17. Giving feedback without using the hairdryer.


The characters seemed a little two dimensional and transparent in places.

For a long while, every time I filled the kettle with cold water first thing in the morning I thought I heard someone upstairs scream. I wondered at the time whether this might be an interesting kind of hallucination.

A ‘functional hallucination’ is a false perception that occurs at exactly the same time as a real perception, such as the sound of running water. I had assumed till then it only occurred in old German text books and multiple choice exam questions.

It turned out there was a more mundane explanation. The reduction in water pressure caused by turning on the kitchen tap caused the person having a shower elsewhere in the house to experience a sudden water temperature change, first quickly upwards followed by quickly down. The culprit was and still is a poorly operating thermostatic mechanism in the shower unit.

Although the shower over-reacted in terms of temperature control, I am careful to state that the showering person reacted completely appropriately.

The thermostat is our basic model of a feedback system. It senses the temperature of the water. If the temperature goes too hot or too cold, it responds by cutting or increasing the power to the heating element.

The same sort of negative feedback system occurs in most devices, throughout our bodies, and more generally through social systems.

It requires two prongs – a sensing device, and a device that effects a change.

When we come to try and understand the word ‘dysfunctional,’ that seems to describe certain behaviours or relationships – sometimes even applied to an individual – most often we are looking at a faulty feedback mechanism.

In British culture we have a great deal of trouble knowing how to react to things. For instance, it seems the height of bad manners to criticise someone directly. That would be like sounding a car horn. Instead, we tend to use a low key grumbling approach via third parties – like trip advisor, or writing a rude letter and not sending it.

There are a few exceptions, such as talent shows, and the army. If you want a more challenging annual appraisal, perhaps Alex Ferguson would oblige, using his famous ‘hairdryer method’.

But in general it is very difficult to get honest feedback.

If you write a reference for someone who is absolutely terrible at their job, the custom is to write a glowing reference with the tiniest hint of faint praise, e.g. ‘may lack ultimate commitment’.

One guide to how to behave in a crisis is watching drama. Millions watch soaps like Eastenders on a regular basis. How far do people model their social behaviour on such programs?

Whereas stage actors tend to exaggerate voice and gesture, movie actors have to play it deadpan. TV is somewhere in between, perhaps to do with the size of the actors face relative to real life. If shows get made specially to be viewed on a smartphone, they will probably star Brian Blessed.

Like actors in Greek tragedy, people with Depression tend to ‘catastrophise’ in reaction to events. Odysseus’s mother apparently committed suicide after hearing flimsy evidence that he had died.

In drama, Greek or Soap, no-one ever responds to a crisis by calling a helpline.

British people are more likely to under-react to a crisis. David Beckham found out one of his tattoos had misspelt the word Victoria, written in Sandskrit, as Vichtoria. History records that he was not unduly concerned, merely resolving to stick to Latin for further etchings.

A gentleman with OCD I used to know told me this story. One day he had taken his long suffering ‘good lady’ to the seaside, leaving early to avoid the traffic. Having driven 120 miles to the coast, he was confronted by a completely empty car park with hundreds of spaces. He drove around several times, unable to choose a space and eventually had a panic attack. After recovering, and still not in a parking space, he drove home again.

‘I’ve been a bit silly again’, he finally told me.

I should perhaps have anticipated this kind of eventuality and suggested a simple algorithm for parking. Recently I discovered that elevator systems in large buildings have just such a system for deciding which lifts should go to each floor.

Apparently, according to Mitsubishi Electric, a person becomes irritated immediately he presses the lift button and nothing happens. However, the level of irritation is proportional to the square of the waiting time. From this we can begin to understand how people can develop rage attacks surprisingly quickly.

Remember Christian Bale’s outburst on the set of Terminator? Apparently a technician walked across his sightline during a scene.

I know the feeling, from trying to talk to acutely psychotic patients in the same hospital room where builders are operating pneumatic drills and ripping up the lino with Stanley knives.

There are a number of ways to explain why certain people seem to ‘lose it’, experiencing an acute change in mood and behaviour.

Steve Peters would call it ‘letting the chimp out’, meaning a switch in mind-set, allowing a different set of brain pathways to take over control. Thankfully, Mitsubishi have not included a Chimp Mode in their elevator systems. Though Beko appear to have included a ‘Surrealist Mode’ in their washing machines.

A more neuroscience-based model still, is the possibility of positive feedback, or kindling, where the response actually goes the opposite way from restoring the norm. This is often called a vicious circle.

One theory of panic attacks uses a vicious circle model, where mild signals of distress from around the body are over-read, cause anxiety and thus further physical distress signalling, such as breathlessness, palpitations or chest pain. Finishing with a slightly embarrassing visit to the coronary care unit.

A behaviourist could explain ‘losing it’ in terms of social learning. Previous tantrums or losses of control have been rewarded by parents or others, either in terms of letting the upset person have his way, or by way of reducing ‘messing’ with that person. Having a ‘short fuse’ can be quite useful in certain situations. I once worked for a consultant who was completely benign 99% of the time, but the word about him was, ‘watch out, he goes berserk every now and again’.

One of the triggers seemed to be handing him a post it note with a poorly worded or scribbled message and a phone number. It was not that he had been hypnotised previously and made to react this way, although this is possible, knowing the hospital involved.

It was just that being handed a post it note is a metaphor for being handed a problem, but without the information needed to act on it properly.

I’d like to think that his reputation would have worked to reduce the number of post it notes he got handed, but I never saw any sign of this. Post it notes continued to flow like confetti. Perhaps he should have set fire to them immediately or eaten them.

In the NHS, feedback loops operate comparatively slowly, so it would have taken about 20 years to see the post it notes’ eventual downturn.

Remember the film, ‘Falling Down’? Here, the character, D Fens, is played by Michael Douglas, who is a screen actor and therefore tends to play deadpan. D Fens progressively loses it after a ‘rare morning’, ending up in a spree of violence across LA. The trigger event appears to be a shopkeeper refusing to give change.

An older theory of ‘losing it’ relied on the notion of a repressed or over-controlled person, which I think is what the director had in mind. D Fens had seemingly suppressed his anger by being extremely tidy and organised, never allowing himself to become emotional, and therefore never setting appropriate limits on people.

Here I suppose the systems analogy is the pressure cooker. This has a very primitive feedback loop, so that a massive degree of change from steady state is needed before the feedback occurs, in the form of opening a safety valve.

Here the feedback loop is too coarse to make rapid enough corrections, necessitating an external over-correction, such as being gunned down, albeit reluctantly, by Robert Duvall.

CBT is designed to improve a person’s feedback system: on the cognitive side to make sure the right information is collected; and on the behavioural side to make the appropriate responses.

Luckily the government has given us a new way to make sure we react appropriately.

We’ve been used to making a 999 call, for moments where we identified a very serious crisis. However, the 999 system is abused on a daily basis. One of the problems is that TV never shows anyone calling a helpline appropriately, so we don’t know what constitutes a 999 level emergency.

People have rung 999, for instance, to ask ‘how to dial 111’; because they were not being served in Macdonald’s; to try and obtain a laptop password, and to report the theft of parts of a snowman.

Now, to create a kind of crisis scale, at the milder end, we also have the 111 call.

That gives us the potential, provided British Telecom goes along with this, to fill up the numbers in between, 222, 333, etc, with a sliding scale of catastrophisation.

Let’s put in some examples to test the system.

You are Henry VIII, the most powerful king England ever had.

You have some marital issues, and in particular no male heir to the throne.

I’m thinking 333 would be about right.

Instead of which Henry over-reacts massively, dissolving the monasteries and the catholic church, divorcing his wife and executing some of his best pals.

There is no indication that the younger Henry was overly ‘buttoned up’, casting some doubt on the over-control theory. Although if he really had cerebral syphilis, that might have damaged some of his feedback loops.

Or try this one: Confronted with a pompous email from NHS management you write a reply you misguidedly think is witty, accidentally pressing the Reply to All button, so that every person in the whole NHS gets a copy.

555, agreed?

You eat a yogurt from your fridge mistaking the sell by date 2003 for 2013?

Not even 111, I don’t think. Yogurt never kills.

We are going to need an advisory panel of some kind as arbiters of how to interpret and assign a crisis to a number scale. This would be an efficient resource, especially if we can charge a premium rate for the crisis line. I hope the NHS is working on this.

Failing that I think Mitsubishi could run something up. For indecisive parking, press 111. For misspelt tattoos, press 222. For incorrect change, press 333…

What if the elevator seems awfully slow today? Press 444. Pressing using the fingers is sufficient. It is not necessary to use the axe.


16. Looking Out for Charlie’s Men.


We could just wait and see. Or we could try taking these.

A man goes into Wetherspoon’s and orders a pint of Ruddles. He is handed a yellow Smartie instead. ‘Its a placebo’, says the barman. ‘We’re running a trial and it looks as though you’re in the control group.’

He winks, ‘don’t worry though, its probably just as effective’.

Few people realise that the naked emperor in the ‘Emperors New Clothes’ story was simply taking part in a controlled trial of Nylon.

King Canute famously tried to turn back the tide by issuing a command. Many think he was using irony to demonstrate the point that he had limitations. Even this would surely have been a massive mistake, in as far as the Vikings operated a ‘sticks and stones’ approach to verbal aggression, finding the axe more reliable than sarcasm.

In fact, misunderstood Canute was simply conducting a controlled experiment in Tide Management. Since kings used to think they might have divine powers, this was probably more reasonable than it sounds now.

Its a bit like Prince Charles testing whether he can destroy the South Bank Centre by telekinesis. From the look of the place he is slowly succeeding.

Sadly, modern Royalty don’t value controlled trials so much. Prince Charles, for instance is a big fan of Homeopathy.

Writers such as Ben Goldacre have issued warnings not to say anything rude about Homeopathy, for fear of ‘Charlie’s men’ finding you in a dark alley and rearranging your kneecaps.

Be assured, they can do it with a billionth of the force usually needed.

But now, there is no need for alternative practitioners to feel defensive, as we are entering the Age of the Placebo.

The reason is that it has become too difficult and expensive to invent ‘proper’ drugs and bring them on to the market. And it may not be necessary.

Alternative medicine used to be accused of being an expensive placebo. Now it is acclaimed as being an expensive placebo. The change has been an acknowledgement that placebos can be effective. Further, the more they cost, the better they work.

Even if the patient is told explicitly that the tablet contains no active ingredient.

Even if we write ‘placebo’ on the side of the tablet.

At least as shown in one study on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):


Think of that. You go to the doctors with a bad knee. Using a pin and a copy of the British National Formulary, he gives you an injection of vitamin B12 and tells you there is no possible way this should help.

But it does.

The word placebo is being rehabilitated slowly, in the light of evolving knowledge that our mind has a life of its own away from consciousness.

In fact the part of the mind that we think of as the Executive Board is more tiny and isolated than we thought and much less in control than we expected.

Much like the government really.

Depression is one of the conditions that responds quite well to placebo, making it difficult to test antidepressant treatments.

Some research has shown that brain function changes occur in depressed people as they respond to placebo treatment. This has been shown by the technique called QEEG, which is a special EEG technique designed to show regional brain activity.

All this comes as no surprise to regular readers of EP, who ‘got over’ the mind/brain problem several weeks ago.

We also know that people with Depression like their doctor or therapist to strike a positive and hopeful tone, but stop short of hype.

Much as we love evidence-based medicine, many of the treatments we offer do not have a strong evidence base. This is particularly true for resistant depression, where various combinations of antidepressants are added together.

Proving a drug therapy is effective is a tough challenge.

Firstly we need to be able to measure the condition itself, using some kind of rating scale that is valid and reliable.

Once we can measure it we can do a randomised controlled double blind trial, either against placebo, or against an established treatment. This is the gold standard test.

However, if the effect of the drug is small, a very large number of patients will be needed in the study to show a statistically significant difference.

Even then, the effect is usually only measured for a short period of time, say 3 or 6 months, before the trial ends.

This process is open to several kinds of bias, some intentional and some accidental. For instance, only trials which show a positive result tend to get published. And if we do enough trials, 5% of them will show a significant difference by chance.

If the trial contains 20 different measurement scales, one of them is likely to be significant by chance.

This has allowed companies to select data and use it out of context in support of their products.

All these problems have conspired to stop people testing products properly and led to the false conclusion that all antidepressants are equally effective, which is not as amazingly effective as we would like.

Randomised controlled trials are a relatively recent invention, so we have only recently discovered how powerful placebos can be in certain situations.

It is probably ethical to prescribe a placebo tablet if we tell the patient what they are getting. Presumably some part of the less-than-conscious mind responds to the treatment paradigm, even though another part has put on its sceptical face.

So, instead of developing new antidepressants and other drugs, we could try and develop better placebos. We might still need to test them though, if we are to suggest they are evidence based.

The reason is that some placebos might be more effective than others.

Instinctively, I know that a tiny purple tablet is better than a big white one. I would expect anything involving electricity, magnetism or machines that go beep to be more effective than anything made of plastic.

I’m sure there is scope for ‘steampunk’ designs, such as the old ECT boxes in mahogany and brass. Obviously, don’t plug them in.

Working specifically on the placebo effect rather than on supposed antidepressant properties based on neurotransmitters seems an easier way forward.

This is a highly convenient position for the alternative therapists, who can now argue that they are the reigning experts in the use of placebos. How long till we have a Professor of Placebo Studies at the University of (e.g) Mexborough?

This is a much better argument than trying to prove their therapies have specific active ingredients, such as water having a memory.

Even memory foam can’t remember anything – I’ve tested it. You don’t want your mattress knowing too much anyway. I subjected it to ruthless interrogation and can assure you it knows nothing.

‘Bigging up’ the treatment with a bit of hard sell seems a good idea.

Referencing a bogus system of how the body works – meridians, humours, animal magnetism, endorphins etc is always popular.

And, as mentioned, charge more to get more benefit. Money doesn’t just talk, it shouts loudly and eloquently.

A few years ago some friends and I devised the ideal placebo treatment, that would use tuning forks. The forks would be tuned precisely to resonate with the person’s brain waves.

This would enhance certain frequencies in the brain. The forks themselves would be very expensive, made of precious ceramics and metals and probably jewel encrusted. The pre-treatment diagnostic test would be an EEG.

Now we know, if we used QEEG instead of ordinary EEG, (note the Q) we could actually predict those likely to respond.

This gives us a business model similar to Harry Enfield’s ‘I saw you coming’ shop, which itself was based on the emperor’s new clothes principle.

How worried should ‘Big Pharma’ be about placebos? After all, if you can knock something useful up in your kitchen out of artichokes, why do we need huge research laboratories in Macclesfield?

Before you sell your Astrazeneca shares, note the Z, be aware that there are very few studies to support the use of explicit placebo.

The most famous is the Harvard study of IBS mentioned above.

With all due respect to IBS sufferers, this is quite a subjective type of health problem, which is very hard to measure. But not unlike Depression or Pain in this regard.

How far would a placebo go in treating a more biologically measurable disease, like hypertension or diabetes?

And attempts to give opiate addicts placebo instead of methadone failed to hit the spot. Opiate addicts are connoisseurs when it comes to pharmacology, much like the man in Wetherspoon’s.

He immediately discerned that the yellow Smartie did not have the same effects as the 22ml of ethanol contained in a pint of Ruddles Best.

The choice of a yellow Smartie is controversial, since yellow foodstuffs have been accused of toxicity. Yellow and blue Smarties were even removed from sale for a while in 2006, as the dyes Quinoline Yellow and Brilliant Blue were replaced with natural dyes.

Please, how can anything called ‘Brilliant Blue’ be bad for you?

My own preference for medication is a bit contrary to all this.

Firstly, if I am looking for placebo power, a bit like Scrabble, I’d go for a tablet with X, Z or Q in the name.

This is probably why ‘Xanax’ was so popular.

Otherwise, my favourite drug therapies are ones that were discovered by accident. The effect was not expected by anyone, it just happened.

That doesn’t really mean the effect was so barn-door obvious that it must be genuine, since people are very open to attribution errors.

Iproniazid was a TB drug that turned out to be an antidepressant, and Chlorpromazine was an antihistamine that turned out to be an antipsychotic. Note the Zs.

The history of drug therapies is fascinating and riddled with such discoveries.

Most of these were spin-offs from the German dye industry, so ironically the Yellow Smartie and mental health tablets share a lot of  heritage.

In the study of explicit placebo for IBS the patients were not told simply that they were taking sugar pills.

They were told they were taking ‘placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self- healing processes’.

That statement serves to stimulate the Suggestiveness Receptors.

So here’s the plan. In our kitchen, we count out Smarties, in non controversial colours like red and place them in proper tablet bottles with child-and-most-adult-proof lids.

With an eye to the potential central Asian market, we label the tablets QOZZAX.

In the small print we say: ‘These tablets contain no conventional western medicine. They work by lexicographic forces, based on the ancient Scrabble system’.

Going one further, for publicity, we get people to go on Radio 4, stating that their life had been ruined by scrabble tablets. They are trying to sue games giant Spear & Co.

I wonder how many placebos are already being used in different walks of life.  I’ve noticed that supermarkets can enhance the quality (and price) of foods simply by adding adjectives. Rhubarb would become Bohemian Wild Rhubarb for instance. As though rhubarb could ever be straight-laced or tame.

I’m certain (OK, I have no evidence) that one Honda garage I visited used to do nothing more for an annual service than apply bright red grease to the door hinges, so you could assume something had happened to the car during the day, apart from being raced along the ring road a few times, to KFC and back.

I spent a lot of time trying to convince our last pharmacist that he should make up a ‘proper mixture’ for each patient in a good strong colour, with a bit of bitter flavouring, in a proper fluted brown bottle with a glass stopper.

Sadly this suggestion was not met with the enthusiasm I felt it deserved.

I was not suggesting a complete sell-out to Charlie. Active antipsychotics and antidepressants are available in colourless liquids that can mix together, so this mixture would not be a placebo. Just an existing treatment with a bit of pzazz. Note the Zs .

It was just that I so wanted to make it Brilliant Blue.

But if the Mexborough department ever gets going, the  first development I would like to see is a dermatological version of Shake N Vac.

15. Searching for Weapons of Mass Distortion*


In Glasgow, its safety in numbers.

Every Sunday morning I see the same lady in the newspaper shop buying lottery tickets. I’ve always wanted to ask her why she didn’t just send her money straight to Chancellor George Osborne, cutting out a chain of middle men and reducing the queuing time in the shop for the non-gambling section of the public.

I expect her reply would be something like, ‘I know my chances of winning are statistically not significantly different from zero, however the excitement of watching the draw and the possibility, however remote, of coming into sudden riches, beyond my wildest imagination, taps into a part of my mind that believes in dreams and miracles’.

Or, she might say, ‘I won a small amount once or twice, and it seems that intermittent reinforcement is one of the most powerful conditioning paradigms. I am simply powerless to resist’.

Or she might just say, ‘you cant take it with you, you tight git!’

Or, the killer retort: ‘why don’t you send the £2.50 you just wasted on the Sunday Times directly to Rupert Murdoch?’

Secretly, I ‘d love to have a go on the lottery but I cannot begin to understand how you go about it. People ask for things like, ‘two butterballs and a blingo’ and receive mysterious cards, some of which you can scratch. They seem happy with their purchases, even though they have exchanged real money for imaginary money.

It’s the same kind of cellophane packaged trinket as a cigarette packet, something that lights up the anticipation of  reward pathways, if you still have them.

It strikes me that Lottery Behaviour illustrates the theory of ‘cognitive dissonance’. This means that people have sets of thoughts that conflict with each other, but find some way of reducing the disparity.

Gambling provides a bit of a buzz, but goes against the value of prudence. The mind works to justify the behaviour.

For example, the lottery is ‘for charity’. So it is OK to give money away. The lottery company will help you with this argument by not telling you how much of the take actually goes to charity (28%). And of the 28%, how much is left for the actual good cause, after the charities have employed their staff and paid their overheads?

What does it matter anyway; the money is all recycled within the economy, generating employment?

Apart from the fact that Camelot, who run the UK national lottery, is wholly owned by the Ontario Teachers Pension fund. Nevertheless, I have nothing against retired Canadian teachers and have no problem with sending them any spare money we have. Its a way of thanking them for providing the current generation of Canadians.

Lots of people can help us reduce our cognitive dissonance, and make a good profit out of doing so.

The workings of the National Lottery mix a few different processes. Which is the odd one out:

1. Giving to charity?

2. Tax?

3. Gambling?

4. Profit for shareholders?

5. Pensions?

Clue: one of them is supposed to be a vice.

One way of reducing the difference between ideas is to soften the ideas and make them less distinct in the first place. Since ideas are usually written in words, if the words themselves are made meaningless, the ideas will get soft and fluffy enough not to jar against each other in our pockets.

Its a win/ win scenario.

Managers are people who make a living out of Cognitive Dissonance. Part of their job is to distort and reduce the meaning of language.

If you are working anywhere in business or the public sector you are  probably experiencing stress and frustration attributable to managers.

Take a typical scenario. You are sitting in a small hot room pretending to listen to someone giving a presentation. There is an ‘action plan’ to formulate. Something has to be written in 28 small boxes on a spreadsheet. People who are unable not to volunteer or avoid eye contact are given tasks to complete that will spoil their weekend. A pointless deadline is set for completion, leading directly to the affected person pulling a sickie that day.

Managers are people who like Audis, ties and bar charts, and I have no wish to offend any of them.

True, their claim to be a specific profession is undermined by the fact that the most successful managers of all have had no training whatsoever (e.g. Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, Steve Jobs…). The same cannot be said for eye surgeons or train drivers. Their main offence, however, has been to pervert the course of language. The question is, why do they do this?

Some people have suggested that there is something very sinister in the distortion of language. Gore Vidal, for instance, wrote:

‘As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate’

George Orwell wrote about war propaganda as far back as the 1930s. I am sure he would not be surprised at the ‘dodgy dossier’ and other more recent examples of war related spinning of information.

People are pretty reluctant to engage in homicide, so to wage a war, some massive dissonance has to be bridged. Orwell noticed that those people creating the most extreme propaganda tended to be those furthest from the combat zone.

The more foolish the military regime, the more the medals and uniforms get brighter and shinier.

The paranoid theory of management is that it is a propaganda machine to pretend to people that capitalism is fun, like a game, and that companies are benign.

My own theory is less conspiracy orientated and more based on seeing managers as a cult. Their world is highly ritualised. They are very fond of assembling in groups, presided over by a priest-like person.

Their prayer-books and rosary beads are laptops and projectors and their altar is the Powerpoint screen.

They speak to each other in jargon, but they do not fully understand the meaning, much as Catholics used to say prayers in Latin.

Though lots of commentators have recorded items of management-speak few have attempted to explain the phenomenon.

Like any species, managers’ main purpose is to increase in number and safeguard their various niches in the social fabric. Sometimes they are parasitic, but parasitism is only one of their methods of survival. They often prosper where there is chaos and decay, since they promise to create structure and harmony, mainly on diagrams.

A recent survey of 2000 managers, carried out by ILM, found that management jargon is used in two thirds of offices across Britain and nearly a quarter of workers considered it to be a pointless irritation.

The incredibly frightening interpretation of these findings is that one third of offices had not noticed they are jargon-infected.  And over 75% of workers did not think it was an issue.

That’s like 75% of people not regarding bubonic plague as a serious health problem.

The same survey listed the most – hated phrases, such as Blue Sky Thinking, Going Forward, Touching Base, Close of Play, Drilling Down, Right Sizing things, etc.

Is such misuse of language a harmless eccentricity to make dull work seem more exciting, or does it have a more sinister purpose?.

Many professions have invented their own jargon, doctors being prime offenders. It’s much more fun to call a male person ‘a 46XY’ than ‘a man’, for instance.

The main difference is that professional jargon usually serves to sharpen a meaning, whereas management jargon does the opposite.

In IT for instance, we have become used to acronyms like RAM, LAN and WiFi, not to mention Killer Apps. In sport, we know exactly what a Try, or a Birdie means and we have strong views about LBW.

Engineers can tell us what a double over head cam does. In Costa, we have the Latte, the Cappuccino and the Flat White. All these terms are highly valid and reliable.

Compare the expression: ‘granularity’. Or ‘leverage’. Or ‘synergy’. Not valid or reliable at all.

Two explanations here: Managers are simply aping other professions’ use of technical terms in  pretending they are a distinct set of experts.

Or, management speak is actually a way of reducing disharmony by abolishing conceptual distinctions.

This leads me to a surprising conclusion.

Management is not an exclusive club at all. Almost anyone can join in. No special qualifications are needed. Management speak is a free for all. Like Esperanto, its an attempt to unite all the professions and none. Managers can go from one type of company to another without having to know that much about what the company makes or provides.

Managers don’t need to be able to do maths or write proper sentences, let alone buy lottery tickets.

The management icon, the Venn diagram, celebrates the easy maths we can all do in year 6. Management is like bingo or ten pin bowling. Anyone can do it and they’re glad to have you.

Maybe we need managers to provide this kind of unity that masquerades as conflict. To portray the world of work as an exciting drama, or gladiatorial contest.

Just as we need politicians to give the illusion of political argument and lawyers to give the illusion of adversarial justice.

Managers may function as a kind of ecumenical movement to stop people fighting about whose God is best. The penalty is having to sand down the theological edges.

In serving to reduce cognitive dissonance, managers are probably helping us survive in a hopelessly conflicted world.

Perhaps the problem, again like politics and religion, is not the profession itself, but rather the type of people it attracts. The danger of abolishing the meaning of words is people taking liberties with the rule-book. Bullies and narcissists love to hide in these kinds of hierarchies.

If you feel that management culture is ruining your life, try re-framing your managers differently. An old – school CBT technique was disempowering a tormentor by imagining him wearing a tutu or sitting on the toilet.

Try imagining your manager as a pirate.

The empire once needed pirates to advance its cause. This resulted in one of the best PR exercises ever done, in effect re-badging cut-throats and thieves as swashbuckling heroes.

Your company might need pirates of a kind, if only to fiddle the government targets.

Your manager is just a pirate who likes to dress up.

Like Captain Shakespeare, (Robert De Niro) in Stardust, he’s probably got a penchant for ladies clothing.

Watch that movie if you haven’t already. Your manager won’t have seen it. Beware of pirate copies though.

*Weapons of Mass Distortion was a book by Brant Bozell III about a supposed liberal bias in the US media.

Your manager won’t have read it.

Much better, it was a track on Crystal Method’s Legion of Boom album.

Your manager won’t have bought it.

14. Finding the Chimps in the Armour.


Nice nails, nice hair, shame about the ears.

A chimpanzee dressed as a removals man takes a tea break with colleagues, only to have the piano they are moving crash downstairs.

The year is 2002, the last year Brooke Bond tea were able to use chimps as actors.

It is estimated that there are over 300 showbiz chimps in the USA. A study recently suggested that using chimps for advertising reduced people’s concern for them as an endangered species.

Perhaps the most famous showbiz chimp is Bubbles, who once belonged to Michael Jackson. Not many people know that Bubbles had a former career in research, from which he was ‘rescued’. Bubbles now lives in Florida. He has still not been told about Michael’s sad demise, so I hope he is not reading this.

It is reported that Bubbles has taken well to Florida, putting on a bit of weight and spending the day listening to music and watching television.

Peoples’ attitudes to anthropomorphism – projecting human attributes onto animals and vice versa – are pretty chaotic.

We no longer have TV shows such as Animal Magic, where a voice – over contrives to turn animal footage into mini – drama.

However, cut to 2012, where Ashleigh and Pudsy, a teenager and dancing dog, perform a slickly choreographed routine to the Flintstones theme, to win ‘Britain’s got talent’.

Simon Cowell remarked: ‘You know me, I love a dancing dog, and Pudsy is one of the best dancing dogs I’ve ever seen. My only criticism is I’d have put Pudsy in a prehistoric outfit as well’. (As well as himself perhaps?)

Nowhere have I read any suggestion that training Pudsy was unkind in any way. Contrast this with the kind of coverage with which circuses have had to contend.

Apparently, in the USA, there have been more than 35 dangerous incidents since 2000, where elephants have bolted from circuses, run amok through streets, crashed into buildings, attacked members of the public, and killed and injured handlers.

Time, surely, to send in Sting and maybe even Bono too, to set them free.

Psychiatrists are quite interested in animal behaviour. ‘Ethology’ features significantly in the membership exam multiple choice questions, being the ones that you throw dice to complete randomly, in the last minute.

Always looking out for similarities between animals and their owners, we expect, for instance, a Bubbles solo album in due course. More usefully, we know to beware entering the houses of people who have a) mental health issues and b) lots of pets.

Although, in such circumstances, most pets know that they should first bite the social worker, then the GP, before biting the psychiatrist. Its just a kind of ethological pecking order.

So, what counts as a day out for most people is a field trip for escaped psychiatrists.

Last week l visited a zoo, Newcastle, and my workplace, and its time to compare and contrast. First the zoo.

Nowhere is anthropomorphism more politically incorrect than the zoo.

One can only admire the dedication of the staff toward the welfare of the animals. The lions had loads of space, the lemurs got The Guardian delivered every morning and the reptiles were pampered, perfumed and stroked by two nice young ladies. Not for a moment did I wonder whether they had painted stripes on the snakes with nail varnish.

So, why was it I got this yearning for an old style zoo, where it was OK to throw currant buns at the elephants and dress the chimps up in tutus and cravats?

That kind of thing just isn’t allowed nowadays.

Surprisingly, London zoo haven’t dressed them like this since 1926. Though as late as 1962 Hints zoo dressed them up as decorators and gardeners and gave them bicycles to run round on.

I am sure if I tried to organise a chimpanzee’s tea party I would be struck off the medical register and censured by the district ethical committee.

It’s just that I get the feeling the animals are missing out on something too.

Chimps seemed to like using tools and being silly with paint. Dolphins seem to like acrobatic leaps out of the sea and splashing people in boats. Parrots seem to like riding a unicycle and squawking ‘Hello Keith’.

Maybe the problem is in the phrase ‘seem to like’. Critics might say the animals are trained to act this way by behavioural methods, such as rewarding a desired behaviour with a Malteser or a small fish. Not to say punishing an unwanted behaviour with devastating sarcasm.

Could it be that Pudsy’s seemingly ecstatic enthusiasm is simply a series of learned behaviours, conditioned and chained together during lengthy and gruelling training sessions, each new move heavily reinforced by food pellets? How closely does Pudsy’s behaviour resemble the naturalistic behaviour of dogs in their ‘normal’ habitat?

Possibly animals no more like to ‘go showbiz’ than your washing machine likes to spin at 1400rpm all day.

Pudsy is not an elephant, so is unlikely to pull off a break-out one day, or be rescued by Sting.

Its been said that dogs grow to resemble their owners, but chimps are the animals humans most resemble in terms of appearance and genetic code.

Chimps, like jazz, went their own way 4 million years ago, the split apparently caused by ‘creative differences’.

Chimps were being discussed at the Royal College of Psychiatrists Addiction Specialists conference in Newcastle last week. Though Escaped Psychiatrist is not an addiction specialist, he managed to infiltrate by not shaving for a few days beforehand.

Steve Peters was the big name speaker. His work in elite sport has generated a lot of interest, and his book, The Chimp Paradox, has become a bestseller.

Steve is a psychiatrist rather than a psychologist, yet has eclipsed sports psychologists with his recent high profile successes in cycling, snooker, several other sports and now football.

That’s gratifying for a psychiatrist – we secretly think we would be brilliant at any other career we tried, from hosting a chat show (like Anthony Clare) to chancellor of the exchequer. (Seriously, how hard can it be?)

In person, Steve is charismatic yet self effacing. He has been working on the Chimp model for many years and gradually refined it. Clearly he has incorporated it into his own thinking, resulting in well deserved fame and acknowledgement.

I think Steve has come up with the right model at just the right time, like the iPhone in 2007. The CBT bubble is bursting to some extent and people are hungry for a model with more practical bite.

The name Steve Peters is exactly right for a sports coaching guru. If you were to write a novel about a successful footballer or boxer you would probably call him Steve Peters.

Secondly, he looks fit and healthy, as though he belongs in the world of sport, which is unusual for a psychiatrist.

Most importantly, his ‘chimp’ model of the mind provides a useful metaphor to help understand aspects of human behaviour.

There is a certain amount of overlap with other models, such as Eric Berne’s Parent / Adult / Child system , the ‘seven kinds of smart’ from Emotional Intelligence and even Freud’s concept of the Id. In response to a question, Peters explained that the Chimp went way beyond what Freud would have expected of the Id, in terms of perceptiveness, calculation and dominance.

He also contrasted his model with the Type 1 / Type 2 scheme established by cognitive psychologists, in particular his construction of the part of the mind he calls ‘the computer’, which is paramount in sports performance .

Since Escaped Psychiatrist is mainly concerned with Depression, I am thinking about what this model could bring to the battle.

My first thoughts are that Depression is often associated with poor decision-making.

Whether this is cause, effect or co-incidence varies, but there is certainly a large group of depressed people who have suffered from internal sabotage.

Much of this self destructive behaviour is associated with poor impulse control- behaviours such as overeating, substance misuse, poor anger control and a failure to delay gratification.

A lot of the young people we work with seem to have made a series of terrible decisions, leading to the conclusion that sometimes, ‘misery is the wages of sin’. OK, for sin read ‘dysfunctional behaviour’.

This morning the Today program reported that deliberate self – poisoning in young people had increased by 40% over the last decade.  It looks as though the new generation are struggling with their inner chimps more than ever.

Though I struggled with a significant proportion of Peters’ book, particularly the notion of the psychological universe, made up of planets and moons, there are lots of useful behavioural strategies dotted around the chapters. Peters thinks that children ‘get’ the chimp model quite easily, which means it might suit schools and children’s services.

I guess my concern here is that there is a group of chimps somewhere discussing this, probably  wearing tutus and cravats, drinking tea out of china cups, concluding that what is wrong with chimps nowadays is that they just can’t keep their human side under control.