Is it possible to demonstrate too much enthusiasm?

by Cindy Vallance @cdvallance

I read a recent blog in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) series that struck a chord with me.  Entitled “Are You Hurting Your Own Cause?” Dorie Clark provides five reasons on how we can do more harm than good when we are working to communicate or embed an initiative or concept that we are passionate about.

What does this have to do with Social Sciences Change Academy? I had a conversation with colleagues involved in the initiative which is about encouraging a stronger community of learning through collaboration between students, academic staff and professional services staff.  We all believe in the importance of this purpose but we realised as we talked how we can also fail in our purpose in exactly the ways that are mentioned in this HBR blog.

Let’s consider just one example.

Painting a black and white scenario – Firstly, getting all three of the groups we are encouraging to collaborate to do so is not always possible or even desirable. There are many occasions where focused attention on one group or another is much more useful and effective.

We can, for instance, consider induction. There are many types and purposes – central events for all staff, events that focus on the particular needs of incoming students, events that are tailored for specific staff groups, Faculties, Schools, or Departments. There is certainly no one right way of ‘doing’ induction or just one purpose for holding an induction event. Determining the ‘why’ is key. For instance, what is the desired outcome from an induction event (transfer of information, building a community or network between staff members or between staff and students, soliciting ideas from those who are new to the organisation to help plan for the future, etc.)? Once the event organisers determine the ‘why,’ the event can be designed accordingly.

Dorie Clark discusses a few other areas where we can end up not helping ourselves to further our vision. These include:

– Offering our opinion when it hasn’t been requested

– Assuming we already know the other person’s viewpoint

– Making it ad hominem (‘against the person’ /viewing differences as personal and related to the individual rather than based on ideas)

– Launching into a description of our passion before we are asked

We can all think through these pitfalls and ask ourselves with each one how we are managing the fine balance between sharing our passions and enthusiasm for a goal and taking it just a bit too far, with the very real danger of turning people in the exact opposite direction.

In the end, the Social Sciences Change Academy vision is to build momentum in working towards its purpose for the sake of more than a single group of people or a single faculty. The challenge is to do this with a sense of collaboration, not competition, with colleagues across the University.


Joy in work: avoiding the Olympic hangover

As we reflect on the joy of the Olympics and Paralympics of London 2012 we are faced with the potential of post-summer blues. How do we make sure that our return to the familiar  work routine is not accompanied by feeling flat?

Whilst trawling through some old reading materials I stumbled across an often overlooked principle of management:  ‘joy in work’, originally discussed by W Edwards Deming (1993).

When we think of work, what is ‘joy’ or indeed ‘happiness’, or ‘fulfilment’ or ‘success’?  The topic of joy has been revisited by psychologists and practitioners alike (e.g. Bakke, 2005; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and our understanding of well-being, motivation and performance at work is now increasingly informed by both neuroscience and psychology.

Csikszentmihalyi suggests that in seeking joy ‘only direct control of experience, the ability to derive moment-by-moment enjoyment from everything we do, can overcome obstacles to fulfillment’.’ In doing so we are able to get ‘in the zone‘ (or ‘flow’ as Csikszentmihalyi labels it). He argues that we should organise work into flow-producing activities and by implication, eliminate obstacles to flow. In Deming’s words, these obstacles are the ‘system conditions’ that prevent people from having influence over the results and outcomes of their work.

At work the flip-side of joy is stress (and distress). It is not a surprise to find recent research that suggests a link between stress and  a lack of control over your job. This relates to all jobs, not just ‘high powered’ executive jobs. Just this week The Lancet published one such paper (see the BBC link below).

One task in creating a true service culture is to put decision-making authority at the level of the people who do the work, so that they can respond to a variety of customer needs at the point of contact. Being able to make a difference for the people you are serving  is often cited by colleagues as a key part of enjoying work. However, to get an organisation to entrust that level of involvement and autonomy in its staff is a significant challenge…

What are we up to next week?


Further reading:

BBC NEWS, Work stress ‘raises heart risk’,

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990) Flow: the psychology of optimal experience, Harper Perennial, New York.

Deming W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Change Academy meeting – bad news and good news…

By Cindy Vallance @cdvallance

Here we are, two days from week zero and everyone is frantically busy so I thought I would share just a few thoughts.

We had our first Change Academy meeting of 2012/13 yesterday. It certainly had the great effect of reinvigorating me and the rest of the group for the year ahead as we reflected on the purpose of Social Sciences Change Academy – to encourage a stronger community of learning through collaboration between students, academic staff and professional services staff.  A few highlights include:


BAD news – since everyone is so busy, we only had six of our twelve group members who were able to attend the meeting.

GOOD news – we managed to still have representation from our full complement of academic and professional services staff and students.

SOLUTION to BAD news – we will have two meetings a term since we know that given the group’s diverse composition, it is nearly impossible to get everyone together at the same time. We will also continue to have sub-group meetings and informal caffeine breakout sessions.


BAD news – my Blackberry blasted the song “She Wants to Go to the Seaside” by the  Kooks in the middle of our meeting.

GOOD news – the disruption did not affect the positive and productive discussion, plans began to be formulated and we all worked very hard not to interrupt each other and to ensure every voice was heard.

SOLUTION to BAD news – remember to set Blackberry ‘silent’ feature in future.


BAD news – we ran out of time to work through our SharePoint demo.

GOOD news – we will take forward a number of specific ways to support Social Sciences and to work to continue to build momentum around our ethos over the coming year.

SOLUTION to BAD news – two of our members will arrange dates for the SharePoint demo and another member is on hand to provide further practical support.

We will continue to write more about Change Academy and change in general in our blogs. In the meantime, best wishes to all for Welcome Week and keep up by following some of the new University of Kent twitter feeds mentioned here. You might also want to consider how you’re working with social media regardless of your role at the University by having a look at the materials on Moodle from the Unit for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching’s (UELT) first E-Learning Summer School held last week at Kent.