July 21, 2008

Every brain is wired differently

In the solution-focused approach we treat each individual as unique. To what extent is saying that people are unique just a cliché? Here is what brain researcher John Medina says about the uniqueness of each brain:

  • What you do and learn in life physically changes what your brain looks like - it literally rewires it.
  • The various regions of the brain develop at different rates in different people.
  • No two people's brains store the same information in the same way in the same place.
  • We have a great number of ways of being intelligent, many of which don't show up on IQ tests.

Taken from John Medina's Brain Rules. Get more at http://www.brainrules.net/

July 19, 2008

I'm really an impatient person

Every now and then, one of the coaches I train in the solution-focused approach, remarks something like: "Solution-focused coaching is great, but for me it is very hard because I am really an impatient person." Over the years, I have more and more come to the thought that we have to be careful of describing ourselves in these kinds of terms. Saying "I'm inpatient" sounds like a mere description but it often also has the character of a declaration, as if your impatience defines you. It is like declaring this goal to be unattainable: "I am impatient, solution-focused coaching requires patience, therefore I won't be able to learn how to do it right." This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes ever, one by Robert H. Frank: "Our beliefs about human nature help shape human nature itself." Our believes about how good or competent we can be, determine our efforts or lack of efforts. If we define ourselves as impatient, what's the sense in trying to become more patient? After all, we are not patient but impatient. A second quote by Geoffrey Colvin comes to my mind: "Anything that anyone does at work, from the most basic task to the most exalted, is an improvable skill." This, of course, brings us back to the growth mindset. Patience can be learned. Saying: "I'm really an impatient person", expresses a fixed mindset, which will keep you from even trying to learn and thereby will confirm itself. It is a self confirming belief. Fortunately, changing from a fixed mindset isn't the hardest thing to do. In fact, it is easy. Peter Heslin and his colleagues taught managers a growth mindset in a 90 minute workshop. Back to learning to do solution-focused coaching. It can be done. Sure, it is not the easiest thing. But all the required skills can be acquired with deliberate practice. Even patience can be learned.

July 17, 2008

Brain research and the solution-focused approach

Here are three quotes from this article by David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz:
  • "Human brains are so complex and individual that there is little point in trying to work out how another person ought to reorganize his or her thinking. It is far more effective and efficient to help others come to their own insights."
  • "Is the answer to all the challenges of change just to focus people on solutions instead of problems, let them come to their own answers, and keep them focused on their insights? Apparently, that’s what the brain wants."
  • "Rather than lecturing and providing solutions, effective coaches ask pertinent questions and support their clients in working out solutions on their own."

Doesn't that read like an explicit plea for the solution-focused approach? It does.

Coert Visser, http://www.linkedin.com/in/coertvisser

Also read: Every time we consciously focus our attention .....

July 16, 2008

Visualizing progress: expect fluctuation and watch the trendline

Progress hardly ever happens in a straight line. The picture to the left shows a real life example of an improvement process.

The red line shows the actual values found. As you see, it constantly fluctuates.

The blue line is the trend line which shows that over time there is a slow but steady improvement.

The arrows show the following: Arrow 1: fast first results, quick progress. Arrow 2: rather heavy fall back. Arrow 3: quick improvement again. Arrow 4: serious fall back again after which improvement picks up again.

It would be very easy to get discouraged when focusing too much on the fluctuations, at point 2 and 4 for instance.

Two things are important to remember: 1) It is normal for progress to show this kind of fluctuation, and 2) The trendline is an important line to watch.

This line shows you that there is actual growth overall. The trendline is a very motivating line to watch.

July 15, 2008

Success like the growth of an apple

Sometime ago, I wrote about how it is sometimes hard to determine quickly whether something is working or not (here). This is often also the case in the way people and organizations achieve success. Jim Collins, in Good to Great, studied some exceedingly successful companies with his team and concluded that did not achieve their spectacular success through special change programs, nor through breakthrough decisions or products. On the contrary, he found, the process evolved very fluently. To explain, Collins uses the metaphor of the flying wheel. When you start to turn this wheel it goes heavily and moves slowly. But by continuously keeping on turning the wheel, it starts to build momentum and then, just suddenly, a point is reached at which the wheel turns at great speed without you having to turn it any harder than at first. I find this an inspiring view on how success can be achieved, not only for organizations, but just as well for individuals. Last week, I came across another fruitful metaphor for growing success.

A ten year old boy made a visit to a violin teacher for a first lesson. The teacher asked him: "Have you ever seen an apple grow?" The boy smiled and hesitatingly said: ".... Uh... yes?" The teacher asked: "Really? Did you actually see it grow?" "Not really", the boy replied. "Aha", said the teacher, "that's the thing with apples; they grow so slowly, you never see them grow. But still they do. It is just like playing the violin. If you practice daily, you may never see your growth from day to day as a player but still you grow. You grow slowly."

July 14, 2008

A matter of mindset

Carol Dweck's work is becoming so influential! Here is an example: I found the picture below in this article: In Search of Growth Leaders by Sean D. Carr, Jeanne M. Liedtka, Robert Rosenand and Robert E. Wiltbank :

Of course, readers of this blog recognize the work of Carol Dweck in this picture. As I said, very interesting. What I did not understand though, is why Carol Dweck isn't mentioned in this article while it is crystal clear that this conceptualization is based on her work.... a bit strange, I must say.....

Update: I heard that Carol Dweck's work is well-cited and acknowledged in a forthcoming book by one of these authors.

Coert Visser, http://www.linkedin.com/in/coertvisser

July 12, 2008

A new set of moral principles

We all know the Golden Rule, the fundamental moral principle which says: "treat others as you would like to be treated." This ethic of reciprocity which roots in many in many of the world's cultures is seen by many as the most universal moral principle. Some have critized it, however, like George Bernard Shaw, Karl Popper and Immanuel Kant. Critics say you shouldn't treat people like you want to be treated because people are different and their tastes and needs differ, too. So maybe The Golden Rule is not so Golden and we need to keep on thinking about morality.
Michael Schermer (photo), author of The Mind of the Market: How Biology and Psychology Shape Our Economic Lives, suggests a new set of moral principles:
  1. The Happiness Principle: It is a higher moral principle to always seek happiness with someone else's happiness in mind, and never seek happiness when it leads to someone else's unhappiness.
  2. The Liberty Principle: It is a higher moral principle to always seek liberty with someone else's liberty in mind, and never seek liberty when it leads to someone else's loss of liberty.
  3. The Purpose Principle: It is a higher moral principle to always seek purpose with someone else's purpose in mind, and never pursue a purpose when it leads to someone else's loss of purpose.
    I think this is a beautiful set of principles. It reminds me a bit of How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life This principle which was formulated by Tom Rath and Donald O'Clifton suggests that we all have a bucket within us that needs to be filled with positive experiences, such as recognition and appreciation. When we're negative toward others, we use a dipper to remove from their buckets and diminish their positive outlook. This will unintendedly empty our own bucket too. When we treat others in a positive manner, we fill not only their buckets but ours as well. So you can only fill your own bucket by filling other people's bucket.
    Back to Michael Schermer: Find happiness, liberty and purpose by helping other people find theirs.

    July 10, 2008

    The invisibility of what works

    As a solution-focused coach, one of the main things you do is to help people rediscover what is already working and was has already been going well. Many clients feel more confident and proud of themselves afterwards because they noticed that they already had solutions to improve their situation. At the same time, they are sometimes surprised by this fact, saying things like: "How could I not have thought about this myself?" It seems people easily overlook things that have worked before while they notice right away when something goes wrong. The same thing seems to be the case at a macro level, in organizations for instance. We easily notice what has gone wrong and was has yet to be accomplished but we seem partially blind to successes and to what works.

    Robert O'Brinkerhof, author of The Success Case Method: Find Out Quickly What's Working and What's Not, even says: "Successful practices can go unnoticed for years." Put like this, it almost seems like there is some kind of design mistake, doesn't it? Knowing what works is so valuable, how can it be that we so easily overlook it? Actually, there may be an explanation.

    I think that the number of things that work is so overwhelmingly great that it would be impossible for the conscious part of our brain to remain aware of them. As psychologists and neuroscientist have discovered, the capacity of our conscious attention is rather limited. We use it to focus on what is really important and urgent. The large majority of our judgments and actions are guided by unconscious mental processes. This automaticity of being helps us through most of the situations we encounter (you type without consciously knowing where exactly the letters on your keyboard are; you'd have to 'ask your fingers` to know where they are). What's more, it is even so that we can process and be influenced by unattended information (for instance you had not noticed someone talking at a party until s/he mentioned your name, then you suddenly noticed this). Furthermore, we often unconsciously continue processing information regarding problems (after having stopped trying to remember a name, we sometimes 'suddenly` remember it). For more information read this and this.

    It is normal to not be aware of the overwhelming amount of things that work well which surround us for second to second as we go through our lives. That our brains deal with these things automatically is an example of great efficiency. This efficiency has a downside, too. Sometimes, we are suddenly confronted with a problem and we don't have a clue about how to solve it. We may think we are not capable of solving it because we don't see what we can do. But we often underestimate ourselves. As solution-focused practice often shows, we have far more solutions than we consciously know. What solution-focused practice does is to focus your deliberate attention to find out what has been working well in relation to this specific problem (or goal). When we shine a light on what has worked well, we only begin to see what is there, which is often much more than we had hoped to find.

    In sum, we are often blind to what has worked well and this is a normal and a good thing. Because the number of things that work is so overwhelmingly great, dealing with them automatically is a highly efficient solution. Moreover, it helps to keep us modest. Sometimes, we need to bring a selection of all that works back to our conscious thinking. By deliberately focusing on what has worked before, we consistently rediscover patterns of effectiveness which then become available to our consciousness.

    July 7, 2008

    How good does it get?

    Repost from last year:

    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 strengths and virtues that enable individuals and organizations to flourish. I think 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-fullingfilling too, up to a point. If they are unrealistically high, they can turn into a recepy for desillusion and frustration. Expectations play an important and sometimes paradoxical role. A case in point 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 dissappointing. 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?


    July 2, 2008

    The Optimal Zone Scale

    The scaling question is the most popular question which emerged out of the solution-focused approach. This article describes step by step how you can use the scalling question. Here is a video example. Some time ago, when I was talking with a client an interesting varation of the scaling question emerged between the two of us, which I call the Optimal Zone Scale. The woman I was coaching wanted to learn to be more assertive so that she could defend her personal boundaries and speak her mind on issues that mattered to her. This would help her to feel better at work and to keep her work load within acceptable limits. It would also help her colleagues. By being more assertive she would be clearer to her colleagues who would know then exactly what they could and could not expect from her. Also, she had noticed that colleagues tended to respect and value her more when she acted more assertively. However, my client was also aware that she shouldn't go too far in speaking her mind. She realized that if she would take this too far she could become a shrew. She absloutely did not want that. She did not want her colleagues to become afraid of her or feel intimidated. Being friendly and helpful was one of the most important aspects of her workrole. So she could not afford to lose those aspects of her behavior. When she was explaining this to me I drew the picture of the scale (see right). The picture visualizes that there is a zone in which her behavior is effective: the optimal zone, and two zones in which it isn't. On the left she would be too little assertive, on the right she would be over-assertive. This said this visualization was very useful to her. She realized she was now slowly moving to the middle of the optimale zone.

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