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:
- Make Space for Serendipity
- Serendipity in project management is rare, in part, because we're under too much pressure to see it.
If we can reduce the pressure, wonderful things happen.
- Knowing Where You're Going
- Groups that can't even agree on what to do can often find themselves debating about how
to do it. Here are some simple things to remember to help you focus on defining the goal.
- The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights
- Ever have a brilliant insight, a forehead-slapping moment? You think, "Now I get it!" or "Why
didn't I think of this before?" What causes these moments? How can we make them happen sooner?
- False Summits: II
- When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end.
The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is
in project work.
- Ethical Debate at Work: II
- Outcomes of debates at work sometimes favor one party, not only at the expense of the other or others,
but also at the expense of the organization. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for steering debates
toward wise outcomes.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.