work. Does this matter? Well yes, it does. Taken to extreme like this it is indicative of what psychotherapists define as a manic mood - the contrast being a depressive mood. When the person discovers that their defence mechanism no longer works, then they are likely to find themselves suffering from depression.

A lot of people find these models, and the need to dwell on them, hard to understand, but one way to make sense of it is to consider how rarely people's behaviour is strictly rational. So much of what people do at work, in their home lives, at school, socially - in fact almost everywhere - is ineffective and inefficient and therefore generally irrational. Psychodynamics theory is simply a set of models that help us to make sense of the irrationality of most behaviour. There are other models, followed by academics from other disciplines, such as evolutionary biology and ethology, but psychodynamics is the one that is most popular among the medical and psychological communities.

Psychodynamics and the individual

Freud believed that there were two types of thinking - primary and secondary. Secondary is conscious and tends to be rational. Primary is unconscious and suspends many of the constraints imposed by 'logic'. When we are awake, we use secondary thinking, whereas when we are asleep we are more likely to use primary thinking.

Dreams are one of the windows that we have on the unconscious, and are said to have two components - the manifest (the story as it appeared in the dream) and the latent (the story that can be interpreted). A great deal of effort has gone into understanding the nature of dreams and the psychological processes at play when we have them.

The primary process of dreams involves, at least, three things - condensation, displacement and symbolism. It is these that the 'analyst' will help the dreamer interpret. As rational thought is suspended in dreams, they are said to allow the unconstrained 'id' to fulfil its wishes.

In my work as a confidant, we don't often interpret dreams, but we do use other 'windows' and, certainly, we work with the idea of an unconscious phantasy and what it is that prevents it from being realised. We also often work with the 'scripts' that we have acquired from our parents and how they influence our aspirations and behaviour in the wider world.

* The term 'subconscious' is only used by laymen; those involved in psychodynamics professionally only ever refer to the conscious (abbreviated Cs) and unconscious (abbreviated UnCs).

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Psychodynamic confidant, working behind the scenes, helping those of power see organisations, situations, themselves, and other people differently - - - -

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Dalai Lama explains why social media work so well

In order to network effectively we need to be able to both empathize with others and to receive human kindness from them. People of power often struggle to do either but once they can they are able to exceed even the heights they have already achieved.

The mantra of social media networks, such as Ecademy and Facebook, is that you should give, give, give and then in subtle ways you will receive.

For some users, bent on using these networks to promote their businesses, this can prove tough. Indeed, it is probably one of the commonest reasons why they find that social media networking doesn't work for them. It isn't that it doesn't work for them, it is that it doesn't work that way.

Of course, the idea that those who are the most generous with their time and energy helping others will benefit in the long-term isn't new. Most Faiths have it embedded in their doctrine somewhere. In fact, you could interpret the Golden Rule (the one tenet of life that appears in the holy writings of every mainstream Faith) - that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you - as meaning just that.

One of the most important qualities for any leader to have is the ability to empathise. Undoubtedly, some are very good at it. Others struggle and, quite often, I find myself working with highly successful, very powerful people, who have reached their pinnacle through hard work and dedication rather than their people skills. They are often frustrated because they feel they have reached a plateau and don't realise that is their lack of empathic qualities that is holding them back. A few are so extremely uncomfortable socially that, had it been identified at school, they would probably have been told that they were somewhere on the scale towards autism.

Now, if you take someone who finds it hard to empathise, and ask them to network in person, they will struggle. But expect them to manage a social media network and they will generally find it very hard because few of the clues they need to tell them how the other person is feeling will be available to them.

They may be nagged, cajoled, parodied, mocked, or simply receive aggresive responses from fellow networkers because their approach is seen to be shallow, naive, and especially, selfish. This is often the kind of response that they have had to endure throughout school, in their family, at college or university and then at work. It reinforces their sense that they have to do things by themselves and fuels their determination.

Often the turning point for someone in this position is when something happens that they didn't expect, and someone, who they didn't know, does something for them that is beyond anything they would do for anyone else. It is receiving this simple act of human kindness that awakens them to a whole world of emotion that had been denied for so long.

This might seem a little strange to some people reading this, but you might be surprised how seeing ME cry in response to one of their experiences can open up a new dimension to them.

For the last few weeks, the Dalai Lama has been experimenting with Social Media. The other day I wrote about another of his entries on Facebook. Well this article was prompted by another of his messages, posted today...

Dalai Lama: "Alongside our natural ability to empathize with others, we also have a need for others’
kindness, which runs like a thread throughout our whole life. It is most apparent when we are young and when we are old, but we have only to fall ill to be reminded how important it is to be loved and cared about, even in our prime ...years."

Social Media networking isn't just about give, give, give.... it is also about receive, receive, receive - once you can do that you will really reap the rewards.

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently - - - -

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dalai Lama offers social media users advice on avoiding conflict

Social media sites are just as prone to unconscious processes as physical environments. Indeed, you could put forward an argument that they are more so, as many clues used to test out (and refute) our hypotheses about others are either not available, are truncated or we are even forced to adapt our language to suit the constraints of the medium (as with the 140 character limit imposed by Twitter).

This is a problem where the communication is between people who know one another, but on sites where there is a mixture of people who do know one another (to varying degrees) with some who do not, the potential for both conscious and unconscious problems to arise is enormous.

In any group, forum, or club, a hierarchy of users soon evolves. Part of this hierarchy may be deliberate - the site 'founders', for example, may be accorded some status by the users or may consciously exert it for themselves. The same applies to 'staff' members. They are more likely to be more familiar with the use of social media generally, and the specific environment that they have created, and this may confirm their perceived status.

Others may feel that, by virtue of the amount they pay, they deserve a different status. (Bear in mind that this 'feeling' may not be conscious, ie they may not be aware of it.) For some, this will be exacerbated by the visible labels they are given. Ecademy, for example, has 'gray-stars', Power Networkers, Blackstars and Foundation Members. Some social media sites, keen to promote the different levels, will deliberately fuel this sense of specialness, whereas others will not or may do so in more subtle ways. Some members will be pleased to accept the status accorded to them, others will not.

People who volunteer to run sub-groups within the overall forum may feel they deserve a different status. Those who put in effort 'offine' might do so too, and those who feel that they give without any recompense may place themselves above those who give but expect some reward. This is a phenomenon that charities are well used to, with some volunteers, for example, never claiming their expenses and thus affording themselves more virtuosity than those who do claim.

On social media sites it is very rare for 'elections' to be held to determine leadership. In most cases, the individual merely claims the role and in the absence of any other contenders they have it. On one site, last year, ownership of the domain was given by the founder to someone new. The choice was based largely on the original owner's perception that this individual was more likely than anyone to build the site rather than let it decline. As the membership perceived this new owner to have his own commercial agendas there was an immediate flurry of anger. Twelve months on, most people won't even remember it.

Commonly, an individual who has acquired status in one area, expects it in another. So, the leader of a group in one aspect of the forum expects (consciously or unconsciously) to be treated specially or to be accorded status when they are participating in another part of the site. A common demonstration of this is where they offer wisdom in an authoritative tone on another part of the site when their status has been acquired in a different one. Some sites will allow them to do this, on others they will be flamed by members for their perceived arrogance. This may simply go against the culture of the site, or it could depend on the degree of integration of members across the different areas.

Most social media sites have some users who are active, some who are less so, some who are passive observers and some who never visit once they have registered. Some of the popular software applications for developing social media sites (Juku, vBulletin, and phpbb) can be set to accord status depending on the number of posts a user makes. Often they label the user visibly with words like... starter, novice, learner, regular, expert, old codger, and supreme commander. How the user and others interpret these labels depends on a plethora of factors, but they all impart some kind of status.

And finally, language can be used to try to exert authority. On one site, for example, a new product was recently launched and, within days, the early adopters were offering to "mentor" others. They could have chosen more neutral language; "If it would help, we could have a chat and I can tell you what happened with mine." To 'mentor' someone implies breadth of experience, a depth of understanding based on their own reflective practice, groundedness, and a generosity that is free from seeking personal advantage. Again, the unconscious effect of their intervention was to seek to reinforce some kind of status.

Under some circumstances, unflinching acceptance of someone's status, the authority that goes with it, and the expectation that their decisions should be followed almost without question, is expected. Increasingly though, the evidence is that the correlation between status and effectiveness in decision making is quite poor. Back in 1995, I wrote a book, "Self Managed Team Working", which highlighted some extreme examples of organisations that removed managerial status completely and discovered exceptional levels of productivity and creativity among staff who had previously never been able to demonstrate their talents.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has been using the social media site, Facebook, as an outreach tool for some time. In today's message he offers some advice to society in general, but which has particular relevance to social media sites too. He says;

"As human beings, we are all the same, there is no need to build some kind of artificial barrier between us. With this attitude, there is nothing to hide, and no need to say things in a way that is not straightforward. So this gives me a kind of space in my mind, with the result that I do not have to be suspicious of others all the time. And this really gives me inner satisfaction, and inner peace."

In acknowledging the danger of status, he is highlighting the two sidednesss of it. Just as you might seek status, so I have to choose to give it to you. Coming from a psychodynamic persuasion, the model I tend to use to explore the dynamics of power is that of the family. As young children we observe, interpret and store away a repertoire of responses to situations and mental models of how life is supposed to work. As adults we wheel these out under circumstances that may, or may not, be appropriate. For many of us, the person of status is provoking responses associated with our relationship to our mother or father. Conversely, they are anticipating a response from us parallel to that which they gave to their parents when they were children. But, of course, we are no longer children. And it is when one person knows that and behaves as an adult, and another does not and tries to act as a parent that social media problems (as in real life) explode. But that takes us into the realms of transactional analysis and time for another blog!

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently - - - -

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Interpreting SOHO business names

A question posed on a forum recently pushed a few buttons in me...

"Do you think a company name ending with 'consulting' is good for consulting business as well as social enterprise business?"

As some of you know, for the last few years, I've been a guest speaker at the annual careers convention for volunteers held in London. One of the masterclasses that I lead is on Portfolio Working and the topic of "What do I call myself?" often comes up. Yes, I do have a strong opinion about this...

What are people buying? If they are buying something very specific (eg ironing, scaffolding, ready meals for the housebound) then PERHAPS a business name that reflects this will help them find you and save you explaining what it is that you do every time you meet someone new.

Are you selling many things according to their needs? If so, then they are actually buying YOU on the basis of your own credibility, reputation, persuasiveness. In this case, a business name that incorporates your own is going to help them remember you when something unusual comes up.

When they have bought from you, will it be you who does the work or one of a gaggle of mates who are prepared to work at below your own level in order to get work? If it is you, then I would argue it is appropriate to describe your business in your name. If you do so, but actually use others to fulfill the order, then that is - in my humble opinion - deception. This was a classic business model used by all the big firms of accountants and consultants in the 80s... the client got to meet a Partner all the while they were deciding who to appoint, and once the contract was in place all they ever saw was a trainee. Even if your mates are all proficient it was YOU who was bought and it is you who should deliver unless you were selling a specific service or made it clear that there were other people involved and likely to deliver.

One way in which some practitioners try to address this is by adopting a plural term after their name. Fred Bloggs Consulting, FB Consultants, Bloggs and Co, Blogg Advisors, Blogg Advisory Services, Fred Blogg Associates. If they are selling a range of services, by reputation and fielding a team of a few people to deliver, then I figure this is perfectly appropriate.

However, there's another scenario - Mavis Bloggs sets herself up in business offering generic advisory services (no, let's suppose she's a coach) and she calls herself Mavis Bloggs Associates even though she is only a one-person enterprise. Now we don't only have deception (she's kidding prospects that she is bigger than she is), but also delusion (she's kidding herself that she is more than she is). Even more extreme, is when she decides to make herself look even bigger by putting the name into initials - MBA and going global (MBA International)!

Now, sadly, in my experience these folks are often lacking confidence and they adopt this style to prove their own worth to themselves. The tell-tale sign is when their business card goes on to say, Founder, Proprietor, Senior Vice President etc. Rarely in professional services, but for some reason quite common among trades-people they go one step further and instead of providing their first name seek to be known by their surname and so their card, even their local newspaper adverts, refer to Mr F Bloggs. We have a local audiologist like this what he hasn't thought through it how this is received by his target market - pompous, arrogant, self-centred, old are all terms I hear people apply to him.

So, what do you do if you've decided you don't want to be known by your name but prefer something else? This is where self-employed consultants think clever and come up with all manner of associative names - Wholistic Consulting, Inner Mind Coaching, Performance Matters, R-E-S-U-L-T-S, and so on. As a step in the evolution of their thinking this makes some sense as they are beginning to build, in their own mind, a description of what is unique about them. What they don't often do is look at the names of successful competitors and ask why they call themselves what they do? It depends hugely on the specific market, but generally people like to buy from people not from dreams. Cadbury is Cadbury because that was the surname of the founder. Executives at Cadbury buy services from people they know and trust and they shape those services to match their needs, they don't generally go straight to Wholistic Consulting and say "I like your brand can I have some please?"

So, no definitive answers, just a lot of questions to ask yourself when exploring your motives behind the name you trade under. Good luck, and do send me a business card!

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently - - - -

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tips for professional business development seminars

Tips for professional business development seminars

In the last few weeks I've been to three business development seminars. It's a common tool in the marketer's kit, but it is easy to do badly and to lose the little credibility that you had gained by inviting people along. The following thoughts were prompted by these experiences.

1 Attend a few other events and make notes of what they did well and not so well. Mentally run through your own plans anticipating the needs of all kinds of delegates - including those who arrive late or are given different directions. Walk the experience from the car-park to the room envisaging and preventing what you can see might detract from participants' enjoyment.

2 Prepare and practice your contribution. Iron out mannerisms. record yourself and hone your story. I stopped counting the "you knows" at the event on Thursday, when it reached ten in one minute! No excuse.

3 Make sure that you've got a couple of excellent case studies to draw on that are directly related to the audience. Work them out in detail before and be sure that you know the sector well. At the same Thursday event, the presenter tried to waffle through a poorly conceived model of a 'hairdressers salon', when he clearly still had his hair cut by his mother using a pudding basin!

4 In an hour you can't explain everything. You should expect to get no more than 5 points across. Stick to the old formula from advertising - Attention. Interest. Conviction. Desire, and Close.

5 First impressions count. While people are now more relaxed about dress standards the downside is that, in forming their opinions, they place more emphasis on your words. This is not just in terms of the content but the anecdotes and asides. NEVER knock your competition and absolutely NEVER knock your audience. If you invited people with an incentive don't make fun of them for taking you up on the offer.

6 No matter how warm a glow you are getting from some members of the audience ALWAYS respect the whole audience and never run over the time you gave in your invitation. Don't focus on one person over others and don't deviate from the topic to suit a whim. Always thank them profusely for contributing their time and promise a gentle follow-up call.

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently - - - -

Monday, May 10, 2010

The myth of the SoHo entrepreneurial boom

There's a popular perception that one of the trends of the 'noughties' was a growth in the proportion of 'SoHo' businesses.

As Wikipedia defines it: "The modern concept of small office/home office, or SoHo, refers to the category of business, which involves from 1 to 10 workers. SOHO can also stand for small or home office or single office/home office. A larger business enterprise, one notch up the size scale, is often categorized as a small business. When a company reaches 100 or more employees, it is often referred to as a Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME)."

It seems to me that there have been four groups who have most vociferously propagated this perception:

1 Convertors of home offices - the firms who specialise in turning a spare bedroom, or other space, into a designer place to work from home. This began as a trend in the 80s, for companies to allow executives who were travelling increasingly long-distances to spend a little time each week recuperating (though they would never describe it in those terms) by 'working from home'. As pressure mounted further, and trust began to decline, so these busy types were expected to demonstrate that they could work from home and one way of doing this was to have a mini-office at home. As technology boomed, and broadband became a reality, so the SoHo was born.

2 Governments, keen to spread wealth across the country rather than have it polarised in Cities, with all the infrastructure problems that this causes, recognised and promoted the value of working from home. This message reached its first peak in the late 1980s when dramatic reforms in the financial services sector meant that many large companies, seeking to reduce their own liabilities due to mis-selling, began to shift the onus for sales from their own staff to 'independent financial advisors'. It persists today, because Governments realise that people resent being packed like sardines into commuter trains and instead prefer to leave two hours earlier and drive in their own tin protector. The environmental consequences are horrendous and smart politicians realise that they need to promote SoHo enterprise for sound environmental reasons.

3 The self-employed, professional. With the initial wave of independents in the financial sector discovering the comfort of working more locally, and especially from home, so other professionals began to consider the possibility for themselves. They did so tentatively, and they found that it was often not as easy as they had, at first, thought. While they might be a very good, indeed exceptional, designer, computer programmer, telecoms engineeer, project manager, or whatever, working from home was isolated and called on both strong resilience to being alone, and good interpersonal skills to be able to 'sell' what one did. Bear in mind too, that the choice was often sold quite hard to them by their former employers, keen to reduce overhead without seeming to 'lay people off'. Many found this transition very hard, and their self-esteem began to suffer. So, imagine their relief, when they discovered that they were not alone? And to reassure themselves that they were not alone, they were happy to propagate the perception that they were not the only ones making this lifestyle 'choice'.

4 And so, the 'trend' was born. And, to nurture it, a wholly new industry emerged - the industry of 'social networking' - amusingly named, since it has little to do with 'social' and is all to do with 'business', whether online (through 'social networks', such as Ecademy and LinkedIn) or offline (through BRE, BNI, or one of thousands of semi-formalised networks meeting for a 'power breakfast' at golf clubs and hotels around the world). And to sustain their business model, this industry has to propagate the perception that the SoHo is a growing trend.

Just how accurate, then, is the perception that there's a growth in the proportion of self-employed people working from home? Government statistics are readily available these days ( and extensive time-lines can be traced.

This data shows us that changes have certainly not been 'steady' - the trend is not exactly constantly upwards! There was a 25% increase in self-employment overall between 1986 and 1989. The level remained relatively stable then, if hovering between 3.3M and 3.6M (ie a 10% shift) can be called 'stable'. There was then a substantial decline from 1995 to 2000 from 3.6M to 3.3M, and then a rise back again from 2000 to 2003. A Government enquiry, at the time, demonstrated that the single largest contributor to this was the change in working practices in the banking, finance and insurance sector which forced/encouraged many people formerly employed in those areas to become self-employed.

Since 2003, the overall number of self-employed has continued to grow however the rate of growth in employment has been faster than that of self-employment (ie the proportion of self-employed in the workforce is reducing, albeit only slightly).

Yes, there's been a growth in the absolute number of SoHo businesses, but as a trend in the overall employment picture? No, it's a myth.

Why do we believe so passionately that this myth is a reality? Above everything else, there's a psychological component - a kind of 'reticular activation' which is the scientific reason why we see more cars of the same make, model, and colour as our own soon after we have bought it. Suddenly, that unique rusty-red designer hatchback, that we thought was so unique, is everywhere - oh, what trendsetters we are in our family!

The same is true of our lifestyle choice to be a SoHo worker - as we meet more such people, then we extrapolate that to the rest of the population. Among the self-employed, there's a desire to feel 'normal' and so we see more people who are 'enjoying' the same lifestyle, and we delude ourselves that this is the norm, while we play down in our minds the people we meet who are, and have always been, 'commuter drones' (as one blog described them only this morning)!

There's also a white collar issue - self-employment has been more common for longer among manual jobs than 'professional' ones - farm labourers, milk-roundsmen, shop-keepers, and so on, were generally self-employed. As many modern-day 'professionals', tend to disassociate themselves from manual workers, they tend to 'forget' that these folk have always been 'entrepreneurs'.

You would rarely hear a dairy roundsman (one of the early franchise opportunities - forced to start selling bread, eggs and all kinds of other produce to make a living competing against the spread of the supermarket) describe themselves as an 'entrepreneur'.

However, with the arrogance that comes from 'knowledge' work, those who try one way of processing information, and then another, struggling to find one that actually generates an income, don't stop there but describe themselves as 'serial entrepreneurs'.

Next time someone tells you that the next best thing since sliced bread is to become a SoHo social networker, check out their agenda, consider selling milk at the same time, or step back and decide whether you are really cut-out for this choice or prefer to stay among the undiminished ranks of the employed.

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently - - - -

Monday, May 03, 2010

What is the 'point' of personal development?

Do you visit a coach or therapist to grow? Can people who are 'happy' in themselves benefit from coaching or therapy? If someone is 'doing alright' why should they consider personal growth and emotional development?

From a recent online group discussion....

Timothy: Are there any online directories that allow counsellors/psychotherapists to promote their practices specific to the area of positive adult development?

Graham: Funny question, Timothy. There's lots - some local and some global, ranging from the generic Yellow Pages to specific ones run by psychotherapy membership bodies. In fact, I can't actually think of any Directory that promotes negative adult development! Could be a good theme for a comedy act though. Best wishes, Graham.

Geoffrey: Just out of curiosity, what's the difference between "adult development" and "adult education"?

Graham: I'm not sure that there's a widely recognized difference, but in the circles in which I work, AE would embrace all aspects of intellectual enhancement, whereas AD would refer to enhancing the emotional and spiritual awareness of an individual. Regards, Graham.

Geoffrey: Truly not wishing to seem obtuse, but (here it comes) isn't the objective of most therapy to help patients/clients develop a healthy physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual life experience? It certainly has been my focus for, oh, the last 40+ years or so. Is Adult Development somehow genuinely different or is it a terminological twist?

Graham: I don't think there's any discrepancy here? I can't think of any form of post-adolescent psychological therapy that isn't "adult development". There ARE other adult development interventions which are not therapy, per se, but their followers would say are "developmental" - the most obvious being religions, new age movements, and cults.

And yes, I too would say that therapy has the objective of leading to a "healthy physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual life" though with the emphasis on the last two, and usually where the first two are outcomes of the therapy rather than the main focus. Thus, I would work with a client on the psychological blocks to a healthy lifestyle, but I wouldn't coach them around a running track.

It is hard to define, but in the UK, at least, AE would embrace all fields of knowledge and skill, not just those about the internal growth of a human being emotionally and spiritually. For example, AE includes carpentry, plumbing, foreign language proficiency, car mechanics, cookery and handicrafts. While these can be used as levers to enhanced emotional and spiritual understanding and hence could be described as "developmental" unless a class was called "Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance", or something similar, those signing up for a "Do-It-Yourself Electrics" course probably wouldn't be expecting any profound insights into their psyche.

It was Timothy who used the two phrases in his personal description, perhaps he would like to explain more?

What I was picking up on was his inference that he was looking for directories that focused on POSITIVE adult development. As I said, I can't think of any examples of adult development directories that might focus on the NEGATIVE. I suppose the entries might read something like this:

"Dr Graham Wilson, specialist in the creation of distress, anxiety and phobias. If you thought you were 'fixed' see me! If you don't feel suicidal after just one visit then your fees will be refunded."

I notice that Timothy speaks of "Optimal Adult Development", so I guess he is embracing both negative and positive. I can relate to that, as personally, I am rather concerned about people who focus exclusively on the positive - this seems to ignore the reality of the hardships of life and could be seen as a form of denial at the very least. As you can imagine, I don't hang out with people who have had their teeth artificially whitened and their lips surgically enhanced to emphasise their smiles!

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently - - - -

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Papal visit outrage - it ain't what you do, it's the way people react to it

With apologies to Sy Oliver, Fun Boy Three and Bananarama, this morning's shock news is that Foreign Office staff, keen to make the Pope's visit to the UK a success brainstormed such ideas as...

  • Launch a "Benedict" brand of condoms
  • Perform a duet with the Queen [ie the Head of the Anglican Communion]
  • Apologise for the Spanish Armada
  • Open an abortion clinic, and
  • Bless a gay marriage.

  • The context was clear, the staff had been called together for some 'blue sky' thinking about how to turn, what could become a stale, politically-laden, event into something positive, vibrant, and more in tune with the 21st Century.

    Brainstorming is a group creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas in the expansive phase of problem solving. No-one can realistically lay claim to having 'invented' it, but it was popularised in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in a book called Applied Imagination.

    Although psychologists have now demonstrated that it doesn't actually serve it's explicit purpose of increasing the quantity or quality of solutions generated it can be shown to improve morale, boost work enjoyment and improve team-work. The rules of brainstorming are simple - essentially, to focus on volume, to withold discussion and criticism of others' ideas, to verbalise even outrageous ideas, and to build on ideas already shared.

    It has certainly been employed for over half-a-century, and it is hard to believe that anyone in 'management' of any kind hasn't been asked to participate in a brainstorming session at some stage in their career. This makes it hard to treat seriously the reactions expressed, by those in positions of considerable power, when the output from this particular session was leaked.

    The documents clearly indicated that those involved realised that the ideas were extreme, explicitly set the context, and showed that people were genuine in their desire for a positive end-result (a popular and successful Papal visit). These are precisely the right ways of going about a brainstorming session and documenting it.

    Yet, we have a media furour, Government ministers expressing 'deep regret', a civil servant castigated, an ambassador sent to apologise to the Pope, Roman Catholic Bishops describing it as "appalling manners", one suggesting that it is the latest element of a much larger anti-Catholic smear-campaign and a Catholic spin-doctor who wonderfully turned it into a call for Catholics around the world to demonstrate their capacity for forgiveness.

    I must admit I find that last one the most outrageous given that we are witnessing the incredibly slow unfolding of a systemic process of sexual abuse by Catholic priests of young children in their care for which they have yet to accept any collective responsibility. That however is beside the point.

    These people are perfectly well aware of the technique that led to this document. They have almost certainly used it themselves in the course of their work. They are also well aware that junior staff often feel less constraint than more senior ones and that positive outcomes almost always arise from giving them scope to be creative from time-to-time. They also know that the media are pathetically hungry for stories and will inflate even the most trivial bit of news to get a response.

    So, I am far less horrified by the memo than I am by their reactions. These people are the ones who are trying to shape our moral compass, they are the ones in whom we invest the power to make significant global decisions and to address major political and environmental crises. In my opinion, it isn't the junior civil servants who deserve castigation, it is their seniors who appear to have lost themselves in the cloud of their own super-egotistical importance.

    I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
    For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

    Best wishes

    Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently - - - -

    Saturday, April 17, 2010

    Is this social media thing just a psychological defence mechanism?

    If you don't read Seth Godin's blog, then I really recommend that you do.

    Today's soundbite raises a question about the daily flow into our Inbox's of email, spam, newsletters and so on - almost all of it low importance and low urgency.

    People complain, understandably about spam, but what about all the other stuff? Why is it that many people keep checking if there's fewer messages than they'd hoped for? Does this 'white noise' of generally irrelevant material actually serve a purpose?

    Seth argues that it does - it prevents us from experiencing the pain of not having addressed those things that REALLY needed addressing. It's distraction keeps us from anxiety about real work that we haven't done.

    So, I'd like to extend that question and ask whether there's a delusional dimension to all our activity on ecademy, linkedin, facebook and so on?

    All these interactions with people on continents that we will never do business with, with people who have little or no understanding of OUR business, with people whose networks never overlap with those which we need to access. All the "like" buttons that get pressed before we've even read the item, the re-tweets, and scrawls on the virtual wall of our friend's facebook.

    Do they serve a purpose simply to distract us from more practial tasks that would REALLY help our business? I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point.

    I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
    For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

    Best wishes

    Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently - - - -

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Corporate Alumni Networks - savvy employers nurture their leavers

    As some of you may know, for the last three or four years, I have been managing the networks of former employees for a couple of large organisations. A corporate alumni network, provides the means for people who used to work together to keep in touch. Some do so purely for social reasons, others do so for commercial ones, and many do so because they know that most new jobs are found through our personal network.

    Companies benefit a great deal from alumni networks. Not only are the members usually good ambassadors for the business but they are also a rich source of new recruits. People leave and improve themselves. It is insanity not to be prepared to offer them a job should they wish to return later. They also refer friends and relatives to the firm, and even pass on good business opportunities to their former contacts within the business.

    Of course, most companies don't even think of pro-actively managing these networks and just allow them to develop through public applications like Facebook and LinkedIn, but savvy ones choose to provide more for their former colleagues, and that's where I come in.

    A couple of us were tinkering with a recent new tool on the internet the other day. It produces animated videos to tell a story. We thought we'd experiment with an animated interview with myself explaining more about these networks. Go on, have a cup of tea and a laugh for a few minutes...

    I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
    For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

    Best wishes

    Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently - - - -

    Thursday, April 08, 2010

    Social Intelligence - why some people love parties and others hate them

    A while ago, I posted a blog entry on Developing Social Intelligence. It obviously struck a chord with a lot of people.

    As part of a pilot in-house programme on self-development for a large organisation, I produced a short video introduction to Social Intelligence. Sadly, the recession put an end to this fascinating initiative. The video is my first effort at anything like this, so please excuse the limited technology, but I thought you might be interested nonetheless.

    Social Intelligence, first described by Edward Thorndike in 1920, explains why some people are very comfortable in the company of strangers while others find social settings painfully difficult. It is a critical factor in determining personal success, happiness, mental well-being and good personal relationships. In recent years, it has been popularised by "positive psychologists" and the "happiness movement". Academics prefer the original work, and today there are extensive research programmes exploring its genetic components, evolutionary significance and neuro-imagery.

    I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
    For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

    Best wishes

    Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently - - - -

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010

    The use and abuse of power at work - Association (4/21)

    By association, we gain personal worth without necessarily having to do anything in particular to deserve it. We rely on the body with which we are associated to perform and we bask in that glory.

    Obtaining power and influence through association is at the heart of many conservative institutions. Fathers who attended a certain school may be offered the right to send their son to the same one, or may be heard to have 'put his name down before he was born'. It may be far easier to do this than to join a lottery for a place at an even better school. The school is only relatively recently measured by the academic achievements of its pupils, but instead is seen as a launching point for a career because of the power it conveys 'by association'.

    The same applies, of course, to the college or university that the individual goes on to attend. If they make it to Oxford or Cambridge, then it is the college that counts. If it is to a lesser university such as Bristol or Aberdeen, then it may be the Hall of Residence that bestows prestige. There's even an inverted snobbery around two places that Victorians might have sent their less-academic sons to - Camborne School of Mines and the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester.

    Many students choose a university because of its prestige, rather than its quality in their particular field, knowing that they will later derive power by association. They may decide which companies to apply to, in the hope that once recruited, regardless of their personal performance, their CV will 'look good'. One reason why class polarisation happens around universities is because students from poorer backgrounds, state schools and who are the first in the family to enter higher education, often don't get advice about the longer-term prestige of certain institutions, especially in respect of particular disciplines.

    Professional bodies try to acquire this prestige, as it appeals to prospective members, by purporting to have exacting entry requirements when in practice it is simply the colour of someone's money that leads to their acceptance. Some, such as the "Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce" (RSA) in London, have been so successful at this in the past that, even though membership is effectively open to all, you will see otherwise highly esteemed individuals forego listing more substantial and significant memberships in favour of FRSA after their name. Other popular professional bodies that appear to convey similar kudos are the Royal Geographical Society and the Institute of Directors.

    For those who feel an affinity to a particular trade or profession, there are the Livery Companies which almost automatically lead to Freedom of the City of London. Then, of course, the ultimate in membership bodies are the London clubs. A few remain quite exclusive, but many have been forced to widen their net and today will accept almost anyone who is able to afford their fee and gets to know a couple of existing members.

    Just as graduates may seek to join certain 'blue chip' companies, so those who have worked for them will draw on this to assume power by association. There is no firm definition of a blue-chip company, the term is simply applied to large, creditworthy businesses with well known brands. The precise membership of this 'club' is constantly changing but most have an enduring strength.

    In many situations, the assumption is made that it is at the time of joining the 'elite' organisation that screening will have happened - such that only someone who is particularly good would be accepted there. Ironically, of course, it is mainly when we are recruiting that we assign an individual more power than their counterpart because of their previous associations, thereby perpetuating the myth that the individual is somehow deserving of their status.

    Officers in the Army have a remarkably consistent way of speaking. While there are exceptions, and there has been a tendency to maintain a modicum of regional pronunciation, the Sandhurst dialect is widely recognised and instantly allows one officer to recognise another many years later when they meet around the boardroom table. (

    Without doubt selection for, and being graduated by, Sandhurst, is one of the toughest screening processes that a young person is going to experience, so it is little wonder that so much kudos is attached to it. Power by association that will last a lifetime.

    This process is by no means restricted to the educated, upper middle class. The military have also always imbued the troops with a regimental identity. It is well known that a significant proportion of the younger people entering the Forces have had an unsatisfactory childhood and the Regiment soon becomes a new family to them. They gain power by association with it and, in turn, make their own contribution to its ongoing reputation. There are countless small details that allow a former soldier to recognise one of their peers. Apart from physical bearing, ties, watch straps, pin badges, blazer buttons, and subtle verbal cues all play a role.

    Any excuse to include a little Porridge...

    Even the prison system offers power by association. It is said that there's a hierarchy of establishments among prisoners - the tougher the establishment the tougher you must be perceived to be by the 'establishment'.

    Power by association is totally dependent on the audience. In some sectors of society other forms of association have given them power. Obviously this is one of the forms of power exerted by membership of gangs. Gang membership provides the protection and sense of belonging that a family could give as well as a sense of identity.

    At the end of the day, power gained by association is simply a form of false reputation, however, to work within some institutions and professions it is essential in order to conform to the culture. It might be worthwhile reviewing your own 'associations' and deciding whether the power that you derive from them is appropriate or not.

    I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
    For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

    Best wishes

    Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently - - - -