Long days and short blacks

We’ve been busy so far this school holidays conducting a whole heap of 60 minute interviews with Adelaidians, from our “second office” at Cibo on Hutt! We’ve been shooting the breeze with people about a secret squirrel topic, so I can’t divulge much, except to say everyone who has participated has been really enthusiastic, and has contributed to the discussions in an uncensored, valuable and unique way. Thanks to our frank and fearless interviewees, we’re finding out things we could have never anticipated!

Before this week I think my record for number of interviews in one day was about 5. I beat that last Monday by 2, talking to a total of 7 people over 12 hours! *phew* what a day. Thanks to my last witty participant for the day who came bursting with ideas, I left at 8pm on a high with (caffeine-fuelled) energy to spare!

A bit about Cibo on Hutt if you haven’t been there yet (and no, I’m not getting paid to write this!): What a warm and inviting atmosphere which never ceases to be busy. The staff are all gems – very gentle, kind and accommodating. It’s a pleasure to work long days in a venue which makes me feel like I’m not missing out on anything.

We’ll be drinking much more coffee from the warm and vibrant Cibo over the next month in particular. If you’re interested to find out how to be a part of the conversation over a nice hot mug of delicious coffee or tea, stay tuned to our upcoming emails (subscribe here!) and join our Facebook group if you like.

– Marianne Campbell, Director, Mint Research
Posted 10th October 2016

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It’s not you, it’s me

Attribution is the psychosocial process of discerning the causes of things – something we all do every day.

Something great happens to you. Who takes the credit?

Something not so great happens to you. Who do you blame?

 

Fundamental attribution error (FAE) is the intriguing and subjective phenomenon that describes the tendency to overstate attribution internally (i.e. to one’s self) or externally (i.e. to one’s surroundings and/or circumstances), depending on the recipient of the good or bad “event”.

Here’s how FAE works – a 30 second version:

Something good happens to me Something bad happens to me

THE BACK PAT

“I’m amazing! I totally did that! It was ALL ME!! I always knew I had a secret talent for winning raffles!”

THE FLIPPING OF THE BIRD

“That had NOTHING to do with me. That idiot pulled out in front of me!”

Something good happens to someone else Something bad happens to someone else

THE EYE ROLL

“That result was clearly nothing to do with her – she only passed because the Professor fancies her.”

THE RAISED EYEBROW JUDGEMENT + HEAD SHAKE

“All. Their. Fault.”

 

Interestingly, this pattern of credit and blame is observed more in individualistic societies (e.g. the Western world), whereas in more collective cultures FAE occurs less. But is this typical? I don’t know…

Does FAE exist for some people in reverse – let’s call it “Reverse FAE”, or RFAE?

Are any of these familiar?

Something good happens to me Something bad happens to me

THE SELF-DEPRECATING SHRUG

“Well, I can’t take much of the credit. After all, I did have a lot of spare time to cure cancer. No big deal. Anyone could’ve done it…”

THE WALLOW“She didn’t call me baaack… It’s all my fault!”
Something good happens to someone else Something bad happens to someone else
The PEDESTAL ELEVATION“Well, I’m sure Donald Trump has some good policies up his sleeve…”

THE GENEROUS OVERCOMPENSATION

“He only hit that parked car because it was raining…”

 

I propose that the size and type of FAE (or RFAE) can depend on factors such as:

  • Mood and present state – Are we having a good or bad day?
  • Previous experience – Has something similar happened before? and
  • The other person – the “someone else” – Do we know them? Do we like them? Are they a friend, acquaintance or stranger?

I also propose that at times, fundamental attribution error isn’t actually an error, but is an accurate surmise of the situation!

But I could be mistaken…

– Marianne Campbell, Director, Mint Research

What do you mean?

It’s easy to ask someone a question, and to report the response.

It’s harder to ask the right question, receive the response, and interpret that response for its meaning. The responsibility of a qualitative researcher is to look beyond what someone is saying, and extract the true meaning; the real deal.

When working with attitudes and behaviours that challenge social expectations, getting to the truth can be a minefield. Unmasking the papier-mâché of bias and unravelling the complex webs of justification require a researcher to be delicate, yet unafraid to gently confront.

I’m going to discuss only two of the many behavioural and attitudinal conundrums a social researcher faces daily.

When we think about our own behaviour, a lot of what we say and do is driven by social pressures – some we are conscious of, while others are engrained in the collective conscience and begin shaping our behaviour from tiny human stage. This is social desirability bias – the tendency to act and respond in a way that we believe will be looked upon favourably by others. It presents in many forms across a wide range of theories and paradigms (Azjen’s ‘subjective norm’, Kahneman’s ‘System 2’, and even cameos in social identity and obedience theories – e.g. Tajfel, Zimbardo and Milgram, to name a few). It even underpins today’s vernacular – “I should…”, “I shouldn’t…”. This superficial veil has a lot to answer for, and social researchers must be particularly mindful of SDB’s traps when working with a myriad of topics sensitive to this bias – from addiction, mental health, and prejudice, to physical appearance, income, and charitable behaviours.

If that’s not complex enough… another paradigm commonly observed in social research is Festinger’s cognitive dissonance (a personal favourite of mine). A complex paradigm, but here’s a 30 second version:

It’s common to hold two or more contradictory or inconsistent beliefs, values, needs, behaviours, etc.

This causes psychological discomfort.

For instance, for simplicity’s sake, picture a health-conscious person who eats quinoa and kale, and washes it down with a bottle or two of (biodynamic) wine every night.

What does this person do to reconcile their internal inconsistency?

Cue “band-aid” solution. A band-aid sits over the top and justifies the inconsistency; ergo “Wine helps me unwind and relax, which is most important to me”.

The band-aid could be an ineffective plastic one that slides off or rips, causing the person stress, which might motivate them to change one belief or another, or find another way to rationalise, in order to regain comfort.

Or the band aid might be a strong fabric one; a fool-proof justification, allowing someone to forge forward, bluffing themselves with imagined internal consistency.

This is just a tiny slice of what a social researcher is faced with – disentangling the elements of a response, a behaviour, an interaction (or hundreds) that are driven by bias and underpinned by justification, and peeling back the band-aid to gently expose the raw and sometimes unpleasant truth.

-Marianne Campbell, Director, Mint Research

Fight Procrastination with Timeboxing

Sure, I can write this article now. But first, let me make another coffee.

Yesterday, September 6th 2015 was Fight Procrastination Day.

Whether you knew it was Fight Procrastination Day yesterday or not, think about what you did: Did you complete something off your work or home to-do list yesterday?

When thinking about this issue of to-do lists and procrastination despite the best of intentions, I’m reminded of my Psych Honours thesis (2004). The thesis focussed on the effectiveness of “implementation intentions” (Gollwitzer, 1999). Implementation intentions are self-regulatory strategies that describe intentions to achieve goals. Put more simply, these can be called action plans.

But setting the goal is the easy part, isn’t it? Actually pursuing the goal requires the most effort, right?

“Good resolutions are useless attempts to interfere with scientific laws. Their origin is pure vanity. Their result is absolutely nil.” – Oscar Wilde

An action plan or implementation intention if designed correctly should push a high level intention beyond the mere ambit of aspiration, into the domain of engaging with and endeavouring through the task. Setting an action plan requires you to dictate specific detail of when, where, and exactly how you’ll do something, and it’s been shown under many circumstances to increase goal achievement. It’s a simple idea with broad effective application.

An element of an action plan that’s used in the workplace is a “time box”; a fixed time period where you commit to working on or completing a specific task. I’ve been consciously timeboxing every day for over a month now. At the end of each day, I timebox the following day.

Timeboxing is a technique that has succeeded with me, and what’s more it seems to have been successful in adding itself to the workplace vernacular. Timeboxing helps focus thought and action, in order to complete even the longest and most arduous of projects (you know the ones, with a protracted deadline some way into the future, which seem to come with a time vortex free of charge) faster.

So with my newfound devotion to the timebox, gone are the days where I find myself working right up to a project’s nominated deadline, filling my days with musings and procrastination, while I spend the total amount of time available to me. My attention is focussed where it needs to be, and my mind doesn’t wander off to try to address peripheral issues at the same time.

My little boxes of time and I are working together to fight procrastination and knock off projects on and ahead of schedule.

Anyway, article done, in good time. Time for that coffee.

-Marianne Campbell, Director, Mint Research

Altruism – does it really exist?

We all know what it is to ‘give back’. Some form of PDP (public display of philanthropy) from the companies we interact with is almost expected.

You could argue then that altruism is alive and well. But is it really? Without trying to sound (too) cynical, is there really such a thing as altruism?

What are the reasons companies give? I would argue not because of an exclusive selfless concern for the wellbeing of others, but with the hope for a myriad of external paybacks such as improved public perception, positive social media sharing, improved reputation in the eyes of customers – hopefully transferring to loyalty and retention. There are also many internal benefits for the organisation itself. Charitable giving improves employee engagement by boosting productivity, ethical behavior, gratitude to the organization, pride, improvements in morale and teamwork in these organisations.

Okay, so this is not new news, but what about on a personal level; do we really give only to help others? Or because actually, deep down it makes us feel pretty damn good about ourselves?

It’s actually true – research shows that giving makes you happier – it can even improve your health! Interestingly, there are findings from numerous studies supporting this idea. In 2008, a study published in Science magazine showed a correlation between the amounts of donations a person made and their self-reported happiness. Respondents were handed out money and told to spend it however they wanted. Those who chose to spend the money on themselves were no happier that evening, but those who spent it on others reported higher degrees of happiness. Recently, published research in the Journal of Economic Psychology, found that donating to charity may actually improve the giver’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

The idea that generosity can lead to increased happiness is not a new idea, Buddhists have been onto this idea for years. Think about Karma – the appeal to generosity is made on the basis of long-term self-interest. If we wish to receive, we first must give.

So if altruism in its truest sense is defined as ‘disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others’, is it really alive and well if there is even only a degree of self-interest? Or is there a paradox, that we are all ‘selfishly giving’? What do you think?

At the end of the day perhaps it doesn’t matter what the motivation is, only that those in need benefit. So do something good for others AND yourself. This Saturday, September 5th, is the United Nations’ International day of Charity, marking the ‎anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa.

-Melodie Climent, Director, Mint Research

Beyond the Status Quo

Too often we do things the way we’re used to doing it, the way we’ve always done it, the way that makes us comfortable, the “company way”. Too often we don’t stop and ask ourselves: “Is this the best way?” “Is there a better way?” “What is the best way?” We can have tunnel vision in just doing, which can occur in isolation from critical thinking.

At the core of every investigation, every project, every venture, one of the first questions we should be asking is “Is this the best way?” What indeed is the best way?

Why do these questions not come naturally? I’ve witnessed barriers precluding this question from being asked, and I too am guilty of going with the flow and not stopping to ask myself “Is this the best way?”. Here are six common barriers I’ve seen…

“I’m too busy”
Feeling crippled by ever increasing workloads is the best way to ensure someone is busy doing, and probably not spending time critically considering if what they’re doing and the way they’re doing it is the best way forward.
In the face of a large workload, our natural inclination is to work longer and harder to get it done. What many don’t appreciate is that protracted working hours can often impose unnecessary constraints on out-of-the-box thinking. Long hours can inhibit the inclination to pare back the issue, the project, the approach to its raw components.

It may feel counterintuitive to take a break when workloads are peaking. But stepping away from the project and changing up the environment can be the most productive way to allow space for our creative, non-analytical brain to take the lead and provide us with additional perspective. Nike may have it wrong; just doing it to get it done can work in the short term, but may not be the pathway to the best result over the medium or long-term.
Try stopping just doing. Get up and walk away from it. Give yourself the space for some introspection and ask “Is this the best way?”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
Just because something may have worked in the past under one set of circumstances, doesn’t mean that this is the best way to address a similar question. When looking to past successes, we need to be cognisant of confirmation bias – we will interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms our beliefs.
Yes, we need to give a nod to the evidence base where this exists, but rotating the problem, thinking about it orthogonally and being experimental all have the potential to bring a certain genius. Consider this approach from time to time: if it ain’t broke, you might want to break it.

We are experienced “this and that-ers”
We have qualifications in this, degrees in that, the know-how to do this, years of experience doing that. We all use tried and tested approaches. But how did these methods become the tried and tested methods? Through research and experimentation. I’d like us all to acknowledge that we are all real-world researchers. We need to trust ourselves more to actively engage in experimentation within our worlds. Sometimes it might be good practice to force ourselves to deliberately try different things in order to find the best solution for the problem or question at hand.

“It’s the company way”
Applying an existing framework or company approach can make sense under some circumstances, but under others can sometimes feel awkward; like fitting a square peg to a round hole. Recognise: everything has a time and a place. Many occasions call for new thinking and clean inspiration. Look to what others are doing, and learning.
The company way is not the be all and end all. In seeking the answer to “What is the best way?” there is room for the tried and tested, as well as the new and shiny.

“It’s too hard”
Cognitive energy and mental resources are required to answer the question “What is the best way?” Where does one start? Start with the problem, the issue, the question. Not the obvious question either, the REAL question. Break it down into the sum of its parts; the smallest building blocks; its naked state. Ask: How did the problem become a problem? The issue an issue? The question a question? Once you know the underpinning fundamentals, you can investigate how it all fits together, and ask at every point, “What’s the best way to address this?”
It’ll involve a bit more energy, but remember that we get out what we put in. Give your work a part of you and you will do work that you’re proud of. You may come full circle and end up using an approach you’ve used in the past, but at least you’ll know all the reasons for and against each alternative approach, and your decision will be highly considered and defensible.

“It’s too scary”
Putting yourself out there isn’t something everyone is comfortable doing. Showing employers, colleagues, and peers, new and untested ideas can be intimidating. “What if they disagree?” But what if they agree?

Leadership comes from offering solutions, so throw your hat in the ring. The risk may be high, but so may be the potential to gain. The worst that can happen is a rich discussion, even if an alternative solution is used.

These are six barriers that can prevent us from asking ourselves “Is this the best way?” and “What is the best way?”. Can you think of some more? We might never get to the very best way – but with a bit of effort there is a very good chance we can get to a better way.

I strongly feel that there is much to be gained from actively seeking opportunities to ask this question. Let’s change things up a little. Let’s embrace the experiment. Let’s question our surroundings. Let’s be curious and live the experiment.

-Marianne Campbell, Director, Mint Research

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