[August 8, 2020] by Kathy Scott, PhD, and Bridget Sarikas
SERIES INTRO: Inspired by a children’s book written by best-selling author Peter H. Reynolds titled The Word Collector (2018), we decided to collect some of our favorite words like the book’s main character, Jerome. Jerome is a little boy who is enthralled with the magic of words all around him. He eagerly collects words he hears, sees, and reads – powerful words, simple words, sad words, and dreamy words.
This is the fifth in our Word Collection Series where we thoughtfully select and write about words, apply them to the world of leaders, and then empty them into the wind for others to collect and share. Why? Because words matter. They are a powerful force that can be used constructively, or destructively. Words have energy and power. They can help bring healing, laughter, hurt, and harm. They can bring hope!
So here are a few of our interesting words and phrases – some are new, some have new meanings, some are worth reflecting on, and some are just marvelous to say.
Therapeutic Scream. We’ve all been through a lot this year with several months of crazy and frustration causing inordinate amounts of stress in our lives. Many are checking their stress-o-mometers on a regular basis! One therapeutic approach to relieving this stress is the scream. This isn’t just any scream, however. It is a hands-on-your hips, loud scream from your core, your gut, into the vast outdoors, releasing the pent-up stress into the wide-open spaces. It can feel pretty liberating! No wide-open spaces available to you? Well, Iceland has a solution in their timely campaign called “Looks Like You Need Iceland.” We can each send our most heartfelt recorded scream to Iceland via their website and they will release it into a remote place of our choosing. About now, you might be thinking – why didn’t I think of that? A therapeutic scream with a virtual release. Check it out for yourselves at https://lookslikeyouneediceland.com/. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Tipping point. A tipping point is the critical time in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place (Merriman-Webster.com, 2020). Your authors have experienced at least one or two of these – have you? Research demonstrates that the small actions of a few can have big effects, jolting a situation out of equilibrium and into another state.
Two decades ago, Malcom Gladwell in The Tipping Point (2000) spoke to three rules, or agents of change, as it relates to epidemics – and current research continues to support his theories. The first, is that a small number of people (carriers of the virus or influencers of behavior) can have a very large impact on the trajectory of the epidemic. When the individuals or small groups are particularly connected, influential, and/or social, they can have a bigger impact than others. We see this played out through the swift or slow local and national leadership across the country. Their visibility and behavior significantly influence the trajectory.
Secondly, is the communication, or messaging, around the epidemic. Words really do matter and the way they are messaged greatly impacts the outcomes. There are science-based communication strategies that can help us influence effective behavioral changes (Winkler-Schor, 2020)! How a message is framed (the focus of the message) impacts its persuasiveness even when presenting the same objective information. Think about this as writing as if the glass is half full versus half empty. The information is the same but the message is not. The targeting of the communication (who the message is geared towards) is also significantly impactful. Communications to parents of young children vs. retirees will look and feel quite different. And lastly, combining messages with nudges, or small structural changes to cue behavior, can make a significant difference as well. Nudges make it easier to respond as desired, such as providing opting out choices rather than opting in, and providing social cues such as “99% of your neighbors are participating, and we hope you will too” (Scott & Sarikas, 2020a). There’s no better time than right now to start reframing!
Lastly, is the power of context as an influencer of change. Context is the surrounding conditions and circumstances of a situation, to include the time, place, the people, and number of people and their personalities, etc. These conditions and circumstances contribute to our attitudes and behaviors about the situation. While we’d all like to think we are consistent and pure of heart regardless of circumstances, this does not bear out. (We know – hard to believe!) We each are a bundle of habits, tendencies, biases, and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstance and context (Gladwell). When circumstances change, so can our behaviors in unexpected ways – such as the bystander effect when good people stand by and do not intervene in a bad situation. Another example is the “broken window” effect – the proven theory that crime is the inevitable result of disorder and is contagious. If a window is broken and left in that state, people in the vicinity conclude that no one cares and no one is paying attention – and then more windows will be broken. In the case of the pandemic, certain kinds of behaviors coming from a feature of the environment (the context), such as public figures wearing or not wearing masks, results in a variety of public behaviors that are significantly influenced by that context.
The powerful point about the tipping point is that we can significantly influence the tip through thoughtfully changing our own behaviors and through intelligent messaging and careful manipulation of the environment. This is true for pandemics as well as the organizations in which we work and lead. It’s not too late to stop the “stupid gone viral” and apply these principles to today’s circumstances!
Culture and cultural perpetuators. We’re hearing lots of talk about cultural dysfunction these days, but its oh so difficult to define and can be oh so uncomfortable. So, here’s a brief primer on this very important topic. Culture is a pattern of shared basic assumptions that a group learns as it solves its problems. These problems are generally the result of external forces and demands coming at them that require consideration and resulting action (adaptation or integration) or inaction (continue with the status quo). Over time, the group considers these beliefs and ways to have worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore are taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, feel, and behave in relation to everyday problems and challenges. This “way” becomes the norm, which can be anywhere on the continuum of healthy to toxic, proactive to reactive, stable to chaotic. Take a moment and think about where your organization is on this continuum. Is it healthy, toxic, or somewhere in-between?
Cultural perpetuators are the supporting social hierarchies and structures that communicate the group’s identity, delineate key relationships, transmit values, and contribute to the culture. Examples of these structural supports include who and how decisions are made, group rituals, traditional celebrations, expressions of emotion, disciplinary methods, responses to mistakes or failures, etc. These perpetuators support the healthy and dysfunctional behaviors within the group. Sound like an episode of “The Office”?
As leaders and members of organizations, we each have a responsibility for understanding how our personal behaviors and activities influence the experiences of others. We have the ability to move the culture in a positive direction. And it’s important to note that small changes can make a significant difference (Scott, Sarikas & Bessler, 2020b). We recognize this isn’t easy – but be bold and continue on this journey with us by looking at two behavioral patterns that you can influence in the following sections – normalization of deviance and the affirmative cog.
Normalization of deviance. This is a pattern of behavior that evolves when the social hierarchies allow the conduct of “special” individuals or groups to be self-serving – subverting the needs of the whole in favor of the subset’s desire for protection, power, and/or influence. The deviant behaviors are often an acting out of a particular bias that favors one group or person over another. Or the deviant behaviors may be breaking one or more rules out of personal preference. Either way, the bad behavior is continuously reinforced because there are no immediate consequences. In fact, rule breakers are actually rewarded because they are able to act more freely without the encumbrances that rules propose. The deviance becomes normalized as the other organizational members stay silent, often feeling that the emotional cost is too high and not worth the risk.
Affirmative cog. We are not talking about the cost of goods sold (COGS) tracked by businesses for financial and tax purposes (thank goodness!). We are talking about a different type of cog – a cog in a wheel or machine as an analogy for a person who is functionally necessary in a larger operation or organization, but considered to be of small significance or importance. A cog is one of the projections or teeth on a gear that engages with other teeth on other gears to transfer motion. This motion creates momentum, and we the little tiny cogs, help keep that momentum going. Kind of reminds us of that old song “the wheels on the bus go round and round” – but we digress.
The term “affirmative cog” is used to symbolize acting without thinking about the larger context in which we live and work to include the bias, deviance, injustice, and ineffectiveness around us. When we live and work on autopilot, we are affirming and continuing the status quo. It’s time to wake up and realize that the status does not have to be quo!
We can each have a significant influence on the culture through our everyday actions, interactions, and inactions (e.g., what we pay attention to, how we react to crucial incidents and errors, how we reward and punish, what we speak up about, accept, and role model, etc.). Each of these areas give us the opportunity to interject a better way, and ultimately lead in a better way. Don’t be an affirmative cog.
Jibo the Robot. The social bot named Jibo is making a comeback and has a new mission – healthcare and education. This robot demonstrates empathetic-like connections with its people who often become quite emotionally attached to their robot. And the next model of Jibo will be able to connect to medical devices to “keep an eye on you,” detect health issues and alarm signals, play educational games, and anticipate your needs, even calling your healthcare provider. In a time of social isolation and healthcare at home, we think Jibo has a bright future! Check it out at https://jibo.com/.
Thingamajig. As we grow older or more fatigued and the world grows more specialized and complex, we’re liking this word more and more!!! A thingamajig refers to the name of something or someone you can’t quite put your finger on or you simply forgot. Examples of the use of this word just this week include – a reference to UFOs as “unexplained encounters with speedy flying thingamajigs,” a medical device described as “that thingamajig they slide you into that makes lots of noise and takes your picture,” and a personal favorite, “Where the heck did you put that thingamajig?” referring to a commonly used kitchen tool. It is similar to a whatchamacallit, and both are very fun to say.
Titter Time: THINGAMABOB
I put the thingamabob inside the whatchamacallit, turned the doohickey and the wuteveritis still doesn’t work. Any ideas? ~ Unknown Punster
Gladwell, M. (2000). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. U.S. Little, Brown and Company.
Inspired by Iceland [website]. Retrieved August 1, 2020 from https://lookslikeyouneediceland.com/
Jibo: Together for You [website]. Retrieved August 1, 2020 from https://jibo.com/
Reynolds, P. (2018). The Word Collector. New York: Orchard Books.
Scott, K. & Sarikas, B. (2020a, June 27). The Word Collection Series #2 [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.l3fusion.com/post/the-word-collection-series-2
Scott, K., Sarikas, B., & Bessler, C. (2020b). Stupid Gone Viral: When Science and Reality Collide. Great Britain: Rethink Press.
Tipping point. Merriman-Webster.com (2020). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tipping%20point
Winkler-Schor, S. (2020, June 11). At the tipping point: Behavior change lessons from the pandemic. Psychology Today.com. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-conservation-psychologist/202006/the-tipping-point-behavior-change-lessons-the-pandemic