Personality effects on adaptability to changing task contexts

While analyzing the interview material from my study on manager's concepts of employee self-directedness (or self-leadership, or self-management - I have trouble zeroing in on only one word here, and also there are translation issues to the Swedish "självgående", meaning literally "self-going"), it seemed that self-directed behaviors were conceptualized in mainly two ways.

The first kind of self-directedness concerns the everyday running of things: keeping things moving, keeping all plates spinning, and seeing things through to the end.

The other kind is a more creative kind of self-direction. The ideal self-directed employee is described as intellectually curious, often intelligent, but most importantly with a will and motivation to learn new things and embrace change.

As I see it, these two kinds of self-directedness roughly correspond to the two personality factors of conscientiousness and openness to experience. With correspond, I mean that conscientiousness would likely correlate with the first kind of behaviors, especially finishing things, while openness would more likely correlate with adapting to new situations and a willingness to learn new things. It seems plausible. So of course, I searched for research in the area and found some studies.

In a very small but interesting study by Le Pine, Colquitt and Erez (2000), it was examined to what extent cognitive ability (intelligence), Conscientiousness, and Openness could predict decision-making performance at two times: one prior to, and one after, unforeseen changes in the task context. The task was a game where the participant was to judge threat levels of aircraft showing up on a radar using 3 "decision rules" - this makes it a rather special situation as the tools for judgment are given and participants "know" that at least one of them is correct. Contrast this with how Weick describes conditions for employees in organizations facing fluctuating environments: you have to search for patterns and order in the information you have with no assurance that it actually exists, and when you do find something you will get no answer as to whether it is correct. The situation in the lab is therefore not very similar to the situation in real life - as is often the problem with lab studies. On the other hand, we can be more confident in cause and effect.

The manipulation performed was that some time through the experiment, which rule was the correct one to use changed without any notification to the participant. Their task was to notice that their procedure was no longer working and to find and use the new relevant rule.

What the researchers found was essentially this: high g (intelligence) and Openness promoted decision-making performance after an unforeseen change, while Conscientiousness lowered it.

Having high g predicted pre-change performance while personality factors did not affect this. After the change, the strength of the g - performance link was increased - high g mattered a lot more for performance after the change than before. And, personality factors became as important for predicting performance, after the change.

This shows that past performance is not necessarily very indicative of future performance - if that future is likely to include changes unforeseen right now. The conscientious person may perform very well right now, but if things change, s/he may, out of a sense of duty and orderliness, have a hard time to throw things overboard as needed to unlearn & relearn quickly.


Le Pine, J., Colquitt, J., & Erez, A. (2000). Adaptability to changing task contexts: Effects of general cognitive ability, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. Personnel Psychology, 53, pp. 563-593.

Why I still prefer to read on paper

Reading on paper is to me a more immersive experience. It's allows me to focus on just the meaning of the text and nothing else. I like to underline and make notes, which is more of a tactile experience on paper, which helps with remembering. A lot of what I read is on screens though, and I often use my Kindle app or similar because not needing shelf space and not having to ship from the US is also a good thing. But for understanding, paper is best.
Turns out it's not just my personal preference, but I have science on my side as well. :)
Studies in the past two decades indicate that people often understand and remember text on paper better than on a screen. Preliminary research suggests that even so-called digital natives are more likely to recall the gist of a story when they read it on paper because enhanced e-books and e-readers themselves are too distracting. Paper's greatest strength may be its simplicity.
Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done.

Scientific American: Why the brain prefers paper

Tilltron till den ostrukturerade intervjun: varför består illusionen?

I en helt ny artikel från Judgment and Decision Making tas den ostrukturerade intervjun upp och varför folk, fortfarande, är övertygade om dess överlägsenhet. Jag har skrivit om rekrytering förut och det har länge varit känt inom forskningen på rekryteringsurval att:

1) ostrukturerade intervjuer är ett dåligt urvalsinstrument. Jag ska strax gå in på exempel på hur dåligt.

2) chefer (och "folk") har en stark preferens för ostrukturerade intervjuer. Så stark är den preferensen att den förvrider folks uppfattning om vilka kompetenser som är viktiga för en roll. En studie (Highhouse, 2008) visade att om extraversion mättes med os. intervju och intelligens med ett papper-och-penna-test ansågs extraversion vara viktigast, men om det omvänt och intelligens utvärderades i os. intervju och extraversion med ett test, ansågs intelligens vara viktigast. Preferensen för att få använda ostrukturerad intervju är så stark.

Den aktuella studien undersökte folks förmåga att predicera studenters GPA, grade point average, för kommande termin. Vissa kunde basera sig endast på tidigare GPA för att predicera kommande GPA, medan vissa dessutom fick göra intervjuer med de studenter vars GPA de skulle predicera. Situationen är inte identisk med en jobbsituation men man kan absolut dra paralleller i och med att betyg och mått på jobbprestation båda är mått på prestation.

Studierna fann att ostrukturerade intervjuer inte bara inte tillförde någon användbar information, de kunde försämra resultatet avsevärt, på grund av vad forskarna kallar en dilution effect, utspädningseffekt. Det är fullt logiskt: om du har ett bra mått och ett värdelöst kan du i princip bara försämra ditt resultat genom att ta hänsyn till det värdelösa måttet.

Tillgång till irrelevant information späder inte bara ut den bra informationen, utan kan också bidra till en orimlig säkerhet hos intervjuaren genom vår mänskliga förmåga att "make sense" av nästan vad som helst. 

Just as one can, post hoc, fit a "significant" statistical model to pure noise, interviewers have too many degrees of freedom to build a coherent story of interviewees' responses.

Att känna att man "förstår" kandidaten är dock varken tillräckligt eller nödvändigt för att göra träffsäkra utvärderingar av en kandidats egenskaper. Tvärtom har en känsla av säkerhet (confidence) visat sig ofta har dålig korrelation med träffsäkerhet (accuracy), i vissa fall är det till och med så att ju mer man tror sig vara objektiv, desto mindre objektiv i sin bedömning är man.

Utöver att man i studien visade att ostrukturerade intervjuer försämrade bedömningen av prestation så visade de också att de tillfrågade bedömarna rankade det mest träffsäkra instrumentet, tidigare GPA utan intervju, som det minst säkra instrumentet, medan ostrukturerad intervju rankades som bäst.

Det är en intressant studie på så vis att den visar att os. intervjuer inte bara inte tillför värde utan rentav försämrar bedömningsförmågan. Däremot lever de inte riktigt upp till titeln, för de förklarar inte i någon större utsträckning varför folk fortsätter att föredra den ostrukturerade intervjun. Ok, folk invaggas i en falsk känsla av större säkerhet med mer information, även om den informationen är vilseledanden. Men sen då? Hur råder man bot? Ingen chef jag pratat med verkar beredd att faktiskt avstå den ostrukturerade intervjun.


Dana, J., Dawes, R. & Peterson, N. (2013). Belief in the unstructured interview: The persistance of an illusion. Judgment and Decision Making, 8 (5), 512-520.

Highhouse, S. (2008). Stubborn reliance on intuition and subjectivity in employee selection. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 1, 333–342


"Quests" as organizing principles

Make quests visible to as many people as possible. Default: whole organization. Possibly even more visible, to customers or the public, where not inappropriate. Visibility enables serendipity. The point is to facilitate the match of person and task. For the right people to be able to self-select to the right tasks, the quests need to be visible. /.../

From a management point of view, a big reason function lock-in is a problem is because it squelches passion. You already have bright & talented people (right?) and if there is a place in your organization that resonates really strongly with them, you should let them go there. You need them to go there. That is when the magic happens.

From my entry in the MIX hackathon 2011 

Thinking out loud: Why self-directedness?

Today I read the paper A dissipative structure model of organization transformation (1985) by Gemmill and Smith, which inspired this post.

So far, the research I am doing for my PhD is about employee self-directedness or self-leadership. For my first study I have gathered interview data from managers about their perspective on employee's self-directedness - how to recognize it and why it is important (as it is often mentioned as a characteristic viable job candidates should possess). I can say that in some organizations, the true self-directedness of employees was more emphasized while in others the concept was more interpreted as moving quickly in a given direction without any need for manager action.

Taking a systemic view of organizations, however, I would argue that self-directed employees are of value to organizations whether their managers realize it or not.

In their 1985 paper, Gemmill & Smith present A Dissipative Structure Model of Organization Transformation where they emphasize that the model of dissipative structures is not just an analogy but expressive of an ordering of elements and processes that holds across several fields of research and levels of analysis - that it is indeed a bridge between the natural and the social sciences. Simply put there are principles of organizing valid for human organization as well.

The greater the misalignment with the environment, the less it can depend upon the environment for the energy it needs to renew itself. Consequently, it undergoes an entropy process, wherein its mechanisms deteriorate and the key elements of survival become inaccessible or randomly dispersed.

As environments change and fluctuate, organizations must adapt but by what mechanisms do they do that?

In DNA, it's through mutation. Because replication of DNA is not perfect, because there is some room for error, novelty is generated. And it is generation of novelty, or variation, that is the system's best tool for dealing with a highly variable and uncertain environment.

In social systems, organizations, variation is brought about through experimentation or as Weick (1977) put it: play!

The only possibility for effectiveness amidst extreme uncertainty, comes from the capacity to combine aspects of behavior that seemingly have no basis for juxtaposition in a traditional framework /…/ behavior which has no apparent value as long as the situation remains within the parameters where mechanistic processes are effective.

Relating this back to my empirical material, it is not by having employees following best practices to the letter, albeit "by their own accord", that you produce the kind of variability that will make your organization poised to embrace and adapt to the unexpected. At the same time, evolution does not happen through random mutations alone but through the combination of mutations and selection. One needs to simultaneously be willing to let go of "bad mutations" - one could thus be said to adopt best practice and shun the rest - and keep producing new variations. This is the crux of the matter.

Where to go from here? 

  • Explore -> double loop learning
  • Explore -> is everything "solved" already, if so then what is the actual problem?

Sources cited here:
Gemmill, G., & Smith, C. (1985). A Dissipative Structure Model of Organization Transformation. Human Relations, 38 (8), 751-766.
Weick, K. (1977). Organization design: Organizations as self-designing systems. Organizational Dynamics, 31-46.



HELIX Conference 2013, Opening keynote - Organising for Learning at Work

Below are some notes from day 1 of the International HELIX Conference in Linköping, this years theme is Innovative Practices in Work, Organisation and Regional Development - Problems & Prospects.

Bengt-Åke Lundvall
Organising for Learning at Work - An Important but neglected dimension of Innovation Systems

Work org and innovation in collab with Ned Lorenz (Edward) and others 2000.

OECD Lissabon initiative: The goal was more & better jobs - we did not really succeed.

Take home message: we need to link the organisation of work to innovation and economic performance.

Innovation is dependent on active participation and learning of workers. The role of the work process itself is neglected in most innovation studies. But the quality of work is worsening in the crisis.

Two types of innovation 1) Sciencebased: STI - Science, Technology, Innovation; 2) Experience-based: DUI - Doing, Using, Interacting. Science based combined with experience based learning = significantly more innovative firms than one method biased firms. (Odds-ratio 5 vs about 2). Controlled for size, sector & ownership.

Major driver of innovation is competition. Interaction with users, and employee involvement, is crucial for innovation. Human resources and organisation in and across firms very important.

Research tends to look at managers, scientists and policy makers as the main actors. How work is organised is more important! Common indicators of innovation - such as the european scoreboard - do not reflect how work is organised.

The underlying structure of how people work & learn is more important than technological infrastructure

Some preliminary results from a European study. Survey interviews were made with individual workers. Main dimensions: Do you learn new stuff? How much freedom do you have to organise your own work? 

Four clusters of jobs: discretionary learning (high learning, high freedom), lean (high learning, low freedom), taylorist (low learning, low freedom), traditional (low learning, high freedom).

When you work in a Taylorist mode you are very exposed to competition from China etc. That's why we need better jobs.

Correlation between "discretionary learning" and firms leading innovation. Neg. correlation between lean practices (in their definition) and firms leading innovation.

Egalitarian economies are better off. Income inequality goes hand in hand with decreased influence at work.

Source not yet published: Holm & Lorenz - A decline in the quality of jobs EMAEE 2013
[[How exactly does this translate to a measure of quality of jobs?]]

Economists reduce work to employment, to numbers. Ignore quality of job, how work is organised.

KEY! Open education systems that you are never excluded from, that you can always enter as needed. Make theoretical education more practical, more experience based and make practical education more theoretical and reflective.

Flexicurity is important. Which is to say, not just flexibility, but also security. The latter has been lost, Lundvall says. Security & trust must not be ignored.

Q&A session

Lundvall says that actually they found that the more discretionary learning, the fewer startups!! His hypothesis: Where jobs suck, you have to start your own firm to get an exciting jobs.

The key to success: fail & learn

In an article by Forbes on finnish game studio Supercell, their CEO claims to follow an oblique route to success by focussing not on profitability first but on fun. Similar ideas have been espoused by for example Umair Haque, author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: "Profit is an effect, not a cause; a reward, not the accomplishment." So, profits are not a purpose that inspires roaring success. Key number two from the article is distributed decision making:

Is This The Fastest-Growing Game Company Ever? - Forbes:

Most game studios have an autocratic executive producer green-lighting the work of designers and programmers. Supercell’s developers work in autonomous groups of five to seven people. Each cell comes up with its own game ideas. They run their ideas by Paananen (he can’t remember ever nixing a proposal), then develop those into a game. If the team likes it, the rest of the employees get to play. If they like it, the game gets tested in Canada‘s iTunes App store. If it’s a hit there it will be deemed ready for global release. This staged approach has killed off four games so far, with each dead project a cause for celebration. Employees crack open champagne to toast their failure. “We really want to celebrate maybe not the failure itself but the learning that comes out of the failure,” says Paananen.

Focus only profits will probably steer you away from anything that might equal failure, but at the same time steer you away from the learning that can happen through failure. Failure often teaches us much more, gives much more information, about the nature of things. To be innovative, to be successful and, dare I say it, happier people, we must learn to embrace failure as the learning experience it is.

3 podcasts du måste höra

I Stockholm tar det tid att ta sig överallt. Och för mig är största delen av mina transportsträckor inte genom vackra naturmiljöer som det lyfter sinnet att gå i, utan mest massor av trafik, massor av människor och massor av jobbiga ljud. Därför har jag utvecklat en vana att lyssna på podcasts när jag är på väg. Några av dem är så bra att jag känner mig lite som en missionär, jag vill att alla ska ta del av detta underbara!

1. WNYC Radiolab

Radiolabs avsnitt består av spännande historier med avstamp i något mer eller mindre vetenskapligt relaterat. Men det är inte akademiskt, utan vetenskapligheten yttrar sig mer genom att man utgår från frågor som "hur kommer det sig egentligen att X?" Lyssna till exempel på det här fina avsnittet, "Desperately seeking symmetry"



2. This American Life

Showen startade redan 1995 och har inspirerat bland annat ovan nämnda Radiolab med sin storytelling-stil. Varje vecka har de ett tema, som de har 3-4 berättelser om. Och det är alltså inte "sagor" utan berättat så som om en kompis berättade en riktigt bra historia på en fest, ungefär. Det handlar bokstavligen om allt möjligt, men den genomgående tråden tycker jag är att de lyckas göra allt djupt mänskligt. Även i sina mer grävande reportage känns det aldrig som att de är ute efter att sätta dit någon, utan drivna av att förstå varför folk gör som de gör. Även när de gör mycket märkliga saker. 


3. More or Less

Tim Harford, mannen som skrev Undercover Economist, leder den BBC-producerade More or Less, ett program om siffror. Man går till botten med olika siffror och statistik som används inom politik och den samhälleliga debatten. Bara c:a 25 minuter per avsnitt och man måste inte vara statistiker för att uppskatta det. :)

Läst i veckan

Medan jag funderar på hur mycket jag kan och bör blogga om den forskning vi är inne i just nu tänkte jag dela med mig av det kursarbete jag gör istället. :) Denna termin börjar med kursen Socialpsykologiska teorier, och med anledning av det har jag läst:

Chartrand & Bargh (1999) The Chameleon Effect: The perception-behavior link and social interaction

Kameleonteffekten är hur vi omedvetet och automatiskt härmar en annan, till exempel med kroppsrörelser, minspel och dialekt.

 Interaktioner där en person blivit “härmad” upplevs av denna person som smidigare och man gillar den andra personen mer.

 Empatiska personer härmar andra människor mer. Detta gäller den perspektivtagande empatin (den mer kognitiva empatin), inte den mer affektbaserade empatin (eller sympati).

Det är inte helt klart om härmandet skapar gillandet eller tvärtom. Troligen är det tvåvägs.

Dijksterhuis, Bos, Nordgren & Baaren (2006) On making the right choice: The deliberation-without-attention effect

Att tänka mer aktivt på ett problem ger inte alltid ett bättre beslut. Inte heller är impulsbeslut speciellt bra. I vissa fall är det bästa att “passivt tänka” på något, till exempel att “sova på saken” eller vara upptagen med annat så att man bara omedvetet processar information.

I experimenten och även i andra studier framgår en interaktionseffekt, där simpla beslut förbättras av att man aktivt tänker på dem medan komplexa beslut faktiskt försämras ju mer man tänker på dem.

En begränsning i studien tycker jag är att även de “komplexa” besluten ändå är typ “köpa en bil” och inte till exempel “välja vem man ska gifta sig med”. Men fördelen är att det går att ha ett facit på vilken bil som verkligen var bäst.

En förklaring till varför den här effekten visar sig menar de är att medvetandet har väldigt begränsade resurser. Ens “omedvetande” kan processa mycket mer information är vad man med medvetandet och arbetsminnet kan ta sig igenom och genom att medvetet tänka på problemet så tänker man inte på väldigt mycket av informationen om problemet. (Det är så uppmärksamhet fungerar - tunnelseende!)

Williams & Bargh (2008) Experiencing physical warmth promotes personal warmth

En grundläggande dimension i vår bedömning av andra människors personlighet är varm-kall, den andra är kompetens.

Att hålla i något varmt gjorde försökspersonerna mer benägna att bedöma en beskriven person som mer varm: “generös,” “omhändertagande.”

I experiment två visade man att personer som hållit i något varmt var mer benägna att välja en gåva till en vän, än att ta gåvan för sig själv. De blev, kan man säga, mer altruistiska.

Biologiskt så verkar samma del i hjärnan (the insula=?) aktiveras vid fysisk värme som vid personlig värme, eller “the sensation of one’s physiological state and the detection of the trustworthiness of others”.


Välkommen till min hemsida. När man som jag varit på internet sen '94 är det inte så konstigt att ens onlineidentitet spridits vitt och brett. Här är mitt försök att samla ihop det som jag i alla fall för tillfället tycker känns viktigast och mest relevant. Eftersom jag är en idéperson identifierar jag mig mycket genom vad jag för tillfället tänker på och intresserar mig för, så spana gärna in GÖR innan du klickar vidare till någonting annat.