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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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