Renewal by Subtraction

9 november 2021

Carin Eriksson Lindvall Artikel i Psychology Today

Renewal By Subtraction, Psychology Today, November 2021, p. 60

Change isn’t easy. It seems like the human instinct is to add components, making things more complicated, instead of simplifying and removing them. Many of us has experienced that in our own lives but it has also been proven in research.  A research study recently published in Nature investigated how people act in problem solving. In this study, conducted by Adams, Converse, Hales and Klotz (Nature, 2021), more than 1,000 people participated in various tests where they had to solve problems with, among other things, geometric figures and Lego. In the tests, the majority of participants preferred to add elements, even though the solution could be found more easily if some element had been removed.


The tendency to solve problems by adding new components explains also why many of us, often, at home and in organizations – when not thinking clearly through problems – try to solve problems by introducing new routines or policies. We keep adding on routines or solutions until everything becomes so complex that it’s almost impossible to get any kind of overview. We squeeze in meetings or things to do in already overbooked calendars. We try to book things even though we do not have the time or the desire to do them. We also have a tendency to continue doing things we have done before. Particularly if money, time or efforts were once invested, a waste aversion could hold us back from subtracting. We keep adding on and maybe we think briefly in the moment that we shouldn’t, but it’s easier to add than it is to remove. More and more things to do until it becomes overwhelming. Are you dissatisfied with your home? Buy new decor. Do you want to look better? Get some new clothes. Improve your kids? Add new activities into their already hectic schedule. It seems like the first thing we think of when we meet a situation is “what can we add here”?


This is also true in our organizations. It’s a well-known fact in organizational research that when a new upper-level manager takes on their position, one of the first things introduced are change programs. New solutions, routines and policies are added to an ever-increasing expansion of formal organizations. These changes offer few subtractive solutions. A proposal to get rid of routines or tasks could even have negative social consequences at work because it’s not seen as creative, positive, forthcoming or appreciative of co-workers. And we may also believe that existing solutions and routines are there for a reason, even though we don’t know that reason, so we leave it unquestioned. People end up being overwhelmed with work, sometimes doing things nobody asks for or that bring little or no value to the business. It’s no longer a solution, but still something that gets done and adds onto the complexity and inertia of the organization. It’s a routine.


Routines are difficult to change. Routines are, by definition, a common set of activities or ways of doing things. Routines are solutions to previous problems. We all have them; we have them in our daily lives, in our family lives and in our workplaces. We shape routines because it makes us in many ways more free; we don’t have to think of every step we take, we just need to rely on good routines and use our brains for better or more demanding things. And that’s the problem with routines – when we are doing them, we seldom question them. The brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine, and the more internalized the routine, the less brain power is needed. And more activities can be added on, allowing time for less thinking. And we go on as we have always done.

But then the pandemic hit and everything changed. Many of our previously added routines and solutions of our daily social and working life were no longer adequate. All of a sudden, we made changes because we had no choice. It could be changes in the simple routines like hand washing or more complex ones like commuting to work. At work, we changed our meeting routines and how work was carried out. In the new work-from-home arrangement that many of us were faced with, we had to create new routines. We couldn’t stop the spread of the virus and we just had to accept the new circumstances. We subtracted social events and meetings from our calendars and to-do lists. And many of us did find it rewarding to do so. Our old pre-pandemic routines were not solutions to our new problems. Change and subtraction was possible.


The pandemic gave us a new and extraordinary experience and an opportunity to reflect on the complexity of life. The loss of old routines and outdated solutions leaves space for real change - change by which we choose to live. Maybe some of our previous routines were even complicating our lives unnecessarily? The disruption of routines and “musts” by the pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to now reflect on what is valuable/essential in our lives and to see how, going forward, social life and work can be better organized to make lives more fulfilling.


Doing so, philosophy, which is also the foundation of existential therapy, can be helpful. When it comes to routines, we can turn to ancient wisdom such as Aristotle or the stoics. Aristotle (300 BC), the Greek philosopher during the Classical period in ancient Greece who is (among many things) said to be the father of logic, is often cited: we become what we repeatedly do. And if you believe this is true, you have to be careful about the choice of habits and routines. We have to find the balance or as Aristotle called this “the mean”. The mean isn’t an arithmetic average: it’s the right balance in a particular circumstance. It can’t be computed by adding or dividing. There will never be any easy answers. The “mean” has to be lived and reflected upon.


This is a fine match with the ideas of the stoics (the school of philosophy that developed in Athens, starting as early as 300 BC). Stoicism invites us to let go of our illusions of control, to take responsibility, to overlook trivialities, and to try to see the value in our everyday lives. Stoicism challenges us not to seek perfection but to seek growth and development. Many of us have learned from our recent pandemic experience that subtraction and simplification can make lives more fulfilling; it’s a solution that also embodies the wisdom of the Stoics.


As more people are vaccinated and Covid-19 is getting more under control, we are now moving toward a new normal. We now have a tremendously massive opportunity to redesign our daily lives before we are stuck in routines that keep us from thinking. We cannot live without routines, but we must not be locked in by too many or inaccurate routines. The world we face is too complex and varied to be handled with only routines, but without them, we become lost and inefficient.


Which of your earlier routines and rituals did you really miss when you were locked down? Which changes during the pandemic relieved you? Which new routines do you want to keep or shape? Is it possible to simplify your life?


And if I dare to offer some advice: Don’t overcommit. Don’t stress it. Have the courage to take things down a notch, and take some time out to reflect on what is really important. Don’t be so busy acting that you forget to keep reflecting. Shape good routines that are solutions to the problems of today. And let go of old, unnecessary “musts”.

Två forskningsbaserade artiklar om hybridmöten och arbetsplatser

22 oktober 2021

Tips på två forskningsbaserade artiklar att läsa om hybridarbetsplatser och hybridmöten.

När vi går in i nästa fas av pandemin uppstår nya utmaningar. Företag och anställda brottas med vilka rutiner och förhållningssätt som ska gälla framöver. Omfattande data från undersökningar indikerar att de flesta anställda vill ha flexibla arbetslösningar eller s.k.  hybrider - det vill säga en blandning av att arbeta på den gemensamma arbetsplatsen och en möjlighet att arbeta hemifrån. Att arbeta på distans har gjort vardagen lite mindre stressig för många. Färre pendlingsresor har utöver den minskade stressen också inneburit lägre kostnader och en möjlighet att tillbringa mer tid i hemmet. Samtidigt har många av oss saknat kollegor, arbetsgemenskap och utvecklingsmöjligheter som uppstår i möten. Frågor om huruvida fysisk närvaro på kontoret är nödvändig för nyskapande och individers karriärutveckling är också stor. För den som är intresserad av att läsa mer om detta kan jag rekommendera två olika artiklar. Den ena är skriven av Tsedal Neeley, professor på Harvard som under lång tid har forskat om distansarbete. I början av pandemin kom hon ut med boken Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere och hon skriver regelbundet om hybridarbetsplatser. Neely påtalar i en artikel i Harvard Business Review med titeln 12 Questions About Hybrid Work, Answered  att vi nu behöver anpassa oss efter olika behov och som ett första steg behöver vi tydliggöra behoven genom kunskapsinhämtning. Vi behöver planera så att vi kan hitta lämpliga lösningar så att såväl individers som organisationens behov kan mötas. Neely uppmanar arbetsgivare att undersöka de anställdas preferenser. En sådan undersökning måste om den ska vara relevant erbjuda fullständig anonymitet för de som svarar. Med en väl genomförd undersökning kan arbetsgivaren få svar på vilka arbetsuppgifter som kan genomföras på distans och vilka som kräver närvaro på den ordinarie arbetsplatsen. Svaren på frågorna kring var arbetet bäst utförs, det optimala antalet arbetsdagar på distans och hur de anställda själva skulle organisera sitt arbete bidrar till att öka kunskapen så att tydliga och fungerande policies kan skapas. Neely menar också att  en policy för hybridlösningar kan vara nödvändig att formulera. Arbete på den gemensamma arbetsplatsen behövs för att introducera nyanställda, för att skapa gemenskap, kreativa möten, samarbeten och utveckling. För en del arbetsgivare krävs många dagar på den gemensamma arbetsplatsen och bara i undantagsfall kan arbetet genomföras på distans. För andra är ständigt distansarbete den optimala lösningen. Och däremellan förekommer alla möjliga olika lösningar.  Poängen är att varje organisation ska identifiera den hybridpolicy som bäst tjänar den organisationens behov. Men, kom ihåg, människor vill inte tvingas in till kontoret för att delta i videokonferenser eller göra arbetsuppgifter som hade fungerat bättre hemifrån. Det finns inget facit eller ”one size fits all” lösning. Policyn är ett nedskrivet förhållningssätt som olika arbetsgrupper kan tolka olika. Men, den måste vara i linje med organisationens behov och uppfattas som rättvis och klok. Förmedla också det faktum att ingen policy är skriven i sten. Arbetssätt kommer att justeras allteftersom när vi lär oss vad som är mest effektivt för olika intressenter. Poängtera därför återkommande att justeringar kommer att göras genom att vi kontinuerligt lär oss och prövar oss fram.

Den andra artikeln som jag rekommenderar är skriven av Rob Cross och Peter Gray och publicerad i Sloan Management Revies (se länk nedan). Sammanfattningsvis kan man säga att forskarna lyfter fram att möten ska utformas efter behov (inte direkt oväntat). De påtalar att när arbetet/mötet syftar till att få energi, få feedback, en känsla av gemenskap och syfte eller för att tillsammans lösa problem, då är det bäst med möten där vi träffas "live".  För enkel samordning och informationsöverföring är virtuella/digitala möten bäst.


Möte på distans eller på plats

7 oktober 2021

Ännu har inga ordentliga forskningsrapporter om hur arbete på distans/på plats under pandemin påverkat vår effektivitet och arbetsresultat mer långsiktigt. Helt enkel för att inte tillräckligt lång tid har förflutit för att vi ska kunna se de långsiktiga konsekvenserna, Den forskning om pandemins effekter på arbetet som hitintills gjorts har varit mer av kortsiktiga temperaturmätningar på arbetsmiljö och trivsel 

Vi har nog alla funderat över hur vi ska få så bra möten som möjligt. Möten kan vara allt från riktigt dränerande till livgivande. Nu har en artikel  om hur mötet ska utformas - live eller digitalt pubblicerats i Sloan Management Review (hög kvalitet på denna tidskrift). 

Sammanfattningsvis kan man säga att forskarna lyfter fram att möten ska utformas efter behov (inte direkt oväntat). De påtalar att när arbetet/mötet syftar till att få energi, få feedback, en känsla av gemenskap och syfte eller för att tillsammans lösa problem, då är det bäst med möten där vi träffas "live".  För enkel samordning och informationsöverföring är virtuella/digitala möten bäst. Jag tror att det nu är läge för att återskapa relationer, tydliggöra sammanhang, se det gemensamma uppdraget och utveckla våra arbetssätt. Gärna i riktigt bra möten!




Pandemic and post pandemic life

7 oktober 2021

It was easy to change. Because we just had to do it. From one day to the next, our workplaces were no longer regular offices. Instead we have been working from home offices, kitchen tables, bedrooms, couches and other more or less comfortable spaces. The pandemic forced that change upon us. And we understood it and accepted it. Yes, at some point it was also a feeling of commitment, like “we’re all in this together” – kind of a teambuilding activity.

And then it was not easy. It became dull. Sometimes lonely. It is harder to bring out creativity when feeling less connected and not as energetic as before. I’m speaking from my own experiences and multiple meetings I have had with clients and colleagues. We have not yet seen the results of the working life of the pandemic from real “thick” scientific longitudinal studies. But I can guess; many of us liked the autonomy, some of us were frustrated because we did not have the right technology or working conditions at home, many of us missed colleagues and some social activities, few missed the commuting and a lot of people are now feeling a bit burned out coming back to work.

So what have we learned? Since mid-March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way many of us live, work and how activities are conducted in society.  We have of course experienced many different things. The most obvious lesson learned is that the limitation of in-person meetings has brought about a rapid and comprehensive digital transformation. But what else? The pandemic work life forced upon us changed our daily routines. Routines can be seen as efficient solutions to previous problems. We shape routines because it makes us in many ways more free; we don’t have to think of every step we take, we just need to rely on good routines and use our brains for better (or more demanding) things. Our old pre-pandemic routines were not efficient in our new working-from-home situation so we had to create new routines. Now, as we move back to offices or to some kind of hybrid solution, we’ll need to shape new routines again that help us through the day – and that will take some time and effort. We need to understand and accept that.

The daily rhythm was shaken by the pandemic. Days and weeks were floating together into a mush. We missed old routines and rituals, and without them, the rhythm of the days and the year was lost. I’ve heard several people saying it’s hard to know if it’s Tuesday or Thursday. Spring or fall. Lunchtime or not. We need to find a rhythm that is suitable in this new kind of working situation (yes, I do think we’ll have more hybrid work patterns). Which routines and rituals did you really miss? Which relieved you? Timing is everything and now is the time to be thinking much more carefully about the rhythm, routines and rituals of your days and weeks. We now have a tremendously massive opportunity to redesign our daily lives.

To do that - give yourself time for reflection. I’ve noticed that a lot of people now have had the time to reflect on how they want to live their lives. Some are changing jobs, moving houses or are just convinced to do certain things a little bit differently. Don’t stress it. Have the courage to take things down a notch, and take some time out to reflect on what is really important. Don’t be so busy acting that you forget to keep reflecting. Over time, I have become more convinced that the best way to manage expectations, develop oneself and have a healthy relationship with what occupies the greater part of our waking hours – work, is through structured conversations (with yourself, a friend or someone you trust) involving self-reflection. This kind of conversation provides the opportunity to develop a greater understanding of one’s own work and of the challenges of working life. In this context, philosophy, which is also the foundation of existential therapy, can be helpful. Even those who are not particularly interested in reading the original texts of philosophers can benefit from their ideas in their own personal development.

Some time ago, I read a blog by David Brendel, a philosopher and psychiatrist, about how philosophy can provide guidance in one’s personal development. To do this, he suggests using the SANE method. I liked it because it’s so easy and hard at the same time. SANE draws on the key questions posed by pre-eminent Western philosophers: Socrates, Aristotle, Nietzsche and the Existentialists (SANE). These are the questions that we ought to be able to ask ourselves every so often:

Socrates: What is the most challenging question someone could ask me about my current approach?

Aristotle: What character virtues are most important to me and how will I express them?

Nietzsche: How will I direct my “will to power,” manage my self-interest, and act in accordance with my chosen values?

Existentialists (e.g., Sartre): How will I take full responsibility for my choices and the outcomes to which they lead?

Life and working life has many sources of frustration. Now – post-pandemic work life – is the time to reflect upon; what did I learn and how will that affect my future choices? In modern working life, which takes up such a big chunk of our waking hours, if we want to reduce frustration and negative stress, we need to have more conversations that reflect on what lies within the realms of the possible and the desired – in particular, to improve our chances of  resilience and sustainable development for individuals as well as organisations. Now it’s time.

Flourishing at work

29 juni 2021

Pandemin har gjort det tydligt att det över i stort sett hela världen råder brist på sjukvårdspersonal; läkare och sjuksköterskor i synnerhet. Bristen kan leda till risker för patienter och högre patientdödlighet.  Världshälsoorganisationen (WHO) har framhållit att för att lösa problemen med att rekrytera och behålla sjukvårdspersonal behöver vi arbeta med att stärka personalens arbetsmotivation.

Att känna att det egna arbetet är meningsfullt och har betydelse är mycket stärkande för arbetsmotivationen. Men det räcker inte. Möjligheten att lära sig och utvecklas i det dagliga arbetet, helst tillsammans med kollegor inom samma yrke, är mycket viktigt för motivationen. Dessutom är goda relationer till kollegor och känslan av gemenskap stor betydelse. 

Det finns ett behov av en djupare förståelse för sjuksköterskors arbetsmotivation. I vår studie med titeln Flourishing at work: Nurses' motivation through daily communication – An ethnographic  (publicerad i Nursing and Health Sciences 2020) lyfter vi fram frågor kring vad som skapar motivation i det dagliga arbetet. Du kan läsa mer om detta i bifogad artikel.  Flourishing at work: Nurses' motivation through daily communication - An ethnographic approach.Nursing and Health Sciences, Australia: John Wiley & Sons. 22(4): 1169-1176 DiVA
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