Tuesday, 27 February 2007

The power of perception and the management of expectations

1. Netherlands
2. Sweden
3. Denmark
4. Finland
5. Spain
6. Switzerland
7. Norway
8. Italy
9. Republic of Ireland
10. Belgium
11. Germany
12. Canada
13. Greece
14. Poland
15. Czech Republic
16. France
17. Portugal
18. Austria
19. Hungary
20. United States
21. United Kingdom
Source: Unicef
Key points at-a-glance
Methodology behind report

Having lived in the Netherlands, when my son was aged five until he was seven, I feel compelled to comment upon the recent Unicef research revealing that the Netherlands came out top of a Unicef league table for child well-being. The UK coming last, or 21st.

The Netherlands is a great place to live in my view - if you are Dutch. I am not talking about Amsterdam here. Amsterdam is in a world on its own and cannot be compared with the rest of Holland.

If I take the key measures of the study in turn and try to make objective comparisons between the Netherlands and the UK I find that there is as much ‘unsaid’ that bears examination as follows:

1) Material Well-Being
Apparently the study has looked at levels of child poverty, which are above 15% in the UK. The BBC reported in 2003 that 1.1 million children lived in households with less than 40% of the national average income. But, the national average income of the UK is substantially higher than The Netherlands, so more people have more money in the UK and therefore expect more from life. The Dutch Government’s Polder model has seen economic success in terms of controlling the explosively high earnings seen in free-market economies. One of the consequences of this is that the majority of people in Holland live in broadly the same style of housing, known as ‘row housing’ and do not subject themselves to social comparisons as much as Brits. do – An Englishman’s home is his castle and judging by today’s house prices; his downfall. How many Brits. Are living beyond their means, trying to keep up with the Jones’s? A factor Bridget blogged about on 24th Jan, Glittering Prizes. No wonder parents in UK don’t have time to be at home with their kids; they are too busy working to cover the cost of the mortgage, which brings me neatly on to my next point….
2) Family and Peer Relationships
Firstly, lets not forget that we are comparing countries with populations of approximately 60 million and 16 million – not exactly apples and apples comparisions. I think the Dutch probably invented work:life balance. They are used to flexible working and are by law from working too many hours – and they by and large, stick to it. Public transport works and is not expensive so you can rely on it to get you home on time.
The cultural expectation is that everyone sits down at 6pm – on the dot - to eat a fairly basic family meal (meat and two veg). This is followed by coffee and a biscuit or piece of cake at around 7:30pm. If you are invited to socialise with the Dutch you are invariably asked for Coffee – not dinner. Another way to avoid the social pressures of the endless dinner parties the Brits. are prone to throwing. Brits are certainly more attached to having a good social life and sadly that often excludes the kids.
Another factor could be the high divorce rate in the UK. At the risk of sweeping generalisations, I wonder if fewer people would become divorced in the UK if they couldn’t afford to. With a heritage in Calvanism, some Dutch are frugal by nature and subscribe to a fairly strict code of conduct – despite what we hear about their liberal nature.
3) Health and Safety
I can tell you that the Dutch equivalent to the National Health Service is second to none – once you get into the system; a factor that I found quite difficult as a foreigner. Once you get in it however, you are referred with ease to specialists and the paediatricians are really excellent. That said, don’t expect to go there with your own ideas of how your needs should be met. There is a process, a system and that’s how it is.
As to general health and safety well, if you as a child are asked questions about this and you have never lived anywhere else – how can you possibly know the answer? I can tell you that I, as a Mother, have observed some of the slackest rules for the safety of children in Holland. I have seen kids in outdoor play parks without restraints on fairly dangerous rides. I have witnessed accidents in unsupervised play areas; enough to turn you grey.
Yes, its safer for your child to be outside in the Netherlands than in UK – biking is a pastime as well as a main mode of transport, with bikes having the right of way over cars, a factor I found particularly infuriating when you are behind cyclists at three-a-breast.
There is almost certainly less violence in Holland. Although the assassination of Pim Fortuyn in 2002 shocked the nation and there seems to have been some pockets of racism springing up; even in rural communities.
4) Risk Behaviours
What about healthy eating? Well I can tell you that if I consumed the amount of cheese on a daily basis I would be in trouble, even a biscuit a day with coffee and I’d be back at Weight Watchers. The Dutch being amongst the tallest in the world must be genetically disposed to consuming vast quantities of what to other people is fat-inducing or heart-attack inducing. That said, they typically do not indulge in binge-drinking as do the Brits. – ah, another pitfall of that social life again.
We all know about the success of the Dutch model of legalising Cannabis which is readily available in Amsterdam and beyond. That said, I never saw much evidence of it being used outside of Amsterdam; but then I didn’t frequent many night clubs either!
5/6) Educational and subjective well-being
Notably the Dutch kids did not apparently fare well in educational well-being, but they did say they liked their teachers. They also had a very good sense of overall well-being that British kids did not. Obviously they perceive themselves to be happy and well off even if others might say otherwise. Why should this be? More content parents, More satisfied with their lot. No social comparisons. And on the other side of the coin: Less ambitious, Less social, More myopic?
And the moral of the story?
Be that as it may, Dutch kids are apparently happier and that’s what we all want in life isn’t it? Evidence from our coaching would suggest that to be the case. We frequently work with people to find out what they really want from life and using our experience in Positive Psychology help them to reframe a previously held negative position into a more positive outlook on life. If you say you are happy then you are. This approach has to be good for our kids; the more positive parenting we can offer the more well-balanced and happy our kids are likely to be.
For more information on our coaching programmes designed to elicit a positive outlook or deal with cross-cultural issues, please see our services page on our main website.

For a humourous view of life in the Netherlands read: The UnDutchables, Colin White and Laurie Boucke

Once upon a time ........

I listened to a BBC Radio 4 programme on Saturday 17th February that discussed social enterprises and the use of storytelling. On the panel were: Dame Anita Roddick, formerly of The Body Shop, Lizzie Vann, Chairman, Organix, Fiona Reynolds, Director-General, The National Trust and Tim Smit, Chief Executive of The Eden Project.

After a lively debate about the definition of a ‘social enterprise’, it was agreed that social enterprises went above and beyond what Anita Roddick referred to as ‘cheque book charity’ – whereby a % of profits are donated to charitable causes or reinvested into foundations or trusts. Anita referred to a social enterprise as having a social purpose; bringing benefits to the community and driven by values.

The panel went on to say that 40% of today’s young people do not want to work for corporations but are seeking meaning and purpose from their work and claimed that our economy is evolving into a ‘moral economy’, or capitalism with a conscience. This is all very well, the panel agreed, but would people be willing to invest in a social enterprise? Is it likely that there would ever be a social enterprise arm to the stock exchange?

Claiming that business reflects society, the panel put forward the view that the next generation of employees can expect more honesty, transparency and meaning from their working lives – already reflected in some way through values-driven social responsibility programmes.

Another way to reflect the original values of a company is by the use of story-telling. Brands now have stories; individuals now have stories (personal branding). Anita Roddick is apparently The BodyShop storyteller – keeping the original purpose of the company alive by telling a story about how she rolled up to her bank, with a T-shirt on and two kids in tow, to try to get the original investment for her idea. Lizzie Vann said that the history of ingredients or of the farmers life-stories, have been key to the success of organic food consumption.

Bringing anecdotes, humour and ‘person-hood’ into brands humanises business, the panel concluded.

For more information on our social responsibility programmes and coaching programmes, which use story-telling to elicit values and develop personal brands, please see our services page on our main website.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

More on Comfort Zones

As I was doing some research on the web today I came across a coaching website which had this unusual strapline:

“Step inside your comfort zone – there are no prizes for being uncomfortable”.

Hmmmm.....It’s well known in the world of personal development and coaching that if you want to grow and develop, you have to take small steps outside your comfort zone from time to time. By doing this you expand your capabilities and come to the realisation that, yes, actually, you can achieve more than you have done in the past. You need not be bound by your limiting beliefs.

In our coaching we see far greater results from those people who do stretch themselves out of their comfort zones. Coaching gives you the time and space to reflect, to learn, it increases your self-awareness, and gives you the confidence and support to take positive action that you would never have dreamed of doing before.

For a coach to claim that it’s fine to stay where you’re comfortable seems to me to be quite crazy...On the other hand, perhaps I’m just taking it all too seriously...

To find out more about our approach to coaching, click here

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Stuck in a rut? Questions to ask to help you get out...

Last night I went to an Open University Business School South Coast Alumni Network event - a presentation by Curly Martin , one of the UK’s leading life coaches. She was energetic, passionate and persuasive about the benefits of life coaching both for the client / coachee and for those in the audience who might be considering life coaching as a profession.

Prior to the session starting I got chatting to some of the other delegates about coaching in general, about the difference between directive and non-directive practice and about coaching principles, one of which is that the client / coachee already has all the resources they need themselves. Martyn Stainer, co-incidentally a Resource Group Manager at BAE Systems and I were considering what you do as a coach when you ask your client/coachee a question and they respond with ‘I don’t know.’ How do you help them without giving them an answer on a plate?

Curly neatly addressed this issue during a concise and effective demonstration of life coaching with a volunteer from the audience. One of the questions Curly asked was, ‘ And what action are you going to take?’ The answer came back, ‘I’ve been thinking about it, but I don’t know.’ Curly wasn’t phased by this at all, she didn’t make a suggestion or give advice. What she then asked was, ‘Well, if you did know, what would it be?’ This is a very useful little NLP question, which works by getting the client/coachee out of an I-don’t-know-the-answer rut for a few seconds, which is often long enough for a creative solution to emerge.

Other ways of tackling the I-don’t-know-the-answer response are:

1. Ask your client / coachee to think of someone they know whose skills, abilities or qualities they admire. Once they have someone in mind, ask them what this person would do in their situation.

2. Disney Creativity Strategy (Robert Dilts)
This is another NLP technique which allows the client / coachee to look at an issue from different angles. It involves anchoring four spaces on the floor, one for ‘Realist’ one for the ‘Dreamer’, one for the ‘Critic’ and a Meta position. Have your client / coachee step between the Meta position and the first three, considering their issue from that point of view. This technique enables people to identify other courses of action (as well as other potential downsides!).

3. Cartesian Logic questions – these are particularly useful when your client / coachee is stuck for an answer or is unsure about something. They help to test the boundaries of normal thinking, and loosen up limiting beliefs. You ask:

Q What would happen if you did XYZ?
Q What would happen if you didn’t?
Q What wouldn’t happen if you did?
Q What wouldn’t happen if you didn’t?

The questions allow your client / coachee to consider something from all possible angles, and might enable them to see both possibilities and limitations that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

4. Even as a non-directive coach it is OK to make a suggestion as long as you ask the client / coachee’s permission to do so first. Even better if you create an anecdote (‘I know someone in a similar position and they found XYZ helpful’), thus leaving the client / coachee free to decide whether they take it on board or not.

Finally, it really is worth persevering with your questioning in order to help the client / coachee come to their own decision about what action they’ll take, because they are far more likely to be committed to it. Having said that, if you test the level of their commitment (using a simple scale of 1-10) and they’re not on 10, remember to ask, ‘And what would it take to get you up to 10?’.

After all, people are far more likely to take action that they have thought of, and that they are fully committed to.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

I had a phone call Friday morning from Bill Saravinovski, the Mayor of Rockdale, New South Wales (situated on Botany Bay, 12km from Sydney, Australia). I first came across Bill following an interview of him on the BBC website about playing Barry Manilow songs in public to deter groups of youths from congregating and potentially causing trouble in the car-parks of Brighton-Le-Sands, a suburb of Sydney.

I’m not a great fan of Barry Manilow myself, so I can understand the attraction of this particular creative solution – I certainly would run a mile to avoid hearing a single rendition of the “Copacobana” , let alone Manilow being blasted out at high volume non-stop for several hours.

When I came across a similar idea (using a high pitched whistle called a Mosquito, which only young people can hear) I tracked down Bill’s email address using the Rockdale City Council website and sent him the details.

Late last year I came across another idea, this time using pink lighting as a deterrent, so I sent that information to Bill too. Well, I thought, the young people who were gathering in the car parks of Brighton-Le-Sands might have been secret Manilow fans; playing his songs hour after hour might actually have made the night-time meetings even more popular than before... Bill replied that he’d put the idea of pink lighting to his colleagues at the council, and if they got approval, they’d try it out.

He rang me early Friday, saying that they were piloting the idea in Brighton-le-Sands…not only that, but he’d been inundated with media requests for interviews (see “Sydney creates a pink light district”, “Pink light to beat crime” in the NSW Daily Telegraph) because of it...I was delighted he called – and I’m delighted that the internet and email have allowed us to make this connection, and that in some small way I have been able to make a difference to someone on the other side of the world.

So if the spotlight wasn’t on Rockdale (or more specifically the car-parks of Brighton-le-Sands) before, it will be now. I can’t comment on the efficacy of Barry Manilow, Mosquito sonic devices or pink lighting over and above what I’ve read in the press, but I hope Bill solves the problem. I think it’s great that he’s prepared to be creative and try something on the off-chance it might work.

And the moral of the story is? When you’re looking for solutions, you might have to try a few things out before you find something that really works. Do a bit of research of course, assess the risks and prepare yourself for the flak you might get from other people (after all, you can never please all the people all the time). Whatever you do, don’t let this stand in your way. Persevere. And be bold!

Friday, 2 February 2007

January Retrospective – More on Achieving Those Goals

Bet you thought Jenny and I were so busy elsewhere that we’d forget to come back to you on the subject of Achieving Your Goals…no chance… after a few minor diversions including Jenny getting her cat seen to and me organising Hugo’s 5th birthday party, (not to mention the proper work in between of course)…we’re back on track…

In today’s posting I’m going to share with you an interesting tool, devised by Dr Martin Seligman, called the January Retrospective. This is a bit like ‘Out with the Old, In with the New’ which Jenny described in her posting on 1st January, only in more depth.

Here’s how it works.

At the end of January set aside 20-40 minutes of quiet time to reflect on the previous year. Think about how your life has gone over the past 12 months. What has happened, what goals did you set yourself (if any) last year, and which ones have you achieved? If you missed some, what stopped you? What successes did you have, how did they come about? What good things happened that you’d forgotten about? Reflecting on those positive things, identify what difference they have made to you, and how do you feel differently now that they have happened. Consider what you know now that you didn’t know then. Consider also the negative things which happened – rather than dwell on them, think about what you have learnt from them, and how you have changed for the better because of them.

Once you have spent about 20 minutes on this (or more if you want), you need to organise your thoughts on one page that you can keep and refer back to. For ease, Selgiman keeps his record on his PC.

On a scale of 1-10 rate your satisfaction with your life in each of the categories which are of great value to you, and jot down a few sentences to sum up. Seligman uses the following categories:

Generativity (leaving a meaningful legacy for the future)

Other categories could be:
Faith / spirituality
Learning / personal development
Relationships – intimate / family / friends/ community / business
Work / career
Health & Wellbeing
Fun / Hobbies/ Recreation
Self Esteem

Choose whichever categories are most meaningful to you. Because Seligman has been doing this exercise for the last decade, he also uses a category called ‘Trajectory’ in which he scrutinises the year-on-year changes and their course across the decade.

The idea is that you keep this summary of 2006 in a safe place until next January, when you go through the same process, reflecting on how 2007 was for you personally.

Over time, you will build up a fairly detailed appraisal of how you, and your life, is progressing, which is important for balanced decision making. And you will have reminded yourself of the positives, and reinforced the learnings too.

From ‘Authentic Happiness’, Martin Seligman PhD (2003)