Archive for the 'Personal Development' Category

Unconscious Bias: Hidden Obstacles in Corporate Culture

Unconscious Bias has been getting a lot of press for the last few years – and training in it is now even being made compulsory in governemnts and organisations around the world. Australia has just commisioned a training for all its government employees.

While trying to make the workplace more effective is a great idea, with what we know about unconcious bias – forcing people to attend a training doesn’t work!* It builds resistance and doesn’t get through as effectively as possible.

But for those who are interested, I wrote this article with a colleague about 18 months ago. It is a snapshot of some of the useful work that can be done to reduce the negative impacts of bias.

CSv8i1_PP_Unconscious bias

Have a read and let me know your thoughts?


July–August 2016 issue (pp.52–60) of Harvard Business Review.


The Charismatic Leader

Charisma, from the Greek, is often thought of as a magical or divine quality that only a lucky few are born with.  However, given the interest in effective leadership, many are making studies to discover what actually is charisma – with some remarkable findings.

In a recent Scientific Mind article, “In Search of Charisma” by Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher they summarise a few of the latest studies.  Some of the key findings include:

  1. It is the followers who attribute the “charisma” on to their leaders
  2. That “followership” is influenced as much, if not more so, by “inclusive language” as it is by any other quality or behaviour.  ie, do they speak as if they are “one of us”?
  3. That you can construct yourself to be seen as one of the group.  And this requires first that you listen, then reflect that to the group, then realise any changes or steps forward.

Take Franklin Roosevelt: Being wheelchair bound, he was not typical of the leader stereotypes in western culture, see Gladwell’s Blink for more insights on assumptions about leadership.  While these stereotypes are powerfully influential, FDR used his difference to his advantage by aligning his perseverance  through struggle with the needs of the people.  Likewise, Kennedy his physical ailments to align himself with youth and renewal.  Our leader’s need to reflect the stories and myths of the people they seek to serve.

So how can we use this?

First, we can look at how we are, and how we are not, like the group.  To do this well, we can consider a multitude of dimensions, such as, physicality, outlook, means of expression, language use, etc. Gathering this information by observing and noting what the group appreciates, we can then choose which qualities we may want to amplify that are like the group.

Even if we are atypical of the group, we can still appear charismatic by the language that we use.  Typically, “We” rather than “I” scores more points with our audience, as do stories that unfold about our vision, rather than dogmatic lecturing about what we need to do.

To do this well, we must also understand the story or the guiding myths of our groups – which is why people who announce they are natural leaders – and therefore should have power bestowed upon them – usually fail to win the hearts and minds of “their” groups – see The Apprentice for examples in abundance!

We need to understand our audience first, and then reflect what we understand.  In short, we must be seen to be both “of the group” and “for the group”, and if we succeed in doing something for the group, then our charismatic qualities will increase.

Below is just one snap-shot of  how a leader’s charisma is heavily influenced by their company’s performance, that is, the audience make attributes based on correlated stories rather than certainties about one’s “charisma.”

In Search of Charisma

For more, go to this link with summary below

  1. Charisma was traditionally thought to be an attribute of the leader, but it is primarily an attribution made by followers.
  2. Charisma centers on the capacity for a leader to be seen by followers as advancing group interests. Its spell can be broken if leaders are discovered to be acting for themselves or for an opposing group.
  3. Charismatic leaders cultivate narratives in which their sense of self comes to be seen by followers as emblematic of their shared group identity.

Will Power Alone is not Enough

Summary of The Secrets of Self-Improvement by Marina Krakovsky

A study published in Psychological Science, 2009 showed that “participants with the highest opinion of their self restraint were the most likely to give into temptation.  Those with the most modest, realistic assessment of their own abilities fared best.” This article points out that both self-awareness and self-motivation are key components of successful change.

Most of the time, people make significant changes on their own without the help of doctors or programs. Based on some of the latest neuroscientific research, this article highlights some of the key steps for making changes – long beyond the week after New Year’s Eve.  In summary they are:

  1. Maintaining realistic expectations
  2. Aligning with your deep motivators
  3. Taking baby steps
  4. Formulating Action Plans

According to Perth based psychologist, Martin Hegger, it’s easier to justify our actions and much harder to align our actions with our thoughts. Habits being hard to break is what makes them useful, so it’s not easy to change.  For instance, being in places aligned with a habit will have a big impact on our unconscious processing, making old habits easy to fall in to.  Ex-smokers know this when they go to an old pub, or house where they used to smoke.

Some pointers to keep in mind when forming new habits…

  • Lapses Are Normal. Don’t treat them as failure, just make adjustments to get back on track as soon as possible.
  • Mental Contrasting. There are two ways that mental imaging can help you break old habits The images to contrast are:
  1. A picture of the successful result.
  2. The specific obstacles that can get in the way.

For example, when resolving to save money, it helps to a) imagine the larger bank balance and b) wrestling with the decision to join friends on an expensive dinner.  This mental contrasting can help you “procrastinate less and tackle challenges more enthusiastically.”

  • Engage Your Autopilot. Imagine yourself taking steps to support your new habit in simple practical terms.  Seeing yourself stopping at the shop on the way home to buy three kinds of vegetables will help make the change easier.  This planning backfires when we attach rationale statements like “because I want to lose weight.”  Such rationalisations involve the thinking mind and the opportunity for doubt and old habitual mental processes can hijack the change process.  Using positive language, “will” as opposed to “will not,” is also key.
  • Find Your Own Why.  “Should do’s” without a link to personal values are hard to sustain.  When looking at new habits, ensure they are aligned with your psychological needs – such as those posited in humanist theory such as competence, contribution, closeness and autonomy. People who spent time finding their own personal motivations were far more successful than those incentivised by external motivators, such as financial gain.
  • Take Baby Steps. If completing the task you set is questionable, then it’s not a good start.  Breaking down goals into small achievable steps can help both give quicker wins and reduce the impact of setbacks. Developing coping skills such as effective scheduling and realistic goal setting are two key ways to support change.

Finally, remember that change is never easy and not all these steps will work for everyone or every habit.  This latest research suggests that the most important thing is to find your own way, and particularly ensuring these changes are aligned with your own values.  It’s not going to happen overnight, but it is never the wrong time to start taking steps toward a better life. Enjoy!

Brain “Buy” Pass

Consumers don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say. – David Ogilvy

Summary of Brain Sells by Gemma Calvert, Director of Neurosense, RSA Journal Winter 2011

Neuroscientific research shows us that a vast amount of our decision making is governed by processes outside of our conscious awareness (see also Damasio).  Much of these are influenced by our emotional brain: “by how [we] implicitly feel, rather than how we think.”  This coupled with our unnerving ability to post-rationalise decisions makes it very difficult for manufacturers and marketers to really know what drives consumer choice.

Enter neuromarketing – the emerging science of what happens in the brain to understand consumer behaviour.  Neurosense is pioneering this technology to help manufacturers measure unconscious responses to a vast range of new products:

This, in turn, helps them understand how to communicate the products emotional benefits most effectively to consumers…. this information helps design better products that meet consumer’s underlying needs.

For example, we don’t buy toothpaste because it provides 30% more whitening (feature) but because we believe this will make us feel better about ourselves and more confident.

Over the past ten years, extensive research has found that implicit responses are often better at predicting our subsequent behaviour than explicit attitudes.

This science can now measure how well frames in a commercial are absorbed and whether some of these changes can stimulate the brain’s reward areas.  The range of emotions that they can measure include: trust, anticipation (of price), empathy and brand loyalty, to name a few.

These marketers are measuring things like the “right” amount of sound to be heard in a car.  Consumers want quietness – except when they accelerate, they like to hear the “roar”.  They also look at people’s response to touch and smell, both highly stimulating of emotional brain areas, though often processed unconsciously.  I will leave you with this interesting example:

The French government commissioned some research to assess the impact of anti smoking campaigns.  They found that the “Smoking Kills” logos offered no further deterrent because they stimulated the brains guilt response that is highly correlated to the area that craves nicotine.  (I think the cigarette companies probably already knew that…) So next time you think you are making a rational decision, you may be wise to think again.

Learning How to Learn

Accelerated Learning Comes Down to Attitude:

A recent study at Michigan State University has revealed that those who believe in learning, learn faster.  This means that attitude may be as importance as ability in the learning process.

Tracking electrical impulses in the brain has allowed researches to identify two responses to learning: One, the moment of awareness and; Two; what to do with that awareness.  Those that believed intelligence to be pliable put more “brain energy” into learning and so improved.

The good news is that this attitude or approach can also be developed, we can learn how to learn.  How? By focusing on the process, rather than the outcome.  Or concentrating on the “throw,” rather than the “catch.”  And that approach may be even more important than the skill itself.

see: The Oops! Response by MW Moyer


Here is a link to a test put together by the University of Cambridge on reading emotions.