Chester in 1952 vs 2019

I returned to Chester last week to attend the BPS occupational psychology conference. As I arrived early, I took the opportunity to re-shoot two of the 1952 photographs of Chester that I’d got wrong last year.

St John's Ruins 1952
St John’s ruins in 1952 …
St John's ruins in January 2019
… and in January 2019
Richard Grosvenor 1952
The statue of Richard Grosvenor in 1952 …
… and in January 2019

It lifted my spirits to see the conference hotel flying the EU flag alongside the Union flag. It’s a shame we collectively did so little of this prior to the 2016 referendum.

The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Chester flying the EU flag alongside the Union flagGiven the redevelopment that’s happening around the hotel at the moment, I can’t see this building being around in 2086 to photograph again.

Thriving at work – #DOPconf 2019 review

Shortly after I’d been discharged from hospital last September, I made a decision to attend the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychologists annual conference (DOPconf to its friends) in Chester. It was held last week, 9th to 11th January 2019, so it was a good recovery milestone to aim for. Fortunately I just about made my target – physically and mentally – even though I didn’t manage to attend all of the sessions I’d optimistically put into my diary at the start of the week.

It was particularly good to meet a number of Leicester and OU psychology alumni again. One of the media sensations of the week was the study published about the benefits of singing at work, carried out by Joanna Foster for her Leicester MSc. However, I get the feeling that if I joined a workplace choir other people may not find my dulcet tones beneficial …

The sessions I did attend at the conference were excellent. These were a few of my personal highlights.

Evidence-based (change) management

The first keynote of the conference was given by Professor Denise Rousseau of Carnegie Mellon University. EBMgt is defined as being the practice of making organisational decisions, in relation to a claim or hypothesis, based on the combination of :

  • Scientific principles and knowledge
  • Valid / relevant organisational and business facts
  • Professional expertise and critical thinking
  • Stakeholder concerns, implications and ethics

Denise argues that few organisations pay attention to the quality of the data on which they base their decisions. Fewer still assess the impact of the decisions they take. Denise suggests that the 6A decision-making process seen in medicine (ask, acquire, appraise, aggregate, apply, assess) should be used – on both the problem and solutions – to improve outcomes.

BPS DOPconf - Denise Rousseau explains why developing any management expertise is so difficult
Professor Denise Rousseau explains why developing any management expertise is so difficult. Unlike surgeons, change managers operate in unpredictable environments. They are project-centred, so have little opportunity to develop their skills with the same group of people for long periods. Because of the lack of assessed outcomes, they rarely receive feedback useful for their development.

Solving the right problem(s) and considering multiple solutions (rather than asking the question “should we do x or nothing”) is more likely to result in effective change. Furthermore, systematic reviews demonstrate that a bundle of interventions rather than implementing a single “silver bullet” is best.

The Center for Evidence-Based Management has a wealth of resources available to support organisations in adopting this approach.

Work engagement in cancer survivors

A paper presented by Andrew Parsons from the University of Hertfordshire. It was of personal interest to me as I’m in the process of returning to work after treatment. Self-report questionnaires to measure work engagement, quality of working life and psychological capital, plus semi-structured interviews analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis were used in the study. It was unsurprising, if comforting, that measures of psychological capital were strongly correlated with quality of working life scores.

Of most interest to me were the reports of interview participants talked about the importance of developing a “new model of me” and the resources that either helped or hindered their response to events as they returned to work. The “new normal or new me” theme is one I’ve heard many MCL survivors talk about. However, I’m not convinced that the experience of treatment has changed me all that much – at least, not yet.

The influence of work on personality development and change through life

This keynote was presented by Professor Stephen Woods of the University of Surrey. I became familiar with some of his work while studying for my masters and it was good to put a face to the name. He presented evidence which questions the long-held view of many psychologists that personality traits remain fixed and stable during adulthood. Instead, he suggested that they were dynamic and contingent on the work context. The social constructionist and critical psychologist in me grinned broadly as he concluded his talk.

The evidence base is growing - personality changes as we learn and develop over our lives
The evidence base is growing – personality changes as we learn and develop over our lives.
Cynicism in organisations – the antithesis of thriving?

Having confessed that I’m not convinced by personality psychometrics, I also admit that I’m not convinced by so-called authentic leadership. I once wrote that adopting authentic leadership would lead to a highly dysfunctional organisation and burned-out individuals. I still stand by every word of my argument.

It was therefore fascinating to hear Zoe Sanderson from Bristol University compare the traditional view of organisational cynicism with that from critical management theory. Traditional organisational psychology usually constructs cynicism at work as being wholly negative and coming from the individual. “Cynicism can take down an entire organisation”.

Critical management studies takes a different perspective and argues that cynicism is a predictable outcome of many working environments. Furthermore, cynicism can be seen as employees protecting their identity. This helps to reduce any cognitive dissonance stemming from organisational propaganda, enabling them to remain engaged and productive. Zoe’s work on cynicism is at an exploratory stage and I look forward to seeing it progressing.

How do you spot an organisational psychopath … and what do you do next?

Having written earlier that I’m not much of a fan of personality psychometrics, I do love ‘dark triad’ papers. Lorraine Falvey said that the literature suggests there is an increasing level of malevolent behaviour reported at work. Her personal frustration is that most studies into organisational psychopathy either use students as participants, or cover a very narrow workforce, such as police officers. Her study used a qualitative, thematic analysis of interviews with 15 experienced, cross-industry sector participants. It suggests that there is a spectrum of potentially malevolent behaviours – from influencing, through manipulation, to verbal and physical threats. Lorraine argued that organisational leaders need to:

  • Be aware of the shadow you cast as a leader – it is an important factor in what others consider to be acceptable behaviour.
  • Think about the unintended consequences of (poorly designed) rewards.
  • Be clear about individual roles and responsibilities, as clarity seems to mitigate poor behaviour. Matrix organisations are therefore seen as being at particular risk.
Leading with purpose: How to lift people, performance and the planet, profitably

An excellent interactive workshop to end the conference, run by Sarah Rozenthuler and Victoria Hurth. We were given an overview of what purpose in business is, and how purpose is distinct from corporate social responsibility, sustainability, mission and vision. Command and control vs purpose-led leadership paradigms were discussed, and the four capacities necessary for purpose-led leadership defined. From my own business value consulting perspective, the tangible benefits claimed for this approach look extraordinary and are worthy of urgent further investigation.

As I was flagging at this point on the Friday afternoon I’ve been particularly glad of the handouts provided. One of the handouts, “The what, the why and the how of purpose: a guide for leaders“, published by The Chartered Management Institute, has been particularly useful in enabling my reflections.

Personal Brexit stockpiling

Are you stockpiling medicines, food or other items ahead of Brexit for personal use in the event of a catastrophe? Or do you have confidence in the government to make sure that life carries on as normal after March 29th? Votes and thoughts welcome – either on the twitter poll while it’s still open or in the comments below.

Dartmouth Harbour in 1955 and 2019

Two views of the harbour at Dartmouth, the first taken in 1955 and the second a couple of days ago. Not very much seems to have changed in the last 64 years. The walls are no longer whitewashed, boats are mainly fibreglass instead of wood, Lloyds Bank is now Jack Wills and The Stores is a branch of Boots.

Dartmouth Harbour 1955
Dartmouth Harbour in the summer of 1955 …
Dartmouth Harbour 2019
… and in January 2019

Elsewhere, The Flavel Arts Centre serves a good coffee and the Dartmouth Museum is small but welcoming. The newly refurbished Platform 1 Station Bar & Restaurant has a great view of the river and is decorated with well-known Winston Churchill quotations. I munched through my scampi and chips under the steely gaze of the former PM, wondering what he’d make of the mess his country is in.

Old Timmy’s Almanac 2019

After my 100% non-success rate last year, I’ve wiped the Christmas pudding from my crystal ball again in the hope that this time it will be different. Let us, in the words of Her Majesty, practice goodwill to all in 2019 and keep our fingers firmly crossed. Old Timmy’s Almanac is your essential guide to the new year once more.

January

Ignoring the Queen’s Christmas message, Prime Minister Theresa May has all MPs who oppose her EU withdrawal bill (the best possible deal ever, trust me, I have an honest face™) locked up in the Tower of London. The bill passes by 3 votes to nil, with the support of former Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd. The third vote in favour is that of Jeremy Corbyn, who insists that he is still playing the long game.

February

Jacob Rees-Mogg organises a daring escape attempt from the Tower of London, supported by his ERG chums. Climbing onto the wall above the Traitor’s Gate, he persuades them that half a dozen British ravens will fly them all to safety in an empty Fortnum and Mason hamper. As they all get in, the ravens decide that it’s probably best to vacate the tower and leave the country to its fate.

March

In the manner that has been typical of her premiership, Theresa May forgets to get royal assent for her EU withdrawal bill. The UK crashes out of the EU at 11pm on the 29th. Big Ben bongs once and then collapses into the Thames in embarrassment.

April

Jeremy Corbyn joins the Conservatives saying that he misses being in a mad Bolshevik party. Corbyn supporters on twitter tell Conservatives that don’t like this move to go and join the Labour Party, socialist s*** that they obviously are.

May

Derby County fail to be promoted to the Premier League yet again.

June

In an attempt to deal with increasing shortages of everything, Chris Grayling awards transportation contracts to an air freight company with no aeroplanes, a haulage company with no trucks, and a ferry operator with no ships. (Not the last one, that’s far too improbable. Perhaps a train operator with no trains? Ed.)

Brexit air freight
Brexit air freight

July

Using a little known parliamentary tactic, Jacob Rees-Mogg seizes control of the government. Theresa May heaves a huge sigh of relief as she is sent to the tower. His first act as prime minister is to introduce tax relief for families employing more than three nannies and to declare Latin the official language of parliament.

August

Jacob Rees-Mogg is ousted through a no-confidence vote of Conservative MPs. Parliament votes for a six month recess. The country immediately starts to recover a little from the privations of Brexit. Supermarket shelves are now stocked with exciting new British foods, but strictly rationed by a beta app which only works on Blackberry handsets. Government Digital Services (GDS) promise to release a beta for the Nokia 3310 soon.

September

Frank Lampard is sacked as Derby County manager. In a surprise move, Mel Morris appoints Jacob Rees-Mogg in his place. Nottingham Forest supporters rejoice, until Theresa May is appointed their manager the following day. In an unprecedented show of unity, Derby and Forest fans threaten to blockade the A52 until both are removed.

October

Rees-Mogg and May are sacked. Derby fans cheer the reappointment of Billy Davies as their manager, while Nottingham Forest fans are overcome with joy at the return of Steve McLaren.

November

Formula E remains almost watchable. The World Feed commentator now understands what a yellow flag is for. However, he has to consult his co-commentator as to the meaning of the “lovely black and white square patterned one”.

December

Professional MasterChef is won by George, a sous-chef at the Spoon and Gammon. His main course of rat three ways (carpaccio, sous-vide and boiled) with flowers that might not be too poisonous and a mud jus is praised by the judges. As the credits roll, we learn that William Sitwell, food critic and former Waitrose Food magazine editor, is finally out of hospital after an unfortunate incident with a turnip during knockout week.

Terminus

One of my Christmas Day highlights (*) was seeing John Schlesinger’s film Terminus for the first time in many years. A 33 minute short produced by British Transport Films, it documents a day at Waterloo Station in 1961. I remember being forced to watch and write about the film on a number of occasions at school. Making comparisons between the hive of bees at the start of the film and the people rushing around the station was an obvious one, even for a bored teenager.

Terminus felt it belonged to a bygone era when I first watched it, although only 16 years would have elapsed since it had been made. The railways of today seem much closer to those of 1977, even if the internet has superseded telephone timetable enquiries. After all, I still sometimes travel to London on a 1970s InterCity 125.

There’s a short clip of the film below featuring a disturbing (but staged) incident of a lost child. The full film is available for free on the BFI Player.

 

(*) Talking Pictures TV showed the film yesterday, but I didn’t watch it until this morning.

Transplant +98: The beast is soundly asleep and snoring

After a rather sleepless night, there was excellent news from the hospital this morning. I have almost normal blood again and there was no evidence of lymphoma on my PET/CT scan. In January I will start on maintenance rituximab injections, every two months for three years.

Next step - rituximab maintenance chemotherapy for 3 years and a return to being a productive member of society.
Next step – rituximab maintenance for 3 years and a return to being a productive member of society.

It’s not beaten, because MCL never is. However, the beast is soundly asleep and snoring ™ (*) which means I can return to being a productive member of society. I’m starting to feel good about myself again.

Thank you all for your support during 2018. And if you have any spare cash after Christmas, I’m certain that Lymphoma Action could make good use of it.

I am not defined by my scars, but by my incredible ability to heal

 

(*) Thanks Gail!

Transplant +97: Nervous times

In January, when I knew that chemotherapy for my lymphoma was certain, I wrote the beast is awake. Tomorrow I meet with my consultant to review the results from my recent PET/CT scan and blood tests.

I’m feeling rather nervous, but hoping that I can declare that the beast is asleep. A move to the final box on this sheet would be very welcome news.

MCL front line treatment pathway
MCL front line treatment pathway. Spot the typos!

I certainly feel good in myself, but I have the ‘relapse pathway’ printed out and ready, just in case. I’m hopeful that I won’t need to use it for a long time.

Formula E is now almost watchable

I saw the first Formula E race of the 2018/19 season last weekend. I’ve watched parts of races in previous seasons, but it’s always felt unwatchable due to the limitations of the cars. The new Gen2 cars are a significant advance on the original ones as the battery life is sufficient to last the whole race (45 minutes, plus a lap). No more mid-race car changes. The cars are also significantly faster, with a claimed top speed of 174mph.

Embed from Getty Images

Close racing is more likely than in Formula 1 as the cars are largely standard. However, as far as I can work out, the powertrains and software aren’t, leaving room for innovation. One innovation I’d love to see is a change to the noise that the cars make. They sound dreadful – like a drill with the wrong bit working its way through plastic. I assume that the annoying lift music used during replays is the broadcaster’s attempt to mask the sound.

Even with the new cars it’s a complicated and frustrating formula to watch. One gimmick – the so-called fan boost – gives a few seconds of additional power to five drivers. The fortunate five are selected by the viewers and to my mind this has no place in competitive motor sport. However, fan boost didn’t seem to give much advantage to the lucky drivers. F1 exile and fan boost beneficiary Stoffel Vandoorne demonstrated that he didn’t need a McLaren to run around at the back of the pack. Felipa Massa also suffered two retrospective penalties for using it incorrectly.

Other penalties (drive throughs – but not always) for technical infringements concerning energy use during the race were liberally applied and poorly explained to the viewer. There’s no question that these penalties affected the result of the race in Ad Diriyah, won eventually by Antonio Da Costa.

The other main gimmick – the attack zone – is better thought out and is a genuine test of a driver’s racecraft. By going off-line at one part of the track, the maximum power of the car is increased for four minutes. Drivers must go through the attack zone twice in a race, so timing is everything. One driver managed to lose a place while trying (but failing) to go through the zone; another activated it at the start of a safety car period.

Eurosport’s race presentation (using the FIAs world feed) was mostly dire, with the honourable exception of Dario Franchitti’s contributions. His co-commentator was generally poor. At one point he even seemed confused as to whether cars could pass each other under a yellow flag. Cameras often failed to follow the action and cut away just when something interesting was happening. The less said about Vernon Kay the better, but your mileage may vary I suppose.

The next race is on January 12th in Marrakesh. On balance I shall give Formula E another chance.

A hostage to fortune

I’m not necessarily known for the accuracy of my predictions. But having watched the coverage from Downing Street this morning while trying not to utter too many expletives, here’s my latest hostage to fortune.

I expect Theresa May to win the confidence vote tonight, with around 75-80 of her colleagues voting against her.

Not that it changes anything if she does win. It is all a self-indulgent side-show while the country burns – taking Derby with it. I hope that every member of the Conservative party is feeling a deep sense of shame.