Open Thinkering


TB871: Personality and causal responsibility

Note: this is a post reflecting on one of the modules of my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. You can see all of the related posts in this category

Ollie Watkins celebrates after scoring for England against the Netherlands.

As a long-suffering fan of Sunderland AFC and the England football teams, I’ve found myself experiencing both highs and lows on the rollercoaster journey of failure (more failure) and success. After the recent EURO football tournament, in which England were beaten by Spain in the final, manager Gareth Southgate resigned. But I want to reflect on the match before that, when Southgate made two crucial substitutions in the semi-final against the Netherlands. His decisions during the tournament sparked a lot of debate, and so I think it’s a good case study for understanding different perspectives on causality and success.

In the last few minutes of the semi-final, Southgate made a bold move by substituting onto the pitch Cole Palmer and Ollie Watkins. With the clock ticking down, Palmer, known for his creativity, passed to the pacey Watkins, who scored the decisive goal in the 90th minute. This meant England got into the final, in keeping with Southgate’s impressive record as manager. This is despite the criticism he has faced for his conservative approach and ‘delayed’ substitutions. At that point, the substitutions were seen as tactically brilliant.

Initially, it’s tempting to attribute the triumph solely to Southgate’s strategic ability. His timely decision to introduce fresh legs appeared to be the masterstroke that clinched the match. This view aligns with the analytical reasoning style, which focuses on individual actions and their immediate outcomes.

However, reflecting on the match from a broader perspective reveals a more complex picture. The success wasn’t merely a result of Southgate’s substitutions but also a culmination of several contextual factors. The team’s rigorous training sessions, designed to maintain peak physical condition and mental resilience, played a significant role. Additionally, the supportive environment created by the coaching staff and the sports psychologists helped boost the players’ morale and readiness. This was something that took years to build.

Former England internationals have commented on the squad’s togetherness under Southgate’s management. In the past, players from different club teams often kept to themselves, rarely mixing off the pitch, and this lack of unity was seen as a hindrance to the team’s success. Under Southgate, however, there has been a noticeable shift towards a more cohesive and supportive environment. Players now form strong bonds regardless of their club affiliations, leading to a spirit of unity and collective effort.

In addition, Southgate’s approach to substitutions has actually been particularly effective. Instead of viewing substitutions as a sign of being ‘snubbed’, players now understand their defined roles and how they contribute to the overall strategy. This clear communication and role definition have ensured that substitutes are ready to make impactful contributions when called upon, as shown by Palmer and Watkins’ game-changing involvement.

It’s also important to note that the Dutch defence was visibly fatigued in the closing stages, providing an opportune moment for Palmer and Watkins to exploit. The combined efforts of the entire team, the strategic preparation, and the circumstantial advantage of facing a worn-out opposition were all crucial elements in securing the win.

As a result, reviewing this episode through a contextual lens enhances my appreciation of the multifaceted nature of football success. It highlights that while individual brilliance, such as Southgate’s tactical decisions, can be significant, it is often supported by a web of contributing factors. Recognising this interconnectedness offers a richer understanding of how victories are achieved.

It’s also worth noting Southgate’s journey from player to manager. As a former defender, he famously missed a penalty in the semi-final of Euro 96 against Germany, a moment that saw England exit the tournament on home soil. This personal history of highs and lows on the pitch undoubtedly shapes his approach to management, instilling in him a resilience and a deep understanding of the pressures faced by his players. He wants success, but he’s willing to take criticism to achieve it.

For a football fan, this exercise in shifting perspectives is both challenging and enlightening. It reminds us that the beautiful game is not just about star players and headline-making decisions but also about the unseen efforts and collective spirit that drive a team forward. By appreciating the broader context, we can gain deeper insights into the game we love and the many elements that contribute to those unforgettable moments on the pitch.

TB871: A deeper dive into OCEAN

Note: this is a post reflecting on one of the modules of my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. You can see all of the related posts in this category

A satellite photo showing eandering wadis combine to form dense, branching networks across the stark, arid landscape of southeastern Jordan.

As I introduced in a previous post, the OCEAN model presents a way of understanding personality through the traits of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Profiling people using this model can help provide insights into both personal and interpersonal dynamics, which can be helpful in strategic contexts involving uncertainty, diverse perspectives, and undefined boundaries.

The idea is that profiling yourself and others using the OCEAN model enhances self-awareness and understanding of others. This is particularly helpful with communication, as appreciating different perspectives and working styles, helps create a better working environment. For example, I’ve said many times in person and on this blog that the Belbin feedback I received showed a difference between how I was perceived by the team who worked in the same office as me, compared with those who worked at other institutions. By appending smiley emoji to my emails, I altered how those external colleagues considered the ‘tone’ I was taking with them.

Profiling team members can also help in creating balanced teams. A mix of traits, for example combining highly conscientious individuals with those high in openness, encourages both detailed planning and creative problem-solving. Understanding personality traits may be valuable in resolving conflicts, too, as it provides insights into how people react differently in stressful situations. As a result, we can use a range of strategies to manage differences constructively.

When dealing with strategy, especially in unpredictable environments, team profiling helps anticipate responses to uncertainty. Individuals who are high in ‘openness’ (like me!) may thrive in ambiguous situations, exploring novel solutions. Individuals with high ‘agreeableness’ may excel in finding common ground, while those with high extraversion could advocate for specific viewpoints effectively. Traits such as openness and conscientiousness also influence perceptions of boundaries: those high in openness may push for broader scopes, while those high in conscientiousness focus on clear, manageable limits.

Reflecting on my own results from the PRISM-OCEAN test, I found that I am characterised as:

  • Open (curious, creative)
  • Conscientious (organised, disciplined)
  • Introverted (low key, reserved)
  • Strong-minded (competitive, sceptical)
  • Moderate (mellow, nervous)

These traits no doubt influence my approach to systems thinking and strategy making:

  • Openness: My curiosity and creativity mean I’m naturally drawn to explore the holistic and integrative aspects of systems thinking. This trait enables me to embrace diverse perspectives and novel ideas, which are important in dealing with complex and uncertain environments.
  • Conscientiousness: My organisational skills and disciplined nature ensure that my strategic plans are well-structured and considered. This trait helps balance the broad exploration encouraged by openness with more detailed, methodical planning.
  • Introversion: As someone reserved and low key, I might prefer reflecting on issues internally before engaging in discussions. Indeed, I prefer writing to figure out what I think than discussing things with others. This introspective approach potentially leads to deeper insights and more thoughtful contributions when collaborating with others.
  • Strong-mindedness: My competitive and sceptical nature drives me to critically evaluate different strategies and viewpoints. This trait is seen as a character defect by some, but I think it can be valuable in identifying potential flaws and ensuring sound decision-making processes.
  • Moderate Neuroticism: Being ‘mellow’ yet occasionally ‘nervous’ helps me stay calm under pressure while being aware of potential risks. This balance is achieved by managing stress effectively and organising my life and thoughts so that I can maintain focus during strategic planning.

It’s obvious but true that different individuals perceive situations differently. A risk analyst is usually someone who is detail-oriented and methodical, and may find structured environments comforting. Conversely, a tradesperson, accustomed to a more dynamic approach problem-solving, might prefer less structured settings. Such personality traits influence one’s approach to systems thinking, as high openness may naturally align with systems thinking’s holistic nature, while high conscientiousness might focus on detailed, methodical aspects (aka more ‘systematic’ approaches).

The metaphor used in the module materials (The Open University, 2020) is of systems thinking encouraging broader perspectives, similar to widening a ‘torch beam.’ High openness may facilitate this process, whereas high conscientiousness might require balancing detailed analysis with broader views. As familiarity with systems methodologies grows, what once seemed ‘dark’ may become more manageable.

Profiling using the OCEAN model potentially provides useful insights into human behaviour, which in turn helps us with effective strategy making in complex environments. Reflecting on the personality traits of ourselves and others within the context of systems thinking enhances our strategic capabilities. This can aid in the integration of diverse perspectives and management of uncertainty.


Image: USGS

Where to look for information around Open Badges and digital credentials (July 2024 edition)

Hexagons looking a bit like badges (or a  beehive)

Someone got in touch with me recently to ask for some advice after listening to the episode on Open Badges I recorded with Matt Linaker for the Totara Talks Talent podcast. It’s been a few years since they were up to speed around badges and digital credentials, and so wanted some recommendations on some resources to get them up to speed.

Instead of keeping such recommendations in the silo of an email inbox, I thought I’d share them here. I’m sure I’ve missed something, but the context of the advice is a 12-month badges pilot at a higher education institution in North America.

WAO resources

It would be remiss of me not to point first of all towards the resources that we are WAO have produced over the years. These are many and varied, but I’d first direct people’s attention towards the following.

Blog posts

Other stuff

  • — information about a Community of Practice called ORE (Open Recognition is for Everybody) which meets monthly and discusses all things badge- and recognition-related.
  • Badge Wiki — a knowledge repository for the Open Badges community, including badge platforms, a glossary, the Open Recognition Toolkit, and a lot more.
  • Reframing Recognition — a free email-based course to think about going beyond microcredentials towards a more holistic notion of open recognition.

We’re also working on a free online resource that puts together a lot of the fantastic images that Bryan Mathers has created around Open Badges over the years. It’s not finished yet, but you can have a sneak peek here.

WAO Partners

We’ve worked with Participate a lot over the past few years, and more recently the Digital Credentials Consortium (DCC) based at MIT. Something to bear in mind is that version 3 of the Open Badges specification introduces some interesting new features, as it uses the Verifiable Credentials data model. One of these is ‘decentralised identifiers’ meaning that badges are issued to wallets rather than email addresses. For example:

We helped the DCC set up a new knowledge base which has a lot of interesting and useful information about everything related to this. The DCC creates Open Source software to help higher education institutions, vendors, and anyone else be able to issue Verifiable Credentials at scale.

People to follow

This is where I get into trouble by accidentally leaving people out, but with that risk in mind here are some people to follow who are active on LinkedIn, posting mainly in English and mostly about things somehow related to badges and digital credentials:

Events to attend

Other things

Although the best thing to do is to “get into the water” by following a bunch of people and keeping up to date with what they share, it might be specifically worth following what’s going on around skills-based hiring at the moment. Walmart is funding a bunch of things in this area, including work by Jobs for the Future (JFF). For example, we’ve just kicked off a project with them around evaluating a credential for job readiness.

There’s a lot going on! This post could have have been five times longer, and it makes me think that perhaps we should resurrect Badge News 🤔

Image CC BY-ND Visual Thinkery for WAO