Archive for November, 2012

I received the following emailed newsletter today:

Dear XXX,

As a valued subscriber to my newsletter, can ask you for you help?

The World Memory Championships is something very close to my heart and I am passionate about the Mind Sport of Memory.

A new initiative has just been launched by the World Memory Sports Council to raise much needed funds but we need to spread the message. See details below:

There are three ways that you can help.

1) Make a donation. This can be as little as £10 and you’ll get gifts in return.
2) Forward this email to your friends and Family.
3) Click the link to the page http://preview.tinyurl.com/d8hh6fh and share on Facebook, Twitter or Linked in.


I am sorry for contacting you with essentially a begging letter. I promise not to hound you on this and won’t resent this message. I will be in touch nearer Christmas with my customary Mind Map Christmas ‘card’.

Thank you for reading this and for your support.

Best Wishes

Phil Chambers


Dear Friend of Memory Sports,

Hi, we trust all is well and that 2012 has been an outstanding year for you.  We’re emailing you today as a friend of the Sport of Memory, through either your involvement with a World or National Memory Championship or possibly both.

As you almost certainly know the 2012 World Memory Championships (WMC) is celebrating its 21st Birthday – that’s right, it’s been twenty-one years since we started this amazing competition which has now been held in numerous countries. For our 21st Birthday we’ve brought the WMC back to its birthplace, London, and for most of the last year the team on the World Memory Sports Council (WMSC) has been working hard to make
this the best event yet.

Which brings us to why we’re writing to you.  Because this is such an auspicious year, we want to get as many people involved as we could, and with the tough financial times the world is experiencing we are also finding ourselves without major financial sponsors this year.  So to ensure the great work of the WMSC continues, and the 2012 WMC is the best ever, we are trying a new funding approach called Crowdfunding, which you may have heard about.

This is an approach where lots of people can contribute a small amount to help fund great events and projects – such as the WMC and the ongoing work of the WMSC.  As you will appreciate the council and the WMC are not for profit endeavours that rely heavily on volunteers and sponsors, so we’re hoping you’ll want to help us out – AND ask your friends, family and colleagues and even your organisation to support this as well.

For as little as £10 you can get started, and there are larger contributions available as well.  And one of the tenets of Crowdfunding is that you don’t
just contribute without getting a Reward in return.  This can range from receiving our daily memory tips for a £10 contribution, through receiving
eBooks and signed physical books for larger contributions, right up to naming rights to WMC events.  

In other words when you help support the ongoing work of the WMSC and the 2012 WMC you get some great stuff in return.  But of course the
greatest reward is the satisfaction of knowing you are helping the great sport of memory, which you have been a real part of.

So please go now to our Crowdfunding campaign page and have a look, make a contribution, and then tell all your family, friends, and colleagues
to have a look as well.  And if you are able maybe talk to your organisation to see if they’d like to have naming rights to an WMC event – this year we
expect to get massive media attention.

Here’s the link.


Thanks in advance for your fabulous support.

Tony Buzan and Raymond Keene
on behalf of the World Memory Sports Council

Learning Technologies Ltd

The Forge, New Invention
Bucknell, Shropshire

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The origin of this blog post was from a question I posted several years ago on two different Internet forums. One forum belonged to a national British newspaper, the other was My Gifted Life, a forum for discussing the social, emotional and daily life issues of gifted adults. The question was: “Do you feel, or have you ever felt, that you are underemployed?”

Typical answers on the two forums could not have differed more widely. All the respondents on the newspaper’s forum answered that the didn’t feel that they had ever been underemployed, and there were the predictable snotty responses along the lines of how it’s down to the individual (although how a person can make an organization give them a job, I’m still chewing on). On the other hand, the respondents on My Gifted Life immediately grasped the concept, and numerous personal stories emerged. The whole “tone” of the discussion was also supportive rather than preachy.

Perhaps a large part of the problem was defining exactly what is meant by underemployment. Most of the Google searches I conducted seemed to define it in terms of employees working part-time when they wanted a full-time job. And of course we’ve all seen those “shock horror scandal” type stories that regularly surface, where some person with a degree can’t get a graduate-level job and is either unemployed or sweeping floors somewhere.

While searching for “psychological effects of underemployment”, I came across a paper by Daniel S. Friedland and Richard H. Price entitled “Underemployment: Consequences for the Health and Well-Being of Workers”. The authors identified four categories of underemployment: hours underemployment (involuntarily working less than full-time), income underemployment (where their job would not provide them with a livable wage even if they worked full time), skills underemployment (when their job does not afford them the opportunity to put their skills and training to use), and status unemployment (when their job provides less occupational status than expected on the basis of their background).

Whereas elements of the descriptions of skills underemployment and status underemployment touch upon what I was originally alluding to in my question above, no category identified by Friedland and Price really covered the concept 100%. Skills underemployment CAN be about formal qualifications and training, but most “gifties” I know are knowledge-hungry and may have a panoply of self-taught skills and knowledge. “Status underemployment” seems an unfortunate choice of nomenclature, especially as the authors include in that category familial background, which intentionally or unintentionally conveys the concept of a spoilt upper middle class brat who considers an entry-level position below him or her.

My informal online enquiries seemed to identify a category of “hidden” underemployed – inadequately employed people who, my preliminary enquiries show, are particularly prevalent among the ranks of the gifted. And if the discoveries of my learned friend Michael Ferguson are anything to go by, I would be willing to wager that the higher the level of giftedness, the higher the prevalence of underemployment, taking into account the person’s level of capacity vis-a-vis how their capacity is being utilized. There’s a sociological study waiting to be done right there, if anyone can ever be bothered to fund it.

I have therefore refined the definition to define as “underemployed” the following:

Those members of the workforce whose regular employment doesn’t make full use of their knowledge and skills (no matter how acquired), their talents, aptitudes, and overall level of intelligence, and does little or nothing to further their personal potential.

There is an attitude among recruiters, the popular media and the public that the underemployed are the architects of their own downfall. This stance needs to be challenged. In addition, the underemployed may not have only suddenly found themselves so, an example being the accountant who, having been made redundant, has to take a retail job to pay the bills. The underemployed person may have been working below capacity for the entirety of his/her working life, thus further reinforcing employers’ (and the public’s) perception that they are adequately employed.

Poverty, carer status (looking after dependants), state of health, lack of support during the compulsory school years leading to an unsatisfactory level of formal basic education – there are probably any number of situations that work against the individual’s chances of success, and which have NOTHING to do with the individual’s personal qualities (e.g. drive, commitment etc.).

When the most productive hours of a person’s week are committed to an underemployment situation, apart from any psychological and health effects this may have on the individual, there are numerous practical ways it also harms their prospects of obtaining something more suitable. For instance:

  • It uses up time that the person cannot then devote to obtaining the training and education usually required for a top-level career, to network and meet industry contacts.
  • It sends the wrong message, i.e. organizations tend to infer from the fact that the person is not currently working in the field that he/she is not as committed as people already working in that field.
  • Recruiters may complain that applicant lacks relevant experience, or that his/her experience is not recent.
  • It makes it difficult to keep one’s skills and knowledge in their desired field up-to-date when this is relegated to an “extravocational” activity.
  • It may pay significantly less, meaning less (or no) money for the individual to invest in professional development training in their chosen field, thus creating a financial dependency trap.
  • And so on.

At least the effects of underemployment (as opposed to merely unemployment) are starting to be studied, even if the exact definition has not yet been settled upon and no longitudinal studies have been carried out to date.

However, I predict nothing will be done to address the problem until the reverse side of the coin is fully studied, i.e. the cost to industry, rather than the effects on the individual.

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If done properly, a structured staff appraisal might be useful for professionals (such as in the legal or medical profession) to help them plan their career objectives for the coming year. For support staff, however, I have for a long time thought that appraisals are either completely pointless, a mixed blessing, or in some circumstances, an opportunity for bullying.

Perhaps it is the way the appraisal is structured or carried out, but I have always felt that every staff appraisal I have had has come across like a contrived exercise to throw the admin people a bone so they do not feel left out. For those staff who simply carry out the same support functions year in and year out as a “pay the bills” job, it’s not as if we have an obvious professional career progression for the company to take an interest in.

In reality, it just gives people further up the company the opportunity to make negative remarks about an employee without any fear of being taken to task about their comments, or asked to clarify ambiguous or overly-general statements. This “feedback” is anonymous, you see, and once it makes its way onto your appraisal form, even when totally in error, there it stays. Although you can give your own assessment of the situation, this is never fed back to the person who made the original comment so that he/she can see the error, or be asked to clarify exactly what was meant. No, it just sits on your personnel file for all perpetuity, unless you wish to go through formal complaint procedures. Whoopee.

Much like the vacuous wishlists seen in advertisements or job specifications for office support positions, the support staff appraisal form has all of the empty buzz phrases: “energetic and enthusiastic”, “flexible and proactive approach”, “positive relationships with clients and colleagues”.

Come on, if I were going to quantify or statisticize those things objectively, how would I do it? How is a member of staff supposed to evaluate his/her own performance against such a list?

I’m sorry to say that I simply gave up trying, and asked my partner to help me.

After the self-assessment form has been completed, and the anonymous “feedback” has been obtained from the staff member’s seniors and typed into a separate form, what happens next is that a manager takes the staff member into a meeting room and the two forms are compared. Inevitably, where there is a discrepancy between the two, the manager rules in favour of the seniors’ comments and the box marked “Improvement needed” gets checked.

This happens even when an isolated mistake has been made into a generality by one of the bosses, or there has clearly been a miscommunication where some individual has gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick about some occurrence, or someone has simply made a malicious allegation where there was never a problem in the first place.

In all cases, if the employee states that he/she vehemently disagrees with something, would like to put another side to the story, or would simply like to ask for clarification or specifics to be provided, it is highly unlikely to get back to the person(s) who need to hear it. Unless, of course, the staff member goes to their seniors personally to raise specific disagreements or questions about something that was said.

Well, I work for seven people. Whom should I approach?

The highly subjective nature of many of the comments makes them very difficult to refute in a way that cannot be argued with. Of course, I can always disprove a completely off-the-wall comment about demonstrable skills and measurable outcomes. Do I have sufficient literacy, numeracy, keyboarding speed and accuracy, software competency and specific subject knowledge to do the job? Yes, and these things can be objectively tested. What about attendance and punctuality? Check the swiping in and out logs. Years of experience? My longevity in the position can easily be checked. Do I deliver what I’m supposed to deliver instead of hanging around chatting all day and getting in colleagues’ hair? You can bet it would quickly be noticed if I were missing deadlines.

But no, these things are never the bone of contention. Instead, they want to nitpick about personal attributes that can be defined any way you care to define them, such as “attitude” and “interpersonal skills”, and these have been blown up, at least on the appraisal form, into at least 90% of what the role is all about, instead of the “hard skills”.

Yet when those “hard skills” are missing, the same people are the first to moan. I’ve been to companies as a temporary member of staff, where it has quickly become obvious to me that the people I am sent to work for have been messed around by a succession of useless temps before I arrived. “They sounded great on the phone!” said the boss at one company.

Having been in a position before where it was part of my role to look after temporary staff sent to the company from agencies, it seemed that whole initial impression thing was exactly the problem. These people were personable, they talked the talk, were immaculately dressed and coiffed, and their CVs looked great on paper. Their agencies probably thought they were very marketable.

Unfortunately, the quality of their work rarely if ever matched – they made silly mistakes and didn’t check their work, they were slow, they didn’t know the packages well and needed constant help. Was it any wonder, then, when I turned up and actually got the work done quickly and accurately, the bosses would start to look tremendously relieved?

(I suppose being a temp, I wasn’t there long enough for the whole personality politics thing to kick in.)

It never made sense to me how those who talk the talk inevitably get to the front of the queue before those who walk the walk. If the recruiting and interview process rewards the former, then the appraisal system definitely perpetuates it.

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