Dec 30, 2011

Body Language

An article by Adam Dachis has a few interesting points about body language.
It includes some ideas on the way that we carry ourselves and the way it is interpreted by others. There is a lot of research (and also a consulting company, Sociometric Solutions, that I happen to work for :)) that leverage technology in order to learn from human gestures and its interpretation. When discussing body language, it is very important to be aware of cultural differences that effect the way that we perceive behavior. For example, some gestures could be considered insulting in certain cultures and not significant at all in other cultures.

I apologize if the image offends anyone 
Here are a few ideas and a few quotes from the article. I will include a link to the full article at the end of this post
  1. "We lie a lot" (House says it better) If you believe this, you will find it helpful to know a thing or two about body signals. 
  2. Eye contact is good! 
  3. Intuition. In contrast to what the article suggests, I think that our intuition is something we can improve and develop so that it can assist us in estimating situations. 
  4. "Some people are just awkward" Remember to take all the "How to..." guides with a grain of salt. Especially when it comes to describing or deciphering people's intentions. Every human being is different, it is really difficult to generalize and to expect it to fit accurately to everyone. 
  5. "We tend to mimic the behavior of others to some extent" I admit that I usually get uncomfortable when people talk about mimicry.  I do believe however, that we have some influence on the person we are interacting with. We can send "vibes" that can catch on to the other person and somewhat effect the interaction
  6. "Remember: Body Language Is Only Part of the Picture"

Link to the full article:
How to Read Body Language to Reveal the Underlying Truth in Almost Any Situation, BY ADAM DACHIS

 thanks for sharing the article!

Nov 30, 2011

Vuja dé (not déjà vu...)

Déjà vu — looking at an unfamiliar situation and feeling like you've seen it before.
Vuja dé  looking at a familiar situation (a field you've worked in for decades, products you've worked on for years) as if you've never seen it before, and, with that fresh line of sight, developing a distinctive point of view on the future. 

Bill Taylor distinguishes between these two expressions in his HBR post and raises an interesting question: "How do you look at your organization and your field as if you are seeing them for the first time?"

For Taylor's full HBR post: CLICK HERE

image via businessinsider

Oct 31, 2011

The world's population will pass the 7 billion mark on Monday

According to a UN estimation, the world's population will pass the 7 billion mark on Monday. 7 billion is a number that is hard to perceive, It raises questions: How does this number spread among the countries? How is population growth today different than the way it used to be in the past?  

It is interesting to see information (that is usually presented with dry numbers) presented in a different way. A beautiful visualization for the population growth by NPR:

Oct 27, 2011

Mind Wandering.....................

I am always fascinated with brain processes that are mysterious (or at least unknown to me) and their affect on our behavior. According to yet another brilliant article by Jonah Lehrer from WIERED (oh yeah, I am definitely becoming a groupie), it is OK to just let the mind wander.
Furthermore, Not only that it is NOT unproductive, it actually makes us be MORE CREATIVE!

Fun fact: Did you know that the brain consumes more energy during daydreaming than it does during periods in which we are focused?!
This image is a detail taken from a beautiful Mercedes Benz add: called "Left Brain Right Brain" 
(Advertising Agency: Shalmor Avnon Amichay/Y&R Interactive Tel Aviv, Israel)

 A research from Schooler lab, mentioned in the article, demonstrated that "people who consistently engage in more mind-wandering [...] score significantly higher on various measures of creativity". 

Before you start gazing at the screen and let your mind wander, you should know that there are different types of mind-wandering, and not in all of them patients exhibited increased creativity (you'll have to read the article to know the distinction ). Click HERE to link to the full article.

Oct 9, 2011

Interesting read about what makes us learn better

Do you hate to be wrong? What is your reaction when you make a mistake?

According to a new paper by Moser at Michigan State University there are two distinct mindsets: a fixed one and a growth one. Having one or the other has an impact on our ability to learn from our mistakes and to improve our performances. 

This interesting article by Jonah Lehrer touches on the difference between feedback that is given on effort versus feedback that is granted for intelligence. Apparently there is a different impact based on the subject of feedback (praise on effort or praise on intelligence as part of an experiment done with children by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford). 

Should we avoid the unpleasant symptoms of being wrong? 
The article answers this question and others:
Why Do Some People Learn Faster? By Jonah Lehrer, Wired Magazine

Aug 27, 2011

Moral, Coffee and Social Interactions

image via Cain's Brain

Jokes aside, as a person who consumes a lot of coffee, I have to admit that for me coffee is not a beverage to have on my own by the computer. It is an opportunity for a social encounter. I try to have my coffee breaks with other people. The coffee talk is a time to catch up on work AND non-work-related issues with my peers and friends.

There is research that shows that social-breaks boost productivityand that the caffeine increases creativityI am definitely addicted, not sure whether it is to the caffeine or to the social interactions. Whatever it is, it gives me a boost.

Jul 17, 2011

Thoughts on "Ten Principles To Live By..."

There is some important stuff on this list by Tony Schwartz:
Ten Principles To Live By In Fiercely Complex Times (Fast Company)

It made me raise my head up and look at the sticky note that's always hanging on the wall in front of me and says: "Questions everything". It's exhausting to actually do this, I have to admit, but I think it is worth it.
My sticky note ^
Regarding principle #6, just earlier today I was talking about the feeling of satisfaction in finding out that you can do with little and be happy. It is truly rewarding just to see that you can - try it out.
Last comment is on principle #9: It helps to get feedback from people around you, since there are many things that we are not noticing about ourselves and the way we behave. We have more chance to change/improve if we are made aware of things...

Jun 13, 2011

Snobs, meritocracy and why tragedy is useful

This wonderful 15 minute talk touches on issues that have been occupying my mind for some time: what is success? Are the goals that motivate us are truly ours? Can we really avoid prior assumptions? Alain De Botton examines ideas of success and failure (via swissmiss and Brain pickings).

De Botton mentions a scenario in which we strive to a certain measure of success only to find out (in some cases) that it is not "our success" but a success measure defined by someone else (by our mother, significant others, trends etc.) This could lead to frustration.

The way I look at it, as we are social creatures, by definition we are affected by others: we learn, improve, and also generate ideas and thoughts as a result of our interactions with other individuals in our environment. However, many times, without noticing it, people simply repeat what they heard by others without necessarily filtering it, or providing an original line of thought. 
In my opinion, the best way for us to make sure the goals/thoughts/ideas we have are really ours and not a repetition of others is to metaphorically melt the ready-made input that we received by others, break it up, look at it in a critical way, and then reconstruct it to fit us - pick and chose the concepts that fit our "truth" and synthesize it with our perspective and original ideas. It will ensure that what we are striving for, the success that we believe in, is ours and not just a reflection of others. It is difficult but crucial to generate an individual voice, needs, desires and beliefs in order to make sure that we really OWN our thoughts. If after the reconstruction we end up with the same idea as the one we started with - it means we actually believe in it!

May 9, 2011

Thoughts on The Physical Working Environment

In this post I will touch on some aspects of the physical working environment in organizations. I will attempt to answer these questions: How should offices be designed FOR people? What makes a certain work environment successful? What physical-work-environment is likely to encourage productivity and creativity?

Since it is spring, I cannot help but think of the similarities between planting seeds in the ground and placing employees in an office. I know, I know, it sounds cliché, but think about it: we try to ensure that the plant will have all that it needs: light, water, shade/sun, structural support (if it has the potential to grow high), protection from wind, etc. We will surely think about all these things before we plant anything, right?  We will want to research the specific needs that this plant has as we shape its environment to the best of our ability. Should we do any less for people in the context of their working environment?
Prof. Tom Davenport wrote about knowledge workers, how they think, how they accomplish tasks, and what motivates them to excel in his book "Thinking for a Living". One of the chapters in his book deals with physical work environment of the knowledge worker. 
Davenport claims that very little can be said for certain with regards to the effects of the workplace on the performance of the knowledge workers. He recommends to develop a customized and personalized approach towards this issue: Customized- fitting of the physical work environment to the group and its knowledge needs. Personalized: knowledge workers have characteristics that define their tasks and type of work, like autonomy in making decisions, and so. Choice and individual decision should be granted to them with regards to their workplace environment as well.

Frederick Herzberg studied and developed theories regarding the factors that affect human behavior. He identified a range of influences on workers’ motivation. The physical environment was identified as having a unidirectional effect on worker motivation. Hertzberg thought it was important to maintain a comfortable, safe, supportive physical environment to help workers stay motivated (and productive).

Now, enough with theory. What can we DO?
Environmental conditions to think about when designing places for people: Indoor air quality, ventilation system performance, lighting, spatial comfort, density, personalization and furniture, layout and acoustic conditions. There are endless design solutions of internal office space that try to address the environmental conditions I just mentioned. I will provide a few examples of cool designs and then provide a few tips on how to go about designing a work environment for your company.
  Cool designs I liked that show the semi-private work area:
   Skype Headquarters in Palo Alto, by blitz design
   Google Offices in Milan by AMA – Albera Monti & Associati

    Beta workplace system of furniture, designed by Pierandrei Associati
    WPP Detroit - Designed by Gensler

A few tips: How to go about designing a work space for your company

Customize and personalize:
Create think-tanks that includes representatives from different groups in the organization. Also include a person who understands the work habits of the team, and the type of people who work there (an involved HR person would be a great fit for this). Different groups in the organization have different dynamics based on the people who work there and on how they do the job that they do. After think-tanks are formed, together identify work behaviors that are important for a successful performance of that team.

Try to avoid solutions buzz words such as: open space/cubicles, instead talk about the types of communication utilized by  the team that will occupy a space. For example, a support team who works on providing clients with online/on-phone support, might need to consult with each other and share institutional knowledge. The physical configuration could be sensitive to that need and support it with a space where the team could easily see/talk with each other.  This approach of defining behaviors first and only then connecting them to physical solutions might be more time consuming than simply sending a survey to ask what configuration they would like to work at, but it will provide a better fit to the behavioral needs of the team (in the next paragraph I will suggest why you should not JUST ask people what they prefer)

What’s wrong with asking people what they prefer?
Usually I claim that people know what’s good for them. In this case, I feel that people might confuse what’s good for them with standard design solutions that they heard about previously. People might not be able to identify the important elements in the space design that could be required for their optimal work performance. A survey regarding the work environment, in which employees are asked to define what they like/dislike, might yield obvious results (e.g.: people like natural light).

Consider plants in the work environment!
It might sound random and not related but in fact plants not only add a visual pleasure but have an effect on the quality of air in the office (they do produce oxygen, it's real!). Nowadays, many offices include sealed windows. Plants won't replace the air conditioning system but it would help increase the oxygen levels in the air. 

So to conclude, there are no tricks or secret formulas. In order to design a productive, functional, and successful work space, you need to learn and understand the way different groups in your company’s operate, the personalities that will occupy different spaces and what type of activities and behaviors they need to do in that space.

May 1, 2011

Mean What You Say and Say What You Mean

This time I wanted to write about three communication issues. These might be related to cultural differences or to the way we were brought up. No matter what the cause is, I think it is worth thinking about these behaviors:

How are you.
And continuing to walk without really caring about the response.

This is one of the things that annoyed me the most when I moved to the US: People walk by you, saying “hi, how are you” (note that there’s no question mark!) and just continue to walk without really stopping by to hear your answer. I thought that it is very rude, why do people ask if they don’t care about my answer??? Well, of course people do not intend to insult. This is how people greet each other here, and it took me a while to understand it and not to be personally offended. However, I would like to suggest an alternative: if we are in such a hurry, and don’t have time to hear how people are doing, just say “Hi, good to see you”.

I think that we should care about other people and how they are doing, conversation is important and good, asking “how are you?” is great, but if you ask it, do be kind enough to pause and hear the response. Or just don’t ask at all.

Professor Sandy Pentland of the MIT Media Lab wrote an entire book on Honest Signals. Here is a quote I took from the Signaling Theory wikipedia page: “Biological signals, like warning calls or resplendent tail feathers, are considered honest if they are correlated with, or reliably predict, something useful to the receiver. In this usage, honesty is a useful correlation between the signal trait (which economists call ”public information” because it is readily apparent) and the unobservable thing of value to the receiver”

In the name of politeness people are signaling DIS-honest signals. Many explain that they don’t want to hurt feelings of the person that they are speaking with and therefore mask it with smiles and kind words. How are we supposed to interpret body language and words that are masked?! For example, people who have a bad interview but receive positive feedback just so they don't feel bad, do not have a clue that they really did badly, and they cannot improve. Wouldn’t it be better to be honest? I am not suggesting to be rude by all means (!) but I think that we can and should know how to handle honest feedback, and it could help us improve.

Direct = Aggressive (?!)
Last week I was speaking with a few people who explained to me how direct communication can be perceived as aggressiveness. I refuse to play the “pretend” game. I want people to be clear and direct with me in the way we communicate, without masks. I am trying to be honest and direct too. I think it will remove a lot of noise and confusion if we all just be honest and direct with each other. We will not have to invest so much energy in rephrasing every word and painting everything with shiny colors. It’s not about aggressiveness, which I don't promote, but I perceive indirect loop-arounds and masks of fake-politeness as unnecessary overhead that weighs-down communication and could distract from the actual content being communicated.

And that's my bottom line. Mean what you say, and say what you mean.

Apr 12, 2011

Work/Life separation. Really?

I noticed that many people emphasize and take pride in their ability to separate their work and non-work time (some call it having a “personal life”). I realize that this is a charged issue. I can understand it but not agree with it. There are so many seminars, workshops, and books that teach us how to separate between life/work and such. 

I agree there are many advantages to such a separation, especially in times of stress and pressure at work, however, this time I wanted to challenge this idea and question it: 
Is it really necessary to separate the two? Is it even possible?
Here are three thoughts that may paint the separation between work and “personal life” in grayish colors:

  1. EVERYTHING is personal.
    For years, I believed (and still do partially) that things that happen to us in life are a direct result of who we are. There are philosophers and psychology researchers who developed theories that explain that there is no reality but the reality as WE perceived it- the subjective reality (e.g. Thomas Nagel) . If we follow that line of logic, we cannot really separate between our personal and professional aspects since both are a result of how we perceive the world.

  2. Humans are complete systems.
    (I am using the word systems as an attempt to avoid the word “holistic” that I would have really wanted to use here, since I realize the risk of losing some of you by sounding too fluffy...)

    We present different identities in different situations, we reveille certain aspects of our personality with friends and family (e.g. we might chose to act goofy and foolishly since we know we are in a safe environment), with colleagues at work (we might chose to act in a very focused and serious manner), etc.

    Even if we chose to behave completely different in certain scenarios,  we are still the same person and therefore it does not seem possible, sustainable, or effective to turn certain “parts” of ourselves ON and OFF
    (or do you think we are all suffering from a split personality syndrome?)

  3. Passion.
    - People who are passionate about what they do, want to do it all the time and can’t help but think, talk, and act about the things that they are passionate about.
    - Lucky people are passionate about their job.

    Should I draw the conclusion that people who insist of separating their lives are just not passionate about what they do? 
Maybe instead of trying to separate the two we can focus on 
how to balance them.

Mar 24, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest (about Feedback)

In psychology, BioFeedback was found to be meaningful in terms of improving health and personal performance. I have never tried it but I am fascinated by the concept that we are able to view our behaviors (to be more accurate our physiological responses) and to affect them (manipulate). Another example is the work of several research groups at the MIT Media Lab are developing devices that sense behavior (examples: herehere and here) and provide social and behavioral feedback to the tested individual, and there are companies that are doing incredible work on measurement of behavior in attempt to be able to affect it.

Some day we will be walking with sensors on and around us all the time, and be able to measure and improve ourselves on the fly. This day is getting closer and closer whether we want to or not... (read: Smartphones). Until then, I think that we'd better remember the importance of interpersonal feedback as a tool for improvement of ourselves and our peers.

Feedback is so important! It is a tool that enables us to change and improve our behavior, when done correctly.Why is it so hard to provide and to receive feedback?

Many people treat feedback as criticism - it shouldn't be this way! One way to do this right is to focus the feedback on specific behaviors and patterns, rather than to personality traits which are harder to change. There is a higher chance that the receiver of the feedback will be able to improve or adjust behavior, compared to changing their personality. Another challenge is timing. Feedback should be provided close to the observed behavior, similarly to any reinforcement-based learning activity. Lastly, you need to know HOW TO provide and receive feedback (practice helps!) 

Last week I facilitated a workshop that dealt with feedback. No matter how you decide to approach it, people always feel as if feedback is something that you just know (or don't know) how to do, and can’t be taught. Well, this is not true. Not everyone knows how to do it well from the get-go, and there is a lot we can do to improve. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to practice feedback in a sterile environment, since, as in any simulation, it is “not the real thing” and does not represent actual real-life challenges.

In general, feedback serves two purposes:
  1. Reinforcement of desirable behaviors
    (which as a byproduct builds self-confidence)
  2. Improvement of behaviors which are not desirable.

Would you rather be told that you are doing something wrong in your work, with all the discomfort that might involve, or would you rather wait around for a promotion that will never come? Would you rather hear from a potential employer or recommender what you are doing wrong, so that you can improve, or to get a polite and bland response that wouldn't make you feel so bad but would leave you in the same place you were beforehand?

I would rather get earnest feedback, targeted at what I can do to improve, with all the difficulty that might come with that. What would you prefer?
Seek feedback, and deliver it whenever possible!

Mar 7, 2011


There are many people like me who have a tendency to be nostalgic and miss the way things used to be. A lot has been written about the way that we glorify the past, neglecting to remember the challenges and difficulties we experienced at the time. Usually, it is easier to think of how things used to be better. Everything changes all the time: Heraclitus, on his doctrine on the “Universe” said: “You could not step twice into the same river...” Both you and the river had changed.

I would like to steer this thought towards the organizational arena:  The river of the business environment is changing all the time. Technology developments enable us to do things we could only dream of doing in the past. People and their skills are changing: Employees today have a wider breath of experience, they are much more multidisciplinary and able to pull in ideas and implement knowledge from different fields. The social composite of people within the organization also changes as the organization grows, but also when it is in a seemingly stable-state. Companies are hiring new people and letting other people go. Even though we all know of these changes, we are still longing for how things were.

 It is very typical for veteran employees of start-up companies to miss the early days: The enthusiasm of the first years when the team was small and everyone knew each other, when it was so simple to go out together spontaneously, when everyone were 150% devoted and it seems like the sky were the limit. We miss these things because they made us feel good. The thing is, that there is a lot that you can do in order to preserve the enthusiasm in your organization. Yes, it is not the same river, and yes, you are not the same person (or team) but still you are able to influence the atmosphere of your organization (!) by creating new opportunities to reach some enthusiasm and good feeling that you remember from the past.

What can you do? 

It is important to involve the employees who were at the organization from the beginning in the evolution of the corporate culture. They can  help pass on the heritage of the company as it used to be. Those employees are carrying institutional knowledge as well as norms and values of how the organization used to be.  (it is important to pass on positive things and not bad habits).Some examples:
  • The on-boarding process for new employees is an important stage where cultural and behavioral knowledge can be transferred. Employees who are part of the organization from the start could assist with training of new employees and combined with informal means of mentoring.
  • Keep doing the things that reflected the norms and the values of the organization, but adjust the scale. It might not be possible for everyone in the organization to go out for drinks after work- but it might be possible in the team level for example.
  • Involve the veterans and the newer people in creating of new  or updated norms that combines the “traditional” norms and values together with fresh norms and values that might be more appropriate to the changing organization. Done right, this could help create a shared culture and feelings of ownership and belonging for both the veteran and newer employees.

Let me know what you think!

Feb 24, 2011

Arts & Management

Finally someone acknowledges that the combination of art and business is meaningful!

It took me time to explain (again and again) the connection between all the design in my background and my current MBA degree... In my MBA program we were three architects and one sculptor, and it was pretty easy to spot the artists in our program. What differentiates the artists/designers? I think it is false to claim that quantifying things is less valueable to artists. I do believe that there are other things a design/art-oriented person values that others might not pay attention to. I do agree that art education sharpens the sensitivity to the way one delivers a message, and it encourages artists to be bold and willing to take risks. 

Enjoy the article ! 
(Reut, thanks for the link)

Feb 22, 2011

Hello World !

I love people, and I am fascinated by their interaction with each other and with their environment - professional and otherwise. I want to help create organizations, processes, and spaces that encourage productivity and make people happy.

These days I work in areas of organizational development, organizational behavior, and training. Particularly, I specialize in change-management - helping companies, organizations, and individuals deal with the periods of change. A period of change could be a start-up experiencing rapid growth, two firms merging following an acquisitions, or a company expanding into a new country and a different culture. It could also be many other things since change is an integral part of every organization.

I started this blog to write about things I care about, from organizational development and change management, to some of the things I've done in the past - like landscape architecture, graphic design, branding, communications, or new-media research.

So the HR&D blog will sometimes be about Human Resources and Development.
Sometimes it will be about Human R&D,
Sometimes it will be about Hacks and Radical Design,
Sometimes it will be about Hopes, Realizations, and Dreams,

And sometimes, just sometimes, its going to be about stuff that starts with totally different letters altogether.