A Happy Jar for joy, and a Stress Box for kicks

January 4, 2017

Wales rugby ball

An exchange of tweets this week resulted in a comparison between the merits of the happy jar and the stress box. I’m in favour of a matching set of two

It all started for me with a tweet about a happy jar. You write down any happy thought on a piece of paper and put it in a happy jar. This ‘idea about an idea’ worked for me. I could see its applications in education and home-life.

I later traced the idea via @janesanderow and tweets were exchanged. Mine started:


In creativity sessions, the invitation to positive thinking is WGAI [What’s Good About It]. I have seen training walls and whiteboards plastered with WGAI Post its. Recently, there was a great example at the Creativity and Innovation Management meeting in Potsdam, where participants looked at the with future strategy for the journal, encouraged by their two new dynamic editors. See also my recent post about WGAI and a good idea

The Stress Box

But what about The Stress box? I don’t think I have posted anything, but the tweets about the happy jar just reminded me of an anti-stress trick used in sports management to counter unhelpful thoughts. At a stretch, it also connects with fast and slow thinking, controlling your monkey and such ideas.

I came across the idea first with the Welsh rugby player (and now International kicking coach) Neil Jenkins, who explained how he prepared for a kick, by imagining his bad thoughts and locking them away.

Today, Wales rugby has a new kicking hero in Dan Biggar. In matches, his mentor Neil Jenkins is often seen close by,as Dan goes through his kicking routine. It looks bizarre. It has become a national iconic image known as the Biggerama [You can look it up on Utube].

Both And, not Either Or

Which is why I argue the case for Both And, not for Either Or.

Subscribers to LWD, I rest my case.

Morale, motivation and momentum: three mysterious concepts

February 13, 2012

Motivation remains a much used term in organizational life. Much the same might be said of morale, a term generally applied in a military context, and momentum, particularly found in sports commentaries

Recent press reports have discussed the old military concept of morale among serving troops. Discussion has focused around whether entertainment can have a positive and relatively long-lasting effect on well-being of the recipients.

Research results

A research report from the department of psychiatry of Kings College London attempts to demystify the phenomenon. The following summarises the college press bulletin of Feb 12th 2012.

The report takes a historical look at the impact of entertainment on troop morale, from World War I to the conflict in Afghanistan today. Its author notes that

‘No single factor can be guaranteed to raise morale, but those that do, will undoubtedly have some effect on mental well-being. Whilst entertainment cannot, and does not, provide absolute protection against the psychological problems associated with war, it does have a role to play in protecting service personnel against mental health problems.’

The report suggests a clear association between falling morale and rising mental health problems. Many factors are indicative of poor morale, such as desertion, absenteeism, disciplinary offences and sickness. Factors that are believed to raise or sustain morale are confidence in commanders, unit cohesion, belief in the task and the fair provision of rest and recreation.

Mark Cann, director of the sponsors of the report concurs:

‘Sending the biggest names in entertainment, free, to the frontline as volunteers with the support of the British public has a proven effect on morale, so long as it is carried out in the right way. We at the British Forces Foundation hope the findings might encourage a review of how military entertainment is conducted in future so that our work may be as effective as possible.’

The BBC added to the story drawing on historical and contemporary examples, and quotes from two military leaders

Despite a lack of research into the value of the entertainment provided to servicemen during WWI, [World War 1] it is hard to imagine it could have been anything other than a major morale-boost during such a terrible conflict.

“Morale is a state of mind. It is that intangible force which will move a whole group of men to give their last ounce to achieve something, without counting the cost to themselves; that makes them feel that they are part of something greater than themselves.” (Field Marshal Slim, 1956)

“Without high morale, no success can be achieved, however good may be the strategic or tactical plan, or anything else.” (Field Marshal Montgomery, 1950)

What the textbooks don’t say

Even the standard textbooks on leadership are quiet on the nature of morale, and those other M-words motivation and momentum, although there are firms offering advice and courses for dealing with the issues. My concern is that the advice I found seems firmly grounded within current Anglo-Saxon interests in feel-good factors and positive psychology and as suggested in the King’s college report, more evidence-based studies may be needed. It would be good to test variations across other cultures.

Today’s Top Business Stories tend to have a High Gloom Factor

November 25, 2011

The twenty top business stories provided by Google today reflect a general mood of pessimism. There are no tales of heroic leaders. Bad news stories dominate over inspirational ones. The stories mostly register high on a simple ‘gloom index’

Some years ago when I started collecting leadership stories, such a sample would have contained quite a few feel-good ones would have described the successes of heroic leaders. The proportion of those stories has since that time dwindled.

Introducing the Gloom Index

This week [Oct 24th 2011] I took a look at the twenty business stories obtained from scanning the pages of Google. My crude [1-5 star] Gloom Index rating is a representation of my judgement of the mood conveyed in the stories. Don’t take too much notice of it as a scientific measure, although it might offer promise if developed into an index of cultural mood of business confidence, a kind of ‘feed bad’ factor.

The stories and their gloom factors:

Bank of England ‘to kick start ailing economy’ Presented as reaction to gloomy outlook. Gloom Index ****

Weir group buys US fracking firm for £430 million (good news unless you disapprove of fracking). Positive innovation story with slight gloom factor. Gloom Index *

JD Sports slowdown. Mildly negative financial story Gloom Index ***

James Murdoch resigns from British Boards (Bad news except for Murdoch haters so modest gloom index Gloom Index ***

Banks have ‘racist’ lending policies. Negative leadership story defended in letter to FT Gloom Index *****

Daily Mail profits fall as newspapers come under pressure . Negative leadership story Gloom Index *****

Gas prices to rise. British gas chief asks for forgiveness. News Night yesterday had CEO of British Gas defending corporate policy against assorted pressure groups,no pun intended]. He mostly apologised for lack or transparency re tariffs and promised self-regulated reforms. Negative story. Gloom Index *****

Manufacturing output falls in EU and China
A real five-star gloom story Gloom Index ****

Wage gap for young men widens (could be positive for young women but presented as a bad news story Gloom Index ***

Compass (catering giant) shows good growth globally. Hooray. A good news story [Gloom Index 0]

Nokia Siemans cuts 17,000 jobs world wide. Negative business story, but could signal attempts to survive. Gloom Index ****

Nestle creates 300 jobs in coffee pod manufacturing in UK . A mild hooray for regional good news but tempered with a slight gloom factor at its scale when opposed to the high-gloom Nokia one. Gloom Index *

Poor results from another Utilities company (United Utilities) Gloom Index *****

Tesco slashes prices in promotional campaign (good news for Consumers but neutral presentation with some negative factors as might be expected from The Independent) Gloom Index *

Qinitec (defense firm) in 45% profit rise Good news, unless you consider rise in profits of defence firms in a negative light. Gloom Index *

Banks accused of dishonest lobbying by Sir Roger Jenkins Letter critical of Sir Roger, but still high gloom factor implied in the letter. Gloom Index *****

Lloyds promises more to SMEs and start ups (good news if you believe this; slight gloom factor for cynics) Gloom Index *

50% tax rate risks talent drain from UK (bad news slant, wouldn’t you say?) Gloom Index ****

Note on the Gloom Index

As I indicated above, The Gloom Index is no more than my personal shorthand assessment of the tone of the business stories of the day. It has some connection (in a negative sense) with current attempts to develop a happiness index and measures of feel-good factors. Feel-good measures and the Gloom Index link with the interests of behavioural psychologists, and particularly those interested in the merits of a positive approach to life.

A properly-researched Gloom Index could have value in studying leadership and change. It would connect with work of Teresa Amabile on the progress principle and Richard Boyatzis and colleagues. These approaches are described in the textbook Dilemmas of Leadership.