Sunday, March 22, 2009

Creative Motivation

Why should anyone try to be creative? Creativity has many risks and uncertainties. like the risk of failure and the need to persuade others. There is the need for political skills. It can be less risky to sit quietly and do what you are supposed to do.
If all is well, who needs creativity? If things are going wrong, then there is no time for the uncertainties of creativity.
If you try to be creative - and even if you use the powerful tools of lateral thinking - you cannot be sure of a result.
There is another problem. All valuable creative ideas must always be logical in hindsight - otherwise they would have no value. So it is assumed that logic could have reached the idea to begin with.
This is completely untrue in an asymmetric patterning system like the human brain. But how many people are knowledgeable about asymmetric systems? So executives expect only 'blue sky ideas' from creativity and these are then labelled impractical.
If we think of creativity as an inborn talent which some people have and others do not have, then we just look for creative people.
If we think of creativity as the 'skill' of using information in a patterning system like the brain, then everyone can develop the skill of creativity. To be sure, certain people will achieve a higher degree of skill than others - as with any skill - but this is not the same as being naturally creative. People who are not naturally creative could develop a higher degree of skill than those who are naturally creative.
Confidence is an important factor in creative effort. Those who have succeeded in having creative ideas in the past are much more willing to make an effort creatively. They know from the past that new ideas are possible. They have experienced the elation and achievement of having a new idea.
How do you build up confidence if school does not encourage creativity, and the workplace does not demand it?
The majority of people do what is expected of them. The rebellious few stray from that path. That is why we usually associate creativity with rebelliousness. But it does not have to be this way.
To get creativity into an organisation you have to make it an 'expectation'. At the end of every meeting, the chair person must set aside the last fifteen minutes to 'anyone who is exploring a new idea'. If nobody has anything to say, they are told they are not doing their job.
A creative 'Hit List' of areas which need new thinking should be produced and made visible to everyone. Executives must then work on items from this list - either as individuals or as assigned teams.
Striving to have ideas is key. If new ideas are expected, then people will make an effort to have new ideas. Their confidence will grow and sooner or later there will be a creative organisation.
It is also important to learn how you can be creative. There is a need to learn the formal skills of lateral thinking which make creativity accessible to everyone.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Computers & The Human Mind

Using a computer-based card game and microelectrodes to observe neuronal activity of the brain, the Penn study, published March 13 in the journal Science, suggests that neurons in the human substantia nigra, or SN, play a central role in reward-based learning, modulating learning based on the discrepancy between the expected and the realized outcome.
“This is the first study to directly record neural activity underlying this learning process in humans, confirming the hypothesized role of the basal ganglia, which includes the SN, in models of reinforcement including learning, addiction and other disorders involving reward-seeking behavior,” said lead author Kareem Zaghloul, postdoctoral fellow in neurosurgery at Penn’s School off Medicine. “By responding to unexpected financial rewards, these cells encode information that seems to help participants maximize reward in the probabilistic learning task.”
Learning, previously studied in animal models, seems to occur when dopaminergic neurons, which drive a larger basal ganglia circuit, are activated in response to unexpected rewards and depressed after the unexpected omission of reward. Put simply, a lucky win seems to be retained better than a probable loss.
Similar to an economic theory, where efficient markets respond to unexpected events and expected events have no effect, we found that the dopaminergic system of the human brain seems to be wired in a similar rational manner -- tuned to learn whenever anything unexpected happens but not when things are predictable," said Michael J. Kahana, senior author and professor of psychology at Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences.
Zaghloul worked with Kahana and Gordon Baltuch, associate professor of neurosurgery, in a unique collaboration among departments of psychology, neurosurgery and bioengineering. They used microelectrode recordings obtained during deep brain stimulation surgery of Parkinson’s patients to study neuronal activity in the SN, the midbrain structure that plays an important role in movement, as well as reward and addiction. Patients with Parkinson’s disease show impaired learning from both positive and negative feedback in cognitive tasks due to the degenerative nature of their disease and the decreased number of dopaminergic neurons.
The recordings were analyzed to determine whether responses were affected by reward expectation. Participants were asked to choose between red and blue decks of cards presented on a computer screen, one of which carried a higher probability of yielding a financial reward than the other. If the draw of a card yielded a reward, a stack of gold coins was displayed along with an audible ring of a cash register and a counter showing accumulated virtual earnings. If the draw did not yield a reward or if no choice was made, the screen turned blank and participants heard a buzz.
“This new way to measure dopaminergic neuron activity has helped us gain a greater understanding of fundamental cognitive activity," said Baltuch, director of the Penn Medicine Center for Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery.

Techniques To Motivate That Does Not Cost Money

Can simple praise achieve the same effect as a pay raise? Yes, according to leadership coaching firm White Water Strategies. They found that acknowledging staff achievements — praising employees — had the same impact on job satisfaction as a 1 percent increase in pay.
Pay freezes, pay cuts, layoffs: This reality in many workplaces makes it clear that our economy is not the only thing in dire need of a rescue package. Employee morale and productivity urgently need a rescue plan of their own. Ongoing, sincere employee recognition is a powerful means to re-engage disconnected employees, galvanize them around core company values and strategic objectives, and raise productivity levels throughout the organization.
These five tips to create an Employee Stimulus Package will reignite motivation, refocus efforts and re-engage today’s stressed employees.
Recognize effort frequently and appropriately. Say thank you. Let people know their efforts are valid, worthy, noticed and, above all, appreciated. Recognizing and rewarding employees throughout the year creates a culture of appreciation and ignites motivation and productivity. Hay Group Insight recently noted, “As companies tighten their belts during tough times, it’s important to remember that money isn’t always what matters most to employees. When it comes to encouraging employees to pour discretionary effort into their work, the chance to make a difference and be recognized for their contributions can provide a much stronger incentive.”
Empower everyone to reach out and thank someone. Employee recognition is not the responsibility of management alone. Let every person in your organization acknowledge their peers and co-workers for a job well done. Especially in down economies, people need to reach out, make a connection, and show appreciation for the good work done by their peers. It’s simple human nature.
Tie recognition to the bigger picture for bigger results. By directly linking recognition to your company’s objectives and values, you encourage employees to repeat those behaviors or actions that help achieve your strategic objectives. Research from Quantum Workplace, the firm behind the Best Places to Work surveys, reports “… employees are more highly engaged when they see where the company is going and understand their roles in helping the company go there.”
Communicate, again and again. Be accessible and address concerns openly. Preempt the rumor mill by giving employees regular company status updates. Use strategic recognition to reinforce these critical messages. Frequently communicate about your recognition efforts as well to raise awareness, increase participation, boost performance, and, most importantly, help develop that critical culture of appreciation – all of which leads to a happier, more productive workforce.
Don’t break the bank. Recognition doesn’t have to be expensive. Sincerely noticing, appreciating, and documenting employee effort doesn’t have to cost anything at all, beyond a little time. For the many companies that already have recognition programs in place, simply uncovering often ad hoc, unmeasured efforts and consolidating them into one properly administered and corporately governed program can save 50 to 70 percent of their current investments.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Managing Limited Resources in Higher Education

Resource management has become a topic of lively discussion across institutions of higher education. As demands upon limited resources increase, sometimes an organization has to find a way to say “No.”
Over the past several decades, institutions of higher education have consistently seen a decrease in funding from the state and federal governments. Simultaneously, as different types of institutions (e.g., for profit, on-line) have begun to crop up, universities have been forced to reevaluate their use of technology, content delivery methods, and ways to attract students. These initiatives often increase expenses. Additionally, increased competition is not limited to the United States. As other countries have begun to expand and improve their educational systems, the United States is losing its place as the premiere country for higher education. In the midst of these continuing budgetary issues, institutions face the rising focus on accountability from the public and government. These demands on higher education have forced many institutions to turn inward to reflect on and understand their practices for creating effective and efficient systems. This article will explore two theories on resource management and examples of adapted structures that have been successfully used by other universities.
Padilla, in Portraits in Leadership: Six Extraordinary University Presidents. (ACE/Praeger Series on Higher Education, 2005) identifies higher education institutions as “complex organizations” (p. 11). Their management of resources is also complex. At the most basic level, resources can be divided into academic and administrative. However, such a simple division belies the numerous components of a university. On the academic side, institutions are divided into colleges, departments, majors, and minors with tenured faculty, affiliate faculty, associate, part-time, full-time, instructors, and the list continues. On the administrative side, there are divisions of student affairs, athletics, facilities, development, alumni, and so forth. Managing the resources and funds of each individual department can be a difficult and daunting task.
In Honoring the Trust: Quality and Cost Containment in Higher Education (Anker Publishing Company, Inc., 2003) Massy looks at resource management through the lens of continued change. He considers resource management to be the ability to create a quality structure within the university that is balanced with cost and spending habits. He notes that institutions are constantly being stretched in several directions, including, as a minimum, research, service, and teaching. As a result, heavier focus in one specific area may cause institutions to lose focus on their overarching goal, education. Massy provides ‘Seven Education Quality Principles’ as a way to be successful in managing cost and quality. These are: 1) defining outcomes; 2) focusing on the process and assessment; 3) striving for coherence; 4) working collaboratively; 5) making decisions based on facts; 6) identifying best practices; and 7) enforcing the priority of continuous improvement.
The approach of Michigan State University (MSU) demonstrates Massy’s principles. In its 2004 Resource Management Principles: Approaches to Planning and Budgeting (, MSU describes a framework they follow to help their decision making process. These principles are similar to Massy’s as they outline MSU’s specific goals and outcomes, list ways in which these outcomes will be measured, and how decisions will be driven by facts and figures. Most important is the idea that resource management cannot be successful without fact-driven decision making. By creating lists of measurable outcomes and determining assessment methods to drive these outcomes, universities have the capability to make decisions that are supported by data and details.
Dickeson, in Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance (Jossey-Bass, 1999) also writes on resource management, focusing primarily on the academic side. He views resource management by breaking down the institution into multiple different “academic programs.” He considers the academic program to be the “heart of the institution” (p. 10). However, through lack of communication, poor planning, and inappropriate allocation of resources, programs can become unrealistic, out of touch with the needs of the stakeholders, and a waste of resources. Old methods of “across-the-board cuts” result in “mediocrity for all programs” (p. 11). Instead, a new method of resource allocation must be considered. In his first step towards better resource management, Dickeson calls for a university to consider its mission. Given its mission, programs can be reviewed, developed, changed, and prioritized based on their ability to support measurable outcomes of the mission. This, Dickeson notes, is distinctly different from reviewing a program. Reviews alone do not effectively take into account a university’s mission and resources and can cause stagnation; prioritization however, includes important language such as assessment and reallocation that can help move an institution towards appropriate expenditures. Once this has been done, universities can select outcomes and determine the measuring and analysis process. In this way, informed decisions can be made.
An example of effective implementation of Dickeson’s model can be found at Drake University, described in “Keeping Programs and Resources in Sync (NACUBO, April 2007, Similar to many other institutions, Drake University had a problem with a deficit, and too many programs and staff being added outside of its available budget and resources. Drake University, however, was able to change its financial situation following Dickeson’s model by establishing specific goals that were tied to the university’s mission. Drake then developed a prioritization system which considered the institutional goals ahead of those of the department and individual employee. Additionally, Drake University looked at the role of each program (both academic and administrative) and used collaborative measures to merge programs that were duplicating work. Assessments and outcomes were measured, and through the prioritization system decisions on eliminations and mergers were made. As a result, Drake University was able to save $4 million in permanent budget funds and produce an operating budget surplus of 1.4%.
The difficulty of resource management is its often negative association with elimination and cuts. Instead, administrators should understand resource management as collaboration, consolidation, and efficiency. In a time where resources are minimal and competition is high, the ability of a university to operate efficiently could determine its success or failure. Successful resource management, however, is not limited to a university’s ability to manage a budget. It can lead to a transformation, a culture shift that recognizes the importance of change, strategic planning, and effective program design. As both Dickeson and Massy point out, successful resource management is a direct result of open communication, shared missions, and the ability to make resource management part of the culture of the university. Dickeson’s model provides the best outlook in understanding the power of language. His emphasis on the difference between prioritizing and review shows how a university can be constrained by the “old ways” of doing things. Most importantly though, as Massy suggests, is the ability to successfully create change through informed decision-making. In this manner higher education cannot shy away from assessment but must embrace the idea of measurable outcomes and create conversation and dialogue on their campus.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Improving our Bodylanguage to Enhance Communication Effectiveness

When we’re in school or at work, we’re taught to improve our words. We learn to improve our language and words to impress. We learn to construct clever chains of words to gain an upper hand and to communicate more clearly. But when we grow up we learn very little beyond improving our words. A bit strange since…
1. …words are only 7 percent of your communication.The rest is your voice tonality (38 percent) and your body language at 55 percent. That’s according to research done by Albert Mehrabian, currently Professor Emeritus in psychology at UCLA. These numbers may vary depending upon the situation and what is communicated (for instance, talking over the phone is obviously different from talking face to face) but body language is a very important part of communication.2. Increase your attractivenessIt’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. A better posture, a more open body language, a more controlled and focused body language will make everyone more attractive. And not just in a sexual way but when talking to new friends or in job interviews and business meetings.
3. Emotions are linked to your body languageEmotions work backwards too. If you feel good you’ll smile. If you force yourself to smile you’ll feel good too. If you feel tired or down you might sit slumped down. If you sit slumped down you’ll feel more tired and negative. Just try to sit straight up for 5 minutes and feel the difference in energy from half-lying in your chair.4. Reduce mixed messagesIf you’re in a job interview and you talk with a steady voice and say all the confident things you should but your body language tells your maybe-employers that you are very nervous or guarded then you are incongruent (and perhaps without that job). What you want is be congruent, that is for your words, your voice and your body language to say the same thing.5. Improve your communication skillsIf you improve your body language you can get your thoughts across in a more effective way. You can create a connection to another person more easily. When using more powerful and appropriately balanced body language your communication skills become more focused and better.6. Better first impressionsEveryone stereotypes everyone on first impression, even if we are reluctant to do it. We all get a first impression of a new person that creates a mental image of his or her personality in our minds. That image of you often lasts. Having a better body language will consistently give people a more positive mental snapshot of you.
Based on the above, here is just a few of many pointers on how to improve your body language. Improving your body language can make a big difference in your people skills, attractiveness and general mood.
There is no specific advice on how to use your body language. What you do might be interpreted in several ways, depending on the setting and who you are talking to. You’ll probably want to use your body language differently when talking to your boss compared to when you talk to a girl/guy you’re interested in. These are some common interpretations of body language and often more effective ways to communicate with your body.
First, to change your body language you must be aware of your body language. Notice how you sit, how you stand, how you use you hands and legs, what you do while talking to someone.
You might want to practice in front of a mirror. Yeah, it might seem silly but no one is watching you. This will give you good feedback on how you look to other people and give you an opportunity to practise a bit before going out into the world.
Another tip is to close your eyes and visualize how you would stand and sit to feel confident, open and relaxed or whatever you want to communicate. See yourself move like that version of yourself. Then try it out.
You might also want observe friends, role models, movie stars or other people you think has good body language. Observe what they do and you don’t. Take bits and pieces you like from different people. Try using what you can learn from them.
Some of these tips might seem like you are faking something. But fake it til you make it is a useful way to learn something new. And remember, feelings work backwards too. If you smile a bit more you will feel happier. If you sit up straight you will feel more energetic and in control. If you slow down your movements you’ll feel calmer. Your feelings will actually reinforce your new behaviours and feelings of weirdness will dissipate.
In the beginning easy it’s to exaggerate your body language. You might sit with your legs almost ridiculously far apart or sit up straight in a tense pose all the time. That’s ok. And people aren’t looking as much as you think, they are worrying about their own problems. Just play around a bit, practice and monitor yourself to find a comfortable balance.
1. Don’t cross your arms or legs – You have probably already heard you shouldn’t cross your arms as it might make you seem defensive or guarded. This goes for your legs too. Keep your arms and legs open.
2. Have eye contact, but don’t stare – If there are several people you are talking to, give them all some eye contact to create a better connection and see if they are listening. Keeping too much eye-contact might creep people out. Giving no eye-contact might make you seem insecure. If you are not used to keeping eye-contact it might feel a little hard or scary in the beginning but keep working on it and you’ll get used to it.
3. Don’t be afraid to take up some space – Taking up space by for example sitting or standing with your legs apart a bit signals self-confidence and that you are comfortable in your own skin.
4. Relax your shoulders – When you feel tense it’s easily winds up as tension in your shoulders. They might move up and forward a bit. Try to relax. Try to loosen up by shaking the shoulders a bit and move them back slightly.
5. Nod when they are talking – nod once in a while to signal that you are listening. But don’t overdo it and peck like Woody Woodpecker.
6. Don’t slouch, sit up straight – but in a relaxed way, not in a too tense manner.
7. Lean, but not too much – If you want to show that you are interested in what someone is saying, lean toward the person talking. If you want to show that you’re confident in yourself and relaxed lean back a bit. But don’t lean in too much or you might seem needy and desperate for some approval. Or lean back too much or you might seem arrogant and distant.
8. Smile and laugh – lighten up, don’t take yourself too seriously. Relax a bit, smile and laugh when someone says something funny. People will be a lot more inclined to listen to you if you seem to be a positive person. But don’t be the first to laugh at your own jokes, it makes you seem nervous and needy. Smile when you are introduced to someone but don’t keep a smile plastered on your face, you’ll seem insincere.
9. Don’t touch your face – it might make you seem nervous and can be distracting for the listeners or the people in the conversation.
10. Keep you head up - Don’t keep your eyes on the ground, it might make you seem insecure and a bit lost. Keep your head up straight and your eyes towards the horizon.
11. Slow down a bit – this goes for many things. Walking slower not only makes you seem more calm and confident, it will also make you feel less stressed. If someone addresses you, don’t snap you’re neck in their direction, turn it a bit more slowly instead.
12. Don’t fidget – try to avoid, phase out or transform fidgety movement and nervous ticks such as shaking your leg or tapping your fingers against the table rapidly. You’ll seem nervous and fidgeting can be a distracting when you try to get something across. Declutter your movements if you are all over the place. Try to relax, slow down and focus your movements.
13. Use your hands more confidently – instead of fidgeting with your hands and scratching your face use them to communicate what you are trying to say. Use your hands to describe something or to add weight to a point you are trying to make. But don’t use them to much or it might become distracting. And don’t let your hands flail around, use them with some control.
14. Lower your drink – don’t hold your drink in front of your chest. In fact, don’t hold anything in front of your heart as it will make you seem guarded and distant. Lower it and hold it beside your leg instead.
15. Realise where you spine ends – many people (including me until recently) might sit or stand with a straight back in a good posture. However, they might think that the spine ends where the neck begins and therefore crane the neck forward . Your spine ends in the back of your head. Keep you whole spine straight and aligned for better posture.
16. Don’t stand too close –one of the things we learned from Seinfeld is that everybody gets weirded out by a close-talker. Let people have their personal space, don’t invade it.
17. Mirror - Often when you get along with a person, when the two of you get a good connection, you will start to mirror each other unconsciously. That means that you mirror the other person’s body language a bit. To make the connection better you can try a bit of proactive mirroring. If he leans forward, you might lean forward. If she holds her hands on her thighs, you might do the same. But don’t react instantly and don’t mirror every change in body language. Then weirdness will ensue.
18. Keep a good attitude – last but not least, keep a positive, open and relaxed attitude. How you feel will come through in your body language and can make a major difference. For information on how make yourself feel better read and for relaxation try. You can change your body language but as all new habits it takes a while. Especially things like keeping you head up might take time to correct if you have spent thousands of days looking at your feet. And if you try and change to many things at once it might become confusing and feel overwhelming.

Tips on Body-Language in Communication

Eye contact is one of the most important aspects of dealing with others, especially people we've just met. Maintaining good eye contact shows respect and interest in what they have to say. Here in the UK we tend to keep eye contact around 60-70% of the time. (However, there are wide cultural differences, so be careful in other countries) By doing this you won't make the other people feel self conscious, like they've got a bit of vegetable stuck between their teeth or a dew drop hanging from the nose. . Instead, it will give them a feeling of comfort and genuine warmth in your company, any more eye contact than this and you can be too intense, any less and you give off a signal that you are lacking interest in them or their conversation.Posture is the next thing to master, get your posture right and you'll automatically start feeling better, as it makes you feel good almost instantly. Next time you notice you're feeling a bit down, take a look at how your standing or sitting. Chances are you'll be slouched over with your shoulders drooping down and inward. This collapses the chest and inhibits good breathing, which in turn can help make you feel nervous or uncomfortable.Head position is a great one to play around with, with yourself and others. When you want to feel confident and self assured keep your head level both horizontally and vertically. You can also use this straight head position when you want to be authoritative and what you're saying to be taken seriously. Conversely, when you want to be friendly and in the listening, receptive mode, tilt your head just a little to one side or other. You can shift the tilt from left to right at different points in the conversation.Arms give away the clues as to how open and receptive we are to everyone we meet and interact with, so keep your arms out to the side of your body or behind your back. This shows you are not scared to take on whatever comes your way and you meet things "full frontal". In general terms the more outgoing you are as a person, the more you tend to use your arms with big movements. The quieter you are the less you move your arms away from your body. So, try to strike a natural balance and keep your arm movements midway. When you want to come across in the best possible light, crossing the arms is a no, no in front of others. Obviously if someone says something that gets your goat, then by all means show your disapproval by crossing them !Legs are the furthest point away from the brain, consequently they're the hardest bits of our bodies to consciously control. They tend move around a lot more than normal when we are nervous, stressed or being deceptive. So best to keep them as still as possible in most situations, especially at interviews or work meetings. Be careful too in the way you cross your legs. Do you cross at the knees, ankles or bring your leg up to rest on the knee of the other? This is more a question of comfort than anything else. Just be aware that the last position mentioned is known as the "Figure Four" and is generally perceived as the most defensive leg cross, especially if it happens as someone tells a you something that might be of a slightly dubious nature, or moments after. (As always, look for a sequence)Angle of the body in relation to others gives an indication of our attitudes and feelings towards them. We angle toward people we find attractive, friendly and interesting and angle ourselves away from those we don't, it's that simple! Angles includes leaning in or away from people, as we often just tilt from the pelvis and lean sideways to someone to share a bit of conversation. For example, we are not in complete control of our angle at the cinema because of the seating nor at a concert when we stand shoulder to shoulder and are packed in like sardines. In these situations we tend to lean over towards the other person.Hand gestures are so numerous it's hard to give a brief guide but here goes. Palms slightly up and outward is seen as open and friendly. Palm down gestures are generally seen as dominant, emphasizing and possibly aggressive, especially when there is no movement or bending between the wrist and the forearm. This palm up, palm down is very important when it comes to handshaking and where appropriate we suggest you always offer a handshake upright and vertical, which should convey equality.Distance from others is crucial if you want to give off the right signals. Stand too close and you'll be marked as "Pushy" or "In your face". Stand or sit too far away and you'll be "Keeping your distance" or "Stand offish". Neither are what we want, so observe if in a group situation how close are all the other people to each other. Also notice if you move closer to someone and they back away, you're probably just a tiny bit too much in their personal space, their comfort zone. "You've overstepped the mark" and should pull back a little.Ears, yes your ears play a vital role in communication with others, even though general terms most people can't move them much, if at all. However, you've got two ears and only one mouth, so try to use them in that order. If you listen twice as much as you talk you come across as a good communicator who knows how to strike up a balanced a conversation without being me, me, me or the wallflower.Mouth movements can give away all sorts of clues. We purse our lips and sometimes twist them to the side when we're thinking. Another occasion we might use this movement is to hold back an angry comment we don't wish to reveal. Nevertheless, it will probably be spotted by other people and although they may not know the comment, they will get a feeling you were not to pleased. There are also different types of smiles and each gives off a corresponding feeling to its recipient which we'll cover next time.