Random musings from Bracknell

I’ve been a regular visitor to Bracknell for twenty years. It’s the town in Berkshire whose 1960s centre was so unloved that it was recently demolished so that it could be rebuilt in 21st century … splendour. The town’s fascinating subway murals celebrate buildings and employers that are no more.

3M Building - Bracknell Subway Mural
A mural in a Bracknell subway celebrating the 3M building, now demolished.

The drive between Derby and Bracknell gives me plenty of time to chew things over, not necessarily Bracknell related. These were some of the random thoughts that occurred to me during last week’s driving.

Will Dr Phillip Lee, Conservative MP for Bracknell, join the Liberal Democrats?

I don’t think that he will. But I can see him resigning the whip to sit as an independent MP of one flavour or another. However, my political predictions are usually rubbish, so nothing would surprise me. I’d be certainly be happy if he did join the party though. His pro-business credentials would certainly sit better with us than in the current anti-business Tory party.

What’s the point of the A308(M)?

At 0.6 miles in length, this is the country’s shortest signed motorway. The queue to get off it is sometimes 0.6 miles long too. The A308(M) wasn’t always like this, as Pathetic Motorways explains.

Why do supersized versions of small cars look so ugly?

There are some great small car designs. The original Fiat 500 is beautiful. The current Fiat 500 although larger, still looks cute, especially in yellow. A Pikachu of a car. But the Fiat 500X? My goodness it’s ugly. Lovely to be driven around in certainly, but that’s because you can’t see the outside at the same time. As ugly as a Raichu – the ‘evolved’ version of a Pikachu.

What would the 15 year old me make of the 55 year old me?

I think he’d be happy that I managed to turn my hobby of tinkering with electronics into a 30+ year career in the software industry. After all, writing software and getting paid for doing it is fun. Helping to explain the benefits of software to others, while still being paid, is even more fun.

Which songs make me smile unexpectedly?

This one did. It brought back some pleasant memories of Easter 1980, before the grind of sitting O Levels began.

Transplant +132: Return to work

Yesterday was supposed to be Blue Monday, but I was excited to be granted permission for a phased return to work. So I did return, today. I’m going to be working reduced hours Monday – Wednesday for the next few weeks to see how it goes. I’m now home and although I’m more tired than I’m used to being at 4pm, I’m happy that I’m back.

Me, back in the office again
Back in the office and working for the first time since 28th February 2018

My first Rituximab maintenance chemotherapy is scheduled for Friday. This will be the first of my bi-monthly maintenance sessions over the next three years (Brexit permitting, obviously). I’m hopeful that the Rituximab won’t stall my improving blood counts too much. It would be disappointing if it did jeopardise my ongoing return to work – and a more normal life. I’m assured that it should be more straightforward to cope with than last year’s chemotherapy regime, but I do know people who have struggled with it.

And then there’s my ‘childhood’ vaccinations (again, Brexit permitting). The transplant team at Nottingham provided my schedule a few days ago. It looks as if I’m going to be a pin-cushion again after a few months respite since the transplant.

Vaccination schedule
Vaccination schedule. There’s a second page as well!

One positive thing from last year is that I no longer have a needle phobia. I still won’t watch what my medical team are doing, but I no longer mind them doing it. Amazingly I’ll even happily administer subcutaneous injections myself.

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.

Ever so slightly concerned …

… that I may have a bit of a fight on my hands when I eventually return to my desk at work. Perhaps I shouldn’t have left sugar mice in my drawer. Or maybe I’m hallucinating. I swear that’s an owl on my chair …

Large owl on my desk chair

Thank you to my excellent colleague, Jonathan, for giving me the best laugh I’ve had today. If you could mop the poop up afterwards I’d really appreciate it. I promise that I’ll make you a cup of tea sometime next year!

The spirit of London 2012 lives on

As a visitor to the London Paralympics in 2012 one of the things I appreciated most were the temporary bright pink signs to the events seen around the capital. Even though I’m a relatively frequent visitor to London, they reassured me that I really was heading in the right direction. So today it was nice to see that a couple still remain. I saw this one at Canning Town. Not quite a ghost sign, but not far off I suppose.

Buses for ExCeL ghost sign

 

Off balance

I’m feeling a little off balance at the moment. Last Wednesday I was busy telling the ARIS and webMethods user groups that “numbers don’t speak for themselves”. I was talking about the creating business cases, but I believe the statement to be true more generally. Numbers only make sense if you can relate them to a specific context. Furthermore, the numbers used must report or measure something meaningful, otherwise there’s no point in collecting the data. (You can find my detailed explanations rants on both of theses topic here and here if you’re interested).

Anyway, this was me in action at the event. It looks a little as if I’m conducting an auction and that the chandelier is about to bring it all to a messy end.

ARIS user group meeting 1st March 2017I’d had an active week up to that point, and although I spent Thursday in the office, that day was busy too. Here’s my steps chart for the first part of the week …

Mon-Thu 27/2 - 2/3 steps… 43,611 in all. I should have been feeling great! Nicely (but not stupidly) over the 10,000 steps a day average we’re supposed to achieve, according to the NHS and others. But having wittered on about context, you should already know that I’m about to tell you what happened next.

Full week 27/2 - 5/3An average of under 1,700 steps a day for Friday to Sunday. Monday to Thursday wiped me out, so I’ve spent most of the time asleep or moping around on the sofa. I haven’t been eating (much) either.

I feel that given my opening salvo I should now provide some context to these numbers. After all, you could just assume that I’ve been really lazy for the last three days. I wish that was true!

My best case hypothesis is that I picked up a bug (or mild food poisoning) early last week. As I was rather ‘poorly’ on Thursday evening that explanation could make sense. My worst case hypothesis is that the lymphoma has started to put on a bit of a sprint. I’ve been feeling increasingly fatigued for some weeks now, with even the most sanguine of the consultants that I’ve been seeing starting to suggest that chemo might be needed ‘soon’. Having spent 2.5 years on watch and wait, I’m not sure if ‘soon’ means weeks or months or a year or more … sometimes I don’t want to know the numbers at all.

Anyway, the next few days should help me figure out which of the hypotheses is right. I’m starting to get a bit of energy back today, so I’m hopeful that the bug explanation proves to be the right context for last week’s steps chart.

The PAFEC 10th anniversary brochure – August 1986

This is what a leading UK software company looked like 30 years ago. After thinking I’d lost this brochure for good, it eventually turned up at my late parent’s house while I was sorting through the last of bookshelves this afternoon. All six pages are available for download here (pdf).

PAFEC Employees 1986The photograph is from the back page and was taken on the lawn at Strelley Hall. It shows many of the 270 employees. I can remember quite a few of the people pictured (I’m in the background towards the left hand side), and it would be good to hear from you in the comments if you’re also featured in the picture. If anyone still happens to have the key to the people in the photograph (I remember it being displayed next to the copy of the picture hung by the staircase in the hall for many years), it would be even better to hear from you!