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Leadership and teamwork, Work and occupational

One to one... with Clive Fletcher

Professor Emeritus at Goldsmiths University of London, Honorary Professor at Warwick Business School, and MD of Personnel Assessment Ltd; including web-only answers

03 January 2010

One challenge your area of psychology faces
Occupational and organisational psychology needs to establish a stronger research base in the UK – there are too few academics in the field, and most of the research is done by even fewer, leading to an over-reliance on US studies, which do not necessarily generalise well to the UK (or indeed anywhere).

One great thing that psychology has achieved
The contribution of a small group of UK psychologists in WW2 was huge in various ways. In particular, the development of the assessment centre method, and its subsequent application in civilian settings, has had a profound impact on selection practice.

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
In terms of your careers, do not stay in the same place for too long – you will get taken for granted after about five years, or, worse still, get too comfortable. Moving helps you learn.

One proud moment
I am proud whenever psychological input is valued sufficiently to make a contribution to significant decisions. In my own case, a specific example was being highly influential – to the extent that I changed the outcome that everyone had predicted – in the selection of a candidate to a job of such national significance that the appointment made the front page of every serious newspaper and all the TV news bulletins on the day it was announced. This was a controversial but, as it turned out, very successful appointment. The media never did know about my involvement…

One regret
Lacking any aptitude whatsoever for the guitar, or not playing football for Liverpool and England.

One moment that changed the course of your career
Not so much a moment as three years of doing my PhD in a clinical context. It put me off clinical psychology as a career, because back then I had difficulty deciding who was more disturbed, the patients or the psychiatrists  I encountered. And the clinical psychologists used the Rorschach. I know the field has improved beyond recognition since then…

One thing that you would change about psychology
Widen its perspective, especially as it is taught at the undergraduate level, with a much-reduced emphasis on cognitive psychology, which has become grossly over-represented at the cost of social psychology, individual differences and other areas.

One alternative career path you might have chosen
I would like to say managing rock bands (I was at school with John Lennon!), but more realistically, medicine.

One hero from psychology
Most of the great personality theorists – Allport, Eysenck, Cattell, Kelly – but I was especially influenced by the work of Phillip Vernon, who wrote the best book on personality assessment that I ever read.

One problem that psychology should deal with
Again it is my own field, though it could apply to others – namely, making research findings more accessible to practitioners, not least in terms of readable summaries of the current state of play on a particular issue or theme. And perhaps making them more relevant – there are still lots of methodologically superb articles that fail the ‘So What?’ test.

Web Only Questions and Answers  

One thing that ‘organised psychology’ could do better
Projecting itself in the public arena. It has improved, but there is scope for progress here. Partly it is about worrying less if psychologists are seen to disagree with each other in public (after all, economists, sociologists and just about every other group express differences of analysis and viewpoint) in case that might undermine the ‘scientific’ status of the discipline.

One cultural recommendation
I once gave a seminar at Oxford, and used a quote from a Bob Dylan song to illustrate a key distinction. Funnily enough, two or three of the speakers who followed me also used quotes from him. Great source of material, so if you are not acquainted with his earlier albums, address this deficiency.

One person who inspired you
There have been quite a few, but my tutor when I was an undergraduate at Cardiff, John (Jack) Liggett, conveyed to me his enthusiasm for personality assessment and its application in occupational assessment.

One hope for the future
That it achieves a much better level of integration of its sub-areas in understanding human behaviour and experience than it does at present.

One journal article or book that you think all psychologists should read
One size does not fit all is part of my mantra, so there is no such book or article (tempting as it is to suggest one of my own).

One more question
An issue for psychology in academia really – despite some window-dressing to the contrary, in the old universities career progress is down to research output and grants. This distortion in reward allocation all too often detracts from the time and attention younger academics devote to the rest of the job, like teaching their students – too much of which is left to part-time staff and assistants. And while I am at it, the title of Professor is given away too easily these days (OK, OK, enough of the Grumpy Old Man bit).