Playing the game

If you’re ever stuck for a bit of entertainment among a group of friends or family, give this (courtesy of my friend Dave) a go: Get each player a book, preferably a novel.


Write down all the names of the players on a piece of paper and give each player a few sheets too. Each player takes it in turn to be the game master. This person takes their book and reads out the title (author) and the synopsis on the back. He/she then chooses whether others must guess the correct first or last sentence of the book. All players think of the synopsis (take note of names if any were mentioned) and create their own first (or last) sentence (Don’t worry if some have read the book, it’s unlikely they’ll remember the accurate sentence). Write that created sentence down. Hand in the piece of paper to the game master, who also wrote the original first/last sentence on a piece of paper. The game master subsequently numbers and then reads out ALL sentences submitted plus the original.

Next is the guessing game: Each person votes on which sentence is the correct one (as it’s unfair to go first, we decided to all hold up the number of fingers representing our choice after the count of 3). If your submission was selected: 2 points. 1 point if you select the right one. The game master keeps score. 

Why do I write about this? It so happens I have been the observer of several very high profile/lucrative negotiations that involved the subtle (and downright brusk) game playing of people who do not have to consider office politics, political correctness or professional conduct, i.e., it involves government officials, traders, funders.

It is remarkably like friendships: annoyances, personal digs, much lobbying and some storming off-cooling down-back for a hug/shake episodes. It was astonishing to witness that none of the parties, at very critical moments, felt there was a need to do some background research in terms of cultural differences and/or effective evidence based management practices. I’ll write about the negotiations in more detail soon enough, once I am allowed to do so by the parties involved. For now, I wanted to share that cliffhanger moments proved to benefit from some cultural insights regarding the backgrounds of the players involved, which allowed for a certain understanding of why and how they reacted in a certain way that seemed so alien to the other.

It is mindboggling that in this interdependent, global time, decision makers at governmental level, who deal with others who can generate millions to finance infrastructure or other projects that will affect so many people, do not consider cultural factors to be relevant let alone important. And we all know that in these situations, there is no game master who can flit to the last page of the book to check how it ends.

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Practice what’s preached

Since my last post, which was on the riots, I decided to actually get involved. After watching an interview on the BBC, I emailed the CEO of London Youth who put me in touch with one of his excellent team members to discuss ways of collaborating.

 London Youth

London Youth is a “network of 400 youth organisations across the capital who are supported by the London Youth team of over 100 dedicated individuals in London and at our two centres. [They] support and challenge young people, whatever their background and whoever they are, to reach their full potential” (

Nick Wilkie, the CEO, emailed “Currently we are developing our new Youth Action” and “Youth Leadership” programme … [and] the majority of the research models … are based on a deficient model that young people have issues that need to be fixed. We are much more interested in how we can positively measure their capabilities and encourage them to develop and grow these further. … Your knowledge of psychology and leadership strategy could really help us to embed scientific rigour in the programme”.

So, I met up with Natasha and we discussed the kind of measures that London Youth has been reviewing (like SDQs) vs. what they like to be using (more positive measures that capture leadership, self awareness, pro-activity and relationship building). I was very impressed with their approach: It is based on evidence, takes into account the importance of individual experiences and makes sense. Instead of a ‘the system is against us’ tone, their seven principles display values such as agency, humility and intelligence. Moreover, I like their organised approach – to organise Youth Work in such a way that it is evident how much society benefits from it.

They presented a report called ‘Hunch’ at the House of Lords on the 10th of November. I was given a sneak peek and read it with interest: Any question that it raised, it answered it on a subsequent page. It provides evidence for claims made and gives some insightful stats (15% of a young person’s waking time is spent in formal education… what do they do with the rest of it? (Watch the Inbetweeners to get a flavour of the more benign end of teen activity…) and, sadly, England & Wales is No. 2 of having the highest number of young people in custody).

Lord Victor Adebowale, in full support of what London Youth does, stated “you are not paid to be negative”, which is a refreshing take on what approach is necessary to make a change and one amazing example of positive impact can be listened to here, in an interview with Francis: 

The tweet hash tag is  and the full report can be downloaded from here. I was honoured to be invited and in the meantime, I’ll carry on with my work with Natasha – we think that Bandura’s ‘Self Efficacy’ could work. I also just emailed the government’s Big Society to emphasise the need of triangulation: good parenting, great youth work and solid formal education via 

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The riots: The Psychology and its management

Much of the discussion focuses on the legitimacy of the riots. But the situation is more complex than that. Why assume that if there is discontent among a community, a lash out will be ‘intelligently’ executed?
Yes, looting and mugging and burning is awful (support brave clean up) but it is so easy for me as a 38 year-old to sit here in my house on a 30K+ salary condemning it. As a lecturer of final year, mainly minority and foreign, students at a London University, I see their frustration and concern for the future with only few of them having a job lined up. And these are the educated youth!

We see people run into shops, grabbing televisions and setting cars on fire. It has become apparent that this is not a conventional protest. So is it a matter of judging all of them as thugs, call in the army and punish the thieves?

To mobilse such large groups of people means that a) they lack role models (where are the parents?) B) they lost hope (do not fear the consequence) and youth centres risk shut down due to cuts c) their social identity is defined by materialistic status symbols, which is a learned measure of self esteem (ie, they get ‘respec’ through bling not a good degree, a good job, a good skill, being an engaged citizen).

For sure, looters and aggressors need to be held responsible, but there are more questions to ask. It is very difficult because my initial reaction to the images too is that they deserve punishment (and we have created a society where police stands by for fear of ending up in court on a human rights charge), yet I know that it is more complex and I can’t ignore the difficult analysis of this societal crisis.

Much research on riots and collective action has taken place. Any social psychologist will tell you that racism is very much alive (Social dominance theory) and that collective action can spiral out of control through social identification, which becomes more prominent than the other identities (so people will think as themselves a protester, protect their ‘own’ and not self-criticise). Group polaristion radicalises this. They can tell you that people become depressed because they need a sense of belonging and not feel ostracised from society but that anger is fuelled by threat (one of us got shot while the rest of you were on your holiday).
Research also shows that riot-type behaviour globally peaks in summer – we need to look at past riots to understand the shaping of the rioters’ social identity while mobilised. Thugs can only get away with their theft if protected by their community, who give them a place to hide and who don’t tell. If this support is removed the thugs become vulnerable and the violence can be managed. But management doesn’t mean rubber bullets. The challenge of  good leadership is the ability to manage a conflict, not avoid it or dominate and suppress it.    Instead of tough talk, in the long-term our communities benefit from evidence based management.
Where are the social and political psychologists (Reicher, Drury, Klandermans, Huddy, Feldman, Kinnval and Sidanius)? – their 3rd voices of reason-behind-human-behaviour need to be heard. Where are management and leadership scholars (Brett, Herman, Van Dick, Euwema)? – non-partisan sources of guidance for policy makers and government are much needed now.  

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How to create an identity for something new?

Have you ever needed something but there wasn’t a name for it yet? You wonder what terms to use when searching for it online and ask friends/family if such a thing exists at all. Or, you’re an entrepreneur and you created a thing or a service and it needs a brand, an identity and it needs a benchmark so people can interpret its ‘kind’.

For example, working with MOT2U, confirms my thinking that a company’s identity is as much dependent on others’ interpretation of it as it depends on how the MOT2U people themselves define it. So, the idea started with me needing to get my car checked (compulsory by law in the UK). A friend then offered to come and pick it up, get it ‘MOT-ed’ and bring it back. Not only did this allow me to just get on with my day but it also felt that my car was in good hands as he’d be better at negotiating what needed to be fixed for what price than me. Brilliant! 

So the concept was born but what is it called? Car broker? Car consultant? Car guru?

Since its launch in 2008, MOT2U has developed and grown. It has asked experts but also the average person how they perceive the company. Many loved the idea. Some thought it’s a ‘posh garage’. Others were not sure of the colours (black and red). At the moment the company hovers on its own cloud, without a clear benchmark: Is it more Ocado than Tesco (therefore actually level with Sainsbury’s – Try something new today…)?

Although people from individualistic countries argue that they’re independent thinkers, with a strong sense of agency, savvy marketeers know that humans like to belong. So, a company creates an identity but it needs an anchor because people like to categorise themselves and others to make sense of the world. Some brands transcend these categories (Colegate toothpaste? Fairy washing-up liquid?), some brands are confused or in denial (British Airways, Burberry, BP) and others hover on their label-less cloud, yet to be identified.

Just as a leader is a leader when she/he is perceived as such by followers, we live in a time where tweeting followers create a culture via social media and decide whether a brand is hot or not. But not all things commercial are about short-term trends.

MOT2U is a useful service that gives peace of mind. It functions a bit like your dentist, who texts you that you’re due for a check up. Or like your mortgage broker, who is in the know of all the different products on the market and doesn’t represent one specific lender. You may not follow your dentist or broker on Twitter or Facebook for gimmicky updates but see it as a reliable relation and you’re in it for the long haul – from your first Fiat to your fancy (recycled) Ferrari. As their next TV ad, I’m thinking Colin Firth throwing keys to an MOT2U chauffeur wearing the company’s logo in green…

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Tweeting academics

Academics don’t tweet. At least not the ones a member of ISPP, IACM and IACCP. Which is strange, if you consider that these organisations are al ‘International’ (the first I) and a society and associations (S and A) for Political Psychology, Conflict Management and Cross Cultural Psychology. Thus, not the neuro end of the social/life sciences exactly.

At the conferences in Istanbul, which all overlapped – it was indeed a festival of psychologists in that city (side note, I wonder if the restaurants/hotels noticed?) – some of the conferences had 9 parallel sessions. In fact, gossip was that EAP had more than that. So how does one choose? Surely a tweet from a colleague telling you a certain symposium is not to be missed would be helpful. Or, an announcement that scheduled speaker number 2 couldn’t make it at session 3 in room A203, therefore all talks moved up in time, allows you to make better informed choices?

Then there is the social stuff. Where are people in town? Which social drinks meeting are they attending and when are they off go see Topikapi?

But more than anything, hash tagged tweets allow you to discuss what’s been said and what you thought, beyond the polite chit chat at the socials and beyond your usual in-group of colleagues you’ve known for years.

I encourage any conference organiser to announce the hash tag for the conference and that tweeting is a convenient way to move intellectual traffic and share evaluations.

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WLTM: What we seek behind the label when searching for the perfect match

In a recent conversation with a geologist friend, Mark, who has travelled the world and lives by the motto ‘The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all!’, we explored the issue of advertising for an employee or flatmate and the characteristics that describe the ideal match. Below is our conversation (abbreviated). It raises some interesting questions about the values that we attach to certain social identities – e.g., being female, Christian, Dutch etc. Why do we pay attention to these (and use them to select people to be part of our in-group) when it is the values/traits that underlie these labels that mean something to us?

Mark (in Abu Dhabi): Lots of signs here with things like ‘flat mate wanted, Filipino female only’ etc. They’re for flats, work, domestic work living in etc etc. The criteria are generally female, filipino, indian, muslim etc only. Now obviously would cause uproar among the chattering classes (Wikipedia: a politically active, socially concerned and highly educated section of the “metropolitan middle class” especially those with political, media, and academic connections) in blighty (Britain) with wholesome discussions about the vileness of discrimination whilst sipping tea and and eating scones, biscuits or cucumber sandwiches (preferably with no crusts if you don’t mind). Just wondering what your thoughts were!!

Nathalie: I think political correctess is overrated! Don’t get me wrong it did the job to make people aware of their biases but now it’s time to control alt delete the thinking about cultural and gender differences. They exist. They can benefit a dynamic of a group. That said, such ads indicate certain intrinsic qualities and traits associated with being female, Muslim, fillipino etc. So the ads should list those instead of the social identity…

Mark: Cool response. I agree appart from the last part in that if these adverts are like this, there is always a chance that these things have occurred as a result of experience and maybe the realisation that it is the cultural background rather than the intrisic qualities that counts. Hmmmmmm maybe something for study for the next Freakonomics book!!

Nathalie: Of course, but we need to be careful how we interpret the information that we learn on a daily basis. So, let’s just agree that culture is the shared system of meanings of a group. That means all groups have a culture- national, sport, religious etc. Once we are a member of that group we learn about the do’s and dont’s. We also have personalities (extrovert/introvert etc). So, as humans we’re a bit of a mix. Now, i met you over 10 years ago. You were in a certain state of mind but you’re also from a certain culture. I could’ve drawn several conclusions about what you represented and what I (dis)liked. Could I have allocated some traits to your Englishness or perhaps your mixed background with a touch of Italian? – sure. If I then met new people, with similar backgrounds, could If expect them to behave in the same way. Yes, that’s called stereotyping. Which isn’t necessarily bad (stereotyping is just a mental short cut in this ever increasingly complex information overloaded world). But it becomes problematic if I add value (pos or neg) to those stereotypes (English = good). Let’s say, you moved away and I wanted a similar friend so I advertised in the lonely hearts ad section for an educated Englishman with a hint of Italian, then expecting to meet someone with your traits and characteristics. I would’ve been better off asking for an intelligent, high octane, friendly, etc. kind of guy. Makes sense?

Mark: Perfect sense! And agree completely!


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Failed Multiculturalism

David Cameron argued that “under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.  We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.  We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values” (Cameron, 2011, www.number10, Although the majority of his speech focuses on the responsibilities of immigrants when they come to Britain, he points that the responsibility of the government is that “we must build stronger societies and stronger identities at home. … It’s that identity, that feeling of belonging in our countries, that I believe is the key to achieving true cohesion.” 

However, his words have been interpreted as a change from multiculturalism to singularism: “Cameron was showing his support for Angela Merkel and her German Christian Democrat party’s idea that security and cohesion are brought about not through integration and pluralism, but through monoculturalism and assimilation into the dominant Leitkultur (lead culture)” (Fekete, 2011, Although it has been argued that Cameron’s views were more subtle than Merkel’s and Sarkozy’s (Bagehot, 2011). He distinguished between piety and extremism and notes that the government has a responsibility and needs to manage the situation. Nonetheless, Cameron’s speech was welcomed by nationalist party members (Le Pen in France, Batty, 2011). In fact, Sarkozy argued that too much attention was paid to the individual immigrant and not enough to the identity of the nation who hosts them.

A rejection of multiculturalism requires an assessment of what it is that’s being rejected. In 2004, Trevor Phillips (2004), the chairman of the then Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), said that multiculturalism was out of date and no longer useful, not least because it encouraged “separateness” between communities. In a criticism of the CRE (now Equality and Human Rights Commission), Lerman (2010) stated that it cannot be said that fully formed multicultural policies were ever followed by government: “Indeed much of what government has tried to do in this area has been contradictory and counterproductive. It failed to assert common values based on the primacy of human rights. It never effectively tackled racial inequality and its failures have been amplified by the disastrous performance of the EHRC. … And despite occasional cack-handed stabs at defining Britishness, it failed to provide any thoughtful leadership in developing a national narrative that would reflect the reality of multicultural Britain” ( Such media discussions highlight the challenges that government leadership face and whether the discussion needs to move on from a conceptual to a more pragmatic, evidence based management analysis.

In the UK, the Commission on Integration and Cohesion published the ‘Our Shared Future’ report, which indicated that there was a sense of shared values across the individuals and communities consulted.  In an independent report advising the commission, Buofino and Thompson (2007: 15) argued that ‘good mental health, satisfying and secure work, a secure and loving private life, freedom, moral values and a secure community were found to be the main factors affecting happiness’. The Commission concluded that their expectation that communities clash in terms of values was not found to be true but warned that ‘if the discrimination experienced by some groups within our society continues, we will not be able to achieve the goals we set out in this report for building integration and cohesion’ (Commission on Integration and Cohesion, 2007: 27). 

My thoughts are that multiculturalism has failed but that this isn’t a bad thing because multiculturalism isn’t necessarily the celebration of diversity some think it is. A very interesting study by Johnston Conover, Searing and Crewe (2004) found that British and American respondents’ views do not “monochromatically reflect either liberal, cultural pluralist, or communitarian models, but, instead leave cultural pluralism in the back cupboard and put forward complex mixtures of liberalism and communitarianism” (p. 1061). Moreover, they found that communitarian thinking is likely to impede liberal and cultural pluralist pathways to citizenship. This highlights the importance of value congruence in people’s mindset, even if they believe strongly in liberalism, cultural pluralism and equal citizenship. If this is the case, then government leaders need to take heed and manage such a potential cognitive dissonance. Thus, multiculturalism shies away from taking responsibility and engaging into a dialogue and potentially a conflict that needs to be managed, not avoided. That takes guts. From all involved.


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Something for grey matter

Recently, via FB and over dinner, we’ve been discussing perception of the other. It’s one specific subject I like because it’s loaded with psychological pitfalls. Plus, I like talking about the experiments such as the prisoners/guards, Summercamp, etc. I think (Social) Psychologists should contribute more to today’s debates on race, multiculturalism and politics, as they are a 3rd voice between the political correct brigade and bigots.

Black doll white doll   A friend posted the video of Clark & Clark’s Black/White doll experiment. The experiment involves little black children (about 6 years old I suspect) who are asked to pick the nice/like best/like to play with and the children pick the white doll. When asked to point out the bad doll, they pick the black one. Then, when asked which doll resembles them most, 66% pick the black doll and 44% the white doll. It is heartbreaking to see. The experiment was replicated in 2005 with the same result. In 2009, after Obama’s election, the same experiment obtained different results: 88% of kids happily identified with the black doll. The majority of the kids chose black or both and 32 percent chose the white doll when asked which one was the nicest but 47 percent of the girls said the white doll was prettier. The article from ABC news ends on a hopeful note about Obama’s influence. However, it isn’t that straightforward (good role model availability).

An experiment on judgement of Obama’s skin colour showed that those who support him see him as lighter coloured than those who dont even when controlled for racist views. Of course, Obama is a prominent figure, so the researchers decided to use a neutral picture of a sports person of mixed race that was presented as a new politician with a pro-student or anti-student policies. The same applied – the students in the pro-student condition picked the light skinned picture as representative of the person, the students in the anti-student condition picked the dark skinned picture. So we need to realise how persistent negative stereotypes (black = bad) are (and how damaging, by the looks of the video) but additionally we need to be aware of a skewed positive culture (White = good).

And it’ll take some work. As a non-race related example, Catherine Lido did an experiment with positive and negative primes on people who then went trough asylum seekers’ applications. Negative primes affected judgement, positive didnt. I hope I am recalling her work correctly when I say that the conclusion was that the positive prime was not matching any stereotyping beliefs already in our minds so they didn’t stick. If we see our minds like a big chest of drawers, some drawers contain information readily available. The positive stereotype drawer of asylum seekers = good doesn’t exist yet. It seems the same may apply for the black = good drawer, although, based on the ABC experiment, it’s heading in the right direction.

I’m trying to capture ‘cultural intelligence’ though a measure that is self report based but taps into beliefs about the world (perception) additionally to opinions about one’s own level of cultural intelligence (which is what the concept has been criticised for so far). Point is, awareness of our biases is an important point for further study,

The clip of the video

The link to the ABC news article

The link of an article on the Obama experiment

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The Jasmine Revolution, Places to Love and Fashion

DeKose Designs      The current developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen are extraordinary. We live in a time where, through Social Media, revolutions are possible and change is inevitable. Perhaps one day, we will learn to disassociate the country and its people from the 1 individual and his/her cronies at the top. What’s not to love about beautiful cities like Kabul, Baghdad and Beirut for example?

Buy the T-Shirt, support Avaaz. 

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Change, identity and sense of belonging

Within our Business School, we are reorganising the departments. The Business & Management department became a Business School within the Business School, with 2000 students, and the diversity within the team made a strong research focus challenging.

Once it was announced, it was left to the individuals to decide what other department they would want to join. No choice was imposed, although, based on the clusters that existed within the B&M dept, it seemed that there are ‘natural’ fits – management perspectives with HRM, strategy with Marketing, operations with Stats. Or so we thought.

Person-Organisational Fit is, on the one hand, how the individual fits in with the organisation, usually based on values. But from the individual’s perspective, it is also about his/her attachment to the status quo and the need for a sense of belonging (be it based on strategy, the line manager, research expertise or teaching curriculum).  The developments supports some of the research we did at the Open University in terms of categories of fit: Self-Serving Fit (the individual who may not contribute much but is waiting for their retirement), Organisation-Serving Fit (the individual who is unhappy but the organisation benefits from him/her and she cannot leave (e.g., because her visa is connected to the organisation)), Mis-fit (the person and individual are a mismatch, usually due to value incongruence) and Fit (both are happy).

It’s particularly challenging if there was a fit but the individual is asked to move but none of the options are attractive. The core question is, how should this be managed? Should management give the individual the responsibility to choose so the choice is not imposed? Or does this enforce a certain reticence, wanting to stick to the status quo? How can we, as the management team, ensure that if people have a sense that their fit is Organisation Serving, it moves to genuine Fit as soon as possible?

It requires coaching and transparent information sharing; by discussing the benefits of each option, paying attention to the individual’s concerns but being honest about expectations.  The individual and the (new) manager should discuss the specifics of the new department’s culture he/she will join as Fit is linked to value congruence. Finally, people are sensitive to belonging. Recall the stuff back at school of cliques, clubs and being picked for a team during Physical Education. That needs to be managed too, to start just by saying “We’d be delighted to welcome you”.

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