President-Elect’s Column

Reaching Out as a Division

Craig Parks, PhD
Craig Parks, Ph.D.

“[He] is a poster child for the notions of positive psychology and resiliency in teaching and coaching small groups.” This quote is from Martin Seligman, about someone, not a psychologist, whose job is to improve performance by small groups. This person has been lauded by others, within our profession and his, for his grasp of the psychology of group and interpersonal dynamics, and his application of cutting-edge research to his work environment. He lists Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers as the book that has had the greatest influence on his professional life. His methods have been the subject of at least one empirical study (Thelwell, Weston, Greenlees, & Hutchings, 2008). And finally, his approach has been so successful within his profession that others are rushing to adapt his methods to their own work environments, and other professions are trying to figure out how to integrate his ideas into their task groups.

For now I’ll let you ponder who this is. (Full disclosure: Some of you will not recognize his name, but I’m confident the majority of you will know of his employer, if not him specifically.) The point I want to make is that this is someone outside of psychology who saw a connection between what we do and what his situation needed, and tried to link the two worlds. The success of this person offers a real opportunity for us to build bridges outside of our discipline. We can all think of real-world groups that might benefit from the theories that we work from, and to my mind the time is right for us to connect to such groups. Like him or not, the popularity of Gladwell’s books demonstrates that the lay public wants to know more about what we do and how it can benefit them. The prominent success of our mystery person, and his readiness to attribute that success to the application of psychology, group and individual (our colleagues who do mindfulness research hold him up as a conquering hero), opens the door wide for us to get involved with other types of groups.

I’m sure at this point, some of you are rolling your eyes and thinking, “Here’s another call to share our expertise that forgets about the hurdles we face in our jobs to outreach.” I assure you I’m well aware of the difficulties inherent in what I’m calling for. A colleague in my department has received awards from the university and our state legislature for his efforts to help kids in challenging home situations to thrive in school, yet he remains an Associate Professor, because a good chunk of his work is not readily publishable. My suggestion is that we work as a division to initiate some extension efforts. I am thinking in particular of our sponsoring workshops on topics related to group functioning to which professionals and budding professionals (i.e., graduate students) are invited, with an accompanying registration fee. Division 5 (Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics) does this to great effect, regularly advertising one- and two-day workshops on all manner of analytical techniques, usually held at the presenter’s home institution or nearby. The registration fees are first used to pay for the facility and for an honorarium for the presenter, and whatever is left goes to the division. Having participated, as both attendee and presenter, in such workshops, I can say that they are popular, and draw a good number of people from outside of the discipline. The presenter’s time commitment is relatively brief, certainly not at the level of a single person contracting with an agency or organization, and so should not impinge on his/her employment duties. Some work would need to be done to establish contacts with managers of real groups in order to circulate workshop announcements, but there are many professional listservs that look for educational opportunities for their members, and are easy to work with.

I think there is much potential here. Imagine, for example, a workshop in the Maryland-Virginia-DC area run by Dennis Kivlighan on the unique and beneficial aspects of co-led groups, or a session led by Verlin Hinsz on how information-processing errors and biases magnify in groups. Workshops like these would be attractive across the spectrum of types of groups, would provide a real service to society, and would be beneficial to the division.

I’m interested to hear what you think of this. Catch up with me in Toronto. If this still sounds like too much of an intrusion into our work lives, tell me so. If it sounds like it has potential, let’s talk about that too.

And to unveil the mystery person: It is Pete Carroll, coach of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, winner of two one Super Bowls.