January 31, 2008

Intelligence can emerge between individuals

On this website I found this interesting quote:
We see intelligence almost entirely as a feature of individual agents: IQ tests are of one agent's intellectual abilities; EQ of one agents emotional ones etc etc. When we ascribe intelligence to a group we tend to mean that all of the individuals who make up the group are intelligent, rather than meaning that collectively the group is intelligent. That's why "swarm" or "group" intelligence seems so interesting: it breaks our rules of what intelligence is. But have you noticed how we have to keep putting the individual back in: deep down we can't believe in intelligence in any other mode. To make ourselves feel better we go back to our individual intelligence rule: some folk are smarter than others; some are less smart than these...
In this article from 2004 I wrote:
Intelligence does not need to be seen only as something that is inside the head of the individual but can also be seen as something that emerges between people when they co-operate. This view makes opens the possibility that intelligence also happens between people.
This view is in line with the solution-focused perspective which puts much emphasis on the importance of interactions between people.

January 30, 2008

When change is going to happen

“We have to be patient. We are not in control of when the change is going to happen.”
~Peter De Jong, co-author of Interviewing for Solutions

January 25, 2008

How happy is happy enough?

Happiness is a worthy goal for those who lack it, but the endless pursuit of even more happiness for the already happy may be counterproductive.

~ Ed Diener, source

January 24, 2008

Small things brought together

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.
~ Vincent van Gogh

Also read: Simplicity

How good does it get (8) - new book on happiness

I have written before about happiness (see the links below). Now, there is a new book about happiness which I haven't read yet but about which I hear some good things. Some say it is the best book about happiness yet. Kathryn Britton of the website pos-psych.com has written a review. From that review, here is a fragment:

12 specific activities for raising happiness through intentional behavior:
  1. Practicing gratitude and positive thinking - (1) Expressing gratitude, (2) Cultivating optimism, and (3) Avoiding overthinking
  2. Investing in Social Connections - (4) Practicing acts of kindness and (5) Nurturing social relationships
  3. Managing Stress, Hardship, and Trauma: (6) Developing Strategies for Coping and (7) Learning to forgive
  4. Living in the Present: (8) Increasing Flow experiences and (9) Savoring life’s joys
    (10) Committing to goals
  5. Taking care of body and soul: (11) Practicing religion and spirituality, (12) Taking care of body through meditation, physical activity, and acting like a happy person
I'll keep following the happiness research with interest (but also skeptically).

Trait praise and low self-esteem ctd

Yesterday I posted about an idea that was sent to me about the possibility that trait praise might be useful in a special circumstance, namely when a child has low self esteem. Here is what I think.
It seems to me, to be a sensible hypothesis. Evidence could show whether it works or not. This COULD be a special case in which it indeed might be useful. BUT ... I'd predict that, even here, process feedback would work better. In the end I am convinced that it is an empirical matter. The interesting thing of Carol Dweck's research is that she did not only look at the right-there-and-then response which is enthusiast with whatever type of praise but that she also looked at later behavior.
I am skeptical about the the idea that you first have to increase self-esteem in order to improve well-being and performance. The theory is convincing but the evidence seems to say it does not work that way. My prediction is: process feedback will work best even with people with low self esteem. It will help them find hope and ideas to move on. It leads to a different kind of enthusiasm ("This works!" instead of "I'm great").

January 23, 2008

Effectiveness of coaching and consulting

Some time ago, René Butter and I did some research on coaching and consulting effectiveness. Now, an article about this research has been accepted in a Dutch journal. There is no English translation of the article but here is a summary:
The effectiveness of solution-focused working in coaching and consultancy - Coert Visser & René Butter
Until now, little research has been done on the effectiveness of organizational consultancy and coaching. This study aims to make a contribution to the knowledge development in this area. A web-based questionnaire was administered with 158 clients of coaches and organizational consultants. Through this questionnaire, the relation was studied between, on the one hand, the way of contracting and the approach followed and on the other hand the effectiveness of the project. One of the most striking conclusions is that a client-led way of working which is one of the important characteristics of the solution-focused approach,, in which the client directs the process while the advisor responds flexibly, is strongly associated with success. The article closes with some practical suggestions for advisors and for follow up research.

January 22, 2008

Trait praise and low self-esteem

Someone send me an interesting thought in response to my little article about Carol Dweck's chapter on process praise versus trait praise. This person wrote: "My own reactions to the paper were initially a wholehearted interest in process rather than trait praise. But then I got to think about young people with very low self esteem, and thinking a bit of me still sees a potential value in commenting on traits they may not know they have." I think this is an interesting and sensible hypothesis (that low self-esteem may be a special case in which trait praise indeed is valuable). I hope to write more about this later.

When can you afford to say "no"?

Earlier, I have written about the importance of being able to say no (read this). David Maister has written a chapter in his new book called 'strategy means saying "no', in which he underlines the crucial importance of being able to say N0. Here is an interesting quote:

"If you can't afford to say 'no' until you are successful and distinguished, then you'll never be successful and distinguished."

January 19, 2008


“Every day, the happy person does at least one difficult thing.”
~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

January 18, 2008

Case: how would you like to do to work on Monday?

My colleague Gwenda Schlundt Bodien wrote this case

A few weeks ago, I worked for two days with four Human Resource Consultants in London, who hadn’t exchanged more than a few bitchy words over the last couple of years. The first day I spoke with each of the Human Resource Advisors individually. The purpose of these meetings was to acknowledge the problems and to create a platform for a useful meeting with all four of them the next day.

January 16, 2008

Practical suggestions about praise

In 1993, Alfie Kohn wrote an important book called Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes. In this book he shows that using rewards to get people to do things is often ineffective and even damaging. One chapter is completely dedicated to what Kohn calls "The praise problem". He describes four ways in which praise can be damaging to performance:
  1. Praising a person for succeeding at simple tasks can lead to 'low expectations' and decreased peristence and performance intensity.
  2. Praise-induced paralysis: telling somone how good he or she is can increase pressure and fear to live up to the compliment
  3. Praise can lead to less persistence and avoidence of risk taking
  4. Praise often undermines intrinsic motivation that leads people to do their best.
Kohn offers four practical suggestions to limit possible damaging effects of praise:
  1. Don't praise people, only, what they do
  2. Make praise as specific as possible
  3. Avoid phoney praise
  4. Avoid praise that sets up competition

Celebrating each small accomplishment

"All that wise leaders talk about is the next small step. And they enthusiastically celebrate each small accomplishment. They focus on requiring improvement, not on requiring excellence."

- David Maister in his new book Strategy and the Fat Smoker

Also read:
Interview with David Maister - 1 (2006)
Interview with David Maister - 2 (2006)
Interview with David Maister (2003)

    January 13, 2008

    Solved problems become rules

    "Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems.'

    Insistent patience

    "It is commitment to a process of continually improving things that matter. I describe this as a managerial style of insistent patience.... Encouragement is an essential ingredient in the recipe."

    January 10, 2008

    Remembering Insoo Kim Berg

    "Once, shortly after her seventieth birthday, when I marveled at the fact that she was in better shape than many people half her age, she explained, 'I have to stay in top shape so I can keep up with my schedule.' And what a schedule it was! It seemed that every time we spoke or exchanged an e-mail over the years, Insoo was either just putting the finishing touches on a journal article or working on yet another book, including two on which we collaborated. To my knowledge, she never missed a deadline." "She had a schedule that would have wearied most mortals, but Insoo's energy and enthusiasm seemed never to wane. I used to tease her that rather than having simply joie de vivre, she had joie de travail (joy of work), and she would laugh and say, "That's right, I Do!"

    - Yvonne Dolan, about Insoo Kim Berg who died suddenly one year ago today

    Read more here:

    January 8, 2008

    Milton Erickson

    Milton Erickson was an American psychiatrist who had all kinds of unorthodox ideas about therapy which he used successfully. Many of his ideas point forward to the principles of the solution-focused approach. Erickson did not believe in diagnostic labels and strongly believed in the power of people to solve their own problems. He was convinced that therapy did not need to take long and thought that a small change by the client was enough to set a process of larger change in motion. He used paradoxical techniques such as prescription of the symptoms. Characteristic of his approach was that he used whatever was there in the context of the client. Each coincidental feature or event in the life of the client could be part of the solution. An illustration of this is the case of the African Violet lady.

    An old depressive lady lived alone in a big city. She had no family and friends left and seldom left her house. A concerned neighbor approached Milton Erickson who agreed to visit her. He saw the house was in total squalor and asked to be shown around the house. While walking through the house he did not say a word. He did notice dying African Violet. At the end of the tour, he said: “I can tell that you love flowers". The lady agreed. Erickson suggested that she’d go out to buy African Violets and plant them in her garden. He also suggested that she would send one of here African Violets each time someone in her neighborhood died or was born without telling who had sent it. The lady agreed and the news spread quickly in the city of this mysterious lady who sends everyone her African violets. When she died, many years later, she had become well known in the area and hundreds of people came at her funeral. Newspapers mentioned the African Violet lady had died (source: carol roach, M.Ed, B.A).

    In a way that was typical for how Milton Erickson viewed life, he once said he had had had the advantage of having had polio at age 17 which totally paralyzed him. This had been an advantage because it had helped him to become very good at observing other people. Instead of complaining about his situation, he accepted it and turned it into an advantage. He conquered his paralysis later by teaching himself step by step to move again. By the way, besides having been paralyzed, Milton Erickson had quite a few other limitations: he was colorblind, dyslectic, tone deaf and arrhythmic (Cade, 2007).

    Use what works quote

    "Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it"

    -Bruce Lee

    January 7, 2008

    (Un)consciousness of goals

    In an interesting chapter on automaticity, Ap Dijksterhuis, Tanya L. Chartrand and Henk Aarts write that although we are often consciously aware of our behavior, and we often seem to be doing things intentionally, the starting point of behavior is always unconscious. According to the authors, even goal directed behavior is largely under unconscious control. In many cases we act, judge and strive without even being aware of it. Then, how come we sometimes do become aware of our goals? Here is the explanation of Dijkersterhuis et al.:

    "Perhaps we become aware of our goals when progress towards achieving them is problematic, for instance because the environment poses enormous hurdles or because one has two conflicting goals. We know we ruminate about unfulfilled major life goals as well as for very simple behavior." "... progress towards goals achievement is monitored, and it is highly likely that this monitoring process is related to conscious experience when severely obstructed." "... consciousness might help to mobilize and integrate brain functions that are otherwise separate and independent."

    I find this a credible view. It seems to fit well with my experience as a solution-focused coach, that the majority of the people who seek coaching or counseling, start of by expressing complaints rather than positively formulated goals. Fortunately, the solution-focused approach is very suitable for helping people turn their complaints into positive goals.

    Wise feedback

    Geoffrey Cohen and Claude Steel have written an interesting chapter about specific challenges which educators face who work across ethnical or gender lines. Examples may be a white teacher teaching to black students or a male math teacher teaching female students. Research has shown that in these kinds of situations two kinds of stereotypes potentially undermine performance of both teacher and student:
    1. Student performance may be undermined by the fear of student of being stereotyped by the teacher. Students who see their teacher as prejudiced may self-handicap by for instance withdrawing or responding defensively to critical feedback. This response undermines learning.
    2. Teacher performance may be undermined by the fear of the teacher of not being viewed as unprejudiced. Teachers who fear there are viewed as prejudiced may respond by avoiding to give any critical feedback and only giving praise, even when the performance of the student is low. This response undermines student learning because they miss important critical feedback (which they could have used to their advantage) and the praise for low performance may send the message that little more is expected from that particular student. Further, overpraise may be viewed as patronizing and even insulting.
    What can be done about this? Cohen and Steele recommend an approach they call wise feedback. (They borrowed the term ‘wise’ from Erving Goffman (1963). Wise feedback is a way of giving feedback that ensures students that they will not be viewed or treated in light of a negative stereotype and that their abilities and belonging are assumed rather than doubted. Wise feedback conveys faith in the potential of the student while the gap between the current level of the student and the level they could achieve with effort is clearly communicated. While delivering critical feedback the ‘wise’ educator adds two specific elements to his or her feedback:
    1. An explicit invocation of high standards. This helps the student understand that his or her mistakes are not necessarily a sign of his (perceived) lack of capability but rather as a sign of the high demands of the education program
    2. A personal assurance that they will be able to improve with effort.

    January 4, 2008

    5 Experiments that make you think

    Here are five of the experiments described in a chapter with the title ‘Stereotype threat: contending and coping with unnerving expectations’ by Joshua Aronson (2002). They make you think, don’t they?

    Experiment 1: Steele and Aronson (1995)
    In this experiment the researchers had African American and white college students take a very challenging standardized test. There were two conditions in which the test was presented:
    1. The control condition: in this condition the test was presented as these tests are always presented - as a measure of intellectual ability and preparation.
    2. The experimental condition: in this condition the test was presented in a non-evaluative way. The test takers was told that the researchers were not interested in measuring their ability with the test but that they just wanted to use the test to examine the psychology of verbal problem solving.
    1. In the control condition the African American test takers, on average, scored much lower than the white test takers
    2. For the white test takers there was no difference in their scores between the control condition and the experimental condition.
    3. For the African American test takers there was a big difference between the control condition and the experimental condition. They solved about twice as many problems on the test in the experimental condition. Moreover, there was no difference between the performance of the black test takers and the white test takers.
    Experiment 2: Steele and Aronson (1995)
    In this experiment the researchers administered tests to African American and white test takers in a non-evaluative way. All of the test takers were assured that their intelligence would not be evaluated. There were two conditions:
    1. The tests were administered normally but in a non-evaluative way.
    2. The tests were administered in the same way but with one additional feature: they included an item on the cover of the test booklet that asked them to indicate their race.
    1. In condition 1 African Americans performed just as well as whites
    2. In condition 2 the test performance of the African Americans plummeted. They solved about half as many items as their counterparts who were not asked to indicate their race.
    Experiment 3: Aronson, Lustina, Good, Keough, Steele & Brown (1999)
    In this experiment, the researcher asked highly competent white males to take a difficult math test. There were two conditions:
    1. In this the test was taken normally
    2. In this condition the following extra information was added: the researchers told the test takers that one of their reasons for doing the research was to understand why Asians seemed to perform better on these tests.
    Results: In condition 2 the test takers solved significantly fewer of the problems on the test and felt less confident about their performance.

    Experiment 4: Aronson (1999)
    In this experiment, a difficult verbal test was presented to African Americans and whites in two ways:
    1. In this condition the test was presented as a test measuring an ability that was malleable (developable)
    2. In this condition the test was presented as a test measuring an ability that was fixed (unchangeable)
    Results: Both African Americans and whites performed much better and reported lower performance anxiety in condition 1

    Experiment 5: Shih, Pittinsky & Ambady (1999)
    In this experiment, a difficult math test was given to Asian women. There were three conditions. In condition 1, they were subtly reminded of their Asian identity, in condition 2 they were subtly reminded of their female identity. In the control condition they were not reminded of their identity. The women reminded of their Asianness performed better than the control group, whereas those reminded of their female identity performed worse than the control group.

    January 2, 2008

    Improving Academic Achievement (review)

    Many people are concerned about the quality of education in their country. Therefore, keys to high quality eductation are of great importance. Improving Academic Achievement: Impact of Psychological Factors on Education (Educational Psychology) is the best source I know of to current research findings about how to improve eduction. The book contains chapters by top experts in the field like Robert Rosenthal, Carol Dweck, Timothy Wilson, Robert Sternberg, and Joshua Aronson, to name just a few. Both classic studies and cutting edge new research are covered. The quality of the writing is first class throughout the book. The theories and research findings are translated very practically. Very nice and useful is how each chapter is ended with answers to some questions by practitioners. I found nearly every chapter interesting but a few stood out, for instance chapter 4 by Deci and Ryan about intrinsic motivation, chapter 5 by Wilson et al. about attributional interventions, and chapter 15 by Cohen and Steele about cross-race mentoring. But the best two chapters to me are chapter 3 by Carol Dweck and chapter 14 by Joshua Aronson, who is also the editor of the book. I already know quite a bit about Carol Dweck's research but this chapter still grabbed my attention and made me enthusiastic. Joshua Aronson describes fascinating research about the role of stereotypes in academic performance. I was already rather familiar with this research but while reading the chapter I couldn't help thinking repeatedly: "This is unbelievable!" I am rather surprised that there is only a hard cover version of this book. Isn't this book a typical example of a book that should be read by as many educators as possible? Answer: yes! So, where is the paperback version?

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