A 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.
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
Speaking up is very important in all aspects of our life. For instance, we might choose to speak up when we are not happy with our situation, and it can take a number of shapes and forms. From polite requests in a restaurant to ranting on Twitter, the spectrum covers a lot of options. However, people do not always feel like they can, or should, speak up. Whether that is a case of lack of opportunity, fear of speaking up or a sense of pointlessness, there are a multitude of reasons for silence.
We ran a Jam – an online crowdsourcing solution that enables thousands of people to discuss a set number of topics – with a multinational organisation in November, and one of the big discoveries of the project was that employees did not feel like they could speak up. They did not feel there were enough channels or opportunities, and they felt that their leaders did not listen. Simply put, the environment was not psychologically safe. Research shows that in psychologically safe environments, employees feel encouraged to ask for clarification, to point out errors, and to share new and challenging ideas.
So how can organisations help employees have the confidence to speak up?
Often, it is the day-to-day behaviour of leadership and line managers that determines whether psychological safety exists within an organisation. Halfhearted efforts like vague invitations to submit opinions and ideas will not work. What will make a difference is taking the following four steps to assure employees that it is both safe and worthwhile to speak up and contribute:
Initiate: Initiating conversations informally is much more effective than just being open to it when it comes your way.
Intimacy: Psychological safety requires leaders to minimise the institutional and attitudinal distances that typically separate them from their employees. This shifts the focus from a top-down distribution of information to a bottom-up exchange of ideas.
Immunity: Employees need to feel empowered to experiment and fail.
Intentionality: In surveys of more than 3,500 employees in multiple organisations, James Detert of Columbia University found that leaders’ failure to ‘close the loop’ increased subordinates’ belief that speaking up was futile by 30%. But if leaders had closed the loop in the past, their reports spoke up 19% more frequently. This highlights an important learning for leaders: if they’d like their employees to speak up they need to commit to acting on the concerns of their employees.
Talking openly and honestly is of great value in the workplace, and we all need the right space and tools to achieve this. Whether the tool is having a chat in the communal kitchen while sipping your morning coffee or a crowdsourcing platform involving tens of thousands of people across the entire organisation, the point is that we all need to be enabled to feel confident enough to voice our feelings and opinions without having to worry about any negative consequences.
 Project Aristotle, Google
 Giles, S. 2016. The most important leadership competencies, according to leaders around the world. Harvard Business Review
 Future of Work Research Consortium, A FoW Report on Power and Leadership. 2016
 Groysberg, B. and Slind, M., 2012. Leadership is a conversation. Harvard business review, 90(6), pp.76-84
 Detert, J.R. and Burris, E.R., 2016. Can Your Employees Really Speak Freely? Harvard Business Review, 94(1-2), pp.80-87
Are your employees doing enough exercise?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), roughly 35% of people fall short of the recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical exercise.
Now I know that I don’t always reach that magical figure and my number one reason is – no time. If, like myself, you work full time, you can expect to spend around 50% of your waking day at work. When you throw in things such as duties at home and having a social life, you can easily run out of time to fit in some exercise or even just have the pleasure of walking to work. This has consequences.
Here in the UK we lose 131 million working days due to ill-health each year, which is roughly translated as around £100 billion(1). This sickening figure could easily be reduced according to those in academia. Multiple studies have shown that increases in exercise (both during and after work), can lead to a reduction in sick days, less presenteeism and an overall reduction in the cost of sickness absence for organisations.
And there are good examples that this is true from outside of academia as well. As Phil Smith, Chairman of Cisco, highlighted in a recent FT article, a significant portion of Cisco’s private healthcare budget is spent treating musculoskeletal conditions, caused primarily by sedentary work. This, many argue, can be reduced simply by employees exercising more, rather than spending their time sitting at their desks.
But it’s not just on absenteeism and healthcare budgets where you’ll see impressive gains, it’s also about how your employees perform when they’re at work where you’ll see a difference.
The benefits of exercise are well-documented – it puts your staff in a better mood and reduces their likelihood of suffering from depression. But importantly for many employers it also improves productivity, memory and can even lead to be better job satisfaction, which again improves overall performance. On the opposite side of the coin, common challenges such as workplace stress, burnout, employee turnover and presenteeism, were all found to be reduced when employees were given the option to exercise more whilst at work.
The final benefit can be found in how whole teams perform. A recent study out of Loughborough University(2) found that employees taking part in team-sports, such as football, netball, volleyball and rugby reported an improvement in team cohesion and also their overall performance.
So, it’s clear then that you can improve your bottom line by helping your employees improve their own wellbeing. Relatively easy steps like the messaging given out and the example set by leaders is a great way to encourage employees to be more active – and when they start to see some changes, so will you.
As a challenge to you all then, this week ask yourself: Am I truly encouraging my team to take opportunities for movement and exercise during the day? Am I taking the stairs or hosting walking meetings rather than just sitting in a meeting room? Am I leading by example or could I be doing more?
During my final year of university, every Monday morning at 8:30, you could find me meditating amongst 20 peers and an unconventionally laid-back German professor. To be clear, I am not by any means a morning person. As a self-diagnosed insomniac, my only motive at that hour was to get away with stealing a nap under the guise of meditation. However, the premise of the course instantly captured my attention and interest. Later, the intangible transformations I noticed within myself managed to hold and heighten my curiosity.
Words have limited utility when understanding mindfulness. It can be roughly defined as the awareness that comes to mind when paying attention to the present moment – but this in itself doesn’t encompass the breadth of the mindful experience. One of my favourite metaphors to describe the mindful mindset is the following:
Imagine yourself alone in an empty room. No furniture, no windows, no technology. Just you. You’re deep in thought and enjoying your own company. Perhaps you’re meditating, or imagining a brilliant idea, or visualising a beautiful space, or just allowing your thoughts to lead you down unexplored pathways.
And then suddenly… your attention is drawn to a distinctive buzzing sound. A fly appears to have emerged out of thin air and now you’ve lost your train of thought. How dare this fly disrupt your creative space! You instantly decide that this persistent buzz needs to be destroyed. How else will you regain your state of peace?
You soon discover an unexpected issue: every time you successfully swat the fly, two more take its place. Eventually you’re surrounded by fly chaos – an orchestra of buzzing – without escape. You’ve spent all of your time and energy opposing the fly, and now you’re exhausted.
Maybe you shouldn’t have opposed the original fly, you think to yourself, but that infuriating buzzing surely would have driven you mad.
So really, what other option did you have?
Most of us operate in a reactive state, processing information on ‘auto-pilot’. When a fly enters your personal space, the automatic reaction is to judge it as an annoyance. This stems from an embedded belief that the fly should not be present – it should be resisted. Yet as Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, asserted, “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size”.
The same goes for distracting or distressing thoughts. Humans are genetically primed towards a negativity bias, meaning that unhelpful ways of thinking are easier to engage in. Through attempting to resist or eliminate negatively judged events, these events are more likely to leave lasting impacts on the human brain. This notion is exemplified through interpersonal relationships, where an estimated five warm and positive interactions are needed to counteract just one loss of trust interaction.
Mindfulness aims to change this conceptual mode of processing from automatic to intentional. Rather than eliminating negative emotions or stressors, the mindful perspective changes your relationship to them, allowing us to non-judgmentally accept their presence. In other words, worrying about, trying to eliminate, or distracting yourself from the fly aren’t your only options. Instead, by expanding your awareness to permit acceptance of the fly, adaptive growth and transformation can arise.
So, how can we embrace the mindful mindset? How can we begin to welcome the unwelcome distractions we experience on a daily basis?
The good news is, you don’t have to commit to three hours of meditation and reflection every Monday morning. You do, however, need a certain level of commitment in order to notice significant transformations in the way you think and react. Short daily practices have shown to have lasting impacts on mood and attentional control at both the behavioural and neuronal level. This mindfulness practice encompasses the classic breathing and body-scan meditations, but can also include mindfulness of routine activities (such as eating, walking, or running), or mindful movement (i.e. yoga).
I noticed the impact of mindfulness on my stress levels almost immediately. After class on Mindful Mondays, I was uncharacteristically alert and energised, and felt a general spike in mood. This translated to amplified focus and productivity throughout the day.
Picking up on these intangible transformations motivated me to practice independently. I began using that mindfulness app I had downloaded ages ago but never felt the need to open. When lying in bed restlessly, thoughts and plans encircling my mental arena, Headspace’s sleep meditation became my go-to fix.
From my perspective, one of the few things we have control over in life is how we react to things outside of our control. This is the core of what mindfulness taught me. But I’m still not a morning person.
Learn more about how mindfulness can engender individual and organisational transformation by contacting: Hannah@hotspotsmovement.com
Over the last few years I’ve been working with a fabulous mentor who has been instrumental in helping me find strategies to deal with my ‘inner critic’ or ‘imposter syndrome’.
Initially, my interest in this area was entirely personal and driven by the experience of the ego ride first appointment into a senior executive role. But, as I read more and shared more articles online, it became clear that I’m not alone. Maybe it’s the taboo subject of our generation, and is in some way linked to our connected device driven world where our social media lives belie reality. However, my experience is that when I raise it as an issue professionally it’s as if I just pointed to the elephant in the corner of the room and everyone wants to talk about it, just not in groups. So, I’m raising it here, with some reflections on the practices I use to manage it.
Being accountable to a mentor
Just having a mentor has helped me to identify the problem, and be held to account about what goes on in my inner world. I need to do this monthly, I’m a better person for it.
Understanding the internal voice
Possibly my mentor’s greatest gift to me was ‘Falling Upward: How to live the second half of life well’, by Richard Rohr. Richard is a Franciscan priest, and boy is he calm. In this book my epiphany moment was his description of our need to ‘discharge our loyal soldier’. This is the voice that served us well as we grew up, through our 20’s and into our early 30’s. It regulated our behaviour, guided us through what was ‘right and wrong’ and set us ‘the rules by which we should live in order to be something’. However, once we’ve got there, this voice isn’t as helpful. Once we can learn to recognise this, we can thank that voice when it makes and appearance and discharge it.
If I’m bluntly honest I think my loyal soldier only got louder when I got to that place where it had nothing to really regulate, and therefore became more of a distraction. So I’m also interested in how it can interfere with the work of an executive team who are all managing their own inner critic and their sense of place around the table, or ego. It’s definitely still a taboo subject in that setting, but maybe its the reason why so many organisations now provide mentors to their executive teams.
I’m also on the mindfulness wagon. In the same way that I avoided WeightWatchers for years because ‘I don’t need that’, I had avoided this. Then along came ‘HeadSpace’, again like WW it grabbed me because it’s an app. It means I can do this completely solo when it suits me. I recently had a conversation with my husband at the end of a work day, we both have big jobs and our end of day debriefs can be intense. On this occasion I had done a HeadSpace practice, he hadn’t. After a few minutes of listening to him ramble, I gently said ‘honey, go do a HeadSpace’ then call me back. The subject matter changed completely, and for the better. Finally, I journal now, I have a routine / structure to the content and it involves active gratitude.
Managing the inner critic is a bit like physical exercise. When it’s going well, life is great, but let’s be real we get thrown off balance a lot. So I’m also not going to say that my life is a bed of roses. Even with all these great strategies, I recently reached a point where sleep was just not possible and the inner critic was in charge at 1am, 2am, 3am, you get the picture. So in this world where we’re connected 24/7, we have to give intentional thought to how we can disconnect individually and how do we model this as leaders because I’m certain the alternative is not sustainable. I’m sure it starts with talking about it, taking the temperature of our team regularly and figuring out what works for each person.
Beth Bundy is Group People & Organisation Director at Auckland University of Technology
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.
Head of Admin & Community Management
Distracted. Stressed. Burned out. In an age of constant communication and economic pressure, a common dilemma for workers today is how to manage all of the competing demands in work and life. As a researcher of Future of Work, I have been studying and exploring this topic for over five years now. Here are three strategies I have found to be most useful for successfully managing our multiple responsibilities:
- Strive for work-life integration—not balance. It is true that for some time, the advice was to create stiffer boundaries between work and home but new research suggests that maintaining strict distinctions between work roles and home roles might actually be what is causing our feelings of stress to set in. Researchers Jeffrey Greenhaus and Gary Powell expand on this concept and recommend that work and personal life should be allies and that integration of multiple identities, such as parent, partner, friend, employee, can actually enhance physical and psychological well-being. Simply put, even in the busiest of schedules, the most practical and effective way we can live is by aligning our personal priorities of work, family, health, and well-being. Stewart Friedman, Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has developed a very thought-provoking exercise that can help us examine the importance and congruence of our various identities and responsibilities in life. (You can do it online at this free site: myfourcircles.com.)
- Make time for the work that matters: By managing our time differently, we can work more effectively in less time and improve our wellbeing. Researchers Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir have found that reducing the workday to fewer hours creates periods of heightened productivity called ‘focus dividends’, thereby forcing us to prioritise the work that matters. Recently, I came across a company called Tower Paddle Boards who are experimenting with this approach by letting employees leave by lunchtime. The results have been astounding. They have been part of the 5000 list of America’s fastest growing companies over the past two years and in 2015, their 10-person team generated $9 million in revenues.
- Build periods of recovery: The very lack of a recovery period is dramatically holding back our collective ability to be resilient and successful. In today’s hyper-paced environment, we need to build periods of relaxation that take place within the frames of the workday in the form of short breaks. One strategy is inspired by the research of Nathaniel Kleitman, who established that our brains work in 90-minute rest-activity cycles not only when we sleep but also when we are awake. This means that we should take a recharging break every hour and a half, especially if we are using technology, which makes the brain overly active. Evidence for this approach can be seen in the work of Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues from Florida State University who have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors, and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes.
I’m really looking forward to exploring this topic further and look forward to presenting additional insights at our upcoming Future of Work Masterclass on Shifting Identities.