Posts Tagged attitude
As the post on existentialism has been one of my most popular, I thought I would do something more on the subject of meaningfulness.
And when it comes to meaning, it seems that three is a magic number.
But first a short story (involving three workers)…
A traveller comes across a group of three men who are working hard smashing boulders with large hammers.
He asks them what they are doing.
The first man answers, ‘I’m using my strength and skill to make big rocks into small rocks.’
The second man answers, ‘I’m working to earn money so that I can feed and support my family.’
The third man answers, ‘I’m preparing the raw materials to build a cathedral for the glory of God.’
Which of these three men was doing the most meaningful work?
Last week I learnt a new piece of jargon. A ‘fat-tail event’ is something that you thought was virtually impossible, but it happened anyway. In theory, it could be very good or very bad, but it usually refers to something extremely unpleasant, such as a financial crisis.
The phrase comes from statistics. Many randomly occurring events (such as the height of the person you sit next to on the bus) are assumed to follow what is called a Normal Distribution (the classic ‘bell-shaped curve’). So you are more likely to sit next to someone around average height and less likely to sit next to someone really short or really tall. With the Normal Distribution the probability of something really unusual happening tails off really rapidly the further away you get from the average — it has a thin tail.
However, some things in the real world don’t follow the Normal Distribution curve. Instead of a thin tail, they have a fat tail. This means that certain extreme possibilities are more likely than you might think.
I was quite pleased to be able to use my newly discovered jargon in a session on negotiation skills I was running last week. I was talking about the usefulness of assessing any negotiated deal by imagining how it would look if subsequent events turned out a lot better or a lot worse than you were expecting (e.g. your fixed-rate mortgage doesn’t look so good if the Bank of England cuts rates to zero).
A related term for unexpected events is a Black Swan, coined by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This is the unexpected event which you could not have predicted based on your previous experience and derives from the fact that, until they were discovered in the 17th century, most Europeans thought that black swans could not exist.
Impact of a recession on beliefs
How will the recession affect the world-view beliefs of those young people living through it?
A discussion paper from the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Germany, analyses certain beliefs held by United States citizens and tries to link these beliefs with an individual’s exposure to recessions. They found that people who experienced a recession during a key impressionable age range (18-25 years old) were more likely to believe that success in life was down to luck rather than hard work. They also found that this belief tended to persist throughout the person’s life.
This belief that success in life is beyond your control can lead someone to make less effort, which then makes the belief a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Should we be working with the students currently at university in order to encourage a belief in the benefits of effort and hard work?
- Do you think it would be useful to let students know about this research directly?
- What do you attribute success to?
When you meet new people, do you tend to assume that they will like you or worry that they will reject you? Either way, you may be involved in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you anticipate acceptance or rejection, you are likely to get what you expected. People who expect a favourable reception are more likely to behave warmly to the people they meet. This warmth influences the other person’s initial impressions of them. Conversely, if you expect to be judged negatively, you are likely to behave more coldly leading to negative initial impressions. Those initial impressions are then likely to influence future perceptions and judgements through the halo effect or the affect heuristic.
This has obvious implications for recruitment interviews and for networking. We often talk about the importance of good first impressions in these settings.
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Recent longitudinal research has established a link between students’ behaviour at university and their chances of job burnout or dissatisfaction.
In their article ‘Achievement strategies during university studies predict early career burnout and engagement’ (Journal of Vocational Behavior 75 2009), Katariina Salmela-Aro and her colleagues conducted investigations on over 200 Finnish students whilst at university and then 10, 14 and 17 years later.
The study showed that those students who more often engaged in task avoidance whilst at university were more likely to report burnout or disengagement with their careers in later life. Whilst, higher levels of optimism were linked to more engagement.
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In 1967 Martin Seligman conducted some slightly disturbing experiments on dogs. The dogs were exposed to electric shocks that they could not escape because of restraints. Eventually they would give up trying to do anything about their suffering. This lack of response continued even when the restraints were removed and it was possible for them to avoid the pain. The dogs had come to believe that they could do nothing about the shocks, so they didn’t try.
Based on this, and further experiments on animals and humans, Seligman formulated the theory of learned helplessness. In essence, it says that when someone is exposed to an experience in which they feel they have no control or ability to change things, this can lead to an assumption of helplessness which persists even if it subsequently becomes possible to effect a transformation.
Throughout the recession there has been talk about how to help the ‘lost generation‘. However, if learned helplessness is real, then it will require more than just providing opportunities. The recession may have affected the perceptions and attitudes of a generation of job-seekers.
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