All generalisations are wrong

Several years ago, when I was an employee of a large blue chip company I was amongst a group of colleagues that were invited to a ‘fireside chat’ with a new head of department. Whilst he was sharing his thoughts with us he pointed out to us that ‘all generalisations are wrong’. In a moment of less than career enhancing excitement I pointed out that his statement was a generalisation and therefore must be wrong and consequently we all entered the paradox that he had created (with my help).

But as Robert Cialdini tells us (Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion) our brains are inherently lazy and have a tendency to go for the easy option – he calls it a “click/whirr” response. I believe that generalisations are part of this process. It is easier to lump groups together to make decisions rather than take the time to look at the individual pieces.

As an example, I have a close friend who sees himself as a socialist and has some very clear ideas about his values and beliefs, which are laudable. Sometimes, when we get together he gets into Banker bashing – all the fat cats, with their huge bonuses, ripping us all off. My background in financial services then leads me to stick up for the many tens of thousands of hard working branch and departmental staff who do care about their customers and try their best to provide an excellent service. However, it is easier to focus on the wrong doers and slag off the profession as a whole.

Of course, bankers are not alone. All journalists lie and cheat to get a good story, all politicians are more interested in fiddling their expenses rather than looking out for the interests of their constituents, all teachers are more interested in league tables than they are in educating our children, etc. Now there is a new kid on the block – the NHS. Because of the actions of a few, the NHS, which employs approx. 1.7 million people (the fifth largest employer in the world!), doesn’t care about any of its patients and their employees only begrudgingly provide a modicum of care if they have to and haven’t got anything better to do.

These bandwagons are very easy to jump upon. As we all know, behaviour breeds behaviour; so if we allow our beliefs (based on these generalisations) to influence our behaviour it will affect the relationships we have with these organisations/individuals and inevitably we will get the results that we deserve, which will in turn justify our beliefs. Put more briefly – life reciprocates our belief of it.

So, before we are swept away by these generalisations both in the wider world and in our own relationships (either in work or out of it) – stop and think. Am I acting/behaving based on what I know to be true about the INDIVIDUAL in front of me that I am dealing with or am I acting/behaving based on some generalist, received opinion of the masses. Make the right choice as you will have to live with the consequences of the results your interaction generates.

All generalisations are wrong!


Promises, promises……

I promise I will…………..

 Whilst this may look like a marriage vow of some sort, that is not the motivation for this blog, wonderful institution as that may be. I wonder just how many column inches in this country alone are written about things people promise to do around this time of the year and the reasons that they often end up failing, usually after a short period of time has elapsed.

So, here we are at the end of January – be honest – how are you doing?

This is a bumper time for gym membership, diet sign-ups, quitting programmes, self help books, exercise gear, year planners……….. But if things haven’t got off to the best start, or never started at all, never fear. Start again, but maybe with a few helpful hints to ensure more chance of success this time.

To begin with, it may be that this time of year, for you, is not a great point in the cycle to start making resolutions – so don’t, just because everyone else is. That won’t bring you success. Know how you work and work with that. But assuming you want to make a change/break an old habit/ start a new habit at some stage what should you do?

Let’s start at the very beginning and follow some simple steps:-

1. Clarity:- “What exactly is it I want to do?” Be clear about the outcome and when you want to have achieved it. Stop! Is this realistic? Could you cut yourself some slack – reduce dependency over a longer period, lose less weight in that time – anything that heads towards where you ultimately want to be without killing yourself or making you really miserable along the way. You have just increased the chances of success and there can always be a further phase later – success breeds success.
2. Motivation:-
“Why am I doing this?” This is a key question often not thought through – “Why do I really want to do this?” Keep asking “why?” until you get the kernel of the thing that motivates you. “I want to run a marathon”. Why? “So I feel good about my achievement.” Why? “So I can prove X wrong who said I couldn’t do it.” Why is that important? ………… We may find motives that we may not like (not always). We may decide at this stage to rethink our objective, in the light of this. However, these real motivators are always there and can be your friend in achieving what you set out to do. How strong are the real motivators? Can you give them a score out of 10?
Also, try to think if you are an “away from” or a “towards” person – in other words should your goal be something to achieve or something to avoid. Your health regime may not be to become Lewis Smith, but simply to lose the love handles, as you do not like what you see when you look in the mirror. The former may be unrealistic for you as an outcome, depending on your starting position! Quitting smoking may be to avoid yellow fingers or lung cancer. Alternatively It may be the incentive (towards) of having more money and using to do X, or having more energy to do Y. Knowing which has the biggest pull enables you to choose the motivational “picture” to spur you on – a picture of the dress you want to wear, the finishing tape of the race you want to run, the trophy you want to win, (towards) or a picture of the love handles, yellow fingers, a cancerous lung, your family without you in it (away). Whatever it is you may want to have that picture mentally (or better still, have it physically) somewhere that regularly reminds you why you are putting in the effort.
3. Count the cost:- “What are the downsides of pursuing what I want to achieve?” Be realistic, as these are the things that will be used to rationalise giving up – “It is harder than I thought”, “It was taking longer than I imagined it might”, “The regime was too rigid and I can’t work like that”. What you want to understand is how much effort and how much time is required? To lose eight pounds in three months may be very different to losing 3 stone in a year, but it depends on your starting point and success history. Can you score the effort required out of 10? Can you score the time that would need to be invested similarly out of 10?
4. Calculate:- Before step 5 think through whether you really want to pay the price to achieve the goal – add the scores from step 3 together and divide by 2. If the result is greater than the score from step 2 it is highly unlikely that you will see it through, so don’t start. Change the objective, reduce the target and/or extend the time until the scores are more conducive to success. On the other hand if the score for motivation outweighs the scores for “cost/effort”, then you have a chance of success. These are only indicators of course, you can still fool yourself with optimistic scoring, if you want to!
5. Go public:- There is no doubt that a commitment made publicly carries more energy than one that is kept to yourself – we can all rationalise ourselves into giving up with our self respect still intact. But if we commit to something publicly we are “programmed” to work hard to be consistent with what we have said. Find a group of friends/strangers to help you. The latter may seem odd but strangers may be a stronger motivator than close friends; the latter know you and will be “kind” to you, meaning well of course. However, we don’t know that strangers will be “kind” in the same way, so there is a stronger pull here to keep us consistent. This is almost certainly why some people find attending group meetings really helps them to stay the course. If that is you, do it!
6. Praise:- Check progress regularly and celebrate success – no matter how small – it is all good. Try not to compare with others – celebrate your progress on your journey.
Taking some time to think through what you want to achieve and count the cost involved, will help turn a spur of the moment idea into something that can effect real change – at any time of the year. And remember that small changes have a big impact; our best wishes for a big impact in 2013.

“I promise I will think more about what I promise I will do.”


Shortly before Christmas it rained!

Shortly before Christmas it rained. Actually it rained pretty much for months before Christmas – or so it seemed. But I want to be specific about a particular day that it rained – December 22nd.

We were preparing for Christmas and New Year and had various people staying for parts of the holiday break. I don’t know why but I went into the spare room and noticed that we now had an internal water feature and not one that I had previously installed! Water was running down the walls and across the ceiling.

Mild panic succumbed to action and after a few minutes of mopping and entering the loft to place appropriately positioned buckets, the situation was under control. However, what was the likelihood of getting this fixed this side of Christmas? And at what price?

I Facebooked my friends and asked for help in locating a reputable roofer. To cut this short – the roof was repaired on Christmas Eve at about 8.30am, and at a price I thought quite reasonable. Christmas and New Year was saved at the last minute……….

So, what is the point of this? Simply that the roof had been leaking for a while – a small patch of discoloured ceiling at the top of the chimney breast, indicated that there was a problem with the flashing above, but only when the wind blew the rain in a certain direction and if the rain was heavy enough. So it wasn’t a problem.

Or at least it wasn’t a problem I needed to tackle right now. So it was left until it became a crisis and I had to do something about it.

How many of us have things at work, at home or at leisure that are small, noticeable “stains”, but insufficient irritants for us to tackle right now? They can go on the “later” pile, because I am too busy now; it is not a priority; it will be OK – it has lasted this long like that; maybe it will just go away; I don’t know what to do about it; it is hassle to get help. There are probably reasons you can insert right here…………

The point is if I had fixed the problem before it became a crisis, I would not have an entire room to redecorate, rather than some touching in of the existing paintwork. Then there was also the emotional energy spent worrying over whether I could get it fixed to enable the room to be used for those staying with us (there was some “catastrophising” in action!).

So, why not take stock now of the things that you have accommodated, things that have now become part of the accepted norm to the extent that they go unnoticed, and tackle these things (some might actually be quite important), before they move into the urgent category and become crises?

Is it time to get that monkey off your back? If you think “what monkey” by the way, that may simply show how well adjusted the two of you have become! APP is good at helping businesses shift monkeys (and flush out elephants in the room too) – give us a call, even on Christmas Eve, before you have full blown zoo on your hands!