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,gov.uk). 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, www.irr.org.uk). 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” (www.guardian.co.uk). 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. http://kosedesigns.spreadshirt.co.uk/ 

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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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Chinese whispers in Cross Cultural Perspectives

It’s January 2011. a good time for some reflection and action-taking. I certainly have resolutions and know, from the research that is done on the subject, that keeping a diary or at least plan my behaviour may help.

Ship

Since last year, I have been keen to evaluate if the materials that I teach actually affect the students’ thinking.  One of the challenges for this year is to convey the message I have intended for my students.  In order to evaluate this, I included a review exercise as part of the MBA assessment – students were required to evaluate the impact (or not) of the course ‘Cross Cultural Perspectives’ on their thinking and (potentially) practice. The course is part of ‘Management Perspectives’, which includes ethics, diversity, consultancy & entrepreneurship. It aims to add a philosophical perspective to the MBA experience.  The MBA is a great opportunity to take some time to reflect. MBA students often come in with an air of ‘you cannot tell me anything new’ (which makes me wonder why they’re there in the first place). But the whole point is to share experiences, reflect and discuss. This is their time to learn, reject/accept and evolve.

Unfortunately for me, the reviews mainly focused on a) the need to be aware that there are other nationalities and b) we all need to be politically correct/nice to one another. This wasn’t the lesson I intended. The five sessions focused on different aspects of management (economic crisis, marketing, negotiations, leadership) and the main topic throughout all of them was to encourage a) awareness of the subjectivity of best practice, b) critical thinking in terms of cognitive biases (mental short cuts like stereotyping) and c) the importance of cultural intelligence. As is evident, this doesn’t quite match the main themes from students’ reviews (despite that they were encouraged to think critically, feel comfortable to be critical and were given a template with an example). So, back to the drawing board.

Perhaps I am dealing with a cultural difference; the students (none were British/Western European/American) may not be familiar with the pedagogic practice of  criticising the facilitator. I’ll try again at the end of the year, when they almost finished their entire MBA to see if a) cross cultural perspectives made an impact (self reflection) and b) they retained the core 3 messages (do they incorporate the knowledge into the presentation on their project?). A bit like the Theory of Planned Behaviour with an intervention…

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Research Leadership

Logo       This week, I had to re-apply for the role of Research Leader within the Business & Management department. The request was to submit a brief on why I was suitable for the role and to discuss this informally. Now, since the UK government has cut funding, the role is becoming more prominent and carries more responsibilities as the university needs to be strategic about its resources. It is important to develop the research activities of colleagues while reviewing how this fits in with the greater picture of the Business School.

I have many ideas, some of which directly related to the need to involve businesses more. Not to annoy any consultant out there, but the social capital that exists within universities is spectacular and it is not a source that is tapped into enough. Practical impact of research now will count for 25% (additional to publications, funding, phd students) when we submit our case for research funding to the government in 2014 (REF), so it is imperative that academics engage more with businesses. It would be good to know how these bridges can be built. There seems to be this odd phenomenon that people don’t trust that which is available for no or low cost (case in point: try getting rid of your old bookcase by putting it outside by your door – put a note that says ‘free – please take’ and it’ll remain there longer than if you put ‘£10 – please ring  doorbell’). This is one of the challenges I’ll be working on in the future, apart from enhancing my own research profile.

The actual interview was thoroughly enjoyable (despite my initial nerves). In fact, I was a little overwhelmed by the extent of the positive feedback that my name came up during the other interviews and that I am highly valued and a role model within the school. My influence has extended beyond the business school and I have changed and improved research related activities. Their main concern was that I need to take care of ‘me’ and work on my development too. Fab.

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Softly softly

While prowling the internet for great videos to show MBA and UG students, I come across many that talk about globalisation and the need for effective management.

All of these discuss the merits of good communication, a motivation to learn about the other and the willingness to question one’s own beliefs. I suppose what can be called cultural intelligence.

It is then to my amusement that, after a video or two on this subject (linked to FT.com, hardly a soft, touchy-feely source) and some examples of evidence based management, my MBA students proceed to bargain hard during a negotiation exercise. Some stand up and shout, some point fingers. I hear ‘you must see that our need for (resource X) is greater than yours!’. Yeah, that will do it. Aim of the game is to communicate so that the teams find out that they need different parts of resource X. Not many were willing to share that information. If asked why not they cannot answer.

Is it an innate distrust we have as humans? Or are we taught to be competitive, even if it is detrimental to our success. Why, even if the evidence is provided, do we not practice what is taught? Communicate, communicate, communicate.

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