Friday, 25 September 2015

Workshop on Success: A Brief Report

On 18th September at Senate House in London we met some of our collaborators for our proposed research project. It was a great day in which we explored ideas and experiences.

What is success?
We started discussing the meaning of the word "success" (etymologically linked to the Latin word for succession, and thus a term with a strong temporal and causal component) and how the residency would serve as to critically analyse everyday conceptions of success as tied to individual achievement, fame, power and competition. Success demands not just competition but cooperation, and changes our perception of ourselves and the way other perceive us. Any meaningful examination of success requires also a reflection on failure. Our own interest in success comes from its relationship with health: how does doing well relate to being well?

Apart from success and failure, we are interested in character and context, practices and structures, individuals and communities/organisations, internal and external, public and private. How do we achieve success, and what does it do to us once we have it? Several themes emerged from the discussion, including snatching success from the jaws of defeat; experiencing failure after being a success; failing in one domain while succeeding in another; performance anxiety and corporate psychopathy; and failure as necessary, as a useful and important aspect of growth, creativity and innovation.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Matthew Syed on Marginal Gains

Here is an extract:

Children are often taught to think that mistakes are bad. They get red lines in their books when they mess up. This is why they fear to put their hands up in class and struggle to take risks. But in an experiment where children were taught to think of weaknesses not as embarrassing, but as opportunities to learn, they became more inquisitive and resilient. They also performed better.

That is the power of the mindset that underpins marginal gains. It might just change the world.

See the whole article here.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Promotion at Work: A Mark of Success?

Recently, there has been some discussion of the merits and especially the drawbacks of promotion at work. Opinions touch on some of the themes of our project, including creativity, ambition, achievement, satisfaction.

In one piece in Fortune, "Don't let yourself get pushed into a job promotion", the message is that many people accept managerial positions for the money, but then they find that they do not like the new responsibilities and the politics, and eventually would prefer to go back to their previous jobs. One key issue is that people dislike their new positions because of the stress and the long hours associated with them. What is success then? Being promoted and being miserable or not getting a promotion but maintaining a good work-life balance?

In another piece, published a few days ago in the New York Times, Rising to Your Level of Misery at Work, Arthur Brooks writes:
Ambitious, hard-working, well-trained professionals are lifted by superiors to levels of increasing prestige and responsibility. This is fun and exciting — until it isn’t.
People generally have a “bliss zone,” a window of creative work and responsibility to match their skills and passions. But then the problems start. Those who love being part of teams and creative processes are promoted to management. Happy engineers become stressed-out supervisors. Writers find themselves in charge of other writers and haranguing them over deadlines. In my years in academia, I saw happy professors become bitter deans, constantly reminiscing about the old days doing cutting-edge research and teaching the classes they loved.
I am very interested in the relationship between achievement and wellbeing, and Brooks indirectly addresses this. The two factors that seem to increase stress the most are (1) poverty, as it is stressful to lack resources; and (2) wealth, as it is stressful to manage the high pressures of work. There seems to be a blissful zone in the middle, but when people have achieved recognition and power, they do not resign from their positions to go back to their previous jobs, even if those jobs made them happier, because they see the regression as a failure.

Monday, 7 September 2015

What's your Epitaph?

Recently I wandered through the wonderful Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris. Although not as famous as Père Lachais it is a special place for me as several of my heroes lie buried in this necropolis, namely Emile Zola and Jean Michael Charcot. 

A cemetery is a useful place to consider success. Our worldly contributions, our imprints on the earth and beyond. I love reading the epitaphs. A life summed up in a few carefully chosen and engraved words. At risk of waffling I hear that great man of very few words whisper in my ear:

The grave of Emile Zola
Don’t try ~ Charles Bukowski

In Montmartre I and other visitors searched for the grave of Edgar Degas. Oddly we couldn't find it. I was looking for a hulking mausoleum or some such tribute, or at least an impressive bust like Zola. In this context size appeared to be a signifier of one’s importance.

Yet, Degas had no great monument. There was a rusting and simple metal surround for a broken and weed ridden gravestone, fallen as flat as the earth around it. I concluded that a talent like Degas doesn't need such frippery when he has left a body of artwork like this.

Team Aura- Lee Valley skate club

Taking inspiration from Degas' wondrous ballerinas I turn to the work of one of my collaborators Hannah Gravestock. Hannah’s recent projects include workshops with synchronised ice skaters. 

She uses theatrical methods to enhance their performance. The ultimate aim is competitive success. I asked Hannah to describe her work. She said nothing but sent me this picture:

Less is more. Collating drawing data

Signing off~ the cemetery cat.

I am looking forward to meeting up with the team this month. Here's to a successful Autumn.