Government / Public Collaboration

In the past, the benefits of mass collaboration (to me) seemed to be limited to commercial businesses trying to improve their profit margins. The company would get feedback on their products then make changes in hopes of increasing sales. I really didn’t see how government could collaborate with the general public, at least I didn’t recognize any benefits by allowing that collaboration. My position wasn’t formed without merit; most of the “collaboration” I’ve seen is related to the public appealing our decisions. Even when we brought the public into the decision making process before we made the decision, it only allowed those parties to have more information they could use in their appeal.

However, I decided to take a look at what efforts a government agency and the public might collaborate on. Working for an environmental regulatory agency, I knew there wouldn’t be too many areas until I considered emerging technologies.

I work with several contractors who have created, and patented, a variety of different pollution removing technologies. The problem is that none of these technologies are allowed to be used on site until we approve their use. This is done to limit the amount of ineffective solutions regulated site might relying on to reduce their pollutant loads.

Looking at the various technologies, some of them were very similar so, if we have an existing, approved technology that is more effective, we deny the submittal. In effect, we have a lot of people recreating the wheel instead of collaborating because we don’t have an effective mechanism to share what has been approved.

We should have a database of approved technologies, what pollutant and medium they’re approved for, our research methods, and any other potential pollutants which might be reduced but require more research. That way, we could create a collaborative community between not only our staff and consultants but also between the consultants themselves.

Aside

One of the skills I lacked as a kid growing up was the ability to create an effective argument. I only knew my position and anyone who disagreed with it was wrong. As a young boy I was told I had “a temper” and that I was quick to resort to violence. When I heard that, I didn’t hear that I needed to slow down and listen, I heard I had something (a temper) and that I was quick to resolve the issue.

The reality is that I lacked the ability and the skills to argue, to debate. Because I didn’t know how (or that it was possible) to defend myself verbally, I would resort to defending myself physically. Fortunately I managed to avoid any serious trouble however, the more I read about Internet bullying, the more I realize this problem not only still exists, but is becoming very widespread.

A story from The Los Angeles Times reported that, according to a recent study “[v]ictims of bullying were more than twice as likely as other kids to contemplate suicide and about 2.5 times as likely to try to kill themselves” and that “[c]hildren and teens who were taunted by cyberbullies were especially vulnerable — they were about three times as likely than other kids to have suicidal thoughts.” The article also points out that “[e]xperts believe that as many as 1 in 5 teens is involved in some type of bullying” (vanGeel, 2014).

In other words, 20% of kids are bullied and kids who are bullied online are far more likely to try and kill themselves compared to children who aren’t bulled. While preventing suicide is important, shouldn’t we be teaching our children how to not only handle the bullying but also how to “fight” back? Shouldn’t we teach them how to argue effectively? It seems that, instead of teaching suicide prevention (a worthy venture, no doubt, but of little practical use), we should teach them a skill that would last their entire lives.

 

 

Kaplan, K., (2014). Teens taunted by bullies are more likely to consider, attempt suicide. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from:
     http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-bullying-cyberbullying-suicide-risk-20140310,0,3990497.story

vanGeel, M., Vedder, P.,Tanilon J. (2014). Relationship Between Peer Victimization, Cyberbullying, and Suicide in Children and Adolescents: A Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatrics. Retrieved from:
     http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1840250

Cognitive Dissonance, Self-Justification and Work

A few years ago, I completed a Capstone like project for my BS in Psychology. The focus of my project was cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort a person experiences when they hold two competing ideas or beliefs. Whenever we see a character in a movie, for instance, suddenly see their error of their ways, they have been wrestling with cognitive dissonance. It’s an uncomfortable feeling which is why it can be very difficult to change the behavior of someone who, another example, is a bigot.

Some will argue that it difficult to change a person’s mind. Changing the mind isn’t difficult at all. People will generally accept evidence and might even agree with it. However, it’s the competing beliefs that cause the emotional turmoil so, to avoid that discomfort, it’s easier to continue to accept the original belief rather than change our behavior. This is especially true if those around us share the original belief and act, and treat others, in accordance with those beliefs.

So, what’s this have to do with work? It’s exactly this barrier that managers must overcome when presenting new tools and/or processes at work.

When a person is new at a job, that is the best time to introduce a new process- to that person. Once we’re on the job for a while, we get comfortable and feel like we’ve got a good handle on things. We get confident that what we’re doing must be right or we’d have been corrected (or fired). This further reinforces our belief in what we’re doing. When we introduce a new tool or process, we upset that confidence.

A more vivid example of this might be to consider what happens when you go home from work or school. You know the route. You know the mode of transportation. You know what sights you’ll see and sounds to expect. What happens when that routine is upset? Say, a traffic revision due to some construction? We get stressed out, right? We know the way home but we also know it’s been altered and we have to accept that- cognitive dissonance. How much stress can that one change introduce into your day? For some, it is incredibly stressful because it might impact the rest of your day, maybe even your spouse or children as well.

In order to overcome this obstacle at work, it’s actually pretty easy once you know how. First, target one key player- that person who has the respect of their peers and is looking to get promoted. Bring that person aside (don’t “take,” we’re pulling people with us, not pushing them away) and explain what is prompting the change and what you’re planning to do about it then ask for their input and feedback. Your key player will internalize the new tool/process. Get them in on learning how to incorporate the change first. They’ll help identify any short comings and can help create an implementation plan.

Then, one by one, bring others in. The second person to bring is the one who is most likely to push against the change. We have to remove that person from the group setting where people might have expectations on how the dissident would/”should” react. Peer pressure doesn’t only motivate us to change, it can also motivate us to stay the same. Once those two are on board, bring on the rest of the team. Also, be sure to refer to the group as a “team” in every meeting, setting, and forum. If the “team” makes a change, the team will defend it.

Age, Size and Athleticism

I’m a young man- 36 trips around the sun, and I enjoy mountain biking. Like all mountain bikes, every once in a while, mine needs maintenance. So, I take it to the bike repair shop and, almost without fail, I’m asked how I managed to do (blank). I’ve burned up disk brake pads. I’ve tweaked handlebars. I’ve knocked wheels out of balance.

I used to think the questions were just someone looking to hear an interesting story until I asked a guy why he asked. I thought there might be a technique I should be using to avoid some of these “custom alterations.” He said he normally sees these kinds of tweaks from younger riders. It caught me off guard. I had no response or follow-up question.

A few months ago I needed to replace my riding gloves. So, I found a pair similar to what I’ve been using for several years and, as I was walking up to the counter, an associate approached me. He asked if he could help me. I said “Sure! Give me these gloves for free.” He laughed and said they were for “more advanced riders.” I laughed and showed him the gloves I had been using, similar in appearance but mine were torn to shreds. His demeanor changed and he helped me out at the counter.

My point isn’t to question how I should respond or even to ask if I should be doing these things but to ask the rhetorical question, “What do these people say to folks just looking to get into the sport?” Sure, there are dangers inherent in every sport. I don’t see mountain biking any different but, this isn’t limited to mountain biking or age.

Last March I ran a half-marathon: six+ miles up hill in the snow and ice, turn around and run down the hill. I registered for the race online so, when I arrived at packet pick-up, I gave my name. The attendant said, “Eww, looks like we’ve got you signed up for the half. Did you want to run the 10k?”
“Um, no. I paid and trained for the half. Can I run that or is there no more space?” I replied.
“Oh sure, yeah, the half is fine. I just wanted to make sure we didn’t make a mistake.”
I get the same reaction every time I show up at a race. I’m used to it but I would just ask all of us to work harder to keep our pre-made social constructs at bay when sizing up others.

I’m 5’9″, 245lbs but I’ve got a 36″ waist. I get I’m not the typical runner but, at this size, I’m not typical in a few categories. Then again, is anyone?

Stereotypes can do us well to help avoid potential danger. Again, help “us” avoid potential danger. Stereotypes create a danger when applied to someone else.