Could unlocking your unconscious mind be the key to effective decision-making?

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melissa-forbesA fascinating interest of mine is the human consciousness. I could forever learn about how each of our brains, 1 kilogram of hard matter, conjures up an infinite kaleidoscope of thoughts, feelings, memories and emotions, which make us ‘conscious’. This conscious awareness has long been assumed to govern how we make the approximately 35,000 decisions required of us each a day – from what time to get out of bed to what to eat for dinner. However, increasingly, there is evidence to suggest that many of the decisions we make are determined not by our conscious thought, but instead by our unconscious thoughts. This theory is a relatively new one, titled the Unconscious Thought Theory or UTT, (Dijksterhuis and Nordgren, 2006).

We all have an ‘unconscious’. It is where the bulk of our mind’s processing takes place, attributing to our beliefs and behaviours. Our unconscious mind’s main purpose is to prevent mental overload by efficiently informing our decisions based on quick reference to past events and experiences. However, research has begun to suggest that our unconscious may go beyond informing decisions, and actually be making our decisions for us. In one study by Soon et al (2008), it was concluded that our brains make decisions up to ten seconds before we realise it. So much so, that researchers could predict what decisions participants would make before they were even aware of having made a decision.

This can be both positive and negative. As anyone who has come across the literature or training on unconscious bias will know, it can result in us making snap judgments that reflect stereotypes and bias.

However, it seems it can also be positive. For example, whilst theorising UTT, Dijksterhuis and Nordgren found that when participants faced a complex task, the group which had more time to deliberate but were distracted (and therefore not consciously thinking about the task), had better and faster solutions. This is particularly interesting for us at Hot Spots Movement, when we consider how we perceive complex tasks and decisions, particularly at work, and how we might tackle them in the best way.

So, how can we tap into our unconscious to help deliver better and faster decisions?

Firstly, we could all benefit from a good night’s sleep. I’ve found this is the most accessible as our unconscious mind does not rest at night, instead it is busy making sense of the day’s events. It’s a common feeling to wake up from sleep and feel like a brand-new person, with your troubles not seeming as big as they did the night before. A tip for being in touch with your unconscious insights would be to write down your initial solutions to a problem first thing in the morning, before your conscious mind takes hold again.

Another way is through meditation or yoga, which are both fast-becoming forms of ‘fashionable’ exercise but actually benefit you by initiating deep insight, calmness and reflections. They work by allowing you to think beyond your conscious distractions to really consider who you are and the choices you make and if they resonate with your being.pexels-photo-588561

Lastly, you can channel unconscious thoughts by putting yourself in situations where you can repeatedly act spontaneously, for example, during Improv classes – Improv is a form of unscripted theatre, where actors make up the story in the moment. Improv is a great way of channelling your unbiased thoughts and feelings – the idea is that you are in a safe environment and able to give entirely impulsive responses to a friend’s own, impulsive response. These reactions have not had time to be considered or filtered by your conscious so, over time, you can inadvertently learn about your instincts and how to involve your unconscious mind in your decisions. Several of my colleagues here at Hot Spots Movement practice Improv for the very same reason – to be more in touch with their unconscious mind. It has proven very beneficial for many reasons – so much so that here at Hot Spots Movement, we have started incorporating Improv exercises into our workshops with clients to enhance collaboration and trust amongst employees.

So, next time you’re struggling to think of a new approach to a difficult problem, perhaps consider engaging your unconscious mind. Take a moment for meditation, distract yourself with another seemingly unrelated task, or perhaps even sleep on it. It could be that your unconscious mind already knows the answer.

If you’d like to find out more about how you can use Improv to enhance collaboration and trust amongst employees within your organisations then please do get in touch on Melissa@hotspotsmovement.com

“People are your greatest asset”

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We hear this phrase echoing around the corridors of Canary Wharf and Downtown Manhattan, but are we really unleashing the potential of all the great people in our organisation? Well, in our experience, we find that companies often recruit talented, high performing individuals, but then fail to empower these individuals to affect change.

So what are the levers that organisations must activate if they are to enable their people to unleash their full potential?

1. Speaking up – We spend a lot of time thinking about this at Hot Spots Movement, as well as working on this capability with clients, andText Box what we’ve found is that speaking up is far more likely and powerful in organisations which create an environment of psychological safety. What do we mean by psychological safety? This is an environment in which people’s views are valued, no matter their seniority or function, where people can challenge the status quo and are free to build on each other’s ideas. In addition to creating psychological safety, we find it’s crucial that organisations act on the insights given. People will only speak up if they feel they are being listened to, and that their views are being acted upon.

2. Collaboration – Here, we are looking at tapping into collective people power. Research shows that innovative and impactful ideas tend to come from cross-enterprise collaboration, rather than one team from a research lab or company department working on an issue in isolation.[1] Additionally, new workplace technologies have allowed organisations to bring people together in a many-to-many communication model, inspiring innovation as well as giving employees greater agency when it comes to decision-making.

3. Innovation and Productivity – Organisations often find themselves tasked with doing more with less, and have to constantly reinvent themselves in the face of disruption. As such, innovation is no longer a department or function, but instead a mentality that must pervade the entire organisation. Interestingly, our experience from running innovation projects with clients indicates an innate desire and capacity to innovate which is latent within many employees. What these employees are lacking, however, is the time to do so, or the incentives to ensure they make time for innovation.

4. Organisational Structure and Values – Research shows that strong values and purpose are effective in unleashing the people power of current employees, as well as becoming an increasingly important role in the attraction of new talent.[2] The challenge that organisations face here is to ensure that the rhetoric matches reality. That is to say, if you have a set of values in your office lobby, you need to ensure that they are being reflected in the processes and practices that underpin the everyday behaviour of your employees, and be sure that employees are rewarded for living those values.

We’re undertaking ongoing research into this topic through the Unleashing People Power Survey. This 10-minute survey allows you to pulse-check  how your organisation is performing on each of the above four levers, as well as how this compares to the benchmarking of 60+ multinationals. Perhaps take a moment today to complete it, and send it to your colleagues too – the more responses, the more insightful the data.

If you’re interested in taking the Unleashing People Power Survey or would like to learn more about how to unleash the energy of your people, please contact Harriet Molyneaux harriet@hotspotsmovement.com.

[1] Wuchty, S., Jones, B. and Uzzi, B. 2007. The Increasing Dominance of Teams in Production of Knowledge, Science 316, no. 5827: 1036–1039

[2] Nally, D. (2015). Five reasons diversity and inclusion matter to every business and every employee. PwC CEO Insights.

Co-Production: the emerging trend in workplace mental health initiatives

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Being the newest member of Hot Spots Movement, a key focus in my recent job search was to join an organisation which celebrates diversity. Not only do I have a diverse background in terms of my heritage, (being Jamaican, Finnish, Pakistani and English!) but I’m also – like everyone, really – diverse in the way I think and feel. And it’s this latter type of diversity that many organisations are only now beginning to understand and act upon.

One element of this ‘diversity of thought’ is mental health. This is something we all come into contact with, either personally or through the experiences of friends and family. However, it consists to be a pervasively silent culture. In fact, with 3 out of 4 employees experiencing a wobble in mental stability at some point, it is one of the biggest workplace issues, costing UK employers £30 billion alone, through lost production, recruitment and absence. And yet, conversations and initiatives around mental health are conspicuously absent in many organisations.

From my own experience, speaking with others and through readings, implementing a successful mental health strategy alongside changing attitudes and cultural expectations, is of course challenging and does not happen overnight. It can prove difficult to merge the law, practice, training, evaluation and management into one company-wide policy.

This is why I was particularly excited to come across an exciting, new approach to tackling mental health: Co-production. This method puts employees affected by mental health at the heart of planning, delivering and evaluating policies. Offering them the chance to come forward, not to label themselves, but to work alongside HR professionals, is extremely innovative and merges expert and lived experience. This creates active networks that both support those affected and better informs those who aren’t.

Co-production appears to have many positives, including being based on psychological research dating back to the 1950s, blurring the lines of distinction between authority and recipients and being economic in drawing on the wisdom of employees themselves. As a result, Co-production and involving those who suffer, may help them feel a better sense of belonging and reduced stigma – in turn, increasing their sense of competence, engagement and loyalty.

This collaborative approach to problem-solving resonates with so much of the work we do here at Hot Spots Movement, from our advisory practice, to the Future of Work Research Consortium and our crowdsourcing methodology, the ‘Jam.’ I cannot help feeling that co-production is an energising and innovative concept that could really move the needle on mental health in organisations and empower those most affected with ownership over the solution.

For more information on how you can collaborate with your colleagues on mental health challenges visit our website http://www.hotspotsmovement.com and contact one of the team.Melexp



Melissa Forbes

Head of Admin & Community Management

Do people freelance out of choice?

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RaphOver the last decade, freelance work has continued to gain in popularity all over the world. In the United States, 53 million people are doing freelance work, with that figure expected to increase by 50% by 2020. In the UK, freelance work has grown by 14% in the last decade and in Asia, freelance jobs currently account for 12.5% of the workforce.

As a member of Gen Y myself, there are key advantages that I see with freelancing – the ability to work for multiple employers, maximise the use of my creativity and have autonomy over my own work. However, when considering whether or not I want to freelance myself I must also examine the downsides – lack of job security, the requirement for a high amount of self-discipline, the potential for less collaboration with others and more. With these advantages and disadvantages in mind, I began wondering whether people actually entered freelance work by choice or because they could not find permanent full-time employment.

In the United Kingdom, freelance work is increasingly being perceived as an attractive career choice. In fact, a study on freelance work by Elance indicated that 87% of students with first or second-class degrees found freelancing to be highly attractive. Interestingly though, they found that students with lower class degrees were less inclined to think positively about freelance work. Perhaps the risk that comes with freelance work and the need to seek ones own clients, makes those with lower qualifications more apprehensive to follow a freelance career path? That being said, the study highlighted the overall positive feelings towards freelance for the majority of Gen Y members. This makes sense to me as job ideals have shifted further and further away from the standard 9-5 in the last few decades. The popularity of entrepreneurial television shows such as ‘Dragon’s Den’ and ‘The Apprentice’ illustrate this growing desire for autonomy over one’s work for our generation, as well.

Freelance has a whole range of appeals for different groups of people. The 2012 Industry Report by the Freelance Academy examined differences between age groups, for example and found that respondents in their 20s found the higher income potential rewarding. For this age group, a regular company job would be very hierarchical, limiting them financially, because of their age and the societal structures around job progression. In turn, people in their 30s valued the flexibility of freelance work. One reason for this is that the lack of schedule rigidity allows people who have children to spend more valuable time with them. Those in their 60s articulated the importance of working from home which again demonstrated a different appeal of freelance work.

With gender, the study found that women enjoyed the flexibility and incorporation of passion in freelance work. However, men stated that the primary appeal was being able to be ones own boss. Living in a time where the gender binary continues to be challenged, I believe that these appeals by gender will become interchangeable over time, further increasing the overall interest in freelance careers.

The most conclusive statistic taken from this study was that only 2% of freelancers would take a full-time job over freelancing. In fact, over 50% of freelancers, wouldn’t want to give up freelancing, regardless of the alternative option. With these statistics in mind, freelance work is a very appealing career option for Gen Y members as well as everyone else in society. I think it is important for companies to consider how best to incorporate or compete with freelance workers, in the future.