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One on one ...with Cary Cooper

Distinguished Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University Management School. Includes online extras.

24 September 2010

One moment that changed the course of your career                                                                                                       I was a master’s student at the University of California, Los Angeles when I met a visiting professor from Leeds University who invited me to England for a year. I’ve been here ever since!

One book that you think all psychologists should read
Joseph Heller’s Something Happened. It’s fiction, but it describes in psychological detail, with wonderful humour, how people behave in the workplace. It is frighteningly close to what the science of occupational psychology tells us about work.

One way to raise mental capital
Never put other people down, see their positive attributes and try to be kind and supportive. Mark Twain got it right when he wrote: ‘Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can somehow become great.’

One source of energy
My children. They have always kept me grounded, active and I have worked hard to make them proud of me. Also, coming from a family that had to leave the Ukraine and Romania in desperate straits because of the anti-Semitism they experienced, some of my energy comes from an inherited insecurity.

One way organisations could reduce stress overnight
Carry out an annual stress audit and then publish the headline results in their annual report. There is a move afoot in the HR world for sickness absence rates, corporate job satisfaction scores, etc. being reported in annual reports, so we may get there one day!

One thing I would change about psychologists
Engage more with the media, to show the world we have something very significant to contribute to society, which is far more important than pure economics: it is about the human condition, particularly during hard times like today.

One challenge occupational psychology faces
Individuals, small businesses and others will face huge survival pressures over the next few years – we need to help, and we have the skills to do it.

One cultural recommendation
Schindler’s List means a great deal to me, not only because I come from an Eastern European Jewish background where members of my distant family perished, but also because it highlights all human behaviour, from the dark side to the heroic. We see in this work so much of the human spirit, man’s ability to withstand the worst atrocities and above all the bravery of one man to do something for others without personal gain.

One regret
Not having spent as much time as I would have liked with my two kids from my first marriage. I was starting my university career at the time, working long hours, going to conferences, etc. One should never miss those precious early years of childhood: you can never re-capture them.

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
Be on ‘Receive’ and not on ‘Transmit’ mode: We have a lot to give as a profession but it is important that we ‘listen’ to others and not assume we know everything there is to know about human behaviour. With every day that passes, I learn more just by watching and listening, whether in my professional or personal role.


One country I have never been to
I regret to say this but I have never been to Romania, where my mother came from. However,   I have been recently invited by a number of Romanian academics, so I hope to go sometime at the end of this year or early next.

One alternative career path you may have chosen
I had two possible alternative careers, either a journalist/fiction writer, or doctor.

One inspiration
Professor Sir Roland Smith, who died about six years ago. He was a man from a working class background, who not only achieved academic success as the first Professor of Marketing in the UK, but also became a stellar business leader, heading companies like BAe Systems, Manchester United Plc and many others. It was his down to earth behaviour, his humour, his ability to see the positives in other people rather than their dark side and his ‘glass half full’ attitude that inspired me.

One hero/heroine from psychology past or present
My psychology heroine was Marie Jahoda, the social psychologist; and my hero was Carl Rogers, the client-centred psychotherapist.

One thing that organised psychology could do better
Not be so concerned with gate-keeping, and work more closely with the other social sciences.

One great thing psychology has achieved
It is embedded in our whole way of life, from understanding the stresses and strains of jobs to team building in football to why politicians behave the way they do. We are now part of the DNA of society.

One problem psychology should deal with
Creating a roadmap for enhancing the mental wellbeing of people throughout the life course, from childhood to work to old age. Making a difference to the quality of life of Britain.

One proud moment
I have four proud moments, the birth of each of my children. On a professional level, receiving the CBE from the Queen for my work was also a significant event, particularly as an immigrant who chose Britain as my home for life.

One final thought or anecdote
Wouldn’t it be nice if once and a while we stopped and asked ourselves, ‘what positive difference have I made to others, not society or my career, but to particular individuals and their lives’.