The Hawthorne Effect, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and the Pygmalion Effect are three examples of observer effects — phenomena that describe how observers interact with the systems or people they observe. We usually think of these effects as bad news, because they create outcomes different from what we were intending.
For instance, the Hawthorne Effect causes the system we're measuring to change its behavior, which can create paradoxical measurement results. See "Getting Around Hawthorne," Point Lookout for October 2, 2002, for more.
But observer effects can work to our advantage, too. In some ways, having a coach is like having an observer who watches your inner process. When you know you'll be talking to your coach next week, you just might be a little more careful about some of the choices you make this week.
Observing yourself is another way to exploit the observer effect. There's no easier way to do it than keeping a workplace journal, where you record anything you want about your experience of work. Here are some tips for successful workplace journaling.
- Choose your medium
- Some like to journal in a word processor; some prefer a blank book and a favorite pen or pencil. Choose deliberately. Do you like the feel of paper and ink? Or do you want to be able to search using the Find command?
- Let the writing slow you down
- If you're typing your journal, try typing slowly. If you're writing on paper, write carefully. Let the act of writing slow your thinking, to help you see things differently. Thinking slowly about the events of the day is like visiting a familiar place on foot, instead of by car — you see more.
- Write as if to your future self
- Thinking slowly about
the events of the day
is like visiting a familiar place
on foot, instead of by car
- Like all good writing, both the writer and the reader benefit from a journal, but only if the writer keeps the reader in mind. For your journal, your reader is yourself, some months from now. Write to that person.
- Record why and why not
- Record why you made the choices you did, and why you didn't make the choices you didn't. This kind of information makes interesting reading six months from now.
- Read the old entries
- To get the full value of the observer effects, from time to time you have to read what you've written. Notice patterns. Think about (and write about) what you might change about yourself to displace patterns you don't like, or what to keep to re-enforce the patterns you do like.
If you don't already journal regularly, here's an idea for an entry: write about the thoughts that came to you as you were reading this little essay. What did you like about the idea of a working journal? If you were to start one, what would you like to have happen? Top Next Issue
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One caution: If you decide to keep your journal at work, be certain that you comply with your employer's document retention and destruction policies. You might want to keep your journal at home.
For an example of something you might want to put in your working journal, suppose you were trying acquire skill in using indirectness. You might record in your journal any incidents you observed where someone used indirectness deftly and to good effect. Or you might record your own attempts or missed opportunities, along with short discussions of how you could improve.
Working journals are also useful if you're aiming for a promotion. See "How to Get Promoted in Place," Point Lookout for August 23, 2006, and "How to Get a Promotion in Line," Point Lookout for September 13, 2006, for more.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Troublesome Terminology
- The terms we use at work to talk about practices, policies, and procedures are serviceable, for the
most part. But some of them carry connotations and hidden messages that undermine our larger purposes.
- The Limits of Status Reports: I
- Some people erroneously believe that they can request status reports as often as they like, and including
any level of detail they deem necessary. Not so.
- Ending Sidebars
- We say that a sidebar is underway in a meeting when two or more meeting participants converse without
having been recognized by the chair. Sidebars can be helpful, but they can also be disruptive. How can
we end sidebars quickly and politely?
- Holding Back: II
- Members of high-performing teams rarely hold back effort. But truly high performance is rare in teams.
Here is Part II of our exploration of mechanisms that account for team members' holding back effort
they could contribute.
- How to Get Overwhelmed
- Here's a field manual for those who want to get overwhelmed by all the work they have to do. If you're
already overwhelmed, it might explain how things got that way.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 5: Red Flags: III
- Early signs of troubles in collaborations include toxic conflict, elevated turnover and anti-patterns in communication. But among the very earliest red flags are abuses of power. They're more significant than other red flags because abuses of power can convert any collaboration into a morass of destructive politics. Available here and by RSS on August 5.
- And on August 12: Cognitive Biases at Work
- Cognitive biases can lead us to misunderstand situations, overlook options, and make decisions we regret. The patterns of thinking that lead to cognitive biases provide speed and economy advantages, but we must manage the risks that come along with them. Available here and by RSS on August 12.
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