The psychology of being happy: 7 things I learned last year

SmileyFor me, 2015 was a pretty grim year. It was fraught with bereavement, redundancy and family illness. To put it mildly, 2015, will not go down as one of the best years of my adult life.

However, someone very wise once told me, (to be honest, I think he learned it from someone even wiser…) “no experience is wasted; everything teaches you something.”

OK, if that’s the case, what did I learn about how to be happy during one of the saddest of years?

I learned:

1. That resilience is hugely important. Psychologists describe resilience as the ability to adapt to stress and adversity and to bounce back. I believe this is one of the most important traits we can develop in ourselves and our children.

Those individuals who demonstrate high levels of resilience generally share some common traits. They tend to be optimistic, have a positive attitude, the ability to regulate emotions and the tendency to view failure as a form of feedback. I certainly struggled with some of these – it’s not always easy to be optimistic when it feels like life is kicking you while you’re already down! However, give it your best shot.

Doing Outplacement sessions with those who have been made redundant has shown me how different people’s attitudes can be to similar situations. People who have positive attitudes can make such a difference to short and longer term outcomes.

2. Not to compare myself to others. There will always be someone taller, prettier, smarter, funnier (yes, really!), thinner, richer, or happier. Be you – the best version of yourself you can manage.

3. To surround myself with people I love, those who love me back and those who have my best interests at heart.

4. To take time to be sad, mad and hurt and did my best to lick my wounds…then tried to move forward even if I could only take tiny steps.

5. To treat myself with kindness; I don’t have to be perfect (to be fair, there was never any chance of that anyway). Stumbling and falling is part of what it means to be human. What’s important is not that you fall down but how long you lie on the ground before you get back up. Just like the old Chinese proverb: “Get knocked down 6 times. Get back up 7 times.”

6. That laughter, even in blackest moments, can be therapeutic. I tried to find lightness and people with whom I could laugh. It’s OK to laugh, in fact it’s desirable for your emotional well-being to allow yourself time out from despair or grief occasionally. It doesn’t mean you don’t care.

7. I learned that Leo Tolstoy wrote something way shorter than War and Peace…“ if you want to be happy, be”. Good work Leo.

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions

10 ways to improve your business using Psychometrics


  1. Select the best candidates for the business: matching candidates’ personalities and behavioural profiles against the competencies of the role can ensure that candidates are selected who will not only fit the role technically but also behaviourally. Ability / Aptitude tests can also be used to provide objective assessment of abilities such as numerical reasoning, clerical checking or mechanical reasoning. This reduces the risk of offering the position to someone who won’t cope with the demands of the role.
  2. Introduce new members into teams more efficiently: using a behavioural tool can fast-track the induction phase and ensure minimum disruption by helping new recruits and the team they are joining understand communication styles, individual behavioural strengths / weaknesses and the new team dynamic.
  3. Improve communication: using a simple behavioural tool which aligns with organisational culture can help employees and managers understand communication style, the impact of their style and how they can adapt to achieve positive outcomes.
  4. Enhance working relationships: behavioural profiles can highlight the strengths or likely challenges of a working relationship. If people understand each other they can work more productively together.
  5. Improve performance: used with executive coaching, personality profiles can ensure people to play to their behavioural strengths, raise awareness of areas of weakness and align roles to their particular style.
  6. Assign roles / tasks to play to strengths: by understanding people’s behavioural style we can ensure we try, where possible, to assign tasks which suit, rather than stress an employee.
  7. Develop and build teams: using team reports along with focussed team development sessions can enhance team communication, build mutual respect and increase team efficiency and productivity.
  8. Resolve conflict: where individuals or teams are experiencing conflict, behavioural tools can illuminate the behavioural reasons which might contribute to this. Used with mediation, this can provide a language to discuss contentious areas and resolve conflict situations.
  9. Improve your sales function: sales style profiles can be used to select the best sales person for a role and to enhance the functioning of sales teams.
  10. Develop your leaders: as part of leadership development programmes, in-depth psychometrics tools can identify personality and leadership style. This can work at individual level and for Leadership teams.

White Cube acquire UP's IP.

White Cube Consulting Ltd. have successfully acquired the intellectual property of The Urquhart Partnership Ltd.

The Urquhart Partnership went into administration in late 2015 due to exceptionally adverse market trading conditions. The intellectual property assets became available for sale following this.

White Cube Consulting now have exclusive rights to all the Intellectual Property, which includes:

  • A comprehensive suite of HR documentation, policies and templates
  • Training workshop materials and exercises for supervisory, management, leadership and soft skills development
  • Elearning modules on presentation skills, absence management, discipline and grievance, managing poor performance and appraisal.
  • Online training and competency management system
  • Psychometric reports and materials
  • Assessment and development centre materials
  • Outplacement and redundancy materials
  • Recruitment, selection and assessment materials

For further information, contact
Campbell Urquhart
Managing Director
01224 531524

Creative Thinking Techniques – Part 3 – It's Just Like

3rd in a series of short blogs outlining some different creative thinking techniques that can quickly be applied in the workplace for good effect. This time we look at a technique where you relate your problem to different everyday situations or scenarios to generate some potentially new ideas or perspectives.

To demonstrate;

You the manager of a small manufacturing organisation and have been tasked with looking at ways to improve the organisations productivity and / or profitability.

To help you think creatively, you first need to generate a list of everyday or unusual activities – the more varied and random the better;

Buying a product online from Amazon
Dining at an exclusive restaurant
Buying an engagement ring
Hiring a car
Visiting a fair ground
Going on holiday…

Then, you look at each of the areas in turn and relate these back to your original problem and see if it generates any ideas…

Buying a product online from Amazon – how is Amazon organised? Could you learn from a introducing a fully centralised work process / hub that was exceptionally efficient? Could you do more business online? Is your business ultra organised and efficient? How do you interact with customers? Can you sell other peoples products or services, not just your own? Do you cross sell / up sell other relevant products or services…in real time? (Our proposals now include a small section at the end saying if you are buying that product or services…then you may benefit form these ones…).

Dining at an expensive restaurant – how do you greet a brand new customer as soon as they “walk in the door”? Do you make them feel really special, or are they just another “diner”? (You are number 47 in the new customer queue. Please complete these generic forms so we have details for your company…whatever it is. Your business is valued… ) Do you wait on them hand and foot with exceptionally attentive customer service. Every single time?

Buying an engagement ring – Do you treat every customer as a unique buyer, each with different needs and budget? Do you actually know their budget upfront? Can you maximise their spend and give best value for their personal needs? Can you tempt them into spending more for a “bigger, sparklier” service? Can they try (on) before they buy?  Do you know who the decision maker is? (Bride to be)? Is it different from the budget holder? (Groom to be). Who has the final decision? (Hopefully shouldn’t need three guesses…)

And so on…

Sometimes just changing perspective or looking at another way of doing something can take the blinkers off and open up new ideas or possibilities.

Why not give it a go. It only takes a few minutes…over a sandwich at lunchtime. And as you munch, you can maybe relate how Pret-a-Manger makes a sandwich back to your problem….

Hand crafted. Fresh, and new every single day – no sell by dates.  Giving customers a free lunch when it is their birthday. True story. Oh the joy as a customer of such unexpected, but small delight…with a touch of creativity.

Campbell Urquhart
Managing Director

Dread? Suspicion? Scepticism?

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893
The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

Confusion? Interest? Fear?

What do you feel when you hear the words “Psychometric Assessment”?

I’ve used Psychometric Assessment for over 30 years- first as an educational psychologist then as a business consultant. I’ve found  aptitude, ability and personality/ behavioural assessments add real value to recruitment and development initiatives. In my experience, once clients use them and find the right tool for their needs, they continue to use them.

However,  I can completely understand people’s confusion or scepticism and, in the wrong hands they may be unhelpful or even do some damage. To me, the profiles or reports are only a small part of the story; the quality of feedback, suggested interview questions based on the profiles or team sessions built around them are more important.

I was carrying out coaching seasons recently for a client-she works as a manager in a small team. She had been attending a team-building session where a psychometric tool had been used. However rather than enhancing respect, understanding and communication, the session degenerated into a tearful, angry session which the facilitator did not manage to rescue.

This created a feeling of mistrust and my client’s confidence was severely dented. Clearly, without skills and experience, these tools may be at best ineffective and, at worst, destructive.

Psychometric assessments used with skill and knowledge can illuminate behavioural and personality traits to:

  • add rigour to selection processes
  • provide depth and objectivity to coaching conversations
  • add a self-awareness element to training workshops.

Psychometric assessment can illuminate, educate and enhance decision making. However, they should be treated with care and we should strive to ensure we see people as a whole rather than a collection of a few traits. In short, we need to validate the results.

” … People like to narrow you down to a few personality traits. I think I’ve become this ambitious, say whatever’s on her mind, intimidating person. And that’s part of my personality, but it’s certainly not anywhere near the whole thing”

Words from Pop star, Madonna.

Wise words, Madonna, wise words.

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions

Click here for more information on Psychometric Consultancy

Divergent thinking; child's play

 “All children are artists.
The problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up.”

children creativity.pngPablo Picasso

I stumbled upon an article recently which highlighted some of the differences between children and adults. It’s not a recent article but the message resonated with me. It talked of different ways of thinking about problems.

Divergent thinking is the ability to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.

Convergent thinking is the opposite. It’s the ability to give the “correct” answers and does not require significant creativity.

The article, in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland (2005), talked of research into divergent thinking. A study of 1,600 3 to 5 year old children who were tested for divergent thinking, showed that 98% were able to think divergently. When they were aged 8 to 10, 32% could generally think divergently. When the same test was applied to 13 to 15 year olds, only 10% thought of problems in this way.  When the test was used with 200,000 25-year-olds, a mere 2% solved problems in this way.

It would appear that various factors at play during the education process almost force our convergent thinking ability to take precedence over divergent thinking. Is education still too driven by the idea of one answer? Does divergent thinking become stifled? I think things have moved on hugely in Education since 2005 but I’m pretty sure there is still scope to encourage divergent thinking further and to give it greater importance within the curriculum.

It’s not just our ability to think creatively which changes as we grow. Our willingness to share our creative ideas with others also changes. Children are open and eager to share their thoughts, ideas or “amazing” works of art with anyone and everyone. However, as adults, we can find it intimidating, threatening even, to share our ideas, our thoughts or our written work with our colleagues. How scary is it to ask a colleague to read something you’ve written or to put forward a suggestion during a meeting?

In order to meet the challenges life throws at us we need to ensure that:

  • our children maintain their natural, fearless creativity so that when, as adults, they are faced with problems in the workplace they can create bold, innovative solutions.
  • as adults, we rekindle our own creativity and encourage creativity in others.
  • we rediscover that child-like fearlessness which allows us to share our ideas with colleagues so we can work together to create great solutions which will propel our businesses forward.

For this to happen we need to focus on building trust within our organisations and strengthening our teams so our businesses become brave and creative rather than fearful or stagnant.

Julie McDonald, Director of People Solutions
01224 531523


Creative Thinking Techniques – Part 2 – Distortion

“Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.”

Dorothy Parker


Second in the series of creative thinking techniques blogs.

“We have no budget…”

If I only had a pound for every time I heard that…

Being creative doesn’t need a big budget, or sometimes any budget.

What it does take is a little effort and the right tools to help.

This second creative thinking technique involves distorting the problem – blowing it up out of all proportion or minimising it and looking at solutions, then working these back into your original problem.

Let’s look at a quick worked example;

You are in charge of promoting a new product the company is launching and have been tasked with developing a marketing / communication plan. You have been given a £10,000 budget and are not sure how best to use it so want to generate some initial ideas.

So, lets distort the problem:

Imaging you had a million people to communicate to with your £10,000 budget – what would you do?

Or what if you only had one person to communicate to, and could spend all the budget just on them.

With a million people to target, you would almost certainly need to think about low cost, mass media solutions;

TV / Radio Adverts – what could you do to stand out and get the product noticed – Could one well placed / targeted advert reach the masses and create a lasting, memorable impact?

Viral marketing campaign – how could you get people talking about and more importantly sharing information about the product on Facebook / Twitter / Linkedin etc. Think Compare the Meerkat…

Could you print a promotional flyer with an exclusive money off deal for a newspaper – and get your flyer in as a free insert?

What if you could spend £10,000 marketing to just one person?

Could you produce a very expensive corporate gift / hand out that grabs their attention?

What about inviting your influential buyer as a guest at a high profile event like a sports match or film premiere – quite literally rolling out some red carpet treatment.

Then, relating these ideas back to your problem:

Could your final plan combine some effective low cost mass marketing with a top end solution? Such as a mass market social media campaign, kicked off by announcing you are attending a top class event with a sporting celebrity as the brand ambassador. Encouraging sharing of this on social media by running a competition for people who share a link to the product on social media. In return, 6 lucky winners get to join you at the event…

Contact us if you would like some help making your business more creative and innovative.

Campbell Urquhart
Managing Director

Adding business value through Psychometric assessment: Some do’s and don’ts

 “We think, each of us, that we’re much more rational than we are. And we think that we make our decisions because we have good reasons to make them. Even when it’s the other way around. We believe in the reasons, because we’ve already made the decision.”

Daniel Kahneman

Human Mind

Psychometric assessments can bring rationality, objectivity and rigour to business decision-making. They provide a framework for selection and development decisions and initiatives and add value to talent management strategies. People are often sceptical, cynical even, about Psychometrics but, in the right hands, and used appropriately, they are a useful tool.

Admittedly for the uninitiated, Psychometrics can seem like a minefield; tricky to manoeuvre and likely to blow up in your face if you get it wrong.

Having used Psychometric assessment in many different organisational settings, here are some thoughts on what to do … and not to do… to get the most from Psychometric assessment…


Remember that you can assess many different aspects of ability and behaviour –clerical, numerical, mechanical and verbal reasoning can all be assessed as part of the selection process. You can also take an objective look at how individual’s compare in terms of traits such as perfectionism, rule consciousness and dominance.

Use tools to their full potential; get expert advice to select the best tool and the best report format for your needs, eg DiSC has a Sales style report, OPQ32 has an Emotional Intelligence Report and Belbin Team Roles has a Team report.

Ensure the Psychometric tool you select works in your organisational culture. In my experience DiSC with it’s 4 quadrants works really well in some organisations, whilst others prefer the 16PF5, OPQ32, MBTI, or Belbin Team Roles.

Take time to understand the range of ways in which Psychometrics can be used – to consider personality, abilities and behaviours in selection processes, to enhance interviews and to provide objective behavioural content for coaching or training initiatives.


Use them unless you are trained or have an expert to guide you.

Forget to provide quality feedback to recruitment candidates, employees or hiring Managers/HR.

Use the Myers Briggs Type Inventory for recruitment /selection – it’s only recommended for development.

Muddy the waters by measuring the wrong thing!

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions

Event – Creative solutions in HR


Delighted to be asked to support the University of Aberdeen, Executive Education Programme by delivering a one day workshop. The session is all about exploring challenges and generating creative solutions to improve recruitment, retention and talent management.


Julie McDonald, Director of People Solutions
Campbell Urquhart, Managing Director


31st March 2016

Workshop Content

In this highly interactive session, participants will be encouraged to share their experiences of Recruitment, Retention and Talent Management. The facilitators will share some best practice examples. Participants will learn several creative thinking techniques and be given the opportunity to apply these techniques to solve real life problems.

For further details or to book one of the last remaining places, visit:



Aberdeen's got talent?

“Just because you haven’t found your talent yet
doesn’t mean you don’t have one”

Kermit the Frog


Given the current economic situation in Aberdeen, companies more than ever before, are having to achieve strong results with fewer resources.

Individual job roles are being stretched and teams are feeling the pressure to succeed. Organisations  are having to understand and utilise employees’ talents to maximum effect.

For individuals too, it is a testing time- a time for making the most of your strengths.

Whether you are working as part of a team which is under pressure due to downsizing or your role was made redundant and you are currently seeking your next job, it can be helpful to understand your behavioural strengths.

Belbin Team Roles profiles are a time and cost-effective method of understanding behavioural strengths and how to maximise these. They can be used to help individuals and organisations to improve communication and team functioning.

Belbin reports can be coupled with focussed individual feedback / coaching sessions or team building sessions to create positive change.

White Cube Consulting have 15 years accreditation and experience of delivering Belbin reports and consultancy.

Please get in touch for a chat to see if we can help with your individual or organisational needs.

Julie McDonald
Director of People Services

Click here for more Belbin Team Roles Information