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

Posted on Updated on

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

“People are your greatest asset”

Posted on Updated on

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

[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.

Have you got an organisation full of goalkeepers?

Posted on Updated on

Headshot for Website ColourHere’s what sport can teach us about diversity in business.

Could you win a football game with 11 goalkeepers? Or, maybe a netball match with 7 goal shooters? Ok, how about a rowing race with 9 coxes?

Of course not, is clearly the answer. But whilst these may seem like flippant examples, they hint at the challenge we often face in organisations: creating diverse teams, with each member bringing a different skillset, or way of thinking that elevates group performance.

Diversity (or the lack thereof) in the world of business is something we look at a great deal here at Hot Spots Movement. Whether that’s gender diversity, ethnic diversity or neurodiversity – it’s clear that boardrooms and offices are just not diverse enough.

There are obvious and significant ethical issues around discriminating over gender, race, sexual orientation or mental health. However, there is another reason why companies should be sitting up and taking note: Lack of diversity is impacting on the bottom-line. There is a growing body of research showing that the more diverse a team is, the greater the chance for innovation. Which whether in the context of the smallest start-up or the largest multi-national, means a competitive edge.

This may sound like common sense when said out loud. But it’s surprising how few organisations fully grasp or truly act upon this information. As such, I wanted to support this claim by taking examples from the world of sport – whilst sport without doubt has its own diversity issues, examples of the benefits of diversity are easily quantified and for many plain to see.

Academic studies of the world of sport provides concrete evidence in support of the notion that diversity positively affects performance. Researchers from Duke University tested the theory within the UEFA Champions League (Europe’s elite club football competition) and found that heterogenous teams significantly outperformed their less diverse opponents [1]. So substantial were these findings that even when player’s transfer value and quality ratings have been adjusted for, even relatively small increases in cultural diversity could double a team’s goal difference.

Now let’s take this concept across the pond to one of the world’s most lucrative sports leagues, the National Basketball Association. Interbasket analysed the performance of the league’s most and least diverse teams over a five-year period. When comparing the 10 most against the 10 least demographically diverse teams in the league they found that teams with the highest number of foreign players won on average 11 games a season more than those who measured poorly on diversity [2]. This is a particularly impressive result, when considering that those 11 games account for 13% of wins available for a team across a whole season. What business leader would not want to see a 13% increase in performance from their teams?

studjo-yavor-miastko-74158Diversity then can clearly have an extraordinarily positive impact on performance of teams, increasing creativity, innovation and flexibility. So, I challenge you the next time you’re hiring someone to look beyond someone who shares your background. Perhaps ask yourself, ‘Am I creating a team full of goalkeepers, or have I got every position covered, ready for the big game?’

Need help with your diversity strategy? Find out how Hot Spots Movement can help by checking out our website here:

[1] Malesky, E., Saiegh, S. and Ingersoll, K. (2014). Diversity and Group Performance: Evidence from the World’s Top Soccer League. APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper.


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

Posted on

photo blog

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 and contact one of the team.Melexp



Melissa Forbes

Head of Admin & Community Management

An experiment with doodling

Posted on

10235How can you enhance your ability to retain important information? One of the insights from our recent Masterclass on Innovation was that focusing less, rather than more, may be the answer – and good old fashioned ‘doodling’ (that is, scribbling without purpose) is one way to go about it.

I’m always happy to experiment with new ideas that our Research Team finds when exploring an upcoming Future of Work theme. It’s fun to put theory into practice and I also learn a lot about myself and my working preferences in the process. So, this week, I’ve been doodling… and here’s what I’ve found.

Like many organisations, we here at Hot Spots work in an open plan office, so concentration can sometimes be tricky. For example, when I am on a call, taking notes and thinking about questions while office life goes on in the background is difficult. Of course practice makes perfect, but towards the end of a call my brain just gets tired and the background noise distracts me.

According to our research, however, doodling can help me capture and retain the information I’m hearing and can even help my brain resist distraction.img_20170419_113302.jpg

So, in addition to the usual notes on key points, next steps, and deadlines that I normally take during a call, this week I sketched a mish-mash of words, lines, and figures (see photo left).

The result? I remembered more of the details, and when I looked at the different parts of the doodle, I was able to recall the conversation more vividly. Even more interesting is that I can still remember it, weeks later. My brain was unconsciously and unintentionally more engaged.

The most difficult aspect for me was getting the balance right. Focusing on what I hear rather than what I draw. The line between active listening and unconscious scribbling is a thin a one, but you will know when you get it right. Drawing while actively listening is what helps you remember 29% more of the conversation, according to neuroscience.[1] Dr Srini Pillay, one of the speakers at our Innovative Organisation Masterclass, spoke about how doodling occupies our brain just enough to stop it from daydreaming, improving our focus at the same time. [2]

As it turns out, doodling has some serious cognitive benefits and can be more effective than conventional note-taking. I must say it felt strange at first: I was going against the idea that taking notes is the only sign of focus and concentration. However, when you see someone pointlessly scribbling in a meeting, they might just be on to something.

I’d love to hear other people’s views and experiences on this. Are you convinced of the benefits of doodling, or is it just a distraction? Add comments below


[2] Innovative Organisation Masterclass. (2016). Future of Work Research Consortium.

The Unintended Consequences of an Easy Life

Posted on Updated on

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 09.20.00A little while back, I wrote about Keynes’ prediction that our greatest challenge today would be what to do with all the leisure time we now have as a result of technology doing all the work that previously kept us occupied

My conclusion was – as you’re probably only too well aware – this problem doesn’t seem to have materialised as we’ve just filled the time with even more work in pursuit of increased productivity, higher incomes and better standards of living.

This debate has taken a new turn in recent months as we ask a more nuanced question about the role of technology in our lives, questioning the fundamental case for technology progression at all: Do we really want to be more productive? What are the unintended consequences of having technology make the little things in life easier and easier?

My thinking on this was sparked by a fascinating depiction of a day of our lives in 2030 by Vodafone’s Head of Product Management, Sally Fuller. In this utopia/dystopia, as I wake up my coffee machine is alerted by the sensors under my skin that I will soon be vying for my caffeine hit. By time I’ve walked downstairs to the kitchen, there it is – my latte, good to go – while my self-driving car programmes itself ready to take me to a meeting location that it already knows. And so it continues… a completely frictionless day during which I waste no time on menial tasks like making a cup of coffee or programming a SatNav.

code270360On the one hand this sounds fantastic. Maybe as a result I’ve saved enough time to get to that early morning Yoga class or meet an equally tech-enabled friend for breakfast before work, in which case this technology development has enriched my life by giving me the opportunity to do things that enhance my vitality and enjoyment.

Alternatively, I find myself in a context whereby all my similarly augmented colleagues (seem to be) using this time to work harder, for longer, and to produce more. In this scenario, the extra time simply amplifies the already hyper-competitive nature of work, fuelling anxiety and burnout, and removing from my day the few legitimate opportunities I had to defocus while doing something simple.

Both scenarios are plausible and we see versions of both playing out today as a result of the technological progress we’ve experienced so far: the emergence of the leisure industry to facilitate those great experiences and, simultaneously, an intensification of work with those on the highest incomes now working more hours rather than less in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Perhaps then, the key message is that we need to be conscious – as individuals and managers within organisations – about how we use this time ourselves and how we signal to others that they should use this time too. Particularly in light of the fact that, as technology continues to replace repetitive, routine tasks, the work we humans will be left with will be complex and require reflection, focus and innovation, rather than additional hours of tapping away at a keyboard, stressed and anxious.

If we simply go with the flow, we are likely to find ourselves caught up in the dystopia of anxiety and overwork that will eventually be our undoing. Be conscious about how we’re investing our time – and how we encourage those in our teams to do so – and we’re far more likely to navigate towards the Yoga session and lazy breakfast utopia.

Digital badges and the future of learning

Posted on Updated on

sarahhsmwebsiteA close friend invited me to this year’s MozFest. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry, you haven’t been living under a rock. It is Mozilla’s annual 3-day event that seeks to drive innovation on the web. It is also a networking opportunity for the hugely diverse and incredibly creative tech community. Mozilla’s vision is that “learning should be hands-on, immersive, and done collectively”. And no doubt, the event itself reflected this vision with a vast array of talks, games, demonstrations, creative group work, and spaces for innovative ideas. One of the main inspirations I took away was about digital badges.

Up until two weeks ago, I didn’t even know what digital badges were. But the more I look into the topic, the more I find that they are actually becoming quite established in the learning landscape. In fact, IBM recently launched its Open Badge Program to attract talent and keep people engaged. At MozFest, a whole floor was dedicated to Mozilla’s Open Badges project, which was launched already in 2012.

In case you don’t know, digital badges are a type of certification for a skill, accomplishment or capability, much like the badges handed out in the military or the Scouts. Universities, online course providers, companies, museums – any learning provider really – can issue badges, which recipients can add to their profiles like LinkedIn and showcase their skills and capabilities to their peers and potential employers. As there are no limits to content or the submission process (at one museum, you can get a badge for cockroach handling), digital badges aim to disrupt traditional approaches by facilitating informal learning, providing alternative learning pathways, and supporting lifelong learning.


Within organisations, badges are already being used to support performance management, drive collaboration and innovation among employees and enhance employee engagement. Unisys, for example, developed an internal platform that provides each employee with a profile where they can display their badges, allowing them to establish a company presence, connect to other employees with similar skills and search for those with specific subject expertise. IBM is also using badges to provide credentials to external talent, for specific learning journeys, and thereby creating a global pool of talent that it can draw upon. Within IBM, employees who felt recognised for learning achievements (e.g. through badges) were three times more engaged than those who didn’t.

In MozFest’s session on Architecture for Learning Pathways, experts discussed next steps for the badge project. How can badges lead to specific jobs, careers, and help people achieve certain goals? How do different badges relate to each other with regard to the types of achievements they represent? How can they be grouped together to create different learning pathways? Do learning pathways always have to be linear? How can high achievers be differentiated from low achievers?

While these questions are certainly relevant for the education sector, they are also relevant for the corporate world. Training and development is already a major factor in the war for talent while new technologies are transforming the landscape of required skills. In this respect, companies must rethink the value of qualifications, alternative career pathways, and continuous learning. Can badges be used to address some of these challenges, for example, to facilitate lateral career moves? This is something high on our research agenda at the Future of Work. Over the next four months we will be analysing the future of employability and learning to find out more about the big disruptors in this area.

Image: Badges from the Royal Observatory Greenwich, UK Antibiotic Guardian, Amazon and Siemens