Resilience is recovery

We often take a militaristic, “tough” approach to resilience and grit. We imagine a Marine slogging through the mud, a boxer going one more round, or a football player picking himself up off the turf for one more play. We believe that longer we tough it out, the tougher we are, and therefore the more successful we will be.

This from Harvard Business Review, which then goes on to note:

The key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again.

I couldn’t agree more.

It’s something I’ve most explicitly learnt from running – maximum progress and improvement occurs when you push yourself at most once a week, and build in appropriate recovery runs around this, leading to strong development over time.

It’s also something I’m learning more through work. You can’t simply keep bashing away at something and wondering why it won’t give. You have to take stock, recover, reflect and “strategically stop”, in order to be able to tweak, amend and alter the intensity of your approach.

Either way, resilience is in the recovery.

Public services: only a means to living full and active lives

GYA

I’m involved with the Get Yourself Active campaign and recently wrote a blogpost for it, which is reproduced below. There’s also a fantastic post by Anne Beales of Together UK (on small steps and grand plans) and from Leanne Wightman (who is doing a great job of running the whole project) on the opportunity of Get Yourself Active. You can follow Get Yourself Active via @GetYrselfActive

There were some headlines recently about how people were using their Personal Health Budgets. Concerns were raised about whether items like games consoles, a summer house and satnavs were the best use of public money, with the inevitable calls for resources instead to be focused on traditional ways of doing things – beds, staff, medical equipment.

A positive aspect of the debate was it provided an opportunity for people who have Personal Health Budgets and the professionals who support them to explain why they’re so important in meeting their care and support needs. Kevin Shergold, for example, highlighted:

The PHB has given us freedom to live our lives as we choose – in a way that’s sensible and cost effective. Developing a severe disability might seem hopeless, but I want people to know that it’s possible to live a good, full, interesting life when you have the right support and choice.

This gets to what I think is a vital but often unasked question: what is the point of public services and so the money that funds them?

The vast majority of people with lived experience and who have used care and support services say that they want a life, not a service. Their focus isn’t on getting a few more hours of home care here or seeing an occupational therapist there; it’s about living as full and enriching a life as possible.

Norman Kirk – a New Zealand Prime Minister in the 1970s – described it this way:

People don’t want much. They just want someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for.

He could well have added “something to do”, because wanting to be physically active or play sport is often reported by all people, including disabled people, as a key source of general wellbeing.

The point of public services and the money that funds them, therefore, covers being a means to support wellbeing and achieve what people want to do in their lives – including being active and playing sport. We have already heard from a number of people through the Get Yourself Active project that using their personal budget in this way has changed things for the better.

This means there are three main reasons why I feel Get Yourself Active is such an important contribution:

  1.  It helps to support people who use care and support services and the professionals who work in them to recognise the value of physical activity and sport
  2.  It provides a much-needed wider focus on how Personal Budgets can be used to directly support such activity, and not just focus on traditional ways of meeting people’s needs
  3. And, by the way, it helps councils and their partners meet the general wellbeing requirements of the Care Act.

If this leads to more stories about how Personal Budgets are being used to fund exercise classes, gym memberships or being involved sporting activity, I for one won’t be disappointed. It will mean that public services are doing their job well.

 

Times when the quiet carriage doesn’t, apparently, need to be quiet

quiet carriage
One of Queensland Rail’s cartoons as part of their train etiquette campaign
  • If the train is stationary at its departure station
  • Up to 5 minutes after the train has left its departure station
  • Up to 3 minutes before the train arrives at a station
  • Whilst the train is stopped at a station
  • Up to 3 minutes after the train leaves a station
  • Up to 10 minutes before the train arrives at its final destination
  • Any time at all (if you’re an ignoramus)

As I’ve written in detail before, we should get rid of quiet carriages. It’s the expectation that kills you.

Nothing new under the sun? Originality and think tanks

old sun

I enjoyed this from Stian Westlake at Nesta:

As a policy wonk, I get a sinking feeling when I’m reading a terrific non-fiction book and find there’s a “policy recommendations” chapter.

In a postscript he highlights that feeling applies not just to experts who have written books but to wonks writing think tank reports as well, bringing it firmly into our sphere of interest at arbitrary constant.

Stian notes the two mindsets that lead to dull policy recommendations. The first is the “adviser’s approach”, which:

involves trying to write down the best set of measures to tackle a particular problem. It’s the kind of answer a government expert would use when writing a white paper on the subject that was actually going to be implemented.

What’s good about this from Stian’s point of view is that it provides a good programme for actual action, though a downside is that it lacks originality.

The second mindset is the “wonk’s approach”, whose main attribute is that it is original.

In the postscript, Stian concludes that think tanks in particular should focus on the wonk’s approach through

Produc[ing] fewer me-too policy recommendations, and instead to either come up with original ones, or not to bother with them at all.

Stian’s reflections put me in mind of a few things. The first was an insight from Jeremy Shapiro in the FT:

To the senior official, an outside idea is like a diamond on a desert island: abstractly valuable but practically useless. She feels penned in by politics and resource constraints that outsiders do not acknowledge. As she nods appreciatively and appears to hang on every word, she is, in fact, hiding tired familiarity with ideas she views as either politically impossible or already being attempted (or both).

The next is the third of Fukuyama’s four conditions that have to be in place for political change to happen:

While government reform reflects the material interests of the parties involved, ideas are critical in shaping how individuals see their interests

My final reflection is on the idea of a Basic Income. The RSA has done some fantastic work on this recently. In itself, this is great, but what I find most interesting is that (1) this was a key part of the Green Party’s 2015 election campaign – during which it was, essentially, ridiculed; and (2) there is a very long history associated with the idea of a basic income, stretching back to the 16th century.

What these three reflections sum to is that ideas and originality are only necessary conditions for change, but not sufficient ones.

I’ve noted a personal scepticism before regarding “innovation” (and so originality). My personal predilection is for how to take and use good idea ideas to further public policy and service reform, rather than the originality of ideas per se. To this end, Stian’s penultimate point regarding think tanks is the one that works most for me:

[T]hink tanks add value by framing problems and diagnosing situations rather than by the specific solutions they propose.

Seeing ourselves and seeing others

From Marginal Revolution:

Many of our errors… stem from a basic mismatch between how we analyze ourselves and how we analyze others.  When it comes to ourselves, we employ a fine-grained, highly contextualized level of detail.  When we think about others, however, we operate at a much higher, more generalized and abstract level… So, there are two mismatches: we aren’t quite sure how others are seeing us, and we are incorrectly judging how they see themselves.

barry manilowWhich reminded me of the Spotlight Effect, in which we think people notice us much more than they actually do.

This was explored in various experiments, including one where someone had to wear a Barry Manilow t-shirt to a party with their peers. The result?

Though the student was convinced that the “embarrassing” clothing would be noticed by at least half the people, follow-up interviews found that less than 50% of the group recalled the shirt.

Ditto bad hair days:

[S]tudents rated their classmates on whether they looked better or worse than usual. The results show that the raters were less aware of variations in appearance than were the students they scored. Most people just don’t notice when we’re not looking our best or worst.

What’s struck me about this is that truly seeing ourselves and seeing others – especially at work – is something I find helps form strong and effective relationships with people. To be honest, part of me is amazed at how typical it seems to be to have such little understanding of ourselves and of others.

Was I an unwitting subject of a psychology experiment?

psychology experiment
Image via Answers.com

93% of tweets sent during commuter hours are complaints about trains or fellow passengers on them.

As much as I can, therefore, I try to limit the amount I say about trains – with the notable exception of an entire essay on why we should ban quiet carriages.

I’m breaking this self-restriction, though, to report the following: on a 1.5-hour journey, the person sitting next to me bumped me with their elbow approximately once every two minutes. When I say bump, I’m talking a hefty whack caused by them putting their hands in their coat pockets and taking them out again, and not just the occasional nudge. It became so incessant that I actually got used to it; on at least two occasions I nodded off only to be woken up by a considerable jolt from my big-elbowed neighbour!

The remarkable thing about this is that (1) I said not a word apart from… (2) I eventually apologised when they looked at me in a “why are you looking at me strangely?”-type way.

It was honestly such a bizarre experience that I fear I was an unwitting subject of a psychology experiment.

(On which, this is a great read:

Thirty years ago, they were wide-eyed, first-year graduate students, ordered by their iconoclastic professor, Dr. Stanley Milgram, to venture into the New York City subway to conduct an unusual experiment.

Their assignment: to board a crowded train and ask someone for a seat. Then do it again. And again… an astonishing percentage of riders — 68 percent when they were asked directly — got up willingly.

)

Examples of changing your mind

Understanding the process of how and why someone changes their mind seems vital to me. As I’ve noted before, understanding this is of fundamental importance to the process of public sector change.

Here’s a nice article on whether economics can change people’s minds (via Marginal Revolution), including examples of where it has done exactly that.

Altogether, there are many examples of economists who change their minds, even when doing so involves repudiating their own previous research and policy positions. Maybe these economists are special and possess an inhuman lack of bias. But I doubt that.

Feel free to share examples of where you’ve changed your own mind, particularly when it comes to public service reform.

News: a poor quality distraction

98329748_a947300152_bTwo related articles about news and distraction lately.

(1): America’s junk news binge epidemic:

We in the media have spent decades turning the news into a consumer business that’s basically indistinguishable from selling cheeseburgers or video games. You want bigger margins, you just cram the product full of more fat and sugar and violence and wait for your obese, over-stimulated customer to come waddling forth.

(2): Addicted to distraction:

ONE evening early this summer, I opened a book and found myself reading the same paragraph over and over, a half dozen times before concluding that it was hopeless to continue. I simply couldn’t marshal the necessary focus.

I was horrified… Instead of reading [books], I was spending too many hours online, checking the traffic numbers for my company’s website, shopping for more colorful socks on Gilt and Rue La La, even though I had more than I needed, and even guiltily clicking through pictures with irresistible headlines such as “Awkward Child Stars Who Grew Up to Be Attractive.”

This is familiar territory to us here at arbitrary constant. It’s been nearly two years since I shared how I was feeling about news and media.

The crux of my reflections was this:

But even with spending so much time consuming [news and media] I was left none the wiser. I felt like I still didn’t understand what was going on. In my mind I couldn’t answer questions such as: why is what’s happening happening? How and why did we get here? Where are we going? Why are we going here and not there? What can the past tell us about why here may be better than there and what we might be able to learn about the options for getting there?

I had reached a dead end. Or, rather, I had so many choices of which direction to go in that I went nowhere.

The rest of the post explores what remains a fantastic essay by Ralf Dobelli, “Avoid News: towards a healthy news diet” (pdf), which:

provided me with some thoughts as to why I was feeling that way. His argument gives 15 reasons on why news is bad for us, including: news systematically misleads us, news limits our understanding, news massively increases cognitive errors and news inhibits thinking.

It’s an essay and way of thinking I can’t recommend highly enough.

How has it gone? To a large extent I’ve managed to alter my news consumption and instead switched to reading more books (you can see what I’ve been reading on my Libib Library). I occasionally find myself slipping back into old ways, though – especially when it comes to Twitter – and so am hoping to refocus a bit more in order to

pursue the things that interest me and my mind – giving myself chance and space to be curious, to think, to create and to be.

Reading these two articles was a timely reminder of this intent. I’ll let you know how I get on!

When was the last time you changed your mind about something important?

Rodin's ThinkerThis question popped into my head the other day: when did I last change my mind about something important? It was prompted by a conversation with friends on Twitter about whether direct action was a useful form of campaigning, and over time I realised I’d been a bit too dogmatic about my views on this in the past.

I changed my mind.

What this made me wonder, though, was the process by which I came to change my mind: how did this happen? What was most effective? Who did the alternative messages come from? What information had I seen etc.

For those of us interested in change (including public sector reform), the ability to understand persuasion and the reasons why people change their minds should be absolutely uppermost in our minds. Yet I don’t think I can actually recall a time when the psychology of changing your mind has been talked about at events or conferences.

Going back through some of this literature in order to understand and then apply it seems useful to me. I’d be grateful for any pointers people have.

In the meantime, some writing on this that I’ve found of interest:

Pace of change in the US

Here is a terrific visualisation of the pace of change in the US on issues such as interracial marriage, prohibition, abortion and same-sex marriage. Pace of social change in US If this is your sort of thing then you’ll definitely be interested in Chris Hatton’s post on the conditions for change in public policy, plus a collection of links I’ve brought together on change across systems and within organisations.