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Leadership styles may predict who will win the Game of Thrones

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology/Uncategorised/Work Psychology by

Game-of-ThronesLast year I blogged about the different leadership styles portrayed on Game of Thrones. Here’s an update for Season 6 now several leaders have been eliminated. Warning, spoilers ahead.

Who’s ultimately going to win the Game of Thrones? Using Goleman and colleagues’ leadership styles, this infographic displays the leadership characteristics of the Game of Thrones characters. It also shows their liklihood of winning the iron throne.

These leadership styles are adopted by most of us from time to time. We can also use more than one style depending on the circumstances. Here’s a summary of the different styles:

The Coach

Coaches build teams and make use of their strengths. They work on developing others, such as when Ned Stark arranges for his daughter, Arya Stark, to have swordplay lessons. Adopters of the coaching style are: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Jon Snow


Democratic leaders seek and represent the views and opinions of others. For example, Jon Snow demonstrates this style when he protects the views of a perceived enemy–the Wildlings. Adopters of the demographic style: Jon Snow, Doran Martell, Lord Varys (possible misdirection).

The Pace-setter

The pace-setter takes the bull by the horns and leads the way. They show his or her followers how to achieve their goals. The pace-setter is represents a hands style of leadership. For example, when Ned Stark insists on personally delivering executions with his trusty sword. Adopters of the pace-setter style are: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Jon Snow, Robert Baratheon (in his prime), Stannis Baratheon, Arya Stark


Affiliative leaders influence by building relationships. They are motivated to unite people to achieve their goals, such as when Robert Baratheon reunites with Ned Stark to merge their families. Adopters of the affiliative style are: Jamie Lannister, Robert Baratheon, Sansa Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, Daenarys Targaryen, Tommen Baratheon


In Westeros, all leaders need to adopt some level of command to control the chaos. Commanding leaders set directives and demand compliance. When it’s not present, such as with Tommen Baratheon, other characters manipulate and take advantage. When it’s too excessive, such as with Joffrey Baratheon, other characters plot their downfall. Adopters of the commanding style are: Tywin Lannister, Tyrion Lannister (as Hand of the King), Cercei Lannister, Joffrey Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Daenarys Targaryen, Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Jon Snow, Roose Bolton, Ramsay Bolton, Theon Greyjoy


Visionary leaders align people by setting an inspiring goal for the future. Daenerys Targaryen aligns the people with the prospect of freedom from slavery. Brandon Stark drives support with his prophetic visions of the ‘black crow’.Top adopters of the commanding style:

Daenarys Targaryen, Brandon Stark, Lord Varys (has a vision but is unclear), Littlefinger (perhaps), Tywin Lannister (the Lannister legacy drives him)

Failed leadership styles

Failed leaders largely adopted more commanding styles of leadership. Many of them, such as Ned and Rob Stark not only commanded but led from the front as coaches. Nevertheless, these styles appear to have short lived success in the world of Westeros where the politics demand a focus on relationships.

It is likely that top adopters of the commanding style, such as Cercei Lannister, and Ramsay Bolton will not persevere based on the trajectory of their characters on the show. Their one dimensional approach makes them powerful but unpopular.

Successful leaders in Game of Thrones

Top contenders of the iron throne are affiliative and visionary. For example,Tyrion Lannister tempers a commanding and forthright style with a warm and kind heart. Daenerys drives leadership through vision, compassion and a firm hand. Jon Snow balances his command with his relationships and willingness to get involved, like his brother and father.

Outside Chances

However, Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin, likes to surprise us. Some outside chances for success come in the form of true visionaries like Varys, Littlefinger and Brandon Stark. These characters are not traditional leaders. They work in the shadows and behind the scenes. But they operate as meta-players, seeing the game for what it is and adopting a longer term strategy.

Brandon is now viewing Westeros through the eyes of the trees. Littlefinger is manipulating entire families to feud so that he can use the chaos to his advantage. Varys appears to be preparing Westeros for a new leader from abroad.

‘Winner’ of the Iron Throne?

Jon Snow is the most rounded of the characters. He is democratic, affiliative, commanding, pace-setting, and coaching. My prediction is that now he is reborn, he will become more of a visionary, and lead the charge forward to secure the iron throne or remove it entirely.

To Russia without much love…why you need to be careful with freelancer websites

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

‘No, Nicholas, this will not do. Pay me my money now!’  I was being pursued by a tricky and unassuming Russian developer. I met him via one of the popular platforms Airtasker.

In my naiveté, I approached a freelancer online to do a job. I wasn’t sure how much it would cost but the Airtasker app demanded I enter a price so that the freelancer and I could get talking. So, I put in a tentative $300 and figured we could negotiate the price in person. The title: ‘Quotation to build an app’.

The Russian and I met for a coffee. He spent the session highlighting his amazing accomplishments in being able to expose frauds, fix problems caused by incompetents, and drain every last dollar from the customer.

One example he gave was building a simple app for a florist to use with their customers. He built it and the florist called, alarmed, and said it worked only once. The Russian smiled: ‘They never specified they wanted more than one customer, Nicholas…so they had to pay more for that.’ His cheeky grin reminded me of some strange character in a Coen Brothers movie.

When I inquired what he knew about cloud technology, he scoffed at my ignorance. ‘Nicholas, why do you want cloud? When you can have…THIS!’ Waving a flash drive triumphantly, he declared: ‘I always know where my data is, Nicholas.’

Shortly after my meeting with the roguish Russian, I received an email summarising his price. He would charge me thousands. I had already decided to avoid him altogether by this point.

A week later, he had closed the task and requested the $300. Apparently, the money is kept in a sort of website limbo where he can’t touch it but nor can I until we agree the task is satisfactorily delivered.

‘You haven’t even started the task let alone finished it. All you have done has sent me a quote,’ I replied. ‘But, Nicholas I gave you the quote. Now you have confirmed it with this message in writing that I have done so. The task was for providing a quotation.’

‘There’s clearly a misunderstanding,’ I retorted.

‘No, Nicholas, there is no misunderstanding. I am here to help you and I can’t say a task is not complete when it is.’

So, now I was in a pickle. The Russian had used my words against me, taking my task literally and pulled one of his shifty moves on me.

Then the threats began. The Russian informed me that he had now stolen my idea and sold it to many customers. He had contacted my ‘boss’ too, apparently, and would get his ‘300 bucks’ no matter what.

Meanwhile, the little Airtasker ads with friendly faces and Airtasker logo t-shirts continued to pop up on my Facebook account, promising low costs, great quality and such easy, friendly service. Clearly Dr Duck’s experience was the exception.

I then transferred the online debate to Airtasker, who forwarded me on to another group Promise Pay—an ironic name for either me or the Russian, whoever might win. Apparently, the Russian was technically correct. No doubt he had entered into his own online debate with Promise Pay and bamboozled them like the unfortunate florist.

Months went by and Promise Pay sent me copy and paste responses, often with strange cut and paste errors. They refused to discuss the matter over the phone. Evidently, a conversation is a service they do not offer.

The policy would change from time to time too. One time it was a 24-hour countdown style manoeuvre where my funds would be sent to the Russian as the decision was final.

Then it was a more conciliatory, ‘We will only ever transfer when you are completely satisfied.’

Eventually, I took the fight to the Supreme Court of social media, Facebook, and posted my disagreeable experience so that the rest of the world could see.

My friends chuckled that this shifty Russian developer had manipulated and run rings around a registered psychologist. Again, it was starting to play out like a Coen Brothers film. All we needed was a chase scene and for the poor florist to make a cameo appearance in the second act with an axe.

But it all ended with a whimper and not a bang. After months of posts to the Airtasker page, I received the first non-copy and paste response in months from Promise Pay. ‘Nicholas, how much would you be willing to pay to have this settled?’

I was happy to settle. The Russian got some of his bucks and they were well earned too. A coffee conversation, an email, and countless threatening messages. If it was his real job, you’d give him a raise.


Dr Nicholas Duck is a blogger and founder of Opposite


What I learned selling shoes at Myer

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

‘Hi, I’m after a pair of shoes. Preferably in black.’ I’d heard this one a few times. I was, of course, surrounded by black shoes in one of my first part-time jobs at Myer.

There were also many times when a customer would explain how his feet were different sizes…like almost every customer who came in. I also lost count of how many people asked me about the perils of foot odour. Fortunately, 99 per cent of the feet that walked through the department were odourless.

Although I did not realise it at the time, I had learned more than how to convert a US into a UK size. It was five years of workplace boot camp. Here are a few memories:

Corporate programs are not usually very good

Too often I sat in training and corporate programs highlighting impressive new changes on the way. There was the time I was instructed to look longingly into my colleague’s eyes for exactly one minute. We were being taught about the importance of eye contact. Unfortunately, my colleague was deeply uncomfortable with this activity and literally spent the awkward minute staring off to the side.

We were then instructed about the new ‘three metre’ rule where you must offer a customer assistance if they come within your radius of three metres. My fellow employees scoffed at this behind closed doors, saying it would make serving one customer impossible if they were stopping to offer every other customer help on the way back to the shoe reserve.

I kind of liked the idea of these activities but always found them a bit patronising and forced. In the past, I’d always preferred to work with leaders who got to know you and took to the floor with you rather than the ones educating you from a distance with elaborate programs.

Workplace protocols almost always end up getting in the way

One of the most annoying times in any workplace is where office protocols fly in the face of logic. We had one new Christmas casual rock up for work a few times and then completely disappear. HR called him and he’d say he was on his way in and then he’d never show up. He had decided to simply have a bit of fun with them, leaving us in the lurch.

The protocols and processes within the organisation kept him on the roster, even though it meant we’d be guaranteed to be a person down on our busiest days. It seems the rosters were automated and because this employee had technically never resigned, the roster would continue to allocate him hours.

Workplaces make innovation too hard

It’s the mantra of most organisations these days. Innovate! Disrupt! All ideas are good ideas! However, most organisations constrain new ideas by removing any kind of freedom to be innovative. In our trusty shoe department we were not allowed to touch the displays. This was the role of a ‘visual merchandiser’.

The chaos in organising and administering the shoes reserve during peak periods often resulted in large boxes of odd shoes every few months. Often, the different styles were differentiated by tiny graphics or codes, which meant they got mixed up and were harder to find.

On one particular day, I had an idea to colour code all the different styles in the shoes reserve so it was easier to tell the shoes apart. When shoes supplier arrived one day she was so impressed with how easy it was to find a style, making her job easier as well.

I took the idea further and renamed the shoes with long codes after Seinfeld characters. A ‘Kramer’ in a size 10 was easier to find than shoe 22034527728 when shoe 22034527732 was sitting right next to it.

Meanwhile, my own manager simply pulled me aside and said, ‘Can you stop scribbling on the boxes?’.

It’s not all about the customer

After another corporate training program, we were shown a video of a fishmonger’s shop where every employee was dancing, motivated and happy. The message wasn’t exactly clear but I guess management were trying to say, ‘Why can’t you be more like them?’

I’m not sure what inspired the fishmongers. I also agree it would be great to work somewhere with that kind of buzz (but perhaps not the smell). I remember the union loyalist muttering quietly under his moustache, ‘They just don’t get it do they?’ regarding the middle managers.

Another of my colleagues worked full time and after several years of Christmas ‘muzak’, like Jazz in the House, he had enough, asking management to turn the music down. They counselled him and suggested that maybe there was a deeper issue that needed to be addressed.

What my colleagues were trying to express was that they found the environment demotivating. Corporate programs were all about delighting customers but never about improving the morale of staff.

Choose recognition rewards wisely

In many ways, the old pat on the back is the best reward. If you try to provide a tangible reward it may simply draw attention to how much an organisation is willing to spend on its employees.

In one particular year we had made some huge profit. I believe it was about $1million in one weekend. No doubt, this was across all stores in Australia.

As I exited the store that evening, the managers were standing there with party hats and handing out our prize: a mint lolly we could take from a basket. I think it was great to recognise and involve staff but the appearance of cheap mints being handed out was hardly a major motivational tool.

Next thing I knew staff were grumbling about how a $1million profit translated into a few dollars for mints.

Workplaces are filled with characters

I worked with a lot of characters. There was that union loyalist who stood cross-armed at the back of the shoe reserve only occasionally serving a customer. He knew his rights as an employee, always encouraging staff to avoid wearing the standard dress attire (‘They can’t make you.’) and to dob in managers who would state otherwise.

There was the quirky, long-time employee who had worked in shoes for what must have been well over a decade. He’d wander about laughing hysterically at his homophobic, sexist and racist remarks, sometimes occurring all at once or in combination.

One Christmas we had two trainee doctors sign up for the extra cash. One was easy-going, funny and a hard worker. The other thought the work was beneath him and was quick to cut people down with an arrogant comment. These attitudes probably told me much about the kind of doctor each would become.

As with all first jobs the most memorable things were the friends and the memories of working alongside them during the Christmas periods and over a few hundred weekends. Today many of us still stay in touch. The best man at my wedding was a guy I met at Myer.

The shoe department also supported many on their journey to their next careers, including two registered psychologists, a surgeon, a talented arts and craft entrepreneur, and a weatherman.

These days when I am working to improve organisations I always start at the point of the person who actually has to do the real work. If you can’t motivate the frontline everything else falls in a heap.

Oh, and I can easily convert a US size into a UK size.

Please forward this blog to anyone who passes by within three metres. And don’t forget the eye contact!


Dr Nicholas Duck is a blogger and founder of Opposite


5 times Disney used the force with Star Wars: The Force Awakens

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by


A long time ago in a blog far far away…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens made one billion dollars at a light speed of 12 parsecs, sorry, days. In doing so, it has further expanded the Disney Empire to a size that would turn Darth Vader’s mask green with envy.

Not before too long, Stars Wars has obliterated Titanic’s record like a Death Star and is currently force choking the life out of Avatar.

Success like this comes along every few years for the movie industry. Depending on what figure you like to use—no. of tickets, prices adjusted for inflation—there’s no doubt Disney has been using the force in its production and marketing strategies.

Here are five simple strategies that must have the Disney execs fist pumping to John William’s force theme…



Disney’s goal was to make a ‘retro’ film. This term basically means they wanted to restore the connection to the original Star Wars trilogy.

Humans in this galaxy reflect on our past with nostalgia. It’s believed the emotions and thoughts associated with nostalgia, help us derive meaning from our existence.

The familiar faces, music, and even similar ideas and scripts has bought them kudos with Star Wars fans who celebrated the return of their favourite film franchise with multiple viewings.

Cultural Icons


Another way of connecting with our past is through cultural icons like Darth Vader and Harrison Ford’s character Han Solo. Director JJ Abrams was clever in introducing the melted mask of Darth Vader—who perished in Return of the Jedi made almost 30 years ago—in promotional trailers, toys, etc.

Cultural icons are believed to help us connect with our society and culture. The Darth Vader mask is symbolic of blockbuster films and the broader entertainment culture of Western society. In the film, the mask is a symbol for the martyred villain, Darth Vader.

Our celebration of such icons is much like a modern-day religion. Recent psychological theories suggest that they can go as far as to make us feel less anxious about death because they help us feel more connected with something bigger and more enduring than ourselves.

Basically, it’s Earth’s alternative to turning into an immortal blue force ghost.

Mystery & Surprise

One of the more recognised events in the Star Wars saga was the reveal in The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. At the time of its release in 1980, it was a lot easier to keep this secret to shock the audience.

The modern audience often walks in to a film having watched multiple trailers and read spoilers for films online. Disney was notoriously secretive about the Force Awakens, in particular about keeping the mysterious absence of Mark Hamill’s character, Luke Skywalker, under wraps.

Mystery and surprise are no stranger to successful companies that know how to intrigue their customers. For example, Steve Jobs enjoyed delighting audiences by declaring ‘just one more thing…’ during Apple announcements, before revealing a surprising new product or feature.


Surprise is considered to be one of only four core emotions we experience as humans. So it’s no surprise than when we experience this emotion, we find a special event even more memorable and are more likely to share our experience.



Star Wars branding is so extensive that there’s even a Darth Vader toaster that literally brands each slice of toast with the logo ‘Star Wars’.

As successful as ticket sales have been, Disney have been especially dedicated to exhausting the pull of the familiar Star Wars brand and its beloved original cast.

It has been slapped on a series of spin-off films as well as the obligatory figurines and toy lightsabers. But it extends to canned corn, body wash, runners, band aids, mascara, Star Wars themed parks and bottled water. There’s even a Darth Vader watch for $28,500!

Disney knows that the ticket sales are only bought once or twice. The real game is in the long-term merchandising of their new brand, which is set to make $5 billion in its first year. The brand is currently circulating across the galaxy (or planet) like an army of Stormtroopers.

Customer Focus

As obvious and as boring as it is to highlight the importance of understanding the customer, it’s amazing how easy it is to forget and become overconfident like the evil Emperor from Return of the Jedi.

George Lucas showed us what happens when you indulge in your own creative ideas—as he did with the Star Wars prequel trilogy—instead of listening to the customer, the notoriously obsessive Star Wars fans.

The reviews and fan reaction were never kind. Fans weren’t interested in trade blockades, senate debates, and overly cheesy romance stories.

Although financially successful, the films never reached the cultural significance of his earlier trilogy and are still widely criticised today.

Disney, however, aren’t wedded to artistic integrity. It just wanted to make a crowd pleasing film. This difference in philosophies later had Lucas jest that he felt like he sold his children to ‘white slavers’.

I’m surprised he didn’t say he turned them over to the darkside or, at least Jabba the Hutt. Perhaps Disney also acquired the rights to his Star Wars jokes too?

6 times to try the opposite at work

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

Don’t trust your anxious gut

It can often be difficult to differentiate between our gut—our intuition—and anxiety. Intuition helps us detect patterns and leads to moments of insight. It can guide us through difficult interpersonal and personal issues.

Many individuals, however, believe they are trusting their gut when they are really being manipulated by their internal worries and fears. Unlike intuition, anxiety narrows our focus, makes us fret about the near future, and leads to avoidance behaviour.

Anxiety keeps you in jobs that are making you miserable. It makes you avoid public speaking and standing up for yourself. It creates a wall between you and others out of fear of embarrassment.

When you experience anxiety, your best course of action is to do the opposite of what the anxiety is telling you.

You should go for that new career, speak up, and lower your guard with others.

Start the day with something challenging

Most of us ease into the year, the month, the week and the day like we are getting into a hot bath. It’s easier to email a few people or file some documents then move into something challenging once we’ve warmed up.

The opposite is to jump straight into something challenging.

Indeed, research suggests that when we start each day with a couple of tasks that are mentally demanding we are more alert and attentive later in the day.

Allow yourself to feel sad

I recently watched a video taken at my daughter’s kinder, summarising the year. The video solely focused on happy moments, as you’d expect. No parent wants to see a video depicting children crying, sitting alone, or looking sad.

We like to quarantine sadness as an anomaly or deviation from the norm. Mild sadness and dejection, however, serve a purpose to help us reflect on our shortcomings and plan a different approach.

Furthermore, forcing ourselves to be positive has the unintended consequence of making us feel miserable—called the ironic rebound effect, where the emotion we try to suppress returns more intensely than before.

The opposite here would be to use a flat mood to your advantage. Instead of fighting it, embrace it. Slow down, reflect and plan your next steps.

Stop monitoring people

Most organisations demand compliance but lose track of all the written and unwritten rules of the workplace. Workplaces become onerous and confusing places and before long individuals aren’t even sure what’s expected of them.

When individuals feel obliged to complete an activity or follow a rule they need to exert more mental effort.

This effort can ultimately lower motivation. This means that when the supervisor isn’t checking, employees bypass these boring and disengaging rules. Monitoring, therefore, increases to stamp out the non-compliance and around we go.

In contrast, when individuals truly value an activity they don’t need to expend as much mental energy. The task doesn’t require self-control.

So, do the opposite when you have a compliance problem. Reduce the monitoring and cut back on the rules. Instead, identify what employees value.

Two ears one mouth

It seems logical in the workplace to constantly strive to demonstrate your worth and ability. We might highlight our accomplishments or actively try to solve a business problem and show results.

But research shows that we are more influential when we shut up and listen. Additionally, when we adopt an open approach to learning, rather than performing, we appear less threatening and are liked more by our colleagues.

Importantly, we also learn more too. So, in doing the opposite, you should always be thinking ‘What can I learn?’ rather than ‘Look what I can do.’

Never worry…ever

Worrying is intoxicating. It makes us feel like we have more control over future events than we really do.

But debating with yourself and thinking about all the things that could go wrong is almost always a waste of time. Worries rarely come true and even when they do we learn more from the problems anyway.

Do the opposite next time you are stewing over a difficult problem. Try the opposite and enjoy the liberation when you realise you don’t have to worry anymore.

Dr Nicholas Duck is a blogger and founder of Opposite 

How do we understand our customers when we barely understand ourselves?

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

What if you were running a busy café, churning through five customers every few minutes as they defined to you their very precise needs?

‘A really, really hot Chai latte.’

‘A long black with a dash of milk.’

‘Soy flat white, large.’

‘Just a latte, please.’

You would be excused for assuming that the key to success is ensuring you get their orders right in a timely fashion. If you could execute their orders faster and more accurately, then surely this would encourage customers to return again and again?

Starbucks had a similar idea but, obviously, on a much larger scale. In a memo that I read recently, and widely circulated around the internet, the CEO, Howard Schultz, reflected on a series of ‘mistakes’ he made regarding his customers.

‘When we went to automatic espresso machines we solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency. At the same time we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theatre that was in play with the use of the La Marzocca machines.

‘The need for fresh roasted coffee in every North American city… moved us toward the decision… for flavor locked packaging…  We achieved fresh roasted bagged coffee, but at what cost? The loss of aroma — perhaps the most powerful non-verbal signal we had in our stores’


So, as another blog recently questioned, did process improvement destroy Starbucks?

Immediately, defenders of ‘Lean’ and other process improvement approaches zeroed in on the true failure of Schultz.

‘Another case of product-thinking leaders forgetting the experience-feeling customers.’

‘A humble example of the unintended consequences that can arise when organisations fail to connect process improvement to the voice of the customer.’


Yes, it’s the dreaded customer problem again. Schultz forgot that process improvement is only a genuine improvement if the customer is also happily purchasing.

Of course this is right. Yet how many of us would have predicted that a more efficient coffee machine would have affected the romantic experience of visiting a coffee shop?

Whose instinct would predicted that the fresher flavour in vacuum sealed bags would have the unfortunate by-product of removing the pleasant coffee aroma from the café?

Understanding the customer is hard. It isn’t about simply deploying good process improvement principles and greater vigilance in understanding customers.

For every customer wanting a coffee experience there’s also the backpacker who just wants a clean place to use a restroom. For every customer who loves the romance of the La Marzocca machine, there’s a tradie or corporate employee anxiously checking the time on their phone because they’ve got appointments.

If we were honest and reflected, like Schultz, we’d acknowledge that our own needs are difficult to understand let alone the needs of others.

For example, we may think we have an intrinsic desire to stay fit and healthy, but that weekly fast food and alcohol consumption reveals our hypocritical nature. We purchase novels that we never read, upgrade technology that collects dust, and change our minds about the colour of paint on the wall.

We start new, wonderful careers that never seem to fulfil us and start and stop relationships over seemingly trivial problems. We spend time in therapy or drown our sorrows with friends. On other days we feel on top of the world for no apparent reason.

Our own needs are tricky—often unconscious and paradoxical—and not all that apparent to ourselves let alone others.

How should Schultz have gone about introducing these new changes?

Asking people about their preferences is fraught with problems. A customer may like to think they are complicated and unique, thus deserving of a fine, complex beverage. In reality, the café may simply be in a convenient location.

In contrast, a customer may think they aren’t too influenced by smell and experience and will merely declare their coffee preference is based on some utilitarian cost and convenience.

Measuring satisfaction is also difficult. A customer may say they’re satisfied so not to offend. I occasionally visited a café where the barista was so committed to making me the perfect coffee, he kept insisting I didn’t need to go anywhere else.

‘Just try this one and if it’s no good, tell me and I make it better!’

This would appear to be a fantastic recipe to appeal to the customer as it’s all about getting to the heart of what I wanted.

However, he was so overly enthusiastic I simply felt embarrassed and bullied into providing positive feedback. I wasn’t after a romance. I just wanted my coffee.

We could shake our heads and point the finger at this barista for failing to understand me, the customer.

Perhaps he should have realised I didn’t want all that attention every time I ordered a coffee. He should have worked out that I didn’t want to feel pressured.

Truth is, I’m not really too sure what café I like or what he might have found if he kept peeling the layers away. I’m not really sure I want to have a monogamous relationship with a café anyway.

Upon reflection, like Shultz it might be easier in the long run to invest in an efficient coffee machine rather than the fluctuating and unreliable nature of the customer. At least the little experiment will flush out what your customer wants.

Dr Nicholas Duck is a blogger and founder of Opposite 

7 things Seinfeld taught us about work

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology/Work Psychology by

Although often referred to as a ‘show about nothing’, I seem to have derived many life lessons from Seinfeld. Here are some that resonate with me.

Faux pas are not trivial


‘I’m sorry, I can’t shake your hand right now. It’s germs.’ – Mr Lippman

When Chinese investors plan to save the company Elaine works for, they are quickly offended when her boss refuses to shake their hands. However, he was simply trying to avoid passing on the germs from the flu he had contracted. This simple misunderstanding results in the deal being broken and Elaine out of work.

Although we like to believe that our professional relationships will overcome trivial personal misunderstandings, this is not often the case. Misunderstandings, errors, and mistakes often tell us more about people and the complex interpersonal dynamics than the logical structures, rules, and stated values of an organisation.

A fantastic product trumps good customer service


‘No soup for you!’ – Soup Nazi

We are constantly reminded about the importance of the customer and customer service. Sometimes the quality of the product seems to be overlooked or assumed.

Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi was infamous for his adversarial nature. However, his product—delicious soup—was so popular customers would line up around the block to simply get a taste. They overlooked the poor service because they wanted his superior product regardless of his offensive and belligerent nature.

We often get frustrated as customers when we are inconvenienced or when the salesperson doesn’t take the time to help us. But maybe this reaction is due to a belief that the product isn’t quite what we want and, therefore, is deserving of some excellent sales and support?

Don’t be too resilient

George annoyed

‘When you look annoyed all the time, people think you’re busy’ – George Costanza

I had a colleague once who was frustrated because she believed she could get work completed more efficiently yet seemingly others who took forever were perceived as hard workers because the workload was stressing them out.

George Costanza has this revelation when he realises that constantly presenting yourself as stressed and overworked can lead to colleagues perceiving you as a hard worker. This doesn’t mean pretending to be busy but it may mean you aren’t too quick to downplay the effort and sacrifices you made to get the job done.

Don’t just be an ‘ideas’ person


‘It’s a pizza place where you make your own pie!’

Kramer is always out of work but seemingly continually investing in new ideas, like a pizza shop where you make your own pizza or the development of a rubber bladder for oil tankers. He never quite lands success and the ideas come and go day by day.

This concept, called randomising, is where you find yourself spread thinly across multiple ideas and projects. The limited time spent on each project means none of the ideas are likely to succeed and, worse yet, people can’t quite work out what value you provide.

It’s hard to be yourself in large organisations


‘But I finally realized what’s missing, in my life. Structure.’ – Kramer

Two characters in Seinfeld—Jerry and Kramer—pursue their own agendas. Jerry is a comedian. Kramer is an actor/entrepreneur. These characters spend much of their time being exactly who they want to be. They are never governed or set prescribed rules or boundaries.

Meanwhile, the other two characters—Elaine and George—are always at the mercy of their quirky bosses in large corporations. They tiptoe around office politics. They feign respect to their superiors. They also find their careers suddenly cut short. Even with this structure, they ironically have less control of their destinies than the unstructured lives of the comedian, Jerry, and his quirky neighbour, Kramer.

Make a gracious exit

George quits

“That’s it! This is it! I’m done! Through! It’s over! I’m gone! Finished! Over! I will never work for you again!” – George Costanza

When George decides to quit his job, he derides his boss, calling him a ‘laughing stock’ and storms out of the office. Although satisfying for George, he finds it difficult to get work and decides to return with his tail between his legs. His former boss, however, merely ridicules him and George becomes jobless with his dignity robbed as well.

Exiting a role can be difficult but it is never a sensible idea to leave with hard feelings. Workplaces don’t always make the best calls because they are imperfect places but you may end up working with the same people again one day.

If something isn’t working, do the opposite


‘It all became very clear to me sitting out there today that every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be.’ – George Costanza

When nothing seemed to be going right for George Costanza, he has a revelation that perhaps every instinct he’s ever had was wrong. He decides that by doing the opposite might yield him more success. All of sudden, his contrary actions land him in a relationship with a new job.

Many organisations have experimented with doing things differently. Innovations have come from breaking the rigid rules of the workplace. For example, cloud computing contrasts the dated view that information needs to be stored in a filed, physical location.

In recognition of this disruptive and creative idea, I’ve started a business and named it Opposite.

Opposite Logo

Are safety practices scientific?

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

Don’t be too quick to take on the advice in this blog. Avoid nodding in agreement or giving it more credibility than it deserves. It is, like most blogs, the views and observations of one person tied into a convenient narrative.

You may feel more at ease agreeing or listening to my advice if I said it was based on research or established empirical findings.

Perhaps a four quadrant model or a series of circles with arrows pointing might also lend it some credibility and closure.


Mysteriously, the one thing that is likely to reduce your confidence is if I use the word ‘theory’.

Theories are often perceived as intangible, unreliable, and untrustworthy. The term is also used to try to discredit ideas. For example, some individuals attempt to trivialise the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution by saying ‘it’s just theory’.

It’s a suggestion that you have come up with an idea but don’t really have much in the way to back it up.

A scientific theory, in reality, is the result of extensive research based on many observations, experiments, and peer reviews. In science, theories help researchers consolidate studies, identify patterns and explain exceptions to predictions.

Theories are the result of research being tested, refined, and, yes, even discredited.

What scientific theories drive safety?

In safety, processes, procedures, models, frameworks, ‘evidence-based’ approaches, methods and risk matrices are preferred as they are perceived as being more practical. We often lose sight of which theories, if any, helped guide these approaches.

Observations and viewpoints from individuals—and heaven forbid blogs like this—with opinions are also valued.

At best this type of information can be useful but at worst it signals we understand exactly why a problem occurs and how to fix it.

To illustrate, let’s take the well-known James Reason’s error model. It can be used to categorise errors and breaches to rules. For example, employees often circumvent procedures to maintain workplace productivity—a violation for organisational gain.

One reason we fail to prevent future such issues is that we don’t often land an explanation as to why the behaviour occurred. It always seems to boil down to a generic explanation like ‘there is culture of rule-breaking’ or that the process and system was not followed.

We rarely stop to contemplate whether the practices we’ve put in place should have worked in the first place.

Applying theory to safety

What if we applied an approach that is based on a contemporary theory supported by recent evidence and application?

For example, regulatory focus theory explains that the person who broke the rules to increase productivity was adopting a ‘promotion focus’, which means they were motivated by achievements, accomplishments and other rewarding outcomes.

This theory explains that we all adopt a promotion focus from time to time but some individuals are more prone to doing so. Some individuals are more disposed to adopting a prevention focus, which is a sensitivity to warnings and reprimands.

In contrast, promotion-focused individuals are not sensitive to these warnings and reprimands.

They are also superior at processing patterns not details. So, they tend to have a ‘big picture’ mindset, perhaps focusing on the broader workplace’s success rather than ensuring they comply with all the details.

They will also do their best work in environments that promote autonomy, rather than those that dictate compliance.

The benefits of a theory that explains behaviour

Immediately, we can see that a deterrence model, such as issuing corrective actions, is unlikely to shift the approach of this promotion-focused individual. Even worse, reprimands could simply demotivate the employee, reduce their creativity and make them focus on simple linear trends and patterns.

As such, their situation awareness is likely to suffer. Their mindfulness of their surroundings is impaired. Their resilience and attention is also undermined.

In short, awareness of regulatory focus theory allows us to tap into an extensive literature of research that can help us explain behaviour and, therefore, address problems more appropriately.

Such theories can help explain why deterrence models can fail to produce behavioural changes. Without the theory, we may just assume that greater rigour, investment and enforcement is needed to apply the model.

The downside of theory

There are some areas of caution, however. Many theories are based on norms and beliefs about how the world operates with researchers confirming what they already believe to be true—the confirmation bias. As such, the theory can be a formal way of validating the way we want the world to work not how it actually works.

Some researchers have attempted to address this shortfall by intentionally examining non-intuitive research findings. This forces theories to address exceptions to our predictions and ensures we don’t build our knowledge on pre-conceived ideas and assumptions but, rather, scientific findings that may be counterintuitive.

Theories have also been criticised on the ground that they provide a narrative fallacy, where we are more likely to be convinced by a compelling story rather than look objectively at the evidence. Just like this blog.

Reassuring people can make them worry

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

I have a relative who described how he worried for several months leading up to his wedding. The actual wedding was no concern nor was the commitment. It was the wedding speech he dreaded.

He delivered the speech perfectly and breathed a sigh of relief.

I also have a colleague who complained about a sore foot. Although he had been doing a lot of extra walking, he naturally assumed he had a blood clot.

There was no blood clot or anything serious.

After experiencing trouble swallowing I started to worry that I had oesophageal cancer. Never mind the fact that this cancer affects only a tiny percentage of the population and they are usually older folk who smoke. Nevertheless, my brain told me that death was looming.

The tests came back negative.

Does reassuring people help?

In the face of these worries and concerns our natural tendency is to reassure others that everything is going to be ok.

Interestingly, at least in the health literature, individuals can end up worrying even more when they are reassured. Studies show, for example, that children who are reassured by their parents or nurses prior to having an injection end up becoming more distressed and worried.

It seems that individuals can feel as though something particularly awful is about to happen if you’re going to all that effort to prepare them for the worst.

No doubt many of us have felt that way prior to an event that makes us anxious. On our first day at a new job we might feel more anxious if our family members approach us with big smiles to wish us luck. You only wish someone luck if there is the prospect that things could go really badly.

How often do you wish someone luck before they go to the movies?

At work during organisational restructures and change we may appreciate and expect regular communication about what’s about to happen. This communication and management involvement is a textbook approach to managing change.

But what if this continuous reassurance leads people to think, ‘Why are they reassuring me so much? Should I be worried?’

Should you reassure yourself?

Humans are good at reassuring themselves in the absence of support. As children we learn to transfer the support and assurance of others into our minds so that we always have a virtual parent or friend to calm us down.

Therapy used to focus a lot on this positive self-talk as a means of helping individuals cope with the anxieties and stressors of life. If you had negative thoughts and worries you would be instructed to challenge the legitimacy of the concern.

‘Excuse me grey matter. Do you have any references to back up the claim that I will, indeed, die of a heart attack?’

But let’s look at how this can play out. Our mind worries. Our mind reassures. Our mind worries. Our mind reassures. The brain is flexible. Whatever logic you throw at yourself, it can create all kinds of concerns that you missed.

‘Hello, Nicholas, I know you are in the low risk group for heart failure and I know there’s no family history. But what if? What if?’

Cognitive Fusion

Experts in mindfulness give this tangle of thoughts a pretty futuristic sounding name, cognitive fusion.  All it really means is that you are engaging with your thoughts as if they were real.

Mindfulness teaches individuals to practice disengaging with their thoughts instead of challenging them.

It’s a bit like dealing with an argumentative peer or neighbour. You could invest a lot of energy and time debating with them to try to make them see reason only to find that they counter every one of your points and throw up several red herrings.

Instead, the best approach might be to simply disengage from the debate entirely.

How much choice do people want?

in Editor Pick/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by

One of the things I’ve learned is that every time you offer a choice you paralyse some people who can’t decide if that’s what they want to do or not.
They aren’t my words. They are those of Netflix’s chief product officer, Neil Hunt, who believes it’s counterproductive to offer customers more than one method to view their television shows.

His opinion seems arrogant. It implies that customers don’t know what they want and need Netflix to decide for them.

It seems logical that providing plenty of options gives us more freedom and allows us to select the option that best suits our needs.

But how much choice do people actually want?

Netflix and choice overload

According to research, providing several options doesn’t always promote freedom. Too many options can cause choice overload because we can find it difficult weighing up all the pros and cons of each alternative.

Think about how people watch television. Some people endlessly scan the channels, searching for the show that’s going to match their current mood and interest.

These individuals are adopting maximising strategies, which involves maximising the chances of landing the best possible outcome. They are motivated out of fear of missing out on something.

In contrast, some individuals aren’t too concerned about what else is on. Once they find a show that’s good enough, they simply sit back and enjoy it. These individuals are adopting satisficing strategies.

So, by limiting choices, Netflix helps reduce the tension felt by those who adopt maximising strategies.

The Netflix approach will also work for individuals who adopt satisficing strategies. After all, they are satisfied more easily anyway.


McDonalds and single option aversion

So, it seems all we need to do is inhibit choice and we’ll all be liberated, right?

We all know consumers want choice. We don’t want to be told where to have a holiday and what colour car to buy.

When individuals are funnelled toward one option, they experience single option aversion, where they feel constrained and dissatisfied.

Many businesses make it their mission to ensure their customers can select almost anything that suits their unique needs.

Take McDonalds. Not content with cheeseburgers, Big Macs, coffee, salads, desserts, all-day breakfast, dining in, drive-through and gourmet burgers, McDonalds now allows customers to create their own unique hamburger. They can select everything from the burger bun to the type of mustard and cheese.

This McVariety allows McDonalds to remain competitive in a saturated fast food market.



McDonald’s diversified menu, however, hasn’t bolstered sales.

Consumers who were once quite comfortable and familiar with the menu are now wondering if they should have tried that new make-your-own-burger. They may be left feeling as though they missed out on something that was never an issue in the past.

The consumers who try the new burgers leave wondering if spending the extra cash and time building a burger was really worth it. After all, they could have spent a similar amount on a gourmet burger at a café or restaurant.

It seems that individuals want choice but there could be a tipping point that actually ends up confusing customers.

A McHappy Middle Ground

Instead of limiting options, perhaps there’s another approach. In particular, research indicates it’s the way we present choices that counts rather than the number of choices per se.

For example, when the same number of choices are grouped into categories, the choices don’t feel insurmountable.

Another option is to simply present the same number of options but don’t compare them on more than a few attributes. When there are too many attributes, the decision becomes more complicated and individuals feel overwhelmed.

Your choice

So, how much choice do you think people want? Like Netflix, I walked you down one path to the final solution. I didn’t really give you freedom to decide. Do you want another option?

Running away or chasing? What are you selling?

in Editor Pick/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by

As a naïve, young researcher, I walked into an advertising agency hopeful that they would be excited to sponsor my research. Of course, I was dealing with the ultimate salespeople and there was no chance I would be able to match their ability to pitch and influence.

The research looked at whether we could tailor advertisements to be more credible if they aligned with the regulatory focus of people. People are…

…wait a minute. Let me sell it to you like the ad man…

Some ads are made to make you feel insecure, like deodorant commercials. Other ads are flogging you a dream or idea to make you feel happy.

The first lot of ads correspond to a prevention focus. When individuals are concerned about their prevention needs, they are especially worried or concerned with fulfilling their social obligations. Or, as the ad man would say, they’re worried they’ll smell.

The second lot of ads are related to a promotion focus, which is a fixation on ideals and aspirations. The ad man would refer to that luxury car you dream about or the holiday cruise.

How you position yourself or your organisation may very well hinge on whether your audience are promotion or prevention focussed.

Say your customer is after some innovative, blue sky ideas. You may feel the need to provide these ideas but also back up the idea with assurance of risk management and fact checking.

Interestingly, research suggests that combining more abstract and creative messaging (promotion) with vigilant messaging (prevention) affects your overall credibility. That is, people instinctively reject the message.

Organisations that develop visions and missions often try to integrate lots of ideas in one, simple message. Their efforts are admirable. They are aiming to cover everything that they do in one message.

However, often these messages end up getting tangled and ultimately become fairly meaningless. For example, depicting some future utopia may inspire the audience up until you bombard them with messages about fixing immediate issues. Suddenly, that inspirational message gets caught up in the here and now.

The opposite can also be true. If your customers associate your brand with prevention, then you may alienate these customers by highlighting the aspirational aims of the organisation.

Do you exist to make your customer feel secure or to help them realise their ideas?

It isn’t all about the organisation. You also have your own brand. Do people come to you because you come up with the ideas or do they rely on you as the diligent finisher who dots all their ‘i’s and crosses all the ‘t’s?

If you are a working in a role where prevention is a key consideration, then you may find that your ideas are perceived as less important than your ability to provide your internal customers with confidence. If your role is about dreaming big, people may find your preoccupation with protocols to be a drawback.

Perhaps this is why the ad man rejected my pitch. Maybe my research and delivery felt too mechanical and diligent. The message was not enough luxury vehicle and too much bad body odour.

Here are examples of vision statements that align with either a prevention or promotion focus.

Prevention Messages

World Vision

Our mission is to be a Christian organisation that engages people to eliminate poverty and its causes.

Obesity Society

Better understand, prevent and treat obesity to improve the lives of those affected through research, education and advocacy.


To prevent cruelty to animals by actively promoting their care and protection.

Promotion Messages

Coca Cola

To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…To create value and make a difference.


Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.


At eBay, our mission is to provide a global online marketplace where practically anyone can trade practically anything, enabling economic opportunity around the world

Can you control the odd billion changes that are occurring right now?

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In just one minute, 243,000 photos will be uploaded to Facebook. One-hundred and forty four people will move to a new home. Approximately 136, 824, 00 pounds of carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere.

You are changing constantly and so is everything around you.

Larger organisations are essentially all about responding to and enacting changes on a massive scale. In the face of these dynamic environments, we set up support structures to ensure that change can occur as cleanly and efficiently as possible. Buildings go up. Bridges are built.

It’s essential that there are dedicated people to help remove all obstacles so that people can focus on the changes that count.

Think about the challenges of a Human Resource team. New people enter organisations every week. Employees leave.

Human Resources need to ensure this occurs as effectively as possible whilst trying to work out what type of person they want to enter and which ones they want to retain, train, and how to go about building all the qualities we want in people.

You may believe the best approach to bringing this stability and achieving long-term success is to control things centrally, like a mother ship or a queen bee. To ensure consistency and compliance, everything goes through a controlled decision-making group.

This approach may involve enforcing the policies and standards and having final say on all capability decisions. If you tend to believe that change needs to be controlled, then you may prefer this centralised approach.

Think about the trusty ol’ iPhone. What if Apple adopted a centralised approach managing their customers?

What if they found ways to penalise you if you didn’t use this phone? What if after purchasing the phone, they told you there was a series of mandatory training programs you will need to attend before you can switch it on?

This may seem odd, but it’s essentially what organisations do everyday when we occupy a more centralised approach to managing change.

In contrast, you may believe that change needs to be embraced and that you are better off letting people surf the waves rather than restricting them in the swimming pool. You may, instead, give people the swimming lessons and surf board, and allow them to tumble off the surfboard from time to time.

If you hold beliefs that people need freedom and autonomy, therefore, you may prefer a decentralised approach to providing support. That is, you are there to enable and influence rather than ensure compliance.

This approach more closely aligns with a ‘customer service’ approach to support where you are essentially there to help people.

Take a safety support function that desperately wants to lower injury rates. Their tendency may be to initiate more standards, procedures, rules, and audits. The importance of their goal, after all, is something we can’t deny.

What if, instead, they adopted a decentralised, customer-centric approach? They could, for example, build resilience and motivation, which could help maintain alertness and situation awareness. This approach also has the benefit of being more flexible to the inevitable changes that surround us.

The centralised approach is too easy. We mandate a new rule then shake our heads in disbelief when these important rules are ignored or bent.

Of course, simply responding mindlessly to customers can be risky. A doctor, for example, who simply orders an operation that a patient demands is not really looking after their customer.

For internal support services, responding quickly and efficiently to customers can also mean that lots of new changes occur that create confusion and may not align with the broader organisational goals.

Ultimately, it probably boils down to what a customer needs rather than what a customer wants.

And now we’ve reached the end of the blog, just reflect on how much has changed.

About 116 people just got married. 58 airplanes just took off. About seven billion human hearts beat 500,500,000,000 times.

Mother ship, this is Dr Duck. How are we going to control all of this?



Last month, my colleague, Maurice Cristiano, and myself, conducted some research to find out some best practice thinking in regards to internal support services. The above is a bit of a summary of the views and advice of some experts we spoke to with a bit of my own interpretation and opinion mixed in.

We’d like to thank the following people for their insights. Please note that this blog does not necessarily reflect their views or the views of my workplace.

Marvin Oka – Behavioural Modeller, Keynote Speaker, Corporate Consultant

Dr Simon Moss – Senior Lecturer at Charles Darwin University

Peter Howell – Group Manager HR Operations at John Holland

Michael Ingpen – Business Analyst

Saiful Nasir – Lead Consultant – Business Process Management

Craig Roberton – Principal Consultant at RXP Services Ltd

Craig Skipsey – Evangelist at

Robert De Wet – Semi retired construction innovation and bid coach

Dr Fiona Kenvyn – Human Factors consultant

Chris Burton – Asia Pacific Learning Development Manager at TMS

Sara Pazell – Occupational Advisor: Human Factors & Ergonomics/Human Performance Technologist

Marigo Raftopoulos – CEO Strategic Innovation Lab

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