December 31, 2008


"Too many of us think [that peace] is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again. I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of universal peace and goodwill of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams, but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only immediate goal. Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions -on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. [...] Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process -a way of solving problems. [...] So, let us not be blind to our differences -but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world save for diversity."
~John F. Kennedy, in his Peace address at American University, June 10, 1963

Everything has a small beginning

Omnium rerum principia parva sunt
(Everything has a small beginning)

~ Cicero, Roman statesman and philosopher, 106 BC – 43 BC

Thanks to Jim Mortensen who sent me this quote. I did not know this quote from Cicero but it reminded me right away of a quote by Peter Senge.

December 30, 2008

Jeffrey Sachs interview

Economist Robert H. Frank once found in research he did that studying economics appears to inhibit cooperative behavior. Students of economics are thorougly confronted with the too simple 'rational man' or 'homo economicus' theories which dominate economics and as they do they get less and less inclined to show prosocial behavior. For more information on this you may listen to this interview or read this research description or read this book.

One economist who certainly seems to have been able to escape this effect is Jeffrey Sachs. This leading economist is the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. As can be read on his wikipedia page, Sachs is renowned for his work on economic development, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, debt cancellation, and globalization.

December 28, 2008

Magic and the brain

Interesting article in Scientific American. Magic tricks often work by covert misdirection, drawing the spectator’s attention away from the secret “method” that makes a trick work. Neuroscientists are scrutinizing magic tricks to learn how they can be put to work in experimental studies that probe aspects of consciousness not necessarily grounded in current sensory reality. Brain imaging shows that some regions are particularly active during certain kinds of magic tricks. Read the article.

An interesting demonstration of what the article is about is this video. Have fun watching it.

Most read posts of 2008

Here is the top 5 of most read posts written in 2008:

1. Positive psychology, the strengths movement and the solution-focused approach
2. Milton Erickson
3. A situational model of solution-focused change
4. Remembering Insoo Kim Berg
5. Poll: most frequently used solution-focused techniques

December 27, 2008

Broken window theory of crime reduction

An interesting post on BPS research digest about some new research which confirms The Broken Window theory of crime reduction, which was described in Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Briefly, that theory says the following: Signs of petty anti-social behaviour really do have a powerful effect on people's tendency to disobey basic rules, even increasing their tendency to steal. More serious crimes can be averted by reducing low level crime such as littering and graffiti. Read the article here.

December 26, 2008


Some years ago I read the book Sync by Steven Strogatz. Now, Ted has posted a presentation by him, titled: How things in nature tend to sync up (I am posting the Youtube version here). It is very interesting to watch. Some beautiful pieces of film with flocks of birds, school of fish, and so but also some fascinating examples of inanimate objects synchronizing with each other. It is still largely an open question to me what all of this implies for human behavior but it is surely interesting to think about that question.

December 19, 2008

How relevant is homework?

Here is an interesting article (plus discussion) by Christine Duvivier on the relevance of homework: Have You Done Your Homework?
Did you ask your child about his or her homework this week? In parent circles, homework has become a point of contention. Parents ask each other, “Do you agree there is too much homework?” If you are one of the parents questioning students’ school assignments, you may want to do your own homework on this subject. Read on.

December 16, 2008


Not trying to convince people to use SF

"So, you are trying to get everybody to use the solution-focused approach?", asked the manager of the organization who had hired the solution-focused trainer, and he smiled. The solution-focused trainer smiled back. Then he said: "Well... actually we are not trying to do that...."
The manager looked honestly surprised and asked: "Really?" The trainer replied: "Really!" "Why not?", asked the manager. The trainer replied: "While I am very enthusiastic about it, it is not for me to say what approaches other people should use. However interesting the solution-focused approach is, I am aware it is not the only interesting and effective approach in the world. I know that not everyone is interested in SF and I think it is probably not the best approach in some specific situations. So, what I am trying to do is to train people who are interested in learning to use the approach, so that they can decide what they want to use and what not".

December 15, 2008

Derren Brown and priming

Have you looked up some video's of Derren Brown (see this post)? Here is an example: BMX trick. Doesn't that remind you of priming research? See for instance this example and this example of priming research.

December 13, 2008

The Amazing Brown

Gwenda Schlundt Bodien, knowing of my interest in skepticism, mentioned Derren Brown to me. This guy does illusionist trics which are really amazing and which make Uri Geller look like a beginner. Another difference between Derren Brown and Uri Geller is that, while Geller claims to have supernatural powers, Derren Brown is a self-professed skeptic regarding paranormal phenomena. This makes Derren Brown a worthy succesor of James Randi, a.k.a. The Amazing Randi. Here is a quote from the wikipediapage on Brown:

Teaching math without wasting a student's time

Working with what is already there can be an extremely powerful principle when instructing people. A math teacher used this principle to help a student who had to do a math re-examination. The teacher asked the student to make a list A consisting of topics that he already understood and a list B of topics which he did not yet understand. When both list were finished the teacher complimented the student with the result: "Wow, there are already many things you understand. Excellent!” Then, he asked: “Which is the first of the topics on the B list you would like to move to the A list? The student chose a topic from list B. The teacher asked: “Okay, let's start with that topic. I don't waste your time so before I started explaining things that you may already understand I'd like to ask you what you already understand about this topic.” The student explained what he already understood about it and what he did not yet understand about it. Then, the teacher explained the part he did not yet understand. This process was repeated with every topic on the B list. Every time when a new topic was discussed the teacher asked what the student already understood. By doing this, the student realized that he already understood parts of many topics of the B list and his self-confidence grew. Another advantage was that they could use the time very efficiently. No time was wasted on things that were already clear to the student. Topic after topic was mastered by the student with the help of the teacher. The student passed gloriously for his exam.

December 10, 2008

Impulse reduction

Arjan Broere pointed me to this video of Benjamin Zander. It is a lovely video to watch but there is one thing that I found particularly interesting. It starts as 01.12 and it ends at 04:06. The topic is impuls reduction. That is intruiging. In applying the solution-focused approach being able to control impulses is very important too. You don't just go with with every impulse or reflex. Instead you deliberately choose your interventions. Apparently, with practice the skill becomes more fluent and the number of impulses decrease.

Pacing: helping clients find an optimal speed of change

I was sent a copy of the article "The Family Has The Solution" by Don Norum (he is mentioned in this post). This article which is said to have been influential to the development of the solution-focused approach was written in 1978 by only published in the year 2000 (I don't know whether the 1978 version and the 2000 version are identical). The central them of the article is that because necessary changes for solving emotional problems exist within the family therapist's don't need to provide insight nor induce change but instead helps the family in identifying and applying their own solutions. An interesting topic in the article is the technique of pacing.

December 9, 2008

Aren't these questions too difficult?

On a solution-focused network site somebody asked me the following interesting question:

"Some of our participants who work in the social sector, regularly tell us 'these SF questions are too difficult for our clients and they ask us, how can we apply the SF approach with people who have limited mental (cognitive) abilities? My answer then is that you can take a SF attitude, use very simple or nonverbal language, make drawings, show objects etc.... I wonder: do you have more ideas about this? Have you trained people in actually doing this?"

December 8, 2008

Improving language, improving life (article)

Effective use of language can be surprisingly powerful. Not only can effective language help to improve cooperation with other people, it also can help you develop a more productive outlook on life. The purpose of this article is to help you make your language more constructive and effective. Many of these suggestions are based on recent findings in psychological research and on techniques which have been developed by solution-focused practitioners and researchers. Read on.

December 7, 2008

Happiness as a collective phenomenon

Here is an article that offers a network science approach to happiness: Happiness is a collective - not just individual - phenomenon. Here are some findings reported in that article:

The researchers found that happiness spreads through social networks. One person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only their friends, but their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends. The effect lasts for up to one year. The opposite is not the case: sadness does not spread through social networks as robustly as happiness. Happiness appears to love company more so than misery. They also found that popularity leads to happiness. People in the center of their network clusters are the most likely people to become happy. However, becoming happy does not help migrate a person from the network fringe to the center. Happiness spreads through the network without altering its structure.

An SF-approach to reducing hospital infections

Here is an interesting blog post by Paolo Terni: A case study: a solution-focused approach to reducing hospital infections.

December 6, 2008

Lang Lang and deliberate practice

Jim: When did you start playing the piano?
Lang: At 2 ½ years old.

Jim: How many hours a day did you practice?
Lang: For the first 15 years, 8 hours a day.

Jim: And now?
Lang: 3 hours a day.

Jim: Every day?
Lang: Yes.

Read more

December 5, 2008

Why are companies here?

"Why are we here? I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists solely to make money. Money is an important part of a company’s existence, if the company is any good. But a result is not a cause. We have to go deeper and find the real reason for our being. As we investigate this, we inevitably come to the conclusion that a group of people get together and exist as an institution that we call a company, so that they are able to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately - they make a contribution to society, a phrase which sounds trite but is fundamental."

~ David Packard, co-founder Hewlett Packard
Also read: Meaning in life

December 4, 2008

The Tallest Oak

"The tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured."

~Malcolm Gladwell, source, p. 19
Also read: Geek Pop Star

December 2, 2008

Solution-focused practice in groups: room for ruminating on problems?

An interesting question was asked in the solution-focused change LinkedIn group:
"I've had great success by leading with SF questions and techniques. By immediately focusing on where we're going, I've been able to set the right tone. On the other hand, I can tell that some people are disappointed that they didn't get a chance to ruminate on problems. Anyone else experience this?"
This is the suggestion I gave:

How good does it get?

Here is a new article based on some earlier posts on this site: How good does it get?

Positive thinking seems to be back in style. Positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, solution-focused change, and positive deviance are some popular positive change approaches. These approaches tend to focus on resources and virtues that enable individuals and organizations to flourish. Positive change approaches hold a great promise. Maybe they can help us to improve our lives, our organizations and hopefully even our world. But just how positive can we expect life to become? This may be an important question. If our expectations are too low, they can make us passive and thus prevent us from improving our circumstances. In these cases our expectations have become self-fulfilling. High expectations may be self-fulfilling too, up to a point. If they are unrealistically high, they can turn into a recipe for disillusion and frustration. Expectations play an important and sometimes paradoxical role. An example is a party. Sometimes you go a party with low expectations and you are pleasantly surprised by how much fun it turns out to be. At other times your expectations are high -this is going to be so much fun! - and it turns out rather disappointing. In these cases the contrast between what we expect and what we find seems to impact our feelings and behaviors dramatically. So, what is wise to expect about life? How good can life actually get? Is a problem-free life within our reach? Can we ever approach a total peace of mind, free of worries and fears? Can we always be feeling good about ourselves and our accomplishments and live in peace with our fellow human beings? Or is it wise to lower our expectations drastically and expect life to be one damn thing after another? Or is there a middle way? When is life good enough? Read on.

December 1, 2008

Barbara Arrowsmith Young

Norman Doidge's book The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (James H. Silberman Books) contains a fascinating chapter on a woman called Barbara Arrowsmith Young. As a child, she suffered from asymmetry in her brain which meant that she had both exceptional abilities (like her auditory and visual memory and a great drive) and signs of retardation and an asymmetric body. She had serious difficulties in the following areas: pronouncing words, spatial reasoning, kinesthetic perception, span of vision. She had trouble understanding grammar, math concepts, logic, and cause and effect and she behave odd socially because of her trouble understanding cause and effect relationships. Her emotional development suffered and she had few friends. She felt like living in a fog.

November 28, 2008

Overemphasizing the importance of strengths?

Recently some doubts about the claims being made in positive psychology about the strengths perspective have come up. A great thing about positive psychology focus is that it tries to gain understanding and knowledge of how individuals and institutions thrive and overcome difficulties. But does this necessarily imply we should focus on 'playing to your strengths'? This might be too individualistic and static. Perhaps we'd do well to move into a more interactive, dynamic and situationalist perspective. The research by Professor Anders Ericsson and many others (which has become a large body of research over many years) is interesting and a good example of positive psychology. It deemphasizes the role of talents, not from a dogmatic point of view by simple by looking at empirical research. The researchers did not set out too disprove the role of talent. Actually, they were quite amazed they could not find evidence that talent played a major role. Here is one example

Avoiding automaticity

"Frequently when we see great performers doing something they do, it strikes us that they've practiced for so long and done it so many times, they can just do it automatically. But in fact, what they have achieved is the ability to avoid doing it automatically."
The same may be applicable for solution-focused top coaches. It is not that they are working, as it were, on automatic pilot while they are coaching. Instead, they are often very aware of everything they do. They consciously choose interventions, they consciously apply systematic self-corrections, they are very aware of what the client is saying.

November 25, 2008

The interval technique

Solution-focused professionals often use a lot of questions. Many of those can be answered right away. But sometimes solution-focused therapist, coaches, managers or teacher ask questions that cannot readily be answered. This can be the case when the other person does not yet have a clear idea about what the answer might be and needs some time to think about that. And it can also happen that someone does not know whether he is willing to answer the question. In both situations solution-focused practitioners may use a certain type of question that allows their conversation partner some extra time to think, both about the answer and about their own position. Here are a few examples of such questions:

November 23, 2008

Five characteristics of deliberate practice

The book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin, which I am now reading, is even more interesting than I thought it would be. Anyone interested in Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliers: The Story of Success should have a look at this book, too. This book (roughly) deals with the same topic and does so in a way which is at least as interesting. The book not only debugs the talent myth, the believe that talent is a dominant factor in high achievement (which Gladwell has done too in several publications). It also operationalizes the concept of deliberate practice. This concept was introduced by Anders Ericsson, a leading researcher in the field of expertise development. Colvin explains that deliberate practice can be described by these five characteristics:

November 22, 2008

Does grief recovery need stages?

Question: Is it true that most people most of the time go through these stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance?

Here is the answer of Russell P. Friedmann (executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute): "No study has ever established that stages of grief actually exist, and what are defined as such can’t be called stages. Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to loss… No matter how much people want to create simple, bullet-point guidelines for the human emotions of grief, there are no stages of grief that fit any two people or relationships."

More about this topic, here: Stage Fright

November 12, 2008

Managers' implicit assumptions about personnel

Someone, whose research I find interesting is Peter Heslin. In the article Managers' implicit assumptions about personnel, for instance, he applies Carol Dweck's growth mindset idea to management. The article explains how a growth-mindset intervention can lead managers to relinquish their fixed mindset and subsequently provide more accurate performance appraisals and helpful employee coaching. Interestingly, at the end of the article, he mentions some questions for further research among which this question: "Finally, research could usefully explore potential downsides of an extreme growth mindset, such as continued fervent investment by managers in developing poor-performing employees who show virtually no discernible performance improvement over time."

November 11, 2008

Sent to the principal!

Right before class starts, one of Mary's pupils, Shanna, is still in the hallway. Mary walks into the hallway to fetch her. In the hallway, she notices that another teacher is angry with Shanna. When he sees Mary he says: "Her behavior is very impertinent. This is unacceptable! Will you see to it that she´ll be sent to the principal?" Then, he angrily closed the classroom door behind him. As Mary and Shanna walk back to the classroom she thinks for a second what would be the best way of responding to this situation. Which solution-focused question could she ask?

Then, she says to Shanna: "We'll start our class now. I would like to see you when class is over. In the meantime I would like you to think about how you can keep this situation from getting worse for you than it already is". Shanna protests: "But it was his fault that I said that to him!" Mary repeats calmly: "We'll start class now. After class, I would like hear from you what you could do to keep this situation from getting worse for you than it already is".

November 8, 2008

A powerful sentence

This week, I have written a post about language (Improving language - improving life) and a post about Barrack Obama (Before Obama said 'yes we can!'). Here is a post about both.
I came across an article by Rick Horowitz: Support I Have Yet to Earn": Obama's Victory Speech. Horowitz is impressed by this sentence from Obama's victory speech: "And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president, too."
I am impressed, too. This sentence is an interesting example of the power of language. The sentence is mild and non-accusing. Obama does not accuse the people who did not vote for him in any way. Instead, he implies that the cause lies with him. It is like the often used phrase is solution-focused therapy and coaching: "you must have had good reason to...". Obama's sentence is inviting and benevolent. The sentence makes it very easy for non-Obama voter to start to appreciate him and join after all. The sentence also displays hope, optimism and confidence. "I have not yet", implies that this may very well still happen.
This simple sentence is very powerful. With such admirable rethoric skills it is no wonder that Obama has been able to organize so much support, that there were so few problems in his campaign, that the problems that were there were so effectively dealt with, and that Obama has such a strong appeal to so many people.

November 7, 2008

10 questions for the solution-focused coach youtube video

Improved well-being, one small step at a time

"It is not pointless for people to seek to improve their well-being. However, improvement may not come from major events such as winning the lottery, despite the seemingly life-changing nature of such examples. Rather it seems like the key for long lasting changes to well-being is to engage in activities that provide small and frequent boosts, which in the long run will lead to improved well-being, one small step at a time."

November 5, 2008

Before Obama said 'yes we can!'

This blog has featured several articles on something called stereotype vulnerability (read Stereotype vulnerability research: bridging social and ethnical performance gaps, 5 Experiments that make you think, and Self confirming beliefs). What I said in one of these posts is that I find this line of research so interesting because it allows for some optimistic conclusions about bridging performance gaps between different social and ethnical groups. In this sense this research might be an example of A social science about what could be. Today, history has been written. Barrack Obama has been voted president of the United States and will, like they say, become the most powerful person in the world. Who'd have thought that a person with a brown skin could do something like that? Who'd have thought a majority of 'white' voters could do something like that?

In his victory speech, Obama used the phrase 'Yes we can', like he has done many times before during the campaign. In his speech addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Obama said: 'Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?' Obviously he has chosen for the latter and he chose to call his book: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Vintage). Before Obama stepped up saying 'Yes we can', he must have reached another conclusion first, which is: 'Yes I can'. Of course, he will have been aware of the stereotypes and the cynicism that is there. And before he invited the American people to see that 'out of many we are one, that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt, and those that tell us, we can't, we will respond with ... yes we can', he must have made the choice himself to rise above the cynicism, stereotypes and doubt.

Several politicians have said they want to be uniters instead of dividers but have not been very convincing. Obama has been convincing because his life and his campaign have shown examples of how he indeed is becoming a uniter. When tested, he has shown courage, mildness to individuals and consistency. This is what makes leaders like Nelson Mandela and Barrack Obama irresistible: they invite us to bridge gaps and rise above ourselves and obstacles while we can actually observe them doing that themselves.

I don't believe in Utopia and I believe the importance of leadership is often overestimated. This means that during Obama's presidency, problems will remain, challenges will be great, and mistakes will be made. But I do believe in progress, in the possibility of improving the situation we are in. I feel this is progress. It's awesome!

November 4, 2008

Improving language - improving life

Through the years, my appreciation for deliberately developing language skills has grown. On this blog, I have mentioned several themes in the use of constructive and effective language. Here are a few examples:

Improve your questions: in the post Effective questions for helping and providing direction examples are given of solution-focused questions that can be helpful in many contexts like helping, managing and self-coaching. Improving your questions will probably help you achieve your goals more pleasantly and quickly. As Marilee Adams says: 'Great results begin with great questions.' One person who uses this wisdom is Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, who says: 'We run the company by questions, not by answers.'

2. Improve language fit
: the post Language matching explains how in solution-focused conversations an important aspect in communicating with the other person is to match the language of that person. The post Evidence of the advantage of using the words of the client describes a clever experiment that shows how incredibly strong the effect of language matching can be.

3. Improve language wisdom
: the post Speaking words of wisdom explains how many people, with increasing age, use more positive and fewer negative affect words, use fewer self references, use more future-tense and fewer past-tense verbs, and demonstrate a general pattern of increasing cognitive complexity. The effect is Positive Emotion Regulation. The post Language use and mental health shows that good health is associated with a limited use of first-person pronouns, and with a relatively high use of causal words (because, cause, effect).

4. Improve your No
: the post The importance of saying No gracefully explains how No is one of the hardest words for us to say. But, if we can learn how to say it gracefully, if we can learn how to say it positively, I believe it can really help transform our personal lives, our work lives and the larger world. This interview with William Ury explains how to say No positively.

5. Improve healing language
: Greek philosopher Aeschylus once said: "Words are the physicians of a mind diseased". And this is true. Several types of language use can have downright healing effects. For instance, take the technique of normalizing. Normalizing is used to depathologize people’s concerns and present them instead as normal life difficulties. It helps people to calm down about their problem. It helps them realize they're not abnormal for having this problem. Another example of such a technique is reframing. Reframing is a technique which places what has happened or what has been said in a positive light (for instance assuming a positive intention or pointing at a positive effect). Yet another technique is Mutualizing. Finally, there is the technique of Creating an expectation of positive change.

6. Improve your compliments
: compliments can be great tools (read this). Specific techniques help you to compliment effectively, like Indirect compliments, Affirming questions, Process compliments, and the The ABC of compliments.

More and more, I am beginning to believe that improving your language is an excellent way of improving the quality of your life.

November 3, 2008

November 2, 2008

Belief about what you can achieve

I found a quote in the book I mentioned yesterday that describes the growth mindset. Looking at the index of the book I saw it did not mention Carol Dweck nor the concept of the growth mindset, which I find surprising. After all, the product description says: "Now Colvin has expanded his article with much more scientific background". Well, Carol Dweck's mindset concept is one of the best researched and most useful ideas in this field; how could you miss it? Anyway, I assume the author meant well. And the quote is interesting; here it is:
Do you believe that if you do the work, properly designed, with intense focus for hours a day and years on end, your performance will grow dramatically better and eventually reach the highest levels? If you believe that, then there's at least a chance you will do the work and achieve great performance. But if you believe that your performance is forever limited by your lack of a specific gift, or by a lack of general abilities at a level that you think must be necessary, then there's no chance at all that you will do the work. That's why this believe is tragically constraining. Everyone who has achieved exceptional performance has encountered terrible difficulties along the way. There are no exceptions. If you believe that doing the right kind of work can overcome the problems, then you have at least a chance of moving on to ever better performance. But those who see the setbacks as evidence that they lack the necessary gift will give up - quite logically, in the light of their believes. They will never achieve what they might have. What you really believe about the source of great performance thus becomes the foundation of all you ever will achieve. ... The evidence offers no easy assurances. It shows that the price of top-level achievement is extraordinarily high. Perhaps it is inevitable that not many people will choose to pay it. But the evidence also shows that by understanding how a few become great, anyone can become better.

November 1, 2008

Talent is overrated: new book on deliberate practice

About half a year ago, I quoted Geoffrey Colvin, who wrote a Fortune article with the title What it takes to be great. In that article he said: "Anything that anyone does at work, from the most basic task to the most exalted, is an improvable skill."

In the article Colvin translates the concept of deliberate practice to the situation of business. Briefly, the term deliberate practice refers to the work by Anders Ericsson and his colleagues on how to achieve greatness in a field. These researchers have found that the best performers in any field are those who devote the most hours to deliberate practice.

Colvin has now written a book called Talent is overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. In it, he elaborates on the content of the article. Being a fan of the work by Carol Dweck on the growth mindset (to which this work is obviously related) I am of course curious about this book. Maybe more about it later.

October 30, 2008

Self-found internal solutions: why they motivate

This week I developed The Solutions Grid. In it, I describe self-found internal solutions by which I mean solutions that the individual (or group) has identified himself and which he can apply himself without the help or training of others and without being dependent on external resources. I believe that the individual or group will be most motivated to this of solutions.

This reminds me of a post I wrote quite a while ago which was called The autonomy-supportive teaching style. In that post I wrote:

"How can intrinsic motivation be stimulated? A critical factor to experiencing intrinsic motivation is perceived autonomy. When people feel autonomous they experience the initiation of their behavior to be within themselves and they become more intrinsically motivated. Any factor that conduces toward a so-called external perceived locus of causality (E-PLOC) will diminish intrinsic motivation. Punishments, rewards and controls are examples of this. They interfere with students' perceived autonomy or put differently, with their self-regulation. Any factor that fosters an internal locus of causality (I-PLOC) will enhance intrinsic motivation. Encouraging self-initiative, providing choice and stimulating experimentation are examples of this."

Do you see the connection?

October 28, 2008

Seeing our predicament as a problem that can be solved

Question: What are you optimistic about, given the state of society at the moment?

Answer: That the processes of enlightenment and reason will continue to drive violence down. That some of the events that we have enjoyed in our lifetimes, that were almost unthinkable beforehand - the fall of the Soviet empire, the end of apartheid, the fact that the Cold War ended without the use of nuclear weapons; if you would have said any of these, the fact that Israel and Egypt are at peace, the fact that the homicide rate has plummeted since the 1990’s in the United States, if you would have made any of those predictions in 1975 or 1985 people would have said, “What are you smoking?” But they all came true. My hope is that an ability to see the future, to think about our predicament, to see our predicament as a problem that can be solved, will lead to more pleasant surprises like that.

~Steven Pinker, see interview here.

October 27, 2008

The Solutions Grid

In response to my previous post, Solution-focused cold-curing?, Michael Hjerth, from Sweden, analyzed my distinction between internal and external solutions, saying:
Both medication and exercise is effective with depression. But exercise has the benefit of "being done" by the client: thus increasing self-regulation and agency. (verified by research CBT and Exercise has more long-term effects compared to medication in most cases). If I convince a person to exercise: thus giving external advice which will increase internal resources, are this internal or external solutions?
I think this is an interesting thought. After reading Michaels comment I made this grid (let's call it The Solutions Grid):

Here is an explanation of the terms. By internal solutions I mean solutions that the individual can apply himself without the help or training of others and without being dependent on external resources. By external solutions I mean solutions that the individual cannot apply without the training or help or resources of others. By found by other(s) I mean that the solution is identified and defined by someone else (for instance a coach, therapist, or consultant). By self-found I mean that the solution is identified and defined by the person himself.

My hypothesis is that the solutions in quadrant D are the most promising. These self-found internal solutions have some important advantages. The individual trusts these solutions, knows how to apply them, knows they're relevant for him and knows he has the skills required to apply them. Furthermore, he has identified them himself and is most likely to be committed to trying them out. My prediction would be that these D-solutions are most likely to be actually tried out and are most durable, too.

What's the link to solution-focused practice? I think solution-focused practice constantly focuses as much as it can by facilitating the person to find internal solutions himself. In other words, it leads to self-found internal solutions. It does this first by acknowledging what the client does as much as possible and by interfering as little as possible with his frame of reference. Solution-focused coaching tries to be as non-obtrusive as possible. Secondly, solution-focused coaching uses activating questions that facilitate the person in his process of finding solutions.

Note: this is not only applicable to individuals but also to groups
Also view this video

October 26, 2008

Solution-focused cold-curing?

In the solution-focused approach you're trying to solve problems and achieve goals by identifying solutions that have already been working and that have originated within the individual or group. Because these solutions can be found within the individual or group itself I like to call these solutions internal solutions. In the solution-focused approach you identify what has worked before and you amplify that. This is opposed to a change approach that relies on external solutions, solutions that come from outside the system (individual or group) like following tips from someone else. The solution-focused approach has shown its use in therapy and coaching but also in organizational development. But can it even be useful in a medical setting? Maybe it can.

In the article Cold 'cure' on the horizon as scientists pinpoint body's natural defences a new approach to curing colds is described. Here is a quote from that article.
The team, including David Proud from the University of Calgary in Alberta and researchers at cold remedy maker Procter & Gamble Co, infected 35 people with human rhinovirus 16, which causes the common cold. Hours after infection, the researchers scraped a little bit of the lining from inside the volunteers' noses and analysed gene activity in the cells. ‘I think that is the ideal approach to trying to treat these viral infections. If you can find out what are the body's natural defences, can you either boost them or supplement them?’ Proud said. ‘The findings are important because they provide us with a blueprint for developing the ideal cold treatment: one that maintains the body's natural antiviral response while normalizing the inflammatory response,’ added P&G's Lynn Jump.
Do you see the parallel? These researchers go for what I call internal solutions, solutions that originate within the system and they then try to amplify them. I don't know what next step they envision. Will they make generic medicine based on what they learn from these studies or will they go even a step further (and thus make the process even more solution-focused) and help individuals by identifying their unique antiviral responses and make individualized treatment based on amplifying these?

October 25, 2008

Dangerous Minds

Yesterday, in a presentation, I was shown a video fragment of Michele Pfeiffer, who played the part of LouAnne Johnson, a teacher in a difficult inner city school. The video showed a situation in which there is palpable tension in the class room. Here is the video, I found it on Youtube. I was particularly interested in the situation in which the teacher is talking to the girl. It starts at 1:42. The girl says the teacher doesn't understand. The teacher asks: "Do you have a choice to get on that bus?" The girl challenges that she actually has a choice. After that, the teacher emotionally explains how the girl in fact has a choice. After that, the students become silent. It is an impressive fragment. The confrontational and convincing style did seem to work in this situation.

A solution-focused approach might have been interesting too, in this situation. In that case, the teacher might have listened, acknowledged what the students would have said and then might have said things like: "Yes, I understand that it must be really hard to live there and to get on that bus every day like you do. And while it is so hard and it would have been easy for you not to get on that bus and to start selling drugs or killing people ... you still manage to get on that bus. ... Can you explain that to me? What makes you decide to get on that bus every day?"

That might have been interesting, too.

Discussions about motives can go on interminably

Motives are typically complicated and only partially visible, so it's easy for them to become the focus of endless speculation, interpretation, soul-searching, and navel gazing. Because motives are mixed and complicated, discussions of what they really should be can go on interminably.

October 22, 2008

How do you say No to a telemarketer positively?

Tess Carolina responded to my post Positive No example saying: "I'd be particularly curious to the telemarketer situation, myself. I do manage to say no, but always wind up feeling guilty about it. When they call, I usually interrupt the introduction, as soon as the person pauses to breathe - however shortly. I will explain how I will seek out a pension expert at a time when I feel the need, and that I currently do not. Trying to remain polite and wishing the person good luck with his work. Still, I always end up feeling sorry for the person having to do this job after hanging up the phone. Again, an example would be appreciated!"

I find this response very interesting. It shows a willingness to be kind and polite while also a desire to be able to say No. Tess asks me for an example and I will try to write one down, soon. Before I do, I would like to get some iput from readers. My question is: How do you say No to telemarketers in a constructive and respectful, yet clear, manner?

October 21, 2008

To forget oneself

In my post Language use and mental health of two days ago it was mentioned that people whose health was improving tend to decrease their use of first-person pronouns in their writings. Thinking about this, I remembered a quote by Robert L. Stevenson, author of Treasure Island:

"In every part and corner of our life, to lose oneself is to be a gainer, to forget oneself is to be happy".

October 20, 2008

Creative genius and age

Malcolm Gladwell writes, in a new article, Late Bloomers: "Doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth". In particular, we think you have to be in your twenties. This stereotype is unjustified. Gladwell quotes work by University of Chicago economist David Galenson (photo), author of Old Masters and Young Geniuses, who listed top 11 poetry contributions published since 1980 and found they were composed at the ages of 23, 41, 48, 40, 29, 30, 30, 28, 38, 42, and 59, respectively. Galenson concluded that there is no evidence for the notion that lyric poetry is a young person’s game.

October 19, 2008

Positive No example

William Ury has reminded us of the importance of saying No. In this modern world we are continuously bombarded with requests, demands, offers, and information. It would be quite impossible to say Yes to all of those. If we think about we soon realize how often we have to say No. Here a few examples of situations in which saying No is necessary:
  • Saying No as a teacher when a student disrupts class, 
  • Saying No as a supplier to a client when you cannot of don't want to fulfill a demand, 
  • Saying No to an invitation to go somewhere because you don't want to or don't have time, 
  • Saying No to a job applicant because he lacks the qualifications for the job, 
  • Saying No as a manager to an employee who asks to take part in a training program that is not relevant to the work he does, 
  • Saying No to a colleague who asks you to take over some work while you're too busy with your own work, 
  • Saying No to a request to work at a pay rate which is below the rate you have chosen yourself, 
  • Saying No to a telemarketer who calls you at an inconvenient time about a product that does not interest you. 
Earlier, I have describe the Positve No model by William Ury which revolves around the Yes!-No- Yes sequence. Here is a brief and simple example of that model in action.
Mary: "Jim, could you, in your presentation of results oriented management at our conference, also explain the relationship between your topic and the model by van Stephen Covey? His model is very popular within our organization." 
Jim: "I am afraid that would not be such a good idea, Mary. I have heard this topic really lives within your organization so I can imagine you're asking. But I don't really know a lot about that model. For me, it's important to focus my presentations on those things which I really have expertise in. That way, I know what I am talking about and I can deliver a credible presentation. My experience shows that works best for me."

Mary: "Oh.. yes …. I can see your point ….. yes … the reason I thought it would be a good idea is that the people in the audience are really very interested in Covey's model. So, it seemed like a good idea to help them see the relationship between your topic and that model." 
Jim: "I can imagine.… What would you say about inviting them to discuss among each other what the relationship between the two models?"
Mary: (thinks for a few seconds) "…Yes, that might actually even be more fun, too. That way, they'll be encouraged to think about this themselves. Excellent idea!"

Language use and mental health

This week, The New York Times mentioned the work of James W. Pennebaker (also read this post about his work). This University of Texas psychology professor has been doing studies in which he has tried to learn about mental health by counting the use of certain categories of words by people. Here is that NYT article: He Counts Your Words and here is an interesting quote from that article:

"Dr. Pennebaker, a pioneer in the field of therapeutic writing, asked a group of people recovering from serious illness or other trauma to engage in a series of writing exercises. The word tallies showed that those whose health was improving tended to decrease their use of first-person pronouns through the course of the study. Health improvements were also seen among people whose use of causal words — because, cause, effect — increased. Simply ruminating about an experience without trying to understand the causes is less likely to lead to psychological growth, he explained; the subjects who used causal words “were changing the way they were thinking about things.”

The way it is implied here is that this knowledge could be used for diagnostical purposes. But could it work the other way around, too? In other words, can we improve our mental health (and that of our students, children, etc.) by deliberately decreasing some and increasing other words in our (/their) language?

By the way, Keith Petrie, James Pennebaker and Borge Sivertsen have also carried out a linguistic analysis of all the lyrics of the Beatles (here is the article: Things We Said Today: A Linguistic Analysis of The Beatles) and came to this (I guess surprising to some) conclusion: "The findings of this study contrast with some of the popular stereotypes of the Beatles. The first is the commonly held view of Lennon as the more intellectual songwriter and McCartney as the sentimental tunesmith. As Everett (1999) notes, "McCartney is seen as the sentimentalist, nonintellectual working-call craftsman who counts his pay in smiles and moves on to the next project, toiling to get every note just right" (p.10). In fact, the linguistic evidence shows that, while McCartney lyrics are have less negative emotional words than Lennon’s, McCartney’s songs are more intellectually complex and cover a far wider range of perspectives and themes. Lennon’s songs tend to more self-focused and higher in levels of negative emotion.

Interesting.... This gives reason to acknowledge Paul McCartney not only as the most all round talented and accomplished musicalist of The Beatles but also as the best lyricist.

Solution-focused Asperger Syndrome help

A book with the title A Self-Determined Future with Asperger Syndrome was brought under my attention today and it seemed like an interesting thing to mention here (although this is not a therapy site). The book is about a solution-focused approach to helping people with Asperger syndrome. This book illustrates how broadly the solution-focused approach is applied these days. The application of using it with Asperger syndrome is interesting. As the product description says: "The authors highlight how treating AS as a 'problem' is unproductive, and advocate a solution focused approach which recognizes and uses the strengths of people with AS to foster mutual respect and understanding." Often, just the way we look at realities determines whether we view them as problems or not. Surely, people diagnosed can have difficulties with social situations and change. At the same time, they can also be exceptional in their cognitive styles and achievements. So, what do we do? View AS a disorder and 'treat' them or focus on helping them develop a situational arrangement that works for them?

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