Concept of the day: Deindividuation

Caramel and Cream - yummyAnyone who has used email or any other form of electronic communication has seen (and probably sent) written content that shocked you. You were amazed that the person, that you know, could say such a thing in such an aggressive way. The New Scientist has an interesting article that suggests that some of the reason for this is deindividuation:

Social psychologists have known for decades that, if we reduce our sense of our own identity – a process called deindividuation – we are less likely to stick to social norms. For example, in the 1960s Leon Mann studied a nasty phenomenon called “suicide baiting” – when someone threatening to jump from a high building is encouraged to do so by bystanders. Mann found that people were more likely to do this if they were part of a large crowd, if the jumper was above the 7th floor, and if it was dark. These are all factors that allowed the observers to lose their own individuality.

Social psychologist Nicholas Epley argues that much the same thing happens with online communication such as email. Psychologically, we are “distant” from the person we’re talking to and less focused on our own identity. As a result we’re more prone to aggressive behaviour, he says.

The most recent place where I have seen this personally has been in the occasional reply-to-all storms that we have in our email system. Someone will send out an email to whole set of people. Someone else will reply-to-all that they don’t know why they received the first email, or similar. This will then set of a storm of activity from people replying to the reply-to-all. Each of these replies will get more and more aggressive in their language.

If only these people sat back and analysed what they were doing they would stop doing it. It’s unlikely any of them have read though the recipient list to see who is on it, in their minds they are just replying to some random person. What they are actually doing is replying to all sorts of senior people who could have a great influence on their career, what’s more they are abusing a fellow colleague. If they only thought about how they would feel to receive such an email they wouldn’t do it.

A wise person once said: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

via TechCrunch

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Concept of the day: Attention Deficit Trait (ADT)

Need a hand Grandad?I’ve just finished reading a Harvard Business Review OnPoint called Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform. This talks about attention deficit trait (ADT). The Harvard article comes at a cost but the article in Time has a good overview, as does the CNET article.

Frenzied executives who fidget through meetings, miss appointments, and jab at the elevator’s “door close” button aren’t crazy – just crazed. They’re suffering from a newly recognized neurological phenomenon call attention deficit trait (ADT). Marked by distractibility, inner frenzy, and impatience, ADT prevents managers from clarifying priorities, making smart decisions, and managing their time. This insidious condition turns otherwise talented performers into harried underachievers. And it’s reaching epidemic proportions”

Sound like anyone you know?

It seems that ADT is completely caused by our environment, by the office, by the technology, by relationships.

So how do we control it:

  • Promote positive emotions
  • Take physical care of our brains
  • Organise for ADT

ADT is closely related to the way that our brain reacts to fear so it’s important to promote positive feelings through stressful times. Positive feelings are also associated with good relationships. The author recommends interacting with someone you like at least every 4 to 6 hours. That’s an interesting thing for someone who mainly works at home to hear.

I’ve talked before about the physical side of looking after our brain, sleep, diet, etc. It’s a good reminder that I’ve let it slip a bit recently.

Organising for ADT is about creating the space and time to think away from all of the distractions. This isn’t just time management, but it’s also managing things out.

I was talking to someone who runs a huge fund in New York, and he was saying he demands that his employees take several days a month just to think–to leave the office and just go off and think. He wants them to not bring their e-mail, not bring their cell phone–make themselves unavailable. And I think it’s a really smart management strategy.

Organisations used to give people sabbaticals, some still do. In a world that is increasingly asking for for “fast” rather than “right” I think that people are increasingly going to need times to reconnect with “right”.

Thought of the day: Occam's Razor

Up to where?In my last post I quoted KC Lemson and she used the phrase:

“So we thought about occam’s razor and realized that ah-ha, the problem is just that the facilities people are dumb”

I realised that I hadn’t a clue what Occam’s Razor was so I’ve done some digging.

Well Occam is a someone – William of Ockham (interesting how words change over time*).

Occam’s Razor (or Ockham’s Razor) is the principle that: “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.”  Or in slightly longer words from Isaac Newton: “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.” It’s also paraphrased: “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.”

*My name is another one of those words that has changed over time “Chastney” comes from “chênaie” from the French for Oak Grove and has changed over time to “Cheney”, “Chesney”, “Chesnay”, “Cheyney”, and on it goes.

(Update: Nik pointed out that I assigned KC to the wrong gender, I have modified this. It’s amazing what different one letter can make.)

Happy Danish: Unhappy British

Jimmy and Grandad take a trip to LondonAs a follow up to my post yesterday on Happy Hour is 9 to 5 and the Chief Happiness Officer.

It came to light today that Europe’s happiest people are the Danish, nice to know I was reading a book written by one of the happy people. As someone who is from the lower order of happy people I think I have something to learn .

Word of the Day: De-portalize

Baby tries to get to the dog foodDe-portalize has cropped up in a few posts recently.

The basic premise is this: The value of a portal was in its ability to aggregate together everything in one place, the failure of the portal was the inability of the portal to get people to information quickly. Rather than using portals, people preferred search, once they have found something they then use tagging, adding favourites and subscription.

I have never been a fan of portals. I’ve never seen the point, they’ve never been able to answer the question that I’m asking. I consume a steady stream of information, most of it via subscription, there are then a number of sites that I go to, but most of them are accessed via favourites, the rest of the time I use search.

The emerging generation are exactly the same. Emily (10) accesses a few games on the Internet, she never remembers the URL of them, she relies on Google to get her there.

One of my pastimes is to operate the web site of our church. More than 50% of the traffic comes to the site via search, another 10 is referral. The other 40% is people who come direct, but I’m sure many of them are using favourites, I know I am. The front page stands as a place for information, but I’m really more concerned with the content, because that’s where people are getting to via search.

I’m not sure that there really is a de-portalization going on, I don’t think that the Internet was ever truly portalized.

(Speaking as an English person I find the need to create new words for things a bit of a mystery, especially when they end “ize”.)

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Concept of the Day: Visual Illiteracy

Crozon ChurchIn a post about the use of PowerPoint during the Iraq War, Visual Beings used this term “Visual Illiteracy”.

Some days a phrase gets me thinking – Visual Illiteracy is a new one.

Visual Illiteracy is of course the opposite of Visual Literacy of which there seems to be a lot written.

There’s even an International Visual Literacy Association.

Take your pick of definitions, they all seem to be saying very similar things: the ability to communicate and understand visually rather than in words.

I suppose this fits into my brain series. The right-brained people seem to be the ones who are more likely to be visually literate. Visual literacy is going to be a skill which will be invaluable to people who are needing to be more creative and more conceptual. It seems to be something you can learn.

Having done a small amount of research I am staggered by how many words have been written about a topic that is all about visual. Apparently there is a taxonomy of visual literacy?

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The 'Info-glut'

Adventures in Teenbed-Ageroom: Jiimy tries to scale the mount called Revisionpaperwork

Greg at EOD joins the rant about the glut of information and it’s definitely one of the more entertaining ones.


The conclusion:



“As of now, my fancy-pants, community-generated, emergent-behaviour data-sorting heuristic is: a calendar. If I haven’t gotten to something in a week, it dies. Stick that in your attention economy and smoke it. I’m re-booting. Feed list: empty. In-box: empty. TiVo: OK, OK, I still need to watch “24.” But other than that: empty.”


There is a lot to be said for the time based approach.


My dad always used to follow a three draw approach. When his in-tray became full he would put everything out of it into the top draw in his desk. If someone asked him about something he would go and find it, if it was in his top draw it would get put back into his in-tray. Every time his top draw became full he would take everything out of it and place it in the bin without even looking at it. If it had become that old he clearly wasn’t going to get to it and it probably wasn’t relevant anyway. GTD encourages people to do something similar and Greg’s approach sounds equally sensible.


It’s definitely time for people to realise that they need to take control no-one else is going to do it for them.

Cognitive Overload – I don’t get this at home

Bolton Abbey

Today is one of my ‘working in the office’ days rather than working from home. It’s been over a week and I had forgotten how difficult some things can be in this environment.

I am currently trying to listen into a teleconference, it’s not very load and there are a number of people in a room talking, sometimes all at once. Here in the office the person next to me is on the phone, in front of me is a small meeting area where another group of people are also on a teleconference with a speaker phone. Behind me are two more individuals in an open conversation. This keyboard I am using is not the quietest either.

Result – cognitive overload. I should be able to listen in to his call without giving it my utmost attention but I can’t. I even find myself having to close my eyes in order to cut some things out. it’s a good job I don’t have to contribute much to this meeting. I definitely don’t get this at home that’s for sure.

The Difference a Role Profile Makes

Millennium Ribble LinkThe blog is a follow-up to the one I wrote the other day on Role Profiling – Does it have any value? In this blog I asked myself the question:

  • Does a role profile really make a difference to an organisation?

This blog ought to be one of those with loads of links to other people’s thoughts and ideas, but actually I didn’t find much on blogs to link to, and it was difficult to know which of the web sites could be regarded as authoritative. I do, however, have access to Books 24×7 which is great for getting access to information when you need to read published literature which comes with a certain level of authority. I used to dislike the online reading experience, but I am becoming more comfortable with it. All I need know is a tablet and then I can read in a format which is more like the book format.

Anyway, here are the results of my research.

Role profiles are a tool, and people use tools for many things, sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly – to the man with a hammer every problem is a nail. Where this particular tool works well is in a situation where there is a clear definition of the business objectives. The role profile being linked to those business objectives. In making this clear link the contents of the role profile doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone because the objectives are already known, understood and owned by everyone in the enterprise.

The role profile’s job is to communicate what the company regards as important for a particular role, with a clear link to the objectives. And that is where it gets really interesting as far as I am concerned, because many companies then connect a role profile with a salary and seniority. But actually that shouldn’t be it’s job, that is using the hammer to fix a screw. Especially when related to the type of organisation that I work for.

I work for a knowledge organisation, the knowledge is the organisation. As such, one of our key objectives should be to be a learning organisation. We need to keep renewing the knowledge assets, in the same way as a car company or a mobile phone company needs to keep refreshing the product. In refreshing the assets though, we need to know what the attributes of the assets are that are important to our customers (existing and potential) so that we have something to sell. That is where the role profile could come in as a tool to help us to understand the knowledge assets that the company wants to build in us, and then to sell to our customers.

But this isn’t just for the companies benefit. As an employee I gain value in two ways. Firstly I gain the knowledge assets. The assets are built in me. You can have a whole debate about IPR if you like, but I can’t take this knowledge out of my head. Secondly, I gain, because I have a clear understanding of my value to the company. And this is where salary and seniority should come in, but not as a direct result of the Role Profile, but as an assessment of my value to the organisation.

Where organisations have managed to define clear objective and to communicate them through a role profile or similar mechanism they have managed to build a learning culture which is focussed on delivering the assets that others want to buy.

I’m not going to comment here on how my own employer is doing on this.

Design – from an amatuer

Above Scorton

I have updated my blog design in line with some reading I have been doing on design. it’s an interesting idea within the blog space. Is the design of the web page actually that important, on the basis that people could be reading the content in all sorts of ways, without even touching the web page.

Anyway, I have gone for a green design, with a predominant white feel to it. The green is to fit in with the ‘oak grove’ theme. The picture in the new graphic is one of mine. It was taken at Tarn Howes, so it’s a real English Oak. I’ve tried to stick to the web colours in the design so as to enable good compatibility. I’ve also removed the picture of the face in the sand because I’m not sure that it was saying much. I actually don’t have a good picture of myself, when I’ve taken one I’ll add it in I think.